Posts Tagged ‘Booker T & The MG’s’

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.