Posts Tagged ‘Elvis Presley’

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 Baker’s Dozen Of Power

June 28, 2011

Originally posted May 19, 2008

I don’t play a lot of games on the computer. The Texas Gal and I – when she was still in Texas – used to go into the Yahoo! or Microsoft game sites and play spades and cribbage. We haven’t done that for a while, probably because the computers on which we would play are in adjacent rooms.

She plays more games than I do – I often hear beeps, whistles, gongs and other sounds coming from her precincts while I’m downloading something or wandering blogs or trying to learn the label and catalog number of an obscure 1969 single. I do have a few games. I played Sim City a lot soon after I got my first computer, and right now, I’ve got Sim City 4. I enjoy it, but I don’t play it as much as I used to.

I have a similar game called Pharaoh, about building a civilization in ancient Egypt. I’ve played it a couple of times, but I can never seem to get my little village’s residents to do anything but wander around in the mud of the Nile Delta. It makes some sense, I guess. For every imperial city, for every Memphis of the pharaohs, there had to be hundreds of little villages where the biggest event of the week was catching enough fish for lunch. I’ve about given up on my villagers, which – if they had any awareness at all – would likely be a relief for them.

My new game – the result of spending a couple of hours Saturday morning wandering through a few garage sales – is Civilization: Call to Power. According to the book that came with the disc, I’m supposed to be able to build an empire and thrive in competition with other empires, through war or trade or a combination of those two and other things I have not yet read about.

It looked interesting, so I grabbed the game for a very low price. I’ve heard of the series before, of course; my friend Rob had played other games in the Civilization series and says it’s possible to get very involved in them for hours at a time. Well, we’ll see. I loaded the game and opened the tutorial, which is set in the Italian peninsula. I got Rome built and then Pompeii, but I couldn’t seem to get much done after that, except send soldiers tramping over the same bits of land. As far as I could see, no one caught any fish. But I’ll keep trying. And as the game’s subtitle is Call to Power, I thought we’d see what we find in an appropriate Baker’s Dozen.

A Baker’s Dozen of Power
“Blues Power” by Koko Taylor from Blues Power, 1999

“Power of Love” by Bobby Whitlock & CoCo Carmel from Lovers, 2007

“Power of Two” by the Indigo Girls from Swamp Ophelia, 1994

“The Power of a Woman” by Spencer Wiggins, Goldwax single 330, 1967

“Power Of My Love” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis in Memphis, 1969

“Power in Music” by Maria Muldaur from Meet Me At Midnite, 1994

“Power to the People” by John Lennon, Apple single 1830, 1971

“Love Power” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty . . . Definitely, 1968

“High Powered Love” by Emmylou Harris from Cowgirl’s Prayer, 1993

“Zero Willpower” by Dan Penn from Do Right Man, 1994

“(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People” by the Chi-Lites, Brunswick single 55450, 1971

“Full-Lock Power Slide” by Boz Scaggs from My Time, 1972

“The Power Lines” by Nanci Griffith from Late Night Grande Hotel, 1991

A few notes:

The Koko Taylor track come from an Eric Clapton tribute, covers of his songs performed by blues artists. First released on the House of Blues label in 1999, the album has been re-titled several times. The most recent title seems to be Songs of Eric Clapton: All Bluesed Up! Taylor is one of two women on the album, and her version of “Blues Power” is reasonably good. The other woman is Ann Peebles, whose performance of “Tears in Heaven” is a revelation. Of the other tracks, maybe the most interesting, mostly on historical terms, is by Honeyboy Edwards, who gets from help from harp master James Cotton as he runs through the song that Clapton borrowed from his old friend Robert Johnson: “Crossroads.”

Even after almost twenty years of listening to their melodies, their lyrics, their vocals and their instrumentals, I’m blown away by the Indigo Girls almost every time I hear them. There are a few albums that sounded like missteps to me, but Swamp Ophelia isn’t one of them.

As All-Music Guide notes, “Spencer Wiggins had the poor fortune of being a great soul singer in a place where and at a time when there were more than enough of those to go around — namely Memphis . . . during the mid-’60s when Stax Records was the biggest name in town, Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records was on the rise, and Atlantic had practically made the town its second home.” But Wiggins’ work – mostly for Goldwax – was good listening, even if he didn’t have the pop chart success that many of his contemporaries did. I found “The Power of a Woman” on The Goldwax Years, a collection of twenty-two of Wiggins’ best performances that Kent released a couple of years ago.

Maria Muldaur’s been around for a long time, but I think her work has been widely ignored for a long time, too, especially by those who think that “Midnight at the Oasis” – her 1974 hit – defines her music. As catchy as the single was – and I liked it plenty – Muldaur’s music almost always had more to do with roots and Americana than pop, from her work with then-husband Geoff in the mid-Sixties through her albums of the mid-Seventies (including Maria Muldaur, the source of “Oasis,” which was an anomaly on the album just as it is in her career) and on into some great albums in the Nineties and this decade. Meet Me At Midnite is an excursion into the music of Memphis, and well worth a listen. (I’ll be writing more about Muldaur in the next couple weeks, I think.)

The name of Dan Penn might be the least well-known of the performers on this list, but since the mid-Sixties, Penn has been one of the great songwriters in American music. First in Memphis and later in Muscle Shoals, Penn – along with his writing partners, Spooner Oldham and Chips Moman – spent the 1960s and 1970s crafting songs that any fan of soul and R&B recognizes in an instant: “Do Right Woman,” “Dark End of the Street,” “A Woman Left Lonely,” “I’m Your Puppet” and many more. Do Right Man is Penn’s stab at recording his own versions of ten of those songs; with help from friends at Muscle Shoals and from Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, he does a pretty good job.

The Chi-Lites are remembered mostly as a sweet-sounding vocal group from Chicago whose love songs did pretty well going head-to-head with the similar sounds coming out of Philadelphia at the time. It might be somewhat surprising, then, to realize that “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People,” with its eerie opening synthesizer and its sociological rhetoric, was the group’s first Top 40 hit, going to No. 26 in the spring of 1971. Five months later, “Have You Seen Her” went to No. 3, and the Chi-Lites became a soft soul group. Too bad.

A Baker’s Dozen Under No. 1 From 1970

June 15, 2011

Originally posted March 5, 2008

As I’ve mentioned a fair number of times, it was in late 1969 and early 1970 that I began to listen regularly to Top 40 radio. Every once in a while, I wander over to one of the sites that catalog local radio charts from those years. I choose a station and a weekly chart almost at random and let my eyes wander up and down the list, with my internal radio playing snippets of songs first heard long ago.

I did that this morning, casting about for a theme for a Baker’s Dozen. I had at first thought about a list of songs with “Road” in their titles, as I’ve long wanted to share Elvis Presley’s version of “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road.” But I ran part of a random search and then thought to myself, well, maybe another day. So I looked at the charts for March of 1970, thinking I might just present the top thirteen songs of one week. But during that month, one of the top records everywhere I looked was Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that record at all. It’s a truly great record (as is the album from which it came). But I shared it here last August, and – besides that – it’s one of those omnipresent records. I don’t think anyone ever hears it and thinks, “Wow, when was the last time I heard that?” And that reaction is one I hope that at least some of the things I share here will generate.

So I looked at 1969, and I looked at 1971 and 1973 and 1975. And I was dissatisfied by what I saw. Maybe I’m just in a bad mood today, I thought. Then I had the thought that maybe I should go ahead and pretend that the Simon & Garfunkel record wasn’t there, present records Nos. 2 through 14 as a Baker’s Dozen Under No. 1 or something like that. So I went back to the WDGY (Twin Cities) chart for March 6, 1970, and looked at those records. Not a bad batch, but I’d have to go find two of them, Frijid Pink’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” and “Easy Come, Easy Go” by Bobby Sherman. (Now that I have the external hard drive, I can afford to use storage space for frivolities like songs by Bobby Sherman.)

And I got sidetracked. I not only found those two songs, but also found – and saved to the hard drive – Sherman’s “Julie, Do Ya Love Me” and “Seattle.” Being at least a little bit of an archivist, I wanted to find the catalog numbers for those. “Julie” was easy, but it’s a bit harder to track down the genesis of “Seattle,” which was Sherman’s version of the theme song for the 1968 TV show Here Come the Brides. (Sherman was one of the stars of the show.) Wikipedia says that Sherman’s version of the song reached the Cash Box Top 100 in 1969, but twenty minutes combing through the online charts cast doubt on that; I found Perry Como’s version of the song listed, but not Sherman’s. Another search left me looking at a picture of a record cut from the back of a cereal box. I doubt that was the only way “Seattle” was released, but by that time, I’d already spent thirty minutes on a record that’s not in my plans for today. So I’ll get back to it later and go ahead and present my rather odd idea.

A Baker’s Dozen Under No. 1, March 6, 1970

“Ma Belle Amie” by the Tee Set, Colossus single 107

“Who’ll Stop The Rain”/“Travelin’ Band” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy single 637

“Give Me Just A Little More Time” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus single 9074

“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by the Hollies, Epic single 10532

“Easy Come, Easy Go” by Bobby Sherman, Metromedia single 177

“Thank You”/“Everybody Is A Star” by Sly & the Family Stone, Epic single 10555

“No Time” by the Guess Who, RCA single 0300

“House of the Rising Sun” by Frijid Pink, Parrot single 341

“Rainy Night In Georgia” by Brook Benton, Cotillion single 44057

“Oh Me, Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)” by Lulu, Atco single 6722

“The Rapper” by the Jaggerz, Kama Sutra single 502

“Hey There, Lonely Girl” by Eddie Holman, ABC single 11240

“Kentucky Rain” by Elvis Presley, RCA single 9791

A few notes:

One of the quandaries facing me here is one that I think almost any radio lover encounters when trying to assess a cluster of songs from the past. Most of these songs are old friends, and it’s hard to look at them, to listen to them, objectively.

I think the best of this list are the Creedence sides along with “A Rainy Night In Georgia,” “Kentucky Rain.” and “Oh Me, Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby).” (That last should not be a surprise to regular readers.)

Of the rest of them, some have aged well, some haven’t, and some never had a chance.

“Give Me Just A Little More Time” and the two Sly & the Family Stone records still sound pretty good, although “Everybody Is A Star” sounds to me a little bit better than its A side, the full title of which is “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” The Hollies, the Guess Who and Eddie Holman are still good listening, too, though maybe a notch lower.

Frijid Pink’s “House of the Rising Sun” sounded better this morning – hearing it for the first time in years – than I expected it to, but my expectations were, I admit, low. I guess I won’t hit the skip button when it comes up again, though. The same holds true for “Ma Belle Amie,” which I kind of like, as clunky as it may be.

As for “The Rapper” and the Bobby Sherman record, well, if I had to trim these thirteen down to ten, they’d be the first ones cut. After that, well, I suppose the Frijid Pink song would fall, if only because I like to sing along during the French lines in “Ma Belle Amie.”

I’ve presented the B sides of the two double-sided singles because I think they’re less likely to be heard on the radio.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Moons

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 20, 2008

I must have been about seven, which would put it sometime during the winter of 1960-61, when my dad showed me the darkened and red moon.

I’d been in bed a few hours, I imagine, with bedtime for a seven-year-old being about eight o’clock back then. But Dad woke me and had me look to the south, out the bathroom window. Floating above the trees, there rode the Moon, looking larger than usual, its normally pale white face colored a dusky red.

“It’s a total eclipse of the moon,” he told me. “The Earth comes between the Sun and the moon, and we can see the Earth’s shadow on the moon.” We looked for a while. I asked why the moon was red. He said he thought it had to do with the atmosphere, with the weather. (He was right.)

We looked at the moon for a little while longer and then went back to bed. It’s been nearly fifty years since Dad showed me the red moon. I imagine other total eclipses have come and gone, maybe many times, since then. There’s another one tonight, visible in most of North America. Starting at 7:43 Central Time, the Earth’s shadow will fall across the Moon. From 9:01 to 9:51, according to NASA, the eclipse will be total.

I hope lots of dads show their kids the darkened moon tonight.

A Baker’s Dozen of Moons
“Under the Darkest Moon” by Boo Hewerdine and Darden Smith from Evidence, 1989

“Moon River” by Henry Mancini from the soundtrack to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961

“Neon Moon” by Brooks & Dunn from Brand New Man, 1991

“Love on the Moon” by the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver from Reach For The Sky, 1975

“Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck, Private Stock single 45,036, 1976

“Blue Moon” by Elvis Presley , RCA single 47-6640, 1956

“All Around The Sun And Moon” by Joy of Cooking from Castles, 1972

“Copper Kettle (Pale Moonlight)” by Bob Dylan from Self Portrait, 1970

“Blue Moon of Kentucky” by Levon Helm, from Coal Miner’s Daughter soundtrack, 1980

“Desert Moon” by Dennis DeYoung, A&M single 2666, 1984

“Yellow Moon” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon, 1989

“Underneath the Harlem Moon” by Randy Newman from 12 Songs, 1970

“Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy single 622, 1969

A few notes:

“Under the Darkest Moon” comes from one of my favorite albums, one I shared here a while back. When I found it, I began to follow the solo careers of the two artists. In the past few years, though, I’ve pretty much quit following Hewerdine while continuing to track Smith, whose music continues to inhabit the intersection of rock, country and folk. (He’s issued nothing since 2005’s Field of Crows, so I’m waiting patiently.) Why did I quit following Hewerdine? His melodies are artful, sometimes beautiful, and his words are often eloquent, but, to me, the more I listened, there was a lightness in his work that was unrelieved; they needed a little more weight.

When I was working at the newspaper in Eden Prairie in the early 1990s, one of my colleagues, an ad man, was a country music fan, though he liked oldies as well. On his recommendation, I ordered through my music club one of Brooks & Dunn’s albums. I listened to it a couple of times, shrugged, and passed it on to Alan. Since the Texas Gal came into my life eight years ago this month, I’ve listened more to country music than I ever had before, and Brooks & Dunn are quite likely my favorite country performers. (Whenever they pop up on the RealPlayer, the little message box tells me that the only recording duo that has sold more records than Brooks & Dunn is Simon & Garfunkel. If that’s true, and I have no reason to doubt it, that’s an astounding fact.)

For most of the summer of 1976, the Starbuck tune was as inescapable as it is catchy. It spent fourteen weeks in the Top 40, beginning in mid-May, going as high as No. 3. It has to be one of the few Top 40 hits with a marimba solo. (I think it’s a marimba.)

When it was released in 1970, Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait was greeted with confused stares and derision. Among other things, critic Greil Marcus wrote, “I once said I’d buy an album of Dylan breathing hard. But I’d never said I’d buy an album of Dylan breathing softly.” “Copper Kettle (Pale Moonlight)” has been one of the few tracks that, over the years, has been given some respect. Wikipedia reports that it was written by “Alfred Frank Beddoe (who was ‘discovered’ by Pete Seeger after applying for work at People’s Songs, Inc. in 1946).” (Exactly who was doing the applying there is unclear, but never mind.) To me, “Copper Kettle (Pale Moonlight)” is not just the best track on the album, but one of Dylan’s best tracks ever.

I was never a Styx fan, but I found I enjoyed 1984’s Desert Moon, the first solo album by the band’s keyboard player and vocalist, Dennis DeYoung. Part of that was no doubt familiarity with the title track, as the song’s video was in heavy rotation on MTV that year, the first year I had cable. It’s still a nice song, but it sounds a little bit slight after twenty-four years.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1961

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 16, 2008

We watched the film The Good Shepherd the other evening, the Matt Damon/Angelina Jolie film about one man’s career in U.S. intelligence, from the OSS to the CIA, from 1940 or so to about 1962. Much of story took place in 1961, with Matt Damon’s character and others in the agency trying to find out who had leaked to the Communists – Russian or Cuban – the plans for a U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

While the film’s story is interesting – lots of historical detail done right, for those who enjoy that sort of thing (I am one of them) – and the acting is impeccable, especially Damon’s, what I found most fascinating was the movie’s portrayal of 1961, the details of a time that stands shrouded in mist at the edge of my memory. The look of the city buses, the household décor, the clothing – for men, women and children – all of it was familiar.

One of the film’s details that struck me was men wearing hats: snap-brim fedoras, panamas, trilbys. I remember watching my dad retrieve his hat from the closet shelf moments before heading out the door each morning. I’ve seen pictures of crowds, usually baseball games, during the 1950s and early 1960s, and nearly every man is wearing a hat. Not a cap, a hat. Modern lore has it that the end of the hat as an essential accessory for men began in 1961, when President John Kennedy delivered his Inaugural address outdoors, bare-headed in Washington’s January chill. The hat as an accessory hung on for a while after that, but – according to those who catalog such things – its remaining time was short.

So much of what I saw of 1961 in The Good Shepherd was familiar, but I really recall very little about the year, which was the year I turned eight. I do remember talk about the Berlin Wall going up in August. What else? Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in April, and a month later, Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space. In October, Roger Maris hits his 61st home run, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s 1927 record by one.

To state the obvious, it was an incredibly different time, and the year’s pop culture reflected that just as much as the events of the year. The top-rated television shows for the season that began in the autumn of 1961 – and yes, there was such a thing as a television season – were:

Wagon Train
Bonanza
Gunsmoke
Hazel
Perry Mason
The Red Skelton Show
The Andy Griffith Show
The Danny Thomas Show
Dr. Kildare
Candid Camera

According to Billboard, the year’s top five singles were:

“Tossin’ and Turnin” by Bobby Lewis
“I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline
“Michael” by the Highwaymen
“Cryin’” by Roy Orbison
“Runaway” by Del Shannon

That listing, in some ways, baffles me. The Lewis, Shannon and Highwaymen singles all went to No. 1 during the year, and Orbison’s single went to No. 2. But “I Fall To Pieces” went no higher than No. 12 on the chart during a ten-week stay. I imagine there’s some explanation, but the presence of the Cline record is especially baffling because the second-longest stay at No. 1 during 1961 was the five weeks by Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John,” which missed the top five. Any chart mavens out there know how that happens?

A few other songs that hit No. 1 for more than a week were: “Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, “Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk, “Pony Time” by Chubby Checker, “Surrender” by Elvis Presley, “Blue Moon” by the Marcels, “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson, “Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, “Take Good Care Of My Baby” by Bobby Vee, “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles, “Runaround Sue” by Dion and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens.

And here’s what 1961 sounds like when I listen:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1961

“Spoonful” by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, Chess single 1771

“It Will Stand” by the Showmen, Minit single 632

“Crying in the Rain” by the Everly Brothers, Warner Bros. single 5250

“Voodoo Voodoo” by LaVern Baker, Atlantic single 2119

“One Mint Julep” by Ray Charles, Impulse! single 200

“Catfish Blues” by B.B. King from My Kind Of Blues

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens, RCA single 7954

“Too Much Monkey Business” by Elvis Presley, Flaming Star EP (RCA 128)

“Gypsy Woman” by the Impressions, ABC-Paramount single 10241

“Shake for Me” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1804

“Night Train” by James Brown, King single 5614

“I Done Somebody Wrong” by Elmore James, Fire single 1031

“Honky Tonk, Part II” by Earl Palmer, Liberty single 55356

A few notes:

“Spoonful” came from the pen of Chess studio legend Willie Dixon and was first recorded and released as a single in 1961 by Howlin’ Wolf. Five years after James and Fuqua released their version, the English trio Cream recorded it on Fresh Cream and it became a performance staple for the group, with live versions often going longer than fifteen minutes.

In The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh writes: “‘It Will Stand’ was . . . a boldly defiant stroke. Asserting that rock and roll was great was one thing, but this song actually implied that rock would last because it had meaning. This was far from Danny & the Juniors’ declaration of three years earlier that ‘Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay’ because Danny and the boys explicitly declared that they didn’t know why. [Lead singer General] Johnson’s faith was deeper and his record is an anthem that will last as long as rock and roll is heard.” As to General Johnson, he showed up at least once in the Top 40 – “It Will Stand” went to No. 62 –as the lead singer for the Chairmen of the Board in 1970 when “Give Me Just A Little More Time” went to No. 3.

The Ray Charles single, “One Mint Julep” must have some kind of story behind it. It’s one of two regular singles – according to the generally accurate website Soulful Kinda Music – that Charles released on the Impulse! label, evidently between his stays at Atlantic and at ABC-Paramount. The flip side of “One Mint Julep” was “Let’s Go,” and the other single – also in 1961 – was Impulse! 2002, with “I’ve Got News For You”/“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town.” In addition, there was a DJ promo release of “One Mint Julep.”

Latter-day listeners might be more familiar with other versions of at least two of the songs here. In 1970, Brian Hyland had a No. 3 hit with his cover of “Gypsy Woman.” And fans of blues artists John Hammond might recognize Howlin’ Wolf’s “Shake for Me” from Hammond’s 1969 album Southern Fried. (Legend Duane Allman sat in on four tracks from Southern Fried, including “Shake For Me.”)

I’ve wondered for years as to whether Earl Palmer’s record is titled “Honky Tonk Part II” or “Honky Tonk Part 11,” as the letters on the record label sure like like a pair of 1’s to me. Or it could be “Honky Tonk Part 1” with a mistaken extra digit. I’ve gone with the Roman numeral here. It’s not something I’ve lost a lot of sleep about, but whenever I see the 45, I wonder. This is one of those 45s I’ve had likely since it came out, when my sister would occasionally come home from the record store with a bag of ten 45s for $1.25 or something like that.*

*The single is clearly “Honky Tonk Part II,” and I knew that. My comment was a lame attempt at typographical humor, as the title mistakently uses Arabic numerals and reads “Honky Tonk Part 11” instead of “Honky Tonk Part II.” Note added June 4, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Moving

May 28, 2011

Originally posted December 24, 2007

Although many people in the U.S. and the rest of the world that observes Christmas are now at their destinations, I’d wager that nearly as many are still in motion, heading toward their holiday celebrations with that odd mixture of anticipation, anxiety and exasperation that holiday travel brings.

When I was a kid, our holiday traveling was simple: driving about a hundred and thirty miles from St. Cloud to my grandfather’s farm near the small southwest Minnesota town of Lamberton. Some years, we’d go down to the farm a week or so before Christmas, and then – during my teen years and later – we’d head down on Christmas Eve.

Either way, we marked Christmas Eve with a dinner of creamed lutefisk over potatoes. Lutefisk is a Scandinavian dish, one that tends to put off those not raised in the Nordic tradition. It begins with dried whitefish that is then rehydrated in solutions of first, cold water; second, water and lye; and third, cold water again. The rehydrated fish is then baked, flaked and stirred into a cream sauce and served over potatoes. The aroma of lutefisk baking is pungent and distinctive; it is also for me the scent of Christmas Eve at Lamberton. If I ever smell it again, I will in an instant be in that farmhouse two miles outside of town where I spent my first eighteen Christmases.

Looking back, although the times we went to the farm in the days before Christmas were fun – there was always something to explore out in the barnyard, and trips into town with Grandpa almost always resulted in a treat of some kind – my memory tends to settle on those years when we made the three-hour trek to Lamberton on Christmas Eve itself. Each of the small cities on our route had its holiday decorations up, brightening the way through town, and along the way – in the cities and out on the farms that we saw across the snowy fields – houses, other buildings and trees were strung with brightly colored lights.

As we drove through the gathering dark of the late December afternoon, we listened – as did nearly all Minnesotans, as I’ve mentioned before – to WCCO, the Minneapolis radio station. With our headlights slicing through the dimness ahead, we’d hear the announcer note, on a regular basis, that military radar had once again observed the presence of a high-flying object setting out from the North Pole. By the mid-1960s, my sister and I no longer believed in a flesh and blood Santa Claus, but I think that we both smiled every year when we heard the radio bulletin. It was part of our Christmas Eve.

And so was movement. We drove through the late afternoon, heading toward lutefisk and then a church service, then gifts, and the next day, a large family dinner. Christmas itself meant resting in a familiar place, but Christmas Eve meant moving, whether it was the motion of a fictional Santa Claus from the North Pole or the motion of the mid-1960s auto carrying me and my sister toward our place of Christmas rest.

A Baker’s Dozen of Moving
“Diamond on the Move” by Pete Rugolo from Music From Richard Diamond, 1959

“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town” by Little Milton from We’re Gonna Make It, 1965

“She’s About A Mover” by the Sir Douglas Quintet, Tribe single 8308, 1965

“Move to Japan” by The Band from Jericho, 1993

“I’m Movin’ On” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis in Memphis, 1969

“Train Keep On Movin’” by the 5th Dimension from the Up, Up and Away sessions, 1966 & 1967

“Move ’Em Out” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from D & B Together, 1972

“We Shall Not Be Moved” by Mavis Staples from We’ll Never Turn Back, 2007

“She Moves On’ by Paul Simon from The Rhythm of the Saints, 1989

“You Got To Move” by Koerner, Ray & Glover from One Foot in the Groove, 1997

“Moving” by Howlin’ Wolf from The Back Door Wolf, 1973

“Never Make A Move Too Soon” by B.B. King, ABC single 12380, 1978

“Something In The Way She Moves” by Matthews’ Southern Comfort from Second Spring, 1969

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

“Diamond on the Move” is from an album of music from a late 1950s television show. Richard Diamond, Private Detective was on first CBS and then NBC during the years 1957 to 1960, following a stint on radio from 1949 to 1953. I don’t recall ever seeing the show, but I came across a rip of music from the soundtrack some time ago and thought it was kind of cool.

The Sir Douglas Quintet was the vaguely British-sounding name that producer Huey Meaux gave to Doug Sahm and his band in 1965 in order to compete with the vast number of hits coming into the U.S. from England during what was called the British Invasion. There was nothing of the Mersey River in the work of Texans Sahm and his band; their river was the San Antonio. But the song went to No. 13 and musical polymath Sahm had a long career until his death in 1999.

“We Shall Not Be Moved” comes from one of 2007’s greatest albums, Mavis Staples’ extraordinary tribute to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, We’ll Never Turn Back. With help from the original vocalists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – called in the 1960s the SNCC Freedom Singers – as well as from South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo and roots musician extraordinaire Ry Cooder, Staples’ album is both a joy and a moving historical document. “We Shall Not Be Moved” is an adaptation of the old song “I Shall Not Be Moved,” which some sources list as traditional but that other sources credit to the Charley Patton, the Delta bluesman of the 1920s and 1930s. I don’t normally post things recorded so recently, but this is too marvelous to pass by.

The Howling Wolf track comes from The Back Door Wolf, the last album the massive bluesman recorded before his death in 1976.

The King Says ‘That’s All Right’

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 16, 2007

So what else can I do today but share a video of Elvis Presley?

After all, it had been thirty years today since his death, and when one adds up the influence he had on music and popular culture, one comes to a conclusion not far from that penned in the first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide: “Elvis Presley is by far the most important single figure in the history of rock & roll, and possibly the most important in American popular music, a giant of the modern era.”

It’s true: More than fifty years after Elvis first stepped into the studios at the Memphis Recording Service, it is impossible to assess the state of pop and rock music without taking his large shadow into account. So instead of assessing things today, instead of taking the machine apart to see how it works, I thought we’d just sit back and enjoy.

I looked for a video of Elvis’ early television performances, but those that I could post here seemed either to have studio recordings dubbed over the visuals or were interrupted one way or another. What I came up with is a performance of “That’s All Right,” Elvis’ first hit, taken from the 1968 television special that sparked his late 1960s comeback.

And watching this, There’s a bit of byplay with the band and then the introduction of the band members, but when Elvis finally takes up his guitar, one gets a sense – more so than one can from any of the jump-suited performances of the 1970s – of what the fuss was all about in the mid-1950s.

Revised to accommodate new video, May 6, 2011.

Elvis: Thirty Years On

May 5, 2011

Originally posted August 14, 2007

Elvis Presley came to mind the other day. I noticed a mention on one blog or another over the weekend that, come Thursday, Aug. 16, it will have been thirty years since his death.

I never quite got Elvis, at least as far as any real emotional connection went. By the time I was listening to rock and pop, the years when he set the standard for rock ’n’ roll – either with what he recorded in the 1950s or during his comeback in the 1960s after his military service – were long gone. I liked what I heard from him as the 1960s turned into the 1970s – “Kentucky Rain,” “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds” were three great singles – but beyond being a good listen when he came up in the radio rotation, he didn’t mean that much. And his last Top Ten hit, 1972’s “Burning Love,” did absolutely nothing for me.

So when I heard on a hot August afternoon that he’d died in Memphis, it didn’t have much impact. Oh, I didn’t quite shrug it off. I knew Elvis’ death mattered in the wider scheme of things. It just didn’t matter much to me. That might have been because I hadn’t yet done enough digging into the history of rock ’n’ roll to appreciate Elvis’ place in its popularization. I was aware that he’d caused a pretty big ruckus in the years just after I was born, what with the sneer, the gyrating hips and, at the center of it all, the music.

Listening to the music today, it sounds pretty tame, from the Sun records releases – “That’s All Right,” “Mystery Train” and the rest – to the sounds of his debut LP on RCA, 1956’s Elvis. What was radical and, to some, offensive, is now so mild – especially in its beat – as to be a curio. Still, the Elvis album, with “Hound Dog,” “Heartbreak Hotel, “Blue Suede Shoes” and so many more extraordinary tracks, is one of the most important albums in rock history because Elvis’ popularity among working class and middle class youth in the U.S. is one of the foundations on which all of modern pop and rock was built.

Not that there weren’t other building blocks along the way; there were many. But as Sun Records’ Sam Phillips knew, someone like Elvis – with his synthesis of musical styles and his charisma – was the key. The list of musicians essential to the development of rock and pop music is a fairly brief one, and Elvis is one the big blocks in the foundation that was laid during the 1950s. (Off the top of my head, the others from the 1950s on whom the history of the music rests are Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly. Did I miss someone? If you think so, let me know.)

Anyway, my point is that now I understand Elvis’ historical impact, which I know I didn’t grasp entirely on that hot August afternoon when I heard he’d died. Nevertheless, except for his three hit singles of 1969 and 1970, his music still does not touch me. I don’t get the same visceral kick when I hear “Don’t Be Cruel” or “All Shook Up” or “Hound Dog” as I do when I hear “I Saw Her Standing There” or “Gimme Shelter” or even “American Pie.” I appreciate the music, but I don’t necessarily love it.

Even so, when one explores Elvis’ incredibly huge catalog, there are jewels hidden among the glass. One of the more interesting places to look for those jewels is among the many movie soundtracks of the early 1960s. The movies were mostly dreadful – was any modern performer’s manager as utterly shortsighted as was Col. Tom Parker? – but the soundtracks were on occasion worth a listen. One of those was the soundtrack to the 1966 movie Spinout, which includes some bluesy numbers as well as a nicely done cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”

So, to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Elvis’ passing this week, I’ve chosen for a Tuesday Cover his version of “Down In The Alley” from that Spinout soundtrack. Originally recorded by the Clovers for a 1956 Atlantic single, the song has been covered by a few other folks along the way, including the Chambers Brothers and Ronnie Hawkins. Elvis does a pretty good job with it.

Elvis Presley – “Down In The Alley” [1966]

3.88 MB mp3 at 192 kbps

A Baker’s Dozen from 1966

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 6, 2007

As 1966 rolled around, I was in the second half of seventh grade. I’d become adept at working the combination on my hallway locker, I hated P.E. and loved band, and I enjoyed social studies with Mr. Sales. We talked a lot about current events in social studies, and even then, I was a news junkie, looking through the newspapers – the Minneapolis Star and the St. Cloud Daily Times – almost as soon as they were delivered every afternoon. I also saw some news on television, and although I didn’t grasp the meaning of all of that I saw, I understood enough to begin to ask questions. I was, at the age of twelve, a reporter in training.

In mid-February, the Twin Cities Top 40 radio stations began playing a song that made news itself: “Ballad of the Green Berets,” a tribute to the men in his unit, written and recorded by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler. The song moved up the charts and was No. 1 for five weeks in March and April. For a brief time, to a public increasingly wary of bad war news coming from a small country in Southeast Asia, the Green Berets were heroes. Exactly what they did and whom they were fighting when they dropped into the jungle, we didn’t know. But we were glad they were doing it. After all, the government said that the Green Berets – and the rest of our boys who were in Vietnam – were fighting the Communists there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here.

Robin Moore, a writer with connections, trained with the Green Berets and wrote a laudatory book about them that hit the best-seller lists. He also turned out to have helped – to what degree, who knows? – Barry Sadler with the lyrics to his No. 1 song. (Out in Hollywood, John Wayne got hold of the rights to the book and – with his son producing – made the film The Green Berets, which came out in 1968 and had little resemblance to the book beyond the title and a fawning admiration for the soldiers of the special forces.)

It was likely in the spring of 1966 that my social studies class broke up into groups to do reports on issues in current events. Topics included civil rights, Indonesia, the USSR and more, including, of course, Vietnam. When Mr. Sales told us to find a group we were interested in, I gravitated to the cluster of desks labeled “Vietnam.” I wasn’t all that interested in the topic, but a girl whose name began with K had headed for those desks, too, and she was the current object of my unrequited affection.

Mr. Sales had said we should start by asking questions that needed to be answered about our topics. K had her notebook ready. “Any questions?” she asked, looking around the group. No one said anything for a moment.

I said, “How about, ‘Why did we send our military to Vietnam in the first place?’”

She looked at me and nodded, and wrote the question down in her notebook, neither of us realizing that answering that question accurately and completely would likely be enough to earn a doctoral degree someday. A couple other members of the group offered questions, and K wrote them down. Mr. Sales stopped by to see how we were doing, and K showed him the list of questions.

“Who asked that first one?” Four fingers pointed at me. He nodded and chewed his cheek and then told me, “The folks over in Poverty could use some help. You’ve got five people here and there are only three there. Why don’t you go and give them a hand?”

I grabbed my books and, with a last quick look at K (who either didn’t notice or chose not to), went to the other cluster of desks with Mr. Sales. He told them I was there to make the groups more equal, and I pulled a desk up and sat down. I don’t recall who had the notebook in which they would write their questions, but the page was blank. So were the looks on their faces as they turned to me.

“Well,” I said, “do we know what ‘poverty’ really means?” They all shook their heads from side to side. “Okay,” I said. “First question: What is poverty?” The recorder wrote the question down, and someone else asked the next question, which I think was “Where do poor people live?” We had no clue that the answer was “All around us.” And the discussion went on for a few more moments, and then Mr. Sales came along to see how we were doing.

He looked at our list of questions and asked, “Who asked that first question?” Three fingers pointed at me again. Mr. Sales nodded and then said to me, “Why don’t you just wander from group to group and look at their lists of questions and see if you can think of any for them?”

Oh, my god, I thought. Why don’t you just make me wear a shirt that says “Dork” on it?

But I spent the rest of the hour wandering from group to group, looking at questions and maybe even offering a question or two myself. The result of my being made a roving whatever resulted in my being a group of one, assigned the task of enlightening my classmates about Indonesia.

I frittered my time away, and on the day of my presentation, I taped an annotated map of Indonesia to the blackboard and dove in. What looked like hesitation due to stage fright was really me giving myself moments to scan the information in the little boxes on the map before relaying that information to my audience. I got a B on the presentation.

Even after the years for dating came along, I never did have a date with K. But we were friendly. In high school, she was a cheerleader and I was a manager, and, in the dark and quiet of school buses coming back from athletic events late at night, we did have some intense discussions about issues all of us were facing. I remember them vividly; I hope she does, too.

And here’s a Baker’s Dozen from 1966, the year Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler topped the charts for five weeks:

“Bleak City Woman” by Donovan from Mellow Yellow

“Great Airplane Strike” by Paul Revere & The Raiders from sessions for The Spirit of ‘67

“Journey To Time” by Kenny & The Kasuals, Mark Ltd. single 1006

“I Saw Her Again” by the Mamas & the Papas, Dunhill single 4031

“Muddy Water” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66175

“So Long Babe” by Nancy Sinatra from Boots

“Got To Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles from Revolver

“If Your Monkey Can’t Get It” by David Blue from David Blue

“Tomorrow Is A Long Time” by Elvis Presley from the Spinout soundtrack

“Georgy Girl” by the Seekers, Capitol single 5756

“Looking the World Over” by Big Mama Thornton from Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Waters Blues Band

“Double Crossing Time” by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers from Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton

“Don’t Bring Me Down” by the Animals, MGM single 13514

Some notes on a few of the songs:

I found Kenny & the Kasuals’ recording on Nuggets, Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968, Volume 2, one of the great box sets from Rhino of mid-1960s recordings. The record didn’t make the charts, so Kenny & the Kasuals aren’t even one-hit wonders, but music like theirs was busting out of garages and basements all over the country.

“I Saw Her Again” is one my favorite songs by the Mamas & the Papas, who delivered a string of strong, melodic singles in 1966 and 1967 – and a series of albums that had better non-single material than most albums did at the time. When the song comes out of the instrumental bridge at about the 2:43 mark, Denny Dohety delivers one of the classic moments in pop history with his “I saw her,” an instant before the other vocalists come in. It sounds perfectly arranged, but from what I’ve read, Doherty miscounted and came in too early. The rest of the group liked the way it sounded and kept it in. (Also, listen for the drum rolls far under the rest of the sound; it sure sounds like Hal Blaine to me!)

The cut by David Blue came from his self-titled debut, issued by Elektra in August, less than a month after Bob Dylan had his famous motorcycle accident that left his career – and life, for all anyone not connected with Dylan knew – in doubt. Blue was a friend of Dylan’s and their music sounds similar, notes All-Music Guide. AMG also notes that by the time Blue’s debut came out, he was already behind the tight curve of pop history, as the Beatles’ Revolver had upped the ante.

The Nancy Sinatra cut is pretty lame, a Lee Hazlewood-penned artifact recorded with crack musicians for the album that supported her No. 1 single, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” Not quite as lame, but still gimpy, was Elvis’ take on the Dylan song, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” which the King recorded for one of his mediocre movies. Elvis was still two years away from returning to musical relevance with his return to Memphis in 1968.

Big Mama Thornton was an elemental force of nature, bold, brash, supremely confident and extraordinarily talented. The first to record “Hound Dog,” in 1953, she faded from general view for most of that decade and came back to some extent with Ball ’n’ Chain in 1968, after Janis Joplin recorded and popularized the title cut. The recording here, with the Muddy Waters Blues Band, was recorded in 1966 but not released until 2004, twenty years after Thornton’s death.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1969

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 18, 2007

As I began to write this morning, I started the file with the date, as I always do, and as I typed “April 18,” I was sorely tempted to revisit 1975 for this week’s Baker’s Dozen.

Why? Because of this:

“Listen my children and you shall hear
“Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
“On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
“Hardly a man is now alive
“Who remembers that famous day and year.”

Of course, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was referring to a different “Seventy-five” – 1775 – when he wrote “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” And because I ran a Baker’s Dozen from 1975 just a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d hit a few other years before I begin repeating, as I am sure I will do at some point. So with the Texas Gal already off to work before providing any guidance, I’m going to choose 1969 and start with one of my favorite recordings of all time. 

There was an old hotel not far from the Mississippi River in downtown St. Cloud when I was growing up, the Grand Central. Historical rumor had it that it had been a stopping place for numerous famous people over the years, including Buffalo Bill Cody (a rumor that I believe was verified by a guest register discovered during the building’s demolition). It may have been a truly grand establishment at one time, but by my first year of college, it was pretty much a flophouse, and its first floor retail spaces were filled with small and generally short-lived shops that sold used records, posters, and equipment and accessories for pharmaceutical recreation.

It was in one of those shops in the spring of 1972, just a few months before the hotel came down and the lot was paved over for a lot for city bus service, that I pawed through a stack of records and found Joe Cocker’s self-titled 1969 album, in decent shape for a reasonable price. I grabbed it and went off to one of the college dorms, where I dropped in on some friends to share my find.

It’s a good record, with several songs that have become Cocker standards: “Delta Lady,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” and “Dear Landlord” come quickly to mind. But the best cut on the album – I thought on first hearing and still think today, more than thirty years later – is Cocker’s take on John Sebastian’s “Darling, Be Home Soon.” With a feel of gospel-powered celebration, Cocker gives the song a joy that neither Sebastian nor anyone else has ever found in it. It thrilled me, even though I have to confess that at 18, I did not grasp the entire meaning of “the great relief of having you to talk to.”

I do now, and the song remains a favorite of mine and is the starting point for this random Baker’s Dozen from 1969:

“Darling, Be Home Soon” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker!

“Wild Child” by the Doors from The Soft Parade

“Songs To Aging Children Come” by Joni Mitchell from Clouds

“That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho)” by Dusty Springfield, Atlantic single 2637

“Will You Be Staying After Sunday” by the Peppermint Rainbow, Decca single 32410

“Gentle On My Mind” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis In Memphis

“The River Is Wide” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill single 4187

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by Linda Ronstadt from Hand Sown . . . Home Grown

“Goodbye” by Frank Sinatra from Watertown

“I’m Easy” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs

 “Hey Joe” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic single 2648

“What Are You Trying To Do” by Mother Earth from Make A Joyful Noise

“Dirty Old Man” by Delaney & Bonnie from Accept No Substitutes

I chuckled when the Doors’ “Wild Child” popped up right after “Darling, Be Home Soon.” It’s quite likely that when I took my Joe Cocker album to the dorm that long-ago Friday evening, “Wild Child” – or at least The Soft Parade – was playing on the stereo in my friend’s room; it was one of his favorite albums, and that specific song was to some extent an anthem for our freshman year.

Despite that, I also cringed a little at “Wild Child.” For some time, I’ve believed that the Doors were the most over-rated of all the well-known bands of their time, and much of The Soft Parade, in particular, is difficult to listen to with much pleasure these days.

There are two versions I like of Joni Mitchell’s “Songs to Aging Children Come” – this one, and the one by Tigger Outlaw in the 1969 film Alice’s Restaurant. Mitchell’s version – the original – is probably more accomplished, but there is an awkward earnestness in Outlaw’s version that is somehow endearing. Check it out if you get the chance.

The Sinatra tune, “Goodbye,” is from Watertown, a song cycle that’s one of the more idiosyncratic recordings of Sinatra’s long career. The songs on Watertown came from Bob Gaudio – writer of many of the Four Seasons’ hits – and Jake Holmes, the singer-songwriter/folk-rocker who was also the composer of “Dazed & Confused,” which Led Zeppelin appropriated as its own work. The album is, as All-Music Guide notes, Sinatra’s “most explicit attempt at rock-oriented pop.” It’s also a rather depressing piece of work, as the mood throughout is one of unrelieved (and unrelievable) sadness.

Elvis Presley’s version of “Gentle On My Mind” comes from his sessions in Memphis in 1969, which were regarded at the time as some of the best work he’d done in years. That was likely true, but, to me, “Gentle On My Mind” was one of the lesser efforts from those sessions. The best-known songs from those sessions, of course, are the three hits: “In The Ghetto,” “Kentucky Rain” and “Suspicious Minds.” For my part, the best performance from those sessions is the King’s take on “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road.”

“I’m Easy,” the Boz Scaggs tune, comes from his self-titled solo debut, which was recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Probably the best-known cut on the album is “Loan Me A Dime,” which features – as do a few other cuts – Duane Allman.

“Dirty Old Man” features the classic line-up behind Delaney and Bonnie: Leon Russell, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Jim Keltner, Rita Coolidge and a few others.