Posts Tagged ‘Fleetwood Mac’

Saturday Single No. 120

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 21, 2009

Well, it’s been spring for a little more than twenty-four hours now, the vernal equinox having taken place at 6:44 a.m. Central Time yesterday. It didn’t look or feel much like spring yesterday – cool and drizzly, more like October than anything – and I expect pretty much the same on today’s flipside.

But it is spring, and soon enough, the last stubborn bits of dirt-encrusted snow on the north side of the house will melt and the bare patches of dirt in the driveway will dry out enough to quit taking CSI-like impressions of our shoes when we pass by. A little later will come the greening: The lawn will revive, the oak trees will send out tentative leaves and a few perennials along the edge of the house will bud and blossom. We have a good-sized community of squirrels living in the oak trees in the front yard, and later in the spring, we hope to see more squirrels than we fed this winter, as the little ones eventually take their first leaps from limb to limb.

But all that is yet to come: The grass is still brown, the trees still bare, the ground still muddy. It takes an act of faith to look out the study window this morning and see green. But it will be there. We hope this year to add to that green ourselves. We’re thinking about putting together a large planter box and growing some peppers and tomatoes, a few herbs and maybe a few beets. (Those last would be for the Texas Gal only; beets are among the few foods I categorically refuse to eat ever again.)

So what music celebrates – or at least notes – the arrival of spring? Let’s see what waits in the files.

Well, a search for “spring” finds lots of songs, but most of them show up because they’re by Bruce Springsteen. There’s not much there otherwise. So instead of saluting the coming of the season, I think I’ll mark the current reality, a reality that will end as the leaves appear. And doing so gives me a chance to share one of those songs I love but tend to forget about when compiling lists and so on, the title track to Fleetwood Mac’s 1972 album Bare Trees, today’s Saturday Single.

“Bare Trees” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

How Long Ago It Truly Was

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 2, 2008

I talked to my mother yesterday as she celebrated her eighty-seventh birthday. She’d been able to get to a meeting of her women’s group for the first time in a while, and she was in good spirits. We chatted briefly about that, about the gifts that the Texas Gal and I had brought her on Saturday, and about plans for the week ahead. After we hung up, I sat at my desk and tried to put into perspective how long ago 1921 actually was.

There are a few ways to do that. One is purely historical: World War I had ended just more than three years earlier and was still known simply as the Great War, as its sequel was still eighteen years in the future. Babe Ruth was twenty-six and had just completed his second season with the New York Yankees. The discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming was still seven years in the future; its widespread use as a literal lifesaver would come some years after that.

Another way of thinking about how removed we are from the year of 1921 is technological. Mom was born in a farmhouse not far from the little town of Wabasso, Minnesota. There was no electricity in the house; more than a decade later, the family was living on another farm near the small town of Lamberton when the area was first wired through the work of the federal Rural Electrification Administration.

I look at the stuff on my desk as I write. The only things on it that would be recognizable to someone visiting from 1921 would be my coffee mug and the small woven mat I use as a coaster, the box of tissues, the case with a pair of eyeglasses, the antique brass urn from India I use as a pen holder, maybe some of the pens (there may be a pencil or two in the holder as well) and a small, flat stone found in the Mississippi River. Everything else, from the computer, the monitor and the CDs to the headphones, the portable telephone and the two plastic pill bottles, would be strange, ranging from the disconcertingly odd to the utterly alien.

I recall a drive in 1975 or so. My folks and I had driven down to Lamberton and were taking my grandfather – my mom’s father – out for dinner for his birthday; the nearest nice restaurant was in the town of Sleepy Eye, about thirty miles away. As we drove along U.S. Highway 14, Grandpa and I looked out the window and saw a jet plane leaving a distant contrail just above the northern horizon. As we watched the airborne white line fade into the blue sky, Grandpa shook his head. “You know,” he said, “I drove away from my wedding in a horse-drawn buggy. And I saw men walk on the moon.”

My mom was born just six years after that horse-and-buggy wedding, and it’s astounding to think of the changes she’s seen – not all of them changes she’s approved of – as she’s lived into the cyber-age. (She doesn’t use a computer, though I occasionally show her something of interest on a computer either at my home or in the library at the assisted living center. She was fascinated by the fact that I could find pictures online of the small town in Germany from which her grandfather emigrated. I occasionally send emails for her to her distant cousins there, and she occasionally buys things on the ’Net with my help.)

And as I wrote this morning, I thought of one other way of putting into perspective how long ago 1921 was, a view that takes into account my own fascination with music history: In 1921, Robert Johnson was ten years old.

A Six-Pack of Futures

“The Future’s Not What It Used To Be” by Mickey Newbury from ’Frisco Mabel Joy, 1971

“Future” by the Panama Limited Jug Band from Indian Summer, 1970

“Future Shock” by Curtis Mayfield from Back To The World, 1973

“Future Games” by Fleetwood Mac from Future Games, 1971

“Future Blues” by Canned Heat from Future Blues, 1970

“The Future” by Leonard Cohen from The Future, 1992

A few notes:

Mickey Newbury’s music has popped up here once before, as an epitaph for Dave Thomson of Blue Rose. Newbury is one of those artists whose work I always intend to share here but always forget about when doing my minimal planning. ’Frisco Mabel Joy is a forgotten gem – some call it country, others folk-rock and still others tag it as singer-songwriter. But it’s a great album, and “The Future’s Not What It Used To Be” is only a taste of it. I’ll try to remember to post the whole album very soon.

Speaking of forgotten, that wasn’t the case with the Panama Limited Jug Band, which supplied the second track here. I hadn’t forgotten the group because, honestly, I’d never heard of them until early this year, when Lisa Sinder at the blog, Ezhevika Fields, posted Indian Summer, the group’s fourth “and best,” Lisa says, album. The whole album is filled with trippy pieces, entirely in synch with the aesthetic of the late 1960s and early 1970s. If I had to categorize the album, I’d call it a poor man’s Jefferson Airplane: Interesting but not nearly as good as the original. “Future” is pretty representative of the album.

The Canned Heat track is an adaptation of a much older blues track, as was a lot of the group’s catalog. In this case, the original recording of “Future Blues” was done in 1930 by Willie Brown, the same Willie Brown whom Robert Johnson name-checked in “Cross Road Blues.” As was typical of their approach, Canned Heat’s members had the tune do some work in the weight room and then put it on speed before sending it out into the world in 1970.

Speaking of typical approaches, the future Leonard Cohen envisions will be one dark and unhappy place to live, at least according to the title song of his 1992 album, The Future. Musically, it’s a fascinating track – as is the entire CD – but lyrically, it’s a downer. Cohen’s songs have never been particularly cheerful, but what’s most fascinating to me about “The Future” is the matter-of-fact delivery that Cohen gives it, as if he’s saying, “Of course the future will be an obscene train-wreck. What else did you expect?”

Still Catching Up On The ’90s

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 8, 2008

I got to the CD party way, way late.

As the 1990s dawned, folks all around me were buying CDs of new music as well as replacing their long-suffering LPs (and then selling those LPs at places like Cheapo’s in south Minneapolis). Meanwhile, like a man watching a lake dry up, fearing the drought to come, I was watching the amount of new music available to me diminish seemingly day by day.

I’d seen the first signs of drought when I lived in Minot, North Dakota. Several stores that sold new records when I moved to town in the late summer of 1987 sold only CDs and cassettes by mid-1989, when I loaded another truck and moved back to Minnesota. Other music stores I’d frequented had far less vinyl for sale when I left town than they’d had two years earlier, all except the pawnshop, where the amount of vinyl increased greatly (though I spent little time there, for some reason).

By the time I lived in the Twin Cities, beginning in the autumn of 1991, new vinyl was rare. There might have been more, but I can recall right now only five newly released albums I found on vinyl during the 1990s: Bruce Springsteen’s Lucky Town, Human Touch and The Ghost of Tom Joad; the box set of Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings; and Counting Crows’ Recovering the Satellites. Not being in a position to buy a CD player, I turned to cassettes to keep up on new music.

Radio helped, too. Not Top 40; I’d lost interest in hits sometime during the 1980s, but I listened frequently to Cities 97, a station that I think has a deeper playlist than most available in the Twin Cities. There, I heard some familiar stuff and a lot of new stuff by artists I was interested in learning about. Through radio and cassettes, I kept up with my old favorites and some new friends from the 1980s – Indigo Girls, Suzanne Vega and a few others – and got pointed toward some new performers: Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Waterboys, October Project and the BoDeans come easily to mind.

But cassettes are awkward things, a declaration that will be news to nobody. It’s difficult to cue up a specific song or to skip one. So I didn’t invest in tapes the way I had already invested in vinyl. The result was that I learned a little less about new music during the 1990s than I had in previous decades. Since I got my first CD player in 1998 and then ventured on-line in early 2000, I’ve learned a fair amount about the decade that I spent mostly in Minneapolis. A little more than ten percent of the mp3s in my collection come from the 1990s, so here’s what the decade sounds like when I do a random program:

A Baker’s Dozen from the 1990s

“Sweet Spot” by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris from Western Wall: Tucson Sessions, 1999

“Children in Bloom” by Counting Crows from Recovering the Satellites, 1996

“Ghost of Johnny Ray” by Boo Hewerdine from Ignorance, 1992

“Thunder” by Jimmy Witherspoon from Back To The Streets: The Music of Don Covay, 1993

“Shake That Thang” by Long John Baldry from It Still Ain’t Easy, 1991

“Bordertown” by the Walkabouts from Setting The Woods On Fire, 1994

“Blue Yodel No. 9” by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and John Kahn from Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, 1997

“Do You Like The Way” by Santana featuring Lauryn Hill and Cee-Lo from Supernatural, 1999

“Need A Little Help” by Billy Ray Cyrus from Trail of Tears, 1996

“Follow” by Paula Russell from West of Here, 1999

“Skies the Limit” by Fleetwood Mac from Behind the Mask, 1990

“Ghel Moma” by the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir from Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 4, 1998

“Lives In The Balance” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

A few notes:

The Linda Ronstadt-Emmylou Harris collaboration, Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, is a gem. The two had worked together before, of course, most notably during the Trio sessions with Dolly Parton that produced two albums. The result of this collaboration is the sound of two voices and two souls performing in harmony.

Back To The Streets: The Music of Don Covay is one of the multitude of tribute anthologies that began to pop up in the 1990s. Covay’s catalog of soul and R&B songs is immense and truly great, though I believe he’d be immortal if “Chain of Fools” had been the only thing he ever wrote. And the CD is a delight, featuring some intriguing choices for the vocals, such as Todd Rundgren, Gary U.S. Bonds, Bobby Womack, Iggy Pop and others. Witherspoon’s fine performance on “Thunder” was likely one of his last recordings. The Covay tribute was released in 1993 and Witherspoon crossed over in 1997 at the age of 77.

I don’t know much about the Walkabouts. I came across “Bordertown” on another blog – I forget which one – and liked it a lot. Having it pop up at random today is a nice stroke of luck, as I’m going to add Setting the Woods on Fire to my short list of CDs to find soon. All-Music Guide says the album is a “sweeping, stately record” that “owes a great deal to the Stones’ Exile on Main Street.” Sounds like a good deal to me.

Mention Billy Ray Cyrus and most folks flash back to 1992 and “Achy Breaky Heart,’ which dominated the country charts and made it to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. I looked for his Trail of Tears album simply because it includes a cover of J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” which turned out to be a pretty good version. Trail of Tears turned out to be a pretty good and surprisingly rootsy country album, which surprised me.

“Skies the Limits” (which makes no sense as a title to me) is the opening track from the album Fleetwood Mac recorded after replacing Lindsey Buckingham with Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. Behind the Mask is a pretty uninspired effort with a couple of good tracks on it. Unhappily, neither “Save Me” nor “Freedom” popped up.

Jackson Browne’s 1986 song “Lives in the Balance” was still relevant in 1994 when Richie Havens made it his own on Cuts to the Chase, and it’s still relevant today.

A Baker’s Dozen For The Heartstrings

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 6, 2008

Boy, I gotta pay attention to what I write.

I was wandering through the cyberattic last evening, seeing if any of last spring’s posts needed reviewal or brought up something more to write about. And I found a post in which I listed my three favorite singles.

They were “Summer Rain,” a 1967 single by Johnny Rivers, “We” from Shawn Phillips, released in 1972 , and “Long, Long Time,” Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 minor hit. That was on May 24.

Then, less than three weeks ago, I offered up the Association’s “Cherish” as the perfect pop-rock single.

Now, there may be a difference between a favorite single and “perfect” single, but it would be slight. What the comparison between the two posts means is that I’ve been in the process of refining my views, and when reminded of another possibility – or when recalling something I’ve forgotten for a short time – I can modify my views. For some reason, when I was writing the May post headed by “Summer Rain” – sparked by a discussion at a bulletin board – I didn’t think about “Cherish.”

Why? Because I forgot about it. I wrote the bulletin board post that sparked my post here off the top of my head, and the Association record slipped my mind. But as I look at the four songs in question – the three from the May post and “Cherish,” I realize that they all do come from a list I did put together some time ago, a list of songs guaranteed to tug at my heart. They don’t all have memories of young women attached to them, although some of them do. But every one of them – when it pops up on the radio or the RealPlayer – will make me slow down for a moment or two, during which the bartender of my soul serves me a cup of bittersweet wine.

So, after excluding “Cherish,” and Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” as I posted both here fairly recently, here are the thirteen best songs remaining on that list:

A Baker’s Dozen for the Heartstrings
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by the Supremes & the Temptations, Motown single 1137, 1968

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

“It Don’t Matter To Me” by Bread, Elektra single 45701, 1970

“Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt, Capitol single 2846, 1970

“Hey Tomorrow” by Jim Croce from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, 1972

“I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John, MCA single 40280, 1974

“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues, Reprise single 0686, 1968

“We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” by Seal & Crofts, Warner Bros. single 7740, 1973

“We” by Shawn Phillips, A&M single 1402, 1972

“All That Heaven Will Allow” by Bruce Springsteen from Tunnel of Love, 1987

“Sentimental Lady” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Cobwebs and Dust” by Gordon Lightfoot from If You Could Read My Mind, 1970

“Four Strong Winds” by Neil Young from Comes A Time, 1978

A few notes:

Most of these, I acknowledge, are pop or singer-songwriter stuff, pretty mellow tunes for soul-searching in the dark hours, but the opener, well, even when the performers at Motown were baring their souls, they did so with a groove. The opening drums (has to be Benny Benjamin, I think) and then the low horns, followed by the horn chorus, well, all I can still say, forty years after I first heard it, is wow! My reference books are all packed away, or I’d credit the producer. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t sound light enough for a Smokey Robinson session. Maybe Holland-Dozier-Holland, or possibly even Berry Gordy himself. Anyone out there know? Whoever did it, they got it right.*

Bread recorded “It Don’t Matter To Me” twice. The first version, on the group’s first, self-titled album in 1969, sounds flatter than the single version that was released a year later. That’s likely recording technique instead of performance, and my preference for the single instead of the album track is likely based on familiarity, but the single version does seem the better of the two.

I expect a summons from the Taste Police – a term I’ve borrowed from fellow blogger Any Major Dude – regarding the Newton-John selection. Well, I’m guilty! Cuff me and lead me away! Make me listen to Ambrosia and Air Supply! “I Honestly Love You” is a good song (Peter Allen’s work) and a good recording. And I think it’s by far the best thing Newton-John has recorded in a long and indifferent career.

All of these have lyrics designed to make one sigh or worse, but the best lyric here might be “All That Heaven Will Allow,” with Springsteen’s working man taking us through three uses of the title phrase with three different meanings. A neat trick, and the Boss makes us believe it.

Fleetwood Mac should have had a hit with “Sentimental Lady” when Bare Trees came out in 1972. As it turned out, a remake by writer Bob Welch reached No. 8 in 1977, but the original is by far the better version of the song.

*As it happens, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was not produced by any of those luminaries I mentioned, but by Frank Wilson, about whom I know nothing. Note added and post revised slightly July 27, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1977, Vol. 2

June 28, 2011

Originally posted May 14, 2008

There’s a framed photo on the wall above my computer that shows my dad and his 1952 Ford. He’s standing in front of the cocoa-brown car, one foot raised onto the bumper; behind him, one can see Centennial Hall, the building at St. Cloud State where he had his office.

The trees in the photo look like they’re starting to turn, so it’s autumn. My dad is nattily dressed in his leisure suit, so it was either 1976 or 1977. (For those who don’t know what a leisure suit looked like, here’s a picture; Dad’s was steel blue; mine was cobalt blue.) I’m going to guess the picture was taken in 1977, not long before one of the saddest days of Dad’s life, the day he finally junked his old Ford.

He paid cash for it in 1952. He told me once how much it had been, but I don’t recall what he said, although the total of $450 keeps tickling at my memory. (Fifteen minutes of ’Net digging brought no answers as to what the price might have been.) And for twelve years, that two-door ’52 Customline – Ford’s mid-range model – was our family car. It took us down to Grandpa’s farm four or five times a year, to the Twin Cities for special shopping trips maybe twice a year and on the occasional summer vacation. It was during one of those vacation trips, somewhere in northern Minnesota, when the car’s odometer turned over. Dad slowed the car to a crawl on a country road, and I recall leaning forward from the back seat, watching as 99,999.9 slowly rolled out of sight, replaced by 00,000.0.

There was nothing all that special about the car, except that I think it was the first new car Dad had ever owned. And as it began to get older, I think it was tough for Dad. In 1964, we got another new car, this time the Ford Custom 500 in a color called Chantilly Beige. And Dad’s ’52 was relegated to lesser duties. He still drove it to work each day and used it for weekend trips to the golf course and the city dump. (We had four large oak trees in our yard, and every autumn, we’d rake up bushels of acorns, which we’d get rid of at the dump. We’d burn the leaves in piles back near the alley, as did everybody else. To this day, when I smell burning leaves, I smell autumn on Kilian Boulevard.)

Eventually, the old Ford began to deteriorate, as all of us and all our possessions are fated to do. Rust ate away at the fenders and the headlight casings. The heater worked intermittently. My sister and I both recall riding in wintertime to St. Cloud State with Dad during our first years of college. “Don’t breathe!” he’d joke as we sat in the cold car, heading down Riverside Drive. “Two people breathing in here fogs up the windshield!”

Both my sister and I, within a year or so after we started college, got our own cars and left Dad to drive the ’52 with an unfogged windshield. But more than the heater began to fail. The radio tuner broke; when it did, the AM radio was tuned to WVAL, the country station in nearby Sauk Rapids, so that was okay. Then, the door latch on the passenger side failed. For a time – I’m not sure how long – Dad continued to drive the car to work, holding the passenger door shut by means of a rope tied to the door handle and pulled across the car to the handle on the driver’s side. I’d left home by the time that process started, and when I rode with Dad to the grocery store one day, I just shook my head and held on to the rope, holding the door next to me closed with all my strength. I never rode in the car again.

Sometime in 1977, Dad accepted the inevitable. He went down to the Ford dealership and got a newer used car, then found a salvage yard to junk the old car. He never talked about it, but I know it had to hurt. And on the wall of the basement rec room, until the day he died, hung the photo of him in his leisure suit and his ’52 Ford in all its rusted glory.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1977, Vol. 2
“Home” by Karla Bonoff from Karla Bonoff
“Keep On Playin’ That Funky Music” by the Muscle Shoals Horns from Doin’ It To The Bone
“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac from Rumours
“The Loneliest of Creatures” by Klaatu from Hope
“Right Time of the Night” by Jennifer Warnes, Arista 0223
“Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancing)” by Johnny Rivers, Big Tree 16094
“Cup of Wonder” by Jethro Tull from Songs From The Wood
“Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan from Aja
“Something Better” by Chilliwack from Dreams, Dreams, Dreams
“No More Sad Refrains” by Sandy Denny from Rendezvous
“Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston, Tamla 54278
“Hard Times” by Boz Scaggs from Down Two Then Left
“Night Fever” by the Bee Gees, RSO 889

A few notes:

Karla Bonoff released a series of very good singer-songwriter albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but she’s perhaps better known as a songwriter. Linda Ronstadt recorded three of Bonoff’s songs – “Lose Again,” “If He’s Ever Near” and “Some to Lay Down Beside Me” – on her 1976 album, Hasten Down the Wind and others over the years. Bonoff’s albums were made with the help of many of the same musicians who worked on Ronstadt’s records and, indeed, on many of the prominent albums recorded in Los Angeles at the time. All of Bonoff’s work is worth checking out.

If 1977 was anyone’s year, it was Fleetwood Mac’s. The new-look Mac – with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on board – saw its second album, Rumours, enter the Top 40 album chart in late February and make its way to No. 1 by the beginning of April. The album would be No. 1 for thirty-one weeks and in the Top 40 for fifty-nine, throwing off four Top Ten singles: “Go Your Own Way” went to No. 10, “Don’t Stop” reached No. 3, “You Make Loving Fun” went to No. 9, and the song listed here, “Dreams,” went to No. 1. Along with being a quick ticket back to 1977, “Dreams” has the added attraction of being a great single, probably the best of the four.

I’d forgotten about Klaatu until Casey, over at The College Crowd Digs Me featured a song by the Canadian group this week. The release of the group’s self-titled album in 1976 spawned rumors that Klaatu was in fact the Beatles reunited. The record and its jacket were examined closely for clues, and Capitol did nothing to tamp down the rumors. When Klaatu turned out to be just Klaatu, the resulting backlash killed any chance the group had. The track here comes from the group’s second album, which wasn’t quite up to the standards of the first but wasn’t bad, either. After three more albums, the group disbanded in 1981.

I’m not all that fond of Jennifer Warnes’ “Right Time of the Night,” but I have to admit it’s got one of the better lines one can find in a song from this era: “Quarter-moon walkin’ through the Milky Way.” My respects to songwriter Pete McCann.

The album Rendezvous was the last work British singer Sandy Denny released before her death in 1978. A little over-produced, the album is not her best work. Even inappropriately framed, however, Denny’s voice and songwriting skills are still evident in “No More Sad Refrains” and other songs from that last album. Those interested are advised to find The North Star Grassman and the Ravens from 1971 or 1973’s Like an Old Fashioned Waltz. For those who want more than that, a good bet is the double CD overview of Denny’s career – including her time with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay – issued in 2000, which took the title of this track for its own title: No More Sad Refrains.

It’s Time To Get A Little More Healthy

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 14, 2008

Our joining a gym last week was a last-gasp maneuver in the Battle of the Waist Line.

Neither of us – The Texas Gal or me – has ever been very active. I played some recreational softball, tennis and racquetball in my twenties and rode my bicycle on occasion during my late thirties and forties. But some chronic health problems – now under control – and the expected changes in lifestyle since I quit smoking about eight years ago have resulted in my gaining about fifty to sixty pounds.

I’m not pleased. And sitting on the couch, pondering how to lose weight while American Idol played out on the TV screen, didn’t seem to be solving the problem. So last week, the Texas Gal and I made our way to a new fitness center about six blocks away. It’s a pretty low-key place, and it has the things we need: treadmills for her, stationary bikes for me, and a reasonable collection of circuit training equipment. Our plan to is get to the center three times a week and see how it goes. While one of my goals is to lose some weight, my overall goal is simply to become more active and feel better doing it.

And so far, I’ve enjoyed our two visits. I like the stationary bicycle, and I’m learning about the circuit training. The fatigue I feel when we leave the center is a good feeling. But there are some things: The cardio machines – treadmills, bikes, and other training machines – face a wall on which there are four television monitors. Folks with mp3 players that have FM radios in them can listen to the televisions on specific frequencies. As I didn’t have one of those during last week’s two visits, I watched the monitors that showed closed-captioning, ESPN’s Sports Center on the first visit and That ’70s Show the second visit. The ESPN was okay, as it usually is, but it was a slow day. I was never impressed with That ’70s Show when I could hear it, and watching it with captions was no better. The Texas Gal – who was closer to the wall and had a good view only of one monitor playing some game show, agreed. We needed something to battle boredom.

So yesterday, we made another small step into the current world: I wandered out to one of our major electronics dealers and bought two portable mp3 players. They’re by Creative, a firm I’d never heard of before, and the model is called Zen V Plus; they seem perfectly adequate to our needs. Each has two gig of storage (actually, 1.89), and it was simple enough to install the software and have mine pull 384 songs at random from my computer. After figuring out the random function, the only way to celebrate this one small piece of my commitment to better health was to take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard:

“Sweet Cocaine” (live) by Fred Neil from Other Side of This Life, 1971

“Love Song” by Elton John from Tumbleweed Connection, 1970

“Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon, 1989

“Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac from Then Play On, 1969

“My Home Is A Prison” by Lonesome Sundown, Excello single 2012, 1960

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees from TSOP, 1974

“White Dove” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Sweet Sixteen” by B.B. King from Live in the Cook County Jail, 1971

“Comin’ Back To Me” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

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

“Old Brown Dog” by Ralph McTell from You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here, 1971

“Overall Junction” by Albert King from King of the Blues Guitar, 1969

“Devil Got My Woman” by Bob Brozman from Golden Slide, 1997

“Adam’s Toon” by Trees from On The Shore, 1970

“Just Like A Woman” by Bob Dylan from Before The Flood, 1974

A few notes:

Fred Neil’s Other Side of This Life was the last record released by the reclusive singer/songwriter during his lifetime. Cobbled together from a live performance and from bits and pieces that seemed to be studio outtakes, it didn’t draw much attention. But some of the live performances were among the best versions Neil had ever done of some of his songs. “Sweet Cocaine” falls into that category, as does Neil’s performance of his most famous song, “Everybody’s Talkin’” Considering the slenderness of Neil’s discography, Other Side of This Life is a pretty good record.

The Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon was the first album the New Orleans-based group released on A&M, and it was a pretty good effort, with some updated sounds being blended into the Neville’s traditional R&B/funk mix. The Nevilles even try something that sounds like hip-hop dragged through the swamp on “Sister Rosa.” The version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” does pretty well, too, in a far more traditional vein.

The Fleetwood Mac of Then Play On is made up of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and guitarists Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green and Danny Kirwin. The group was no longer a blues band, per se, although blues still informed a lot of the material. But longer pieces like the nine-minute “Oh Well” showed that the group was clearly listening to other music being recorded around them in England circa 1969. It’s a fascinating piece off a pretty good album.

I know nothing more about Lonesome Sundown than what All-Music Guide can tell me: Born Cornelius Green in 1928, the singer recorded numerous swampy blues like “My Home Is A Prison” between 1956 and 1965, when he retired from blues to devote his energies to the church (coming out of that retirement for one album in 1977). Green died in his home state of Louisiana in 1995 at age sixty-six.

“TSOP” was in fact the sound of Philadelphia and – in a very short time – the sound of all America. The brainchild of Philly producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song – originally produced as the theme for the television show Soul Train­­ – went to No. 1 in March 1974 and helped set the stage for the disco explosion to come. The version here is the album track, which was 2:15 longer than the single edit. Still makes you wanna dance, doesn’t it?

The Richie Havens track is an excellent version of one of the better songs Jefferson Airplane ever recorded. “Comin’ Back To Me,” a Marty Balin composition, was one of the best things on 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane’s second album and first with Grace Slick. I remember, during high school, reading the words to “Comin’ Back To Me” in a book of rock lyrics assessed as poetry and being blown away by them. More than thirty years later, their effect is the same. And Havens pretty much steals the song with his performance.

The three blues performances here – by B.B. King, Albert King and Bob Brozman – are pretty good. Brozman is certainly the least known, and I’m not going to say he rises to the level of the two Kings, who need no words from me about their brilliance. But Brozman’s pretty good. I’m not sure where I stumbled across his album, Golden Slide, but Brozman’s name went pretty quickly onto my list of performers I want to hear a lot more often.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1973, Vol. 2

May 27, 2011

Originally posted December 19, 2007

In my first visit to the year of 1973, I wrote about my internal world, about the changes I could catalog in myself from my academic year in Denmark.

This time, I’m going to take a look at the larger world in which those changes took place: What was happening in 1973? Two events that dominated the news come to mind: Watergate and war.

Watergate: In the U.S., Americans were beginning to learn for the first time about the venality and utter rot at the center of the administration of President Richard Nixon. Week after week of testimony before a Senate select committee and day after day of headlines transfixed most Americans. Those hearings were followed in the autumn by the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew – the result of corruption charges dating to his time as governor of Maryland – and the Saturday Night Massacre, during which Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckleshaus resigned rather than fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, whose office was investigating the events that stemmed from the original Watergate break-in in 1972.

(Solicitor General Robert Bork, the third in command in the Justice Department, fired Cox at Nixon’s behest; the resignations and the firing were key moments in the trail of events that led to Nixon’s resignation during the summer of 1974.)

War: On October 6, on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the armed forces of Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. For the first week, the Arab armies advanced, but by October 26, when a United Nations-sponsored truce went into effect, Israeli forces had regained territory and gained control of the battlefield.

From the distance of thirty-some years, one can see numerous effects of the war, but perhaps the most visible effect comes when we go to the service station to pump gasoline into our vehicles. During and after the war, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries – OPEC – decided to stop shipment of oil to those nations that were supporting Israel: The U.S., the Netherlands (the source for much of Western Europe’s oil) and several other nations. At the same time, OPEC raised the price for oil going elsewhere in the world. The embargo caused, among other things, long lines at service stations in the U.S. and government-mandated bans on driving on Sundays in Europe. The embargo was the first step among many in the long and steady increase in the cost of oil, resulting in the prices we pay for all petroleum products today.

Enough of the serious stuff (although there were plenty more serious things going on during 1973) – what were we doing for fun that year?

The Top Ten television shows were: All in the Family, The Waltons, Sanford and Son, M*A*S*H, Hawaii Five-O, Maude, Kojak, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Cannon.

At the movies theaters, we saw, among others, The Sting, American Graffiti, The Exorcist, Mean Streets, Sleeper, The Way We Were, The Last Detail and Blume in Love.

In the U.S., the top ten singles of the year, according to Billboard, were:

“Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack
“Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye
“My Love” by Paul McCartney and Wings
“Why Me” by Kris Kristofferson
“Crocodile Rock” by Elton John
“Will It Go Round In Circles” by Billy Preston
“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon
“Touch Me In The Morning” by Diana Ross

Most of those are pretty obvious (and only a few are depressing), when one thinks about 1973. On the other hand, I’ve never heard the Kristofferson, which hit the Top 40 in early July and reached No. 16 in a nineteen-week stay on the chart.

The top five albums of the year, listed at the Billboard web site, were:

The World Is A Ghetto by War
Summer Breeze by Seals & Crofts
Talking Book by Stevie Wonder
No Secrets by Carly Simon
Lady Sings the Blues by Diana Ross

Oddly enough, that list is at odds with some other lists I’ve looked at. Even The Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums lists a different No. 1 album of the year: Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The Carly Simon and War albums listed above are included in the alphabetical list of 1973’s Top Ten albums in Norm N. Nite’s Rock On Almanac. The rest of Nite’s list is:

Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite by Elvis Presley
Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper
Brothers and Sisters by the Allman Brothers Band
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player by Elton John
Goats Head Soup by the Rolling Stones
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
There Goes Rhymin’ Simon by Paul Simon

Nine of the albums on Nite’s list went to No. 1 during 1973. The only one that didn’t was Paul Simon’s, which went to No. 2

As confusing as that may be, however, it gives a pretty good look at what was popular during 1973. But when I crank up my RealPlayer, what does 1973 sound like? Here’s one possibility, random after the first tune:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1973, Vol. 2

“Hallelujah” by Chi Coltrane from Let It Ride

“So Many Times” by Manassas from Down The Road

“Lay Me Down Easy” by Three Dog Night from Cyan

“Good Vibrations” by Bonnie Bramlett from Sweet Bonnie Bramlett

“The City” by Fleetwood Mac from Mystery to Me

“Ship Ahoy” by the O’Jays from Ship Ahoy

“Desperado” by the Eagles from Desperado

“All My Friends” by Gregg Allman from Laid Back

“Mrs. Vanderbilt” by Paul McCartney & Wings from Band On The Run

“Call Me (Come Back Home)” by Al Green from Call Me

“Cam Ye O’er Frae France” by Steeleye Span from Parcel of Rogues

“Sunset Woman” by B.W. Stevenson from My Maria

“Qualified” by Dr. John from In The Right Place

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

The Chi Coltrane track is the opener to the Wisconsin-born singer’s second album, which went nowhere on its release in 1973. The track, many will note, is a cover of the song originally recorded by Sweathog, which went to No. 33 on the Billboard chart in late 1971. (I just got the Coltrane album in the mail yesterday, and ripped this track as an appetizer, as I’ll be posting the entire album within a week or so.)*

“Ship Ahoy” is a remarkable track by the O’Jays. Here’s what the website Pop Matters had to say about it: “The song ‘Ship Ahoy’ examines what scholars and activist have referred to as the ‘middle passage’ – the literal voyage that enslaved Africans made across the Atlantic Ocean in slave ships destined for the Americas and the Caribbean. The song brilliantly personalizes the ‘voyage’ in ways that few black popular artifacts had previously done so – some three years before the publication of Alex Haley’s Roots. The fact that [producers Kenny] Gamble and [Leon] Huff were comfortable enough to use the tragedy of the middle passage and the subsequent enslavement of people of African descent in the West to frame a pop recording speaks to how seriously the duo viewed popular music as a vehicle to ‘teach and preach’ and a sense of the autonomy that they perceived as the heads” of Philadelphia International Records.

“Call Me (Come Back Home)” was the fifth of six straight Top Ten hits for Al Green (based on records entering the Top 40) and is an example of what Willie Mitchell accomplished during his years at Hi Records in Memphis. The sound is immediately identifiable but – to my ears – never seems repetitive, whether the singer is Al Green or any of the other singers who recorded at Hi but didn’t have anything near the success that Green had. The Hi sound is to me a good part of what the early 1970s sounded like; nevertheless, it still sounds fresh to me today.

Steeleye Span was one of the British groups that formed after the early success of Fairport Convention in recording traditional British folk and eventually presenting those early folk songs with modern instruments. Parcel of Rogues, which was Steeleye Span’s fifth album, marked the first time that the group used rock instrumentation prominently. All Music Guide notes: “[T]he ominous and dazzling ‘Cam Ye O’er Frae France’ would not have succeeded half as well without amplification, and every fan of the group should hear this track at least once.”

The lyric to B. W. Stevenson’s “Sunset Woman” are unsettling, at first dismissive and bitter and then – at least a little – gentle and hopeful. But the music – melody and arrangement both – is country-ish and better than pleasant and is indicative of Stevenson’s all too slender output. Better known for his single hit, 1973’s “My Maria” and for writing “Shambala,” which Three Dog Night took to No. 3 the same year, Stevenson released eight albums between 1970 and 1980. He died after heart surgery in 1988 at the age of 38.

*As it happens, Sweathog’s version of “Hallelujah” was not the original. The original version of the tune was done in 1969 by the Clique. Note added May 27, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen of Ghosts and Witches

May 18, 2011

Originally posted October 31, 2007

I can’t help but think about how Halloween used to be less complicated. Very few of us had fancy store-bought costumes during the years I went up and down the streets of our neighborhood in search of candy. We’d put on a mask and something that kind of made us look like a ghost or a skeleton or some comic book character. Or we’d make do with stuff we had at home, for the most part.

And we were unsupervised as we wandered through the neighborhood alone. South on Kilian Boulevard as far as the skating rink and back, and then north on Fifth Avenue as far as Lincoln School and back. Just hundreds of kids out in improvised costumes, wandering through the October evening. We’d gather under street lights to look into our bags and see what kind of candy bars were popular this year and then scurry through the mid-block shadows, going from house to house, skipping those few houses whose residents, we knew from experience, did not have treats to give.

Costumes are more elaborate now, and not nearly as inexpensive. Kids don’t wander alone these days, either. Parents hover at the edges of the groups, understandably. And the treats are examined closely at home, I would guess, before the feast can begin.

I imagine Halloween is still fun for the young folks, though, and that’s what matters. So here are some songs whose titles, at least, fit into the feel of the day.

“Ghost” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage, 1992

“Season of the Witch” by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger from Open, 1967

“Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot from Dream Street Rose, 1980

“Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, Asylum single 11008, 1972

“Ghostly Horses of the Plain” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Witch Doctor” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Ghost Riders In The Sky” by Johnny Cash from Silver, 1979

“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone, Epic single 10746, 1972

“Ghost of Hank Williams” by David Allan Coe from 1990 Songs For Sale, 1990

“She Rides With Witches” by Wizards From Kansas from Wizards From Kansas, 1970

“The Ghost” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Witches Promise” by Jethro Tull, Chrysalis single 6077 (UK), 1970

“Ghosts” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Season of the Witch” came from the pen of Scottish folk-rocker Donovan, of course, and was on his Sunshine Superman album. The version here was on Open, an odd album that featured Brian Auger and the Trinity’s instrumental visions on one side, and vocal efforts by Julie Driscoll backed by Brian and the boys on the other side. The vocal side seemed to work best, but the album, from what I gather, got less attention than expected. (I dithered between including this version of the song or the version released in 1969 by Lou Rawls. The idea of Rawls and the song sounds at first as if it would be the musical equivalent of a left shoe on a right foot, but Rawls was such a pro that he made the song work for him. Maybe I can post it another time.)

Spencer Bohren is likely the least known name on this list although to my mind he deserves a larger audience. He’s a Wyoming native who’s spent a lot of time living in New Orleans and some time living in Europe. His music – blues and folk – is well worth seeking out. The album “Witch Doctor” comes from – Full Moon – was released only in France, and seems, based on the lack of listings at the standard Internet sites, to be fairly rare.

David Allen Coe was a country music outlaw long before anyone else, living and performing outside the Nashville mainstream from the time he was released from prison in the late 1960s through today. He’s had only a few hits, but a good number of his songs have been successes for other singers in the 1970s. He continues to record outside the mainstream, as a look at his website seems to make clear.

The Wizards From Kansas’ self-titled debut album was recorded in San Francisco in 1970, and, not too surprisingly, sounds a lot like something the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service might have come up with. Amazon notes: “The Wizards From Kansas’ eponymous album finds this Midwestern group sounding more like a West Coast hybrid combining rambling, melancholy country-rock elements with harder psych-rock sounds.” It’s kind of fun, though.

Fleetwood Mac & ‘Seven Wonders’

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 25, 2007

When the title track to Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night came up on the random play yesterday, I mentioned that I would have preferred the tracks “Caroline” or “Seven Wonders.”

Well, with the world on video at YouTube, it’s no surprise that it took very little searching to find a live performance of “Seven Wonders” from, I think, a San Francsicso performance in 1987. By the time of the performance, it appears, Rick Vito and Billy Burnette had joined the band in Lindsey Buckingham’s place, setting in motion the changes that resulted in the less than remarkable album Behind The Mask in 1990. But the video clip shows a pretty good performance of a good song.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1987

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 24, 2007

In 1987, I began what I now call the nomadic phase of my life. During the nearly five-year period from May 1987 through March 1992, I moved eight times, wandering from Minnesota to North Dakota back to Minnesota to Kansas to Missouri and back to Minnesota.

It was, clearly, an unsettled time in my life. I taught at two universities, a college and a community college, lost one cat, wrote for four newspapers, wrote a novel and lots of lyrics, fell in love three times and watched it fade three times, bought more than six hundred records, made friends and lost friends, survived the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 (a total of twenty-eight inches of snow fell in the Twin Cities from October 31 through November 3), and wound up on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, where I lived for the next seven years, waiting (though I did not know it) for the Texas Gal’s path to intersect mine.

And, as always, I listened to a lot of music. Being on college campuses at various times during those years kept me more in touch with new music than I had been when I was working as a free-lance writer. That was especially true in Minot, where I advised the college newspaper for two academic years, from the autumn of 1987 through the spring of 1989. My office was adjacent to the paper’s newsroom/workroom and the sound of the radio in the next room was inescapable. Luckily, I liked most of what I heard.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1987

“There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret)” by Nanci Griffith from Lone Star State of Mind

“Hooked On Your Love” by Lynn White, Waylo single 3022

“Runaway Train” by Rosanne Cash from King’s Record Shop

“Someplace Else” by George Harrison from Cloud Nine

“Touch of Grey” by the Grateful Dead from In The Dark

“Paper In Fire” by John Mellencamp from The Lonesome Jubilee

“Yes” by Merry Clayton from the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing

“Tougher Than The Rest” by Bruce Springsteen from Tunnel of Love

“Tango In The Night” by Fleetwood Mac from Tango In The Night

“The Mystery” by Van Morrison from Poetic Champions Compose

“With You Or Without You” by U2 from The Joshua Tree

“Hazy Shade of Winter” by the Bangles, Def Jam single 07630

“Unchain My Heart” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart

A few notes on some of the songs:

Lynn White came from Alabama and had her first success in 1982 when Sho Me Records released her single “I Don’t Wanna Ever See Your Face Again.” Among those who heard it was Memphis producer Willie Mitchell, who released the single on his own label, Waylo, and brought White into his Memphis studio. Her records did well, and in 1987, “Hooked On Your Love” was released as the B-side to “He’ll Leave You For Her.” The single is a good indication of how Mitchell’s sound had evolved since the days of Al Green, Otis Clay and Ann Peebles. (Thanks to Red Kelly at The “B” Side for the tune and the information.)

Rosanne Cash’s “Runaway Train” is about as clear-headed an assessment of love flying off the rails on a curve as you can find in song. Written by John Stewart (of “Gold” and “Midnight Wind” from 1979) and produced by Rodney Crowell, Cash’s husband at the time, it’s a disquieting song. Dave Marsh, who ranked it at No. 590 in The Heart Of Rock & Soul, his listing of the 1001 greatest singles of all time, notes that the “husk of Rosanne’s singing and the thrash of those drums . . . evoke without flinching a million exhausted midnight fights between lovers too familiar with each other’s moves to be taken by surprise or learn anything new, too wrapped up in each other’s lives to know how to quit.”

It took the Grateful Dead more than twenty years to have a Top 40 single. The infectious “Touch of Grey” spent sixteen weeks on the Cash Box Top 100 chart in the autumn of 1987, peaking at No. 17.

Merry Clayton’s “Yes” was included on the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing when it was released in the fall of 1987. The song was released as a single in 1988 and spent twelve weeks on the Cash Box chart but didn’t quite make the Top 40, peaking at No. 42.

Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night is a sweet album and remains one of my favorites by the group. It was Lindsey Buckingham’s last work with the band until Say You Will in 2003, and he took his leave with an album that grows on me more and more every time I hear it. The title tune, which came up during a random play for this list, is all right, but I would have preferred “Caroline” or “Seven Wonders.”

“Unchain My Heart” is the opener and the title track to Joe Cocker’s lively and accomplished album of late 1987. I’m not sure how many times Cocker had mounted a comeback by 1987, but the album was one of his better comeback efforts and this track is one of the best on the record. That’s Clarence Clemons taking the saxophone solo.

As always, bit rates may vary.

Thanks 100,000 times!
Back in late 1989, I had a Toyota station wagon that was approaching the 100,000-mile mark. As I drove home one November evening, I could tell that the car would be at 99,999.8 miles when I put it in the garage for the evening. So I drove an extra time around my block, watching the odometer move to 100,000 and beyond. It’s one of those things you don’t often see (although as automobiles last longer these days, I imagine it’s more common).

I felt a little bit then like I did yesterday afternoon when I refreshed the page here at Echoes In The Wind and saw that the number of visitors had changed from 99,999 to 100,000. Someone in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, was the 100,000th visitor here since February 1. It’s a number that boggles my mind, and I just want to thank that Dutch visitor, and everyone else who stops by, for visiting my little corner of the ’Net.