Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Womack’

‘Midnight’

June 12, 2020

As I made my way through two new Long John Baldry CDs in the past few weeks, I noticed a couple of tracks I really liked: “Midnight in New Orleans” on It Still Ain’t Easy and “Midnight in Berlin” on Right To Sing The Blues.

And I got to thinking about the word “midnight” and its presence in song titles. So I asked the RealPlayer to search for the word among its 80,000-plus tracks. It came back with 515 results, some of which find the word included in group names – like Hank Ballard & The Midnighters – and some of which find the word included in album titles – like Midnight Radio by Big Head Todd & The Monsters. After winnowing out those and others like them, we end up with about 200 tracks with “midnight” in their titles.

We’re going to hit four of them randomly today.

Our first stop brings us a familiar tune performed by a familiar name: “In The Midnight Hour” by King Curtis. It’s a track from Plays The Great Memphis Hits, released in 1967. The album went to No. 185 on the Billboard 200, and one track – “You Don’t Miss Your Water” – bubbled under the magazine’s Hot 100 at No. 105. King Curtis has shown up enough times in this space that not a lot need to be said except to adapt the title of a 1992 anthology of Curtis Ousley’s work and say, “Blow, man, blow!”

From the midnight hour, we move to the “Midnight Shift” as described by Buddy Holly. The tune warns the listener what to look for in an unfaithful girl (or perhaps a working girl – it’s not entirely clear):

If Annie puts her hair up on her head
Paints them lips up bright, bright red
Wears that dress that fits real tight
Starts staying out ’til the middle of the night
Says that a friend gave her a lift
Well, Annie’s been working on a midnight shift

The track, recorded in 1956, showed up as an album track on the 1958 release That’ll Be The Day. It’s one of my favorite Holly tracks, likely because it’s a little cynical, a counterpoint to a lot of his other work.

And from one giant of the early days of rock ’n’ roll, we move to another, falling onto a track by the recently departed Little Richard. His take on “Midnight Special” (written by another musical giant, Lead Belly) was included on King Of Rock & Roll, a 1971 album on the Reprise label. No singles from the album made the charts (a couple from his 1970 release, The Rill Thing, had tickled the middle and lower portions of the Hot 100), but the album went to No. 193 on the Billboard 200. As to the track itself, Little Richard takes his time getting going, but about a minute in, the train takes off.

We close today’s brief expedition with a track from Bobby Womack: “I’m A Midnight Mover” from his 1968 album Fly Me To The Moon. As always when Womack’s work shows up here, I feel as if I don’t know enough about the man’s work to comment much except to say that his stuff grabs hold of me nearly every time it pops up. “I’m A Midnight Mover” was released as a single by Atlantic but did not chart. The album went to No. 174 in Billboard.

Six From The ’70s

November 4, 2015

So we’ve sorted the tracks in the RealPlayer and found about 24,000 from the 1970s. Let’s go find six at random to think about this morning.

“In the corner of my eye, I saw you in Rudy’s. You were very high.” So starts “Black Cow” from Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja, one of two Steely Dan albums I had before the 1990s (when I, as is well-known around here, went a little mad and bought more than 1,800 LPs over those ten years). My memory, aided by a look at the LP database, tells me that I won Aja for answering a trivia question on WJON while I lived in St. Cloud in late 1977, but there was a delay on the radio station’s part in getting the album, and then there was a delay on my part in getting to the station after I moved to Monticello. The delays didn’t bother me because Steely Dan wasn’t really in my sights at the time. I had Pretzel Logic on the shelves because of the presence of “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (and I liked the rest of the album), but the work of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker wasn’t high on my list. Still, I wasn’t going to pass up a free album, so I took Aja home, and I liked it okay. But it’s probably not on my Top 200. So, “Drink your big black cow and get out of here.”

Canny marketers as well as classically trained musicians, the duo of Ferrante & Teicher rarely missed a trend in the 1960s and 1970s, and as the world hit the dance floor in the late 1970s, Ferrante & Teicher followed, providing us in 1979 with Classical Disco, one of the stranger albums of the duo’s nearly forty-year recording career. Covering pieces ranging from composers Rachmaninoff and Khachaturian to Grieg and Tchaikovsky, the album closes with a thumping version of Felix Mendelssohn’s famed “Wedding March” (cliché that it is). Given the move in recent years toward massively choreographed wedding processionals and recessionals (some staid, many not), I can see a couple and their friends putting together a disco processional to the beat of the Ferrante & Teicher track. If it were my wedding and up to me, I’d save it for the reception.

Head On was a late 1975 release from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and its relative failure in the charts portended the end for the rockers from Canada. The group’s previous three albums of new music had all gone Top Ten in the Billboard 200, but Head On stalled at No. 23. A single from the album, “Take It Like A Man” (with a backing vocal from Little Richard) went to No. 33 in early 1976, but the band’s moment had passed. Fittingly, then, the track titled “It’s Over” is the one that pops up from Head On. It’s a decent enough track, not unlike most of the stuff in the group’s catalog, but its unsubtle pleasures didn’t offer listeners anything new as 1975 was turning into 1976.

As an object lesson that one can find almost anything online these days, we move next to “Tiffany Case” from John Barry’s soundtrack to the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. When the RealPlayer offered the track to me this morning, I winced, but not because of the music. (It’s a decent bit of quiet and pretty musical fill for the movie, nicely portraying the soft side of Ms. Case, played in the film by the lovely Jill St. John.) The wince was for an expected difficulty in finding the track at YouTube. (I’d already made and uploaded one video this morning.) But there it was, and a quick click on the #JohnBarry hashtag shows me that what appears to be the vast majority of Barry’s work is now officially available at YouTube. I will have to do some digging there soon.

Whenever I write anything about Bobby Womack, I always feel as if I don’t know enough about the man or his work to write anything substantial. Today is no different, even though I know more about him and have heard more of his stuff now, thanks to a little bit of concentrated effort in the past few months. Anyway, what we have this morning is “Natural Man” from Womack’s 1973 album Facts Of Life. It’s a gender-flipped version of the Gerry Goffin/Carole King song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” best known for the 1967 hit version by Aretha Franklin. It doesn’t seem to work, but then covering a classic is risky territory, and doing so with a gender-flip seems to make things all the more awkward. Womack’s delivery is fine, as usual. But it just feels, well, odd.

Speaking of covers of classic records, we close our expedition this morning with Ellie Greenwich taking on “Chapel Of Love” from her 1973 album Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung. Greenwich, of course, wrote the song with Jeff Barry and Phil Spector, and the Dixie Cups had a massive hit with it in 1964, with the record sitting at No. 1 for three weeks. For her own album, Greenwich and co-producers Steve Tudanger and Steve Feldman take the song in an interesting direction, with bare-bones instrumentation and layered and entwined vocals, coupled with some ringing bells in the middle. It works for me.

Savoring The Sunlight

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 16, 2009

As the sunlight came in the living room windows yesterday morning, I glanced at the date on the Minneapolis newspaper: February 15. And I thought of another February 15, thirty-five years distant now, when sunlight seemed like salvation.

I doubt that I’ve ever lived through a more dreary winter than the one I went through in Fredericia, Denmark in 1973-74. Living there was, of course, a joy and an adventure, but the winter was hard. It’s not that it was cold: The temperatures were generally around freezing, 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius), which for someone from Minnesota wasn’t chilly at all. There were a few days when the temperature dipped to -10 or so Fahrenheit (-23 Celsius), levels that our Danish friends said they’d not seen since World War II, but those stretches didn’t last long and weren’t all that cold by the standards of the Minnesota winters to which we were accustomed.

The difficult part was the lack of sunlight. From the middle of November on, for the next three months, it was cloudy and dreary. The sun showed its face from time to time, but only as a brief respite – an hour or two – before the clouds dimmed the light once more. And Denmark is far enough north that the winter sun rises much later and sets much earlier than in Minnesota: In the depth of December, daylight began about nine o’clock in the morning and ended around three o’clock in the afternoon, which – combined with the near constant cloud cover – left us in what seemed like permanent gloom.

And then came February 15. The sky was blue from horizon to horizon, and the air was brisk but not cold. We had no classes that day, and those of us living at the youth hostel headed out into the sunlight, many of us with cameras. I can’t speak for all, but the bunch of kids I wandered around with had no plans, no real destination. We were just wandering in the sunshine, liberated at least for a day.

The stripe of sunlight across our carpet and the date on the newspaper yesterday morning reminded me of that sunny walk through Fredericia, and as I recalled the sunshine, I wondered what our friends at home might have heard on the radio that day.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, February 16, 1974)

“Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” by Brownsville Station, Big Tree 16011 (No. 22)

“Me and Baby Brother” by War, United Artists 350 (No. 53)

“Lookin’ For A Love” by Bobby Womack, United Artists 375 (No. 70)

“Stop To Start” by Blue Magic, Atco 6949 (No. 81)

“Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” by New York City, Chelsea 0150 (No. 88)

“I’ll Be The Other Woman” by the Soul Children, Stax 0182 (No. 94)

Brownsville Station was one of the numerous blues-based boogie bands that arose in the early 1970s, coming out of Detroit to record a clutch of albums between 1970 and 1980 and then fading into obscurity. “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” was the group’s glorious moment, if that’s not too glowing a term for it. The high school references sparked memories for those already older than that and likely rang true for those still playing high school Parcheesi. The record peaked at No. 3. I was surprised to learn this morning that Brownsville Station had more than one hit: “Kings Of The Party” went to No. 31 in the fall of 1974. (The umlaut-obsessed Mötley Crüe covered “Smokin’” in 1985; that version went to No. 16.)

War’s funky and cool “Me and Baby Brother” was on its way down the chart, having peaked at No. 15. I tend to think that War is under-rated and often ignored when talk turns to great bands of the 1970s. In terms of popularity, the group had twelve Top 40 hits, and most of them were pretty good (“Why Can’t We Be Friends” is the exception), and that’s a better record than achieved by a lot of bands that are remembered more frequently. And the group’s albums were good, too, especially Deliver the Word (which was the source for “Me and Baby Brother”) and The World Is A Ghetto.

In two years, I’d not posted a single song by Bobby Womack, and now, in ten days, he’s come up twice. I’m not sure why that is. But “Lookin’ For A Love” is well worth a listen or even three. It was the third and last Top 40 hit for Womack, peaking at No. 10 at the end of April. (The record topped the R&B chart for three weeks.)

The singles by Blue Magic and New York City were nice bits of Philadelphia soul (despite the latter group’s name). “Stop To Start,” from Blue Magic’s first, self-titled album, sounds like something that came from Thom Bell, but it was produced by Steve Bernstein, Norman Harris and Alan Rubens, who – along with the group members – tapped the Philly sound perfectly. “Stop To Start” peaked at No. 74 during a six-week run in the Hot 100, but that summer, Blue Magic’s “Sideshow” went to No. 8 (No. 1 on the R&B chart). New York City had reached No. 17 with “I’m Doin’ Fine Now” – a Thom Bell production – in the spring of 1973, but the Bell-produced “Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” got no further up the chart than No. 79.

The Soul Children, a two-man, two-woman vocal group, recorded several albums for Stax in the late 1960s and early 1970s and had one blindingly good single, “Hearsay,” which went to No. 44 in May of 1972. “I’ll Be The Other Woman,” a slower and more reflective but still good piece of work, went to No. 36, the only Top 40 hit for the group.

Note:
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Edited slightly on archival posting.

Saturday Single No. 113

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 7, 2009

When the Texas Gal and I are out shopping – as a duo or either of us as a solo act – we are easily diverted from our goals.

For her, the diversion is generally fabric or any of the other materials she uses to make quilts. Frequently, as we head toward home from the mall, she’ll ask if we can stop off at this store or that, and we head in and wander for a while among the bolts of fabric. It’s actually a little bit interesting seeing the wide variety of fabric offered. I occasionally bring a bolt or two to her attention, but so far, I haven’t gotten her interested in doing anything with fabric that shows – in green and yellow glory – John Deere tractors and implements.

It doesn’t always take a special stop, though. The other Saturday, we made a rare visit to the local outlet of Walmart, and as we wandered the aisles, the Texas Gal headed toward the back corner, where craft and sewing supplies live. Knowing she’d be occupied for a good twenty minutes, I waved and headed in my own direction, toward the CDs. A while later, I made my way back toward the fabric section, clutching a box set called simply Big Band, a four-CD package of music recorded between 1935 and 1947 by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Sammy Kaye and others.

And there – unsurprisingly – is one of my two diversions: music. The other is books. As we wander the aisles of either of our neighborhood discount stores – Shopko, a regional chain, and Target have stores within six blocks of our home – I’m frequently taken off course to browse in one or both of those adjacent areas. It’s always been that way, ever since I was a consumer-in-training. During the mid- to late 1960s, Fandel’s, a department store long gone from downtown St. Cloud, had a separate building in which were located its interior decorating services and its bookstore. Occasionally, during family Friday evenings downtown, I’d be allowed to wander off toward Fandel’s Sixth Avenue on my own, where I’d browse through the books until my folks came and got me.

The same would hold true on visits to Crossroads, the mall on the west end of town (now grown to the point that the original mall – which seemed huge in 1965 – now makes up maybe one quarter of the modern-day mall). I’d go off on my own, heading to Walgreen’s to check out the books and then Woolworth’s to do the same. I’d finish my excursion in the record department at Woolworth’s, looking for inexpensive soundtracks and Al Hirt albums. (I often wonder what rock ’n’ roll rarities I passed by as I flipped through the bargain bins, ignoring pop and rock in those days.)

Over the years, my tastes would change in both music and reading, but the temptation to stray from the planned path never diminishes. I headed out Thursday afternoon to run a few errands, one of them a stop at Shopko to check out flash drives, as the Texas Gal needed one. On my way to the corner of the store that features electronics and the like, I came upon a rack featuring CDs for $4.99: Waylon Jennings, some soundtracks, some Earth, Wind & Fire anthologies, country collections, some hip-hop. I dug on, and in the back of the rack, I found a CD called Superbad! The Soul of the City. It’s one of the Time-Life series of CDs we all see advertised on late-night television.

Wondering how it came to be at Shopko, I pulled it out of the rack and scanned the back, nodding. A pretty good mix of stuff, lots of it from the so-called blaxploitation movies of the early 1970s: Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, the Four Tops, the Temptations, James Brown, Willie Hutch. About half of the tracks were familiar to me, half not.

Well, we all need to accept the role of serendipity in our lives. So the CD came home with me. (As did the flash drive; I did not forget my central task.) And one of the gems I found on the CD comes from Bobby Womack, recently named as one of the 2009 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So here’s “Across 110th Street” from the movie of the same name, today’s Saturday Single.

“Across 110th Street” by Bobby Womack [United Artists 196, 1973]

Location of Fandel’s stand-alone store corrected from Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue on archival posting.

Chart Digging: August 1974

August 18, 2011

I’m a beer aficionado: I like trying different beers from different parts of the country and the world, and – to a degree – I keep track of which brews I’ve tried and what I’ve liked or not liked about them. And since I’ve begun taking beer seriously – in the last ten years or so – I’ve mostly bought my beer in glass bottles, not in cans. I think it tastes better coming from glass.

But sometimes, you can’t avoid cans. The local liquor store – Westside Liquor here on the East Side – has been promoting for the past few months a brew from the Tallgrass Brewing Company of Manhattan, Kansas, called Buffalo Sweat Stout. It comes in packs of four sixteen-ounce cans.

I’m not fond of the name; I think it’s gross, as does my pal and self-acknowledged beer snob jb from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, who says the brand name falls into a trend: Titling brews with odd or grotesque names that make the brew more notable for its moniker than for its drinkability. (One example of that comes from Wasatch Beers of Park City, Utah, brewers of Polygamy Porter, which is marketed with the slogan, “Why Have Just One!” I have a t-shirt celebrating the brew, a gift from the Texas Gal after a business trip to Utah; I have yet to wear it out in the world.)

Whatever the “ewww” factor of the brand name, Buffalo Sweat is a darned good brew – it carries nice hints of coffee, chocolate and, to my palate, raisins – so it’s become a regular part of the regiment of beers standing at attention in the fridge, waiting for my thirst. I pulled one out for dinner last evening, popped the top on the can and, without thinking about it, turned the metal tab sideways. I paused and chuckled for a moment, and then poured the brew.

That habit – turning sideways the metal tab on the top of a beer (or soda) can – dates from the summer of 1974. I didn’t do much partying the first half of that summer; I was recovering from a mysterious lung ailment. But once I got the go-ahead from my doctors to resume life at full speed, I spent a fair number of evenings tasting the brews available in St. Cloud. I did so carrying nearly nine months’ experience of quaffing European brews, and for a time I left the darker stuff behind. My favored brew for a month or so that summer of 1974 was one new to Minnesota: Olympia.

I think back now, and I shudder. It was a light and clean beer and, as I now recall, almost tasteless. But having been legendary in Minnesota as a great beer that was unavailable – much like Coors was at the time, too – Olympia was the newest fad among young beer drinkers. And I was one of those. So at every party I went to during the last half of the summer of 1974 – maybe a dozen total – there were more than a few folks drinking Olympia beer, with all of us trying to keep track of which can of beer was ours.

Thus, as I arrived at a party one evening, I popped the top on my can of Olympia beer and turned the tab to the right. That, I hoped, would make it a little easier to keep track of my beers as the number of beer cans multiplied and my concentration most likely diminished. That one quirk – turning the tab to the right – soon became a habit that was useful for the remainder of my college days. And it’s a habit that’s stayed with me for thirty-seven years.

So every time I pop a can of Buffalo Sweat and turn the tab to the right, a little bit of the summer of 1974 pops its head into our kitchen in this summer of 2011.

Most of those parties during that summer long ago likely had music supplied by stereos, but I imagine that at least one of those dozen or so gatherings must have relied on the radio for its music. If so, we’d have heard at least some of the Top Ten from the Billboard Hot 100 that was released on August 17, 1974, thirty-seven years ago yesterday:

“The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace
“Feel Like Makin’ Love” by Roberta Flack
“(You’re) Havin’ My Baby” by Paul Anka (with Odia Coates)
“Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus
“Please Come To Boston” by Dave Loggins
“Call On Me” by Chicago
“Waterloo” by Abba
“Wildwood Weed” by Jim Stafford
“I’m Leaving It (All) Up To You” by Donny & Marie Osmond
“Sideshow” by Blue Magic

Wow. At most parties in that era, at least four records in that list that would have incited jeers from the folks sitting on the couch, followed by calls for the Allman Brothers or Pink Floyd. I know that these days, hearing the opening strains of either the Anka record or the Osmonds record on the oldies station would make me change stations. Then, Jim Stafford’s ode to accidental marijuana cultivation is funny maybe twice (though it would be a kick to hear it on radio these days). And I never liked the Paper Lace record.

On the plus side, “Tell Me Something Good” still pops and slinks along nicely, and Chicago’s “Call On Me” was a good one I’d forgotten about until it showed up on the list today.

As I tend to do, though, I looked further down that Hot 100 to see what might be found there, and there were a few interesting things. The television series Kung Fu – starring David Carradine as a martial arts expert in the American west of the nineteenth century – and the martial art it introduced to pop culture were becoming cultural phenomena that year. In the autumn of 1974, Card Douglas would reach No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts with “Kung Fu Fighting” (a record I still hear as almost a novelty record). But during the summer of 1974, Curtis Mayfield released his own “Kung Fu” and saw it get to No. 40 on the pop chart and to No. 3 on the R&B chart. During this week in 1974, the song was at No. 52, and like much of Mayfield’s work during that time, the record was a statement about social justice:

Our days of comfort, days of night
Don’t put yourself in solitude
Who can I trust with my life
When people tend to be so rude

My mama borned me in a ghetto
There was no mattress for my head
But, no, she couldn’t call me Jesus
I wasn’t white enough, she said

And then she named me Kung Fu
Don’t have to explain it, no, Kung Fu
Don’t know how you’ll take it, Kung Fu
I’m just trying to make it, Kung Fu

I’ve got some babies and some sisters
My brother worked for Uncle Sam
It’s just a shame, ain’t it, Mister
We being brothers of the damned

Keep your head high, Kung Fu
I will ’til I die, yeah, Kung Fu
Don’t be too intense, no, Kung Fu
Keep your common sense, yeah, Kung Fu

Don’t mistake life for a secret
There is no secret part of you
You bet your life if you think wicked
Someone else is thinking wicked too

Betty Wright had hit the Top Ten in early 1972 when “Clean Up Woman” went to No. 6. In mid-1974, she released “Secretary” as an ode to the idea that the woman who takes dictation from her boss can take her boss from his wife. The record – a nice piece of funky R&B – was at No. 66 thirty-seven years ago this week, heading to No. 62 on the pop chart; it went to No. 12 on the R&B chart.

One of the major music events of 1974 was the U.S. tour in January and February by Bob Dylan and The Band. It was Dylan’s first tour in eight years; since then, The Band had stepped out of its role as his back-up band and become a front-line act. The opening track of the eventual double-LP album from the tour – “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” (video deleted) – was released as a single during the summer of 1974. During the third week of August, the single was at No. 75. It would peak at No. 66.

From 1968 through 1985, Bobby Womack had nineteen records reach the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section, and it seems like I run into his records more often than not when I do these Chart Digging posts. This week, “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” is the Womack record that showed up. It was at No. 100 during the week in question, coming down from its peak of No. 59 the week before. A nifty slice of R&B that I unfortunately missed at the time, the record went to No. 5 on the R&B chart.

Sitting at the very bottom of the Bubbling Under section of that August 17, 1974, Hot 100 was Harry Nilsson in his last appearance on the pop chart. Produced by John Lennon, Nilsson’s “Many Rivers To Cross” was a ragged performance, more clearly Lennon than Nilsson. (The backing track’s similarity to that used for Lennon’s “#9 Dream,” which would go to No. 9 later in 1974, is unmistakable.) Nilsson’s single would rise only one more spot, peaking at No. 109. (The video to which the clip links is the album track from Nilsson’s Pussy Cats; there was a shorter edit that was released as the single.)

And to end, we move up a little bit in the Bubbling Under section, to No. 107, where Brownsville Station sat with “Kings of the Party.” The record would peak at No. 31, giving the trio from Ann Arbor, Michigan, its second Top 40 hit; “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” had gone to No. 3 in the first weeks of 1974. While I couldn’t put my hands on the studio version of “Kings of the Party,” that’s all right, because YouTube has a clip of the band hamming things up and then doing a pretty good version of the tune on the television show Midnight Special.

Video deleted.

Chart Digging: June 14, 1975

June 14, 2011

I was pretty busy during the summer of 1975.

I was clearing up the last of my general education courses at St. Cloud State. I was taking two required seminars for seniors and knocking off the four phy ed courses I was required to take. (Nothing too strenuous: I took archery, tennis, bowling and ballroom dancing.) And I was repeating a physics course I’d failed during my first quarter in the fall of 1971.

I didn’t have to repeat the physics course. I’d taken another science course somewhere along the way that satisfied the general education requirement. But I had the time, and I wanted to get the F off my academic record or at least out of my grade-point average. And I got lucky: Instead of being an introduction to pure physics with lots of lab work, I was able to take an introduction to astronomy. I’d taken a rigorous astronomy course during my last semester of high school and had done well, so I eased through the college intro with no worries.

So I might have been busy academically through the two five-week summer sessions, but I wasn’t really working hard. Nor was my half-time summer job very arduous: That was the summer that a crew of about ten of us, headed up by Murl – who would be one of my best friends by the end of the summer – made our way across the SCS campus doing an inventory of every piece of audio-visual equipment. We got a lot of work done, had a lot of laughs and got to move around a lot.

On a personal level, I was busy, too. I dated about eight women that summer, and a couple of those pairings lasted the summer though nothing serious came out of either. I also spent some time with a group of folks from the astronomy class, and hung around after working hours with folks from the inventory crew. Still, as the season went on, I was unattached. I heard Paul Williams’ “Waking Up Alone” for the first time one evening in July. And it was during that summer that I began taking seriously the idea of writing a startling letter to a young woman in knew in Finland.

It turned out to be a great summer, and I think I realized by the middle of June that it was headed that way. And the Billboard Top Ten for the week ending June 14, 1975, was pretty good:

“Sister Golden Hair” by America
“Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain & Tennille
“When Will I Be Loved/It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” by Linda Ronstadt
“Bad Time” by Grand Funk
“Old Days” by Chicago
“I’m Not Lisa” by Jessi Colter
“Love Won’t Let Me Wait” by Major Harris
“Thank God I’m A Country Boy” by John Denver
“Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John
“Get Down, Get Down (Get On The Floor)” by Joe Simon

I can do without the John Denver tune for the rest of my life, and I’d like to limit my exposure to the first two on that list, but other than that, that’s a good Top Ten. There are some I’d play on a jukebox – I recall actually dropping in a quarter to hear “I’m Not Lisa” during a coffee date at the local Country Kitchen – and some I wouldn’t, but beyond the three I singled out, that list would make a good slice of radio.

As always, though, I’m interested in records that were sitting below the Top 40 of the time, some of which I might have never heard or even heard of.

The O’Jays’ “Give The People What They Want” was sitting at No. 45, and it would move no further. I vaguely remember this populist and funky piece of R&B that calls for “freedom, justice and equality.” The record was the eighteenth by the Canton, Ohio, group to hit the Hot 100, with eleven more to come through 1997. Though it didn’t do all that well on the pop chart, the record did make it to the top of the R&B chart for a week.

“Shoeshine Boy” by Eddie Kendricks is one of those records that I have no memory of at all. And that’s odd, considering that it peaked at No. 18, and I was still spending some time listening to radio. You’d think I’d have run across it often enough to recall it. Or maybe it didn’t do as well in Minnesota as it did across the board. In any case, the record by the one-time member of the Temptations peaked in late May – topping the R&B chart for a week – and by the middle of June, it was heading down the chart and was sitting at No. 51. Kendricks would have four more Hot 100 hits to bring his total to fifteen, with the last coming in 1985.

By the end of 1975, I’d be hearing a little bit of country music, as the family of the young lady I was seeing at the time – all nine of her siblings and her folks – were country fans. But that was some months ahead, so I entirely missed the sweet “Blanket on the Ground” by Billie Jo Spears of Beaumont, Texas. The record was sitting at No. 78 by the middle of June and would go no higher, though that was a little better than Spears’ only other Hot 100 record, “Mr. Walker, It’s All Over,” which went to No. 80 in 1969. But “Blanket on the Ground” did very well on the country chart, spending a week at No. 1.

The entry for Blood, Sweat & Tears in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows an interesting arc. The group’s first three singles, in 1969, all went to No. 2. (They were “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die.”) The next three listed singles were hits but didn’t fare as well, reaching the Top 40 at Nos. 14, 29 and 32, respectively. And from that point, BS&T had no more Top 40 hits (though they came close with “So Long Dixie,” which went to No. 44 in the autumn of 1972). In mid-June of 1975, the group was about to fall short again, as its cover of the Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” was at No. 81 and would peak at No. 62. It’s actually a pretty good version of the Beatles tune, and it maybe should have done better, but BS&T’s trademark sound was no longer fresh by the middle of 1975. “Got To Get You Into My Life” was the last of ten BS&T records to reach the Hot 100 although “You’re The One” bubbled under at No. 106 in late 1976.

Bobby Womack never did as well as one might have expected on the pop chart: Four Top 40 hits between 1972 and 1974, with his highest placing coming from “Lookin’ For A Love,” which went to No. 10 in the spring of 1974. He had eleven other records reach the Hot 100, and four more bubbled under. (Unsurprisingly, he did much better on the R&B chart, where he had twenty-eight Top 40 hits including two No. 1 records and four that went to No. 2.) Now, fifteen records in the Hot 100 is a pretty good run, but when his stuff pops up in my player, it sounds like it should have done better. And that’s what I thought when I listened to “Check It Out” last evening. It was at No. 99 in the Hot 100 released June 14, 1975, and it peaked at No. 91. To my ears, it should have been a hit. (It did go to No. 6 on the R&B chart.)

Long-time readers know that one of my all-time radio horrors is Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun.” So they can imagine my reluctance to even go searching at YouTube when I saw that the No. 108 tune in the Hot 100 from mid-June 1974 was a record by Jacks titled “Christina.” I reminded myself that as part of the Poppy Family, Jacks had come up with some pretty good stuff, including the compelling and disquieting “That’s Where I Went Wrong” (with vocals by Susan Jacks, his wife at the time). So I checked out “Christina” and found an odd, unsettling record with some echoes of Helen Reddy’s 1974 hit ‘Angie Baby.” As strange as it is, it’s understandable that “Christina” peaked at No. 106, but I like it.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 2

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 17, 2007

It was in early 1972 that I began my slide into an addiction that persists to this day. Just like in the songs and the movies, it was because of a woman. And an older woman, at that.

I was a college freshman. She was a sophomore. And the addiction was coffee.

It was about midway through my first year of college, and I stopped one Friday morning to say hi to the secretaries in Headley Hall, the building where I’d worked briefly as a janitor the summer before. As I chatted with Ginny – who wasn’t all that much older than I was – her new part-time assistant, a student, came to her desk with a question. Ginny introduced me to Char, a sophomore. She smiled, I smiled, she went back to work and I said goodbye to Ginny and went off to class.

My plans for that weekend were more elaborate than usual. I still lived at home, but two or three times during that first year of college I spent a weekend staying with friends in one of the dorms on campus. We’d hang around the dorm or hit some parties Friday night, recuperate on Saturday, and do the same thing Saturday night and generally act like college kids. The weekend would start as soon as I finished my two-hour stint as a janitor in the Business Building that afternoon. I’d head from there to my dad’s office in the library, grab the overnight bag I’d left there that morning, and then walk to the dorm where Rick and Dave lived.

As I headed down a staircase in Stewart Hall toward the tunnel to the Business Building, I heard a voice greet me. It was Char, the young lady I’d met that morning. We talked for a few minutes and then she asked what my plans were for the weekend. I told her I was staying on campus, and then – emboldened by who knows what – asked if she wanted to hang around with me and with my friends that evening. She agreed. So we spent a good chunk of time with each other that evening, and we spent an hour or so talking and cuddling in a little lounge in her dorm Sunday afternoon. I called her Monday evening, and for the next few months, we saw each other frequently.

One evening after a movie, we stopped to have something to eat. I ordered a soda to go with my food, and Char ordered coffee. Looking back, we were both kids, of course, but to me, as we sat there, she seemed so much more adult sipping her coffee than I did slurping Coke through a straw. That thought stayed with me, and the following Monday, when I had an hour to kill at the student union before heading off to sweep floors at the Business Building, I took a cup of coffee to my table.

About two months later, Char and I went different directions, which saddened me. But I was young, and after some grieving, there was always the prospect of someone new on the next stairway. So I walked on.

And more than thirty-five years later, I’m still drinking coffee.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 2

“Heart of Gold” by Bettye LaVette, Atco single 6891

“Soft Parade of Years” by Dion from Suite For Late Summer

“Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, Philadelphia Int. single 3521

“All Down The Line” by the Rolling Stones from Exile On Main Street

“Woman’s Gotta Have It” by Bobby Womack, United Artists single 50902

“Gypsy” by Van Morrison from Saint Dominic’s Preview

“(I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes” by The Band from Rock of Ages

“Nobody Like You” by Bread from Baby I’m-A Want You

“Harvest” by Neil Young from Harvest

“Hold On This Time” by Fontella Bass from Free

“Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)” by Manassas from Manassas

“Cry Like a Rainstorm” by Eric Justin Kaz from If You’re Lonely

“Hearsay” by the Soul Children, Stax single 119

A few notes on some of the songs:

Bettye LaVette’s standout cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” was part of Atlantic Records’ attempt to make LaVette the star she likely should have been. Recorded in Detroit, where she’d recorded earlier in her career, the record tanked, as did a single recorded in Muscle Shoals later that year. After that, Atlantic pulled the plug on LaVette’s album Child of the ’70s, which was finally released – with extra tracks – not all that long ago by Rhino. It’s worth finding. (Thanks to Red Kelly at The A Side for the info and the tip.)

I do recall hearing Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” at least once while sipping a cup of coffee in the student union. It would have been in the fall of the year, though, when Paul’s record was No 1 for three weeks and was almost inescapable. It’s still a great record. (Billy Paul isn’t quite a One-Hit Wonder, as he reached No. 37 with “Thanks For Saving My Life” in the spring of 1974. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one.)

The more I listen to “All Down The Line” and the tracks that surround it, the more certain I am that Exile On Main Street is the best album the Rolling Stones ever recorded and almost certainly one of the best five albums of all time.

“(I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes,” which Chuck Willis wrote and took to No. 24 in 1958, was one of The Band’s perennial concert favorites. This version comes from Rock of Ages, the live recording of a New Year’s Eve performance at the end of 1971, with horn charts put together for the event by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint. The album is a great one, and it’s available in an expanded version that includes ten bonus tracks, including three tracks with Bob Dylan.

“Cry Like A Rainstorm,” done here by its writer, Eric Kaz, is more familiar in versions by Bonnie Raitt on Takin’ My Time from 1973 and by Linda Ronstadt on Cry Like a Rainstorm – Howl Like the Wind in 1989.

The Soul Children’s “Hearsay” is just a great piece of Stax music.