Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

Saturday Single No. 111

December 16, 2011

Originally posted January 24, 2009

So I sat here in the study, fresh coffee at hand, digging through a few 45s and a batch of newly ripped mp3s, looking for something compelling for a Saturday morning.

In the stack of 45s in good shape that I pulled aside some years ago – leaving others in the mystery box, the source these days of my Grab Bag records – I found a 1967 Young Rascals single, “A Girl Like You,” and I dropped it on the turntable. It played well enough to rip an mp3, as did a 1967 Sammy Davis, Jr., spoken-word record. I spent fifteen minutes recording those and appending tags to them. The Young Rascals single may show up here in the future; it’s a nice tune. The Sammy Davis single – fascinatingly unique – will certainly show up in this space, but only after I’ve had the chance to do some research. And I wasn’t in the mood to do research today.

So I ate a whole-grain toaster pastry – how about that for a product that’s healthy for you and likely not so healthy at the same time? – and dithered. I pulled a Jim Horn album – 1972’s Through The Eyes Of A Horn – from a box and thought about posting his version of “Going Up The Country” along with a meditation of some sort about finding records by folks who spend most of their time as studio musicians. I decided that if I were going to do that, I’d share the entire album. So look for that in the future.

And then, as the Texas Gal rose and got herself ready for the day – the most exciting portion of our day is likely to be a trip to a major discount store to purchase furnace filters – I had company here in the study. Our newest cat – and I may not have mentioned him here previously – jumped into my lap and demanded attention. He’s an orange tabby with a white muzzle, and his name is Cubbie Cooper. (The Texas Gal said it just sounded right, and she’s correct.) The Coop, as he’s also known, settled himself on my lap, purring loudly.

A few moments later, the Texas Gal came in to say good morning. “You’ve been Cooperized, I see,” she said.

I nodded. “And it’s hard to concentrate” I said.

“He does have a loud purr.”

She asked what I was going to post this morning, and I said, “I have absolutely no idea.”

She thought for a moment. “How about . . . ‘Amanda’?”

By Boston?

“Yeah, that’s the one. When it came out, I wished my name were Amanda. I’ve always liked it.”

So with that, here – courtesy of the Texas Gal – is today’s Saturday Single.

“Amanda” by Boston, MCA 52756 [1986]

‘Travels Through The 20th Century’

July 25, 2011

Originally posted July 23, 2008

Every once in a while, I come across a book that I just have to tell people about.

(And it’s a good thing I have outlets with which to do so – this blog and my monthly meeting of Bookcrossing – or I fear I’d be out on the streets, gripping folks by the elbow, showing them a book: “Have you read this? You need to read this! It’s one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.” It would not take long before I’d either be warned by the police to quit or else taken away for some observation.)

Anyway, during my regular stop at the public library last weekend, I spotted a book on the new reading shelf that looked interesting enough to take a chance on: In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century by Geert Max. I sifted the pages quickly, and got the impression that it was a collection of travel pieces from through the years. It sounded interesting enough, so I dropped it in the book bag and brought it home.

I’ve shared a few books here over the past year and a half, and always with the note that the book in question is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. Not wanting that claim to be diluted, I should note that I read – at a guess – six to ten books a month. I’m a rapid reader, and even with the blog and my other writing and my househusband duties, I have a good chunk of time every day for reading. So in the past year and a half, let’s say I’ve read eight books a month; that comes out to 144 books.

Some of those were just okay, a couple I recall as actually very bad. Most were good, and there were a very few that were superior. In Europe is one of them. It turned out to be something far more interesting than an anthology of travel journalism.

In 1999, Max – a writer for the Dutch newspaper, NRC Handlesblad – was assigned to travel Europe for a year, researching and writing pieces on the history of the Twentieth Century on the continent. The book is arranged in chronological order, beginning with his January 1999 travels, during which he covered the years from 1900 to 1914. For that segment of the century, Max traveled to Paris, London, Berlin and Vienna, the four main capitals of Europe during the time when the stage was being prepared for World War I.

Using diaries, histories and publications from the time, and combining those accounts with his observations of the current state of the various locales, Max (aided, no doubt, by what appears to be a remarkable job by translator Sam Garrett) weaves a readable and fascinating history of Europe in the last century. His February travels shift from Vienna and focus on Belgium and northern France, as he chronicles the lives and deaths of millions of young men in the carnage that was the deadlocked Western Front during World War I.

And as he tours a Belgian war cemetery at Houthulst, he brings that long-gone war back to the present:

“I hear a dull thud. A blue mist comes floating across the frosty fields. In the field behind the cemetery, the DOVO, the Belgian War Munition Demolition Service, has blown up another heap of First World War ammunition. They do it twice a day, one and a half tons a year. When the farmers find grenades they leave them at the base of the utility masts, and the miners collect them. And so it goes on here. Generation after generation, this soil continues to vomit up grenades, buttons, buckles, knives, skulls, bottles, rifles, sometimes even a whole tank. The Great War never ends.”

I am tempted every day to rush through my obligations – or to ignore them – so I can that much sooner pick up Max’s book and continue my explorations through the history he found on his travels.

As I read his account of World War I, I thought – as a writer tends to do – about the only time I ever wrote about that first great war. It was in 1978, a piece timed for November 11, Veterans Day, which would be the sixtieth anniversary of the armistice that ended the brutal battle of attrition in France. Still rather new to Monticello, I asked around a bit and found a veteran of World War I who was still alert and was willing to talk about his experience in France.

Frankie was never at the front, but he said he saw enough of the work of the battlefront as wounded and dead soldiers came back through the rear echelons. I took notes and reported his words, our photographer got a picture of Frankie and his wife, Marie, and we borrowed a 1918 picture of Frankie looking every inch the doughboy in his uniform. But I could not find a way as deadline approached that week to describe the look in Frankie’s eyes as he cast himself sixty years back and recalled for me the dirt, the fear, the noise, the blood, the horrible waste that he saw from the edges of the war.

Some things are too profound for words. In In Europe, I think, Max uses his finely chiseled prose and his eye for fine detail to come closer than most can to finding a way around that barrier.

As sometimes happens here, there’s no graceful way to move to the music. Here’s a generally random selection from the year when I wrote about World War I:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1978, Vol. 2
“Do You Wanna Dance” by Janis Ian from Janis Ian

“Heavy Horses” by Jethro Tull from Heavy Horses

“Lookin’ For A Place” by Chilliwack from Lights From The Valley

“Don’t Look Back” by Boston from Don’t Look Back

“Shattered” by the Rolling Stones from Some Girls

“Is This Love” by Bob Marley & the Wailers from Kaya

“Lotta Love” by Neil Young from Comes A Time

“You Belong To Me” by Carly Simon, Elektra single 45477

“The Darker Side” by the Lamont Cranston Band from El Cee Notes

“Here Goes” by the Bliss Band from Dinner With Raoul

“The Promised Land” by Bruce Springsteen from Darkness on the Edge of Town

“Never Make A Move Too Soon” by B.B. King, ABC single 12380

“Take Me to the River” by the Talking Heads from More Songs About Buildings and Food

A few notes:

I have a soft spot for Janis Ian. Anyone who can chronicle high school desperation the way she did in 1975’s “At Seventeen” deserves a pass now and then. Her 1978 self-titled album, though it had its moments, generally deserved that pass, as it was her third album in three years that didn’t come up to the quality of 1975’s Between the Lines. On the other hand, not many albums from anyone else can meet that standard, either. Luckily, “Do You Wanna Dance” is one of the better songs on the 1978 album.

Heavy Horses saw Jethro Tull continuing the back-to-the-roots shift that the band had started with 1977’s Songs From the Wood, with both albums celebrating English folk. Horses, as All-Music Guide notes, is “chock-full of gorgeous melodies, briskly played acoustic guitars and mandolins, and Ian Anderson’s flute lilting in the background, backed by the group in top form.” That’s not to say the album is lightweight, just noting where its inspirations came from.

In the two years since the release of its self-titled debut, Boston hadn’t changed much. “Don’t Look Back” is a decent song, but it – and any of the other seven songs on the album Don’t Look Back – has the same sound as the debut album. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but I kind of wonder why the group bothered.

If I had to go through my 1978 collection and rank the albums, I think that every time, I’d come up with Neil Young’s Comes A Time in the top spot. Far more country-ish than most of his other albums, it’s also the one that Young seems most relaxed with. It sounds like he had fun making the record, and I rarely get that sense about his music.

When I did my long post for last year’s Vinyl Record Day, I wrote “the Bliss Band sounds to me a bit like Pablo Cruise or the Little River Band, both of which were hitting the charts about the time Dinner With Raoul was recorded. There’s a touch of Steely Dan in there, too.” I stand by that, but it’s a sound that’s grown on me in the past eleven months. (A note: This year’s blogswarm for Vinyl Record Day, August 12, is once again being organized by JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.)

“The Promised Land” is one of my favorite Springsteen tracks of all time. (I suppose I should do an all-Springsteen post someday, listing my favorite thirteen.) He’s done some that are a little better, but what makes “The Promised Land” work is its setting: It’s an anthem that carries at least some hope amid the desperation and drear of the rest of Darkness at the Edge of Town.

We’re Moving!

July 18, 2011

Originally posted July 2, 2008

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

We’ve moving!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Smokin’” by Boston from Boston

“Night Moves” by Bob Seger, Capitol single 4369

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

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

A few notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Baker’s Dozen From 1986

May 12, 2011

Originally posted October 10, 2007

Well, 1986.

In late 1992, as the year was nearing its end, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth characterized it as the annus horribilis, or horrible year. As 1986 turned into 1987, I felt the same way.

The year had started all right. A consortium of weekly newspaper publishers for whom I’d been covering government in Wright County as a freelancer had decided in December, not unexpectedly, not to continue the arrangement into the new year. And as January approached, I sought new employment. It wasn’t urgent, as I was married at the time and had been house-husbanding while I was a freelancer. But I wanted to get back into the workforce on a more substantial basis.

I was already teaching one course – a weekly night class: Introduction to Mass Communication – at St. Cloud State, so in mid-January I drove from Monticello to St. Cloud and the campus to nose around for possible additional jobs there. I dropped in at the university’s public relations office, where the director was a long-time family acquaintance. (My father had retired only two years earlier after thirty-three years as a teacher and administrator.) He took my resume and told me, regretfully, that he didn’t foresee any openings in his operations.

The next day he called. The main writer in his office had given him a week’s notice, and he wondered if I would fill in while a search began for her replacement. He added that I could certainly apply for the permanent position. So the following Monday, the last in January, I began to commute to St. Cloud every day. The thirty-mile drive, I learned, gave me time to organize my day in the morning, and time to wind down from it in the evening.

On my second day in the public relations office, the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated in the Florida sky just more than a minute after it was launched. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but that horrible event can be seen in retrospect as an omen. In about May, my life – not a bad one at the time, as these things go – began to disintegrate as well, unraveling at the seams like a poorly sewn garment.

I don’t want to rehash the events of 1986, and I don’t want to bore anyone else with them. Let it suffice to say that by the end of the year, I could sit in my easy chair in Monticello and see, figuratively, the tatters of my life on the floor. It took a long time to clean up the mess and an even longer time – with a couple of false starts – to create a new garment in which to live my life.

So I wasn’t listening much to music in 1986, having other things on my mind. And in retrospect, that was good. If I had been attentive to music, then many of the tunes from the year would carry a layer of grief with them and would be nearly intolerable to hear even today. As it turned out, I generally absorbed the music of 1986 at a later date, so listening to the year’s music is not an unhappy exercise.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1986

“Welcome to the Boomtown” by David & David, A&M single 2857

“Precious Memories” by Bob Dylan from Knocked Out Loaded

“I Ain’t Drunk” by Albert Collins from Cold Snap

“Shanghai Surprise” by George Harrison with Vicki Brown, Shanghai Surprise soundtrack

“All I Need Is A Miracle” by Mike & the Mechanics, Atlantic single 89450

“Under African Skies” by Paul Simon from Graceland

“Amanda” by Boston, MCA single 52756

“West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys, EMI America single 8307

“The Spirit” by the Moody Blues from The Other Side Of Life

“Something So Strong” by Crowded House, Capitol single 5695

“Still Around” by Robert Cray from Strong Persuader

“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel from So

“The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby & the Range from The Way It Is

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Welcome to the Boomtown” is one of the best singles that I think almost everyone forgets about. Its atmosphere, its story and its production values all sparkle as it tells its tale of dissolution, ennui and despair in the big city. Although Columbia, Missouri – which I’d left in 1985 – was no double for L.A., the reference to Denny’s always makes me think of the Denny’s along the freeway in Columbia. I would occasionally stop by for a late-night omelet, and the cast of characters I saw regularly there could easily populate a story set in any city about lives whirling into hard habits and out of control.

The Bob Dylan track is one of the lesser songs from one of his lesser albums. I had hoped that if a track from Knocked Out Loaded popped up during the random run, it would be “Brownsville Girl,” the eleven-minute epic Dylan wrote with playwright Sam Shepard. That track contains two of the more fascinating, disruptive and frankly strange verses ever to appear in a Dylan song:

“Well, we crossed the panhandle and then we headed towards Amarillo.
“We pulled up where Henry Porter used to live. He owned a wreckin’ lot outside of town about a mile.
“Ruby was in the backyard hanging clothes, she had her red hair tied back. She saw us come rolling up in a trail of dust.
“She said, ‘Henry ain’t here but you can come on in, he’ll be back in a little while.’
 
“Then she told us how times were tough and about how she was thinkin’ of bummin’ a ride back to where she started.
“But ya know, she changed the subject every time money came up.
“She said, ‘Welcome to the land of the living dead.’ You could tell she was so broken-hearted.
“She said, ‘Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt.’”

Sounds like Bob Dylan meets Sam Shepard to me.

If you don’t recall “Shanghai Surprise” even though you’re old enough to do so, that’s not really startling. It was the title tune to a film starring Madonna and Sean Penn, then newlyweds. George Harrison’s Handmade Films produced it, which is how the one-time Beatle ended up doing the soundtrack, which was never released as an album. There are a few single-sided 45s of the title tune out there, selling for more than $1,000. “Shanghai Surprise,” along with “Zig-zag,” a song from the film that had been released as the b-side of the single “When We Was Fab,” ended up as bonus tracks on a 2004 CD reissue of Harrison’s 1987 album, Cloud Nine.

“Amanda” came from Third Stage, Boston’s long-awaited and long-delayed third album. In general, I have little affection for the music labeled arena rock. Boston, however, I like, and “Amanda” may be my favorite track by the group. Listening to it today for the first time in a while, though, I hear echoes of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” from three years earlier.

The Robert Cray tune is an album track from Strong Persuader, the record that made Cray famous and, to my mind, signaled the blues boom that was to come in the 1990s. Cray’s R&B-tinged blues have aged well.

I was glad to see something from Peter Gabriel’s So show up during the random run. I was never much of a fan of Genesis, so I was surprised by the depth and beauty of the album. Even twenty-one years after its release, it remains fresh and truly beautiful at points, which is a rare thing.