Posts Tagged ‘Four Seasons’

Found In The Unplayed Stacks

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 9, 2009

At a guess, I’ve listened to eight-five to ninety percent of the LPs that reside in my study. Those I’ve not yet put on the turntable fall into two categories: Records that were my dad’s – mostly classical with an added mélange of show tunes, Swedish folk music and a few odd things – and records that I bought mostly at garage sales that got put into a pile and never got taken out.

Those garage sale records sit in bins atop the main stacks here, and I rarely find a reason to go digging to see what’s there. So let’s take a look:

In the first bin, I see, among others, Chilliwack, Bob James, Steve Forbert, Carly Simon, the Electric Light Orchestra, Asia, Devo, W.C. Fields, Weird Al Yankovic, Amy Grant and the soundtrack to the 1962 film Cleopatra (starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison). The second bin brings us a selection that includes Prince, Rosemary Clooney, Ray Anthony, Archie Bell & the Drells, Tina Turner, Patsy Cline, Richard Harris, Madonna and the Looking Glass. And in the third bin, our trove includes Whitney Houston, the Willmar Boys Chorus, Head East, Artur Rubenstein, Culture Club, Al Martino, Chester Thompson (and the Pop Sound of the Great Organ, says the jacket), Sandler & Young and the soundtrack to the 1962 film How The West Was Won.

Despite temptations, I selected none of those records for this morning’s frolic. I chose instead six other albums for today’s music. None of them, alas, were quite as odd as the Willmar Boys Chorus. Willmar – pronounced WILL-mer – is a city of 18,000 or so that lies about sixty miles southwest of St. Cloud; I got the two-record set of that city’s boys chorus at a garage sale here in St. Cloud about five years ago. (Chester Thompson’s album came in the same haul.) The Willmar record could have popped up; I simply went to the stacks and pulled six records out at random.

Having pulled the LPs, I let the records make my selection for me: Using a method I got from Casey at The College Crowd Digs Me, I ripped the fourth track of each record. So what did we get this morning?

A Six-Pack From The Unplayed Stacks
“You Never Miss A Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye)” by Crystal Gayle from Crystal [1976]
“Marcie” by the Four Seasons from Rag Doll [1964]
“Love & Emotion” by Gino Vannelli from Brother To Brother [1978]
“My Heart Echoes” by Kitty Wells from Heartbreak U.S.A. [1962]
“Headlines” by Melissa Manchester from Help Is On The Way [1976]
“Killer Queen” by Queen, Elektra 45223 [1975]

This is not entirely awful. It doesn’t thrill me, but neither did I wince. Probably the best thing here is “Killer Queen.” As it came from Queen’s Greatest Hits album, I went ahead and tagged it with its catalog number as a single. The record went to No. 12 in the spring of 1975, the first of fourteen hits for the group. (“Bohemian Rhapsody” counts as two hits, as it went to No. 9 in 1976 and then – after its inclusion in the movie Wayne’s World – to No. 2 in 1992.)

Other than “Killer Queen,” nothing here really stands out. Maybe the Crystal Gayle tune, which might have been a single. It’s pretty decent late-Seventies country. The Kitty Wells’ tune, on the other hand, is a good example of the blanding of country that took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the mass chorus and the less-than-downhome piano licks. (Though I do not have session information for the Kitty Wells album, I’d bet that the piano was manned by Floyd Cramer.)

The Gino Vanelli track is all right, inoffensive but bland, and the Four Seasons’ “Marcie” is a typical Bob Crewe Half-Wall of Sound production, and it’s okay for an album track. Then there’s “Headlines.” I never was a huge Melissa Manchester fan, although I did like her first hit, 1975’s “Midnight Blue.” But “Headlines” – which Manchester wrote – is a very strange song. A few more listens, and it might fall for me into the category of odd songs by so-so performers that I like nevertheless.

As I was ripping these albums and writing this post, I was under great temptation. So I yielded. Here’s a bonus:

“Ebb Tide” by Chester Thompson from The Pop Sound of the Great Organ. [Prob. 1964]

There are some clicks in this rip, but I decided it was odd enough of a track to put up with them. The record, says the notes on the jacket, was the first ever recorded on the giant Wurlitzer organ in Plaza Studios above New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. There’s no issue date on the record, but a reference to “Java” and “More” as “instrumentals of the past year” puts the record almost certainly in 1964.

I departed from vinyl and from the Track Four method for today’s second bonus. I pulled Alfred Newman’s soundtrack for How The West Was Won from the bins and slipped it on the turntable just to get an idea what kind of shape it’s in. And there was just too much noise to work with the record. But the film’s overture blew me away.

An overture, you ask? Yes, films that wanted to be taken seriously offered overtures before the show started, just as Broadway musicals did (and perhaps still do?). Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia are two other films I recall that had overtures. (Anybody recall any others?)

So what grabbed me about this overture? It’s just odd and amazing in its choral approach: At first it sounds almost like a Soviet choral piece celebrating the glory of labor, and then it becomes more American, if still a little odd. It’s a track very much of its time, and though I remember it only vaguely, I wanted to share it. So I went and found a digital copy. Thus, here’s the overture to How The West Was Won, featuring the MGM Studio Orchestra along with the Ken Darby Singers and Dave Guard & The Whiskeyhill Singers.

“Overture: I’m Bound For The Promised Land/Shenandoah/Endless Prairie/Ox Driver” from the soundtrack to How The West Was Won [1962]

A Dose Of Voodoo From 1962

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 15, 2008

Some of the folks from Bookcrossing, our book club, stopped by last evening for a soup dinner. The five of us filled ourselves on a Mexican rice and beef soup and a cabbage/potato/sausage soup – both creations by the Texas Gal – as well as an assortment of chips, dips and so on. And we talked for a couple hours about books and other stuff.

As happens when we all get together at someone’s home, our visitors scanned our bookshelves. It’s a cliché – one based in some truth, I suppose – that one can get to know a person by a close examination of his or her books. Given the mélange of titles on our shelves, I would guess that the only things that can be deduced about the Texas Gal and me is that we’re interested in a wide range of topics, both fiction and nonfiction, and that we dearly love books. (Both true, of course.)

But as our friends scanned our shelves, I noticed a title that I thought might be of some interest, so I pulled from the shelves and handed to them Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians, a 1961 volume by Mary Nash, reprinted in 1962 by the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club.

How many folks out there remember the Weekly Reader? I was surprised this morning to learn that it still exists. According to Wikipedia, the Reader was acquired in 2007 by The Reader’s Digest Association and continues publication. Wikipedia notes that the first edition of the Weekly Reader, for fourth-graders, came out in 1928, and by 1959, there were editions for kindergarten through grade six.

Wikipedia describes it thus: “The editions cover curriculum themes in the younger grades and news-based, current events and curriculum themed-issues in the older grades.” I recall seeing the Reader regularly during my days at Lincoln Elementary. I enjoyed it, I think, but then, I’ve always enjoyed reading almost anything.

And that includes the books I got through the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. I probably still have ten I got through the club, some of which I remember quite well. One of those is Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians. The Mrs. Coverlet of the title is the housekeeper for the three young Malcolm children, and the reader learns that in an earlier title, while their father – evidently widowed – was out of the country on business, Mrs. Coverlet was also called away. Instead of staying with a neighbor as instructed, the children stayed in their own home, with some mild adventure ensuing.

In Magicians, the sequel, the Malcolms’ father is still away, and, after young Molly Malcolm secretly enters Mrs. Coverlet in a recipe contest, the housekeeper is offered a chance to compete in the contest finals in New York City. Determined that her charges be better supervised during her absence, Mrs. Coverlet arranges for spinster Eva Penalty to move into the Malcolm home.

All three children are stifled by the dour Miss Penalty, none more than the youngest, six-year-old Toad. Some time earlier, having found a comic book of horror stories, Toad had clipped a coupon and sent off for a book of magic spells. With Miss Penalty running the house rigidly, Toad devises what is basically a voodoo doll and confines Miss Penalty to her bed for the remainder of Mrs. Coverlet’s absence. Mishaps ensue, but things turn out well, of course. Scanning the book this morning, I remember enjoying the story. When I pulled the book off the shelf to show it to our friends last evening, however, one thing popped into my head:

How would parents react these days to a novel for children based on the ideas of magic spells and voodoo dolls? I would guess that there would be an effort to ban Weekly Reader and its book club from the classroom.

As far as I recall, no one blinked back in 1962.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1962, Vol. 2
“Up On The Roof” by the Drifters, Atlantic 2162 (No. 120, “bubbling under” the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 13, 1962)

“409” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 4777 (No. 76)

“Leah” by Roy Orbison, Monument 467 (No. 74)

“Stormy Monday Blues” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke 355 (No. 54)

“Beechwood 4-5789” by the Marvelettes, Tamla 54065 (No. 32)

“Popeye the Hitchhiker” by Chubby Checker, Parkway 849 (No. 24)

“I Left My Heart In San Francisco” by Tony Bennett, Columbia 42332 (No. 23)

“It Might As Well Rain Until September” by Carole King, Dimension 2000 (No. 22)

“Only Love Can Break A Heart” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1022 (No. 13)

“If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)” by Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros. 5296 (No. 10)

“Green Onions” by Booker T and the MG’s, Stax 127 (No. 6)

“Ramblin’ Rose” by Nat King Cole, Capitol 4804 (No. 3)

“Sherry” by the Four Seasons, Vee-Jay 456 (No.1)

A few notes:

“Up On The Roof” was the third Top Ten hit for the Drifters (“There Goes My Baby” in 1959 and “Save The Last Dance For Me” in 1960 were the first two), but the first since Ben E. King left the group and was replaced by Rudy Lewis. “Up On The Roof” eventually went to No. 5.

Roy Orbison’s “Leah” is an odd record. With its other-worldly sound, I’m surprised it got into the charts at all. It’s simply spooky, and the fact that it went to No. 35 still startles me. I mean, I like it, but I wouldn’t have thought the record marketable.

While Bobby “Blue” Bland never had a major hit, “Stormy Monday Blues” was released in the middle of a period when his records were at least reaching the Top 40. “Turn On Your Love Light” had gone to No. 28 in January of 1962, and the double-sided single, “Call On Me/That’s The Way Love Is” would reach Nos. 22 and 33, respectively, in early 1963. “Stormy Monday Blues,” while a good record, wasn’t quite as good as those. “That’s The Way Love Is” is a great record, and I think it’s nearly forgotten. (“Stormy Monday Blues” is tagged as a 1961 record because that was the session date, but it was in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962.)

Chubby Checker’s “Popeye the Hitchhiker” was another attempt to launch a dance craze, with the dance in question, I believe, based on extending one’s thumb and cocking one’s arm, as if hitching a ride. (Sadly, there seem to be no examples of the dance on YouTube.) “Popeye,” which went to No. 10, was the B-side to “Limbo Rock,” which I shared here in August.

“It Might As Well Rain Until September” was a pretty slight record, but it fit right in during 1962 and got as high as No. 22 on the charts. The artist, Carole King, showed up on the charts nine years later, of course, with “It’s Too Late” and was a presence on the charts into the 1980s.

I’ve always loved “Ramblin’ Rose” for some reason. It’s a pretty song, and of course, Nat King Cole had a great voice. This certainly wasn’t his best performance – that would have come on one or more of his jazz/R&B sides, but something about the song grabbed the nine-year-old whiteray in a way that none of the other records in this Baker’s Dozen ever has.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 2

May 11, 2011

Originally posted October 3, 2007

Ever try to move a house?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe, I said.

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

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975

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

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

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

“Wheels” by Emmylou Harris from Elite Hotel

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

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

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

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

“Monday Morning” by Fleetwood Mac from Fleetwood Mac

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

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

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

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

A few notes on some of the songs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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