Posts Tagged ‘Bob Seger’

‘That Dirty Little Coward . . .’

April 21, 2015

The jukebox across the way in the Atwood Center snack bar was playing Elton John. Sitting at The Table, I heard the puzzling title phrase, “I feel like a bullet in the gun of Robert Ford.”

It must have been a Monday morning in early 1976, about the time John’s record entered the Top 40. Why a Monday? Because that was the quarter when I was an intern at a Twin Cities television station, and the only times I was at The Table in Atwood that quarter was on the occasional Monday morning when I checked in with my adviser before heading back to the Twin Cities and my sports reporting work.

Anyway, I looked over at the jukebox across the way and wondered out loud, “Who’s Robert Ford?”

The answer came quickly from my friend Sam, one of whose passions was the American West. “He’s the dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard,” he said.

I looked blankly at him. “Okay,” I said. “That must mean something.”

He laughed and said, “Robert Ford was the man who shot Jesse James.”

I imagine I nodded, and the conversation went elsewhere and after a while, I headed to my adviser’s office and then back to the Twin Cities. And it’s entirely possible that until I picked up Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to The Long Riders in 1989, I never heard the folk song “Jesse James,” the song that Sam quoted to me that morning. Cooder’s version – which I sadly cannot embed here – plays over the end credits of the Walter Hill movie.*

The song is an old one, written soon after James’ death in 1882 by Billy Gashade (or perhaps LaShade) and first recorded in 1920 by a typewriter salesman named Bently Ball, according to the blog Joop’s Musical Flowers. Until I ran across that citation, the earliest version I knew about – but one I’ve not heard – came from Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1924. Digging around at YouTube in the past few weeks, I’ve found versions by the Kingston Trio from 1961, the South Memphis String Band (a group made up by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and the Black Crowes; Jimbo Mathus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Alvin Youngblood Hart) from 2010 and Van Morrison (from a 1998 performance with Lonnie Donegan and Chris Barber).

(Joop’s Musical Flowers lists many more versions, some dating to 1924, and has video or audio links for some of them.)

The shelves here also include versions by Bob Seger, from his 1972 album, Smokin’ O.P.’s, and by Bruce Springsteen, from his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and from the 2007 release Live In Dublin.

All of those are worth hearing (well, I’m not sure about the Kingston Trio’s version, which is why I did not link to it), but one of the best is the version by Pete Seeger from his 1957 album, American Favorite Ballads.

* Walter Hill’s film is also notable for the casting of four sets of acting brothers – Keach, Carradine, Quaid and Guest – as, respectively, the historical brothers James, Younger, Miller and Ford.

Finding My Way

May 25, 2014

Originally posted June 3, 2009

My blogging colleague jb, whose musings and memories gather at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, closed his recent examination of No. 40 songs from several summers this way:

“By 1982, I had my first full-time radio job, and the summers that followed would rarely be remembered in their totality the way summers used to be. And life has never been quite the same since.”

I imagine most folks who read jb’s words this week will nod in agreement. On first thought, I was tempted to say that the shift he’s talking about happens when we and permanent work take our grips on each other, but I’m not sure that’s right. Having thought about it for a day or two, I think that the change in our lives is not so much the beginning of work but the end of preparing for that work, whatever it may be. And, yes, once that time comes, one summer seems very much the same as the next, as do winters, as do, eventually, years.

For me, the summer of 1977 would turn out to be the final act in my long tale of preparation. I’d returned to St. Cloud State in the spring, taking basic reporting and another course that quarter and looking ahead to some workshops in the summer. All of that would add up to another minor to add to my degree, one that I hoped would make me employable at some newspaper, somewhere. Along the way, during spring quarter, I’d blundered into becoming the Arts and Entertainment editor at St. Cloud State’s student newspaper, the University Chronicle. A major dispute during the winter quarter had led to the departure of the paper’s editors, leaving the editor-in-chief alone to shepherd the newspaper along with a diminished staff.

Maybe a week into the spring quarter, a friend of mine and I – whiling some spare time away in the snack bar at Atwood Center – glanced through the latest edition of the Chronicle. There were some pieces riddled with errors and others that were awkwardly written at best. The worst offenders were in the Arts section. My friend and I decided to go ask the editor – whom we knew only vaguely – if he thought things might get better.

Frazzled and harried, he sat at his desk and listened to our commentary, then shook his head. “Better? Not until I get some people in here who know what they’re doing.” He looked at me. “You wanna be the Arts editor?”

I said yes and found myself learning as I went. It was a time of shuffling through reams of press releases for arts stories on campus that would provide good copy and good photos, of all-night paste-up sessions, of recruiting writers, of struggling to write and edit reviews of movies, plays and music. It was also a great deal of fun. And I learned I was good at it. I stayed with the paper past spring and through the two four-week summer sessions, and sometime during the summer, my adviser and I met in his office. “I tell you,” he said, shaking his head, “when I heard in March that you were going to edit the Arts section, I was worried.” I nodded. I’d been a bit concerned at the start as well. “But I have to tell you,” he went on, “all spring and summer, that’s been the best part of the paper.”

To be honest, I’d had a similar thought a bit earlier. As quarter break ended and the first summer session began, I sat at my desk in the newspaper office and looked through spring quarter’s editions. “We did pretty well,” I thought. It hadn’t been perfect, but the errors – some of them mine alone, some shared – were things I could learn from, which was the point. Another eight weeks of the newspaper, I thought – accompanied by workshops in television news and filmmaking to sharpen my writing and editing skills – and I might even be ready to do this somewhere else and get paid for it.

And here’s a little bit of what was on the radio that week, as I thought I might have found the place I belonged.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 4, 1977)
“Mainstreet” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4422 (No.24)
“Lido Shuffle” by Boz Scaggs, Columbia 10491 (No. 36)
“On the Border” by Al Stewart, Janus 267 (No. 51)
“The Pretender” by Jackson Browne, Asylum 45399 (No. 60)
“Fly at Night” by Chilliwack, Mushroom 7024 (No. 79)
“Feel the Need In Me” by the Detroit Emeralds, Westbound 209 (No. 93)

“Mainstreet” was the second of two great singles Bob Seger released from his Night Moves album, the other being the title track, which went to No. 4 in the early months of 1977. As June began, “Mainstreet” had just hit its peak of No. 24. Seger had sixteen more Top 40 hits, reaching into 1991, but to my ears, none of the others were ever as good as “Night Moves” or “Mainstreet.”

As June began, “Lido Shuffle” was on its way down the chart, having peaked at No. 11, the third single from Scaggs’ Silk Degrees album to climb into the Top 40. If nothing else from this selection of six singles will wake you up, “Lido Shuffle” will.

“On the Border,” like many of the songs from Year of the Cat and 1978’s Time Passages, sounds like no one other than Al Stewart. “Year of the Cat” had reached No. 8 in early 1977, and “Time Passages” would go as high as No. 7 in late 1978. “On The Border” just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 42.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard in any record a more accurate prediction of where American life was headed than in the last verse of Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender,” which forecast the 1980s rise of the yuppie:

I’m going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender.
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

Musically gorgeous and lyrically prescient in its pessimism, the record spent five weeks in the Hot 100 and peaked at No. 58

The Canadian band Chilliwack had found some success in its home country by the time mid-1977 came along, but the U.S. Top 40 was still out of the band’s reach. “Fly By Night,” with its ballad-into-boogie-and-back structure, seems now as if it should have hit, but the record had peaked at No. 75 and was in its last week in the Hot 100 as June began. Chilliwack would hit the U.S. Top 40 in 1981 with “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” and in 1982 with “I Believe,” which went to Nos. 22 and 33, respectively.

The Detroit Emeralds’ “Feel the Need” almost didn’t make the Hot 100 at all, peaking at No. 90 and sitting in the bottom ten of the chart for five weeks. From what I can tell by sifting through some information on the ’Net, I think the record was a re-release or a new edit of a record that had been released a couple years earlier, but I’m not at all certain. I’m not even sure I have the catalog number correct. (Someone out there knows the story, I hope.) But man, it’s a nice piece of work, and I think it should have fared a lot better than it did. (The Detroit Emeralds had two hits in 1972, “You Want It, You Got It,” which went to No. 36, and “Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms),” which reached No. 24.

Some Kate Taylor News
I got a pleasant email yesterday from Sandy Hicks, Kate Taylor’s manager. She said “We are happy to supply folks with CDs of all her early albums.” Those interested, she said, should email her and she’ll write back with details, and buyers can settle up through Kate’s website.

Hicks added: “Kate’s nearly finished with her new album, due out in late July. For the first time in her career, the album is all her own original songs.” Release details, Hicks said, are on Kate’s website, as is a schedule of performances set for this summer and autumn in the U.S. Northeast.

Saturday Single No. 339

April 27, 2013

Even as the snow came down less than ten days ago, giving us our second April snowfall of eight inches or more, the Texas Gal looked out the window and planned her gardens. Actually, her planning for the coming summer’s gardens began last fall. “I think,” she said in November, “we’ll do fewer tomatoes and more potatoes next summer, and we won’t bother with the corn.”

Or she might have said more tomatoes and no green beans, or another try at wax beans and fewer yellow squash, or no eggplant and more carrots. As the winter wore on, she juggled ideas for the coming summer’s gardens, looking past the snowdrifts and the icicles to see black dirt, green leaves and sunshine. And now, with the yard and the two gardens finally (we hope) clear of snow, the serious planning can start.

So this morning, we made our first trip to the big box store where we’ve stocked up in other years on plants, seeds, gardening tools and other goods. Among the items on today’s list were lumber, fence posts and chicken wire. Why? Well, last year, the gardener next to us in the community plot built an L-shaped frame about four feet tall and eight feet long on each leg. She then nailed chicken wire to the frame, and it became home to her cucumbers.

We could easily see that it saved space in the garden – cucumbers tend to wander out of the lines into the areas where other plants already reside – and it made picking the cucumbers much easier. “I want one of those,” the Texas Gal told me over the winter. “Can you make one?”

I looked at the frame and nodded slowly. I easily envisioned a basic design in my head, and from that, I calculated the necessary materials and their quantities. “I think so,” I said.

And I still think so, but today is the day that thought becomes action. We brought home from the big box some eight-foot long two-by-twos, three metal fence posts and a fifty-foot roll of chicken wire, as well as a box of three-inch nails and one of U-shaped staples. So as soon as I finish here, I’ll pull four of the two-by-twos into the basement, where they have a date with the sabre saw that came to me from my father’s workshop.

And then I’ll head outside and, with assistance from the Texas Gal, put together a cucumber frame.

I’ll be honest. I’m not sure how it’s going to go. I have very little experience building things, even something as simple as a cucumber frame. Years ago, I built a rough bookcase and equally rough bookshelf. Those went well, as did the construction around the same time of a wooden platform for a metal storage shed.

But that was a long time ago. Any skills I sharpened during those projects have long since dulled. I know it’s only a cucumber frame, and I know that aesthetic considerations are way down on the list of needs to satisfy during its building. But I want to do it well, and I am uncertain I can.

I’ll find out shortly. Before that, however, here’s the only song that fits here today, Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter.” This is Bob Seger’s version from his 1972 album of covers, Smokin’ O.P.’s, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

The Passions, Oliver & Bob

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 11, 2008

Making my normal jaunt through YouTube this morning, I found a few things related to recent posts:

Here’s the video the Passions released for their single “I’m In Love With A German Film Star.” I’d guess it was 1981, a year – if I remember correctly – before MTV came into being.

I couldn’t find a video of Oliver performing “Good Morning Starshine” (I found lots of videos of the record with various visuals, as well as some clips from the 1979 movie Hair but neither of those were quite what I was looking for), but here’s Oliver with a video/performance of his hit “Jean,” which spent two weeks at No. 2 during the early autumn of 1969:

And, reaching back to Tuesday’s post, here’s a live performance by Bob Seger from 1980 at Largo, Maryland, of “Rock And Roll Never Forgets.”

As it happens, embedding of the Seger video has been disabled since I posted it. The video can be viewed here.

Enjoy! Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at a mid-December Billboard Hot 100 from 1971.

On Maintenance & A Forgotten Date

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 9, 2008

It’s a little surprising – though maybe it shouldn’t be – how much more strenuous taking care of a house is than it was to take care of an apartment.

We’ve had two light snowfalls in two days, and although we’re not responsible for clearing the long driveway – our landlord either does it himself or hires someone to plow it – it is our responsibility to clear the sidewalk that snakes its way from the backdoor around to the front and from there to the street. And so far, we’ve been woefully ill-equipped to do so.

We’ve never needed real snow shovels before. For years we’ve carried in our cars those collapsible shovels designed to help you dig out of a snowdrift. They’ve served well the few times we’ve had to shovel any snow here in St. Cloud, as all we’ve ever needed to do was to shovel drifts from around our second car in the parking lot after a heavy snow.

But they don’t do too well clearing a sidewalk. And neither, once the snowfall hits an inch, will a wide broom. With less than an inch, the broom can work, but it takes a lot more effort with the broom than it would with a standard snow shovel. The aches in my legs, shoulders and forearms are providing testimony to that even as I write. So pretty much as soon as I get this post up this morning, I’m going to head over to Handyman’s, where the Seversons have supplied my family’s hardware needs since I was in junior high, and pick up two snow shovels.

I will say this about the differences between a house and an apartment: I’m in better shape now than I have been for some years. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to oil myself up and win any contests. But frequent activity – from hauling boxes around in the heat of August to taking care of any number of minor outdoor chores and walking up and down stairs several times a day for any number of reasons – has given me plenty of exercise. I’ve actually lost more weight in the four months since we began the move than I did in the four months or so before that when the Texas Gal and I were regularly going to the gym. (As our time available for the gym dwindled while we prepared for the move in summer, the frequency of our visits decreased and we ended our membership; we may renew it.)

(One of my readers the other week left a comment asking how things went on my recent visit to my doctor. As I expected, Doctor Julie told me I was in good shape for a middle-aged man, except for the cholesterol, which was still high [though not quite as high as it has been]. That was the only real concern, and she said she was pleased that I’d lost some weight. Since the visit, I have found ways to remember to take my cholesterol medication, the generic equivalent of Lopid, regularly.)

I Just Forgot
For some reason, I’ve been a little distracted lately, not noticing some things I should notice and forgetting stuff I should remember. Readers will recall that I forgot to post December’s First Friday piece last week until Saturday.

And yesterday, I didn’t think at all about its being December 8 until I stopped by The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, the superlative blog offered by my pal jb in Madison, Wisconsin. When I did, I realized with a start that yesterday was the twenty-eighth anniversary of the murder of John Lennon. I hadn’t remembered it, hadn’t thought about it, hadn’t written about it.

But jb remembered. And he invited regular commenter Yah Shure – a regular visitor here, as well – to look back to that evening in 1980, when Yah Shure was the deejay at WJON here in St. Cloud. It’s a great post by both Yah Shure and jb, and the only thing I can say beyond “congratulations” to both of them is that I wish I’d thought of it first! If you haven’t read it already, do so.

(And while you’re at it, take a look at the pensive take on the anniversary posted at The Great Vinyl Meltdown by another friend of mine, caithiseach.)

As to the anniversary of Lennon’s death, even had I thought about it, I’m not sure I’d have more to say. I’ve written twice about it, I think, once when pondering the year 1980 and then again on the anniversary of Lennon’s death last year. In any case, I forgot about it yesterday. But it was only for a day, and we’ll let Bob Seger take it from there.

Bob Seger – “Rock And Roll Never Forgets” [1976]

We’re Moving!

July 18, 2011

Originally posted July 2, 2008

Well, it’s begun: Two bookshelves have been emptied into about eight boxes, stacked in the living room. Twenty or so empty boxes clutter the kitchen and the entryway. And the catboys – who distrust any alteration of their environment – are a little upset, stopping by occasionally to complain to the Texas Gal or me that they don’t like change.

We’ve moving!

The owner of the apartment complex where we’ve lived for almost six years was looking for tenants for a house he also owns and offered it to us. We looked at the place a couple of times, asked a few questions and got satisfactory answers. And we took into consideration two things: First, we have badly outgrown our two-bedroom apartment both for storage and with stuff we use everyday. (That happens when collections are of things that are bulky, as are books, records, CDs and fabric. Were we both stamp collectors, we might not be so crowded. But we’re not, so . . .) Second, the house offers at least two-and-a-half times the space we now have with only a small increase in rent.

There was a third consideration: We like our neighborhood here on the East Side. I grew up no more than six blocks from the apartment, and the Texas Gal likes the area, too. Luckily, the house in question is on a wooded lot adjacent to the apartment complex, no more than thirty yards away. It’s close enough that were we younger, we’d likely just haul stuff over ourselves when the time comes, recruiting friends to help with the heavy lifting. But being where we’re at chronologically, we’re going to hire movers to do the hauling come September 1.

We will, however, do the packing. That will also, we’ve decided, include some winnowing. You know how it is: Stuff accumulates for no other reason than its own existence. Greeting cards from several years pile up in a basket; magazines you intend to really read someday huddle on the coffee table; and all those recipes and coupons to restaurants you want to try sometime create a fire hazard by the toaster. So we’ll be sifting as we pack, separating the chaff of almost six years’ living from the grain we’ll move.

It was easier back in 1976, when I made my first move, from my parents’ home to the drafty house on the North Side. I moved a twin bed and a dresser, a writing table and a chair and some bricks and boards (the bricks salvaged from a pile created when Murl and I knocked down the chimney of the house we moved). I moved some books – about forty, I’d guess, not nearly as many as the Texas Gal and I have now – my clothes and various other items necessary for day-to-day living. I was done in just a few trips of my Ford Falcon and with one trip (I think) by Murl’s truck, to move the bed and the dresser.

This will be the twentieth time I’ve loaded up my stuff and moved. (It’s my twenty-first move, but I doubt I did much loading during the shift from Riverside Drive to Kilian Boulevard here in St. Cloud when I was three.) The Texas Gal has moved a few times, too. There’s one thing that makes this impending move different: When we moved from the Twin Cities to St. Cloud in late 2002, we’d been sharing living quarters for a little more than a year, and the things we used for daily life – from the couch to the can opener, the fan to the frying pan we used for Sunday bacon – had either been hers or mine. So many things like that have become “ours” in these nearly six years here. Even as I survey the incredible amount of stuff that needs to be packed, there is comfort in that.

And here are some songs from the year of that first, so very easy, move:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1976, Vol. 3
“Outward Bound” by Wishbone Ash from New England

“Out of Control” by the Flying Burrito Brothers from Airborne

“Lost Without Your Love” by Bread, Elektra single 45365

“Satisfied ‘N’ Tickled Too” by Taj Mahal from Satisfied ‘N’ Tickled Too

“Innocent Times” by Eric Clapton from No Reason to Cry

“Race of the Computers” by Pete Carr from Not A Word On It

“Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Warner Bros. single 8252

“Got To Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles, Capitol single 4274

“Pyramid (Of Love And Friends)” by El Chicano from Pyramid, 1976

“Smokin’” by Boston from Boston

“Night Moves” by Bob Seger, Capitol single 4369

“Turn the Beat Around” by Vickie Sue Robinson, RCA single 10562

“More, More, More” by the Andrea True Connection, Buddah single 515

A few notes:

Classifications are tricky things, but Wishbone Ash in the Seventies was considered hard rock, and the group rocked pretty well, by standards of the time. It’s true that Wishbone Ash on occasion allowed its folk inclinations to temper its rock, and that shows on New England, but the album also rocks nicely in spots, too. Listening to the group today, though – after thirty-some years of increasing toughness, roughness and incivility in music – Wishbone Ash sounds a lot less tough than it used to.

“Lost Without Your Love” was the title song to Bread’s last album, a reunion album released in 1977. (The album was the group’s first since 1972.) While this single’s hook didn’t sink in quite as deeply as those of earlier hits — I think of “If,” “It Don’t Matter To Me” and “Baby I’m-A Want You” in particular – it was still a nice piece of popcraft. “Lost Without Your Love” entered the Top 40 in the first week of December and peaked at No. 9 in early 1977. It was Bread’s twelfth Top 40 hit and the group’s fifth to reach the Top Ten. (“Make It With You,” the group’s first hit, was its only single to reach No. 1.)

No Reason To Cry was an album that saw Eric Clapton surround himself with lots of prominent friends: Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Billy Preston, Ronnie Wood, Jesse Ed Davis, Carl Radle, Georgie Fame and more. Sometimes it sounds more like an album by The Band than it does one by Clapton, which doesn’t bother me too much. Dylan takes a vocal turn on his own song, “Sign Language.” The lead vocal on “Innocent Times” came from Marcy Levy, who co-wrote the song with Clapton.

I’m certain there’s a story behind Apple Capitol Records releasing the Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” as a single in 1976, six years after the band’s last release and seven years after the four Beatles last recorded together. But I don’t know what the story is. Anyone out there? The single went to No. 7 that summer. (That wasn’t the Beatles’ last Top Ten hit, though; “Free As A Bird,” the “reunion” single that some thought ghoulish, went to No. 6 during the winter of 1995-96.)*

El Chicano was one of the numerous Latin rock groups that popped up in the early 1970s after the ascendance of Santana. The group hung around longer than most of its contemporaries, recording either seven or eight albums (All-Music Guide’s listing is unclear) between 1970 and 1976. The single here came from the 1975 album, Pyramid, which was the group’s last album for a major label.

“Night Moves” might be the greatest single ever written and recorded about growing up in the age of rock ’n’ roll. If it’s not the greatest, it’s pretty darn close to the top. Nominations, anyone? The song’s best line – “Strange how the night moves . . . with autumn closin’ in.” – is probably not the line I’d have chosen thirty-two years ago.

*As was pointed out by, I believe, reader and pal Yah Shure shortly after this entry was originally posted, the release of “Got To Get You Into My Life” as a single was related to Capitol’s release of the two-LP anthology, Rock ’N’ Roll Music, which itself went to No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart. Note added July 18, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1982

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 22, 2007

When I settled on 1982 as the year for this morning’s Baker’s Dozen – after dabbling with the ideas of 1963 and 1964, two other years still unexplored – I wasn’t entirely hopeful.

I know I listened to the radio during the year – most likely to the station in the Twin Cities that at the time played “the hits of the Sixties, the Seventies and today” without playing all of the Top 40. Nothing very rude or raucous came out of the station’s studios. Not being a radio guy, I’m not sure what the format was called; I think today it would be called “Adult Contemporary.”

I thought about 1982 while the RealPlayer was sorting mp3s, though, and I realized that I couldn’t independently recall hearing a lot of music during the year. In fact, only one song came to mind, “Wasted On The Way” by Crosby, Stills & Nash, which I recall hearing as I drove through Iowa on my way to check out the graduate school at the University of Missouri. And I thought it was odd that I would remember so little music; after all, music has been one of the main foundations of my life. And on a practical level, a good part of a reporter’s workweek is spent driving to and from things, and I always had the car radio on. And the radio frequently provided the background to evenings at home, as we didn’t watch much television. But what did I hear? I really don’t recall.

Oh, I know what some of the music from 1982 was, having dug into it later and filled in the record collection with things I missed. But I must have been on autopilot that year, for I have no hooks of memory on which to hang any songs.

Still, the Baker’s Dozen is pretty decent selection:

“It’s Raining Again” by Supertramp, A&M single 2502

“Walking on a Wire” by Richard & Linda Thompson from Shoot Out The Lights

“Marina Del Rey” by George Strait, MCA single 52120

“Take A Chance With Me” by Roxy Music from Avalon

“Thank You For The Promises” by Gordon Lightfoot from Shadows

“Still In Saigon” by the Charlie Daniels Band, Epic single 02828

“Straight Back” by Fleetwood Mac from Mirage

“Up Where We Belong” by Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes from the soundtrack to An Office and a Gentleman

“Cleaning Windows” by Van Morrison from Beautiful Vision

“I Can’t Survive” by Jimmy Johnson from North/South

“A Good Man Is Hard To Find (Pittsburgh)” by Bruce Springsteen at the Power Station, New York

“Take Me Home” by Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle from the soundtrack to One From The Heart

“Roll Me Away” by Bob Seger, Capitol single 5235

A few notes on some of the songs:

Supertramp was in the middle of a pretty good run when the jaunty “It’s Raining Again” was released. It was the British group’s seventh Top 40 hit and the sixth to reach the Top 20 in a three-year period. The song reached No. 11, but it was the band’s last stay in the Top 20.

“Walking on a Wire” comes from Shoot Out the Lights, the last project that Richard and Linda Thompson released before they divorced. Listeners might assume that the edginess of the material came from the tensions of the pending split, but All-Music Guide notes that most of the material was at least a couple years old. Nevertheless, there is an edge to Shoot Out the Lights that isn’t as pronounced in the couple’s earlier work. “Walking on a Wire” is typical, but the entire album is worth a listen.

I don’t have a lot of George Strait music, but for some reason, I find that “Marina Del Rey” grows more and more charming every time I hear it. Maybe it’s the dissonance of the place: One doesn’t think of a country boy taking his vacation in Marina Del Rey. Someplace on a southern river or the Gulf Coast seems more likely. But “Marina Del Rey” works, a judgment with which country listeners agreed in 1982: the record reached No. 6 on the country charts.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Thank You For the Promises” is one of those songs that can nearly always move me to tears. Much of the album from which it comes, Shadows, is somber, and this track is typical of those parts of the record.

Jimmy Johnson is a native of Mississippi and brother to soul/R&B singer Syl Johnson. North/South, the album from which “I Can’t Survive” comes, is a nice serving of third-generation Chicago blues.

The last two songs, as stylistically different as any two can be, are a fitting conclusion, especially since it’s a random pairing. Both of them – “Take Me Home” overtly and “Roll Me Away” more implicitly – are about finding home, that physical and emotional place where one can rest.

On The High School Jukebox

April 20, 2010

The tale of the jukebox in the Multi-Purpose Room at St. Cloud Tech in the autumn of 1970 was told here once before: In a time when school schedules were becoming more flexible, the former cold lunch room was renamed, and in an effort to make it more attractive to students for those times when their classes were not meeting, the administration installed a jukebox.

That was a move that I think the authorities eventually regretted, certainly by the second time Dawn’s No. 1 hit “Knock Three Times” drew the attention of some student’s quarter late in the autumn. When Tony Orlando and his crew told us to “knock three times,” feet stomped on the floor and books slammed on the table.  “Twice on the pipe” drew the same reaction.

Not all songs – or very many – created the aural chaos that Dawn’s second hit did. (“Candida” had come around earlier.) But the jukebox made the Multi-Purpose room, obviously, much louder than it had been during its service as a lunchroom. I give that long-gone administration credit for simply closing the doors and letting the music roll. And I wonder if any members of that administration had second thoughts the following spring when various news agencies reported that some radio stations across the U.S. were removing from their playlists – because of its seeming drug references – the Brewer & Shipley hit “One Toke Over The Line.”

The record was popular down in the Multi-Purpose Room that spring, maybe as much because of its buoyant country rock arrangement as its winking and chuckling “toke” reference. As we listened, we often wondered how Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley thought they could get away with it, and we marveled at the fact that – for the most part – they had: The record went to No. 10 in the spring of 1971. And we marveled as well that no one from the Tech administration seemed inclined to call the juke box jobber and demand that the record be pulled from the machine.

The record, as it turned out, was one of those happy accidents that seem to wait to happen. Two quotes from a page about the record at the Brewer & Shipley website make that clear:

Michael Brewer: ‘We wrote that one night in the dressing room of a coffee house. We played there a lot.  We were real bored, sitting in the dressing room.  We were pretty much stoned and all and Tom says, ‘Man, I’m one toke over the line tonight.’ I liked the way that sounded and so I wrote a song around it.  We were literally just entertaining ourselves. The next day we got together to do some picking and said, ‘What was that we were messing with last night?’ We remembered it, and in about an hour, we’d written ‘One Toke Over the Line.’ Just making ourselves laugh, really. We had no idea that it would ever even be considered as a single, because it was just another song to us.”

Tom Shipley: “‘One Toke’ wasn’t meant to make it to record. We were opening for Melanie at Carnegie Hall, and we played two encores. We really didn’t have anything else to sing to them. So we played ‘One Toke,’’ and the audience gave us a standing ovation. The record company president was there, and he said ‘Record it!’”

On the same page at the website, Brewer goes on to note: “The Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew, named us personally as a subversive to American youth, but at exactly the same time Lawrence Welk performed the crazy thing . . . That shows how absurd it really is. Of course, we got more publicity than we could have paid for.”

For all of that, and for the fact that just hearing the introduction still brings a smile to my face, “One Toke Over The Line” has a spot in the Ultimate Jukebox.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 13
“Dirty Water” by the Standells, Tower 185 [1966]
“Everybody Is A Star” by Sly & the Family Stone, Epic 10555 [1970]
“One Toke Over The Line” by Brewer & Shipley, Kama Sutra 516 [1971]
“How Long” by Ace, Anchor 21000 [1975]
“Mainstreet” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4422 [1977]
“(I’ve Had The) Time Of My Life” by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes, RCA 5224 [1987]

“Dirty Water” is, of course, a crunchy piece of great garage rock celebrating Boston as the home of lovers, muggers, thieves and those mysterious – to the twelve-year-old whiteray during the summer of 1966 – “frustrated women.” The record went to No. 11 during that summer forty-four years ago, and that single guitar introduction – with the fellows lip-synching here – still grabs hold of a listener and says, “Pay attention! We’re talking about Boston here!”

Having first heard Sly & the Family Stone as the group behind the frenetic “Dance To The Music,”  the winking “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and the funky “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again),” I wasn’t prepared in the autumn of 1970 when I heard the B-Side of that last record on WJON one evening. Sweet, melodic, a little bittersweet and even a little inspirational, “Everybody Is A Star” wasn’t something I would have expected from Sly Stewart and his pals. The record got airplay as the flipside of the No. 1 hit “Thank You,” although the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits doesn’t give it a ranking of its own. In my own book, though, sweet often outranks funky (not always, but often enough that I recognize the pattern), and “Everybody Is A Star” thus finds its place in the Ultimate Jukebox.

The pulsing bass introduction that kicks off Ace’s “How Long” sounds more foreboding than the song actually is, although a tune in which the narrator quizzes his gal on her infidelity isn’t going to be a chorus of hoots and giggles. The record – which went to No. 3 in the spring of 1975 – was the only hit for the group from Sheffield, England, although the group’s lead singer, Paul Carrack, later reached the charts four times in the 1980s as a member of Mike & The Mechanics. (Ignore, if you can, the video’s picture of Ace Frehley of Kiss.)

I spent a few days the other week reading Late Edition: A Love Story, Bob Greene’s Valentine and eulogy to the newspaper business, framed through his work during his mid-1960s high school and college years for two newspapers in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. It’s a good read, and I might write about the book itself one of these days, but what made it come to mind this morning was Greene’s tale about a nightspot where he and his pals would sometimes stop. A band of scuffling folks about the same age regularly came down from Detroit to play there, and Greene notes that when the band took its breaks, he often had a chance to talk to the band’s lead singer, a young Bob Seger. The odds of either one of them making it big in their chosen professions were so slender, and Greene’s tale makes me wonder about the odds of both of them succeeding to the degrees they have. “Mainstreet” is the second Seger selection in these lists – after “Night Moves” – and to my ears is the better record, although “Night Moves” packs a stronger emotional wallop. “Mainstreet” also came from the 1976 album Night Moves, and it went to No. 24 in the spring of 1977.

I’m not quite sure what to say about “(I’ve Had The) Time Of My Life,” which came – as most readers likely know – from the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing. A ladyfriend and I saw the movie the first weekend it was released in the autumn of that year. As soon as the movie was over, we wanted the soundtrack and tried to get to any of the several record shops in St. Cloud before they closed for the evening. As it happened, we had to wait until the next day, when we had planned a shopping trip to the Twin Cities. And the record – a ballad that turns into a dance number with hints of gospel (musically if not lyrically) – remains a touchstone for me for the seasons that preceded the film’s release.

‘I Go Out Walkin’ . . .’

February 16, 2010

As I’ve mentioned several times over the past three years – and yeah, the third birthday of Echoes In The Wind went by without comment sometime around February 1, the date of the first post here – for many years country music and I were strangers.

My dad listened to country music on the radio by his basement workbench and in his old ’52 Ford, but he wasn’t a music fan, as such. I doubt that he knew the names of many of the artists he heard as the music on WVAL took him through an afternoon of tinkering in the basement. And I never really knew anyone whom I can recall from childhood whose family listened to country music at home.

I learned a very little bit about classic country from the soundtrack to The Last Picture Show, which I saw one evening during the mid-1970s at the student union at St. Cloud State, but I never followed up. Country music was the choice for about half of my first set of in-laws – during the late 1970s and the early 1980s – but none of what I heard during visits really stuck.

It wasn’t until 1990, during my brief stay on the Kansas prairie, that I began to dig much into country music. As brief as it was, the music finally reached me, and during my years of record collecting overkill during the mid- to late 1990s, country music – especially in those areas where it intersected with folk and rock, as it frequently does – was one of the genres I dug into at least a little. (That digging intensified with the arrival of the Texas Gal in my life; as much as she loves rock and pop, she’s also a country fan, and I now listen to – and know more about – more country music than I ever have.)

All that said, I was reminded this week that I learned about one of the classic songs of country music from a television commercial:

The tune used in the 1997 spot for AT&T – featuring a young Larisa Oleynik – was, of course, Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.” (The spot is interesting for its depiction of what was cutting edge technology thirteen years ago.) I didn’t know that I’d ever heard the song before I saw the commercial. I imagine I must have, but whenever that might have been, it certainly didn’t make an impression. But once I heard it, I wanted to hear it again, so I did a little bit of crate-digging at Cheapo’s and a few other places, eventually finding a 1973 LP titled Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits, which had “Walkin’ After Midnight” as its leadoff. I think I used the tune on a few mixtapes I made for friends in the last years of the 1990s.

With the advent of CDs and then mp3s into my musical life, I soon learned that there are several – I really have no idea how many – versions of “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Many of them are resettings of Cline’s vocal into new arrangements that probably date from the years after her death in a 1963 plane crash. When I set out to create the Ultimate Jukebox, I knew that I wanted “Walkin’ After Midnight” in it. I wasn’t certain which version I wanted, but after a moment’s thought, I decided to use the original, the tune that was a huge country hit  in1957 and went to No. 12 on one of the four main pop charts of the the time (reaching Nos. 17, 21 and 22 on the other three).

But which was the original? After doing some digging, I learned that the version I first heard in the 1997 commercial – with the vocal “bompa-bompa” backing – was a re-recording that Cline did for her 1961 album Patsy Cline Showcase. I checked the other Patsy Cline anthology I have on vinyl and found an ill-advised revision in which the 1961 vocal is backed with an arrangement that pulls out the vocal parts and adds some horns. Then, deep in the files of stuff I had yet to listen to, I found what I think is an mp3 of the original 1957 recording, a record with a classic country feel to it.

So do I hold to my original thought and use the 1957 version? Or do I go with the first version I heard?  I like the 1961 version – the one used in the commercial – a great deal. But I also enjoy the original with its twang. And it was the original that spent eleven weeks in the pop chart, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. So it’s the 1957 version of “Walkin’ After Midnight” that starts this fourth selection of tunes from the Ultimate Jukebox.

(A note: I’ve seen the song’s title presented as both “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Walking After Midnight.” The two LPs I dug out of my stacks use the latter, but I’ve gone with the title as listed by Joel Whitburn in the Billboard book.)

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 4
“Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline from Patsy Cline [1957]
“You’re All I Need To Get By” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Tamla 54169 [1968]
“Temptation Eyes” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4263 [1970]
“Night Moves” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4369 [1976]
“Kiss This Thing Goodbye” by Del Amitri, A&M 1485 [1990]
“Mysterious Ways” by U2, Island 866188 [1991]

“You’re All I Need To Get By” was the fifth of seven Top 40 hits for the pairing of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell before her death at age twenty-four in 1970. It wasn’t their biggest hit in the pop chart – “Your Precious Love” went to No. 5 – but “You’re All I Need To Get By,” still went to No. 7 and spent five weeks on top of the R&B chart. And to my ears, it’s the most enduring of their chart hits. I’m not sure why, but there really doesn’t have to be a reason. I just know that the two singers’ version of the song written Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson never gets old for me.  (Ignore, if you can, the silliness of the Mulder/Scully video; just listen to the tune.) Key line: “I know you can make a man out of a soul that didn’t have a goal.”

As has been noted here before, the Grass Roots were actually several different groups of musicians over the years, but whoever they were, for a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they provided a steady offering of tasty radio fare, with fourteen Top 40 hits between 1966 and 1972.  Why “Temptation Eyes” instead of “Midnight Confessions” or maybe “Sooner or Later”? Because the first time I heard it coming out of the radio back in early 1971, the intro to “Temptation Eyes” grabbed my collar and didn’t let go until the record was over. Did it speak to circumstances in my life? Not really. But I still liked the record enough that I enjoyed hearing it whenever it came onto the radio as it headed toward No. 15. Key lines: “But she lets me down every time. Can’t make her mine. She’s no one’s lover.”

Bob Seger was looking back to 1962 when he sang about high school lust in 1976. The distance between us and the record is now more than twice the distance Seger was looking at then. But the song still resonates here and in lots of places, mostly because the tendency to look back, if only for an instant, is one that’s almost universal. Those of us fascinated with memory and memoir – and I obviously am one – no doubt let our rearward gazes linger on those long-ago teenage games longer than do others. And those backward glances might be tinted by tenderness, regret, satisfaction, bewilderment or simply affection. Does any of that help us make any more sense out of it all? I dunno. Making sense out of memory isn’t the point, I don’t think. Stuff happened, and then more stuff happened, and some will always remain, in Seger’s words, “mysteries without any clues.” The single went to No. 4 in 1976, the first of seven Top Ten hits for Seger. Key lines: “Ain’t it funny how the night moves when you just don’t seem to have as much to lose. Strange how the night moves . . . with autumn closing in.”

There’s a disconnect between the jaunty music and the resigned lyric of Del Amitri’s “Kiss This Thing Goodbye.” But then I guess that knowing when to quit is a good thing, if matters have gotten as bad as the song’s lyrics indicate, and if one knows when to quit, one might as well be upbeat about it. Back in the days when I was learning the relationship dance, I never knew when to quit. Hearing this record – which went to No. 35 in 1990, the first of three Top 40 hits for the Scottish band – might have helped. But probably not. Key lines: “Now I’m watching the fumes foul up the sunrise. I’m watching the light fade away.”

There are times when I truly enjoy U2, and there are times when I find myself wearied by the group’s efforts. I liked The Joshua Tree for a while, and as frustrating as the group’s experimental phase of the early 1990s sometimes was, at least the band’s output in those years was distinctive and didn’t all blend together, as the more recent releases do for me. And if the lyrics to “Mysterious Ways” are self-consciously cryptic, at least they’re not as pretentious as a lot of the band’s songs have been over the years. The record went to No. 9 after entering the Top 40 midway through December 1991. Key line: “You’ve been running away from what you don’t understand.”

– whiteray