Posts Tagged ‘Byrds’

We’ve Done Much But Still Have Much To Do

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 19, 2009

The two events on consecutive days are an opinion writer’s dream.

I’m talking, of course, about the unique juxtaposition of today’s national holiday commemorating the life and contributions of the Rev. Martin Luther King with tomorrow’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president. Some editorial writers and columnist may tell that we have achieved our goal and left division behind. Others will tell us we have made a good start. I lean toward the latter view. Still, there is no doubt that there is much to celebrate. After Mr. Obama takes the oath of office, we can all rejoice that we as a nation are so much closer than we were to keeping the promises made in our founding documents.

There is here a reluctance to write much about race relations in the United States (or anywhere, for that matter). Why? Because I stand on the wrong side of the divide to truly know what the state of those relations is and has been. I can read, I can listen, I can guess. But I can never know. What I have observed in my lifetime makes me hopeful, but when I try to write about the topic, I find myself stumbling around like a blindfolded man in a dark house: I have no assurance that I know what I am doing or where I am headed.

(I recall the tale of another man who stood on the same side of that divide as I do. In 1959, writer John Howard Griffin, who was white, darkened his skin with the help of a doctor and spent six weeks traveling as an African American man through Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. For anyone, but especially for those who see the 1950s and 1960s as distant history, if I could suggest one book that might provide a glimpse of what life was like in the segregated southern states in the U.S., it would be Black Like Me.)

As we celebrate and remember today and tomorrow, one of the things that I hope that we all keep in mind is that we have just begun to keep our promises. And those promises were sworn not only to those with darker skin colors but also to those with colder homes, emptier plates, fewer opportunities and far more challenges than most of us in this nation have to deal with. The racial divide still exists, of course, and those on both sides need to continue to keep faith. But the deeper divide, I think, is economic, and that divide – aggravated, no doubt, by the dismal economic news of recent months – leaves far too many of us in want. And I doubt whether those shackled by economic need are truly free.

This is certainly a darker piece than I intended to write. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I do not celebrate the vast progress we have made in the U.S. nor the remarkable achievement of this nation in electing Barack Obama as its president. I am pleased and encouraged both historically and in the moment. There is much yet to be done, and we need to remember that in the days, months and years to come. But we have come a long way, and that is worth celebrating.

Here’s some music to mark these moments:

“Chimes of Freedom” by the Byrds from Mr. Tambourine Man, 1965

“A Ray of Hope” by the Rascals from Freedom Suite, 1969

“We Shall Overcome” by Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions Band from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions-American Land Edition, 2006

“I Want My Freedom” by Marie Queenie Lyons from Soul Forever, 1970

“Freedom Blues” by Little Richard, Reprise 0907, 1970

“We Shall Be Free” by Maria Muldaur, Odetta, Joan Baez & Holly Near from Yes We Can, 2008

Some of these are well known and obvious. Little Richard certainly isn’t among the lesser-known here, but his 1970s releases are. “Freedom Blues” was pulled from The Rill Thing, one of several albums Little Richard recorded for Reprise in the early 1970s. (A few years ago, Rhino Handmade produced a limited CD reissue of those albums; copies currently run at about $150.)

I don’t know much about Marie Queenie Lyons. Soul Forever is the only album of hers listed at All-Music Guide. The recording comes from a post at My Blog Too. There’s some information about her and her connection to James Brown at Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven.*

Of the albums listed, my favorite is the final one, Yes We Can, on which Maria Muldaur draws together a bunch of friends and a great bunch of politically charged songs that serve as calls to action. One need not agree with the performers’ politics to enjoy the music.

*My Blog Too has been deleted since this piece was posted. Note added November 30, 2011.

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A Baker’s Dozen Of Columbia Singles

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 25, 2008

It was about four in the afternoon yesterday when the Texas Gal and I took a break. We’d hauled four carloads of stuff over to the house – following five loads on Saturday – and I’d made another trip to the big-box home center, followed by the assembly of two more sets of utility shelves in the basement.

We’re beginning to envision how the living room will be arranged, and the Texas Gal has a handle on where things will go in the loft, which will be her quilting and sewing space. I can see that my study will have room to have my keyboard out, which means I can make some music again, and we’re negotiating colors for the bedroom. We’ve agreed on a Scandinavian motif for the kitchen.

Those things are much more vision than reality now, and much heavy lifting remains before the gap between those two words is bridged. This will be the first house the Texas Gal has lived in as an adult; she’s been an apartment dweller. And though I shared a house with some fellows during my late college years (I’ve lived in mobile homes and apartments since), this feels like my first house, too. So we’re trying to take in all of the process that gets us home, even the drudgery of piecing together plastic shelf sets and of sorting out boxes of fabric.

As we took our break in what is still a sparely furnished kitchen, she drinking a Dr. Pepper, me sipping a Summit India Pale Ale, we looked at the bare walls and saw the décor that will soon be there; we looked through the archway into the empty dining room and saw the table and chairs that will soon welcome dinner guests. And we smiled at our house-to-be and at each other.

Translating that to music can be sketchy, but I went to my favorite song about smiles, and moved on from there.

A Baker’s Dozen of Columbia Singles

“Make Me Smile” by Chicago, Columbia 45127, 1970

“My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius, Columbia 44163, 1967

“My Back Pages” by the Byrds, Columbia 44054, 1967

“Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins & Messina, Columbia 45719, 1972

“Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 10090, 1975

“Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan, Columbia 11072, 1979

“Going Down To Liverpool” by the Bangles, Columbia 04636, 1984

“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” by Andy Williams, Columbia 42674, 1963

“Silver Bird” by Mark Lindsay, Columbia 45180, 1970

“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers, Columbia 44414, 1967

“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde, Columbia 44590, 1968

“Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand, Columbia 45236, 1970

“I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years After, Columbia 45457, 1971

A few notes:

“Make Me Smile” still grabs me by the collar and says “Wake up, we’re playing music here!” The same is true, of course, for many of Chicago’s early singles. (Take a look at what JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ had to say about “25 or 6 to 4” recently.) Unhappily, the band didn’t keep up this level of quality. When did I give up on Chicago? Maybe with “Wishing You Were Here” in 1974, but certainly by the time of “If You Leave Me Now” in 1976. For a few years, though, Chicago had a good hold of my collar.

“My World Fell Down” comes from the confectionary talents of Gary Usher and Curt Boettcher, the producers behind Sagittarius. A little too cloying, maybe, but the single is worth noting because the 1997 CD release restored an avant-garde bridge of noise that had been brutally edited when the LP was released in the Sixties.

The Dylan track was the single from Slow Train Coming, the first of Dylan’s three Christian albums of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, with production from Barry Beckett and guitar provided by Mark Knopfler, Slow Train Coming is far better – and far more enjoyable – than the two albums that followed. (Dylan earned a Grammy for “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance” for “Gotta Serve Somebody.”)

“Silver Bird” was one of two great radio singles Mark Lindsay released in 1970 after leaving Paul Revere & the Raiders. “Arizona” was the other, and it went to No. 10 in the early months of 1970. “Silver Bird,” which entered the Top 40 in July, reached only No. 25. They were Lindsay’s only Top 40 hits. I don’t recall the last time I actually heard either one of them on the radio, but they still sound plenty good popping up on the player.

The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the Avant-Garde was the duo of Elkin “Bubba” Fowler and Chuck Woolery. “Naturally Stoned” was one of those rare hits that almost wasn’t: The record reached No. 40 in its only week on the chart. The book doesn’t say what happened to Elkin after that, but Woolery, the book notes, went on to host TV games shows like Wheel of Fortune, Love Connection and Greed. Even with all that, it’s not a bad record although it’s certainly a period piece.

I’ve never been much of a Streisand fan, but she and producer Richard Perry got it right with “Stoney End.” The record did well, too, going to No. 6 after entering the Top 40 in December 1970. (The similarly titled album came out in February 1971, which explains the seemingly contradictory tags on the mp3.)

A Baker’s Dozen From The Movies

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 25, 2008

Every time I watch the Academy Awards – and that’s pretty much every year – I think a little bit about “What if?”

For a brief time in college, I dabbled in film, taking several workshops and classes and hanging around with others who did the same. I wrote a lot of short films, many of them adaptations of short stories, some of them originals. I also wrote some music for film: themes, background music and songs, written with certain projects in mind and then shelved when those projects either didn’t happen or went another way.

I thought I might actually make a living at one of those crafts in the context of filmmaking. And I might have. But I had absolutely no idea how to get from the thought of making a living in film to the actuality. So I never went that direction and became a journalist instead. I still did some other writing, more when I was teaching than when I was working at newspapers, and I still wrote songs and other music from time to time. But the movies and I have never been more than friendly strangers, not the friends I once thought possible.

I don’t regret that my path never went that direction. If it had been intended to be, I would have found my way there. But I admit that once a year, when I watch writers and songwriters collect their cherished statues, I wonder what might have been if I’d had even half a clue about what the first steps in such a path should have been.

A Baker’s Dozen of Songs From Movies
“Between Trains” by Robbie Robertson from The King of Comedy, 1983

“Songs to Aging Children Come” by Tigger Outlaw from Alice’s Restaurant, 1969

“Don’t It Feel Good To Be Free” by Edwin Starr from Hell Up In Harlem, 1974

“We Have All The Time In The World” by Louis Armstrong from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969

“Look What You’ve Done To Me” by Boz Scaggs from Urban Cowboy, 1980

“Love Theme (A Time For Us)” by Nino Rota from Romeo and Juliet, 1967

“Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” by Quicksilver Messenger Service from Revolution, 1968

“Route 66” by Manhattan Transfer from Sharkey’s Machine, 1981

“Nowhere Fast” by Fire, Inc., from Streets of Fire, 1984

“Child of the Universe” by the Byrds from Candy, 1968

“Un Homme et Une Femme (A Man and a Woman)” by Francis Lai from Un Homme et Une Femme, 1966

“The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff from The Harder They Come, 1972

“Midnight Cowboy” by John Barry from Midnight Cowboy, 1969

A few notes:

A recent visitor said that among the lost treasures he’d like to hear were Jennifer Warnes’ deleted album on Reprise and the Robbie Robertson track “Between Trains” from the soundtrack to The King of Comedy. I don’t have any leads on the Warnes album, but as soon as I got the note, I wandered to the shelf where I keep my soundtracks, pulled out The King of Comedy and ripped an mp3 of “Between Trains” from the vinyl. Joining Robertson in the studio were – among others – Richard Manuel on background vocals, Garth Hudson on synthesizer and famed session drummer Jim Keltner. It’s a good track.

Some time ago, I posted Joni Mitchell’s version of her “Songs to Aging Children Come,” noting that it had been performed in the movie Alice’s Restaurant by Tigger Outlaw. I said, “Mitchell’s version – the original – is probably more accomplished, but there is an awkward earnestness in Outlaw’s version that is somehow endearing.” That still holds true, having had Outlaw’s version pop up as I listened to songs from movies last night.

The Hell Up In Harlem soundtrack by Edwin Starr is pretty good, with Starr giving fierce readings of some of the songs from Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell. The gospelly “Don’t It Feel Good To Be Free” was the B side to one of the singles released from the film and was a pretty good track on its own.

The Quicksilver Messenger Service song was one of several rock songs used to back Revolution, a 1968 documentary on the counterculture of the late Sixties. The film’s description at All Movie Guide reads, in part: “Primarily filmed in San Francisco, this documentary features a series of interviews with those who call themselves hippies, or in some way identify with hippies. The countercultural revolution is revealed in discussions about sex, drugs, philosophy and lifestyle. Casual nudity and marijuana use is the main activity of one group. A nun who has left the order reveals her decisions to join the counterculture. Others decry the dehumanization of the modern industrial world, choosing to lead a hand-to-mouth existence. Communal living, psychedelic shows, love-ins and diverse fashion statements accompany the hippies who are many things to many people. All share a feeling of human togetherness and a live-and-let-live philosophy as they cope with the rapidly changing spectrum of social and political events in their lives.” Other groups whose music was used in the film were Country Joe & The Fish, the Steve Miller Band and Mother Earth.

“Nowhere Fast” was one of two Jim Steinman epics in the soundtrack to Streets of Fire, the rock and roll fable that came out in 1984. Overblown and overproduced? Yeah, probably. But I still like it. Every time I hear it, I find myself for a day or two with “Godspeed, godspeed, godspeed, speed us away,” running through my head.

“Child of the Universe” is a decent Byrds track that got swallowed up by the movie Candy, an atrocious 1968 film based on the “erotic” novel of the same title by Terry Southern. The book was one of those passed around surreptitiously in junior high with little notes inside the cover alerting us to the pages that had the hot stuff. The song – written by Dave Grusin – also wound up on the 1969 album Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde. The movie, available through at least one standard on-line service, is essentially unwatchable.

John Barry’s instrumental theme to Midnight Cowboy might be the best thing on this list although the preceding track, Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” is a great recording, too, and was, I think, one of the first reggae records to get much attention outside of Jamaica.

The Byrds & ‘Mr. Spaceman’

June 11, 2011

Originally posted January 31, 2008

In October 1967, about the time that my pals and I were creating fake UFOs out of straws, plastic bags and candles and about six months before I got a quick glimpse of a real UFO, the Byrds visited the The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. One of the two songs the group lip-synched for that performance was its own salute to UFOs and the creatures that fly them: “Mr. Spaceman.”

A Baker’s Dozen From 1966, Vol. 2

June 11, 2011

Originally posted January 30, 2008

Every once in a while, it seems, we go through a spasm of interest in UFOs in this country, and maybe throughout the world. I have a suspicion that with the wide reach of the Internet, those with an intense interest in UFOs gather together electronically – as do other groups of people with intense special interests – and so perhaps the general public no longer is as aware of those cyclical spasms of interest and/or activity. I know I don’t see or hear much about UFOs and their supposed occupants in the mainstream media but the few times I’ve dug into websites about the phenomenon, there are plenty of things reported as having happened, some of them quite recent.

I do think it’s cyclical, though. And I recall a local outburst of activity and/or interest in UFOs during the mid-Sixties. About sixty miles west of here is a little town called Long Prairie, a city of about 3,000 people. In 1965, something happened near there that made local radio news, and it might have been reported in the St. Cloud Daily Times although I don’t remember reading about it.

Here’s a summary from one of those UFO websites:

“From several ufological sources, more or less fragmentary, the case of Long Prairie, Minnesota, USA, on October 23, 1965, reportedly occurred as follow.

“The witness was James ‘Jerry’ F. Townsend, a 19 years old devout Christian and debutant radio host on KEYL of Long Prairie, and he was apparently a resident of that town.

“In that evening of October 23, 1965, he was driving in his model 1956 car, on Minnesota State Highway 27, from Little Falls to Long Prairie. He was 4 miles East of Long Prairie, going West, in the hilly landscape and had just looked at his watch and noted it was approximately 07:15 p.m.

“At that moment he arrived in a curve in the road, he said, when he saw an upright rocket-like object, silver colored, metallic looking, about 30 or 40 feet high and about 10 feet in diameter, blocking on the road, resting on the tips of three legs or fins.

“At that moment, his car engine stalled, the lights and radio went out, and he slammed on the brakes and the car skidded to a stop at only 20 feet in front of the object.

“His first thought was then to knock the object over with the car so he could have some evidence, but the engine was stalled. He tried to make it start again, but the choke did not respond. So he got out of the car with the idea of trying to push the object over by hand.

“He walked just past the level of the hood of the car, but did not go further, stopped short, fascinated by a quite stunning sight: he saw three small ‘creatures’ emerge from behind the object and line up at the front.

“Those creatures were in the shape of beer cans. They measured 6 inches tall, were of dark or brownish color, and were ‘walking’ awkardly on two ‘legs’ or ‘fins’. Whenever they stopped, a third ‘leg’ came down from their back and provided stability. They looked like tin cans on tripods. They also had three arms, ‘matchstick like’.

“Townsend saw no eyes, but he stood there staring at them and was convinced that they were watching him too. He did not [want] to approach more, and gave up the idea of rocking the ship down as something quite risky. There was no sound, just dead silence, and it seemed like ages to him, although he later evaluated the duration as some 3 minutes.

“Eventually, the little creature [sic] went up into the bright, ‘colorless’ light glowing out of the bottom of the ‘rocket’, and possibly up into the craft. A few seconds later, there was a loud hum, and the craft took off, reached a height he cautiously estimated as 400 meters up, where the light on the bottom went out, while his car radio, headlights and engine started without him touching the starter.

“He checked the ground where the craft had been, found no trace, and, his hearts [sic] pounding and his legs ‘like rubber’, he drove fast to the Todd County Sherif’s [sic] office, where he reported the events.

“Townsend said the Sheriff checked the site and found no trace. However, some sort of trace was reported, maybe found at a later check in daylight. From ufology sources, it appeared that Sheriff Bain and police officer Lavern Lubitz found three parallel strips of an oil-like substance, about four inches apart and a yard long, on the surface of the road. Sheriff Bain told reporters later: ‘I don’t know what they were, but I’ve looked at a lot of roads and never saw anything like them before.’

“Ufologist Coral Lorenzen heard by phone that Townsend had a good reputation, was not a drinker, and that he had been visibly frightened when he reported his experience. Reportedly, teachers and friends of Townsend were interrogated, and said he has a reputation for honesty.”

That’s a longer quote than I had planned to use, but I find the report fascinating (although I have no idea what a “debutant radio host” is). Maybe I’m fascinated because I remember the ruckus the account created back in 1965. I don’t know how adults reacted to it, but opinion was mixed among the kids. Many of my contemporaries said flat out – without knowing much more than bare bones – that the fellow had to have been drunk and seeing things. Me? I wondered. Even at the age of twelve, I knew that there were lots of things we did not know. Aliens from another planet, another dimension? Maybe.

It was about that time – maybe a year later, but in autumn – that St. Cloud residents for a few nights in a row called the local police and reported odd lights in the sky, moving in clusters but in no specific pattern. This one did make the local paper. And a few days later, a local teen explained.

He’d taken drinking straws, he said, and constructed a framework – a rough wheel with spokes – the same diameter as a dry cleaner’s plastic bag. He’d put the framework into the opening of the bag and secured it, then secured candles onto the straws that served as spokes. He’d light the candles and hold the bag up so it would not burn, and eventually, the hot air from the candles would lift the bag off the ground and send it on its way through the evening sky.

How cool was that! For the next two weeks or so, St. Cloud was home to many odd wandering lights every night as multitudes of kids went out and bought plastic straws and candles and cadged dry cleaner’s bags somewhere. Eventually, the fascination faded as the weather got cooler, and any wandering lights in the St. Cloud sky came from something other than juveniles and their evening science projects.

Not all that long after those events, most likely in the spring of 1968 (it could have been the previous autumn, but the trees were green and I seem to recall that they were budding), I got a ride to school from my mom one morning. As she turned off of what was then Tenth Street South (now University Drive) to head to South Junior High School, I saw something through the windshield as it passed over us and continued to go south, the direction we were heading. I saw it for maybe five seconds, and all I can say is I don’t know what it was. It was silver, and it had the classic saucer shape with a dome on it. In those brief seconds, it flashed toward the school and over it, low enough that the school building blocked it from my sight in, as I said, maybe five seconds.

Troubled, I got out of the car and headed into the school. One of my friends, Jerry, was at his locker, two down from mine. I opened my locker and put my books inside, then turned to Jerry. “Have you ever seen a UFO?” I asked him.

He turned to me, and the look on his face echoed how I felt. “Yeah,” he said. “About five minutes ago. It was over the Dairy Queen, heading this direction.”

There was never anything in the paper about it, and I still wonder what it was that Jerry and I saw.

And this all came to mind this morning when the first song of today’s Baker’s Dozen popped up.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1966
“Mr. Spaceman” by the Byrds, Columbia single 43766

“You Ain’t Tuff” by the Uniques, Paula single 2315

“Strange Young Girls” by the Mamas & the Papas from The Mamas & the Papas

“Shake Your Hips” by Slim Harpo, Excello single 2278

“Big Mama’s Bumble Bee Blues” by Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Waters Blues Band, unreleased until 1986

“Run For Cover” by the Dells, Cadet single 5551

“Love Attack” by James Carr, Goldwax single 309

“One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)” by Bob Dylan from Blonde On Blonde

“Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys, Capitol single 5676

“.44 Blues” by the Rising Sons, unreleased until 1992

“Strangers In The Night” by Frank Sinatra, Reprise single 0470

“Along Comes Mary” by the Association, Valiant single 741

“Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond, Bang single 519

A few notes:

The Uniques were fronted by country star-to-be Joe Stampley, and, according to All-Music Guide, recorded some nice blue-eyed soul and Southern pop-rock, which makes “You Ain’t Tuff” – a garage-rocker – an anomaly in the group’s catalog. I found “You Ain’t Tuff” on one of the Nuggets compilations, where it fits quite nicely.

“Strange Young Girls” has intrigued me since I first heard it long ago. Among other things, it provides clear evidence that John Phillips and producer Lou Adler weren’t in the habit of working hard on the singles and giving less attention to the album tracks. It’s a beautiful yet haunting meditation on, as AMG says, “Sunset Strip street life, teenyboppers, and LSD.”

When you listen to “Shake Your Hips” – or any Slim Harpo record, for that matter – you hear one of the many influences that wound up making the Rolling Stones who they are. In this case, it’s more direct, as the Stones would up covering “Shake Your Hips” on 1972’s Exile on Main Street.

I mentioned the Bob Dylan recording, “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later),” in my comments some time back on songs with indelible introductions. More than thirty years after first hearing the song – I came to it late, in 1973 – I still get a little bit of that charge every time I hear it start. The credits at AMG for the album, Blonde on Blonde, list several more people than do the minimal liner notes on the CD I have. Based on the AMG list of keyboard players, I’d guess that the organist is The Band’s Garth Hudson. The piano? I’d guess Richard Manuel, also from The Band, but that’s iffier. Neither one is mentioned in the sketchy notes that accompany the CD, and based on those notes, I’d say it’s Al Kooper on organ and Pig Robbins on piano. Does anyone know for sure?

I guess “Good Vibrations” is an accurate representation of the Beach Boys circa 1966. It’s a nice piece of studio craft, but for some reason, I’ve never liked it very much. I would much rather have seen “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” pop up as the Beach Boys’ entry on this list.

The Rising Sons was an example of a great group in the wrong place at the wrong time. Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder, the group had a single released – it went nowhere – before breaking up in 1966. But the group did manage to record more than an album’s worth of material, twenty-two tracks that were finally released in 1992. It’s fun stuff and great music.

Graffiti supposedly seen in the London Underground:

“To do is to be” – Descartes

“To be is to do” – Voltaire

“Do be do be do” – Frank Sinatra

A Baker’s Dozen From 1968, Vol. 2

May 4, 2011

Originally posted August 8, 2007

We didn’t take a lot of vacation trips when I was a kid.

Oh, Dad had vacations from his work at St. Cloud State, but we rarely traveled. We might spend a few days at a rental cabin on a lake somewhere north of St. Cloud. Frequently, August found my mother, my sister and I spending two weeks – with Dad coming down for the second week – at Grandpa’s farm in southwestern Minnesota, picking and freezing corn and green beans, canning tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables and butchering chickens.

We did make one major trip, however, in the late summer of 1968. My sister had spent eight weeks studying in France that summer and was scheduled to fly into Philadelphia on her return. My mom’s sister and her family lived in Reading, Pennsylvania, not far at all from Philly, so about a week before my sister’s return, Mom and Dad and I hopped into that same Ford Custom and headed southeast through Wisconsin.

We drove through Wisconsin Dells, with its souvenir shops and snack stands and its gaudy signs advertising boat tours and duck rides and treats, my head turning this way and that as we drove the city’s main street. (The city remains much the same, based on a 2006 visit; the only difference is that water parks abound on the city’s outskirts, along the I-94 route that I’m not sure existed in 1968.)

We made our way along turnpikes through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In a hotel room in Morton’s Grove, we watched on television as the Democratic Party selected its vice-presidential candidate in downtown Chicago – just a few miles distant – while outside the convention hall, police clubbed and savaged protesters in what was later categorized as a “police riot.”

Among the stops as we made our way to Reading were Notre Dame University and its Golden Dome in Indiana; Blue Hole and Mystery Hill in Ohio (the first a pond said to be too deep to measure and the second one of those places where gravity is said to be skewed and water and other things run uphill); the birthplaces of Thomas Edison in Ohio and President James Buchanan in western Pennsylvania.

We toured for a few hours the Civil War battlefield at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and spent half a day at the battlefield at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. The ebb and flow of the 1862 battle at Antietam was too complex for me to grasp it as we drove from site to site there, but the next day, at Gettysburg, I stood on Cemetery Ridge and looked west to where, in 1863, the Confederate lines had been and from where Gen. George Pickett’s men had marched in the charge that has since been named for him.

The air had that odd stillness that seems to descend on every battlefield. It’s a quiet that seems to touch every place where too many men have fallen in defense of one ideal or another. And it weighed heavily at Gettysburg, especially at that point where Pickett’s Charge broke on the Union line, the Confederate soldiers having come nearly a mile through a storm of cannon shells and rifle balls.

That stillness, that weight of history, had gathered at some of the other places we saw on that trip, whether en route, in Pennsylvania, or on our way back to Minnesota. Few places were as somber or as haunting as Gettysburg, though. With my cousins, we visited Valley Forge near Philadelphia and then toured the historic sites in the city: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross house, Benjamin Franklin’s grave. A couple of days later, with my sister safely returned, the four of us left Reading and went to Washington, D.C., for a day.

We toured the White House and wandered freely through the Capitol building (something that is sadly unthinkable today, I would guess), saw our nation’s founding documents at the National Archives and some of the Smithsonian Institution’s museums. But the most sobering moments had been late in the afternoon the day before at Arlington National Cemetery, another place where that silence descends, most notably at the gravesite of John F. Kennedy, assassinated less than five years earlier.

From Washington, we drove west, heading across the midsections of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. We visited friends and saw sites related to Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, and then toured several places related to author Mark Twain in the touristy but congenial small town of Hannibal, Missouri. From there, we headed north toward home.

It was a lot to absorb for a teenage boy, even one as tuned to history as I was. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a copy of Bruce Catton’s short history of the Civil War and dug into that when we got home. (Catton’s longer works are still on my list of things to read, as is Shelby Foote’s history of the conflict.) And as I read, I sorted through the places we’d seen, things I’d learned on that long trip. I guess, almost forty years later, I’m still sorting.

And when Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” popped up while I was compiling a random selection of songs from 1968, I was at first amused. Then it seemed appropriate to hear “We’ve all gone to look for America.” That’s what we were doing in the late summer of 1968, I guess – looking for America – and I think that’s what many of us are still doing today.

As always, bit rates will vary. Enjoy!

A Baker’s Dozen From 1968

“My Days Are Numbered” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Child is Father to the Man

“I Am A Pilgrim” by the Byrds from Sweetheart of the Rodeo

“Roll With It” by the Steve Miller Band from Children of the Future

“Handbags & Gladrags” by Love Affair from Everlasting Love Affair

“Rocky Raccoon” by the Beatles from The Beatles

“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” by Jerry Butler from The Soul Goes On

“I Just Want To Make Love To You” by Muddy Waters from Electric Mud

“Good Feelin’” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy from For Children of All Ages

“America” by Simon & Garfunkel from Bookends

“Through An Old Storybook by Sweetwater from Sweetwater

“I Got You Babe” by Etta James from the Tell Mama sessions

“Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” by Dionne Warwick, Scepter single 12216

“The Weight” by the Staple Singers from Soul Folk In Action

A few notes on some of the songs:

In Friday’s post on horn bands, I mentioned Blood, Sweat & Tears’ debut album, Child is Father to the Man. “My Days Are Numbered” is one of the better tracks on the album and, to my mind, gives a good example of Al Kooper’s hopes for the band before some of the other band members jettisoned him.

The Love Affair’s version of “Handbags & Gladrags” is not the best version out there of that great song; I like Chris Farlowe’s take on the song, and Rod Stewart’s version might be definitive. But the little-remembered Love Affair at least battled the song to a draw.

Electric Mud was Chess Records’ attempt to make Muddy Waters more current, putting the venerable bluesman together with what All-Music Guide calls “Hendrix-inspired psychedelic blues arrangements.” The record sold fairly well, but Waters didn’t like it, and the results are more of a curio than anything substantial today. (Chess did the same thing in 1968 with Howlin’ Wolf, and the results were, if anything, less good.)

Sweetwater was an odd band that featured flute, congas and cello as well as the traditional trappings of a rock band, and its music reflects that, with results ranging from remarkable to “What in the hell were they thinking?” Sweetwater was the group’s debut album, but in 1969 – during which the band was the first group to take the stage at Woodstock – lead singer Nansi Nevins was injured in a car crash and required years of physical therapy. The group recorded two albums without her and then faded away until 1997, when Nevins and some of the other original members reunited.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1968

April 18, 2011

Originally posted March 21, 2007

While I was puttering around last evening, visiting blogs and boards and seeing what music some of my on-line friends had decided to share, I was pondering what type of Baker’s Dozen I would post today.

I’ve had it in my head for a while to post a collection of the 13 love songs/love laments that touch me the most deeply, with some of them, honestly, moving me to tears in almost any context. But that would be a remarkable concentration of firepower in one place, pretty much a case of overkill. And I do like doing something random with the Baker’s Dozen.

So I thought I would combine the two ideas, in a way. I’d take one of the songs from that list of love songs and use it as the starting point for a random Baker’s Dozen from the year of its release. Let’s start with some songs from 1968.

We’ll open the list with the Vogues and “Turn Around, Look At Me,” which reached No. 7 that summer. Now, about half of the songs on the list of love songs aren’t related in my mind with any one person; they’re just songs that moved me. The rest are indelibly linked with various girls and women who were important to me along the way. And “Turn Around, Look At Me” will always bring memories to mind of a certain long-ago young lady. I’m sure she never knew.

“Turn Around, Look at Me” by the Vogues, Reprise 686 .

“Goodnight Nelba Grebe, The Telephone Company Has Cut Us Off” by Mother Earth from Living With The
Animals
.

“Unlock My Door” by Fever Tree from Fever Tree.

“This Wheel’s On Fire” by The Band from Music From Big Pink.

“I’ve Lost My Baby” by Fleetwood Mac from Mr. Wonderful.

“Me And My Uncle” by Dino Valente from Dino Valente.

“Memphis Train” by Rufus Thomas, Stax single 250.

‘The Christian Life” by the Byrds from Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

“Brother Where Are You?” by Johnny Rivers from Realization.

“Over You” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Columbia single 44644.

“Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf, Dunhill single 4138.

“Jump Sturdy” by Dr. John from Gris-Gris.

“Flower Town” by Rose Garden from The Rose Garden.