Posts Tagged ‘Carpenters’

A Baker’s Dozen Of A&M Singles

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 7, 2008

I remember being aware of three record labels when I was a young listener, between the ages of ten and thirteen. Not record labels as in business concerns but as in the designs on the paper at the center of the record, be it an LP or a 45.

There was the yellow and orange yin/yang swirl at the center of the one 45 I claimed ownership of (half ownership, actually, with my sister): the Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand/I Saw Her Standing There.” Other records to come would have that swirl, but that 45 in February 1964 was the first. (That swirl popped up the other day when I was wandering through the CD’s: Rhino copied it lovingly for its 1990 issue of The Rutles.)

Then there was the very old logo that RCA Victor used: the dog Nipper leaning over the Victrola, listening to “His Master’s Voice.” (There truly was a Nipper who listened to the gramophone; some of his story is told here.) The label RCA used was a little cluttered: Nipper and his Victrola and the LP’s title were above the spindle hole with data to either side of the hole and track listings and more data below. That was the label on my copy of Al Hirt’s Honey In The Horn, which came to me for my eleventh birthday.

And finally, the third of the labels I was aware of early on was on A&M records, the company started by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. Looking today at the design on the first A&M record I owned – Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass – I’m impressed by its clean look: the tan background, the very simple A&M logo. (The example shown here is from another album, obviously. As I don’t have a scanner, I find graphics where I can on the ’Net; this one came from BSN Publications, a treasure trove of LP discographies and history, including the histories of many label designs.)*

I don’t know that I had a favorite at the time, but it was during this period – the years from eleven to thirteen – that I began to play around with designing logos for imaginary sports teams, and in doing so, I began to look at typography and design. (Somewhere in a box in the closet is a folder full of logos that came from my pen.) And I recall looking at the A&M label one day and pondering its design as the sounds of Herb and the boys came from the stereo. I’m sure I came to no conclusions, except perhaps the one that might matter most of all: A nice label design is good, but it’s even better when it comes with good music.

And over the years A&M did pretty well with that, as today’s Baker’s Dozen shows.

A Baker’s Dozen of A&M Singles
“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert, A&M 929, 1968

“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite” by Boyce & Hart, A&M 893, 1968

“You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker, A&M 1641, 1974

“Is She Really Going Out With Him” by Joe Jackson, A&M 2132, 1979

“Superstar” by the Carpenters, A&M 1289, 1971

“Take The Long Way Home” by Supertramp, A&M 2193, 1979

“Come Saturday Morning” by the Sandpipers, A&M 1134, 1967

“The Captain Of Her Heart” by Double, A&M 2838, 1986

“Homburg,” by Procol Harum, A&M 885, 1968

“Hold On Loosely” by 38 Special, A&M 2316, 1981

“Memphis In The Meantime” by John Hiatt, A&M 2989, 1987

“Don’t You Want Me Baby” by Human League, A&M 2397, 1982

“Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson, A&M 1949, 1977

A few notes:

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were better known as a song-writing team than as performers, although “I Wonder . . .” went to No. 8 in early 1968 and was the second of three Top 40 hits for the duo. The LP, titled after the single, seems to be a collector’s item, at least in some circles. I had a copy of it under my arm at Cheapo’s one day in the 1990s, and an eccentric collector followed me around the store for a few moments, asking to look at the record and gushing, when I did, “Do you know how rare this is? What a prize this is?” He handed it back, and I said, “I do now.”

“You Are So Beautiful” is not my favorite among Joe Cocker’s singles on A&M. I would probably opt for “Cry Me A River,” taken from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. But “You Are So Beautiful” is what popped up in a random run of A&M singles. And it did pretty well, reaching No. 5 in the early months of 1975. It was Cocker’s eighth Top 40 single in a little more than five years; it would be his last until he hit No. 1 seven years later with his duet with Jennifer Warnes: “Up Where We Belong.”

I always thought of Joe Jackson as a weird guy who could never figure out what kind of songs he wanted to sing. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that his constant changes were indicative of an inventive mind rather than a lost musician. The new wave textures of “Is She Really Going Out With Him” didn’t grab me much at the time, but then, I was beginning to lose interest in most pop music in 1979. It’s pretty clear to me now that all of Jackson’s oeuvre has had a longer shelf life than much of the stuff that surrounded him at the time.

It was incredibly unhip to like the Carpenters when they came on the scene in the early 1970s. With their squeaky clean image and their music sitting on the softest part possible of the pop-rock sofa, they seemed like what our parents would want us to listen to. But Richard Carpenter was a pretty decent arranger: Some of his work is a bit busy and some a little too gooey today, but most of it now sounds quite good. And Karen Carpenter – poor girl – had a marvel of a voice. I don’t think that “Superstar” is her best performance – I’d probably go with “Goodbye To Love” instead – but she does find the lonely heart of the Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett song here.

On those nights when cares and worries keep you up past midnight with the radio playing softly underneath your dismay, the last thing you need to hear filtering from the speakers is Double’s great record, “The Captain Of Her Heart.” The only hit ever for the Swiss duo of Felix Haug and Kurt Maloo (No. 16), the song is guaranteed to increase the intensity of those cares and worries, especially if they’re of the romantic kind. (During the years when I had those kinds of nighttime cares and worries, I generally endured them in silence, just to avoid this sort of song.)

“Hold On Loosely” was 38 Special’s first Top 40 hit, coming before the group dropped the decimal point from its name. It’s a song I wasn’t all that familiar with until the Twin Cities oldies station I listen to shifted its format about a year and a half ago, adding hits and album tracks from the Eighties and trimming the Fifties and Sixties playlists. Angry calls and emails, along with declining ratings, spurred the station to revert to its earlier format not long ago. But “Hold On Loosely” stays in my RealPlayer because the Texas Gal likes it.

It’s entirely possible that some of these mp3s are album versions rather than single edits. If so, I apologize. As always, bit rates will vary.

*At this time, while assembling the archive of posts, I do have a scanner, but several attempts to scan labels on LPs have failed, so I pulled a scan I found online although not, this time, at Both Sides NowNote added June 27, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 2

May 11, 2011

Originally posted October 3, 2007

Ever try to move a house?

The phone rang early one evening during the summer of 1975, as I was reading in the rec room downstairs, with the Allman Brothers Band keeping me company from the stereo. It was Murl, a graduate student at St. Cloud State who was both a friend and a co-worker on a special crew at the college’s Department of Learning Resources (known in earlier, less pedagogical times as the library).

“I’m over here on the northeast side,” Murl said, giving me an address. “Get your butt over here.”

Not being sure what Murl had in mind, I shrugged and followed directions. A few moments later, I parked my ’61 Falcon – I called it Farley – in front of a small house up on blocks that had a portion of the roof torn off. As I walked toward the house, still puzzled, Murl poked his head up through the empty space where the roof had been. “C’mon up and put on a pair of gloves,” he said.

I went inside and up the narrow stairway, noting that there wasn’t much to the house: a living room, kitchen, bathroom and a small bedroom downstairs and a cramped attic, now about half of it open to the sky.

“We’re taking the top four feet off of it,” Murl said. I waited. He grinned.

“Why?” I finally asked, and he explained.

The house and its property had been purchased – if I remember correctly – by the city, and the house was set to be demolished. Murl and his brothers thought that the house – in pretty good shape and only about fifty years old – might be a good storage building out on their parents’ farm in the western part of the state

So Murl and his brothers bought the house and scouted a route from St. Cloud out to the farm near Chokio, not all that far from the South Dakota border. Murl said they’d worked out a route that used only county and township roads because using state or federal highways would require permit fees that they’d rather avoid. But, due to overhead wires along those county and township roads, the top four feet of the house had to come off. A few days earlier, Murl and his brothers had sawn through the main supports of the roof and taken part of the roof off, and now Murl was pulling the remainder of the roof down to that four-foot point. That left the chimney.

I spent that evening and the next working with Murl in that attic, pulling down the chimney and rigging a cable down the center of the open space that would guide low overhead wires across the house as it moved across the state. A day or so later, the house was jacked and placed on a truck bed.

And of course, having been involved in preparing the house for the move, there was no way I was going to miss the actual move. I got to Murl’s house about five o’clock that morning, and he and I drove to the house site and clambered into the truck cab. His brothers got into a pickup truck and pulled ahead of us, and we set out.

We drove at no more than thirty, maybe thirty-five miles an hour, weaving our way west through central Minnesota, sipping black coffee and eating an occasional sandwich from the lunch we’d packed. The brothers had a carefully mapped route and a list of locations of all the overhead wires that we’d have to lift to get the house under them. Using a T-shaped tool made of two-by-fours, we gingerly lifted power lines and telephone lines, easing the truck and its cargo all the way to Chokio.

We got to Murl’s folks’ farm about six that evening, and just as we got the house off the truck and onto blocks, the rains came, soaking us all as we scrambled across the barnyard to the house. An hour or so later, Murl and I got back into the truck and drove – at standard speed, this time – the 110 or so miles back to St. Cloud. We got home late, dirty, wet and tired, but we were young, and the next morning, we reported back to our summer tasks at the college.

Murl’s gone now. Cancer took him a little more than three years ago. During one of my last visits with him, about a month before he died, he mentioned with a laugh our moving the house that day. “We might have made it more work than it should have been,” he said.

Maybe, I said.

He grinned and said the last words I ever heard him speak. “It sure was a lot of fun, though, wasn’t it?”

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975

“Diamonds & Rust” by Joan Baez from Diamonds & Rust

“Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John” by the Allman Brothers Band from Win, Lose or Draw

“Now and Then” by Gordon Lightfoot from Cold on the Shoulder

“Wheels” by Emmylou Harris from Elite Hotel

“Between the Lines” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines

“Love Comes Through My Door” by Homestead & Wolfe from Our Times

“Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” by Steely Dan from Katy Lied

“Two More Bottles Of Wine” by Delbert McClinton from Victim of Life’s Circumstances

“Monday Morning” by Fleetwood Mac from Fleetwood Mac

“Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War, United Artists single 629

“Solitaire” by the Carpenters, A&M single 1721

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Bob Dylan from Blood on the Tracks

“December 1963 (Oh What A Night)” by the Four Seasons, Warner Bros. single 8168

A few notes on some of the songs:

The song “Diamonds and Rust” might be the best thing Joan Baez ever recorded. Its layered spooky and echoing sound mimics the way memories lay on top of each other and come to the surface one by one, as Baez coolly dissects her long relationship with Bob Dylan: “Yes, I loved you dearly, and if you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ve already paid.”

The Allman Brothers Band track is an okay piece, taken from an album that itself was just okay. “Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John” is pleasant listening, as is Win, Lose or Draw, but for a band with such a tremendous past, this was a disappointing present.

The Janis Ian track is a pretty good one. It’s the title track of her comeback album, which found her thrust into the spotlight for the first time since she was a prodigy back in 1967. The best song on the album, to my mind, is “At Seventeen,” which reached No. 3 during the summer of 1975.

Homestead & Wolfe’s Our Times was a remarkable one-shot, featuring good songs, great lead vocals and harmony and the backing work of some of the best studio players in the Los Angeles area. “Love Comes Through My Door” was pretty representative of the record, whose tale is told here.

I’ve long thought that “Why Can’t We Be Friends” was one of the silliest songs ever laid onto a record. War did some very good stuff around this time, but this song gives me a headache.

Conversely, I’ve thought since Blood on the Tracks came out that “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” was one of Bob Dylan’s best and most-ignored songs. From the sprightly harmonica introduction through the fadeout, Dylan accepts without distress or irony that the woman he’s addressing will entrance him and inevitably leave him. Bonus points to Bobby for rhyming “Honolula” and “Ashtabula.”

Note
After thinking about it for a few years, it’s likely that  our adventure moving the house took place during the summer of 1976 instead of  the summer of 1975. That year’s difference, however, would alter neither the friendship  Murl and I shared nor the fun we had moving the house, whenever we did it. And  the tunes from 1975, the year our friendship blossomed, are still great. Note added May 11, 2011.

A Furry Hole In Our Hearts

April 24, 2011

Originally posted July 2, 2007

We’re animal lovers, the Texas Gal and I.

We’ve got three cats (or they have us, more likely), and they are only the most recent: We were each owned by numerous felines in the years that predated our forming a household in 2001. We’re on our third hamster. And for Christmas 2005, the Texas Gal decided she wanted a pair of rats.

So since Thanksgiving that year – Christmas came early, at least on the rodent front – we’ve had two rats. First we had Wilbur and Orville (the Rat Brothers), and then Wilbur and Darwin, after Orville apparently had a stroke.

And tonight, we have Wilbur.

We’re not sure what happened with Darwin today. When I went to give the rats their pellets around one o’clock this afternoon, he didn’t want to eat. He lay there in the upper level of their cage, breathing rapidly, awake but not moving. I called the Texas Gal at work, and we took him to our new veterinarian’s office. Darwin stirred a little bit on the drive over but not anywhere near as much as a healthy, inquisitive rat should.

As we drove over, the Texas Gal told me she’d thought he’d been breathing a bit rapidly the night before, but she’d watched him for a bit and hadn’t noticed anything else.

By the time we got to the vet’s, Darwin wasn’t moving much at all. When the vet palpated his stomach, he squirmed, but that was it. The vet said Darwin’s lymph nodes were enlarged, and his lungs sounded wrong, too. He was, said the vet, a very sick rat. So there wasn’t much question about what we had to do.

I held him while the vet gave him a shot, and we both petted and cuddled him as he left us.

I have to admit that when the Texas Gal said that she wanted rats for pets, I was skeptical. I love animals, but I didn’t see myself becoming attached to the rats. I was in tears, though, as we said goodbye, as I am as I write this.

As I grieved this afternoon, I wandered through my music, trying to think of a song that would be an appropriate memorial for Darwin. I think I found it.