Posts Tagged ‘Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’

A Room That Feels Like Mine

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 13, 2008

Not many days after we got all the furniture settled in the house, as I sat puttering idly at the computer and keeping half an eye on a football game – it must have been a Saturday – I began to hear repeated thumps and bangs coming from the loft. As the noise began, Clarence and Oscar fled down the stairs from the loft as rapidly as cat legs could carry them.

I left the study and went up to investigate: I found the Texas Gal wielding a hammer, attempting to put nails and hangers into the sturdy wallboard that lines the loft. Success was hard to come by. I asked if she needed help, and she declined. By the end of the afternoon, she had on the walls of the loft the things she felt most important to hang, some functional, some purely decorative. Among the decorative items were the Texas license plates she removed from her car when she first registered it in Minnesota.

I returned to my study and looked at the walls, still empty, and looked at the wide range of items waiting to find their places on the walls. Still not certain where they should all go – I tend to be a bit glacial about such decisions, a fact that sometimes perturbs the Texas Gal – I settled back into my chair and resumed my puttering and game-watching.

Last Saturday, I was finally ready. I’d gotten weary of moving framed things around whenever I wanted to pull a record from the stacks or a book from the shelves. The Texas Gal was away, heading with a friend to the city of Mankato – about a hundred and thirty miles away – on a quest for quilt and scrapbook shops. So after watching the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers win a football game at Illinois, I got out my hammer and some hangers and nails.

An hour later, I sat in my chair and surveyed the room. To the left of the north window was my framed poster of the cover to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. In the small space above the window: a plaque given me twenty-some years ago by the National Newspaper Association for feature writing.

From the window, heading to the corner, we find: The picture of my dad and his 1952 Ford; and a framed collection of pictures from 2002-2003, a chronicle of our move to St. Cloud and our first year here put together for me by the Texas Gal (one of those pictures is the last taken of me and my dad together, quite possibly the last picture he was ever in).

On the east wall are a cartoon poster of St. Cloud; a clock with its numbers ringing a drawing of an anonymous early 20th century baseball player; and a framed replica of the February 5, 1959, front page of the Clear Lake (Iowa) Mirror-Reporter, on which the lead story is the deaths in a plane crash two days earlier of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Boppper and pilot Roger Peterson.

Above a bookcase is an autographed picture of baseball player Joe Morgan, from the time he was with the Cincinnati Reds; and, above the door, a large replica of a Carlsberg HOF Pilsner bottle cap, a fixture that I brought home from Denmark thirty-five years ago, one that has had a place on the wall everywhere I have lived since.

I was pleased. Sixty minutes of work had turned the room from a place where I spent a lot of time into a room that felt like mine. A few things that I’ve had on the walls in other places will be packed away, and I’m not certain where the map of Middle Earth will go when its frame has been repaired. But it will find a place, as it has ever since my dad framed it for me in 1972.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 4
“Dinah Flo” by Boz Scaggs, Columbia 45670 (No. 88 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 7, 1972)

“Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins, People 608 (No. 66)

“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Philadelphia International 3520 (No. 61)

“All The Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople, Columbia 45673 (No. 60)

“Easy Livin’” by Uriah Heep, Mercury 73307 (No. 49)

“I’ll Be Around” by the Spinners, Atlantic 2904 (No. 40)

“Midnight Rider” by Joe Cocker & the Chris Stainton Band, A&M 1370 (No. 36)

“Starting All Over Again” by Mel & Tim, Stax 0127 (No. 25)

“Beautiful Sunday” by Daniel Boone, Mercury 73281 (No. 22)

“Garden Party” by Rick Nelson & the Stone Canyon Band, Decca 32980 (No. 15)

“Popcorn” by Hot Butter, Musicor 1458 (No. 10)

“Everybody Plays The Fool” by the Main Ingredient, RCA Victor 0731 (No. 4)

“Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” by Mac Davis, Columbia 45618 (No. 1)

A few notes:

The funkiest thing here, without a doubt, is Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It),” which was produced by James Brown. Collins sang background on many of Brown’s recordings and was for a time in the 1970s a member of Brown’s traveling band. People Records was Brown’s label, evidently an offshoot of Polydor.

There are four other superb soul/r&b singles on this list, making it better than I thought it would be when I first dug the week’s Hot 100 out of the files. The singles by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Spinners and the Main Ingredient are smooth and still go down so easy, even after more than thirty-five years. All of them, oddly, peaked at No. 3. The Mel & Tim single starts with a conversation between the two singers before sliding into another smooth groove. I’m not sure the conversation works; it’s a short recording anyway, and I generally conclude that I’d rather have more singing and less talk from Mel & Tim.

Mott the Hoople and Uriah Heep, two British groups, had far more success on the Billboard albums chart than on the Hot 100. (Uriah Heep got five albums into the Top 40 between 1972 and 1974; Mott the Hoople had three albums in the Top 40 between 1973 and 1975.) The tracks here, “All the Young Dudes” and “Easy Livin’,” were the two groups’ only Top 40 hits, with “Dudes” (produced by David Bowie) peaking at No. 37 and “Easy Livin’” getting only to No. 39. Still both fun, though.

Joe Cocker’s version of Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider” starts a little sluggishly but when it kicks in, it cooks pretty well. In fact, there might be too much going on, what with the horns and the gospel chorus. I don’t know who produced the record, as the album from which it came, 1972’s Joe Cocker, is one I don’t have. I may have to remedy that although I seem to recall the album getting pretty spotty reviews when it came out.

I think Mac Davis told the tale behind his No. 1 hit on every talk show on television in 1972: His publisher or producer or manager (I don’t recall which it was, and it doesn’t really matter) told him that, in order to be a hit, a song had to have a hook. So he wrote “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” which stayed at No. 1 for three weeks in the autumn of 1972.

One Of My Guidebooks

April 18, 2011

Originally posted March 20, 2007

One of the books I turn to frequently when I’m writing about music – or even when I’m just thinking about it, which accounts for a lot of my waking time – is Dave Marsh’s 1989 volume, The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. I use it to find connections between one artist and another, to clarify the origins of specific pieces of music, to verify a record’s catalog number and sometimes to simply lose myself in the history of music as seen through Marsh’s lens.

The book has been a companion of mine since I first learned about it through a book club I belonged to while I was living in a small town in Kansas. Shortly after the book arrived in the mail, the relationship that led me to move to that small Kansas town collapsed, and it took about a month for me to find employment elsewhere and move away. During that awkward month, with me occupying one half of a duplex and my ex-significant other occupying the other half, I spent many hours reading Marsh’s essays, recollections and reviews, sometimes nodding in agreement, occasionally shaking my head dubiously and often realizing that I was utterly unaware of singles that Marsh held in high regard.

Now, Dave Marsh isn’t infallible. His opinions are opinions, not Gospel. But I’ve read a lot of writing about popular music, and Marsh’s ideas on that universe seem more congruent with mine than do those of a lot of other writers and critics. And he writes very well. (I don’t know that I’ve read very many essays as moving as his piece about “Soldier Boy,” the 1962 single by the Shirelles, which he ranked at No. 149.) So I guess I used Marsh as one of my templates as I evolved over the years from a casual listener to something of an amateur critic and historian.

As I said, Marsh’s views don’t always coincide with mine. His list of singles clearly shies away from the psychedelic scene of the late 1960s, an era and style for which I have some affection. As an example, neither “White Rabbit” nor “Somebody to Love” made his list of 1,001 singles; for that matter, Jefferson Airplane is evidently not even mentioned in the book, as there is no index listing for the group. The Mamas & the Papas are mentioned twice in the book, according to the index, but none of their singles made the top 1,001.

Time has taken a toll, too. The book’s publication date was 1989, which means that almost twenty years of music is unrepresented. That would be a concern if Marsh’s book were the only tool one were using to explore popular music.

Still, despite the book’s flaws, I think I’ve learned more about pop music and its history from The Heart of Rock & Soul than I have from any other source. And it’s a marvelous book for browsing. Rarely does an entry on any one song run more than one page; the essay on “Soldier Boy” is a pleasing exception. (At the other end of the spectrum, there is Marsh’s assessment of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” ranked at No. 320, which reads in its entirety “It’s a gas, gas, gas.”)

Even thought the book deals with the world of singles, I’ve found it valuable as a guide for album collecting as I began to listen to artists and genres with which I was not very familiar due to either history (for music recorded before, say, 1964) or lack of airplay on the radio stations I listened to over the years (growing up in a smaller city in the Upper Midwest did not give me a lot of exposure to soul, R&B, funk and similar styles). I used Marsh’s assessments of singles by performers in those styles as a jumping off point for my explorations.

One of the groups with which I had only a marginal familiarity before I read Marsh’s book was Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, the Philadelphia group whose heyday in the years 1972-75 was rooted in both sleek soul balladry and the very beginnings of disco. The group’s 1973 single, “The Love I Lost,” is often credited as being the first disco recording, although I imagine there are nearly as many candidates for that distinction as there are for the title of first rock ’n’ roll record (in that race, my money is on “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston). First disco record or not, “The Love I Lost” was a smash, with the single edit reaching No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 7 on the pop charts.

Today’s rip from vinyl, Wake Up Everybody, came two years later, produced by Philadelphia marvels Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. The title track reached the top of the R&B charts and topped out at No. 12 on the pop charts. Also notable on the record were “Tell the World How I Feel About ’Cha Baby,” which reached the R&B Top Ten and the original version of “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” which became a No. 1 hit in 1977 for Thelma Houston.

Wake Up Everybody also includes two cuts that feature sweet vocals by Sharon Paige: “You Know How To Make Me Feel So Good” and “I’m Searching For A Love.”

The album is definitely a piece of its time. As I ripped the vinyl Sunday evening, the combination of strings, sweet voices and early disco rhythms stirred up memories, as music often will: a college internship, promising romances explored or reluctantly set aside, career plans changed and more. Others who were there at the time will have their own sets of echoes. But if you weren’t around and all you have is the music, that’s still enough!

Track listing:
Wake Up Everybody
Keep On Lovin’ You
You Know How To Make Me Feel So Good
Don’t Leave Me This Way
Tell The World How I Feel About ’Cha Baby
To Be Free To Be Who We Are
I’m Searching For A Love

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes – Wake Up Everybody  [1975]