Posts Tagged ‘Bobbie Gentry’

In The Singles Bin

June 1, 2011

Originally posted January 2, 2008

I never bought many singles. By the time I began listening to and buying rock and pop, the era of the album was upon us. Even though singles were routinely issued from most albums – there were some exceptions – the focus of music was on the album and the overall sense (or message or allegory) that the listener could gain from the forty or so minutes of music on the album.

I remember the first time I bought a single. It was during a shopping trip with my family to downtown Minneapolis during what must have been the summer of 1969. I made my way to – I think – the seventh floor of Dayton’s department store and rummaged through the singles until I found the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius//Let the Sunshine In,” which had impressed me enough the spring before on the radio that I wanted the record. (This was still a few months before I began listening regularly to Top 40 radio, so the record must have impressed me a great deal, indeed!)*

As I found my record and made my way to the cash register, I looked at the expanse of records around me, singles and albums alike. I remember feeling as if I’d walked by accident into a clubhouse where I did not belong, one from which I would be ejected without ceremony if the others there realized that I did not know the password or the secret handshake. I don’t recall if I thought then and there about becoming a member of the club, but within a year, I was shopping for records – almost always albums – with a growing assurance that, if so challenged, I would be allowed to stay.

Over the years, a small collection of singles has made its way onto my shelves. A few of them were in the boxes of 45s that I received from Mr. Rau, the man across the alley who owned a string of jukeboxes in the St. Cloud area when I was growing up. Some date from purchases in the late 1980s when I began making mix tapes for friends from my growing record collection and I didn’t want to lay out the money for an album with, say “Oooh Child” on it, so I bought the single instead. And quite a few date from a few garage sales in the early 1990s when I found metal carrying cases for 45s and bought them, gaining the singles inside as an afterthought.

So I probably have about a hundred singles, as opposed to more than 2,900 LPs, and a good number of the singles are quite obscure. I have some set aside as the ones that I enjoy the most, with the rest organized only by grade. Just to give an example of the range of stuff, I’ll list here the sixth record in each section:

“Do Wah Diddy Diddy”/“What You Gonna Do?” by Manfred Mann, Ascot 2157, 1964

“A World of Our Own”/“Sinner Man” by the Seekers, Capitol 5430, 1965

“I’m Gonna Make You Mine”/“She Sold Me Magic” by Lou Christie, Collectibles 3529, 1985

“The Return of the Red Baron”/“Sweetmeats Slide” by the Royal Guardsmen, Laurie 3379, 1967

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”/“Race Among The Ruins” by Gordon Lightfoot, Reprise 0121, date unknown.

“Rock and Roll Rhapsody”/“I Wish I May, I Wish I Might” by the Four Aces, Decca 30575, date unknown.

“Love My Lady”/“Just A Little Lonesome” by Bobby Helms, Decca 30557, date unknown.

The Christie record is a reissue of two of his 1969 hits on the Buddah label. “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” charted in the U.S. and the U.K., but “She Sold Me Magic” charted only in the U.K., according to Wikipedia.

The Lightfoot single collects two tracks from Summertime Dream with the legend “Back to Back Hits.” “Wreck” was released in 1976 as Reprise 1369, and “Race” was released later that year as Reprise 1380, so this is a later reissue, but I’m not sure of the date.

I’ve seen a date of 1958 for the Four Aces record, and that’s likely correct, as their last Top 40 hit, “You Can’t Run Away From It,” was Decca 30041 in 1956. Based on its catalog number, the Helms single likely comes from 1958 as well.

That proves nothing except that the few singles I have in my carrying cases run from the very well known to the very obscure. But the single I remember most clearly is tucked away on another shelf, with a few other singles next to the Beatles’ albums. My dad bought it for my sister and me in February 1964, and it still sits in the original picture sleeve showing the four mop-topped Beatles smiling directly at the camera. I haven’t played it for a long time, but I think it’s still in pretty good shape. And I think we’ll start today’s Baker’s Dozen with the B side, which did pretty well, reaching No. 14 on its own.

A Baker’s Dozen of Capitol singles
“I Saw Her Standing There” by the Beatles, Capitol 5112, 1964

“Little Deuce Coupe” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 5009, 1963

“Sweete Peony” by Bobbie Gentry, Capitol 2295, 1968

“Wildflower” by Skylark, Capitol 3511, 1974

“Galveston” by Glen Campbell, Capitol 2428, 1969

“What About Me?” by Quicksilver Messenger Service, Capitol 3046, 1971

“Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” by the Fortunes, Capitol 3086, 1971

“I’m Not Lisa” by Jessi Colter, Capitol 4009, 1975

“Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto, Capitol 4945, 1963

“I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy, Capitol 3350, 1972

“Fisherman’s Blues” by the Waterboys, Capitol 17527, 1988

“Pray for Surf” by the Honeys, Capitol 5034, 1963

“Every Beat Of My Heart” by Josie & The Pussycats, Capitol 2967, 1971

Well, it’s an interesting mix. A couple of No. 1 singles – the Reddy and “Sukiyaki” – and several singles that didn’t hit the Top 40 at all: The Gentry, the Quicksilver, the Honeys and Josie & The Pussycats. (And I don’t recall adding that last to the collection!) I’m not sure if the Waterboys single charted, but I don’t think so. [It did not.]

It’s worth repeating here that in my labeling system, songs for which I have the entire album are labeled with that album title and not as a single. That means that a lot of songs that were released as singles on Capitol over the years do not come up when I sort the collection. Still, it’s an interesting list.

The A side of “I Saw Her Standing There” was, of course, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” which went to No. 1 in the early months of 1964. It continues to amaze me that both songs – like much of the rest of the Beatles’ catalog – remain vital and fresh forty years later.

Despite the Beach Boys’ place as America’s chief proponents of fun in the sun – and despite the admitted brilliance of Brian Wilson as a writer – the group has never meant much to me, either in its cars and surf incarnation in the early to mid-1960s or when the lyrics and music became more adventurous in the later part of that decade. “Little Deuce Coupe” is what popped up randomly; if I were to choose a Beach Boys single to represent the group in an anthology, I’d probably go with “California Girls.”

“Galveston” was the second Top Ten single for Glen Campbell and was his fourth great single in a two-year period, following “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Gentle On My Mind” and “Wichita Lineman.” (He also charted with “I Wanna Live” and “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife” during that time, but those seem like lesser records to me.) Of all Campbell’s hits – and he had nineteen singles reach the Top 40 between 1967 and 1978 – I think “Galveston” is his best. Like many of Campbell’s hits, it was written by Jimmy Webb.

The spare and slightly spooky “I’m Not Lisa” was Jessi Colter’s only Top 40 single. Until the record was released, Colter was better known as the wife of country music outlaw Waylon Jennings.

I know that “I Am Woman” makes many people groan these days, not least the Texas Gal. But there were reasons it was No. 1 for a week, whatever they might have been. (Of course, “Sukiyaki” was No. 1 for three weeks, so I’m not going to go all cosmic here.) Whatever its merits, “I Am Woman” – as I’ve said here before – is one of the prevailing aural memories of my early college years.

As always, bit rates will vary.

Go Take A Look!
My friend caithiseach – who has frequently left comments here – launches his own music blog, The Great Vinyl Meltdown, today. He plans to post twice a week, taking a year to examine his own collection of 45s, most of them – based on our conversations – fairly obscure. Make sure you check it out!

*As it happens, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” turns out not to have been the first single I ever bought. As noted in a later post, my first 45 I purchased was actually Dickie Goodman’s 1966 opus “Batman & His Grandmother.” Still the 5th Dimension single remains the first musical 45 I ever bought. Note added June 1, 2011.

Tales Of The Kitchen Radio

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 31, 2007

Our kitchen radio when I was growing up was already old. It was a boxy thing with a shell of deep brown and gold plastic with a long, clear plastic window for the AM tuner. It had two knobs: on/off and tuning. No switch for FM, nothing to adjust the treble or the bass. It was either on or off. When you turned it on, it took a few minutes for the tubes to warm up.

The tuner was balky. Sometimes three or four rotations of the tuning knob moved the red indicator a half-inch; sometimes one rotation moved it an inch. Changing the station was a test of tenacity and finesse, and it was something that was rarely done, not just because it was difficult to find another station. The radio tuner was rarely changed because – as in many homes in Minnesota – the kitchen radio was almost always tuned to WCCO 830, the Twin Cities’ beacon.

At that time, there weren’t nearly as many radio stations as there are now. The FM band was home to only a few, and they mostly played what was called “beautiful music,” fit for elevators and dentists’ offices. On the AM dial, there were more stations, but still not near as many as today. And the further you lived from the Twin Cities, the less choice you had. As a result, most folks in outstate Minnesota – and at the time, that would have included St. Cloud, seventy miles from Minneapolis – tuned their radios to WCCO and kept them there.

At our home, about the only time we listened to the kitchen radio was in the morning, eating breakfast at seven o’clock before Dad went off to the college (later a university) and my sister and I headed off to school. As we drank our juice and milk and ate our cereal – quite often hot cereal during the Minnesota winter – we heard the world news for fifteen minutes, then the local and state news for ten minutes, and finally, at 7:25, five minutes of sports.

As the Sixties wore on, my sister – three years older than I – sometimes changed the radio on weekends or during summer days, setting the tuner carefully on 630 to bring KDWB’s Top 40 into the kitchen. And as the Sixties wore on even further and I also became interested in pop music, we each had our own radio and there was no need to change the station in the kitchen. So the radio remained tuned to WCCO for the rest of its long life. (It died sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, not long after I left home.)

WCCO was fine with me for most of the Sixties, though. Besides the five minutes of sports in the morning – and the school closing announcements on days of heavy snow – the only thing I needed from the radio was play-by-play sports. WCCO carried the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Vikings, the University of Minnesota football and basketball teams, and – starting in the fall of 1967 – the Minnesota North Stars. Many afternoons and evenings, I’d take the radio from its normal place – tucked in a corner of the kitchen counter – and move it to the kitchen table. I’d sit and read, bent over the table, the volume set fairly low, and listen to one game or another.

One evening in early 1968, when I was fourteen, I had the volume turned up a little higher than usual. I was alone in the house, my parents and sister having gone to some event at Tech High, where my sister was a senior. The North Stars were playing that evening, and during one of the breaks between periods, the little feature called “Sports Quiz” came on. I perked up.

“What sport,” the announcer asked, “is played in an enclosed court with a rubber ball and no racquets?”

Just as he finished his question, my sister came in the back door. I looked at the radio and blurted, “Handball! Handball!”

My sister looked at me oddly.

And the radio said, “That’s right! Handball!”

Her chin dropped, and I collapsed in giggles.

Whenever I tell that tale – and I’ve told it many times over the years – I’m reminded of another radio moment that happened the next June. My sister and I were in the kitchen, doing dishes after lunch, with the radio tuned to KDWB. The song ended, and the DJ began some patter about how important the day before had been.

“You know what yesterday was, don’t you?” he asked through the speaker. “You have to know what yesterday was. It was a big deal.” He paused. “So what was yesterday?”

There came a rhythmic figure picked on a guitar, with the end of the figure bringing in just a little bit of strings. It repeated, and then the voice told us what yesterday was:

“It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day . . .”

And my sister and I laughed and put away the dishes to the sounds of Bobbie Gentry and her Faulknerian tale of a Mississippi mystery surrounded by the mundane. The song was, of course, “Ode to Billie Joe,” a No. 1 hit the year before and the centerpiece of Gentry’s album of the same title, which also reached the top spot on the charts.

Bobbie Gentry – Ode to Billie Joe [1967]

Tracks:
Mississippi Delta
I Saw An Angel Die
Chickasaw County Child
Sunday Best
Niki Hoeky
Papa, Woncha Take Me To Town With You?
Bugs
Hurry, Tuesday Child
Lazy Willie
Ode to Billie Joe

It’s a pretty good album. If it has a flaw, it’s that Gentry – at the start of her career – didn’t quite have enough distinctive material for a full album. Several of the songs start with guitar figures similar to the one that opens “Ode to Billie Joe.” But there are some gems here.

“Mississippi Delta” rocks along, fittingly, a little gritty and swampy. “Chickasaw County Child,” although it has the musical weakness noted above, still works lyrically, setting out details to paint a larger picture, just the title track does. “I Saw An Angel Die” is a gentle piece that works well, too. “Niki Hoeky,” the only tune on the album not written by Gentry, works for the most part, with its surreal lyric, although it, too, starts with a guitar figure similar to that from “Ode to Billie Joe.”

The tracks as listed above are in the order that they were on my copy of the LP. Oddly enough, the track list on the back of the record jacket is different, with – among other changes – Side Two starting with “Ode to Billie Joe” instead of ending with it. In addition, “I Saw An Angel Die” is called “An Angel Died” on the jacket, and “Papa, Woncha Take Me To Town With You?” is listed as “Papa, Won’t You Take Me To Town With You?”

This rip was one of the first albums I found on the ’Net when I became aware of music blogs about a year ago. If I could remember where I got it, I’d say “Thanks!”

A Baker’s Dozen Of Rivers

April 24, 2011

Originally posted July 2, 2007

Well, it happened again. An LP I had selected for the day turned out to have too many pops and scratches for me to want to share the entire thing. And that’s disappointing. The record was Through the Eyes of a Horn, a solo album by Jim Horn from 1972. It’s a fun record, on Leon Russell’s Shelter label with lots of familiar names on the credits.

A few of the tracks are clean enough for me to convert them to mp3s and put them in the player, so they may show up in a future Baker’s Dozen or two. And I’m likely to pull one of the tracks for something special this week.

But abandoning the LP as a full rip left me without a plan again, changing horses in mid-stream, as it were. And I thought about Tower of Power, of course, and “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream).” So I checked. I only have five songs with the word “stream” in their titles. So I thought about rivers, and my mind wandered as the final tracks of the Jim Horn album played through, and I thought about the Mississippi River, which has been a near-constant presence in my life.

I was born on its banks (in a hospital, not – unfortunately for my credentials as a bluesman – in a little shack). I grew up no more than three blocks from it, crossing it nearly daily through my childhood and college years. And my first job was at a newspaper whose offices were separated from the river by only a park and a street. The vast majority of my life has been lived within a few miles of the Mississippi. And now, since returning to St. Cloud about five years ago, I’m again within a mile of the river that’s called the Father of Waters.

When I was a kid, I never realized that the Mississippi was important or noteworthy. At least not until one day when I was crossing it on my bicycle, most likely heading to the library. As I neared the end of the bridge, a car with New York license plates passed me, and once off of the bridge, the driver took the first right and pulled over and parked. Four people – a mom, a dad and two kids – got out of the car and walked rapidly, almost trotting, back to the bridge and the river, cameras at the ready. I realized that what was an everyday occurrence for me – crossing the Mississippi – could be a major event for others, and I guess I began to give the big river a little more respect.

So I’ve realized in recent years that the river flows through my life just as it does through St. Cloud. And I long to see it in its wide and muddy glory in places much closer to the Gulf of Mexico than here. That will happen. The Texas Gal and I still plan to tour western Tennessee and Mississippi, but it won’t be this year. I can wait, and the river will wait for me.

But what should I do about music this morning, after such fluvial thoughts? Well, I thought I’d shift my normal pattern again and begin this week with a Baker’s Dozen of Rivers:

“Let the River Run” by Carly Simon from the Working Girl soundtrack, 1988

“Okolona River Bottom Band” by Bobbie Gentry, Capitol single 2044, 1967

“Many Rivers To Cross” by Joe Cocker from Sheffield Steel, 1982

“Take Me To The River” by Al Green from Al Green Explores Your Mind, 1974

“River” by Roberta Flack from Killing Me Softly, 1973

“River Theme” by Bob Dylan from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack, 1973

“If The River Was Whiskey” by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Newport Folk Festival, 1964

“Moonchild River Song” by Eric Andersen from Be True To You, 1975

“Down By The River” by Buddy Miles from Buddy Miles Live, 1971

“Song From Platte River” by Brewer & Shipley from Tarkio, 1970

“Don’t Cross The River” by America from Homecoming, 1973

“Underground River” by Ellen McIlwaine from We The People, 1973

“Going To The River” by Fats Domino, Imperial single 5231, 1953

A few notes about some of the songs:

“Let the River Run,” which has a nice gospelly groove, won Carly Simon an Oscar for Best Song. Hearing it always reminds me that when I wanted to buy the album in early 1989, it took a special order and five weeks. I realized then, if I hadn’t already, that the LP was being swept away by the CD.

“Many Rivers To Cross” is some of the fruit of one of Joe Cocker’s many comebacks, this one coming when he went into a studio in the Bahamas with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and their pals. He came out with a record with lots of captivating tropical grooves. The record also had some fine vocals, and this is one of the best.

Fred McDowell was actually from Tennessee, not Mississippi, but someone gave him the name when he was discovered in the late 1950s, and he didn’t complain. McDowell was a rarity in the country blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s in that he’d never been recorded before, unlike many of his contemporaries who had recorded in the 1920s and 1930s before sliding back into anonymity. As a result, his performances on record and at venues like the Newport Folk Festival came off as fresh rather than as a recreation of long-ago efforts.

Eric Andersen’s Be True To You was posted here in the very early days of the blog. It’s a lovely folky album, and “Moonchild River Song,” the album’s opening track, is one of its best songs.

Ellen McIlwaine is a little-known slide guitarist and blues singer who’s been recording well-regarded albums at sporadic intervals for years. We the People, the 1973 album from which “Underground River” comes, might be her best effort, but all of her work, from 1971’s Honky Tonk Angel to 2007’s Mystic Bridge is worth seeking out.

Our closer is a lesser-known side by one of the earliest of rock ’n’ rollers, Fats Domino. Recorded in January 1953 – eight months before I made my riverside entrance – “Going To The River” still rocks, albeit in Fats’ own style of smiling in the face of all disasters.