Posts Tagged ‘Blue Rose’

Calum ‘Dave’ Thomson, 1945-2008

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 9, 2008

A few months ago, as I wrote about hearing from musicians whose stuff I had posted, I mentioned Dave Thomson of Blue Rose, whose 1972 self-titled album I shared here during the first week of April.

Dave wrote to me when the download link to his band’s album wouldn’t work. I sent him a CD of the album – which he said he’d not heard since the 1980s – and he sent me some pictures of the band (including the photo page above) and a portion of a memoir written by Rick Allen, who played organ for the group. I heard from Dave a couple times more, with him sending me notes about the band’s history and me eventually sending a scan of the record jacket from 1972.

I got a note last night from Dave’s wife, Alice Johnson. She told me she and Dave had enjoyed hearing Blue Rose and had made copies for friends. And she told me that Dave had died August 31.

I did some digging and found an obituary in the Morning Sun, a newspaper published in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan:

Calum David “Dave” Thomson
Jul 4, 1945-Aug 31, 2008

“Calum David ‘Dave’ Thomson, 63, of Shepherd, Michigan, passed away at St. Mary’s Hospital in Saginaw on August 31, 2008. Calum was born in Fort William, Ontario, on July 4th, 1945, to Russell and Jessie (MacMillan) Thomson. A talented musician, Calum entertained people with his music for most of his life. In 2001 Calum moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Michigan where he shared his life with Alice Johnson, whom he married on January 6, 2006, and who survives him.

“Besides his wife, Calum is survived by his father and his father’s companion, Lucille Maneval. He is also survived by three brothers; Kelly, Craig and Kenny, a son Davey, a daughter Sheli and several grandchildren. His step-children, Anita (Wade) Davis and Rob Johnson, as well as his step-grandchildren, Dru and Quinn Carson and Madylin Johnson, will also miss him. Calum was preceded in death by his mother and his brother, Dwight.

“A gathering of friends and family to celebrate Calum’s life will be held at the Shepherd United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall on Saturday, September 6, 2008, from 1 to 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Calum’s name to the charity of your choice.

“Arrangements have been entrusted to the Berry Funeral Home.”

Here’s a picture of Dave during his Blue Rose days:

Obviously, I didn’t know Dave well. But the fact that I knew him at all carries a little bit of weight this morning. And although anything I feel is minimal compared to the loss felt by his family and the others in his life, there is some sorrow here this morning. I never thought for a minute when I started this blog that it would bring me distant friends. It did, though, and now comes the realization that, having gained friends, there will be times when I lose them.

I guess the best I can do for Dave this morning is to share his music again. Here’s Blue Rose, the self-titled album from 1972. (Dave wrote “I’ll Never Be In Love Again,” “Chasin’ The Glow Of A Candle,” “Make You Happy” and “Show You A Way To Have Fun,” and co-wrote, with John Uribe, “Look What We’re Doin’.”)

Track list:
My Impersonal Life
Takin’ Love And Run
I’ll Never Be In Love Again
Debt Of Fools
Chasin’ The Glow Of A Candle
Sweet Thing
Make You Happy
Show You A Way To Have Fun
Look What We’re Doin’

Blue Rose –Blue Rose [1972]

And here’s the single version of “My Impersonal Life,” released as Epic single 10811:

Blue Rose – “My Impersonal Life”

And to close, here’s a track from Mickey Newbury’s 1988 album, In A New Age:

Mickey Newbury – “All My Trials”

‘Blue Rose’ Found Through A Sampler

June 20, 2011

Originally posted April 2, 2008

The offers came printed on the record sleeves: a collection of tracks from recent albums for two dollars. All you had to do was clip the coupon and send it in with your cash. I don’t know anyone who ever did.

But a lot of people must have, because at most used record stores you can find a pretty good selection of them, those double-LP sets with their covers showing some of the coolest artwork around. They were the sampler sets sent out by labels to promote their new albums by artists well-known and obscure alike, collections of new music with –sometimes – pages of promotional text and pictures inside the gatefold. I imagine that somewhere there’s an annotated history of record label samplers, but for now, I’m going to estimate that they showed up in, oh, 1968 or 1969, and were a pretty common marketing tool for a while.

(I don’t know if samplers survived when the listening audience began to fragment in the late 1970s, with disco, new wave, punk, funk and several forms of R&B beginning to pull listeners away from the mass audience. Of the samplers in my LP collection, the latest is from 1977. If someone out there knows, let me know.)

The technical business term for them is loss-leaders, I think, meaning, get the customers in the store by selling some things at a loss and then geting them interested in things sold at regular prices. It wasn’t quite like that, as the samplers went out to listeners’ homes, but the idea was the same: Give the listeners a cheap taste, say thirty or so songs from thirty new albums, pique their interests and make them want the albums.

What was even craftier was that the samplers were marketed as something only a little short of a public service. Here’s a blurb from The 1969 Warner-Reprise Record Show, subtitled Son of Songbook:

Songbook was our very first Record Show-type compilation of many of our groovier artists’ work into a non-commercial, cooperative double album. Non-commercial because these affairs were conceived as a means of acquainting you and yours with artists with whom you’d most likely remain ignorant without a little shove of this sort. . . . What we do feel that the crew who populate this vinyl showcase have in common is the right to be heard and at least considered by you, our faceless but all-important consumer.”

No doubt Warner-Reprise lost money on the samplers, but they must have been successful at bringing in new sales, because they kept on coming. And the ads for them popped up everywhere. I found one – a slick insert – still inside the jacket of a pretty obscure –if very good – 1969 album by an obscure duo: Living in the Country by Levitt & McClure. That insert offered listeners the 1969 Warner-Reprise samplers mentioned above, Songbook and Record Show.

The same two samplers are offered on the inner jacket of Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon, released in 1970, along with samplers entitled The Big Ball, Schlagers, Zapped (a single LP package), and Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies (a three-LP package). The price was a dollar per LP.

On the other side of the sleeve, where the mail-in coupon lived, there were a few notes from the marketing folks at Warner-Reprise. One of those notes read: “For those of you who have serious reservations about Youth, Artistic License, and Hard Rock, we recommend you stick to our “Schlagers!” epic. We suggest this mostly because we hate getting nasty letters.”

Schlagers had two LPs of music from artists like Petula Clark, Peter, Paul & Mary, Trini Lopez, Glenn Yarbrough, the Everly Brothers, Frank Sinatra and so on. There was some pop-rock there, but mostly in the vein of the Association, Harper’s Bizarre and Kenny Rogers & The First Edition. Stuff safe for Mom, you know.

I have five such samplers in my collection (or at least, that’s what I found when I went looking last evening; I may have missed one or two):

The most interesting track on The 1969 Warner-Reprise Record Show is Fats Domino’s take on the Beatles’ “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey.”

The Works is a Warner-Reprise sampler from 1975 that includes “Seeds” by Chris Ducey, the folk-rocker turned country rocker whose argument with a record company ten years earlier had resulted in my friend Bobby Jameson becoming Chris Lucey for the album Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest.

Limo is another Warner-Reprise sampler, this time from 1977. Two tracks jump out at me: “California Dreamin’” by Eddie Hazel, long-time guitarist for George Clinton; the credit reads “Produced, pronounced, professed and prophesized by George Clinton and Eddie Hazel. And “In The Mood” by the Henhouse Five Plus Too: Chickens doing the Glenn Miller tune (evidently the brainchild of Ray Stevens of “Ahab the Arab,” “The Streak” and other novelties).

Peaches, subtitled “Pick of the Crop,” is a 1974 sampler from Capricorn Records. Nestling among this collection of Southern rock and funk by artists from throughout the Capricorn roster is a performance of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” the Otis Redding/Jerry Butler tune, by country singer Kitty Wells.

And then there’s The Music People, the three-record 1972 sampler from Columbia that inspired this post. This one has selections from across a few years, and the most interesting track is a performance from a Woody Guthrie tribute concert in 1968: Bob Dylan and The Band performing “Grand Coulee Dam.”

It was also The Music People that brought Blue Rose to my attention a couple of weeks ago, when the group’s single, “My Impersonal Life” popped up in a Baker’s Dozen. That happened some months after I’d added a rip of the Columbia sampler to my music collection. When Blue Rose popped up, some folks left notes with a little more information about the group.

Bunky Boy said: “Blue Rose was one of those little gems that you find in the delete bin in the record store (you remember those right?) I played the grooves off of that Baby and loved the entire album. . . . Terry Furlong wrote most of the tunes and played guitars. John Uribe on bass. Michael Omartian did keys. . . . There’s a whole list of other top notch players on the album.”

A regular correspondent, Yah Shure, said, “[T]he Blue Rose LP is worth looking for. You posted the 45 version of ‘My Impersonal Life,’ and the LP version has a longer, gorgeous instrumental finish that ends cold. The 45 fadeout was created by splicing on a repeat of the hook, a trick that Epic used now and then. The follow-up single, ‘Sweet Thing’ is a bit bluesier, but with the same mellow feel as ‘My Impersonal Life.’”

I was intrigued. The sampler did its job. So I did some digging online and found a copy of the album. And it’s a pretty good piece of work. The opener, “My Impersonal Life” – which was edited down and altered for the single, as Yah Shure noted – is probably the best song on the record, but not by much. I also really like a couple other tracks: “Debt of Fools,” a bluesy track that reminds me a little bit of the Eagles, and “Sweet Thing,” a great ballad with some nice horns pulling it along;

Some notes about a few of the other tracks: “Takin’ Love And Run” reminds me of Badfinger with its crunchy power chords; “I’ll Never Be In Love Again” is a nice country-rock piece; “Chasing The Glow Of A Candle” is over-orchestrated and has its vocals over-stacked, and the metronome sound is really odd.

The rest of the album is good, and I’m glad I picked it up. The vocals are well done with harmonies and stacks that generally work but sometimes seem to be a little too much. I do hear echoes of other acts from 1972 – the Eagles and Badfinger, as I mentioned, but also Seals & Crofts, maybe Bread (and that’s not a put-down; Bread was a great pop group) and the country side of the Doobie Brothers – but those echoes are not surprising and not a detriment. Everyone was listening to everyone else, and those influences just put Blue Rose in 1972’s musical mainstream

Personnel on the record was: Terry Furlong and Dave Thomson on guitars, with Harvey Mandell on guitar on “I’ll Never Be In Love Again”; Dave Thomson on bass, with John Uribe taking bass on “Takin’ Love and Run” and “Home”; Stu Perry on drums, with Don Poncher taking drums on “Takin’ Love and Run” and “Home”; horns by the Elijah Band Horn Section; conga by King Errison; and arrangements and piano by Michael Omartian. Terry Furlong produced the record.

Track list:
My Impersonal Life
Takin’ Love And Run
I’ll Never Be In Love Again
Debt Of Fools
Chasin’ The Glow Of A Candle
Sweet Thing
Make You Happy
Show You A Way To Have Fun
Look What We’re Doin’

Blue Rose – Blue Rose [1969]

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 3

June 15, 2011

Originally posted March 10, 2008

(The first half of this post was the first thing I ever wrote for a blog, in July 2006, long before Echoes In The Wind was a shadow of a thought. I imagine some who’ve stopped by here have clicked links and read it at Whiteray’s Musings, the long-ignored blog that serves now as a storage depot and place for experiments. To many, I hope it is new. I have done a bit of editing.)

It was the summer of 1972. Republicans were screaming for “Four more years!” of Richard Nixon. The Democrats were marching gingerly in ragged formation toward what they thought was the Revolution.

A bunch of people were arrested at the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., a loose end in a fabric of lies. That loose end, when pulled on hard enough by judges and the media (pulled on most strongly, it seems clear, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post), eventually resulted in the resignation of President Nixon two years later; in the creation of numerous laws and policies designed to enhance the ethics of politics and governance; and in a surge of enrollment at schools of journalism all around the country, as young people all over the United States decided it would be fun to become investigative reporters.

And U.S. soldiers were still fighting and dying in Vietnam.

I was eighteen that summer and although I was aware of all of that going on, I can’t say I was horribly involved or worried about any of it. I do recall thinking on June 18, when I saw an item in the newspaper about the arrests at the Watergate, that the trail of dollars and other evidence would likely lead back to persons close to the Oval Office, if not to the president himself, but that may have been youthful revulsion for Richard Nixon driving that conclusion rather than any great insight into politics, finance and crime. (On the other hand, I was right!)

Not even the Vietnam War worried me, at least not personally. Sometime that summer, the president announced that no new draftees would be sent to Vietnam. I imagine that a lot of my contemporaries across the country shook their heads in relief at that news. It really wasn’t a big deal, because it was becoming more and more clear that my cohort – the men born in 1953 – were going to be the first cohort that went untouched by the draft since, well, before World War II. For the first time in more than thirty years, young men born in a specific year would not be drafted.

Of course, the news about no new draftees being sent to ’Nam resonated more loudly, I am certain, with those born in 1952, as many of them – not as many as had been true for those born in years earlier, but enough – were still receiving their “Greetings” letters from the military.

I don’t recall how likely it was for men born in 1952 to be drafted, much less how many of them were sent to Vietnam before the new policy was announced that summer. Those facts didn’t matter to me as anything more than curiosities.

I am reasonably certain that no one born in my birth year of 1953 was ever drafted, although we did get lottery numbers based on our dates of birth. Mine was 354, which meant that the chances of my being called to get a buzz cut and be screamed at for six weeks by a drill sergeant were almost nil. That was good.*

So what did concern me in the summer of 1972? What was I thinking about? What do I recall?

Well, I was worried about dusting Venetian blinds. I worked as a part-time janitor that summer at an elementary school on the campus of St. Cloud State College (now University) in Minnesota. It wasn’t hard work, for the most part, but removing what was likely a year’s accumulation of dust from Venetian blinds was a pain-in-the-ass job that took more than a week, it seems to me. I didn’t mind dusting shelves, dry mopping and mopping floors, washing blackboards and all of that, but dusting those damned blinds was the worst thing I did all summer.

I remember the music, as I always do from almost any portion of my life. That was the summer of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally,” a pop confection that was omnipresent for several months. A listener to AM Top 40 – which I was – would also have heard “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” the first hit for Jim Croce, and tunes from Neil Diamond, the Staple Singers, the Chi-Lites, Roberta Flack, Billy Preston and Bill Withers.

And then there was the Looking Glass and its song “Brandy,” about the barmaid in the harbor town. Another pop confection, yes, but one that seems to have aged far better in my mind than many of those records that surrounded it on the radio. And at the odd times that I hear it these days – nearly thirty-six years later – it takes me back. But when I go, I am not wielding the mop or broom, I am not dusting the blinds. I am not wondering if the current object of my affection has a reciprocal interest.

No, I am driving my 1961 Ford Falcon north from St. Cloud on an August day, my best friends with me as we head for a weekend in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Why does all this come to mind today? Did I hear “Brandy” this morning or yesterday? Well, no, but given that the Looking Glass tune is one of the thousands in the RealPlayer, I can hear it any time I want to. (In fact, just because I can do it, I just cued it up: “There’s a port in a western bay . . .”)

No, the summer of 1972 and the music on the road to Winnipeg came to mind because of something I found in my file cabinet yesterday. It’s a record of the times that Rick and Gary and I purchased gasoline on our trek, noting the miles driven, the mileage my old Falcon got, and – most astoundingly – the cost of the gas for our four-day, 860-mile trip.

(The RealPlayer just switched from “Brandy” to “The Girl From Ipanema” by Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto, which is a lovely song, but dated ten years earlier than our trip to Winnipeg. And while I dithered about what to say about that, the music moved on to Bob Dylan’s performance of “Blowin’ In The Wind” at the 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh. As always, music so commands my attention that I find it takes away the concentration I need to write. So I turned the jukebox off as Bob was asking “How many roads . . .”)

So how much did it cost us to drive from St. Cloud to Winnipeg and back in 1972? Well, we bought 44.3 gallons of gas during our four-day excursion . . . and we paid $17.20. In other words, about thirty-nine cents a gallon.

And that, more than anything else about that summer, tells me how long ago it really was. Yes, the school where I dusted the blinds has been closed, the building remodeled about twenty years ago to house programs in electrical engineering and such-like. Yes, Jim Croce’s been dead for more than thirty years. Yes, my 1961 Falcon has been rusting, abandoned, in the junkyard of a friend’s parents since 1977 (and in fact that friend himself has passed on). And no, I do not remember with whom I was besotted that summer of “Brandy.”

All of those things underline in bold ink the fact that it has been thirty-six years since Rick, Gary and I drove north to adventure and beer and hangovers. (The drinking age in Canada was eighteen as opposed to Minnesota’s twenty-one; we drank Molson’s Canadian and Old Vienna.)

But the boldest ink, it seems to me, comes from that handwritten document I found in my files: Gasoline at thirty-nine cents a gallon!

And no, I don’t remember how much we paid for the beer.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 3
“Brandy” by the Looking Glass, Epic single 10874

“Pearl’s Goodtime Blues” by Eric Andersen from Blue River

“Too Late to Turn Back Now” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, United Artists single 50910

“To The Morning” by Dan Fogelberg from Home Free

“Dark Dance” by Robin Williamson from Myrrh

“My Impersonal Life” by Blue Rose, Epic single 10811

“Her Picture Matches Mine” by Laura Lee from Women’s Love Rights

“Rock and Roll Lullaby” by B.J. Thomas, Scepter single 12344

“Go All The Way” by the Raspberries, Capitol single 3348

“Stand Back” by the Allman Brothers Band from Eat A Peach

“Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics from Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get

“Roundabout” by Yes, Atlantic single 2854

“From The Beginning” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Cotillion single 44158

A few notes:

Eric Andersen, as I think I’ve noted before, was one of those singer-songwriters cursed in the 1960s and 1970s with the tag of “The New Dylan.” No good ever came of a record company or a critic placing that burden on a performer. Andersen was good, though, and – to my mind – for a few years came closer than anyone else to living up to that mantle. Blue River is probably his best album.

“Too Late To Turn Back Now,” a No. 2 hit, continues a good helping of great radio singles in this mostly random collection. With four Top 40 hits and two in the Top Ten – 1971’s “Treat Her Like A Lady” went to No. 3 – the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose never sounded sweeter than when coming from the car radio on a warm summer evening. (The other great radio singles here, to my ears, are “Brandy,” “Rock and Roll Lullaby,” “Go All The Way,” “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” and “Roundabout.”)

How does one begin to describe or assess the music of Robin Williamson? One of the founders of the quirky 1960s folk group, the Incredible String Band, Williamson has resolutely followed his muse. That group’s pastoral British folk had its own odd edge, and that continues in Williamson’s solo work. All-Music Guide notes that Myrrh, Williamson’s first album after the dissolution of the ISB, retains that group’s “odd instrumentation and serpentine melodicism.” “Dark Dance” may be a little less accessible than the rest of the album, but only a little. The entire album will delight fans of the combination of folky and quirky.

I don’t know much about Blue Rose. The group is not – obviously – the women’s bluegrass super group of the same name that was also recording in 1972. “My Impersonal Life,” was written by Terry Furlong, who was lead guitarist for the Grass Roots. Three Dog Night also recorded the tune in 1971. The Blue Rose version was included on a well-known 1972 Columbia sampler called The Music People, which is where I found it. I’m keeping an eye out for Blue Rose’s self-titled album, which I think I’d like if it’s all as good as “My Impersonal Life.”

Laura Lee was one of the artists recorded by Hot Wax records, the label created in 1968 by Eddie Holland, Jr., Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland when the writing/production trio left Motown Records. (Some of her labelmates were Honey Cone, Freda Payne and the Flaming Ember.) Her single, “Women’s Love Rights,” barely reached the Top 40, hitting No. 36 in the autumn of 1971. Still, it’s a good single, and the album of the same title is also good, well worth checking out.

For all their success at album rock, Emerson, Lake & Palmer remains, technically, a One-Hit Wonder. Of course, the group’s aim was never singles, so that’s not really fair. But “From The Beginning” is a great single. It’s not a driving-around-town-with-nothing-better-to-do single but more of a “Man, that’s strange and good” single for those times when you roll over in bed at two in the morning after leaving the radio on. (Something that surprised me as I dug into the charts was that, for all its airplay, ELP’s “Lucky Man” [Cotillion 44106, according to one source] did not make the Top 40.)

*After this entry was posted, a reader named David, a year younger than I, noted that he was assigned a draft number. It turns out, according to Wikipedia, that Congress did extend the draft for two more years in 1971. Note added June 18, 2011.

Another Performer At That Intersection

May 18, 2010

I don’t know Rosanne Cash’s work all that well. I’ve got a couple of her albums on vinyl and have found a couple of CDs of her recent work, too. I’m still absorbing the work she did on last year’s acclaimed CD, The List, a collection based on a list of one hundred essential American songs her famous father gave her when she was eighteen. In other words, I’ve listened to a fair amount of her music, but I’m no expert, just a fan.

And as I write that, I realize that I’m still absorbing the album that I’ve long thought – from my admittedly limited view – to be Cash’s best: King’s Record Shop from 1987. In a few years, The List may challenge for the top spot in Cash’s catalog, but I think that – as good as last year’s release was (and it was very good indeed) – the best that The List can do for some time is wrestle King’s Record Shop to a draw.

Now, perhaps I think that because King’s Record Shop was the first album by Rosanne Cash I really heard. Before that, I’d likely heard bits and pieces of her work here and there, but I don’t know that I’d considered Cash as someone to take seriously. And – as is true in the case of quite a few performers – it was Dave Marsh’s The Heart of Rock & Soul that persuaded me to listen more closely to Rosanne Cash, when he listed her song “Runaway Train” at No. 590 in his 1989 listing of the top 1,001 singles.

So what did I find when I tracked down King’s Record Shop? Looking back – with the aid of a little bit of listening again last evening – I found a performer and songwriter at that interesting intersection of country, rock, blues and folk, a place where I’ve been pleased to find a fair number of other performers in the past twenty years, maybe chief among them Darden Smith.

My blogging friend Paco Malo once cited in the comments to one of my posts the description given by Levon Helm of The Band of the music he listened to and played growing up in Arkansas. Having lost those comments, I’m paraphrasing, but Helm basically said the music at home was some country, some blues, some gospel, some folk, and they called it rock ’n’ roll. And that was true enough, meaning that Cash and Smith and others at that intersection aren’t creating something new. My point, though, is that for many years as rock, pop and even country music evolved, some of those influences were forgotten or at least at times ignored in mainstream genres. And when I picked up King’s Record Shop not long after reading Marsh’s book, it was, if not quite a revelation, then at least a refreshing reminder of some of the major strains of American popular music.

Now, all that was twenty years ago or so. But King’s Record Shop – along with some of Cash’s other early work (Interiors comes to mind) – remains to my ears as vital and fresh as her more recent work, including The List. And the heart of King’s Record Shop remains “Runaway Train.” The song was written by John Stewart, and Cash’s recording of it peaked at No. 1 on the country charts.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 17
“Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley, RCA Victor 47-9764 [1969]
“My Impersonal Life” by Blue Rose, Epic 10811 [1972]
“China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers, Warner Bros. 7728 [1973]
“#9 Dream” by John Lennon, Apple 1878 [1975]
“Time” by the Alan Parsons Project from The Turn of a Friendly Card [1981]
“Runaway Train” by Rosanne Cash, Columbia 07988 [1987]

A while back, I picked up Suspicious Minds, a two-disc collection of the work Elvis Presley did at American Studios in Memphis in early 1969, the sessions that resulted in Presley’s three greatest singles – “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain” and “In the Ghetto” – as well as a wealth of other great material. And I was going to comb through the booklet that came with the collection to find a quote or some other tidbit to use here this morning. But the booklet is printed in small white type on black and is for practical purpose unreadable without using a magnifying glass. I have one of those, but I also have better ways to invest my time. So I’ll just say that “Suspicious Minds” – which went to No. 1 in the autumn of 1969 – is to me the best thing Presley ever recorded during his long and erratic career. That’s a hefty statement to make about someone who had 114 records in the Top 40, but to my ears, the body of work from those Memphis sessions was better – in most cases, far better – than anything Presley had done since the Sun sessions during the mid-1950s. And “Suspicious Minds” was the best of all.

“My Impersonal Life” is likely better known for the cover version done by Three Dog Night. The Blue Rose version – the song was written by Terry Furlong of Blue Rose – came to my attention through a CBS compilation called The Music People, one of those classic collections record labels used to sell cheaply to promote new artists and albums. From there, I found Blue Rose’s self-titled 1972 album, and after I ripped and posted that album – this was almost three years ago – I found myself connecting with Dave Thomson, who’d played bass and guitar for the group. Dave has since passed on, and when “My Impersonal Life” pops up these days, I find myself thinking about connections found and lost and the multiple layers of life and the sheer impermanence of things. And then I hear the first line of the chorus – “Be still and know that everything’s all right” – and I’m okay.

It’s become a cliché, I suppose, to call the Doobie Brothers’ “China Grove” one of the great road trip songs of all time. But it’s still true. If I’m not driving when the song pops up on the player, I wish I were. And if I’m out running errands and the record – which went to No. 15 during the autumn of 1973 – comes on the radio, I generally keep moving until it’s over, even if I have to drive around the block an extra time. I should note that sometime during one of our visits to Texas, the Texas Gal and I will likely go to the little town of China Grove just east of San Antonio with the CD player blaring as we cross the town line. Not like that hasn’t been done a million times since 1973, but I’ve never done it.

The dreamy and mystical soundscape of John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” still captures me, more than thirty-five years after its release. I’m not sure what it all means, but it doesn’t really matter. Evidently Lennon wasn’t sure what it all meant, either: Wikipedia says that, according to May Pang, Lennon’s companion at the time, “the phrase repeated in the chorus, ‘Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé’, came to Lennon in a dream and has no specific meaning. Lennon then wrote and arranged the song around his dream”. Pang, by the way, provides the whispered female vocals on the record, which went to No. 9 in early 1975.

I don’t know a lot of the work of Alan Parsons, either solo or as the leader of the Alan Parsons Project, which is just another example of the world containing too much music to know. But I recall getting lost in “Time” when it came out of the radio speakers during the summer of 1981 on its way to No. 15. It’s a record that’s perhaps pretty and sentimental to excess – and I perhaps have a weakness for things pretty and sentimental – but it seemed at the time so much better than the music that surrounded it on the radio. (The records that bracketed “Time” when it peaked at No. 15 in July 1981 were “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie and “Touch Me When We’re Dancing” by the Carpenters.) And I still like it almost thirty years later.

Some Thoughts On March 17

March 17, 2010

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and I could post some Irish music, maybe some Clannad or the Corrs or something from deep in the files. But if there are ten thousand music blogs out there, then I would guess that at least one-third of them will mark in just that way the Irish holiday that seems to be far more important in the U.S. than it does in Ireland.

If that’s the case – and I do think from what I’ve heard and seen over the years that St. Patrick’s Day is observed with far more intensity here than it is in Ireland – then why is that so? Well, I think that the central function of those American parades and celebrations over the years has been to maintain a connection to the homeland, a link to the marchers’ Irish heritage. That means, I would guess, that the St. Patrick’s Day parades in Boston and New York and elsewhere are remnants of a time when being Irish in the U.S. was almost as much of a drawback as was being black.

That may sound like overstatement, but in my reading over the years, I’ve seen photos and citations of many Nineteenth Century job postings and notices that clearly indicated that those of Irish and African descent need not apply. The Irish certainly served their time – as a class – on the lower rungs of America’s ladder. I’ve also seen numerous citations in my reading about the American Civil War noting that Union soldiers of Irish heritage were glad to fight to preserve the Union, but when the purpose of the war metamorphosed into freedom for the slaves, the Irish in general were far less than enthusiastic, because freed slaves in the postwar world would mean, basically, greater competition for jobs. Again, that’s an indication that the Irish at the time – especially in the cities – were quite low in the nation’s cultural and social structure.

In such circumstances, then, it’s not unreasonable to have ethnic celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day, celebrations linked to the spiritual and cultural traditions that the emigrants left behind. It’s also worth keeping in mind that in the Nineteenth Century, those who left Ireland or any other foreign shore for the United States were almost certainly seeing their homelands – and the relatives and friends who remained there – for the final time. We tend to take for granted intercontinental travel these days, but in historical terms, the opportunity for an emigrant to return to the homeland is a very recent development. Easy and inexpensive travel by air is a late arrival, spanning at most – depending on one’s definitions of “easy” and “inexpensive” – the sixty-five years since the end of World War II. Until then, memory was all there was.

So for those people who arrived here in years earlier, home was a memory and not a place they could realistically hope to see again. Celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day – or the Swedes’ Svenskarnasdag or any number of other ethnic celebrations – were cultural and spiritual connections to the places and the people left behind. As years passed and the Irish – and similar ethnics groups – were accepted and took their places in the American mosaic, the parades and celebrations became as well an expression of accomplishment and belonging in the New World.

In one sense, it’s sad that over the years, March 17 has evolved into a day of silliness and unrelieved drunkery, of green balloons, green hats and green beer. On the other hand, it’s both interesting and in a way encouraging that vast numbers of Americans gather together to celebrate – even if it’s in the most oblique way – a people and a culture that not all that long ago, as history runs, were considered only a small step above animals.

It’s also worth remembering that – from my interpretation, which I think is well-founded, based on reading over the years – it was a simple thing that the Irish trying to do with those earliest St. Patrick’s Day parades. They were trying to remember what it was like to be home. And that’s something that belongs to everyone.

“Home” by Blue Rose from Blue Rose [1972]