Posts Tagged ‘Indigo Girls’

Sixteen Years Gone

June 1, 2012

Originally posted April 13, 2009

I was puttering with some mp3 tags this morning while the Texas Gal was getting ready for her day, the radio tuned to public radio as it almost always is during those morning preparations. And I heard the radio host mention that it was sixteen years ago today that the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League played their final home game. After the season’s final game in Chicago, and before the start of the next hockey season, the team’s then-owner – may he learn that Hell is playing goalie without pads and a mask! – moved the team to Texas, creating the Dallas Stars.

The North Stars’ first year of existence was the 1967-68 season. And it was in the autumn of 1967 that I became a sports fan. Why then? I don’t know, but I imagine that the birth of the North Stars had something to do with it. And while the Minnesota Vikings have probably always been my favorite of all the professional teams I’ve followed over the years, the North Stars were always a close second.

I went to one or two games a season during high school and my early college years. After I was out in the workforce, I saw maybe one every couple of years, although those outings became more rare when the price of tickets rose at a rate faster than my income grew. But I still watched games on television. I also spent many evenings listening to the radio as Al Shaver – the only play-by-play announcer the North Stars ever had – brought the action into my home. And I hoped for the best for the team through times of good fortune and bad, through seasons of mediocrity and through a good number of playoff seasons, two of which ended with losses in the Stanley Cup finals.

Once the North Stars were gone, I understood at least a little how baseball fans in Brooklyn felt when the Dodgers left for Los Angeles and how football fans in Baltimore felt when the Colts moved to Indianapolis. In addition, I felt as if a portion of my youth had been taken from me. And I think that youthful connection is the key to the grief I felt when the North Stars left town.

Whatever the source, the grief was real. And it wasn’t limited just to fans. I was working for the Eden Prairie newspaper at the time the North Stars left town, and a number of the North Stars lived in that suburb. One afternoon shortly after the hockey season ended, I was at one of the city’s elementary schools for a photo assignment, and I saw one of the North Stars in the school corridor, about to pick up one of his children. He recognized me, as he and I had spent a few hours talking not long before when I was doing research for a feature story about youth hockey. I asked him if he was going to go south with the team, and he smiled and said he’d be announcing his decision soon. (He in fact retired instead.) And then I asked what the players thought of the move. He shook his head sadly and then said, “I really shouldn’t say much.” But his face gave his feelings away.

The sorrow and anger faded at least a little, as it always does. The National Hockey League eventually placed another team in Minnesota, the Wild. I regret that the NHL did not do for Minnesota fans what the National Football League did for fans of the Cleveland Browns when the team left town after the 1995 season. The NFL allowed owner Art Model to move the team, but reserved the Browns’ nickname, colors and records for a new franchise in Cleveland. The NHL should have done the same for Minnesota.

But that didn’t happen, and I follow the Wild, though the team is not nearly as important to me as were the North Stars. (And I happen to think the Wild’s nickname is one of the silliest in professional athletics!) The Dallas Stars went on to win the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1999.

May they never win another.

A Six-Pack From 1993
“Bittersweet” by Big Head Todd and the Monsters from Sister Sweetly
“One World” by the Freddy Jones Band from Waiting for the Night
“Handbags & Gladrags” by Rod Stewart from Unplugged . . . and Seated
“Bury My Lovely” by October Project from October Project
“’74-’75” by the Connells from Ring
“I Don’t Wanna Talk About It” by the Indigo Girls from the soundtrack to Philadelphia

I was startled the first time I heard “Bittersweet,” most likely on Cities 97. I thought at the time – and still do – that the song is an almost perfect melding of music and lyric as it tells its sad tale. It’s a lovely song, but there are most likely times in everyone’s life when it wouldn’t be advisable to listen too acutely to the words of the third and final verse:

I know we don’t talk about it.
We don’t tell each other all the little things that we need.
We work our way around each other as we tremble and we bleed.

I’ve got a couple of CDs by the Freddy Jones Band, but I don’t listen to them too often, and I’m not sure why. I dropped Waiting for the Night into the player the other day and – as has been the case since I first heard the group, also most likely on Cities 97 – liked what I heard. Waiting for the Night was the first of four albums the group did for Capricorn in the 1990s; there was one CD on Polydor, as well. A sixth CD followed in 2001 on Sony Special Products. And a new CD, Time Well Wasted, is currently available through the band’s website; on Out The Box Records, the new CD has ten new live versions of songs from earlier releases and two new studio tracks recorded in 2008. (One page on the website indicates that the CD went on sale in December; another page says that the CD will be available tomorrow, April 14. I don’t know which is correct.)

When Rod Stewart – with the help of long-time pal and bandmate Ron Wood – did the unplugged thing for MTV, I wasn’t particularly blown away by what I heard. As I may have mentioned here earlier, Stewart had lost my attention with “Tonight’s The Night” back in late 1976. Beyond that date, the only thing I’d heard from Stewart that I liked was his version of Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train.” But combing through his Unplugged . . . and Seated release, I liked the CD’s version of “Handbags & Gladrags.”

October Project wasn’t around for long – three years and two CDs in its original configuration – but the group somehow managed to sneak into my awareness. And I love lead singer Mary Fahl’s voice, but the group’s ornate songs seems to work better one song at a time than heard as entire albums. I have a version of “Bury My Lovely” performed live on Cities 97 (and released on one of the station’s annual samplers) that I prefer by just a little to the original version, but it was recorded in 1994. Perhaps another time.

I know very little about the Connells. I came across Ring at a blog I frequent and like it a lot. According to All-Music Guide, “’74-’75” was released as a single to alternative radio stations and did fairly well. (My thanks to Yonnor at Jajaah.)

It’s a little baffling to realize that it’s been sixteen years since the release of the film Philadelphia. It doesn’t seem nearly that long. In any case, the soundtrack for the film has aged gracefully, at least in these precincts, with nine original songs from a wide range of artists. The soundtrack is most likely remembered as the source of Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” and Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” (Springsteen’s song won an Academy Award for Best Song; Young’s song was nominated), But the Indigo Girls’ “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It” (written by the late Danny Whitten of Crazy Horse) is fresh as well, maybe even fresher than the two previously mentioned songs.

Reposts
Glory Road by Maggie’s Farm, 1992
Original post here.

Can’t Stop The Madness by Birtha, 1973
Original post here.

Ronnie Hawkins – Ronnie Hawkins (1970)
Original post here.

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My Time In Middle-earth

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 6, 2008

It’s funny, the things that stay with you from your youthful fascinations.

When I typed in today’s date – October 6 – at the top of the file I use to write the posts for this blog, I looked at it and nodded. “October 6,” I thought. “The date when Frodo was wounded under Weathertop.”

The reference is, of course, to an event in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of the fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Seeking to take the One Ring to perceived safety in Rivendell, Frodo and his companions – three other hobbits and Strider, the Ranger – are attacked by night in a small dell on the side of the hill called Weathertop. I don’t believe there is a mention of the specific date during the narrative at that point, but near the end of the massive adventure, the date is mentioned as an anniversary, and the date is also mentioned in a chronology in one of the many appendices that author J.R.R. Tolkien devised.

When I thought about Frodo and Weathertop, I pulled my battered and tobacco-contaminated copy of the trilogy from the shelf and spent a few moments verifying what I knew: October 6 was the date of that fictional event.

There was a time when I immersed myself deeply enough in Tolkien’s chronicle of Middle-earth that it felt at times like the history of a real world. I sometimes wished – like many, I assume – that it were real. I first read the trilogy when I was a freshman in high school. I’d read its predecessor, The Hobbit, a couple of years before that, but when I tried the trilogy, the shift to a more serious tone and more complex ideas put me off. But when I picked up the first volume of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, as a ninth-grader, it grabbed me. And for about six years, I guess, until the middle of my college years, one of the three volumes of the trilogy was always on my bedside table.

Oh, I wasn’t always reading it sequentially. I mostly browsed through it a bit at a time, either reviewing favorite scenes or poring over the appendices. I read plenty of other books – science fiction, history, and mainstream fiction – but I still took time to sift through Tolkien’s tales, probably not every day, but maybe once a week. Beyond that, I read the entire trilogy from the start once a year, generally in the autumn.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I don’t recall knowing anyone else in high school or in college who was fascinated as I was by Tolkien’s world and its inhabitants. But I’m sure they were around, members like me of the second generation to have discovered Middle-earth since the three volumes were first published in the 1950s. And, like those others, I assume, I urged my friends to read it. Some did, but most didn’t. I even managed to find an English copy of the trilogy during my year in Denmark to give as a birthday gift to the American girl I was seeing (oddly enough, I recall her birthday, which also happens to be during this week).

I could quote at length from the trilogy, and I frequently drew upon that ability to offer bits and pieces of advice or explanation or inspiration to friends and lovers. I’m sure that was, after a brief time, annoying. When I was planning my academic year in Denmark, I pored over the atlas, seeking place names from the trilogy; I ended up spending a day in the city of Bree, Belgium, a rather dull place, simply because it shared its name with a city in Tolkien’s world.

Sometime during the mid-1970s, the obsession ended, as such things generally do. The paperbacks stayed on the shelves. My love for the tales didn’t go away, but I no longer immersed myself in their world. When I joined a book club as an adult, I got a hardcover set of the trilogy to replace my tattered paperback copies. Now that I no longer smoke – I quit nine years ago, another anniversary that falls this week – I may get a new, clean set of the trilogy. And, as it’s been about fifteen years since I last read the trilogy, I’ll likely read it once.

Millions of others must have similar tales and memories, especially since the release of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films earlier in this decade. There are many websites devoted to the trilogy – both the books and the movies – with discussions and arguments and assessments of the value of the works and the meaning of their tiniest details. It may be a good thing that such sites and associations weren’t available thirty-five years ago, or I might never have come back from Middle-earth. Given the opportunity, I fear I might easily have become lost in my obsession, and as much as I love Tolkien’s world, I’m pretty glad to be a part of this one, too.

Given today’s anniversary of the attack under Weathertop, I thought I’d start a Walk Through the Junkyard with the piece “A Knife In The Dark” from Howard Shore’s soundtrack from The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film in the trilogy, which came out in 2001. After that, we’ll pull a random selection from the years 1950-2002.

A Monday Walk Through the Junkyard, Vol. 7
“A Knife in the Dark” by Howard Shore from the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001

“Poor Immigrant” by Judy Collins from Who Knows Where the Time Goes, 1968

“Pictures Of A City including 42nd at Treadmill” by King Crimson from In The Wake Of Poseidon, 1970

“Jock-O-Mo” by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, Checker 787, 1954

“It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” by the Grateful Dead in Washington, D.C., June 10, 1973

“Havana Moon” by Geoff & Maria Muldaur from Sweet Potatoes, 1971

“Shootout on the Plantation” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell, 1970.

“Long Walk to D.C.” by the Staple Singers from Soul Folk In Action, 1968

“Busy Doin’ Nothing” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Restless Farewell” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

“She Said Ride” by Tin Tin from Tin Tin, 1970

“See Him On The Street” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow The Green Grass, 1995

“Borrowed Time” by  J. J. Cale from Closer To You, 1994

“Tried To Be True” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls, 1989

“I Wanna Talk About Me” by Toby Keith from Pull My Chain, 2001

A few notes:

Every other version of the Judy Collins recording, as far as I know, uses the full title: “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.” It’s a Dylan song, of course, from John Wesley Harding, and I don’t think Collins quite gets to the center of the song, as she had [with the tunes] on the previous year’s Wildflowers. I get the sense that she was still a little too reverent toward her source.

The King Crimson track has some fascinating moments, but, as often happened in the genre called progressive rock, what seemed special many years ago now seems to go on a couple minutes too long. (On the other hand, as a writer, I know how easy it is to keep going and how difficult it can be to be concise.)

The Grateful Dead track comes from Postcards From The Hanging, a collection of the Dead’s concert performances of the songs of Bob Dylan issued in 2002. It’s a CD well worth finding for fans of both the Dead and Dylan.

Soul Folk In Action, the Staple Singers’ album from which “Long Walk To D.C.” comes, is an extraordinary piece of work. Backing the Staples are MGs Duck Dunn, Al Jackson and Steve Cropper and the Memphis Horns, with Cropper producing. The song “Long Walk To D.C.” is a moving piece of work, too, written by Homer Banks and E. Thomas (though once source says Marvelle Thomas), commenting generally on the struggle for civil rights and specifically on the March on Washington, which was part of the Poor People’s Campaign in the spring of 1968.

Tin Tin had a hit in 1971 with “Toast and Marmalade For Tea,” a frothy ditty that went to No. 20. Surprisingly, “She Said Ride” from the same self-titled album rocks some. The album was produced by the late Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees.

Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” is one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard. Written by Bobby Braddock and performed perfectly by Keith, the song was one of the first I got to know when the Texas Gal began to introduce me to country. If you ever get a chance, catch the video. It’s a hoot! (The link above now goes to that video. Note added August 8, 2013.)

A Baker’s Dozen Of Power

June 28, 2011

Originally posted May 19, 2008

I don’t play a lot of games on the computer. The Texas Gal and I – when she was still in Texas – used to go into the Yahoo! or Microsoft game sites and play spades and cribbage. We haven’t done that for a while, probably because the computers on which we would play are in adjacent rooms.

She plays more games than I do – I often hear beeps, whistles, gongs and other sounds coming from her precincts while I’m downloading something or wandering blogs or trying to learn the label and catalog number of an obscure 1969 single. I do have a few games. I played Sim City a lot soon after I got my first computer, and right now, I’ve got Sim City 4. I enjoy it, but I don’t play it as much as I used to.

I have a similar game called Pharaoh, about building a civilization in ancient Egypt. I’ve played it a couple of times, but I can never seem to get my little village’s residents to do anything but wander around in the mud of the Nile Delta. It makes some sense, I guess. For every imperial city, for every Memphis of the pharaohs, there had to be hundreds of little villages where the biggest event of the week was catching enough fish for lunch. I’ve about given up on my villagers, which – if they had any awareness at all – would likely be a relief for them.

My new game – the result of spending a couple of hours Saturday morning wandering through a few garage sales – is Civilization: Call to Power. According to the book that came with the disc, I’m supposed to be able to build an empire and thrive in competition with other empires, through war or trade or a combination of those two and other things I have not yet read about.

It looked interesting, so I grabbed the game for a very low price. I’ve heard of the series before, of course; my friend Rob had played other games in the Civilization series and says it’s possible to get very involved in them for hours at a time. Well, we’ll see. I loaded the game and opened the tutorial, which is set in the Italian peninsula. I got Rome built and then Pompeii, but I couldn’t seem to get much done after that, except send soldiers tramping over the same bits of land. As far as I could see, no one caught any fish. But I’ll keep trying. And as the game’s subtitle is Call to Power, I thought we’d see what we find in an appropriate Baker’s Dozen.

A Baker’s Dozen of Power
“Blues Power” by Koko Taylor from Blues Power, 1999

“Power of Love” by Bobby Whitlock & CoCo Carmel from Lovers, 2007

“Power of Two” by the Indigo Girls from Swamp Ophelia, 1994

“The Power of a Woman” by Spencer Wiggins, Goldwax single 330, 1967

“Power Of My Love” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis in Memphis, 1969

“Power in Music” by Maria Muldaur from Meet Me At Midnite, 1994

“Power to the People” by John Lennon, Apple single 1830, 1971

“Love Power” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty . . . Definitely, 1968

“High Powered Love” by Emmylou Harris from Cowgirl’s Prayer, 1993

“Zero Willpower” by Dan Penn from Do Right Man, 1994

“(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People” by the Chi-Lites, Brunswick single 55450, 1971

“Full-Lock Power Slide” by Boz Scaggs from My Time, 1972

“The Power Lines” by Nanci Griffith from Late Night Grande Hotel, 1991

A few notes:

The Koko Taylor track come from an Eric Clapton tribute, covers of his songs performed by blues artists. First released on the House of Blues label in 1999, the album has been re-titled several times. The most recent title seems to be Songs of Eric Clapton: All Bluesed Up! Taylor is one of two women on the album, and her version of “Blues Power” is reasonably good. The other woman is Ann Peebles, whose performance of “Tears in Heaven” is a revelation. Of the other tracks, maybe the most interesting, mostly on historical terms, is by Honeyboy Edwards, who gets from help from harp master James Cotton as he runs through the song that Clapton borrowed from his old friend Robert Johnson: “Crossroads.”

Even after almost twenty years of listening to their melodies, their lyrics, their vocals and their instrumentals, I’m blown away by the Indigo Girls almost every time I hear them. There are a few albums that sounded like missteps to me, but Swamp Ophelia isn’t one of them.

As All-Music Guide notes, “Spencer Wiggins had the poor fortune of being a great soul singer in a place where and at a time when there were more than enough of those to go around — namely Memphis . . . during the mid-’60s when Stax Records was the biggest name in town, Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records was on the rise, and Atlantic had practically made the town its second home.” But Wiggins’ work – mostly for Goldwax – was good listening, even if he didn’t have the pop chart success that many of his contemporaries did. I found “The Power of a Woman” on The Goldwax Years, a collection of twenty-two of Wiggins’ best performances that Kent released a couple of years ago.

Maria Muldaur’s been around for a long time, but I think her work has been widely ignored for a long time, too, especially by those who think that “Midnight at the Oasis” – her 1974 hit – defines her music. As catchy as the single was – and I liked it plenty – Muldaur’s music almost always had more to do with roots and Americana than pop, from her work with then-husband Geoff in the mid-Sixties through her albums of the mid-Seventies (including Maria Muldaur, the source of “Oasis,” which was an anomaly on the album just as it is in her career) and on into some great albums in the Nineties and this decade. Meet Me At Midnite is an excursion into the music of Memphis, and well worth a listen. (I’ll be writing more about Muldaur in the next couple weeks, I think.)

The name of Dan Penn might be the least well-known of the performers on this list, but since the mid-Sixties, Penn has been one of the great songwriters in American music. First in Memphis and later in Muscle Shoals, Penn – along with his writing partners, Spooner Oldham and Chips Moman – spent the 1960s and 1970s crafting songs that any fan of soul and R&B recognizes in an instant: “Do Right Woman,” “Dark End of the Street,” “A Woman Left Lonely,” “I’m Your Puppet” and many more. Do Right Man is Penn’s stab at recording his own versions of ten of those songs; with help from friends at Muscle Shoals and from Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, he does a pretty good job.

The Chi-Lites are remembered mostly as a sweet-sounding vocal group from Chicago whose love songs did pretty well going head-to-head with the similar sounds coming out of Philadelphia at the time. It might be somewhat surprising, then, to realize that “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People,” with its eerie opening synthesizer and its sociological rhetoric, was the group’s first Top 40 hit, going to No. 26 in the spring of 1971. Five months later, “Have You Seen Her” went to No. 3, and the Chi-Lites became a soft soul group. Too bad.

‘We Are But A Moment’s Sunlight . . .’

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 15, 2008

In last week’s Baker’s Dozen from 1989, I mentioned hearing two fellow customers in a suburban Minneapolis coffee shop talk about Indigo Girls, the first album by the Athens, Georgia, duo I ever heard or bought. For a number of years, though I never really bothered to check, I thought the album was the duo’s debut. As other albums came out, I picked some up on cassette and was lucky enough – in the vinyl-challenged decade of the 1990s – to find Rites of Passage, their 1992 release, on a white label DJ promo LP. (That find was doubly fortunate because Rites of Passage is home to two of my favorite songs by the duo, “Galileo” and “Ghost.”)

But I didn’t really dig much into the Indigo Girls’ catalog and history during the 1990s. I was content to gather in their work when it came to me. And in December of 1998, I came across an Indigo Girls’ LP entitled Strange Fire, which turned out to be the duo’s 1987 debut on Epic, re-released in 1989. A review of Strange Fire, which I read long after I found the LP and brought it home, noted that as the Indigo Girls’ career was beginning, their lyrics were not quite up to the quality of their music (a judgment with which I generally agree).

Most interesting to me about Strange Fire was the one cover song, a version of “Get Together,” the hippie-ish anthem that the Youngbloods recorded and released as a single in 1967 and again in 1969. The record reached No. 62 on its first release and then went to No. 5 in 1969, providing the Youngbloods with their only Top 40 hit.

I noted as I glanced at the liner notes for Strange Fire this morning that “Get Together” is credited to one C. Powers. Faint bells rang, and I did a little digging at All-Music Guide, where the songwriting credit is given to Chester Powers/Dino Valente. Valente was an original member of Quicksilver Messenger Service, though AMG notes that a prison term kept him from performing and recording with the group for five years, “by which time they [sic] were on the downside artistically.” AMG credits Valente with the writing of “Get Together” and adds that the song was on the first Jefferson Airplane album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, recorded before Grace Slick replaced Signe Anderson as a member.

And this is where it gets interesting, or at least a little tangled

The writing credit for “Get Together” on Jefferson Airplane Takes Off is given to Chester Powers, a name long assumed to have been Valente’s nom de plume. A list of Powers’ writing credits at AMG includes not only “Get Together” but a couple of songs I am unfamiliar with: “Pennies,” recorded by Chad & Jeremy and the Modern Folk Quartet and “Six Weeks Every Summer,” recorded by Lena Martell (who?). More interesting are two other entries credited to Chester Powers: “Right Now,” recorded by Garth Brooks on his In The Life of Chris Gaines album (odd, indeed!), and “Hey Joe,” a hit for the leaves in 1966 that has since covered by numerous people – the definitive version is most likely the slow-paced excursion by Jimi Hendrix – and played by nearly any band that ever took up guitars and drumsticks.

I also read at Wikipedia – and did so with the caution one needs to extend to things read there (my stance on Wikipedia is that it’s generally reliable but sometimes misses the mark) – that a singer named Billy Roberts actually wrote “Hey Joe” and registered it for copyright in 1962, despite its being credited to Chester Powers. The site reports a claim by another musician that Roberts assigned the copyright to the jailed Valente in order to provide him some income for when he was released. That songwriting credit is supported by Dave Marsh’s entry on Hendrix’ version of “Hey Joe” in The Heart of Rock & Soul, which notes that Hendrix’ single (released in the U.K.) credited William Roberts as the composer.

Having gone far afield – wandering down Chester Powers Road to Hey Joe Alley, as it were, and ending up in the Billy Roberts cul-de-sac – I went back to the list of performers who have recorded “Get Together” since Chester Powers/Dino Valente wrote it.

The earliest version of the song I’ve found reference to was by Hamilton Camp, who released it on his Paths of Victory album in 1964 (which means the song was written long before hippie days and its lyrics instead might reflect – at a guess – the sensibilities of the Civil Rights movement). Others credited with covering the song include, alphabetically, the Carpenters, Judy Clay, Judy Collins, David Crosby, John Denver, Fairport Convention, James Grear & Company, the Interfaith Fellowship Choir, Keb’ Mo’, Kid Creole & the Coconuts, Anne Murray, Kim Richey, Ray Stevens, Andy Williams and Ann Wilson. There are others, too, coming from nearly as many styles and approaches, which only serves to show that “Get Together” is as durable as it is lovely.

Indigo Girls – “Get Together” [1987]

A Baker’s Dozen from 1989

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 9, 2008

At last we reach 1989, the year that I’ve long envisioned as the outer limit for these musical glances backward. Why stop there? Perhaps because music released after that might be too recent for me to have any perspective on it. After all, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that my calendar was telling me we were heading into the Nineties.

But a moment’s reflection tells me that it truly has been nineteen years since I woke up one January morning in Minot, North Dakota, and realized that two years was long enough to spend among strangers on the prairie. They’d been friendly strangers for the most part, but they were strangers nevertheless. I began preparing a summertime exit, either to Columbia, Missouri, or to the Twin Cities. (It wound up being the latter.)

That gap of nineteen years is a longer span than it felt like as it passed, and that tells me that time might allow me some perspective on the music of the 1990s after all. So I will likely extend this series of posts and mixes into that decade, albeit gingerly. Still, the focal point of this blog will remain the 1960s and 1970s simply because that’s where my musical heart lies.

So what was happening in 1989?

As related here nearly a year ago, two trips to the weekend flea market at the State Fair Grounds in Minot turned me from a casual buyer of old records into a collector and – by default – a researcher. Spurred by that, and by a relatively brief romance with a woman whose love for music approached mine, my record collection had grown accordingly. I’d brought just more than 200 LPs with me when I came to Minot in August of 1987; when I left there the first day of July 1989, I took 586 records with me.

I’d noticed in the past six months, though, that LPs were disappearing from retail shelves. There were maybe three places where I shopped for records in Minot, and by the spring of 1989, they were no longer bringing in much new vinyl, and the area of each store devoted to records was dwindling in favor of floor space for CDs. But there were a couple of used record stores in Minot, and there were many of them in the Twin Cities, which is where I decided to plant myself come July of 1989.

So what were we listening to that year? A look at the No. 1 songs for the year makes it abundantly clear that I was not listening much to what was popular. The records that reached the top of the Cash Box singles chart in 1989 were:

“Don’t Rush Me” by Taylor Dayne
“When I’m With You” by Sheriff
“Straight Up” by Paula Abdul
“Lost In Your Eyes” by Debbie Gibson
“The Living Years” by Mike + the Mechanics
“Eternal Flame” by the Bangles
“Girl You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli
“She Drives Me Crazy” by the Fine Young Cannibals
“Like A Prayer” by Madonna
“I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi
“Real Love” by Jody Watley
“Rock On” by Michael Damian
“Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler
“Satisfied” by Richard Marx
“Good Thing” by Fine Young Cannibals
“Express Yourself” by Madonna
“Batdance” by Prince
“Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx
“Cold Hearted” by Paula Abdul
“Don’t Wanna Lose You” by Gloria Estefan
“Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” by Milli Vanilli
“Cherish” by Madonna
“Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson
“Sowing The Seeds Of Love” by Tears For Fears
“Listen To Your Heart” by Roxette
“When I See You Smile” by Bad English
“Blame It On The Rain” by Milli Vanilli
“(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me” by Paula Abdul
“We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel
“Another Day In Paradise” by Phil Collins

That’s thirty songs at No. 1 in a calendar year. That wasn’t quite a record: Thirty-five songs hit the top spot (according to Billboard) in both 1974 and 1975. Cash Box shows thirty-two songs at No. 1 in 1986 and 1988. That puts 1989’s thirty No. 1 songs in fifth place among the thirty-five years since Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” reached the top spot and provided a (somewhat artificial) starting point for the rock era.

But if thirty records at No. 1 wasn’t the largest total ever, it was nevertheless a lot. And to me, it was one more indication of the fragmentation of the music audience that continues to this day. More styles meant more popular performers, which eventually meant more radio formats, each with a smaller audience. I mean, my friends and I were still listening to radio and to a lot of recorded music, whether that was LP, CD or tape. But for the most part, the songs listed above were not what I was listening to. (Some, like the tracks by Mike + the Mechanics and Billy Joel, were inescapable, no matter what format one listened to.) During the nine or so months that I lived in Anoka – north of Minneapolis – I began to listen to Cities 97, a Minneapolis radio station that still plays a splendid mix of old and new music. But it’s not Top 40.

So what did 1989 sound like at my house? Take a listen:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1989

“The Ballad of Hollis Brown” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon

“Too Soon To Tell” by Bonnie Raitt from Nick of Time

“Storms” by Nanci Griffith from Storms

“Trouble in Paradise” by Bruce Springsteen, at Soundworks West, Los Angeles, Dec. 1

“No Alibis” by Eric Clapton from Journeyman

“Shooting Star” by Bob Dylan from Oh Mercy

“I’d Love To Write Another Song” by Van Morrison from Avalon Sunset

“Rhythm of the Saints” by Paul Simon from Rhythm of the Saints

“Commonplace Streets” by the Jayhawks from Blue Earth

“Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls

“Shangri-La” by Don Henley from The End of the Innocence

“Where the Hawkwind Kills” by Daniel Lanois from Acadie

“Tequila Quicksand” by Alex Taylor from Voodoo in Me

A few notes:

The Neville Brothers track is one of two Dylan covers on Yellow Moon – the other is “With God On Our Side” – and both add some depth to an album that stands up well to repeated listening, even nineteen years later. Other highlights of the album – the first the Nevilles recorded for A&M after more than a decade of bouncing from label to label – include their take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Sister Rosa,” a tribute to civil rights hero Rosa Parks that takes hip-hop into the Louisiana swamp.

“Trouble in Paradise” comes from Tracks, the box set of previously unreleased material put out by Springsteen in 1998. Its 1989 recording date places it squarely between 1987’s Tunnel of Love and the pair of albums he released in 1992, Human Touch and Lucky Town. To me, “Trouble” could easily have been an outtake from Tunnel of Love, as it sounds as if it comes from much more near the heart than did any of the songs on the 1992 albums.

Bob Dylan has strayed from and returned to form time and again throughout his recording career. I think Oh Mercy is the best of all the albums that were greeted with one variation or another of “Dylan is back!” Working for the first time with producer Daniel Lanois (the pair of them would cop the Grammy for Album of the Year with Time Out Of Mind in 1997), Dylan put together a solid set of songs and performances for the first time in a long time, maybe since Desire in 1976. “Shooting Star,” the album’s closer, ranks among Dylan’s best songs of love gone awry.

The Jayhawks came out of Minneapolis with their hard-to-find – only a few thousand copies were ever pressed – self-titled debut in 1986, playing a mixture of rock, alternative rock and country rock that sounded like very little else being issued at the time. Blue Earth, the group’s second album, was basically a collection of demos given a little bit of tweaking in the studio. It gave listeners an idea of what the Jayhawks were about, but it wasn’t until 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall that the ’Hawks hit their marks. Still, Blue Earth is worth a listen.

One afternoon in August 1989, I was lingering over a cup of coffee in a restaurant in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, looking at the LPs I’d just scored at a nearby used record store. As I glanced over Roxy Music’s Avalon, I heard the college girls in the booth behind me talking about a new group they’d heard at someone’s home the night before, a duo with the odd name of the Indigo Girls. I jotted the name down, paid for my coffee and went back to the record store, where I found Indigo Girls on vinyl. Ever since, I’ve bought most of what the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have recorded, and I’d like to thank those long-ago college girls for the tip.

A Baker’s Dozen of Ghosts and Witches

May 18, 2011

Originally posted October 31, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few notes on some of the songs:

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

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

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

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