Posts Tagged ‘Herb Alpert’

A Baker’s Dozen Of A&M Singles

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 7, 2008

I remember being aware of three record labels when I was a young listener, between the ages of ten and thirteen. Not record labels as in business concerns but as in the designs on the paper at the center of the record, be it an LP or a 45.

There was the yellow and orange yin/yang swirl at the center of the one 45 I claimed ownership of (half ownership, actually, with my sister): the Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand/I Saw Her Standing There.” Other records to come would have that swirl, but that 45 in February 1964 was the first. (That swirl popped up the other day when I was wandering through the CD’s: Rhino copied it lovingly for its 1990 issue of The Rutles.)

Then there was the very old logo that RCA Victor used: the dog Nipper leaning over the Victrola, listening to “His Master’s Voice.” (There truly was a Nipper who listened to the gramophone; some of his story is told here.) The label RCA used was a little cluttered: Nipper and his Victrola and the LP’s title were above the spindle hole with data to either side of the hole and track listings and more data below. That was the label on my copy of Al Hirt’s Honey In The Horn, which came to me for my eleventh birthday.

And finally, the third of the labels I was aware of early on was on A&M records, the company started by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. Looking today at the design on the first A&M record I owned – Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass – I’m impressed by its clean look: the tan background, the very simple A&M logo. (The example shown here is from another album, obviously. As I don’t have a scanner, I find graphics where I can on the ’Net; this one came from BSN Publications, a treasure trove of LP discographies and history, including the histories of many label designs.)*

I don’t know that I had a favorite at the time, but it was during this period – the years from eleven to thirteen – that I began to play around with designing logos for imaginary sports teams, and in doing so, I began to look at typography and design. (Somewhere in a box in the closet is a folder full of logos that came from my pen.) And I recall looking at the A&M label one day and pondering its design as the sounds of Herb and the boys came from the stereo. I’m sure I came to no conclusions, except perhaps the one that might matter most of all: A nice label design is good, but it’s even better when it comes with good music.

And over the years A&M did pretty well with that, as today’s Baker’s Dozen shows.

A Baker’s Dozen of A&M Singles
“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert, A&M 929, 1968

“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite” by Boyce & Hart, A&M 893, 1968

“You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker, A&M 1641, 1974

“Is She Really Going Out With Him” by Joe Jackson, A&M 2132, 1979

“Superstar” by the Carpenters, A&M 1289, 1971

“Take The Long Way Home” by Supertramp, A&M 2193, 1979

“Come Saturday Morning” by the Sandpipers, A&M 1134, 1967

“The Captain Of Her Heart” by Double, A&M 2838, 1986

“Homburg,” by Procol Harum, A&M 885, 1968

“Hold On Loosely” by 38 Special, A&M 2316, 1981

“Memphis In The Meantime” by John Hiatt, A&M 2989, 1987

“Don’t You Want Me Baby” by Human League, A&M 2397, 1982

“Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson, A&M 1949, 1977

A few notes:

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were better known as a song-writing team than as performers, although “I Wonder . . .” went to No. 8 in early 1968 and was the second of three Top 40 hits for the duo. The LP, titled after the single, seems to be a collector’s item, at least in some circles. I had a copy of it under my arm at Cheapo’s one day in the 1990s, and an eccentric collector followed me around the store for a few moments, asking to look at the record and gushing, when I did, “Do you know how rare this is? What a prize this is?” He handed it back, and I said, “I do now.”

“You Are So Beautiful” is not my favorite among Joe Cocker’s singles on A&M. I would probably opt for “Cry Me A River,” taken from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. But “You Are So Beautiful” is what popped up in a random run of A&M singles. And it did pretty well, reaching No. 5 in the early months of 1975. It was Cocker’s eighth Top 40 single in a little more than five years; it would be his last until he hit No. 1 seven years later with his duet with Jennifer Warnes: “Up Where We Belong.”

I always thought of Joe Jackson as a weird guy who could never figure out what kind of songs he wanted to sing. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that his constant changes were indicative of an inventive mind rather than a lost musician. The new wave textures of “Is She Really Going Out With Him” didn’t grab me much at the time, but then, I was beginning to lose interest in most pop music in 1979. It’s pretty clear to me now that all of Jackson’s oeuvre has had a longer shelf life than much of the stuff that surrounded him at the time.

It was incredibly unhip to like the Carpenters when they came on the scene in the early 1970s. With their squeaky clean image and their music sitting on the softest part possible of the pop-rock sofa, they seemed like what our parents would want us to listen to. But Richard Carpenter was a pretty decent arranger: Some of his work is a bit busy and some a little too gooey today, but most of it now sounds quite good. And Karen Carpenter – poor girl – had a marvel of a voice. I don’t think that “Superstar” is her best performance – I’d probably go with “Goodbye To Love” instead – but she does find the lonely heart of the Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett song here.

On those nights when cares and worries keep you up past midnight with the radio playing softly underneath your dismay, the last thing you need to hear filtering from the speakers is Double’s great record, “The Captain Of Her Heart.” The only hit ever for the Swiss duo of Felix Haug and Kurt Maloo (No. 16), the song is guaranteed to increase the intensity of those cares and worries, especially if they’re of the romantic kind. (During the years when I had those kinds of nighttime cares and worries, I generally endured them in silence, just to avoid this sort of song.)

“Hold On Loosely” was 38 Special’s first Top 40 hit, coming before the group dropped the decimal point from its name. It’s a song I wasn’t all that familiar with until the Twin Cities oldies station I listen to shifted its format about a year and a half ago, adding hits and album tracks from the Eighties and trimming the Fifties and Sixties playlists. Angry calls and emails, along with declining ratings, spurred the station to revert to its earlier format not long ago. But “Hold On Loosely” stays in my RealPlayer because the Texas Gal likes it.

It’s entirely possible that some of these mp3s are album versions rather than single edits. If so, I apologize. As always, bit rates will vary.

*At this time, while assembling the archive of posts, I do have a scanner, but several attempts to scan labels on LPs have failed, so I pulled a scan I found online although not, this time, at Both Sides NowNote added June 27, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1979

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 14, 2007

When I think back on it, 1979 is another one of those years that kind of blurs around the edges. I was living in Monticello, working at the newspaper there. I was telling stories, finding news, paying bills and building a life. The fact that the life I was building came undone a few years later doesn’t negate the effort or the time invested, or the results at the time.

It was a pretty good time, as I loved what I was doing. But it was a time that – looking back – is indistinct, as if I’m trying to view it through thick glass. A couple of things, work- and news-related, do stand out. Monticello is home to one of the two nuclear power plants in Minnesota, and when one of the two reactors at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear plant had a partial meltdown that spring, we were presented with our lead story for the next week: How did it happen? Could it happen to the plant here? How does the safety record of the company in Pennsylvania compare to that of the company here? Does the accident make people here more uneasy about nuclear power? And so on.

It was a hard issue to deal with, one that requires a reporter not only to understand a complex technology but also to be able to explain it to his readers in a way that’s easy to read and understand. There’s a thin reporting line between being technically obtuse and condescendingly simple, and that was one of the times when that line was difficult to find. But it was fun.

Fun? It was fun reporting on an accident that – had things gone only a little bit differently in Pennsylvania – could easily have killed or hurt a lot of people?

Well, yeah. Reporting can be an odd business, and I suppose the people who get into it might be – many of them, anyway – a little odd as well. There is a rush that comes along with a big story. Now, I was far removed from Pennsylvania, but it was still a kick to go out and gather and collate and present information about those major events and how they affected those of us in our area. There was a little extra adrenaline rush that week as I and the other members of our small news staff put together several stories about Three Mile Island for the next week’s edition.

That adrenaline rush is a hard thing to explain, except to another reporter/news junkie, and then it needs no explaining. When big things happen, when we cover major stuff, we reporters operate in kind of a duality. In the spring of 1990, when I was editing two weekly newspapers in rural Kansas, a string of tornadoes ripped through our coverage area one night. The next day, I drove from town to town, farm to farm, interviewing people about their fears during the night and seeing their grief in the daylight. I was kind, I was gentle, and the larger part of me, as I recorded their losses and their tears, grieved with them; they were my neighbors. But there was that part of me – and every reporter knows this portion – that was thinking, as I aimed the camera or asked the next question, “Man, what a great story!”

That adrenaline rush was there as I reported and wrote about nuclear power in the spring of 1979, and it was there later that year as truckers around the state, fed up with rising fuel prices, threatened a strike. Our photographer and I, trying to find more truckers to talk to, found ourselves in the midst of a convoy heading down a freeway toward a truckers’ meeting, a meeting at which it was made clear – with many angry faces and a few threats – that we were not welcome. We left, and later that day, as I filled my car at one of the local stations, I sympathized with the truckers. After all, I was paying 79 cents a gallon for gas, and at the time, that was a high price.

It’s not often that the life of a small town intersects with larger events that capture the attention of a state, a nation, the world. Reporters always look for those connections, for they make it easier to tell the stories of all our lives. Reporters, after all, are storytellers

And here are some songs from that year, 1979, when the stories that I told included nuclear power gone wrong and anger on truckers’ faces.

“Sign on the Window” by Jennifer Warnes from Shot Through The Heart

“Stumblin’ In” by Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman, RSO single 917

“Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan from Slow Train Coming

“Rise” by Herb Alpert from Rise

“Look Out” by Albert King from Live Wire: Blues Power

“Run for Home” by Lindisfarne from Back and Fourth

“Last Train To London” by Electric Light Orchestra from Discovery

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into the Music

“Half the Way” by Crystal Gayle, Columbia single 11087

“That’s All Right Mama” by Rick Nelson, unreleased remix from Memphis sessions

“Need Your Love So Bad” by the Allman Brothers Band from Enlightened Rogues

“Don’t Cry Sister” by J. J. Cale from 5

A few notes about the songs:

Jennifer Warnes “Sign on the Window” is to my mind one of the finest interpretations of a Bob Dylan song available. The single from Shot Through The Heart was “I Know A Heartache When I See One,” which hit No. 19 on the Top 40 chart and the Top Ten on the country charts. The album didn’t sell well, despite the hot single and strong performances on other cuts, and, according to All-Music Guide, Warnes didn’t release any new material until Famous Blue Raincoat, an album of Leonard Cohen songs, came out in 1987. That was also the year, of course, when Warnes and Bill Medley had a No. 1 hit with “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from the film Dirty Dancing.

“Stumblin’ In” was a piece of fluff from Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman that completed the destruction of Quatro’s credibility as a rocker, a process that had begun when she took the role of Leather Tuscadero on the ABC comedy Happy Days two years earlier. I’m not sure how much of a rocker she actually was, although some of her stuff seemed to have some nice crunchy power chords. Anyway, fluff can be successful, and “Stumblin’ In” reached No. 4 early in 1979.

“Gotta Serve Somebody” is what happened when Bob Dylan got religion and believed once again in his songs as agents of change. From the first of Dylan’s three so-called Christian albums (the others were Saved and Shot of Love), “Gotta Serve Somebody” – and the entire Slow Train Coming album, for that matter – also shows what happens when a performer works with a strong cast. In this case, Dylan went to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama, brought along Mark Knopfler, bassist Tim Drummond and drummer Pick Withers, and used Barry Beckett on keyboards and the Muscle Shoals Horns.

Herb Alpert’s Rise came out of sessions that were originally intended to present the trumpeter in a disco context. Those sessions did not work – a fact for which I, for one, am grateful – and Alpert turned to other work. The edited version of “Rise” was No. 1 for two weeks that August.

Probably the least-known group or performer on today’s list is Lindisfarne, a British folk-rock group that had several well-regarded albums in the first half of the Seventies. Back and Fourth was the group’s first album on Atco, after time spent at other labels, notably Elektra. It’s a not-bad album, but it doesn’t have quite the British character that informed the group’s earlier albums, especially Fog On The Tyne and Nicely Out Of Tune. AMG says “Run For Home” is “Springsteen-like” and received some FM airplay in the U.S. likely because of that. I don’t recall hearing it back then, but I like the song.