Posts Tagged ‘Doors’

Saturday Single No. 135

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 6, 2009

I’ve written here before about my ambivalence toward the Doors. There are times when I think the group might come close to meriting the hosannas that have been sent its way over the past forty years, and there are times when I revert to my long-term judgment that Jim Morrison and his pals made up the most over-rated band in the history of rock.

When I sit down to slice those contradictory views apart to see what I can find inside them, I find that it’s the Doors’ singles that I appreciate, for the most part. And it’s the group’s album work that I find wanting.

As to the singles, back in the summer of 1967, no one – not even a dedicated follower of trumpet music and soundtracks – could escape “Light My Fire.” And that trumpet and soundtrack lover didn’t necessarily want to. What he heard was a record with a great introduction and a generally interesting sound. (As an aside, it’s fascinating to realize that, until I began actively listening to Top 40 music in the fall of 1969, most of the records I recall hearing were summertime records like “Light My Fire.”)

What the rest of the nation heard was something more compelling: “Light My Fire” spent fourteen weeks in the Top 40 and three weeks at No. 1. Three more Doors’ singles came and went without my noticing during the school year of 1967-68; the next summer, during the first state trap shoot I worked, “Hello, I Love You” began to get airplay. I thought it was pretty good. And beyond a brief exposure to a couple tracks off of Morrison Hotel, those were the only bits of the Doors’ canon I knew until my freshman year of college started in the late summer of 1971. Then came the autumn of The Soft Parade.

During the summer, I attended an overnight orientation program aimed at helping new students find their ways around St. Cloud State’s campus. I didn’t need an orientation to learn the campus’ geography: Because my dad worked and taught there, I’d been wandering around the campus for most of my life. But I saw the overnight orientation as a way to meet friends, and in fact, I met the guys who would provide most of my social life for my freshman year. When school started, one of them – Dave – ended up paired with a roommate we’d not met, a guy named Mark.

I never did figure out which one of the two started it, but by the end of the first month of classes, the two guys were in the habit of dropping the Doors’ 1969 album, The Soft Parade, onto the turntable at least twice a day. As I – and other guys and a few gals – hung around a lot, the sounds of that album became a large part of the soundtrack of that first quarter of college. And I found a lot of it to be silly, especially the portion of “The Soft Parade” during which Jim Morrison declaims, “When I was back there in seminary school, there was a person there who put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer . . . You CANNOT petition the Lord with prayer!” The song that follows is fine, but the introduction is ludicrous.

My initial reactions to “The Soft Parade” were confirmed over the years as I listened to the Doors’ other albums: As an album band, the Doors had been hugely overrated, most on the basis of Morrison’s lengthier pieces filled with mediocre poetry and over-wrought delivery. (I know there may be those out there who will want to shred me for that: Well, shred away. But it won’t change my mind or make Morrison’s long works any better.)

But the more I listened over the years, the more I liked the Doors as a singles band: “Light My Fire,” “People Are Strange,” “Love Me Two Times,” “The Unknown Soldier,” “Hello, I Love You,” “Love Her Madly” and the long but effective “Riders On The Storm” were all good radio listening. And I found that I liked the album Morrison Hotel much better than anything else the group ever put out: Filled with concise songs, from “Roadhouse Blues,” the kick-ass opener, through the ethereal “Blue Sunday” and “Indian Summer” to the grunting and rocking closer, “Maggie McGill,” it was a very good – maybe even great – album.

For good or ill, though, when I hear the Doors mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is The Soft Parade and the sight of my pal Dave posing and lip-synching his way through “Wild Child” or “The Soft Parade.” It’s a tolerable memory, though, because there was one moment of redemption on the album that brought us all the urge to dance and lip-synch.

Thus, in one of those odd convergences of memory and merit, my favorite Doors song is “Touch Me,” which was liked enough elsewhere to rise as high as No. 3 on the Billboard chart. The writer and editor in me still cringes at the grammatical sin in the chorus, where Morrison sings, “I’m gonna love you till the stars fall from the sky for you and I.” (It should be “for you and me.”) And though that still hurts my ears, “Touch Me” is nevertheless today’s Saturday Single.

“Touch Me” by the Doors, Elektra 456646 [1969]
4.4 MB mp3 at 192 kbps

Afternote
When I posted the song this morning, I wasn’t certain that the album mix – which is what I had – was the same as the single mix. Well, it’s not. Yah Shure dropped me an mp3 of the single mix, along with a note:

“The 45 version of ‘Touch Me’ (Elektra 45646) has never been issued on either LP or CD.  It features a completely different mix than the Soft Parade LP version.  Here are the two most obvious distinctions between the 45 and LP mixes:
“1) There is very little bass in the single mix.
“2) At the very end of the song, the ‘stronger than dirt’ Ajax Laundry Detergent jingle is both played and sung on the LP mix.  On the 45, it is played, but not sung.”

Thanks, Yah Shure!

Here’s the single mix:

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Jeff, EW&F, Boz, Bubble Puppy & The Doors

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 30, 2009

One of the things that made Jeff Healey such a powerful guitar player was his lap-style playing, which – if not unique – was at least a rare technique. Here’s a clip of Healey and his band performing Deadric Malone’s “As The Years Go Passing By” during a March 26, 1995, performance at the Sudbahnhof in Frankfurt, Germany.

Video deleted.

There are few things that go together better than funky music and excessive 1980’s style costumes. Here’s the video – the height of style and technique then and wonderfully cheesy today – that was released in 1981 for Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove.”

I can’t post it here, but here’s a link to a very nice performance by Boz Scaggs of “We’re All Alone.” It’s from 2004 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francsicso. (The recording cuts off too soon, but it’s still a great performance.) (Video deleted as of June 20, 2012.)

Here’s a video posted to the Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass.” There’s nothing new there musically, but you can see some record covers, posters and photos of the band.

Then, here’s a live soundstage performance by the Doors of “Wishful Sinful.” Based on the Doors’ appearances, this dates from sometime in 1970, probably around the time the band was working on L.A. Woman.

Tomorrow, I’ll probably do something to mark May Day again. Exactly what that’s going to be I don’t know right now, but this time, it will at least be on the right day.

Waiting In The Training Room

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 27, 2009

Come the spring of 1969, I was in demand as an athletic manager at St. Cloud Tech. The baseball coach asked if I was interested in helping out his team, and the track manager wondered if I wanted to work with his distance runners.

I was years away from becoming truly interested in baseball, and my sister’s high school boyfriend had run track. I’d enjoyed watching the meets, so I went with track as a manager for the distance runners.

It was a choice I regretted almost immediately. The coaches decided my role as manager that spring was to wait in the training room – tucked to the side of the varsity locker room – and maintain the primitive whirlpool tub for those runners who thought they needed it after finishing their distance runs. Every afternoon during what I remember as a beautiful spring, I sat in the training room and – most of the time – waited.

As the runners came back in, some would settle themselves in the whirlpool tub and others would gather in the training room, and they’d share jest and japes and ribald jokes. Sometimes they included me; sometimes not. I was, after all, only a sophomore.

I didn’t even get to go the meets, as there were always distance runners who were not varsity-level, and they did their practice runs around town as the meets went on. And I was required to have the whirlpool available for them when they finished their practice runs.

As I waited, I read. But sometimes, I’d tire of even that, and I’d sit there in the otherwise empty locker room and training room, wishing I were sitting in a dugout on a ball field somewhere. And I didn’t even have a radio.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, April 26, 1969)
“Do Your Thing” by the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Warner Bros. 7250 (No. 11)
“Hot Smoke and Sassafras” by the Bubble Puppy, Int’l. Artists 128 (No. 28)
“Grazing in the Grass” by the Friends of Distinction, RCA Victor 0107 (No. 36)
“Wishful, Sinful” by the Doors, Elektra 45656 (No. 44)
“The River Is Wide” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill/ABC 4187 (No. 66)
“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered!” by the Ronettes, A&M 1040 (No. 108)

The only one of these I recall hearing at the time is the Friends of Distinction record. Having posted Hugh Masekela’s instrumental version of “Grazing In The Grass” a little more than a week ago, I couldn’t pass up the chance to offer the Friends’ vocal cover of the tune, which flies off into a much more rapid tempo. I still love the “I can dig it, he can dig it, she can dig it, we can dig it, they can dig it, you can dig it” bridge. I wonder how many takes it took to nail that? The record was on its way up the chart on April 26, having jumped to No. 36 from No. 65 the week before. It would peak at No. 3.

“Do Your Thing,” which hit its peak in the April 26 chart, is about as funky as Top 40 ever got, I think. Well, maybe Parliament/Funkadelic and James Brown, but “Do Your Thing” is certainly in the conversation. The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band was an eight-man group from the Watts section of Los Angeles brought together by Charles Wright, who hailed from Clarksdale, Mississippi. This was the first of three Top 40 singles for the group; the others – “Love Land” and “Express Yourself,” which went to No. 16 and No. 12, respectively, in 1970 – were credited to Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.

Bubble Puppy was a quartet from Houston, Texas, whose psychedelic garage-rocker “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” had peaked at No. 14 in March and was sliding its way back down the chart. Latter-day explorers into the music of 1969 might expect to find the record to be a slice of sunshine pop based on the group’s cutesy name. Nah. “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” rocks pretty well.

The Doors’ “Wishful, Sinful” is an intriguing listen from this distance, maybe better today than I recall it being. The follow-up to “Touch Me,” which had reached No. 3 in February 1969, “Wishful, Sinful” just missed the Top 40, sitting at No. 44 for two weeks. The next week it was at No. 45 and then it tumbled out of sight. I don’t know that I heard it during the spring of 1969; I recall it more clearly from my first year of college, when one of my friends played the Doors’ The Soft Parade at least daily in his dorm room.

Every once in a while, as the Grass Roots’ songs came out of the radio speakers, I’d wonder: Who are those guys? Even if I’d had the resources – and the inclination – to dig, it would have been hard to know, says All-Music Guide, “because there were at least three different groups involved in the making of the songs identified as being by ‘the Grass Roots.’” You can read at AMG the tangled history of P.F. Sloan, Steve Barri, the Bedouins, the 13th Floor and other musicians that fell in and out of the tale of the Grass Roots. What’s left behind is some of the best pop-rock of the Top 40 era, fourteen Top 40 hits from “Where Were You When I Needed You” (No. 28 in 1966) to “The Runaway” (No. 39 in 1972). The highest charting Grass Roots’ single was “Midnight Confession,” which went to No. 5 in 1968. “The River Is Wide,” which is one of my favorites, was one of the less-successful singles, only reaching No. 31.

I don’t know a lot about “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered!” by the Ronettes. In the notes to Back to Mono, the 1991 Phil Spector box set, the single is listed as being recorded in February 1969. That’s the last mention of the Ronettes and the last month covered by the box set. (Two singles come after “You Came . . .” in the set: “Black Pearl” and “Love Is All I Have To Give” by Sonny Charles & the Checkmates, but they, too, are listed only as being recorded in February.) The April 26 chart was the fourth and final time that the record was listed in the “Bubbling Under the Hot 100,” and I’m wondering two things: Were the sessions that created the record the last time that Spector worked with the Ronettes? And was this the last appearance of the Ronettes on a Billboard chart? (I would guess caithiseach has the answers, if he’ll be kind enough to share.)*

*I still do not know if this was the last time the Ronettes worked with Phil Spector, but I do know that, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered!” was in fact the final chart appearance for the Ronettes. Note added June 20, 2012.

Still Mastering New Skills

November 9, 2011

Originally posted January 5, 2009

Another new skill! We hung curtains in the bedroom yesterday. Actually, I hung the curtains while the Texas Gal oversaw the operation, making certain that I got the curtain rod as high on the wall as it needed to be.

We’d had the curtains – washed, ironed and hanging in the closet – since mid-December, and had planned to hang them in the days before Christmas. But we kept putting the chore off. Okay, I kept putting it off, being worried about mis-measuring and drilling errant holes in the wall. But that part went okay. One of the three sets of holes is, I think, just a little higher than the other two, maybe by an eighth of an inch, meaning that to my critical eye, the curtain rod is slightly aslant.

But still, the curtains – striped in blues and beiges – look very good in the bedroom. They match the royal blue on the walls (a color we inherited from the house’s previous tenant but one we like, thankfully) and the blue and beige backing of the new quilt that the Texas Gal made for the room. (The front of the quilt is panels of blue, maroon and gold, some of which show logos of railroads, many of them long gone. It’s quite likely that we’ll be looking for other art based on railroads for the room.)

The Texas Gal says that besides looking nice, the curtains will also cut down drafts in the room. They seemed to do so last night, which was a good thing. The outside temperature dropped to –21 F (-29 C) during the night.

So I’m pleased. I’ll no doubt have more curtain rods to hang in the future and will likely do so capably. I have a sense, though, that whenever I think about it, I’ll wonder about that eight of an inch. The Texas Gal says no one will know if I don’t mention it. Well, it’s too late for that, so if you ever see our blue curtains, pretend you don’t notice that the rod slants just a tiny bit.

(I checked for songs about curtains and found only two, so here’s an acceptable substitute.)

A Six-Pack of Windows
“Rain on the Window” by the Hollies from Evolution, 1967

“Come To My Window” by Melissa Etheridge from Yes I Am, 1993

“Sign on the Window” by Melanie from Good Book, 1971

“Steamy Windows” by Tony Joe White from Closer to the Truth, 1991

“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker!, 1969

“Cars Hiss By My Window” by the Doors from L.A. Woman, 1971

A few notes:

Evolution was likely the Hollies’ most adventurous album, a blend of pop and psychedelia that fit neatly into the year of 1967. ”Rain on my Window” was typical of the record in that it tells a tale more complex than the Hollies’ music had dealt with up to that time, and it does so with some adventurous instrumentation, especially the horn interludes. “Carrie-Anne,” supposedly written for Marianne Faithful, was the hit off the album (No. 9). The rest of the album was a bit more challenging.

“Come To My Window” was one of several striking songs from Melissa Etheridge’s Yes I Am, an album about which All-Music Guide says: “Melissa Etheridge wasn’t out of the closet when she released Yes I Am in 1993, yet it’s hard not to notice the defiant acclamation in the album’s title. This barely concealed sense of sexual identity seeps out from the lyrics, and it informs the music as well, which is perhaps the most confident she has ever been. It’s also the most professional she’s ever been (perhaps not a coincidence) . . .” “Come To My Window” went to No. 25 in the spring of 1994; “I’m The Only One,” also from Yes I Am, reached No. 8 that autumn.

“Sign On The Window” has showed up here in two other versions: Bob Dylan’s original from New Morning and Jennifer Warnes’ cover version from 1979. Melanie’s version takes off at times in a hoedown, maybe finding in the fiddle a different center to the song than did Dylan and Warnes. It’s always seemed to me as if both Dylan and Warnes, as they sing wearily about finding a cabin in Utah and all the rest, were singing about things that they should have done in a distant past. Melanie’s country-style exuberance brings the song into the present.

Tony Joe White’s “Steamy Windows” fits right into the swamp groove that brought White some renown as a songwriter (“Rainy Night In Georgia”) and one hit (“Polk Salad Annie,” No. 8 in 1969). Actually, the entire Closer to the Truth album sits pretty much in the middle of the swamp, which in this case is a good place to be. Nevertheless, like most everything White has done since the early 1970s, it was ignored by most folks. I imagine White just shrugged. He’s released a cluster of worthwhile albums since then, a good share of them from live performances.

It continues to amaze me that Joe Cocker found as much of a song as he did in “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” a Paul McCartney tune that was first paired with John Lennon’s “Polythene Pam” on the Beatles’ Abbey Road. As much as I like the song and its place in the mini-suite on Abbey Road, when I first got the Cocker album, I had doubts that the song could stand on its own. But Cocker – with the help, no doubt, of producer Denny Cordell – made it work. (Leon Russell is also credited as a producer on Joe Cocker!, but I’m assuming that “Bathroom Window” came from Cordell; it doesn’t sound like a Leon Russell track. I could be wrong.) In his book Beatlesongs, William J. Dowlding notes that McCartney originally wanted Cocker to record the song before the Beatles did. I love the zig-zaggy ascending introduction.

The Doors’ track is a grim and spooky blues number done well. I’d say that the gloomy mien of the song might have presaged Morrison’s exit from the world in just a couple of months, but I think gloom, dread and weariness had been the Doors’ watchwords for quite some time beforehand.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Roads

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 18, 2008

Although music has always been a part of my life, I’ve not always been very active in finding the music I liked; I let it come to me. I listened to the radio, to the jukeboxes at places that had them, and occasionally went out and bought a record or two. With the exception of the Beatles – whose entire Capitol/Apple catalog I had before I turned nineteen – I made no attempt for many years to focus on any one performer or group. I bought a few records here and there, but not many, as I wandered from my college days into the first years of adulthood.

That changed in 1987, when I spent time with a woman whose love of music equaled mine. We spent many hours of our brief time together in record stores and listening to music new and old in our apartments in St. Cloud. I moved to Minot to teach in the late summer of 1987, hopeful in all ways and renewed in my love of music. As a result, there are a few albums that I bought during my first year in Minot that, for me, carry in their grooves that sense of hope. That hope did not survive into the next summer, but I still love those albums despite that and even though they may not be the best work of the artists or groups involved.

Four of those albums that come most immediately to mind are Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night, Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Memphis Record by Elvis Presley. The first three of those were new albums, and I enjoy them still; the best of them is likely the Springsteen. The Presley album – a two-record set – collects the studio work he did in Memphis in 1969, much of it released that year on From Elvis in Memphis. Some of it was released on the awkwardly titled From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis and two tracks, I believe, were released as non-album singles.

For someone who paid little attention to Elvis while he was alive, The Memphis Record was a revelation. This was not the bloated Elvis who’d been the butt of too many unfunny jokes during his last years. The photos on the ornate double record jacket – made to look like a newspaper – confirmed that, but all one had to do was listen to the music to hear a lean, hungry and talented performer trying his best – with success – to make himself relevant again. Looking back, I recalled that I’d always liked the singles from those sessions – “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain” and “In The Ghetto” – but I’d never thought much about them. So here I was, almost twenty years later, realizing that those singles were the tip of a musical iceberg that was larger and better than I’d thought possible.

I listened to all four sides of the record frequently that first autumn in Minot and came to love the music. One song – new to me – stood out, though. I’m not at all sure why, but Elvis’ version of “True Love Travels On a Gravel Road” is to me one of the best things he ever recorded, and it remains one of my favorite tracks ever. So I’m going to use it as the starting point today.

A Baker’s Dozen of Roads
“True Love Travels On a Gravel Road” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis In Memphis, 1969

“The Long and Winding Road” by Richie Havens from Sings Beatles And Dylan, 1987

“Eternity Road” by the Moody Blues from To Our Children’s Children’s Children, 1969

“Seven Roads (Second Version)” by Fanny, from the sessions for Fanny, 1970

“The Road Shines Bright” by John Stewart from The Lonesome Picker Rides Again, 1971

“Rocky Road” by Peter, Paul & Mary from In The Wind, 1963

“Dark Road” by Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee from Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Sing, 1958

“Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors from Morrison Hotel, 1970

“On the Road” by Michael Johnson from There Is A Breeze, 1973

“The Road to Cairo” by David Ackles from David Ackles, 1968

“Tobacco Road” by Bill Wyman & The Rhythm Kings from Struttin’ Our Stuff, 1998

“Six Days On The Road” by Taj Mahal from Giant Step, 1969

“Too Many Roads” by Carolyn Franklin from If You Want Me, 1976

A few notes:

I chuckled when – one day after sharing my negative assessment of the Beatles’ version of “The Long And Winding Road” – Richie Havens’ version of the song popped up. Even from Havens, one of my favorites, it’s only just okay. I’m coming to the conclusion – long overdue, no doubt – that it’s the song I don’t care for, not necessarily the singer. The album that the track comes from – Sings Beatles and Dylan – is nevertheless a good one, well worth finding.

I tend to think that one either loves the Moody Blues or detests them. I like them, even as I acknowledge that their hippie philosophy – which could induce eye rolls even forty years ago – is sometimes a bit much. But I do like their sound, and it’s only when the MB’s get into thoughts truly too heavy to carry – as in “Om” from In Search of the Lost Chord – that I begin to roll my own eyes. To Our Children’s Children’s Children is one of the group’s better albums musically and lyrically.

The version of Fanny’s “Seven Roads” that popped up here is an alternate take, a little bit shorter and a little bit tougher than the version that closed the group’s self-titled first album. Fanny didn’t hang around long – the all-woman group recorded five albums between 1970 and 1974 – but what the group left behind is pretty good. A limited edition box set – First Time in a Long Time: The Reprise Recordings – came out in 2002 and covers everything except the group’s final album, which came out on Casablanca. If you can find it – the box set is available online for prices starting around $70 – it would most likely be all the Fanny you would need.

“Dark Road” is a typical track from a typical album by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. There’s nothing fancy about it, just the two of them, guitar and blues harp (and a little bit of help from drummer Gene Moore). But it’s folk blues about as good – and authentic – as you can get them, recorded before the blues revival of the 1960s.

I don’t know much about David Ackles – I need to do some digging – but I’ve heard a few things and I like them. “The Road to Cairo” is a haunting song and record.

Carolyn Franklin was, of course, Aretha’s sister – she crossed over in 1988 – and If You Want Me was the last of five albums she released on RCA. From what I can tell, only her first album, 1969’s Baby Dynamite, has ever been released on CD. If You Want Me is the only one I have, and it’s pretty good.

(I should note that The Memphis Record is out of print but available if you dig online. The CD release of From Elvis In Memphis has some bonus tracks to go along with the original album. Both have been supplanted by a 1999 release called Suspicious Minds, a two-disc set that has – I believe – everything Elvis released from those 1969 sessions in Memphis as well as a good number of alternate takes and bonus tracks. It’s a good one.)

A Gathering Of No. 1 Records

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 10, 2008

I learned something the other week: One can squeeze onto a CD all of the No. 1 hits from January 1964 through January 1972 (and at pretty good bitrates, too).

My friend Rick called a couple of weeks ago. His college-age daughters had just seen Across the Universe, the film that tells a parable about the Sixties using covers of Beatles music. The girls wanted to hear the Beatles’ originals, which wasn’t hard to do. But they also wanted to know what else their mom and pop heard when they turned on the radio back in those dimly known days.

Rick and I talked about various ways to make sure the girls got a reasonably good idea of what it was like to listen to the radio during the years of our youth, and we came up with the idea of collecting the No. 1 songs, starting in January 1964, one month before the Beatles landed in New York and altered American pop music (and so much more) forever.

So I spent a few hours digging through the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, checking the listings of No. 1 songs through the years in the back of the book. To get through 1971, which was Rick’s original target, would account for 163 different recordings, starting with Bobby Vinton’s “There! I’ve Said It Again,” which was No. 1 for four weeks in January 1964, through “Brand New Key” by Melanie, which was the eighteenth and final No. 1 song of 1971, topping the chart for the last week of that year and the first two weeks of 1972.

So I started digging, collating, labeling and – eventually – burning. I had most of the 163 songs in mp3 form already. I had to dig into the vinyl for a couple – I had up to that point pretty much digitally ignored the Monkees – but I got there. And when I copied “Brand New Key” into the software to burn the CD, there was some room left. So I brought in the first three hits listed in the book for 1972: Don McLean’s “American Pie,” “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green and Nilsson’s “Without You.”

“American Pie” presented a problem, sort of. It was released as a double-sided single when United Artists issued it in late 1971, but I doubt whether many DJs actually played the 45 on the air. After the song hit, I’m sure that most played the album track, which clocks in at 8:33. So by putting the album track on the CD, I really hadn’t included the single, if one wanted to be technical.

There were two other records that presented similar problems, to a greater degree. When Rod Stewart released “Maggie May” as a single, he trimmed a thirty-second acoustic guitar introduction and another twenty seconds elsewhere from the version found on the album Every Picture Tells A Story, making the single a little less than a minute shorter than the album version. There’s not a great deal of difference once one gets past the intro, but the version I slid onto the CD wasn’t the single version. I goofed.

I didn’t get a chance to goof on the other song that presented a problem: The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” I knew the version I had in the player was the album version, clocking in at about seven minutes (on the original vinyl in 1967, the song ran 6:50; the CD reissue has pushed that to 7:08 for some reason). I went to the LP stacks and pulled down 13¸the greatest hits album released in 1970, sure it had the single version of the song. It didn’t. Not wanting to delay the project, I put the album version on the CD and went ahead and burned and mailed the CD.

Curious if the single version of “Light My Fire” still existed anywhere, I left a note at a forum I frequent. I got a note back very quickly from one of my fellow forumites, and an exchange of emails later, I had an mp3 of the single version of “Light My Fire,” which clocks in at 2:51. I tend to think the single version works better than the album track, which includes a long and rather pedestrian instrumental break. That thought is congruent with my view of the Doors as a pretty good singles band that got incredibly self-indulgent and unfocused when it came to albums. (But you know, I still listen to a couple of those albums anyway.)

All-Music Guide says that there are 358 CDs that contain versions of “Light My Fire.” (AMG is also being uncooperative this morning, not letting me access the listing of those CDs. Oh, well.) In my own files, I have covers of the song by Erma Franklin, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Minnie Riperton, José Feliciano and Clarence Carter. The best known of those is likely the Feliciano, which went to No. 3 in the summer and autumn of 1968. (That was also the time when his rather free-form interpretation of the U.S.’ national anthem at a World Series game brought amazingly intense criticism).

So I thought I’d share the Clarence Carter version, which came from his 1969 album, The Dynamic Clarence Carter. And, as it seems to be not all that easy to find, I thought I’d share the Doors’ single version as well.

Clarence Carter – “Light My Fire” [1969]

Doors – “Light My Fire” [Elektra 45615, 1967]

A Baker’s Dozen From 1970, Vol. 3

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 19, 2008

As books go, they weren’t very impressive. The first, A Sea of Space, was an anthology of fourteen science fiction stories. The authors whose works were included ranged from Ray Bradbury – whom I knew at the time – to William F. Nolan – about whom I learned a little bit later – to Kris Neville, about whom I still know nothing. I bought it some time during 1970 for sixty cents. That was the cover price.

The other book, 13 Great Stories of Science Fiction, was one I got during my first summer in the work force. I wrote here once about spending a portion of the summer of 1971 as a janitor at St. Cloud State. During that time, I spent about two weeks working in the building called Riverview, where the English department had its offices. One day, one of the literature professors put a box of paperback books in the hallway; professors, as I learned later, get free books from publishers all the time. I dug in. And somewhere in the middle of the box I found 13 Great Stories, which turned out to be a reprint of a book originally published in 1960.

I’d been reading science fiction for a little more than a year. And some of the names on the cover of 13 Great Stories were familiar to me: Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Damon Knight, Poul Anderson and Algis Budrys.

As I said, as books go, they weren’t very impressive: A recent anthology of mostly lesser-known writers and an older anthology of more impressive authors’ possibly lesser works. (I’d read much of Arthur C. Clarke’s work by then, and considered the Clarke story included in 13 Great Stories – “Silence, Please!” – to be one of his minor pieces.

But those may have been the most important books I’ve ever owned.

When I was in school – late elementary and junior high – teachers and my parents despaired at my ever learning to write. Oh, I had the vocabulary and knew the English language. It was the mechanics that got to me. Handwriting baffled and frustrated me. I tried and tried to make my letters come out looking like the examples posted above the bulletin boards, but I could never get the shapes right. Add to that the fact that – for some reason – from fourth grade on, we used fountain pens in school, meaning that any hesitation with the pen touching the paper resulted in a blot. My work often resembled a piece of abstract art titled “Study in Black Ink on White.”

And even when using a ballpoint pen, the demands of forming the letter-shapes defeated me before I could even begin to think about content. How could I think about what I was writing when I was unable to master the mechanics of the craft? (My fifth-grade teacher, Roger Lydeen – about whom I will write more on another day – saw the problem and tried to teach me to type, but I was unable to master that at the age of ten.)

So through maybe my sophomore year of high school, I dreaded any assignment that included writing, simply because I could not write cursive script. When I made notes at home – for any purpose, from telling my folks I was over at Rick’s to writing out a hockey schedule for the winter – I printed. And when I was a junior, I believe, I went to my teachers and asked for permission use printing for my work instead of cursive. All of them – having no doubt struggled with reading my work – agreed.

That summer, I bought A Sea of Space, and reading it, I began for the first time to think about writing as something I might want to do. During the first half of my senior year – 1970-71, I began to seriously explore the world of science fiction, reading for content but also looking at least a little bit at technique: How did Clarke structure his stories? What were the constants in the works of Robert Heinlein? How does a writer like Isaac Asimov plan and structure a multi-volume series like his Foundation works? I don’t know if I truly formulated those questions, but those are the things I began to think about at least a little as I read my way through the major works of science fiction from the 1950s and 1960s.

Also that year, I took a class in mass media, and one of our assignments was to write something for the media. Most students wrote stories for newspapers or magazines. As I thought about the assignment, I realized that for the first time in my life, I wanted to write. And I took one of the stories from A Sea of Space, a romantic tale by Robert F. Young titled “One Love Have I,” and I wrote a screenplay.

It wasn’t very good, as I look back, but for a first try, it was okay. I think I got an A. More importantly, I learned I could write. It took me years afterward to figure out that the barrier had been the mechanics and not my brain, but for the first time, I’d thought about writing something and had done it! Poems and lyrics and a few short stories followed over the next few years, and in college, I began to learn to write for a living.

In that summer before I began college, however, I came across 13 Great Stories and learned something else. As soon as I got home that day, after finding the book in the box, I sat down and dug in, reading the first story, “The War Is Over” by Algis Budrys. It was okay, and I moved on to the second story, “The Light” by Poul Anderson. It’s not long, about twelve pages.

And I got to the end of the story and put the book down. I sat there, on the couch in the basement rec room, stunned. I looked back through the story, looking for clues that Anderson had laid down to support his magnificent surprise ending. They were there. I re-read the story, and still I marveled at the ending, which even years later I think is one of the greatest endings to a short story ever.

I’m not going to relate the ending here. I don’t know if the story is still in print or not. If I learn that it’s not, I may open a separate blog and post the entire story there. I will say that I’ve read a lot of fiction since then – this was almost thirty-seven years ago – and I have yet to read another work of fiction that left me so stunned and amazed, or so eager to try to make my own way through the thickets of writing and lay a strong ending into the hands of another reader. And the slender volume, 13 Great Stories went onto my shelf in my early science fiction collection, next to A Sea of Space.

When I moved from my parents’ home to the cold house on the North Side, my father asked me if I was certain I wanted to move all my books. “Your books are your friends,” he said to me. “You care for them and keep them safe. But not everyone feels that way about books. It’s something you need to think about.”

As it turned out, I took most of my books with me, and no harm came to them. My library – science fiction, history, film studies and more – grew and moved with me for years. Then, in the mid- to late 1990s, things got tough. I had some bad luck and I made some poor decisions, and I spent a few years scuffling to get by. And one Saturday, I took several boxes of books – including all of my science fiction collection – to a shop I knew, and I sold them in order to get enough money to pay rent. I didn’t weep as I sold my old friends, but I came close.

I’ve made no attempt to rebuild the collection in the years since, though I likely could. Most of the works are readily available, and I think occasionally about finding them. But about a year ago, I guess, those two volumes of short stories came to mind, and I began to dig online. It took a while to find them, but now they sit here on my table, A Sea of Space and 13 Great Stories of Science Fiction, friends come home at last.

And here’s some music from the year I met the first of those friends.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 3
“Power to Love” by Jimi Hendrix from Band of Gypsys

“Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” by the Allman Brothers Band from Idlewild South

“Poor Elijah/Tribute to Robert Johnson” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from On Tour With Eric Clapton

“25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago, Columbia single 45194

“All Things Must Pass” by George Harrison from All Things Must Pass

“Groupy Girl” by Tony Joe White from Tony Joe

“For Yasgur’s Farm” by Mountain from Climbing!

“I Looked Away” by Derek & the Dominoes from Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

“Ship of Fools” by the Doors from Morrison Hotel

“Spindrifter” by Quicksilver Messenger Service from What About Me?

“Sittin’ On Top of the World” by Howlin’ Wolf from The London Sessions

“Go Back Home” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills

“Sign on the Window” by Bob Dylan from New Morning

A few notes:

The Band of Gypsys album is one I mentioned the other day when writing about Buddy Miles. It was recorded, as I said then, “at the Fillmore East in New York on the night 1969 turned into 1970.” Jimi Hendrix’ catalog of projects completed during his lifetime is so slender – given that he died young – that all of it might be considered essential. But if I were limited to one record, Band of Gypsys is the one I’d choose.

The Delaney & Bonnie & Friends album from which “Poor Elijah/Tribute to Robert Johnson” comes is a great record. Without actually making a list, I’d guess that it would rank as one of the ten greatest live albums in rock. The “Friends” for that tour, along with Eric Clapton, were Dave Mason, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, percussionist Tex Johnson and Rita Coolidge.

I never listened to a lot of Mountain back then, through I liked the long version of “Nantucket Sleighride” on the live album. I pulled “For Yasgur’s Farm” from a best-of CD, and it’s a pretty good tune. (Not to insult anyone, but I suppose some readers might not know that Max Yasgur’s farm near Bethel, N.Y., was the site of the Woodstock festival.)

I go back and forth on the Doors. Some of their singles still sound good, but others sound, well, dismal. And the same holds true for their albums, both track-by-track and record-by-record. Of all their albums, I think Morrison Hotel holds up best these days. And if “Ship of Fools” isn’t the best track on the record – I think “Roadhouse Blues” or “Indian Summer” gets that nod – it’s at least a good one.

“Spindrifter” a sweet piece, is basically the work of the late Nicky Hopkins, a highly regarded keyboard player who joined Quicksilver in the studio for a good portion of What About Me? As All-Music Guide notes: “For almost two decades, [Hopkins] was the most in-demand session pianist in rock,” working for, among many others, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, the Jeff Beck Group, the Jefferson Airplane and the Steve Miller Band.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1967, Vol. 2

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 23, 2008

Some quotations from 1967:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few other stops along the way were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Landslide” by Tony Clark, Chess single 1979

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

“Ye Old Toffee Shop” by the Hollies from Evolution

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

“Bessie Smith” by The Band from The Basement Tapes

“Blue Condition” by Cream from Disraeli Gears

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

“Twentieth Century Fox” by the Doors from The Doors

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

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

A few notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Baker’s Dozen for Summer

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 20, 2007

The solstice is upon us tomorrow, the longest day of the year – as measured by sunlight – in the Northern Hemisphere. That means those poor sods in Australia and Argentina and other southern places will stumble around in the dark for a longer period than normal, of course. It also means that the Druids – as I mentioned in Monday’s post – will gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise over the stone called the Heel Stone as part of their annual ceremonies.

We don’t have any hoopla to mark the beginning of meteorological summer here, as far as I know. There’s no ceremonial dipping of the season’s first ice cream cone or anything like that. The fact that summer as a state of mind has already started likely has something to do with the absence of such things. Summer’s been here for a while, no matter what the calendar says.

Maybe it’s not the same now, but thirty-some years ago, for me and the kids I knew, summer – specifically the summer after high school graduation – marked our first real entry into the workforce. I imagine some kids had worked earlier, but I think that most of us in the Class of 1971 got our first real taste of the so-called adult world very shortly after we took off our caps and gowns. For me, that meant spending forty hours a week doing whatever it was the maintenance department at St. Cloud State wanted me to do. And I got the remarkable sum of $2.10 an hour for doing it.

I spent the first half of that summer mowing lawns, riding a huge roaring machine across the green expanses of lawn on campus. Quite honestly, the mowers were a little scary, requiring a fair amount of strength in order to mow anything but a straight line. As there weren’t any areas of lawn that didn’t require a turn now and then, I did not do well mowing lawn, and by mid-summer, I was transferred indoors to the janitorial corps.

And in the building that housed the art and industrial arts departments, I met Mike. A few years older than I was, Mike was loud, profane and funny. For a week or so, he and I filled in for the vacationing regular janitors in Headley Hall, and then maintenance management assigned me to Mike and we became a roving floor cleaning crew, moving from building to building with our mops and buckets and detergents and electric floor scrubber. The first time Mike turned the operation of the scrubber over to me, the machine – which glides along the floor atop a whirling scrubbing pad – deposited me on my rump on a slippery wet floor. Mike laughed, and all I could do was join in. By the end of the summer, though, I could scrub and polish a floor with the best of them, which pleased me a lot. (At the age of seventeen, one takes one’s accomplishments when and where they surface.)

In August, we switched to an evening schedule, 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., to clean the floors in Whitney House, the luxurious one-time private home that then housed the offices of the college president and several vice presidents. We were only allotted thirty minutes for lunch, but given that we had to spend a fair amount of time waiting for mopped floors and newly waxed floors to dry, that was okay.

One evening in Whitney House, Mike and I were lounging in the lower-level office of one of the vice presidents, sipping cola and waiting for the floor in an adjacent office to dry so we could wax it. As we waited, we amused ourselves by browsing through the vice-president’s collection of Playboy magazines (a collection that I imagine would get the vice-president disciplined for harassment these days). As we paged through the most recent editions – which were fairly innocent by today’s standards – we heard a scream upstairs. It was Betty, the nighttime matron!

We ran upstairs, and as we did, we heard a door slam. We saw that the closet where our supplies were kept was closed, and the knob was turning. “Betty, are you okay?” Mike asked through the closet door.

“No,” said Betty. She was a sweet lady, but she was, in today’s terms, developmentally challenged. “There’s a bat, and I don’t want him to get me!”

Mike and I looked around. There, flying up and down the grand staircase of Whitney House, was a small brown bat. “I’ll get him with a broom,” Mike said. But the brooms were in the closet with Betty. It took Mike a few minutes to persuade her to unlock the closet so he could get one. At length, the door opened, and Betty’s hand offered Mike a broom. He took it, and Betty pulled her hand back in and locked the door again.

Mike headed for the stairway with me in tow. The bat came toward him, its course parallel to the stairs, and Mike took aim. Three or four times, he flailed at the flying mammal. Every time, the bat wheeled in its flight and the broom went past harmlessly. We began to laugh, mostly at Mike’s futility but also at the moans and cries still coming from Betty in the closet. On his fourth try, Mike swung harder. The broom again missed the bat and then continued on toward me. I turned my back. The head of the broom struck me between my shoulder blades, and the broomstick broke neatly in two.

We laughed harder.

Mike slumped against the wall near the closet, laughing, and said to me, “You try it.”

I looked for a weapon. The broomstick was useless. I looked in my right hand, where I still carried the vice-president’s most recent edition of Playboy. As the bat flew away from me, up the staircase, I rolled the magazine into a cylinder. At the landing where the staircase turned, the bat reversed its course and headed toward me. I waited at the bottom of the stairs, and as the bat neared me, I rose on my tiptoes and delivered an overhead smash that Bjorn Borg would have envied, catching the bat from behind, where his sonar did no good, and driving him into the carpet.

Mike took a broom and dustpan from Betty’s cart, scooped up the creature and placed him under a tree outside. Evidently, I had only stunned him, for when we checked, half an hour later, the bat was gone. It took us about that long to persuade Betty it was safe to leave the closet.

And then we went back downstairs. I put the magazine back into the vice-president’s desk, and Mike and I waxed the floor of the adjacent office and then moved on to the next office, still laughing.

A couple of years later, when I was working for the library at a job that took me all over campus, I ran into Mike. He told me Betty had retired but that every time he saw her, she talked about the bat in Whitney House. Mike was still floating, filling in for janitors on vacation, but he no longer worked the floor cleaning crew or worked nights. And he missed that.

“We had a good summer that year, didn’t we?” he said to me. “That was a good one.” And he was right.

So, to celebrate the summer that technically starts tomorrow, and to celebrate as well all the good summers of the past – including the summer I spent scrubbing floors – here’s a Baker’s Dozen of songs with the word “summer” in their titles:

“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66267, 1967

“The Boys Of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen single 29141, 1984

“Summertime” by Scarlett Johansson from Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars, 2006

“Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers from 3+3, 1973

“The Endless Summer” by the Sandals from The Endless Summer soundtrack, 1966

“Summer Wages” by Ian & Sylvia from Ian & Sylvia, 1971

“Summer’s Almost Gone” by the Doors from Waiting For The Sun, 1968

“Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone, Epic single 10497, 1969

“Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels, Capitol single 5271, 1983

“Fifteen Summers” by Gallagher & Lyle from Breakaway, 1976

“Summertime Dream” by Gordon Lightfoot from Summertime Dream, 1976

“Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” by Joan Baez from Diamonds & Rust, 1975

“Summer Wine” by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood from Nancy & Lee, 1968

A few notes about the songs:

This is a random selection. I sorted all the songs with “summer” in their titles or album titles, selected “Summer Rain” as the first, and then let the RealPlayer go. I then decided that the word “summer” had to be in the song title, not the album title. And I rejected Brewer & Shipley’s “Indian Summer” as not being quite in the spirit of things. So this is what we got.

A few songs missed the cut that would have been nice. Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime” comes to mind, as does Frank Sinatra’s melancholy “Summer Wind.” I love Seals & Crofts’ version of “Summer Breeze,” but it’s so well known that I was glad to see the Isley Brothers’ long version show up instead.

Johnny Rivers’ “Summer Rain” is one of my all-time favorite songs (it would make my Top Twenty for certain), and I was a little surprised to see that the single was not released in summer, that it was released late in the autumn, first making the charts in December of 1967. But then I thought about the last verse of the song, and that made sense. The song is from Rivers’ Realization, which was on my recent list of my favorite albums.

The album Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars, from which the Scarlett Johansson performance comes, was a benefit record for “Music Matters,” an educational program of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I thought that, for an actress not known for singing, Johansson pulled it off pretty well.

I wrote a while back about working at the state trap shoot for three summers when I was in high school and about how I heard some songs so frequently down in the trap pit that they became what I call “trap shoot songs.” “Hot Fun In The Summertime” is one of those songs, redolent of black dust and the smell of gunpowder and the sound of shotguns.

“Summer Wine,” as over-written as it might be – a condition not rare among songs penned by Lee Hazlewood – is nevertheless one of my favorite songs, no matter who sings it. The Nancy & Lee version is not the original – that showed up on a Hazlewood album a year or two earlier than this, I believe – but it is, I think, the best.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1967

April 20, 2011

Originally posted May 11, 2007

Every once in a while, some of the music bloggers whose work I read – and I read far more than the few that are linked here – talk about the influences on their music listening. And among the chief influences for many of us, it seems, are older siblings. They brought records home and played them, and we younger sibs heard the music on a regular basis. We may not have always liked it, but eventually, that music – and I’ve read this on many a blog – becomes part of the soundtrack of the younger sib’s life and is cherished as such.

The Texas Gal says she can easily trace some of her preferences to her older sisters, who are ten and five years older than she. And I can trace some of mine to my sister, who is three years older than I. It wasn’t that she bought a lot of music. I don’t think listening to records was ever as large a part of my sister’s life as it became in mine. I do recall her on occasion in the early to mid-1960s spending a relative pittance for a grab bag of ten or so 45s; you usually got one or two hits and lot of misses in those bags.

(All the 45s in the house of our youth eventually came to me, and I think those grab bags were the sources of my copies of Lesley Gore’s  “It’s My Party,” Chubby Checker’s “Limbo Rock” and a few other well-known songs. On the other hand, one of those grab bags also provided “You’d Better Keep Runnin’” by Frank Gari. Who? Exactly.)

It was my sister’s albums, however, that became part of my soundtrack. Again, she didn’t have a lot of them, but I heard those she did have as she played them and then when I played them during my senior year of high school and my first year of college. That next summer, she got married and took her records away with her. I’ve found most of them over the years since, on vinyl mostly, and now a few on CD: Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, Judy Collins’ Wildflowers, Cat Stevens’ Teaser and the Firecat, a unique record titled Traditional Jewish Memories and more. The one record I’ve missed from her collection and have not been able to find is John Denver’s Whose Garden Was This, but only this week, an on-line friend provided me with the album in mp3 format, so I at least have the music.*

But the two records of my sister’s that I likely played most often were two by Glenn Yarbrough, given to her by a boyfriend. They were The Lonely Things, which is a collection of Rod McKuen songs, and For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, a 1967 album on which Yarbrough covers current folk and folk-rock tunes. I have a CD of the latter album, and I love it still. But it does remind me of the first time that I recall my life colliding with adult realities.

My sister spent a portion of the summer of 1968 studying in France. About midway through her absence, that boyfriend stopped by and took me out for a Coke. As we sat, he told me that when my sister came home, he would not be in town. He and a buddy had joined the Army, and he asked me to inform my sister of that when she came home from France. I was not quite fifteen, and here was this young man – whom I liked very much – entrusting me with such an important task, such an unhappy message. I don’t recall when I told my sister, or how I told her, but I imagine I did it quite artlessly.

(Within a year, the boyfriend came home from Vietnam badly wounded, and his role as my sister’s boyfriend ended sometime after that. His buddy died in Vietnam, one of fourteen men from St. Cloud to die there. Sometime in this past year, I saw in our local paper that the former boyfriend had passed away. I called my sister and told her; she was glad I did.)

Anyway, today’s Baker’s Dozen is from 1967, and it starts with “Crucifixion,” the closer to one of those Glen Yarbrough records, a song that always makes me think of a message delivered in 1968.

“Crucifixion” by Glenn Yarbrough from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by Cannonball Adderly, Capitol single 5798

“Shake ’Em On Down” by Mississippi Fred McDowell from Mama Says I’m Crazy

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by the Buckinghams, Columbia single 44182

“People Are Strange” by the Doors from Strange Days

“To Sir With Love” by Lulu, Epic single 10187

“Red Balloon” by Tim Hardin from Tim Hardin 2

“Smokestack Lightning” by John Hammond from I Can Tell

“Rollin’ & Tumblin’” by Canned Heat from Canned Heat

“Sit Down I Think I Love You” by Buffalo Springfield from Buffalo Springfield

“Lonely Man” by Spencer Wiggins, Goldwax single 330

“This Wheel’s On Fire” by Bob Dylan & The Band from The Basement Tapes

“Statesboro Blues” by the Youngbloods from The Youngbloods

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Crucifixion” was written by Phil Ochs, one of the leading talents of the protest-song era in the early 1960s. Supposedly a parable of assassination, it’s a frightening tale that asks, of course: Do we ever really learn anything? I fear I know what the answer is. Ochs’ version, on his Pleasures of the Harbor album, is good, but probably because of familiarity, I prefer Yarbrough’s take.

It struck me as funny that both hit versions of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” popped up on the RealPlayer. At least it shows that it truly is a random selection.

Mississippi Fred McDowell – who actually was from Tennessee, and who knows how that happened? – was one of the rarities of the blues boom of the early 1960s: a performer of traditional music who had not been recorded during the 1920s and 1930s. His stuff was new and vibrant when he was discovered working on his farm in the 1960s. He was also a rarity in that he at times played electric guitar, a fact that severely displeased some blues purists.

John Hammond is actually John Hammond, Jr., the son of the legendary talent scout and executive for Columbia Records. Hammond’s album I Can Tell was recorded at Muscle Shoals with the backing of the famed sessions musicians there. Also lending a hand on the record – though not necessarily on “Smokestack Lightning” – were Duane Allman and Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson of The Band.

Spencer Wiggins was a Memphis native who recorded a series of powerful deep soul singles during the 1960s but never got the hit – and the attention – he deserved. Much of his work is available on CD and is well worth seeking out.

As always, bit rates will vary. Enjoy!

*I was in error here. There was a fairly good copy of Whose Garden Was This sitting in the stacks as I wrote, but I either didn’t check the stacks or it was misfiled. In any event, it was nice to get the digital files without having to go through the minor drudgery of ripping the album myself. [Note added April 20, 2011.]