Posts Tagged ‘Guess Who’

Idle Hands & A Green Mini-bat

May 17, 2022

Originally posted August 28, 2009

As I’ve noted before, we have numerous oak trees on our lot. Which means, come this time of the summer, we have acorns. Lots of acorns. Almost every time the Texas Gal and I are outside for more than a moment – tending the garden, lugging in groceries or even sitting in the lawn chairs – we’re likely these days to be clonked on the head by a falling acorn. The lawn is covered with the nuts. If we’d intended to raise acorns, we’d have a bumper crop.

We had four oak trees in the backyard at Kilian Boulevard when I was a kid, and acorns were frequently thick on the lawn there. They’d start falling in mid-August, and we’d wait until late September before we spent a Saturday raking and bagging them. So they were thick on the ground during one August that I recall.

Sometime earlier that month – I think it was 1970, when I was sixteen – Dad had seen a green stick at the base of the driveway one evening. After parking, he investigated and found one of those foot-long baseball bats given away as souvenirs: A miniature Louisville Slugger. For some reason, it was green.

He figured a kid lost it somehow, perhaps having it fall out of a bicycle basket.  But which kid? No way to know. So he dropped it on the small table in our back porch and thought no more of it.

During one of the next few early evenings, I found myself with an empty hour or two. I sat on the lawn near one of the oaks, watching whatever traffic there was on Eighth Street or Kilian. Bored, I picked up a stick that had fallen from one of the oaks and swung it like a bat. Then I picked up an acorn, tossed it into the air and flailed at it with the stick. The acorn flew into the street. I thought for a moment, then went inside and grabbed the green Louisville Slugger. Back at my place on the lawn, I began flipping acorns in the air and whacking them with the bat.

As with anything, practice improved my performance: I fouled off a few, hit some grounders and easy pop-ups, and then began reaching the street regularly. Then, using an uppercut, I began to launch acorns across the street and into the yard of August and Rose, an older couple. (It was Rose who had started me collecting coins a few years earlier.) I sat there for an hour or so, happily whacking acorns, and did the same during a couple of other slow evenings during the rest of that summer. It filled some time, and it also got some acorns off the lawn, meaning there would be – by a small degree, to be sure – fewer acorns to rake when the time for that chore arrived.

September came, and school started. We spent a couple of Saturdays raking and bagging acorns and leaves. Sometime during that winter, the green minibat was tossed into a box in the closet and forgotten.

One afternoon during the following spring, August was out watering his garden when Dad drove up and parked. Dad walked across the street and spent a few minutes chatting with August, as neighbors do. Sometime during dinner, Dad mentioned August and his garden and lawn. It was all good, Dad said, “but he said, ‘You know, I don’t have any oak trees in my yard, and I can’t figure out how come I have so many oak seedlings over by the street.’” Looking at me, my dad added, “I just told him that seeds can travel in a lot of different ways.”

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, Aug. 29, 1970)
“Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0367 [No. 19]
“Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” by the Temptations, Gordy 7099 [No. 30]
“The Sly, Slick, and the Wicked” by the Lost Generation, Brunswick 55436 [No. 37]
“Long Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt, Capitol 4826 (The mp3 is from the CD rerelease of Silk Purse.) [No. 61]
“Funk #49” by the James Gang, ABC11272 [No. 79]
“As the Years Go By” by Mashmakan, Epic10634 [No. 97]

“Hand Me Down World” was the Guess Who’s first chart hit after Randy Bachman left the group, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, and to my ears, Bachman’s departure marked the end of the classic Guess Who era. From April of 1969 through April 1970, the group had five records in the Top 40, with four of those reaching the Top Ten and one spending three weeks at No. 1. Those five were “These Eyes,” “Laughing,” “Undun,” “No Time” and “American Woman/No Sugar Tonight.” (“American Woman” is listed as having reached No. 1, while “No Sugar Tonight” is not given an individual rank. It is, however, listed as having been in the Top 40 for thirteen weeks. Confusing.) Then Bachman left and – although the band had seven more Top 40 hits, with “Share the Land” and “Clap for the Wolfman” reaching the Top Ten – the stew just wasn’t as tasty. Still, “Hand Me Down World” is a pretty good single if not up to the quality of the string that came during that one year. It peaked at No. 17, but given the richness of the band’s catalog, it seems to be a bit forgotten by the programmers of the oldies stations.

About “Ball of Confusion,” All-Music Guide says: “Another excellent track in a brilliant run of Norman Whitfield-produced and -written, Sly Stone-inspired Temptations records from the late ’60s/early ’70s, ‘Ball of Confusion’ was one of the only Motown ‘protest’ records. The beguiling lyrics illustrate a tense America at the dawn of the 1970s, and include attacks on the Vietnam War, a corrupt government, drug addiction, and spirituality. It hit the nail on the head, much like P.F. Sloan’s excellent ‘Eve of Destruction’ in 1965. Musically, it’s an excellent funk record of the period, with some fabulous bass playing and a blaring horn arrangement. Of course, the Temptations’ gospel-inspired vocal trade-offs make the overall record even more powerful, and it has dated extremely well.” The record spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 3.

I don’t recall hearing the Lost Generation’s “The Sly, Slick And The Wicked” during the summer of 1970, but it might have been one of those records that did very well in other places – I would guess that Chicago, the Lost Generation’s hometown, would have been one of those – and not so well in the Minnesota market. Or maybe I just missed it. The record sounds very much like the Chi-Lites (with the exception of a few production tricks, like the echo), and that’s not at all surprising, considering that both groups recorded for Brunswick. “The Sly, Slick And The Wicked” was the Lost Generation’s only appearance in the Top 40. The record peaked at No. 30.

The first three chords of “Long Long Time” still, after thirty-nine years, make me draw a sharp breath of hurt. They always have, since long before I knew the sad tale told by the song’s words. Once I knew the words, I suppose I might have assigned their meaning to a young woman of my acquaintance. Whoever she was, she’s long gone from my life, but the emotional wallop of the song – especially those first three chords – has stayed with me. Meaning that Ronstadt’s performance of Gary White’s song is about as good as it gets. The record spent seven weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 25.

I have a suspicion that the James Gang’s “Funk #49” found airplay in 1970 based on some other chart than the Hot 100, because it remains one of the most identifiable tunes of that time with some unforgettable riffs. The single spent ten weeks in the Hot 100, peaking at No. 59.

I know very little about Mashmakan, a group from Quebec, Canada, except for this record. Even that knowledge is lately found: When I saw the group’s name in a Hot 100 chart a while back, I noted my lack of knowledge about the record and the group, and one of my blogging friends sent me the mp3. It’s an odd, clunky record with an over-earnest lyric, and I am pretty sure I never heard it back when it was on the charts. It was in the Top 40 for four weeks and peaked at No. 31.

Afternote:
Despite my efforts, these may not be the versions of these records that went out on 45s. Take “Long Long Time” as an example. I don’t have the 45, but I’ve seen a fuzzy picture of the label and know that the record lasted just less than three minutes. The version on the album Silk Purse, as listed at AMG, runs 4:18. The version on the Silk Purse portion of the two-CD set The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years, runs 4:22, and my only vinyl version, from Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits [1976], runs 4:21. That’s also the length – 4:21 – of the track as included on Different Drum, a 1974 anthology of previously released work. I know that the version of “Long Long Time” here is from the Capitol Years CD, and not knowing what else to do, I’ve tagged it as coming from Silk Purse, as it’s included in the version of Silk Purse in that two-CD package.

Saturday Single No. 696

July 11, 2020

Okay, so how many tracks among the 80,000 on the digital shelves were recorded on July 11?

This, of course, is the kind of thing I resort to on days when my stock of ideas to write about is running low. Sometimes it results in something that limps, sometimes it works. (And it’s worth remembering that I have recording dates for maybe ten percent of the mp3s in my collection.)

Anyway, the answer is ten, and those tracks are:

“Put It There (Shag Nasty)” by McKinney’s Cottonpickers, 1928
“Pete Brown’s Boogie” by the Pete Brown Quintet, 1944
“Fat Stuff Boogie” by the Beale Street Gang, 1948
“Me & My Chauffeur Blues” by Memphis Minnie, 1952
“You Win Again” by Hank Williams, 1952
“I Forgot To Remember To Forget” by Elvis Presley, 1955
“Mystery Train” by Elvis Presley, 1955
“Trying To Get To You” by Elvis Presley, 1955
“(You’re A) Bad Girl” by Paul Revere & The Raiders, 1966
“Samantha’s Living Room” by the Guess Who, 1972

Four of those – the first two by Presley and the singles by Memphis Minnie and Hank Williams – are pretty well known. The others? Well, the Cottonpickers’ record is 1920s jazz on the Victor label, and the two from the 1940s are – as their titles indicate – piano-led boogies (with lots of horns) on Savoy. “Trying To Get To You” showed up on Presley’s 1956 self-titled album. “(You’re A) Bad Girl” came out of the sessions for The Spirit Of ’67 but was unreleased until the CD era. And the Guess Who track was on the 1973 album Artificial Paradise.

And of those, the one that catches my ears this morning is “Samantha’s Living Room.” An odd, atmospheric track, it showed up here on a two-CD anthology of the Guess Who’s work, and its lyrics intrigue me:

The family’s in the front room cheering
Old Dad’s in the corner snoring
Mother’s helping baby walk
And Auntie Jean is yawning
In Samantha’s living room

Granddad’s at the punchbowl drinking cordial
While Grandma sees the children play
Blindman’s bluff and chess, and the music plays
All in all it’s time for fun
In Samantha’s living room
In Samantha’s living room, in the year 1921

In Samantha’s living room
In Samantha’s living room
In Samantha’s living room, in the year 1981

So, because it intrigues me, and because I have the sense that I’ve not often mentioned the group here, “Samantha’s Living Room” by the Guess Who is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 499

June 4, 2016

So, as high school ended in early June 1971 and the summer stretched ahead, offering what turned out to be hours riding lawnmowers and wielding mops, what was I listening to?

Well, the first survey of June 1971 offered by the Twin Cities’ KDWB had this Top Ten:

“Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
“Rainy Days & Mondays” by the Carpenters
“Want Ads” by Honey Cone
“Sweet & Innocent” by Donny Osmond
“Indian Reservation” by the Raiders
“It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr
“Albert Flasher” by the Guess Who
“It’s Too Late” by Carole King
“Chick-A-Boom” by Daddy Dewdrop

The only one of those I do not recall is the Donny Osmond record. I listened to it the other day, and I don’t think I need to hear it again. Seven of the rest are on my iPod this morning; the two absentees are “Indian Reservation” and “Chick-A-Boom.”

By the time the summer drew to a close – and it was the longest summer break of my school days, as St. Cloud State did not begin its fall quarter until sometime around September 20 – here was KDWB’s Top Ten:

“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” by Paul & Linda McCartney
“Wedding Song” by Paul Stookey
“Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
“Go Away Little Girl” by Donny Osmond
“I Woke Up In Love This Morning” by the Partridge Family
“Stick Up” by Honey Cone
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by Joan Baez
“Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” by Mac & Katie Kissoon
“Do You Know What I Mean” by Lee Michaels
“Superstar” by the Carpenters

Wow. Only three of those are among the more than 3,000 tracks on the iPod: The Bill Withers, the Lee Michaels and the Carpenters. Was it just an odd stretch on KDWB, or was it my changing tastes? Probably a little of both,

I got some records for graduation and added a few that summer. We may take a look at those acquisitions sometime soon, but for now, we’ll find a single among the twenty records that at least in a radio sense framed that long summer of 1971. And out of the ten of those twenty I still listen to today, one has never even been mentioned in more than nine years of filling up white space here.

That makes “Albert Flasher” by the Guess Who today’s Saturday Single.

The Seeds Of A Brand Loyalty

March 25, 2012

Originally posted April 1, 2009

On April 1, 1974, thirty-five years ago today, I was playing hooky in a big way. In fact, I was starting my second week of hooky from St. Cloud State’s classes in Fredericia, Denmark. Spring quarter had started Monday, March 25. Sunrise that day had found me in a youth hostel in Zermatt, Switzerland, looking out of the window at the Matterhorn. I knew it was the first day of class, but I also knew I had yet to travel through Switzerland and Austria to Vienna and I had yet to see Munich in what was then West Germany.

It wasn’t a tough choice. So a week later, on April 1, I was in Munich, standing in a square to watch the town hall tower’s ancient glockenspiel chime the hour. As I stood and waited for the top of the hour – ten o’clock, I believe – I saw one of my fellow St. Cloud State students, DJ, whom I’d not seen for nearly four weeks, since a raucous few days in Paris. He grinned and we caught up with each other as we waited. At ten o’clock, the bells in the tower chimed, and colorful carved figures danced and jousted.

The crowd thinned, and I turned to DJ. “So what are you gonna do now?” I asked.

“I’m heading to the Hofbräuhaus for lunch,” he said, “and then I’m heading back to Fredericia, but I’m going to visit a shoe factory along the way.”

A shoe factory?

He grinned and said he was heading for the world headquarters of adidas, the company whose shoes bore a distinctive three stripes.

I knew the shoes. I’d wanted a pair for years and, finally, for Christmas 1971, my folks gave me a pair: blue with the three stripes in white. I loved those shoes, and I wore them out. Then I bought another pair to bring with me to Denmark. I don’t think I was wearing them the day I ran into DJ, as I’d left Fredericia for spring break in early March, and it was still a bit chilly to wear the adidas shoes every day.

We went to the Hofbräuhaus, where we ate some baked liver loaf and each had a couple of beers. After we ate, we found an unattended door on the building’s lower level, and we each sneaked out with one of the Hofbräuhaus’ distinctive gray mugs, repeating an act of larceny committed by thousands of others over the years. From there, we went to the train station and headed to Nuremberg.

As we rode, DJ explained. The adidas company had its headquarters in a small town called Herzogenaurach. We’d have to take a train from Nuremberg to a city called Fürth, and there, we’d have to catch a train to a station called Erlangen-Bruck, near the smaller city of Erlangen. There, finally, we would catch a train that brought us to Herzogenaurach. Our goal, DJ said, was to get a tour of the factory and the company’s shoe museum.

As DJ had planned, our fourth train of the afternoon brought us into Herzogenaurach, but it was mid-afternoon by that time. “We might be too late,” he said, as we hurried down the street. I saw a sign in the street, like a traffic sign. One portion of the sign pointed to the right, and showed “adidas” and the familiar trefoil logo. The other portion pointed left, and read “PUMA” with the also familiar leaping cat. As we headed to the right, I asked DJ, “Puma and adidas?”

He nodded as we hurried, and between breaths, he told me that the companies had been started by feuding brothers, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, in the years after World War II. Adolf had used his nickname, Adi, and the first three letters of his last name to brand his shoes: adidas. Rudolf had chosen Puma as his brand name, and the headquarters for both brands were located in Herzogenaurach, a city that in 1974 had a population of around 15,000, maybe a little less.

We made our way through town to a group of buildings at the edge of town, with the most modern of them marked “adidas.” We went to that one, and at the door, DJ explained our mission. Eventually, the doorkeeper went away and brought back a man who was maybe in his forties, wearing a conservative coat and tie. He looked at the two of us, with our longish, untrimmed hair, and told us he was sorry, the factory was closed and it was too late to get a tour. He gave each of us his card and said that if we could come back early in the morning on a Thursday or a Friday . . .

Disappointed, DJ and I walked back into the center of the small town and went to the adidas factory outlet. He bought shoes and an athletic bag; I bought a t-shirt. And we headed back, via Erlangen-Bruck and Fürth, to Nuremberg, where we caught a train that would take us to Hamburg in northern West Germany. From there, it was only a few hours to Fredericia. We got home about mid-day on April 2, a week and a day late for class.

(We weren’t the only ones to be late for spring classes, nor were we the last ones back from spring break: Many of us had missed at least some class time that spring quarter, and a few others straggled in after DJ and I got back to Fredericia. I’ve mentioned before, I think, that our time in Denmark was St. Cloud State’s first attempt at a foreign study program, and although the administration had anticipated some absenteeism, our behavior at the beginning of the spring quarter was more widespread and blatant than expected. From then on, in all of St. Cloud State’s foreign study programs, an extended absence required a good reason. Those students without good reasons, I think, were sent back to the States. And I’m pretty sure that, “But I hadn’t been to Vienna yet!” wouldn’t have been a good enough reason.)

A couple of days later, I got a letter from a gal I’d met in Vienna who was studying in Poitiers, France, inviting me to visit for Easter, if my rail pass was still good. It was, and train schedules were good enough to allow me to get there, spend two days, and get back to Fredericia without missing any school.

In fact, I thought, as I looked at maps and train schedules, I could leave Wednesday afternoon and head south to Munich – where there was a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci that I’d not seen while I was there – and then take a Thursday night train to Paris. I could still get into Poitiers on Friday, which is what my lady friend had suggested. I looked at my adidas shirt drying on the radiator and thought a little more.

And at 7:30 in the morning on April 11, a Thursday, I presented myself at the main building of the adidas shoe company. I gave the doorman the business card I’d gotten during my previous visit, and waited. The conservatively dressed fellow came to the door and did a double-take when he saw me. I reminded him that he’d essentially promised a tour if we came back early on a Thursday or a Friday. He nodded, smiling tightly, and escorted me into the building. He handed me off to a junior somebody, who took me around the factory and then through a small museum, where I saw – among other things – adidas shoes that had been used by Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali. I left the factory after about an hour, impressed with what I’d seen and carrying a bag of key chains and other trinkets, all marked “adidas.”

And this may be silly, but since that day, I’ve never worn a shirt or jacket or anything that displays the brand name of another shoe company. No Nike shirts or caps, no Puma, no New Balance, no Air Jordan. I’ve not always had sports shoes, but when I have, they’ve been adidas. I have several shirts with the adidas logo and none displaying any other shoe brand’s logo. I have a small collection of baseball caps, most of them displaying the logos of various athletic teams . . . and three with the adidas logo.

As I said, that brand loyalty might be kind of silly. I’m not an athlete, never really have been. But that loyalty satisfies something in me, and that’s all that matters.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 30, 1974)
“Dancing Machine” by the Jackson 5, Motown 1286 (No. 40)
“On A Night Like This” by Bob Dylan, Asylum 11033 (No. 51)
“Star Baby” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0217 (No. 54)
“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 46007 (No. 64)
“Watching The River Run” by Loggins & Messina, Columbia 46010 (No. 73)
“La Grange” by ZZ Top, London 203 (No. 97)

I don’t recall hearing any of these at the time. Readers might recall my mentioning the tape machine in the lounge of the youth hostel where I was living during the early months of 1974: We listened mostly to the Allman Brothers, the first Duane Allman anthology and Pink Floyd, with Graham Nash, the occasional slice of Bread and a few others being dropped in for variety. Radios were scarce at the hostel, and Top 40 was hard to come by.

Though I’m sure I’ve heard “Dancing Machine” before I ripped it from one of the Texas Gal’s CDs this week, I couldn’t tell you when. My tolerance for the Jackson 5 has been limited for years to “ABC,” “I Want You Back” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.” I don’t think “Dancing Machine” is quite up to the level of those, but it’s a pretty good, propulsive track, better than I thought it would be when I first chose it for this selection. The record went to No. 2 on the pop chart and spent a week at No. 1 on the R&B chart, the last Jackson 5 record to climb so high on either chart.

When listeners dropped “On A Night Like This” on the turntable, they were hearing something that hadn’t been available on record before except on bootlegs: Bob Dylan in the recording studio with The Band. The single was the first track from Planet Waves, which surprisingly – given their long association – was the first album that found all five members of The Band in the studio with Dylan. (The facsinating Basement Tapes, showing what Dylan and the five members of The Band had been up to during Dylan’s recovery from a motorcycle accident, would come out in 1975.) A rollicking and grinning piece of Americana (long before, as I said the other day, that term was applied to popular music), the single nevertheless failed to reach the Top 40; by the end of March, it had been in the Hot 100 for six weeks and had peaked at No. 44. By April 6, the record had fallen out of the Hot 100.

For about two-and-a-half years, between early 1969 and the late summer of 1971, the Guess Who – a group out of Manitoba, Canada – had been a reliable hit-making machine, putting eleven singles into the Top 40, with five of them reaching the Top Ten. (The most successful of them, “American Woman,” spent three weeks at No. 1 in the spring of 1970.) In the spring of 1974, the Guess Who broke a three-year absence in the Top 40, as “Star Baby” – a catchy piece of radio pop – slid into the pop chart. As March ended, the record was on its way up, moving to No. 54 from No. 63. Three weeks later, “Star Baby” poked its head into the Top 40, sitting at No. 39 for two weeks before tumbling back down the chart. The Guess Who had two more hits in 1974 – “Clap For The Wolfman” went to No. 6 and “Dancin’ Fool” went to No. 28 – and then disappeared from the Top 40 for good.

From 1974 into the early 1980s, Chicago-based Earth, Wind & Fire released a series of catchy singles that laced R&B with funk and the occasional tender ballad. That brought the group – formed and led by drummer Maurice White – sixteen Top 40 hits, seven of which reached the Top Ten. One of those, “Shining Star” spent a week at No. 1 on the pop charts; seven of the group’s hits were No. 1 on the R&B chart. That string began with “Mighty Mighty” in 1974. During the week in question, “Mighty Mighty” was at No. 64 and was heading up the chart towards its peak of No. 29. All together, the song – a potent slice of radio R&B – spent fifteen weeks in the Hot 100.

It’s interesting that Loggins & Messina included “Watching The River Run” on their 1976 anthology, The Best of Friends, as the song got no further up the Hot 100 than No. 71 in a six-week run. But then, Loggins & Messina only had three Top 40 hits, which would make for a pretty skimpy anthology. And “Watching The River Run” is a good choice, maybe the quintessential Loggins & Messina track: melodic and mellow with a lyric that tells us that we’re all part of something sweet and good, something that will go one when we no longer do.

The growling, nearly incomprehensible lyrics of ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” combined with the record’s Texas-style boogie, nearly got ZZ Top into the Top 40. “La Grange” crawled slowly up the chart after its March 30 debut, eventually reaching No. 41 in the last week of June 1974 and the falling out of the Hot 100 a month later after a nineteen-week run. Starting with “Tush” in the summer of 1975, ZZ Top would eventually have eight Top 40 hits, with two of them – “Legs” and “Sleeping Bag” – reaching the Top Ten in the mid-1980s. But as good as any of those were, I don’t think they match “La Grange.’ A-how-how-how-how!

Note: For those interested in the history of adidas and Puma shoes and the feud between the Dassler brothers that led to the forming of two competing companies in one small German town, look into Sneaker Wars by Barbara Smit. Even if you don’t wear sports apparel of any kind, it’s a fascinating look at influence the two companies had in starting the amazingly huge business of marketing sports gear and apparel.

On Time Spent Scanning The Skies

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 10, 2008

I glanced out the kitchen window last evening right around sunset and saw what must have been Jupiter in the southern sky. It might have been Venus, I suppose, but I think it was too far from the horizon and the sunset for that. I didn’t think much about it, just noticed the intense point of white light in the sky and wondered for a moment: Jupiter or Venus? And then I poured myself another cup of coffee and went back to the study.

But it got me thinking about the night sky in winter. If I’d poked my head out into the chill last evening, I would have had a good view of Orion, the huge – and most easily identifiable – constellation that dominates our sky in winter evenings. And I thought of the winter of the telescope and of star names and of fledgling astronomy.

I got the telescope for Christmas in 1970, my senior year of high school. It was a Tasco, and I used it many evenings that winter, lugging it out into the cold back yard, scanning the craters and plains of the moon and straining to see detail in the fuzzy and distant nebula just below Orion’s belt. I focused on Jupiter and saw as well the large planet’s four largest moons, the moons first seen by Galileo in 1609: Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa. (How amazing it is that those names remain in my memory!)

And I learned the stars, through my telescope, my own reading, and through an astronomy course offered at St. Cloud Tech during the second semester of that school year. Along the way, I became fascinated by the names of stars and by being able to tie those names to what I saw: Betelgeuse, with its dull red glow at the upper left corner of Orion, and diagonally across, in the lower right, Rigel with its sapphire gleam. Vega, glowing like an emerald in the constellation Altair, and Arcturus, another reddish star in the otherwise faint kite-shape of Boötes.

I read about stars and planets, looked nearly every night at one or more of them in the sky and listened in class as we talked about them and about the physics and math that lie behind the science of astronomy. I imagine it was my study of astronomy that led me to my years-long passion for science fiction. And – as I demonstrated above with the names of the four largest moons of Jupiter – much of that has stayed with me for nearly forty years.

I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. But it did last evening as I thought about Orion. In my head I named the stars of the constellation: Betelgeuse, Rigel, Bellatrix and Saiph in the main rectangle, and in the belt, the three stars with names bestowed on them long ago – as were many other stars’ names – by Arabian astronomers wandering the desert: Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka. Strange-sounding names for something we can see every night, if we only tilt our heads to the sky.

I know where my telescope is. It’s in the basement, in its original box. Something broke on the tripod a few years ago, and I’d have to have it repaired to be able to scan the skies again. I might do that.

A Six-Pack of Stars
“Stars in Heaven” by Comfortable Chair from Comfortable Chair, 1968

“Song of the Stars” by Dead Can Dance from Spiritchaser, 1996

“Everybody Is A Star” by Sly & the Family Stone, Epic 10555, 1970

“I Found Her In A Star” by the Guess Who from Wheatfield Soul, 1969

“I’m In Love With A German Film Star” by the Passions, Polydor POSP 222 (UK), 1981

“Good Morning, Starshine” by Oliver, Jubilee 5659, 1969

A few notes:

I don’t know much about Comfortable Chair. The group was a so-called psychedelic group from California, according to All-Music Guide and recorded only one album for Lou Adler’s Ode label, which – reading between the lines at AMG – wasn’t much of a label. The most significant thing about the album, AMG notes, is that its producers were Robbie Krieger and John Densmore of the Doors.

“Song of the Stars” is one of those long trance-like pieces mixing world music influences with what comes off – from a distance of twelve years – as sophomore year philosophy. Like most of the long pieces Dead Can Dance came up with, it can be interesting listening, but in the end, it seems a little hollow. As it played this morning, I was reminded of how some friends and I listened intently during our freshman year of college, trying hard to catch every nuance of the Doors’ long track, “The Soft Parade.” I think “Song of the Stars” should age better than “The Soft Parade” has.

As happens so often with songs from the winter of 1969-70, the first strains this morning of “Everybody is a Star” resurrected in my mind the old RCA radio that sat on my nightstand long ago. It offered through music the comfort and reassurance that I could endure junior year and that I really wasn’t any more of a dork than anyone else. “Everybody is a Star,” – the flipside of the No. 1 single “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” – might be the sweetest tune that Sly Stone and his pals ever offered up, and it’s a favorite of mine.

The Passions “I’m In Love With A German Film Star” didn’t make the Top 40 on this side of the Atlantic, but I assume it did so in Britain. Its production flourishes, coupled with an archly offered lyric, make it a track that screams “Eighties!” And that’s okay – that oft-maligned decade provided worse.

“Good Morning Starshine” originally came from the musical Hair, one of four cover versions from the musical that made the Top 40. (The Cowsills’ “Hair,” the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In” and “Easy to Be Hard” by Three Dog Night were the others.) “Good Morning Starshine” went to No. 3 during the summer of 1969.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 24, 2008

As the autumn of 1970 slid into view, things were changing around me. And I was changing, too.

I was a senior at St. Cloud Tech High, a member of a class that was half the size it had been three months earlier, when our junior year ended. The St. Cloud school district had opened a new high school on the north end of town – St. Cloud Apollo, home of the Eagles, named in honor of the space program – and what had been an 800-student class was suddenly split into two 400-student classes.

At the same time, freshmen joined the high school ranks instead of attending junior high school for another year, so each of the two high schools – Tech and Apollo – had about 1,600 students instead of the 2,400 or so that had clogged the corridors of Tech the previous year.

So there was more room in the halls, and it was easier to get to class. But I was aware as I wandered through those halls that most of my good friends were now across town. Oh, I found locker-room camaraderie as the head manager for the football team, but that seemed a little shallow to me (though I never said so). I made a few new friends, among them some young women from the sophomore class, but I began to spend a good deal of my time alone out of choice, not necessity.

For a long time, I’d worried what other people thought about me. That autumn, for the first time, I began to care more about what I thought about myself. I spent my free time reading what I liked – science fiction, astronomy, rock music history and criticism – and beginning to write bits of verse and lyrics (some of it inspired by the less-than-happy outcomes of my friendships with those sophomore girls). Even though I was flying solo in a world beginning to be defined by couples, I was pretty happy.

Sometime during the autumn, I filled out my lone college application, to St. Cloud State. I had thought for a brief time about the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, but I never bothered to apply. It was pretty well decided long before I was in high school that – like my dad and my sister before me – I would attend St. Cloud State. And it was just as well that I did: Learning how to survive college academically and socially was difficult enough in St. Cloud. I would have been utterly lost in the vastness of the University of Minnesota.

I should note that the college application dance in 1970 was a far different exercise for most of us than it is for today’s high school students. I imagine those applying to the more selective schools back then endured some anxiety. But St. Cloud State – and the other state universities – accepted pretty much anybody who’d shown basic proficiency in high school. The weeding-out that I think happens these days during the college application season began then during the fall quarter of college.

I recall sitting at my table and looking at St. Cloud State’s application form sometime during the latter weeks of September 1970, with the radio on the nightstand keeping me company. Here’s a selection of songs from the Billboard Hot 100 of September 19, 1970. I’m sure I heard at least one of these as I filled out my application.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4
“Our World” by Blue Mink, Philips 40686 (?) (No. 102)

“Border Song” by Elton John, Uni 55246 (No. 93)

“Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard, Reprise 0942 (No. 85)

“Funk # 49” by the James Gang, ABC 11272 (No. 68)

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping (In My Bed)” by 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), Hot Wax 7004 (No. 52)

“Soul Shake” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Atco 6756 (No. 43)

“Everything’s Tuesday” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus 9079 (No. 38)

“Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor, Rare Earth 5013 (No. 35)

“Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad, Capitol 2877 (No. 31)

“Joanne” by Mike Nesmith & the First National Band, RCA Victor 0368 (28)

“Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0367 (No. 21)

“Don’t Play That Song” by Aretha Franklin with the Dixie Flyers, Atlantic 2751 (No. 11)

“Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman, Metromedia 194 (No. 5)

A few notes:

Blue Mink, a British group, never made the Top 40, and I doubt that I heard any of their singles when they came out. But I’ve heard a few things in the past year or so, and they’re pretty good. “Our World” might be the group’s best record.

I’ve never understood why Little Richard’s 1970s work on Reprise didn’t do any better. With a rootsy, gritty sound not all that distant from that of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the resources of Reprise Records, you’d think music as good as “Greenwood, Mississippi” would have been a hit. But “Greenwood” spent five weeks in the Hot 100 and never got higher than No. 85. (“Freedom Blues” had gone to No. 47 in the summer of 1970, and three other Reprise singles released in 1971 and 1972 never reached the Hot 100.)

“Soul Shake” went no higher than No. 43, which I’ve always thought was a shame. Delaney & Bonnie had two hits reach the Top 40 – “Never Ending Song of Love” and “Only You Know And I Know” – but “Soul Shake” puts both of those away with its combination of rock, white gospel and R&B.

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping” and “Everything’s Tuesday” are two good records from the labels launched by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland after they left Motown, where they’d been a crack writing and production team. “Sleeping” was the only Top 40 hit for 100 Proof (Aged In Soul), reaching No.8. “Everything’s Tuesday” only got to No. 38 for the Chairmen of the Board, who’d reached No. 3 earlier in 1970 with “Give Me Just A Little More Time.”

My fondness for two of these records – “Indiana Wants Me” and “Julie Do Ya Love Me” – stems no doubt from time and place rather than from artistic merit. I mean, with the first, the sirens at the start are hokey enough, but the bullhorn at the end – “This is the police. You are surrounded. Give yourself up!” – tips the scales over. But I still like it. As for the Bobby Sherman tune, well, there was a Julie at school, and no, she didn’t love me, but it was nice to think about.

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.

Saturday Single No. 42

May 22, 2011

Originally posted November 17, 2007

Sometimes, figuring out what to post as a Saturday Single is easy, as it was last week with the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Other times – and this happens more often than I like – there’s nothing that seems substantial enough to link a song to. And being a rational person, that’s when I sit here at my desk, waiting for omens to find me.

As I was casting about last evening for a song to post this morning, the RealPlayer was chugging along quite nicely but not hitting on anything truly memorable for about twenty minutes. Then there came a wash of understated organ followed by a subtle guitar riff played twice. And then came Brook Benton’s vocal: “Hovering by my suitcase, tryin’ to find a warm place to spend the night . . .”

Oh, yes. “A Rainy Night In Georgia,” by Brook Benton, one of the great records from early 1970, right during the first six months that I spent much time listening to the Top 40. Benton’s song went to No. 4 on the Billboard chart during the first three months of the year. But how did it do in the Upper Midwest?

I Googled “WDGY 1970,” looking for the call letters of one of the Top 40 stations in the Twin Cities at the time. (I listened more often to KDWB, and I’m not sure why I looked at ’DGY first.) With that search, I found The Oldies Loon, a website I use frequently, one that catalogs Top 40 charts over the years from around the U.S. At the page for the Twin Cities, I clicked on WDGY and scanned the 1970 charts available. Since we’re in November, I clicked on Nov. 18 first, and then Nov. 11, seeing what the local charts looked like in the weeks that bracketed today’s date.

And then I retreated and clicked on KDWB’s list, and saw that the station released its charts two days earlier each week than did WDGY, which meant that KDWB’s chart came out on November 16. Hey! My Saturday Single for today, November 17, could come from a chart that had just been released thirty-seven years ago. I stopped the RealPlayer so I could focus, copied the chart into MS Word and cleaned up some formatting and then printed it.

As I started to look at the chart, I realized that if I used the 1969 chart, it would have been released on November 17, and I’d be writing on that chart’s thirty-ninth anniversary. So I went back to The Oldies Loon and checked out 1969. Before I did, however, I started the RealPlayer again, moving the cursor to a new spot and letting it roll randomly. I was copying and printing the 1969 chart when, once more, Brook Benton started singing about that rainy night in Georgia. Twice in one night, one song out of nearly 20,000 plays twice! I’d been in search of omens, so I threw away the copy of the 1969 chart I’d printed and went back to 1970.

So what did the KDWB’s chart from November 16, 1970, tell me? First of all, it’s got thirty-six songs on it. KDWB’s frequency was 630, so the station’s weekly handout was its “Six Plus Thirty.”

Top song that week was “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family, also No. 1 a week earlier. New songs on the list included “One Less Bell To Answer” by the Fifth Dimension, “We Gotta Get You A Woman” by Runt and “Be My Baby” by Andy Kim.

There were three songs on the list that I could not remember ever hearing. Lowest of those was “King of Rock and Roll” by the Twin Cities band Crow.* At No. 12 was “Heed the Call” by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition. And at No. 6 was “As The Years Go By” from a group called Mashmakhan. At least I’d heard of Crow (“Evil Woman”) and KR & the First Edition (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” et al.). Mashmakhan? I spent a few minutes casting my nets out into the ’Net and came up with an mp3 of the song. It was mildly interesting, I guess, but I certainly don’t remember hearing it back in 1970. (The group, I learned, was from Canada, and the song is in the collection now, so it may show up sometime in a Baker’s Dozen.)

I looked for a trend in the list, something to hang a single on. And I thought I’d see which songs moved the most – for good or for ill – in the week preceding the chart.

Two songs moved seven places: “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” by Elvis Presley, a record that never grabbed me much, fell seven spots to No. 23, and “Gypsy Woman” by Bryan Hyland, a pleasant if slightly hollow remake of the Impressions’ 1961 hit, moved up to No. 7.

Moving eight places on the chart in the week before November 16, 1970, were three songs: “Lola,” the Kinks’ salute to kink, dropped eight spots to No. 29, Teegarden & Van Winkle’s “God, Love and Rock & Roll,” – one of the great one-hit wonders of all time – fell eight places to No. 17, and Bobby Bloom’s sprightly “Montego Bay” jumped from No. 10 to No. 2.

Two songs shifted nine places: “Candida” by Dawn, the group’s first Top 40 hit, dropped from No. 18 to No. 27, and Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie,” a good song but, to me, one of his lesser efforts, fell from No. 7 to No. 16.

And there were three songs that shifted ten places that week:

“Green Eyed Lady,” Sugarloaf’s jazzy and memorable single (I’m still not sure if I prefer the 3:40 concision of the single to the 6:50 running time of the album track or not) was in descent, falling from No. 15 to No. 25.

“Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles moved ten spots as well, jumping from No. 28 to No. 18. Not only was Smokey a great singer and producer, the man could write a lyric! Just the chorus alone – “Now, there’re some sad things known to man, but ain’t too much sadder than the tears of a clown when there’s no one around.” – is one of the most eloquent choruses in pop-rock history. And it sings well, too.

But the largest jump on the KDWB chart, based on landing higher during that week, came from a single by another Canadian band. The Guess Who’s “Share the Land,” with Burton Cummings and the boys calling for economic redistribution and communal living, moved from No. 19 on KDWB’s chart up to the No. 9 spot. And that jump on the chart dated November 16, 1970, makes “Share the Land” this week’s Saturday Single.

Guess Who – “Share the Land” [RCA 0388, 1970]

*As I learned some time later. the full title of Crow’s record was “(Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The) King Of Rock & Roll,” which I knew, but only via the 1971 version by Long John Baldry. Note added May 22, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1969, Vol. 2

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 29, 2007

Autumn approaches. Day by day, the signs accumulate: geese honking their ways across the sky in great V’s; the first tree on the boulevard abandoning its green cover for dusty brown or perhaps orange; and the slight chill hanging in the morning air, accompanied sometimes with a thin haze of fog in the low places.

There are other signs, less tied with nature’s hike toward the season: I drove past one of the three St. Cloud high schools the other afternoon, and the warming air there was filled with the demands of coaches and the grunted responses of athletes in pads as the football team went through its workout. And even more prosaically, the newspaper supplements have been filled for weeks already with advertising for back to school sales and promotions.

My junior year of high school began on a football field, although a different one than the one I drove past the other day. I was at the practice area next to Clark Field, home of the Tech Tigers. I wasn’t a player – my frame was too slight and my pace too slow. Rather, I was a manager, lugging a primitive medical kit between the field and the school a block away, tending to minor injuries, gathering and packing away loose footballs during and after practices, and running errands for the coaches.

And like the players and the three other managers, I hung around the locker room and the training room between and after practices. (This was not today’s complex weight training room but rather a small room with three tables, a tall medicine cabinet, an old refrigerator and a primitive whirlpool bath.) We’d trade jokes and stories –many of them vulgar and tasteless, of course – and listen to the radio, always tuned to KDWB, one of the two Twin Cities stations devoted to airing the Top 40.

In any one hour, we might hear “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies, “Lay, Lady, Lay” by Bob Dylan, “Grazing in the Grass” from the Friends of Distinction,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion” from Tommy James and the Shondells,” Tony Joe White’s “Poke Salad Annie,” Zager & Evans’ “In the Year 2525” and two of the Beatles’ trio of “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”

And there was one song that we in Minnesota heard far more than listeners anywhere in the country did: “Pain” by the Mystics, a Twin Cities group also known as Michael’s Mystics. The song was No. 1 for two weeks in mid-August on KDWB’s Top 40 chart. It was a great summer for radio, and a great time to turn sixteen, which I did the Friday of the first week of school.

The beginning of a school year was always a time of great hopes: the hope that I’d like all my classes and teachers; the hope that I would find a place to fit in, a group of kids with whom I had some connection beyond sharing the same crowded hallways; the hope that the football team would succeed and that for the first time I would be able to feel like a part of that success; and the hope – this one a long-recurring wish – that I might find a young lady with whom to spend sweet time.

Well, the football team went 6-3 and wound up being ranked ninth in the state by the Minneapolis Tribune. As there were no playoffs, the newspaper’s ranking was all we had to strive for, especially since we were not a member of any conference and played an independent schedule. We took some pride in the fact that our three losses were to the teams the newspaper ranked first, second and third in the state: the suburban powerhouse Edina Hornets, the Austin Packers from near the Iowa border, and the Moorhead Spuds from the Red River Valley in the far northwest.

My classes and teachers were fine, although I struggled with third-year French. I never really did find that group of kids I sought. I spent some time hanging around in the locker room with the football team and – during winter – the wrestlers, for whom I was a second-year manager, and I also spent time with students who focused on music, as I was in the orchestra and the concert choir. I never did find a place, really.

Nor did I find that young lady. But several of the young women I knew became good friends, which in the long term is worth a great deal. At the age of sixteen, however, it’s difficult to think about anything other than the short term.

One fine moment of the year came in mid-September, when the first dance of the year had live music, provided by the Mystics. With my pal Mike – also a football manager – I hitched a ride from Tech to the dance at the old Central School, where we hung around the edges of the dance floor, listening to the music and watching the dancers. We didn’t dance a step all evening, but the Mystics were pretty good, and we got to hear their hit, the first time for either one of us to hear a band perform a Top 40 hit live.

And that’s where we’ll start this Baker’s Dozen for 1969.

“Pain” by the Mystics, Metromedia single 130

“Wooden Ships” by Crosby, Stills & Nash from Crosby, Stills & Nash

“Where’s the Playground, Susie?” by Glen Campbell, Capitol single 2494

“To Be Alone With You” by Bob Dylan from Nashville Skyline

“Love and a Yellow Rose” by the Guess Who from Wheatfield Soul

“More and More” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Blood, Sweat & Tears

“All Along The Watchtower” by Brewer & Shipley from Weeds

“Joker (On A Trip Through The Jungle)” by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band from In The Jungle, Babe

“Woman” by Zager & Evans from In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)

“Nobody” by Three Dog Night from Captured Live At The Forum

“Nitty Gritty” by Gladys Knight & the Pips, Soul single 35063

“Cherry Hill Park” by Billy Joe Royal, Columbia single 44902

“London Bridge” by Bread from Bread

A few notes on some of the songs:

One can argue which version of “Wooden Ships” is better, this one from Crosby, Stills & Nash or the version released later the same year on Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers album. (David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane wrote the song.) The CS&N version is a little more sleek and polished, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a compliment here. Nevertheless, both recordings of this enduring song are worth hearing.

When folks talk about Glen Campbell’s hits, they often forget about “Where’s The Playground, Susie?” and that’s too bad. It’s a fine performance of another Jimmy Webb song. It likely gets ignored because it only reached No. 26 on the pop chart, rather than climbing into the Top 10, as had “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” Campbell’s previous two releases to reach the Top 40.

“Love and a Yellow Rose” is a Guess Who album track that sprawls and wanders through simulations of Indian ragas, Gregorian chant (I think), standard pop rock and the kind of silly declamatory stuff that lead singer Burton Cummings was prone to (when he wasn’t writing hit singles, that is). As odd as “Love and a Yellow Rose” is, it’s not the strangest track on the album; that honor goes to the even sillier “Friends of Mine,” in which Cummings channels the still-living Jim Morrison.

“Joker (On A Trip Through The Jungle)” is a not-bad album track instrumental by Charles Wright and his group, but Wright and his band are better remembered for their singles, including the sweet “Love Land” from 1969, and 1970’s funky “Express Yourself.”

“Woman,” another album track, is Zager & Evans’ attempt at sweet and subtle, and the music is nice, but the lyrics are pretty vapid and unsubtle. I think that was the case, however, with pretty much everything the group did. It’s short, which helps.

Billy Joe Royal’s “Cherry Hill Park” is one of those guilty pleasures from the Top 40, and at the time, was just a little bit naughty: “Mary Hill was such a thrill after dark . . . in Cherry Hill Park.” Pretty tame these days, but still fun to listen to.

Chart Digging: March 17, 1973

March 17, 2011

Looking back, there was a question I never asked.

It was early in the autumn of 1974, and – as was my habit – I was on campus early, right around seven o’clock. I don’t remember when my first class of the day was, but I’d take at least an hour, maybe more, to sip some coffee, read the Minneapolis paper and greet other folks from The Table as they stopped by before or between classes.

And every day for the first few weeks of that autumn, a young woman with dark blonde hair would come into the same area of the snack bar and settle at a table near the jukebox. Every day, she’d put a quarter into the machine and punch the buttons for just one song. Every day, she’d sit at her table and listen as Diana Ross made her way through Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache.”

And every day, after the record ended, she’d sit for a few minutes more and then gather her books and leave.

Eventually, as often happens between strangers who see each other every day, she’d nod and give me a half-smile as she arrived or as she departed. We began to talk, briefly at first. Then one day, instead of sitting alone at her own table, she sat at the long table with me. Over the next few weeks, she became a regular at The Table. And she quit starting her day with “Good Morning Heartache.”

We were friends. I think she wanted more, but my hopes were elsewhere that autumn. Still, she and a friend of hers were frequently at The Table through October, taking part in the good-natured needling and the sometimes ribald chatter. Then my quarter ended abruptly at the end of October, and I spent November at home.

When I came back to school in December, she was gone. Back to the Twin Cities after an unanticipated twist in her life, my other friends told me. As far as I know, no one ever heard from her again. And I still sometimes wonder, thirty-seven years later, why she listened to “Good Morning Heartache” every morning for those first weeks that autumn. I probably should have asked her.

The other thing I wonder about, and this is far less important, is why the Diana Ross tune was in the Atwood Center jukebox in the autumn of 1974 when its time in the charts had been in early 1973. I was digging around in the Billboard charts last evening, and saw that “Good Morning Heartache” had been at No. 34 in the Hot 100 in the chart that came out on March 17, 1973, thirty-eight years ago today. The record – from the soundtrack to Lady Sing the Blues – would go no higher and would fall out of the Hot 100 four weeks later. Why in the world would it show up in the Atwood jukebox seventeen months after that? (Readers with a good memory for unimportant detail will recall that I wondered the same thing about Shawn Phillips’ “We,” which topped out at No. 89 in January 1973 and then showed up in the Atwood jukebox during that same autumn of 1974.)

I have no answers for any questions this morning, so I think we’ll just move a little further down the Hot 100 from March 17, 1973.

That brings me to a group I’d never heard about until this week: Cymande, described by Joel Whitburn as an “Afro-rock band from the West Indies.” The octet’s single, “The Message,” was at No. 48 and would go no higher (though it went to No. 22 on the R&B chart). The only other single from Cymande that Whitburn lists in Top Pop Singles is “Bra,” a tune that All-Music Guide calls the band’s reaction to the women’s movement. It topped out at No. 102 during the summer of 1973. “The Message” is a pretty good single, funky and danceable, and it’s one I wish I’d heard years ago.

Another single with a West Indies tinge to it was sitting at No. 61 back in 1973, and it came from an unlikely source. “Follow Your Daughter Home” by the Guess Who – another tune I’d never heard until this week, as far as I know – has an undeniable and catchy island tinge to it. I would imagine that listeners and radio folks had no real idea what to do with the record, as it never got any higher in the chart. The band’s next charting single was “Star Baby,” which sounded a lot more like the Guess Who that scored seven Top 40 hits in 1969 and 1970 alone. It’s too bad “Follow Your Daughter Home” didn’t do better. It would be fun to hear it once in a while on the oldies stations instead of listening to “These Eyes” again.

From No. 61 we’re going to drop to the Bottom 10 from the March 17, 1973 chart, as there are a few gems sitting in those depths.

Circus was a rock quintet from Cleveland that got one record into the Hot 100, and it’s a great one. “Stop, Look & Listen” spent four weeks on the chart without getting any higher than No. 91, which is where it was thirty-eight years ago today. Beyond that, the only thing I really know about Circus is that “Stop, Look & Listen” should have done much, much better than it did.

One of the nine-day wonders of early 1973 was the racy movie “Last Tango in Paris,” featuring major star Marlon Brando and the relatively unknown (in the U.S., at least) Maria Schneider. I’ve never seen the movie but I’ve got the wonderful soundtrack by jazz saxophonist Gato Barbieri. And in early 1973, a cover of the film’s main theme by Herb Alpert and the TJB hung around the lower portions of the Hot 100. It sat at No. 94 in the March 17 chart and would peak at No. 77. It’s a good record, but it doesn’t come near to having the power of Barbieri’s original. (Another trumpet cover of the movie’s main theme, by Doc Severinsen, made a run at the Hot 100 in late March 1973 but never got any higher than No. 103.)

Our last tune of the day finds us at No. 98 with the record that gave Dennis Yost & The Classics IV their next-to-last stay on the chart. “Rosanna,” a decent country-ish ballad, was in its second week in the Hot 100, and would be there one more week, rising to No. 95. Two years later, Yost and The Classics IV would get to No. 94 with “My First Day Without Her.” I’ve never heard that last one, but “Rosanna” was okay. There have been worse records that have gone higher, but then again, there have been better ones that never got to No. 95. Whichever way you look at it, “Rosanna” is a pretty good listen.