Posts Tagged ‘Booker T & The MG’s’

Saturday Single No. 391

May 3, 2014

What with the brain moving in slow motion this morning and the Texas Gal having secured my promise that I will help bag raked leaves before noon, it’s time to lean on a favorite crutch and play Games With Numbers. Today’s date, 5/3, becomes No. 53, and we’re off to find out what records were at No. 53 on May 3 from, oh, let’s do 1970 through 1973 and get four records from which to choose a Saturday Single. (As we tend to do here, we’ll note the No. 1 records from those weeks as we fly by.)

Landing in 1970, we find ourselves listening to a slice of Philly soul from Eddie Holman, who’s sitting at No. 53 with the double-sided single, “Don’t Stop Now/Since I Don’t Have You.” The A-side is a decent piece of Philly soul on ABC – an older version had been released four years earlier on Parkway and bubbled under at No. 104 – backed with a good cover of the Skyliners’ 1959 hit. The two-sided record, which looks in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles as if it were Holman’s follow-up to “Hey There Lonely Girl,’ (a No. 2 hit in early 1970) was on its way to No. 48. The No. 1 record that week was “ABC” by the Jackson 5.”

Perched at No. 53 a year later was the final charting single from Booker T & The MG’s: “Melting Pot.” A funky and slinky workout with plenty of room for all four musicians to shine, the single was an edit or an excerpt from a longer piece that was the title track and opener to the group’s 1971 album, Melting Pot. The single was on its way to No. 48, the eighteenth and – as I noted – last single the group would place in or near the Billboard Hot 100. (The best-performing of those singles had been the first, the iconic “Green Onions,” which went to No. 3 in 1962.) Sitting at No. 1 during the first week of May in 1971was Three Dog Night’s “Joy To The World.”

A year later, we find the No. 53 slot occupied by the sweet and atmospheric “Walk In The Night” by Jr. Walker& The All Star. The record, which was on its way to No. 46 that week, is one that I featured a couple of years ago, and as I listen to it again this morning, it still doesn’t sound anything like 1972 to me. “Walk In The Night” was the next-to-last of twenty-three records that Walker placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1965 and 1973. Sitting in the top spot of the Hot 100 during the first week in May 1972 was Roberta Flack’s massive hit “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”

And we close this little exercise with a look at the first chart of May in 1973, where we find at No. 53 a brilliant bit of Philly soul: The Stylistics’ “Break Up To Make Up.” The plaint about the “game for fools” had peaked four weeks earlier at No. 5, the fourth of five eventual Top Ten hits for the group, who would in the end put seventeen records in or near the Hot 100 in a five-year period (1971-76). Their best-performing single would be “You Make Me Feel Brand New” in early 1974. And sitting at No. 1 during the first week of May 1973 was “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando & Dawn.

So we have four sweet pieces of soul/R&B to choose from this morning. I’m tempted by the Jr. Walker track, but we just listened to it here two years ago, and even though blog years seem to run on a different track than real-time years, that’s just too recent. So I popped over to Amazon to find an mp3 of “Melting Pot,” as the single edits available at YouTube were in pretty sad shape. And success there – and I can do no more than hope that the single version offered there is the same as the U.S. single version from 1971 and that the 45 jacket used in the video is the one that was used in the U.S. – means that “Melting Pot” by Booker T & The MG’s is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Green’

September 12, 2013

So today, in the fourth installment of Floyd’s Prism, we come to “Green,” the “G.” in the famous mnemonic for recalling the colors of the spectrum: “Roy G. Biv.”

The RealPlayer provides a total of 576 mp3s to sort. The first tracks to be trimmed are the sixteen covers of 1960s folk from the fine 1999 collection Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village in the ’60s and the thirteen covers from a similar 2009 album, The Village: A Celebration Of The Music Of Greenwich Village.

We also lose many, if not all, tracks from other albums: The Stone Poneys’ Evergreen, Vol. 2, Dana Wells’ The Evergreen, Steel Mill’s Green Eyed God, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River, Dar Williams’ The Green World, Leo Kottke’s Greenhouse, the Pete Best Band’s Hayman’s Green (yes, that Pete Best; it’s a pretty decent album from 2008), the bluesy Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, the Jayhawks’ Tomorrow the Green Grass and a few others, including Sibylle Baier’s Colour Green, an album featured here not long ago that was made up mostly of home recordings from the early 1970s and released in 2006.

We set aside multiple albums by Al Green and country singer Pat Green, and single albums from songwriter Ellie Greenwich, the 1960s groups Green and Evergreen Blue Shoes, and a 2010 album by a European electropop duo called the Green Children.

We also lose tracks by performers Barbara Greene, Cal Green, Eli Green (with Mississippi Fred McDowell), Grant Green, the Greenwoods, Jackie Green, Johnny Green & The Greenmen, Judy Green, the little known R. Green (of R. Green & Turner, who recorded two blues sides for the J&M Fulbright label in Los Angeles in 1948), Rudy Greene, Rudy Green & His Orchestra, Lorne Green, the marvelously named Slim Green & The Cats From Fresno and, of course, Norman Greenbaum.

And a few songs fall by the wayside because of their titles: Jackie DeShannon’s “The Greener Side,” five mp3s titled “Evergreen” (some with numbers attached and none of them the 1976 Barbra Streisand record), Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Greenland Whale Fisheries,” Tony Rice’s “Greenlight on the Southern,” a couple versions of “Greensleeves,” three of “Greenback Dollar,” and six tracks with “Greenwood” in their titles, including the wonderful 1970 single “Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard.

But that leaves us many titles yet to work with. We’ll start with a country favorite of mine from 1993.

I didn’t know about the tune in 1993, of course, as I rarely listened to country music then. (A work friend of mine in those days suggested I give a Brooks & Dunn album a listen; I returned it to him regretfully, not yet ready for boot-scootin’.) But come the year 2000, with the Texas Gal on the scene, I began to catch up at least a little on what I’d been missing. And one evening, as we were passing time watching country music videos on CMT, there came Joe Diffie’s “John Deere Green.” The story of Billy Bob and Charlene and the tall green letters on the water tower amused me, and it touched memories of both summer weeks on my grandpa’s farm and of Gramps’ allegiance to John Deere farm equipment. I don’t follow country closely, but it’s on the radio and the CD player occasionally; it’s not nearly as foreign as it was, thanks mostly to the Texas Gal and at least in part to Diffie’s single (which went to No. 5 on the country chart and to No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100).

There are five versions of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Bitter Green” in the digital stacks: covers by Ronnie Hawkins, Tony Rice and fellow Canadian folk singer Valdy and studio and live versions by Lightfoot. I like them all but decided to go with Lightfoot’s version from his 1968 album, Back Here On Earth. At the time, Lightfoot was known mostly in the U.S. as a songwriter; his performing career was much stronger in Canada (and that imbalance remained until 1970 or so). “Bitter Green” and the story it tells are vintage Lightfoot: an easily embraced melody backed only by guitar and literate and clear lyrics. He’d go on to great critical and popular success in the 1970s and beyond, but many of his early recordings are still worth close listening. This is one of them.

Gods and Generals, a 2003 film based on a 1996 novel by Jeffrey Schaara, was focused, says Wikipedia, on “the life of Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson,” the God-fearing and militarily brilliant yet eccentric Confederate general.” I’ve not seen the film, and perhaps I should, but my interest in Gods and General this morning is the soundtrack, itself notable to me because Bob Dylan’s haunting “’Cross the Green Mountain” is its closing track. In her review of the soundtrack at All Music Guide, Heather Phares notes that Dylan’s contribution “sounds more contemporary than most of the rest of the album, but still has enough rustic warmth to complement it gracefully.” The video to which I’ve linked has a shorter version of the tune than does the soundtrack; the original version, which runs eight-plus minutes, is available on the soundtrack CD and on Dylan’s 2008 release, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8.

Although I try to dig up relatively rare and different tracks when I do sets like this – for Floyd’s Prism or the earlier March Of The Integers – there are times when familiar tracks simply demand to be included. Such is the case with “Green Onions” by Booker T. & The MG’s. The record – familiar and forever fresh – went to No. 3 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1962. In his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh wrote that “Green Onions” is “what happens when the best backup band in the universe decides it’s time to get noticed.”

In early 2007, a Houston, Texas, music producer named Kevin Ryan went into his home studio and, as Dan Brekke of Salon wrote that April, “engineered a sort of retro mash-up of two of his favorite artists, Bob Dylan and Dr. Seuss. . . . Ryan took the text from seven Seuss classics, including ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ and set them to original tunes that sounded like they were right off Dylan’s mid-’60s releases. He played all the instruments and sang all the songs in Dylan’s breathy, nasal twang. He registered a domain name, dylanhearsawho.com, and in February posted his seven tracks online, accompanied by suitably Photoshopped album artwork, under the title Dylan Hears A Who.” The Salon piece tells the tale of the copyright claims that followed from the folks who own the Dr. Seuss material, examines the copyright issues at hand and notes that the material is still widely available on the ’Net. That’s true, of course, at YouTube, where Ryan’s version of “Green Eggs & Ham” remains a delight.

When Joni Mitchell released Blue in 1971, the lyrics to “Little Green” must have seemed like typically elliptical Joni Mitchell lyrics, telling a story by circling around it with vague hints and references:

Born with the moon in Cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her
Little green, be a gypsy dancer

He went to California
Hearing that everything’s warmer there
So you write him a letter and say, “Her eyes are blue”
He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you
Little green, he’s a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed
Little green, have a happy ending

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

When one reads those lyrics now, in the light of Mitchell’s having given birth to a daughter in 1965 and giving her up for adoption – a tale that became public in 1993 – “Little Green” becomes a heart-breaking piece of work.

Chart Digging: What’s At No. 106?

October 6, 2011

In the midst of busyness, nothing has been planned for this space. So it’s time for Games With Numbers again. It’s October 6 – a date that all J.R.R. Tolkien obsessives will recognize as the day that Frodo was attacked under Weathertop, as I noted in a post three years ago – so I thought I would convert that to one number – No. 106 – and see what records were in that position in the Bubbling Under portion of the Billboard Hot 100 on October 6 through the years.

As we all know, just as odd, wonderful and rare creatures inhabit the deepest portions of the oceans, so do similar records sometimes swim in the Bubbling Under portions of the charts. It may be difficult to find some of the records so listed. Or we may find familiar tunes. Let’s dive and find out. I think we’ll hang around in the 1960s for this one.

Jimmy Jones was an Alabama-born R&B singer, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, who had two songs get close to the top of the chart in 1960: “Handy Man,” which went to No. 2, and “Good Timin’,” which went to No. 3. (The records reached No. 3 and No. 8, respectively, on the R&B chart.) But that was about the extent of Jones’ success. Four other singles listed by Whitburn either stalled in the lower levels of the Hot 100 or Bubbled Under. One of those was a rock ’n’ roll version of “Old MacDonald Had A Farm.” Another was the single that was sitting at No. 106 – its peak – during the first week of October 1960: “Itchin’” would be gone from the chart the next week, and after “I Told You So” went to No. 85 in early 1961, so would Jimmy Jones.

There’s an interesting bit of information on the Top Pop Singles entry on the Wanderers, an early 1960s R&B group. The Wanderers had two singles released on the Cub label in 1961, with “For Your Love” reaching No. 93 and “I’ll Never Smile Again” bubbling under at No. 107. In 1962, “There Is No Greater Love” was released on Cub and failed to reach even the lowest portion of the charts, but then, for some reason, the same track was released on MGM and it pushed a little further in the chart than had the two previous singles. A ballad with an odd introduction and an interesting arrangement, “There Is No Greater Love” was at No. 106 this week in 1962; it peaked at No. 88 and was the last chart appearance by the Wanderers.

It’s always fun to find a nifty track I’ve never heard before, and that was the case with the record that was at No. 106 during the first week of October 1964. Earlier in the year, Roger Miller had a No. 6 pop hit with “Dang Me,” a record that spent six weeks atop the country chart. In September of that year came an answer record, “Dern Ya” by Ruby Wright, who happened to be the daughter of country performers Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright. “Dern Ya” peaked at No. 103.*

The name of P.F. Sloan pops up often enough in tales and discographies from the 1960s that I should know a lot more about the man than I do. I’ve mentioned him four times over the more than four years I’ve been writing this blog: three times in connection with the Grass Roots, which he and Steve Barri created, and once as the writer of Barry McGuire’s 1965 hit, “Eve of Destruction.” Along with everything else, Sloan did have two mid-1960s singles that touched the charts. “The Sins Of A Family” was the first, a preachy attempt at raising social consciousness that was sitting at No. 106 in the Billboard chart for the week of October 9, 1965; the record would peak at No. 87. Sloan’s other chart appearance came in 1966, when “From A Distance” bubbled under for one week at No. 109.

Up to this point, our explorations of records at No. 106 have found performers without a great deal of chart success. That changes when we move ahead to 1966: Sitting at No. 106 during the week of October 6 that year was a funky instrumental called “My Sweet Potato” by Booker T & the MG’s. After the No. 3 success of “Green Onions” in 1962 (No. 1 on the R&B chart), the group – essentially the house band from Stax Records – released a series of singles that didn’t come close to reaching the same heights. “My Sweet Potato” was no different, as it peaked at No. 85 (No. 18 on the R&B chart). Eventually, between 1967 and 1969, the group got five more singles into the Top 40, two of them – “Hang ’Em High” and “Time Is Tight” – into the Top Ten. The final total for Booker T & the MG’s? Eighteen singles on the pop chart and twelves in the R&B Top 40.

I do love me some saxophone, so I was very pleased to see the title that was listed at No. 106 during the first week of October in 1968: “Harper Valley PTA” by King Curtis and the Kingpins. I’ve written about Curtis Ousley a few times and mentioned him many times here, so I don’t need to say much more except that, just as it’s fun to discover new-to-me records by new-to-me performers, it’s more fun to discover a new-to-me King Curtis track. “Harper Valley PTA” didn’t do very well in the charts, going to No. 93, but it’s a great slice of soul for a Thursday morning.

*Soon after I posted this, I learned at Any Major Dude With Half A Heart that Wright crossed over on September 27 at the age of ninety-seven. He and Wells were married October 30, 1937, and spent nearly seventy-four years together.

A Dose Of Voodoo From 1962

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 15, 2008

Some of the folks from Bookcrossing, our book club, stopped by last evening for a soup dinner. The five of us filled ourselves on a Mexican rice and beef soup and a cabbage/potato/sausage soup – both creations by the Texas Gal – as well as an assortment of chips, dips and so on. And we talked for a couple hours about books and other stuff.

As happens when we all get together at someone’s home, our visitors scanned our bookshelves. It’s a cliché – one based in some truth, I suppose – that one can get to know a person by a close examination of his or her books. Given the mélange of titles on our shelves, I would guess that the only things that can be deduced about the Texas Gal and me is that we’re interested in a wide range of topics, both fiction and nonfiction, and that we dearly love books. (Both true, of course.)

But as our friends scanned our shelves, I noticed a title that I thought might be of some interest, so I pulled from the shelves and handed to them Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians, a 1961 volume by Mary Nash, reprinted in 1962 by the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club.

How many folks out there remember the Weekly Reader? I was surprised this morning to learn that it still exists. According to Wikipedia, the Reader was acquired in 2007 by The Reader’s Digest Association and continues publication. Wikipedia notes that the first edition of the Weekly Reader, for fourth-graders, came out in 1928, and by 1959, there were editions for kindergarten through grade six.

Wikipedia describes it thus: “The editions cover curriculum themes in the younger grades and news-based, current events and curriculum themed-issues in the older grades.” I recall seeing the Reader regularly during my days at Lincoln Elementary. I enjoyed it, I think, but then, I’ve always enjoyed reading almost anything.

And that includes the books I got through the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. I probably still have ten I got through the club, some of which I remember quite well. One of those is Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians. The Mrs. Coverlet of the title is the housekeeper for the three young Malcolm children, and the reader learns that in an earlier title, while their father – evidently widowed – was out of the country on business, Mrs. Coverlet was also called away. Instead of staying with a neighbor as instructed, the children stayed in their own home, with some mild adventure ensuing.

In Magicians, the sequel, the Malcolms’ father is still away, and, after young Molly Malcolm secretly enters Mrs. Coverlet in a recipe contest, the housekeeper is offered a chance to compete in the contest finals in New York City. Determined that her charges be better supervised during her absence, Mrs. Coverlet arranges for spinster Eva Penalty to move into the Malcolm home.

All three children are stifled by the dour Miss Penalty, none more than the youngest, six-year-old Toad. Some time earlier, having found a comic book of horror stories, Toad had clipped a coupon and sent off for a book of magic spells. With Miss Penalty running the house rigidly, Toad devises what is basically a voodoo doll and confines Miss Penalty to her bed for the remainder of Mrs. Coverlet’s absence. Mishaps ensue, but things turn out well, of course. Scanning the book this morning, I remember enjoying the story. When I pulled the book off the shelf to show it to our friends last evening, however, one thing popped into my head:

How would parents react these days to a novel for children based on the ideas of magic spells and voodoo dolls? I would guess that there would be an effort to ban Weekly Reader and its book club from the classroom.

As far as I recall, no one blinked back in 1962.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1962, Vol. 2
“Up On The Roof” by the Drifters, Atlantic 2162 (No. 120, “bubbling under” the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 13, 1962)

“409” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 4777 (No. 76)

“Leah” by Roy Orbison, Monument 467 (No. 74)

“Stormy Monday Blues” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke 355 (No. 54)

“Beechwood 4-5789” by the Marvelettes, Tamla 54065 (No. 32)

“Popeye the Hitchhiker” by Chubby Checker, Parkway 849 (No. 24)

“I Left My Heart In San Francisco” by Tony Bennett, Columbia 42332 (No. 23)

“It Might As Well Rain Until September” by Carole King, Dimension 2000 (No. 22)

“Only Love Can Break A Heart” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1022 (No. 13)

“If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)” by Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros. 5296 (No. 10)

“Green Onions” by Booker T and the MG’s, Stax 127 (No. 6)

“Ramblin’ Rose” by Nat King Cole, Capitol 4804 (No. 3)

“Sherry” by the Four Seasons, Vee-Jay 456 (No.1)

A few notes:

“Up On The Roof” was the third Top Ten hit for the Drifters (“There Goes My Baby” in 1959 and “Save The Last Dance For Me” in 1960 were the first two), but the first since Ben E. King left the group and was replaced by Rudy Lewis. “Up On The Roof” eventually went to No. 5.

Roy Orbison’s “Leah” is an odd record. With its other-worldly sound, I’m surprised it got into the charts at all. It’s simply spooky, and the fact that it went to No. 35 still startles me. I mean, I like it, but I wouldn’t have thought the record marketable.

While Bobby “Blue” Bland never had a major hit, “Stormy Monday Blues” was released in the middle of a period when his records were at least reaching the Top 40. “Turn On Your Love Light” had gone to No. 28 in January of 1962, and the double-sided single, “Call On Me/That’s The Way Love Is” would reach Nos. 22 and 33, respectively, in early 1963. “Stormy Monday Blues,” while a good record, wasn’t quite as good as those. “That’s The Way Love Is” is a great record, and I think it’s nearly forgotten. (“Stormy Monday Blues” is tagged as a 1961 record because that was the session date, but it was in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962.)

Chubby Checker’s “Popeye the Hitchhiker” was another attempt to launch a dance craze, with the dance in question, I believe, based on extending one’s thumb and cocking one’s arm, as if hitching a ride. (Sadly, there seem to be no examples of the dance on YouTube.) “Popeye,” which went to No. 10, was the B-side to “Limbo Rock,” which I shared here in August.

“It Might As Well Rain Until September” was a pretty slight record, but it fit right in during 1962 and got as high as No. 22 on the charts. The artist, Carole King, showed up on the charts nine years later, of course, with “It’s Too Late” and was a presence on the charts into the 1980s.

I’ve always loved “Ramblin’ Rose” for some reason. It’s a pretty song, and of course, Nat King Cole had a great voice. This certainly wasn’t his best performance – that would have come on one or more of his jazz/R&B sides, but something about the song grabbed the nine-year-old whiteray in a way that none of the other records in this Baker’s Dozen ever has.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1967, Vol. 2

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 23, 2008

Some quotations from 1967:

“There [in Haight-Ashbury], in a daily street-fair atmosphere, upwards of 15,000 unbonded girls and boys interact in a tribal love-seeking, free-winging, acid-based society, where if you are a hippie and you have a dime, you can put it in a parking meter and lie down in the street for an hour’s sunshine.” – Warren Hinckle, Social History of the Hippies

“‘An investigation into Sex’ is now offered at Dartmouth. ‘Analogues to the LSD Experience’ can now be studied at Penn. ‘Guerilla Warfare’ is being examined by DePauw students. Stanford undergraduates are studying ‘American Youth in Revolt,’ and ‘The Origins and Meaning of Black Power’ is a course at Brooklyn College. Has higher education finally caught up with the times?” – Ralph Keyes, “The Free Universities”

“Victory is just around the corner [in Vietnam].” – National Security Adviser Walt Rostow

“I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs” – Muhammad Ali

“I have tried to show that contemporary society is a repressive society in all its aspects, that even the comfort and the prosperity, the alleged political and moral freedom, are utilized for repressive ends.” – Herbert Marcuse

I turned fourteen that year. I wasn’t reading Marcuse nor was I worrying one way or another about the current courses in college catalogs. I was aware of the war in Vietnam, but only as something far away that was on the news more nights than not and in the papers almost every day. I knew that the war was out there, like thunder beyond the horizon, and I thought that maybe it was wrong, but it hadn’t touched me yet.

I did think about the hippies, having seen some coverage on the television news and having read about them in the daily papers and in Time magazine. It looked like they were having fun, I thought. I would not have minded running through the grass with some sweet flower child. Small chance of that, though: I was horribly awkward in my dealings with that strange tribe called girls.

Let’s see . . . I went to band camp that summer at Bemidji State College, in the northern part of the state. My dad let my hair grow out a little, and I grew a few inches and slimmed down some, changing enough that at least a couple people didn’t recognize me when ninth grade started in the fall. The most painful episode of the year was having my tonsils out after a long series of sore throats, the last of which came in late January.

When I stayed home ill, I would take the brown radio from the kitchen and put it on my bedside table. I’d listen to news and such on WCCO and occasionally tune the radio to KDWB and listen to that for a while, even though Top 40 radio was not yet the place where my soul lived. So what did I hear that January during that final bout of tonsilitis?

Here are a few listings pulled from the KDWB “Big 6 Plus 30” for the week of January 21, 1967. The top five was:

“I’m A Believer” by the Monkees
“Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen
“Words of Love” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Coming Home Soldier” by Bobby Vinton
“Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville

A few other stops along the way were:

No. 10: “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet” by the Blues Magoos
No. 15: “Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra
No. 20: “Tell It To The Rain” by the Four Seasons
No. 25: “Whispers” by Jackie Wilson
No. 30: “Standing in the Shadows of Love” by the Four Tops
No. 36: “Ballad of Water Wart” by Thorndike Pickledish Choir

I’d never seen this list before, and my jaw remains agape as I write this, looking at that No. 36 song. I’d never heard of it before. Whatever it is, it was in its fifth week on the KDWB survey, having gone as high as No. 21. It might have been a regional hit, as it’s not listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.

A quick Googling finds that KDWB’s list has the title misspelled; it should be “The Ballad of Walter Wart,” although a 2006 posting on the website of WFMU, the free-form station in New Jersey, notes that the label on its copy of the 45 is misspelled, too. From what I can tell it was a novelty record that didn’t quite make the Top 100 nationally. I wonder why it did so well on KDWB? It never showed up on the weekly surveys at WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other Top 40 station.

Well, let’s Google on: It turns out that the creator of the record, whose real name is Robert O. Smith, has a blog of his own: All Hail Thorndike Pickledish !! There’s an mp3 of the two sides of the single there. Odd, indeed.*

Anyway, that’s what radio sounded like, for the most part, as I sat in bed with a sore throat forty-one years ago. And here’s what 1967 sounds like when I start the RealPlayer these days:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1967, Vol. 2
“Eight Men, Four Women” by O. V. Wright, Backbeat single 580

“Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles from Magical Mystery Tour

“Ups & Downs” by Paul Revere & the Raiders, Columbia single 44018

“Landslide” by Tony Clark, Chess single 1979

“Everybody’s Wrong” by Buffalo Springfield from Buffalo Springfield

“Ye Old Toffee Shop” by the Hollies from Evolution

“I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Tamla single 54159

“Bessie Smith” by The Band from The Basement Tapes

“Blue Condition” by Cream from Disraeli Gears

“Hip Hug-Her” by Booker T & the MG’s, Stax single 211

“Twentieth Century Fox” by the Doors from The Doors

“San Francisco Bay Blues” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag

“Break It Up” by Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger from Open

A few notes:

O.V. Wright came out of the gospel music circuit before going secular in the mid-1960s, eventually ending up in the 1970s with Willie Mitchell at Hi Records in Memphis. That’s probably where Wright did his best work, but his mid-1960s singles for Backbeat – “Eight Men, Four Women” is the most atmospheric – are worth seeking out.

I’ve seen numerous comments from historians and critics and others of similar background who state that the Beatles’ single “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane” is the best double-sided single in the history of rock. It’s a good one, no doubt, but the best? The record was a harbinger of what was to come that summer when Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, and it sounded unlike anything we’d ever heard before. With the passage of time, however, the two singles suffer at least a little from the “throw in everything including the kitchen sink” production style that seemed so novel and revolutionary in 1967. And I can think of four other double-sided singles the Beatles themselves released that have more staying power than “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane.” Those would be “Come Together”/“Something,” “Hey Jude”/“Revolution,” “Paperback Writer”/“Rain” and – way back near the start – “I Want To Hold Your Hand”/“I Saw Her Standing There.”

The Hollies track is the most frothy and least consequential song from the Evolution album, which I think was the Hollies’ attempt to make something significant out of their version of psychedelic folk-pop. It’s not an awful album, and it has one good single (“Carrie-Anne”), but it’s not nearly as important as it is odd. The Hollies, in one critical way, remind me of the Grass Roots and Neil Diamond, among many others, in that they recorded good singles – sometimes even verging on great – but got lost when they tried to be significant. The middle section of “Ye Old Toffee Shop” reminds me of the single from the year before: “Pied Piper” by Crispian St. Peters.

On the other hand, great singles were Smokey Robinson’s business, and he knew it and stayed with it. “I Second That Emotion” might be his masterpiece – “Maybe you wanna give me kisses sweet, but only for one night with no repeat,” indeed! – but even if it’s not (I do lean toward “Tears of a Clown”), it’s a great single from the writing all the way through the production and the performance.

Most performers, when taking on Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” keep it up-tempo, an approach that likely started with Fuller himself (based on a listen to his performance of the song at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964). But Havens – as he often does – goes against type here, making the song more contemplative and measured, allowing the listener to take in the tale.

*Sadly, a check on the first page of All Hail Thorndike Pickledish !! reveals that Robert O. Smith, creator of Walter Wart, crossed over in 2010. The blog is still there, but the link to the Walter Wart mp3s no longer works. Note added June 6, 2011.

A Long-Ago Error Corrected: Thanks!

May 16, 2011

We returned to St. Cloud yesterday – the Texas Gal and I – after a weekend jaunt to Madison, Wisconsin, the home of jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and his Mrs. As always, their hospitality was commendable: From bison chili on Friday evening through a tour of the Farmers’ Market and down Madison’s famed State Street on Saturday and on into a meal at Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pub Saturday evening, it was a superb stay.

As happens when jb and I get together, we talked radio, sports, music and beer. In the latter category, I supplied a couple of brews from Minnesota: A six-pack sampler from the Brau Brothers Brewing Company, based in the small southwestern Minnesota town of Lucan, and an assortment from the August Schell Brewing Co. of New Ulm, Minnesota.

In exchange, jb offered some brews from Michigan, including a chance to sip on a Kentucky Breakfast Stout from the Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids. A mighty brew, indeed! He and I may disagree on a number of things – most notably football – but we both do respect noble brews.

As we took our chilly walk through downtown Madison, we made a couple of stops. One of those was at the Exclusive Company, a purveyor of CDs, vinyl records and things related. And jb helped me to undo a horrible decision from more than forty years ago.

I have likely related the tale before of how, one day in about 1971, I was rifling through the cut-out bin at the Woolworth’s store in St. Cloud’s Crossroads Center and came across a copy of McLemore Avenue, a 1970 tribute to the Beatles’ Abbey Road by Booker T and the MG’s.

I looked at the cover, which showed Booker T and the MG’s walking across Memphis’ McLemore Avenue in 1970 just as the Beatles had done on London’s Abbey Road a year earlier. I glanced at the list on the back: three medleys and a single track, all pulled from Abbey Road. And I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to hear music from Abbey Road, it should be the Beatles’ versions, not versions by some other band. And I put the LP back in the cut-out bin and left the store. Regrets followed quickly and have never gone away.

On Saturday, as we walked the aisles of the Exclusive Company, jb pulled from the immense CD inventory a sealed copy of McLemore Avenue, a reissue from this year that includes six bonus tracks of other Beatles’ tunes recorded during the mid- to late 1960s. That disc now resides here in St. Cloud, along with a few other CDs found in bargain bins there.

So, my thanks to jb for helping me correct a long-standing error. I’d salute him with the bottle of Kentucky Breakfast Stout he sent back to Minnesota with me, but I do need to function during the remainder of the day. On the other hand, Booker T and his pals are nearly as intoxicating, albeit in another way, so here they are – from McLemore Avenue – with a medley of “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”