Posts Tagged ‘Bob Dylan’

Blondie, Ry & Bob

May 25, 2014

Originally posted May 28, 2009

Well, digging at YouTube starts out well this week. Here’s a live 1979 performance – for television, I assume – of “One Way Or Another” by Blondie:

I didn’t find anything from Ry Cooder’s Chicken Skin Music, but then I quit looking after I found this gem from a March 25, 1987, concert in Santa Cruz, California: A performance of “Down In Mississippi” from the soundtrack to Crossroads. Here’s the roster of musicians: Ry Cooder: guitar, vox; Jim Keltner: drums; Van Dyke Parks: keys; Jorge Calderon: bass; Flaco Jimenez: accordion; Miguel Cruiz: percussion; Steve Douglas: sax; George Bohannon: trombone; Bobby King: tenor; Terry Evans: baritone; Arnold McCuller: tenor; and Willie Green Jr: bass.

And finally for today, here’s Bob Dylan with a brilliant performance of “Masters of War” from the 1994 Woodstock Festival.

Video deleted.

Tomorrow, we’ll dig into a Richie Havens album that I’ve mentioned before but never shared.

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Memorial Day, 2009

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 25, 2009

It’s another Memorial Day, another day to reflect. We’ve been told that some of our soldiers will this year begin to come home. Let’s hope that’s true. We’ve also been told that more of our soldiers are required to fight elsewhere. Let’s hope that’s for a brief time. These are the same songs as last year and the year before; if that’s a disappointment, I’m sorry. These are the songs that remind me of those whom we are supposed to remember today.

“Requiem for the Masses” by the Association, Warner Bros. single 7074 [1967]

“I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” by Phil Ochs from Rehearsals For Retirement [1969]

“War” by Edwin Starr, Gordy single 7101 [1970]

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by Peter, Paul & Mary from Peter, Paul & Mary [1962]

“One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)” by Coven, Warner Bros. single 7509 [1971]

“Universal Soldier” by Buffy Sainte-Marie from It’s My Way! [1964]

“Masters of War” by Bob Dylan from Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan [1962]

“Give Peace A Chance” by the Plastic Ono Band (John Lennon), Apple single 1809 [1969]

“2+2=?” by the Bob Seger System from Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man [1968]

“Handsome Johnny” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag [1967]

“Bring The Boys Home” by Freda Payne, Invictus single 909 [1971]

“All The Young Women” by the Cuff Links from Tracy [1970]

“Bring ’Em Home” by Bruce Springsteen from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (American Land Edition) [live, most likely in Detroit, 2006]

As I’ve noted the past two years, times have changed enough since Freda Payne, the Cuff Links and Peter, Paul & Mary recorded their songs that we now need to also bring the girls home, and we need to grieve as well with all the young men who have lost loved ones.

The Seeds Of A Brand Loyalty

March 25, 2012

Originally posted April 1, 2009

On April 1, 1974, thirty-five years ago today, I was playing hooky in a big way. In fact, I was starting my second week of hooky from St. Cloud State’s classes in Fredericia, Denmark. Spring quarter had started Monday, March 25. Sunrise that day had found me in a youth hostel in Zermatt, Switzerland, looking out of the window at the Matterhorn. I knew it was the first day of class, but I also knew I had yet to travel through Switzerland and Austria to Vienna and I had yet to see Munich in what was then West Germany.

It wasn’t a tough choice. So a week later, on April 1, I was in Munich, standing in a square to watch the town hall tower’s ancient glockenspiel chime the hour. As I stood and waited for the top of the hour – ten o’clock, I believe – I saw one of my fellow St. Cloud State students, DJ, whom I’d not seen for nearly four weeks, since a raucous few days in Paris. He grinned and we caught up with each other as we waited. At ten o’clock, the bells in the tower chimed, and colorful carved figures danced and jousted.

The crowd thinned, and I turned to DJ. “So what are you gonna do now?” I asked.

“I’m heading to the Hofbräuhaus for lunch,” he said, “and then I’m heading back to Fredericia, but I’m going to visit a shoe factory along the way.”

A shoe factory?

He grinned and said he was heading for the world headquarters of adidas, the company whose shoes bore a distinctive three stripes.

I knew the shoes. I’d wanted a pair for years and, finally, for Christmas 1971, my folks gave me a pair: blue with the three stripes in white. I loved those shoes, and I wore them out. Then I bought another pair to bring with me to Denmark. I don’t think I was wearing them the day I ran into DJ, as I’d left Fredericia for spring break in early March, and it was still a bit chilly to wear the adidas shoes every day.

We went to the Hofbräuhaus, where we ate some baked liver loaf and each had a couple of beers. After we ate, we found an unattended door on the building’s lower level, and we each sneaked out with one of the Hofbräuhaus’ distinctive gray mugs, repeating an act of larceny committed by thousands of others over the years. From there, we went to the train station and headed to Nuremberg.

As we rode, DJ explained. The adidas company had its headquarters in a small town called Herzogenaurach. We’d have to take a train from Nuremberg to a city called Fürth, and there, we’d have to catch a train to a station called Erlangen-Bruck, near the smaller city of Erlangen. There, finally, we would catch a train that brought us to Herzogenaurach. Our goal, DJ said, was to get a tour of the factory and the company’s shoe museum.

As DJ had planned, our fourth train of the afternoon brought us into Herzogenaurach, but it was mid-afternoon by that time. “We might be too late,” he said, as we hurried down the street. I saw a sign in the street, like a traffic sign. One portion of the sign pointed to the right, and showed “adidas” and the familiar trefoil logo. The other portion pointed left, and read “PUMA” with the also familiar leaping cat. As we headed to the right, I asked DJ, “Puma and adidas?”

He nodded as we hurried, and between breaths, he told me that the companies had been started by feuding brothers, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, in the years after World War II. Adolf had used his nickname, Adi, and the first three letters of his last name to brand his shoes: adidas. Rudolf had chosen Puma as his brand name, and the headquarters for both brands were located in Herzogenaurach, a city that in 1974 had a population of around 15,000, maybe a little less.

We made our way through town to a group of buildings at the edge of town, with the most modern of them marked “adidas.” We went to that one, and at the door, DJ explained our mission. Eventually, the doorkeeper went away and brought back a man who was maybe in his forties, wearing a conservative coat and tie. He looked at the two of us, with our longish, untrimmed hair, and told us he was sorry, the factory was closed and it was too late to get a tour. He gave each of us his card and said that if we could come back early in the morning on a Thursday or a Friday . . .

Disappointed, DJ and I walked back into the center of the small town and went to the adidas factory outlet. He bought shoes and an athletic bag; I bought a t-shirt. And we headed back, via Erlangen-Bruck and Fürth, to Nuremberg, where we caught a train that would take us to Hamburg in northern West Germany. From there, it was only a few hours to Fredericia. We got home about mid-day on April 2, a week and a day late for class.

(We weren’t the only ones to be late for spring classes, nor were we the last ones back from spring break: Many of us had missed at least some class time that spring quarter, and a few others straggled in after DJ and I got back to Fredericia. I’ve mentioned before, I think, that our time in Denmark was St. Cloud State’s first attempt at a foreign study program, and although the administration had anticipated some absenteeism, our behavior at the beginning of the spring quarter was more widespread and blatant than expected. From then on, in all of St. Cloud State’s foreign study programs, an extended absence required a good reason. Those students without good reasons, I think, were sent back to the States. And I’m pretty sure that, “But I hadn’t been to Vienna yet!” wouldn’t have been a good enough reason.)

A couple of days later, I got a letter from a gal I’d met in Vienna who was studying in Poitiers, France, inviting me to visit for Easter, if my rail pass was still good. It was, and train schedules were good enough to allow me to get there, spend two days, and get back to Fredericia without missing any school.

In fact, I thought, as I looked at maps and train schedules, I could leave Wednesday afternoon and head south to Munich – where there was a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci that I’d not seen while I was there – and then take a Thursday night train to Paris. I could still get into Poitiers on Friday, which is what my lady friend had suggested. I looked at my adidas shirt drying on the radiator and thought a little more.

And at 7:30 in the morning on April 11, a Thursday, I presented myself at the main building of the adidas shoe company. I gave the doorman the business card I’d gotten during my previous visit, and waited. The conservatively dressed fellow came to the door and did a double-take when he saw me. I reminded him that he’d essentially promised a tour if we came back early on a Thursday or a Friday. He nodded, smiling tightly, and escorted me into the building. He handed me off to a junior somebody, who took me around the factory and then through a small museum, where I saw – among other things – adidas shoes that had been used by Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali. I left the factory after about an hour, impressed with what I’d seen and carrying a bag of key chains and other trinkets, all marked “adidas.”

And this may be silly, but since that day, I’ve never worn a shirt or jacket or anything that displays the brand name of another shoe company. No Nike shirts or caps, no Puma, no New Balance, no Air Jordan. I’ve not always had sports shoes, but when I have, they’ve been adidas. I have several shirts with the adidas logo and none displaying any other shoe brand’s logo. I have a small collection of baseball caps, most of them displaying the logos of various athletic teams . . . and three with the adidas logo.

As I said, that brand loyalty might be kind of silly. I’m not an athlete, never really have been. But that loyalty satisfies something in me, and that’s all that matters.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 30, 1974)
“Dancing Machine” by the Jackson 5, Motown 1286 (No. 40)
“On A Night Like This” by Bob Dylan, Asylum 11033 (No. 51)
“Star Baby” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0217 (No. 54)
“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 46007 (No. 64)
“Watching The River Run” by Loggins & Messina, Columbia 46010 (No. 73)
“La Grange” by ZZ Top, London 203 (No. 97)

I don’t recall hearing any of these at the time. Readers might recall my mentioning the tape machine in the lounge of the youth hostel where I was living during the early months of 1974: We listened mostly to the Allman Brothers, the first Duane Allman anthology and Pink Floyd, with Graham Nash, the occasional slice of Bread and a few others being dropped in for variety. Radios were scarce at the hostel, and Top 40 was hard to come by.

Though I’m sure I’ve heard “Dancing Machine” before I ripped it from one of the Texas Gal’s CDs this week, I couldn’t tell you when. My tolerance for the Jackson 5 has been limited for years to “ABC,” “I Want You Back” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.” I don’t think “Dancing Machine” is quite up to the level of those, but it’s a pretty good, propulsive track, better than I thought it would be when I first chose it for this selection. The record went to No. 2 on the pop chart and spent a week at No. 1 on the R&B chart, the last Jackson 5 record to climb so high on either chart.

When listeners dropped “On A Night Like This” on the turntable, they were hearing something that hadn’t been available on record before except on bootlegs: Bob Dylan in the recording studio with The Band. The single was the first track from Planet Waves, which surprisingly – given their long association – was the first album that found all five members of The Band in the studio with Dylan. (The facsinating Basement Tapes, showing what Dylan and the five members of The Band had been up to during Dylan’s recovery from a motorcycle accident, would come out in 1975.) A rollicking and grinning piece of Americana (long before, as I said the other day, that term was applied to popular music), the single nevertheless failed to reach the Top 40; by the end of March, it had been in the Hot 100 for six weeks and had peaked at No. 44. By April 6, the record had fallen out of the Hot 100.

For about two-and-a-half years, between early 1969 and the late summer of 1971, the Guess Who – a group out of Manitoba, Canada – had been a reliable hit-making machine, putting eleven singles into the Top 40, with five of them reaching the Top Ten. (The most successful of them, “American Woman,” spent three weeks at No. 1 in the spring of 1970.) In the spring of 1974, the Guess Who broke a three-year absence in the Top 40, as “Star Baby” – a catchy piece of radio pop – slid into the pop chart. As March ended, the record was on its way up, moving to No. 54 from No. 63. Three weeks later, “Star Baby” poked its head into the Top 40, sitting at No. 39 for two weeks before tumbling back down the chart. The Guess Who had two more hits in 1974 – “Clap For The Wolfman” went to No. 6 and “Dancin’ Fool” went to No. 28 – and then disappeared from the Top 40 for good.

From 1974 into the early 1980s, Chicago-based Earth, Wind & Fire released a series of catchy singles that laced R&B with funk and the occasional tender ballad. That brought the group – formed and led by drummer Maurice White – sixteen Top 40 hits, seven of which reached the Top Ten. One of those, “Shining Star” spent a week at No. 1 on the pop charts; seven of the group’s hits were No. 1 on the R&B chart. That string began with “Mighty Mighty” in 1974. During the week in question, “Mighty Mighty” was at No. 64 and was heading up the chart towards its peak of No. 29. All together, the song – a potent slice of radio R&B – spent fifteen weeks in the Hot 100.

It’s interesting that Loggins & Messina included “Watching The River Run” on their 1976 anthology, The Best of Friends, as the song got no further up the Hot 100 than No. 71 in a six-week run. But then, Loggins & Messina only had three Top 40 hits, which would make for a pretty skimpy anthology. And “Watching The River Run” is a good choice, maybe the quintessential Loggins & Messina track: melodic and mellow with a lyric that tells us that we’re all part of something sweet and good, something that will go one when we no longer do.

The growling, nearly incomprehensible lyrics of ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” combined with the record’s Texas-style boogie, nearly got ZZ Top into the Top 40. “La Grange” crawled slowly up the chart after its March 30 debut, eventually reaching No. 41 in the last week of June 1974 and the falling out of the Hot 100 a month later after a nineteen-week run. Starting with “Tush” in the summer of 1975, ZZ Top would eventually have eight Top 40 hits, with two of them – “Legs” and “Sleeping Bag” – reaching the Top Ten in the mid-1980s. But as good as any of those were, I don’t think they match “La Grange.’ A-how-how-how-how!

Note: For those interested in the history of adidas and Puma shoes and the feud between the Dassler brothers that led to the forming of two competing companies in one small German town, look into Sneaker Wars by Barbara Smit. Even if you don’t wear sports apparel of any kind, it’s a fascinating look at influence the two companies had in starting the amazingly huge business of marketing sports gear and apparel.

Johnny & Joni, Big Country & Bob

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 15, 2009

As I generally do on Thursdays, I went looking around YouTube with the past few posts in mind. I found a number of nice videos of performance of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country,” but I couldn’t find the Joe Cocker/Leon Russell performance. I did find a nice one by Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell (even missing the first few seconds and mistitled though it is, as “Girl of the North Country”). It’s from an episode of The Johnny Cash Show, which ran on ABC from June 1969 through March 1971.

So when did this happen? According to the Internet Movie Database index of Cash’s show, Mitchell performed on the Cash show three times, including the first episode on June 7, 1969 (when Cash and Bob Dylan performed “Girl From The North Country”). Her third appearance, on October 7, 1970, was the date that she and Cash performed the song, IMDB says.

Here’s what I assume is the video for Big Country’s “In A Big Country” from 1983. (I don’t recall seeing the video on MTV at the time, so I’m not certain.)

Video deleted.

And here’s a 1964 performance by Bob Dylan of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” from the Steve Allen Show.

For tomorrow’s post, I think I’ll have the Texas Gal pull three records at random from the box of 45s that sits on the floor near my desk. That will be Grab Bag No. 3.

Driving On Ice With No Clue

November 16, 2011

Originally posted January 13, 2009

When I went to graduate school at the University of Missouri, I lived in a mobile home park on the south edge of the city of Columbia. The park was on at the top of a hill on Grindstone Creek Road. (The road is still there, according to Google Earth, but the mobile home park is gone.) Heading into the city from my home, Grindstone Creek Road twisted and turned its way down the hill to a major intersection; from there, the university campus was located up another hill, though the roads were straight and the hill not so steep.

For most of the time I went to graduate school, I had no problem getting to and from school and the offices on campus of the Columbia Missourian and, later, the office of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Through the last four months of 1983, I’d had no difficulty with the weather; I’d actually chuckled a little at the way folks clutched their coats and huddled over in the face of a thirty-degree breeze (-1 Celsius).

One day during the first couple weeks of January of 1984, I woke up to learn that an overnight storm had left a skim of ice on the ground, topped by about three inches of snow. I shrugged, got dressed and headed out. I swept the snow of my car – a Toyota that I’d named Toby; I’ll tell his tale someday – and headed through the mobile home park toward the gate on Grindstone Creek Road.

With the defroster clearing away the fog on the windshield, I watched as about four or five cars went past me, heading down Grindstone’s hill. Every one of them was sliding around the curve to the south, fish-tailing as they came through the short straight stretch by the mobile home park and then fishtailing around the curve where the twisty, downhill portion of the road began.

I know how to drive in snow and – when absolutely necessary – on icy roads. My record isn’t perfect: I’ve gotten stuck a few times and had a fender-bender or two, but I grew up driving in winter. Those folks I watched coming past the mobile home park and heading down the hill that morning had no clue. There was no way I was going to pull out onto Grindstone and put myself in their paths. I drove back to my place and stayed put until the traffic had settled down.

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, January 14, 1984)

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes, Atco 99817 (No. 2)

“Church of the Poison Mind” by Culture Club, Epic/Virgin 04144 (No. 27)

“The Sign of Fire” by the Fixx, MCA 52316 (No. 32)

“In A Big Country” by Big Country, Mercury 814467 (No. 57)

“Sweetheart Like You” by Bob Dylan, Columbia 04301 (No. 70)

“Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels, Capitol 5271 (No. 100)

Ah, the Eighties! Not one of my favorite decades musically, although I had some very good years during that time. (There were one or two years that were real stinkers, though, so that may color my perception of the decade.) I’m not at all sure how well any of these have aged. Well, except the Dylan, as its production is not tied to what one might call “The Classic Eighties Sound.”

Actually, the Dylan track sounds darn good, with a good lyric and melody. The credits on the album Infidels list Sly Dunbar on drums and percussion, Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Alan Clark on keyboards, Dylan on guitar, harmonica and keyboards and Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor on guitar. Knopfler and Dylan co-produced. I don’t know which of the two guitarists – Taylor or Knopfler – is playing on “Sweetheart Like You,” but, well, just listen to it. (The record peaked a couple weeks later at No. 55.)

As to the others – all of which I selected pretty much on whims – I think “In A Big Country,” with its bagpipes and broad ambitions, still works. In fact, I like it a whole lot more in 2009 than I did in 1983, when the album The Crossing was released. The single eventually went as high as No. 17 and was Big Country’s only Top 40 hit.*

Similarly, I like Culture Club’s “Church of the Poison Mind” more than I did back then. Still, what makes the track work is not so much Boy George and the rest of the band; it’s the vocal from Helen Terry that lifts the record up from the rest of the pack. By January of 1984, the record was sliding back down the chart, having peaked at No. 10.

Of the other three, I think the Yes single is the most memorable, though not necessarily the best; still, it reached No. 1 in the next week’s chart and stayed there for another week, the only Top Ten hit in the career of the long-lived and oft-altered group.

The Fixx’s single isn’t – to my ears – very memorable. It had reached its peak at No. 32 in the January 14, 1984, chart. And the Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer” – which is either the best or second best of these six records; call it a tie with “Sweetheart Like You” – was just ending a long stay on the Hot 100. In a twenty-week run, the Motels’ single had gone up to No. 9 before falling back.

It’s possible – maybe even likely – that’s some of these are album versions instead of the singles. And as always, bitrates may vary.

Bonus!
Sadly, I don’t have the record or the mp3, but at Dr. Forrest’s Cheeze Factory, I found a link to the video for the No. 16 record on the January 14, 1984 Top 40: “The Curly Shuffle” by Jump ’N The Saddle:

That’s just one more bit of nonsense that proves that a good novelty single can make the charts in any era. Nyuk-nyuk!

*Shortly after this post was published, a kind reader who knew more than I about Big Country informed me that the bagpipe sound in “In A Big Country” had actually been created by electronically altering guitar sounds. Note added November 16, 2011.

Keeping It A Mystery

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 12, 2008

One of the sheer delights of this time of year for me is giving the Texas Gal gifts she truly wants, whether from a brief list, from remembering comments she’s made throughout the year or simply from seeing something somewhere I know she’d like. I much prefer the latter two sources, because then she can truly be surprised.

Sometimes she prods me, asking for hints as to what I’ve found for her. I’m not all that subtle at that; any hints I give will either be too easy to figure out or too opaque to be helpful, so in order to maintain the surprise, I go with opaque:

“Is it bigger than a breadbox?”

“That depends on how large a loaf you have.”

Or, “What color is it?”

“Light brown, green and red, partly.”

All of which is true, and all of which leaves the Texas Gal less than enlightened about what she’ll find in her packages, which is my goal. You see, to me, the surprise is the one of the main pleasures of gift-giving, for both the giver and the recipient. That’s a lesson I learned through accidental experience.

It was December of 1971, and Christmas was not far off. I’d done my shopping for my family, for Rick and for a gal from school I’d been dating. The evening in question, in fact, might have been the evening when Jeannie and I exchanged gifts, just before she headed home to a small town south of St. Cloud for a couple of weeks. I remember that I’d gone outside to go somewhere, and then turned around and went back into the house to get something I’d forgotten.

And I walked past a doorway and saw my parents busily wrapping Christmas presents in the room. I tried not to look, but the item in Mom’s hands was unmistakable: It was the size of an LP, and it was dull orange. I knew immediately what it was: The Concert for Bangla Desh, the box set of George Harrison’s epic concert of the previous August, released only a week or so earlier. And I think my parents knew that I knew.

And as pleased as I was to receive the box set a couple weeks later on Christmas Eve, I think that my knowing what was in the package somehow diminished the joy of the gift for me and – more importantly – for my parents. The surprise heightens the joy in both directions, I learned that year.

So I think I’ll stick with opaque hints and keep a little mystery in the season.

A Six-Pack from the Billboard Hot 100, December 11, 1971
“Can I Get A Witness” by Lee Michaels (A&M 1303, No. 43)

“White Lies, Blue Eyes” by Bullet (Big Tree 123, No. 49)

“George Jackson” by Bob Dylan (Columbia 45516, No. 56)

“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone (Epic 10746, No. 60)

“Get Down” by Curtis Mayfield (Curtom 1966, No. 74)

“Take It Slow (Out In The Country)” by Lighthouse (Evolution 1052, No. 89)

A few notes:

Regarding Lee Michaels, I can’t really say it any better than does All Music Guide:

“One of the most interesting second-division California psychedelic musicians, keyboardist Lee Michaels was one of the most soulful white vocalists of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Between 1968 and 1972, he released half a dozen accomplished albums on A&M that encompassed Baroque psychedelic pop and gritty white, sometimes gospel-ish R&B with equal facility. A capable songwriter, Michaels was blessed with an astonishing upper range, occasionally letting loose some thrilling funky wails. In 1971, he landed a surprise Top Ten single with ‘Do You Know What I Mean,’ one of the best and funkiest AM hits of the early ’70s.”

As much as I liked “Do You Know What I Mean,” I always thought it was a little bit clunky, which was one of its charms. “Can I Get A Witness,” which hit the Top 40 for one week, reaching No. 39, falls for me into the same clunk-funk genre.

Bullet was a duo from England: John Cann handled the vocals and Paul Hammond played the drums. “White Lies, Blue Eyes,” which went as high as No. 28, was their only hit. The record has a pretty cool sound during the verses, but the lightness of the choruses for most of the record seems to me to presage the sound of groups like Pablo Cruise and the Little River Band a few years down the pike. I mean, that’s okay, but it’s not what it could have been; the later choruses, with some pretty good guitar and drum fills, sound a lot better to my ears.

George Jackson, the subject of the Dylan single, was an inmate in a California state prison who became a self-educated leader and political figure during his incarceration. He wound up dead in prison during the summer of 1971 in what some called an assassination, while others seemed to think that his death was simply the unsurprising end of a life of violence and crime. Folk hero or thug? I don’t know, and the page on Jackson at Wikipedia doesn’t really resolve anything. I recall the first time I heard the record: I was sitting at a picnic table somewhere with Rick and a radio one day, and we listened intently, as we did in those days to anything Dylan did. I don’t know if the deejay was asleep at the switch or making a statement, but the radio station didn’t bleep the line, “He wouldn’t take shit from no one,” and Rick and I looked at each other, startled. “Bob Dylan lays it on the line,” said Rick, laughing. In any case, the record – which never made it to an LP back then and, as far as I know, has since been included only on three relatively obscure Dylan CD anthologies – is an audio artifact of the tail end of the odd and bitter time we now call the Sixties. I sometimes wonder if Dylan ever regrets recording and releasing the song, but I figure not: I don’t think – at least as far as his music goes – Dylan has much time for regrets. The version here is called the “Big Band” version; the flipside of the single, which peaked at No. 33 – has a shorter, acoustic version.

Redbone, as I wrote here at least once before, was formed and led by Native American brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas, who, before they formed the group, were the writers of the song “Nicky Hoeky.” With its swampy feel, “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” reached No. 21 in early 1972. A couple of years later, Redbone’s brilliant “Come And Get Your Love” went to No. 5, and, as far as oldies radio is concerned, that’s the only Redbone single that seems to matter. It would be a kick to hear “Witch Queen” coming out of the radio speaker some day, but I suppose someone might complain about evil influences.

Curtis Mayfield’s “Get Down” has to be one of the great lost singles. The marketplace has its oddities, I know, but it baffles me how a single could be this good and not reach the Top Ten, much less the Top 40. “Get Down” peaked at No. 69 on the December 18 chart and then fell out of the Hot 100 before 1972 rolled around.

While not nearly as good as the Mayfield single, Lighthouse’s “Take It Slow (Out In The Country)” is a pretty good listen, too. The follow-up to Lighthouse’s “One Fine Morning,” which reached No. 24 earlier in the autumn of 1971, “Take It Slow (Out In The Country)” got as high as No. 64 in January of 1972 and was certainly better than a lot of singles that had more success. I know, I know: It’s the marketplace, but sometimes the listener is wrong.

My Time In Middle-earth

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 6, 2008

It’s funny, the things that stay with you from your youthful fascinations.

When I typed in today’s date – October 6 – at the top of the file I use to write the posts for this blog, I looked at it and nodded. “October 6,” I thought. “The date when Frodo was wounded under Weathertop.”

The reference is, of course, to an event in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of the fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Seeking to take the One Ring to perceived safety in Rivendell, Frodo and his companions – three other hobbits and Strider, the Ranger – are attacked by night in a small dell on the side of the hill called Weathertop. I don’t believe there is a mention of the specific date during the narrative at that point, but near the end of the massive adventure, the date is mentioned as an anniversary, and the date is also mentioned in a chronology in one of the many appendices that author J.R.R. Tolkien devised.

When I thought about Frodo and Weathertop, I pulled my battered and tobacco-contaminated copy of the trilogy from the shelf and spent a few moments verifying what I knew: October 6 was the date of that fictional event.

There was a time when I immersed myself deeply enough in Tolkien’s chronicle of Middle-earth that it felt at times like the history of a real world. I sometimes wished – like many, I assume – that it were real. I first read the trilogy when I was a freshman in high school. I’d read its predecessor, The Hobbit, a couple of years before that, but when I tried the trilogy, the shift to a more serious tone and more complex ideas put me off. But when I picked up the first volume of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, as a ninth-grader, it grabbed me. And for about six years, I guess, until the middle of my college years, one of the three volumes of the trilogy was always on my bedside table.

Oh, I wasn’t always reading it sequentially. I mostly browsed through it a bit at a time, either reviewing favorite scenes or poring over the appendices. I read plenty of other books – science fiction, history, and mainstream fiction – but I still took time to sift through Tolkien’s tales, probably not every day, but maybe once a week. Beyond that, I read the entire trilogy from the start once a year, generally in the autumn.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I don’t recall knowing anyone else in high school or in college who was fascinated as I was by Tolkien’s world and its inhabitants. But I’m sure they were around, members like me of the second generation to have discovered Middle-earth since the three volumes were first published in the 1950s. And, like those others, I assume, I urged my friends to read it. Some did, but most didn’t. I even managed to find an English copy of the trilogy during my year in Denmark to give as a birthday gift to the American girl I was seeing (oddly enough, I recall her birthday, which also happens to be during this week).

I could quote at length from the trilogy, and I frequently drew upon that ability to offer bits and pieces of advice or explanation or inspiration to friends and lovers. I’m sure that was, after a brief time, annoying. When I was planning my academic year in Denmark, I pored over the atlas, seeking place names from the trilogy; I ended up spending a day in the city of Bree, Belgium, a rather dull place, simply because it shared its name with a city in Tolkien’s world.

Sometime during the mid-1970s, the obsession ended, as such things generally do. The paperbacks stayed on the shelves. My love for the tales didn’t go away, but I no longer immersed myself in their world. When I joined a book club as an adult, I got a hardcover set of the trilogy to replace my tattered paperback copies. Now that I no longer smoke – I quit nine years ago, another anniversary that falls this week – I may get a new, clean set of the trilogy. And, as it’s been about fifteen years since I last read the trilogy, I’ll likely read it once.

Millions of others must have similar tales and memories, especially since the release of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films earlier in this decade. There are many websites devoted to the trilogy – both the books and the movies – with discussions and arguments and assessments of the value of the works and the meaning of their tiniest details. It may be a good thing that such sites and associations weren’t available thirty-five years ago, or I might never have come back from Middle-earth. Given the opportunity, I fear I might easily have become lost in my obsession, and as much as I love Tolkien’s world, I’m pretty glad to be a part of this one, too.

Given today’s anniversary of the attack under Weathertop, I thought I’d start a Walk Through the Junkyard with the piece “A Knife In The Dark” from Howard Shore’s soundtrack from The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film in the trilogy, which came out in 2001. After that, we’ll pull a random selection from the years 1950-2002.

A Monday Walk Through the Junkyard, Vol. 7
“A Knife in the Dark” by Howard Shore from the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001

“Poor Immigrant” by Judy Collins from Who Knows Where the Time Goes, 1968

“Pictures Of A City including 42nd at Treadmill” by King Crimson from In The Wake Of Poseidon, 1970

“Jock-O-Mo” by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, Checker 787, 1954

“It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” by the Grateful Dead in Washington, D.C., June 10, 1973

“Havana Moon” by Geoff & Maria Muldaur from Sweet Potatoes, 1971

“Shootout on the Plantation” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell, 1970.

“Long Walk to D.C.” by the Staple Singers from Soul Folk In Action, 1968

“Busy Doin’ Nothing” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Restless Farewell” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

“She Said Ride” by Tin Tin from Tin Tin, 1970

“See Him On The Street” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow The Green Grass, 1995

“Borrowed Time” by  J. J. Cale from Closer To You, 1994

“Tried To Be True” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls, 1989

“I Wanna Talk About Me” by Toby Keith from Pull My Chain, 2001

A few notes:

Every other version of the Judy Collins recording, as far as I know, uses the full title: “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.” It’s a Dylan song, of course, from John Wesley Harding, and I don’t think Collins quite gets to the center of the song, as she had [with the tunes] on the previous year’s Wildflowers. I get the sense that she was still a little too reverent toward her source.

The King Crimson track has some fascinating moments, but, as often happened in the genre called progressive rock, what seemed special many years ago now seems to go on a couple minutes too long. (On the other hand, as a writer, I know how easy it is to keep going and how difficult it can be to be concise.)

The Grateful Dead track comes from Postcards From The Hanging, a collection of the Dead’s concert performances of the songs of Bob Dylan issued in 2002. It’s a CD well worth finding for fans of both the Dead and Dylan.

Soul Folk In Action, the Staple Singers’ album from which “Long Walk To D.C.” comes, is an extraordinary piece of work. Backing the Staples are MGs Duck Dunn, Al Jackson and Steve Cropper and the Memphis Horns, with Cropper producing. The song “Long Walk To D.C.” is a moving piece of work, too, written by Homer Banks and E. Thomas (though once source says Marvelle Thomas), commenting generally on the struggle for civil rights and specifically on the March on Washington, which was part of the Poor People’s Campaign in the spring of 1968.

Tin Tin had a hit in 1971 with “Toast and Marmalade For Tea,” a frothy ditty that went to No. 20. Surprisingly, “She Said Ride” from the same self-titled album rocks some. The album was produced by the late Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees.

Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” is one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard. Written by Bobby Braddock and performed perfectly by Keith, the song was one of the first I got to know when the Texas Gal began to introduce me to country. If you ever get a chance, catch the video. It’s a hoot! (The link above now goes to that video. Note added August 8, 2013.)

A Baker’s Dozen from 1978, Vol. 3

August 10, 2011

Originally posted September 17, 2008

Wandering around the movie channels at the high end of the cable offerings last night, I watched the last forty minutes or so of National Lampoon’s Animal House as I munched on a late-night snack.

I’ve seen it before, of course, generally in bits and pieces like last night. In fact, I think the only time I saw the movie all in one serving was when it came out in 1978, most likely on a date in St. Cloud before my lady of the time had moved to Monticello. If my memory serves, she wasn’t amused; I was.

To a degree, I still am. Yes, it’s sophomoric and very often in bad taste. Portions of it are still very funny, though, or at least diverting enough to hold my attention while I nibble on a bowl of tortilla chips late at night. And seeing it is a random thing: I don’t check the cable channel to see when it’s going to be aired. But if I run into it while climbing the ladder of stations, I’ll watch it for a few minutes.

A couple of things cross my mind pretty much every time I see a snippet of Animal House these days:

First, the relatively large number of cast members who went became prominent in other films or other endeavors: Tom Hulce (who woumd up playing Mozart in Amadeus), Stephen Furst, Tim Matheson, Karen Allen, Kevin Bacon, Robert Cray (as an uncredited member of Otis Day’s band) and musician Stephen Bishop (as the earnest folksinger whose guitar is broken against the wall). There are others as well, I’m sure, but those are the folks who come to mind this morning.

Then there’s John Belushi. His brilliant, over-the-top performance as John “Bluto” Blutarsky is always tinted by the awareness of his self-destruction less than four years later. And then I mentally shrug as I change the channel or the credits roll.

Here’s some of the music that was around during the year the Tri-Delts amused at least some of us:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1978, Vol. 3
“Thornaby Woods/The Hare In The Corn” by Magenta from Canterbury Moon

“I Can’t Do One More Two Step” by LeRoux from Louisiana’s LeRoux

“Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight” by Emmylou Harris from Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town

“Human Highway” by Neil Young from Comes A Time

“You Don’t Need to Move A Mountain” by Tracy Nelson from Homemade Songs

“Waiting For The Day” by Gerry Rafferty from City To City

“Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione, A&M single 2001

“Is Your Love In Vain” by Bob Dylan from Street Legal

“Cheyenne” by Kingfish from Trident

“Loretta” by Townes Van Zandt from Flyin’ Shoes

“Ouch!” by the Rutles from The Rutles

“Hold The Line” by Toto, Columbia single 10830

“Little Glass of Wine” by Jesse Winchester from A Touch On The Rainy Side

A few notes:

Canterbury Moon was a British folk-rock group very much in the vein of Steeleye Span but much more obscure. With vocal harmonies centered on three female voices, the group’s sound is unique.

LeRoux combined R&B, funk, jazz, rock, and Cajun music into a tasty stew that sold a few records back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Still active, the group had a couple of pretty well-known songs: “New Orleans Ladies,” from Louisiana’s LeRoux, and “Nobody Said It Was Easy (Lookin’ For The Lights),” a single that went to No. 18 in 1982.

I’ve offered three Baker’s Dozens from 1978, and each time, a track from Neil Young’s Comes A Time has popped up. That’s just fine with me: It’s one of my favorite albums.

A while back, the album version of “Feels So Good” popped up during a random selection. Now, here’s Chuck Mangione’s single, which went to No. 4 in early 1978.

Dylan’s “Is Your Love In Vain” kind of plods along, almost as if it’s way too much work to get too involved. A lot of the Street Legal album was like that, loaded down with horns and background singers and never really taking off. And that’s too bad, as some of the songs on the album – “ Is Your Love In Vain” among them – were as good as anything Dylan had written in years. Cryptic, yes, and I think especially of “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power),” but good.

Kingfish was a San Francisco band that originally featured Grateful Dead member Bob Weir. By the time the band recorded Trident, Weir had left, and the band’s sound had become more mainstream, although there are still echoes of the rootsy, countryish folk rock sound that the group’s earlier albums presented.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Columbia Singles

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 25, 2008

It was about four in the afternoon yesterday when the Texas Gal and I took a break. We’d hauled four carloads of stuff over to the house – following five loads on Saturday – and I’d made another trip to the big-box home center, followed by the assembly of two more sets of utility shelves in the basement.

We’re beginning to envision how the living room will be arranged, and the Texas Gal has a handle on where things will go in the loft, which will be her quilting and sewing space. I can see that my study will have room to have my keyboard out, which means I can make some music again, and we’re negotiating colors for the bedroom. We’ve agreed on a Scandinavian motif for the kitchen.

Those things are much more vision than reality now, and much heavy lifting remains before the gap between those two words is bridged. This will be the first house the Texas Gal has lived in as an adult; she’s been an apartment dweller. And though I shared a house with some fellows during my late college years (I’ve lived in mobile homes and apartments since), this feels like my first house, too. So we’re trying to take in all of the process that gets us home, even the drudgery of piecing together plastic shelf sets and of sorting out boxes of fabric.

As we took our break in what is still a sparely furnished kitchen, she drinking a Dr. Pepper, me sipping a Summit India Pale Ale, we looked at the bare walls and saw the décor that will soon be there; we looked through the archway into the empty dining room and saw the table and chairs that will soon welcome dinner guests. And we smiled at our house-to-be and at each other.

Translating that to music can be sketchy, but I went to my favorite song about smiles, and moved on from there.

A Baker’s Dozen of Columbia Singles

“Make Me Smile” by Chicago, Columbia 45127, 1970

“My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius, Columbia 44163, 1967

“My Back Pages” by the Byrds, Columbia 44054, 1967

“Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins & Messina, Columbia 45719, 1972

“Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 10090, 1975

“Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan, Columbia 11072, 1979

“Going Down To Liverpool” by the Bangles, Columbia 04636, 1984

“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” by Andy Williams, Columbia 42674, 1963

“Silver Bird” by Mark Lindsay, Columbia 45180, 1970

“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers, Columbia 44414, 1967

“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde, Columbia 44590, 1968

“Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand, Columbia 45236, 1970

“I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years After, Columbia 45457, 1971

A few notes:

“Make Me Smile” still grabs me by the collar and says “Wake up, we’re playing music here!” The same is true, of course, for many of Chicago’s early singles. (Take a look at what JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ had to say about “25 or 6 to 4” recently.) Unhappily, the band didn’t keep up this level of quality. When did I give up on Chicago? Maybe with “Wishing You Were Here” in 1974, but certainly by the time of “If You Leave Me Now” in 1976. For a few years, though, Chicago had a good hold of my collar.

“My World Fell Down” comes from the confectionary talents of Gary Usher and Curt Boettcher, the producers behind Sagittarius. A little too cloying, maybe, but the single is worth noting because the 1997 CD release restored an avant-garde bridge of noise that had been brutally edited when the LP was released in the Sixties.

The Dylan track was the single from Slow Train Coming, the first of Dylan’s three Christian albums of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, with production from Barry Beckett and guitar provided by Mark Knopfler, Slow Train Coming is far better – and far more enjoyable – than the two albums that followed. (Dylan earned a Grammy for “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance” for “Gotta Serve Somebody.”)

“Silver Bird” was one of two great radio singles Mark Lindsay released in 1970 after leaving Paul Revere & the Raiders. “Arizona” was the other, and it went to No. 10 in the early months of 1970. “Silver Bird,” which entered the Top 40 in July, reached only No. 25. They were Lindsay’s only Top 40 hits. I don’t recall the last time I actually heard either one of them on the radio, but they still sound plenty good popping up on the player.

The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the Avant-Garde was the duo of Elkin “Bubba” Fowler and Chuck Woolery. “Naturally Stoned” was one of those rare hits that almost wasn’t: The record reached No. 40 in its only week on the chart. The book doesn’t say what happened to Elkin after that, but Woolery, the book notes, went on to host TV games shows like Wheel of Fortune, Love Connection and Greed. Even with all that, it’s not a bad record although it’s certainly a period piece.

I’ve never been much of a Streisand fan, but she and producer Richard Perry got it right with “Stoney End.” The record did well, too, going to No. 6 after entering the Top 40 in December 1970. (The similarly titled album came out in February 1971, which explains the seemingly contradictory tags on the mp3.)

Recalling The Year Of No Crayons

July 25, 2011

Originally posted July 30, 2008

I saw the first back-to-school ads in the paper the other week, and we got the first ad supplements in the mail this week. As with every other annual event that carries commercial weight, the back-to-school season begins earlier every year.

Never having had kids, I’ve never had to deal with back-to-school from the parents’ side of the aisle, but I recall coming home from the first day of school from, oh, third grade onward and being quizzed on what it was I would need to survive the scholastic rigors of the school year ahead.

And as soon as dinner was over, my folks, my sister and I would get in the car, head across the river to downtown and walk along with what seemed like hundreds of students and parents to Dan Marsh Drug. We’d find notebooks and pens and pencils, struggling through crowds to get them. Mom and Dad would look over our choices and check them against the lists we’d made that day in school.

(As I understand it, schools these days mail lists of required supplies to students’ homes during the summer. I imagine that makes the first day of school a day with one less chore to accomplish, if teachers no longer have to spend time listing required supplies. And it most likely lessens the madness in the stores: If parents and students have some weeks before the start of school to acquire supplies, then there’s no need for the first-night-of-school mania that I saw many autumns at the drug store. But it also takes away from the student the responsibility of listening during that first day of school to make certain that the list he or she brings home contains everything he or she will need during the year.)

One of the highlights of school shopping during elementary years was the selection of the new box of crayons for the new school year. Most years, my folks were firm that twenty-four crayons provided my sister and me with enough colors to accomplish any art project that might be required. During my later years of elementary school, I looked longingly at the larger sets of crayons. Never mind that I was an indifferent artist, one whose life as well as his art was defined by coloring outside the lines. The thought of all those new colors fascinated me.

My birthday falls in early September, and as I entered sixth grade in 1964, one of my gifts was a canister with forty-eight crayons. I remember the gold crayon and the silver one. There was periwinkle and brick and slate, spring green, sienna and burnt umber. I enjoyed the names for the colors almost as much as the crayons themselves. (That holds true today; I find the art/science of naming paints and fabrics fascinating, an interest that was augmented in 1964, when Dad bought a new car. I remember being captivated by the fact that a car somehow became more desirable when one said that its color wasn’t light brown but was in fact chantilly beige.)

A year later, I entered seventh grade, a move that brought lots of changes. I’d ride a bus to school for the first time, I’d move from classroom to classroom during the day, keeping my things in a locker, and I’d have to shower after phy. ed. And I was no longer required to bring a box of crayons to school. Whatever supplies I needed for projects in art class would be provided, and crayons would not be among them.

As points of passage go, it’s a small one, I guess. It’s nothing as important as a first kiss or a first driver’s license or a first beer. But I noticed it, and although I probably didn’t say anything to anyone, it felt to me like one tiny step on the pathway from kid to adult.

And here’s a random set of songs from the year I didn’t need crayons. Some of them I most likely heard; most I probably didn’t.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1965, Vol. 2
“Just Like Tom Thumbs’ Blues” by Gordon Lightfoot, United Artists single 929

“I’ll Be True To You” by Spencer Wiggins, Goldwax single 118

“Mr. Tambourine Man” by Bob Dylan from Bringing It All Back Home

“Wernher von Braun” by Tom Lehrer from That Was The Year That Was

“Now The Sun Has Gone” by the Beatmen, Pye single 7N15792 (UK)

“007” by David Lloyd & His Orchestra from Sounds For A Secret Agent

“Tired of Waiting For You” by the Kinks, Reprise single 0347

“You’re Going To Lose That Girl” by the Beatles from Help!

“Wang Dang Doodle” by Koko Taylor, Checker single 1135

“Don’t Ask Me” by the Staccatos from Come Back Silly Girl

“Lara’s Theme” by Maurice Jarre from the soundtrack to Doctor Zhivago

“Respect” by Otis Redding, Volt single 128

“It Was A Very Good Year” by Frank Sinatra, Reprise single 0429

A few notes:

Gordon Lightfoot’s take on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” has to be one of the first cover versions of Bob Dylan’s surreal tale of Juarez, Housing Project Hill, Sweet Melinda and all the rest. The arrangement is interesting, and Lightfoot does a pretty good job with it.

Spencer Wiggins’ name and work has popped up here before. A good singer who hailed from Memphis (and went to high school with, among others, Booker T. Jones and William Bell), Wiggins recorded for many years, most often for Goldwax, but never really made a dent in the public awareness. His work for Goldwax was collected and released in 2006 by Britain’s Kent label.

“Wernher von Braun” is one of the tracks from That Was The Year That Was, a live comedy album by Tom Lehrer, who was one of the most on-target satirists of the mid-1960s. Von Braun – whom I met once after he gave a talk at St. Cloud State – was one of the German scientists who designed the first workable rockets during World War II, rockets that were used late in the war to attack London. After the war, von Braun was brought to the U.S. and was one of the chief scientists in the Apollo program that put men on the moon. Lehrer’s song is witty, his audience liked it in 1965, and he makes a point worth pondering: Von Braun’s conduct was open to criticism; his work for Nazi Germany resulted in death and damage in England, and there’s clear evidence that much of that work in Germany was accomplished with the use of slave labor.

This version of “007” from the James Bond films comes from an album mentioned here some time ago. David Lloyd jumped on the Bondwagon in 1965 by recording not only the themes to the three James Bond films already released but by also recording themes for the books not yet turned into films. The record was one of four Bond-related albums I collected in 1964 and 1965, and it may be my favorite of them all.

I’m not sure what a “Wang Dang Doodle” is, but you ought to give Koko Taylor’s song a listen. Taylor takes her listeners through a cityscape peopled by characters that sound as if they came from Bob Dylan’s notebook as interpreted by Howlin’ Wolf. The song actually came from the pen of Willie Dixon, bass player on many Checker and Chess releases and one of the most important writers in blues history.

Otis Redding wrote “Respect” and had a minor hit with the record (No. 35 in late 1965), but of course, the song was pretty much taken away from him by Aretha Franklin and her titanic version two years later. But it’s always good to go back and take a listen to the original, of course.

There are plenty of sad songs out there, always have been and always will be. But few of them are as melancholy as Frank Sinatra’s “It Was A Very Good Year,” which was written by Ervin Drake. Even though the narrator claims that all is well, the fact is: All the wine is gone. And Sinatra nails the song. To me, it’s one of the best performances of his long career.