Posts Tagged ‘Isley Brothers’

‘If You’re Down And Confused . . .’

March 16, 2012

Originally posted March 10, 2009

One of the things making its way around Facebook when I opened a profile there not long ago was a note asking musically inclined ’bookers to make a list of fifteen albums that changed their lives. (The note that came with the request made it clear that albums that put one in a specific time and place were okay, too.)

I wasn’t going to compile a list like that off the top of my head, so I dithered a while, thinking. But the time I came up with the list – and none of the entries on it would surprise anyone who’s visited this blog over time – a few days had passed. And a few days in Facebook time is like ten years of regular time: That topic was passé.

So I saved the list, and I may do something else with it, maybe use it as the basis of a post here. I’m not sure. But I bring it up because I was reminded this morning of one of the albums that ended up on the list: Stephen Stills’ self-titled album from 1970. As happened with a number of the fifteen albums that ended up on the list, I spent a fair amount of time pondering the place of Stephen Stills in my life before putting it on the list.

It’s a great album, ranging from rock to folk to blues and beyond, with Stills getting help from David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Booker T. Jones and more. (The credits include a drummer listed only as Richie. Ringo Starr? Does anyone know?) Is it better than Crosby, Stills & Nash? Better than CSN&Y’s Déjà Vu? Maybe. But I reminded myself that greatness is not what the list was about; the list was about the record’s importance to the listener. And I recalled that I always had a greater sense of anticipation when I pulled Stephen Stills out of its jacket than I did for those other two albums. Why? I have no idea. But having realized that, I happily put the album on the list.

That’s all pertinent today because as I wandered through the mp3s this morning, I happened upon a track from Stephen Stills. As Tuesdays are still occasionally devoted to cover versions here, I wondered what kind of cover versions the album sparked, especially its best-known song, “Love The One You’re With.”

So I did some digging. All-Music Guide lists two-hundred and forty-five CDs that offer a version of “Love The One You’re With.” About forty of those are versions by Stills or else versions credited to him and his three well-known friends together. That leaves about two hundred.

Among the names that pop up among those CDs are Bonnie Bramlett, the Bison Chips, Soup Campbell, Joe Cocker, Ian Cussick, Percy Faith, Bobby Goldsboro, Engelbert Humperdinck, the Meters, Tony Orlando, Gary Puckett, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Sam & Dave, Bob Seger, Strange River, the Three Degrees, Luther Vandross and Wailing Souls. Some of those I’d like to hear, and others I think I could easily pass by.

In my mp3 files, I find five versions of the song, Stills’ original and covers by the Isley Brothers, El Chicano, Aretha Franklin and King Curtis. The least worthy of those is the version by El Chicano, released on the album The Best of Everything (not a “best of,” despite the title) in 1975, a couple years after the Latin-tinged group was at its peak. Both the Aretha and King Curtis versions are terrific, the King Curtis version coming from his 1970 album Everybody’s Talkin’ and Aretha’s version coming from the 1971 album she recorded live at the Fillmore West (with King Curtis in the band).

But I think the Isleys’ version is the best of the four covers I have. It’s from the 1971 album Givin’ It Back and it was also released as a single on the group’s T-Neck label.

“Love The One You’re With” by the Isley Brothers, T-Neck 930 [1971]

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Transition and ‘Work To Do’

September 26, 2011

Originally posted November 14, 2008

I was thinking about the word “transition,” and the process of transition, having seen and heard the word used a thousand times in news accounts since Election Day.

It might be glib to say that we’re always in a state of transition, both in the macro sense of the world around us and in the micro sense of each individual. But glib or not, I think it’s true: There are changes every day, most of them so minuscule that we don’t notice them. Then eventually, we look out the window and notice that the kids next door are now in high school when it seems like they were only days ago in kindergarten, or we look in the mirror. That’s the strange one; I’m still not sure when that guy with the grey beard sneaked into my mirror to look back at me.

As I thought about transition, I dropped into my files of the weekly Billboard Hot 100 and thought back as well to the autumn of 1972, my second year of college. I remember finding myself at loose ends that season. During the year before, I’d had a group of folks around – fellow first-year students I’d met through a college orientation. We’d hung out together, done some short road trips and managed a few drunken weekends. We seemed pretty tight.

Then, as my sophomore year began, I took up with those same folks again, guys and gals both. And it no longer worked. We’d all changed since we’d first gotten together a year earlier, and we’d each moved in different directions. I recall spending part of a Friday evening with a couple of the guys who’d been central to my freshman year: Dave and Dave. We were in one Dave’s dorm room, yapping and listening to music. As Loggins and Messina told some gal that her mama didn’t dance, I listened to the Daves talk, and I realized I no longer felt like I belonged there. After a brief wait, I said something suitable and took off. I don’t think I ever saw either of the Daves socially again.

A few months later, as 1973 began, I met the first of the people from the group that became The Table, and the social life that defined the rest of my years on campus began to take shape. But for a while, I was adrift, and I likely turned to the radio in my own room for comfort. Here’s the top fifteen from the Billboard Hot 100 of November 11, 1972.

“I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash
“Nights In White Satin” by the Moody Blues
“I’d Love You To Want Me” by Lobo
“Freddie’s Dead (Theme from Superfly)” by Curtis Mayfield
‘I’ll Be Around/How Could I Let You Get Away” by the Spinners
“Garden Party” by Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band
“My Ding-A-Ling” by Chuck Berry
“I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy
“Convention ’72” by the Delegates
“Witchy Woman” by the Eagles
“Listen To The Music” by the Doobie Brothers
“If I Could Reach You” by the 5th Dimension
“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by the Temptations
‘Burning Love/It’s A Matter Of Time” by Elvis Presley
“Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” by Danny O’Keefe

There’s some good listening there for the most part. But the list contains, to my mind, one of the worst singles ever to reach No. 1: Chucky Berry’s horrific “My Ding-A-Ling” (which had been No. 1 for two weeks in September).

The best of the bunch would be either the Temptations’ track or the Curtis Mayfield. Gritty and realistic, both records hit hard and were good listening, too. (Regarding the Mayfield track, I have to chuckle every time the Texas Gal and I stop at the local co-op. Some of the baked goods available at the co-op, as proclaimed by a sign on the front door, come from an establishment named Freddie’s Bread. Whenever we go in, I can’t help singing under my breath, “Freddie’s Bread . . . that’s what I said.”)

“Convention ’72” was a Dickie Goodman-ish “break-in” record spoofing politics. It was put together, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, by a trio of guys in Florida, one of whom was a deejay; the other two owned a record label.

Some of the Top Fifteen is a little soft. I can do without the Lobo, and I know that the Helen Reddy anthem drives some folks mad. The 5th Dimension track is not one of the group’s best, and “Burning Love” has never meant much to me. (I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the B-side, “It’s A Matter Of Time.”

The rest of the records there are pretty good, especially “Garden Party” and “Listen To The Music.”

But none of the fifteen – not counting the two B-sides – are all that hard to hear these days. So I looked a little deeper into the Billboard Hot 100 of November 11, 1972, and at No. 61, I found a little gem, in its third week on the chart.

It never went too much higher. Four weeks later, it would peak at No. 51 and then spend another two weeks in the Hot 100 before falling off the chart entirely. But it likely deserved better.

Isley Brothers – “Work To Do” [T-Neck 936, 1972]

Autumn 1975: Learning New Skills

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 22, 2008

Pondering the autumn of 1975 – a season that seems more brilliant in memory the further it recedes in time – I realized that I expanded what educators call my “skill set” in those months.

Part of that expansion of abilities came from both my last quarter of college coursework before graduation and from my most frequent activity during my spare time, and part came on a wet October Saturday that I spent at home with my parents.

That wet Saturday provided an interesting learning opportunity, yet it left me with skills I’ve had no chance to use. For years, while my grandparents lived on their farm, our family would spend some time on the farm in August, with one of the late-summer chores being the butchering of a good number of chickens to freeze and store for the winter. The price my family paid Grandpa for the chicken was reasonable to him and far less than we would have paid at the butcher shop or at Carl’s Market up on East St. Germain.

After Grandpa and Grandma moved off the farm in 1972, we bought chicken in the store like everyone else. But for some reason in October 1975, Mom and Dad decided that they wanted some fresh chicken to freeze and store for the winter. So early one Saturday, Dad went off to a farm somewhere northeast of St. Cloud and came home with about a dozen chickens, headless and with their feathers removed. (A good thing, that last; from my experiences on the farm, I know well that pulling feathers from a butchered chicken is difficult and messy.) And for most of the rest of the day, Mom, Dad and I stood around the kitchen table, knives in hand, and cleaned chickens, something I’d never done before.

I needn’t go into gory detail. It was messy, of course, and by the time we got through cleaning and cutting up the final chicken, I was pretty good at it. I figure if I had to do it again, I could. But I’ve never had the need since, a fact for which I am grateful.

The other skill that I strengthened that autumn – in class and during my spare time – was writing. Among my classes that fall quarter was one in the history of the documentary film. We spent hours watching documentary films – from Robert Flaherty’s 1922 masterpiece, Nanook of the North – considered by most historians as the first true documentary – through 1971’s The Selling of the Pentagon, a television effort by CBS News. Some of the films were art; I think of Rain, a 1920s film by Joris Ivens (and the fact that these titles and names come back to me unbidden makes me realize again how important that class was to me) that detailed an everyday rainstorm in his hometown of Amsterdam, Holland. Some of them were something darker: The Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl chronicled the 1934 Congress of the German Nazi Party at Nuremberg and was – viewed with knowledge of the tragedy and horror that ensued – a chilling, powerful and dark piece of work.

Not only did we watch films, but we wrote about them. Each student was required during the quarter to submit a certain number – eight, maybe? – of brief critiques of the films we were seeing and one longer critique. The short papers were required to be two to three typed pages, double-spaced, and the longer paper, about ten pages. Not yet being skilled at composing my work at the typewriter, I wrote – actually printed – my critiques on notebook paper. And as I pondered and assessed the films we were seeing, I realized that, although writing was work, it was work I enjoyed, because it gave me the opportunity to move words around into forms and orders that were mine alone.

I remember the first time I realized that: I was writing a critique of Rain, the brief film shot in 1920s Amsterdam, and I was assessing the pacing of the film. I wrote that the film moved through the streets “with a calm urgency, like the rain.” I paused and looked at my words on paper, especially that “calm urgency.” Something about the way those words looked, sounded and read together gripped me tightly. And it was something I had done! I’m sure other writers before – many others – had found that combination of those two words and gone ahead from there. But for the moment, that set of two words was mine.

That was the moment that I began to think of myself as a writer.

And writing took up much of my free time from then on: I wrote short stories, and screenplays. My lyrics – which I’d dabbled in since 1970 – became more focused and more planned. I continued to work on a memoir of a railroad jaunt through northern Scandinavia that I’d shared with a madcap Australian – a manuscript that has rested, ignored (justifiably, I’m sure), in my files for more than thirty years now.

A writer is always learning to write. Every time he or she takes pen or pencil to paper or lays his or her fingers on the keyboard, a writer is learning something. The lesson may not be obvious; the learning is not conscious. But a writer who is serious about his or her craft comes away from every session with his or her skills honed more, even if it’s just a tiny bit. In those days in the autumn of 1975, I was learning a great deal about writing – and about thinking, for one cannot write clearly without thinking clearly – every time I sat down at a table, whether that was in my room or the basement rec room at home, in a coffee shop or restaurant around town, or in my favorite haunt, the snack bar in the basement of St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center.

I’ve never cleaned a chicken since that rainy Saturday. But I’ve written almost every day since I discovered that “calm urgency” one evening in the autumn of 1975.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 4
“Fire On The Mountain” by the Marshall Tucker Band, Capricorn 0244 (No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 18, 1975)

“My Little Town” by Simon & Garfunkel, Columbia 10230 (No. 81)

“Gone At Last” by Paul Simon & Phoebe Snow, Columbia 10197

“Fight The Power” by the Isley Brothers from The Heat Is On (“Fight The Power, Pt. 1,” T-Neck 2256, was at No. 58)

“That’s The Way Of The World” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 10172 (No. 50)

“Island Girl” by Elton John, MCA 40461 (No. 36)

“Sky High” by Jigsaw, Chelsea 3022 (No. 31)

“SOS” by Abba, Atlantic 3265 (No. 24)

“Lady Blue” by Leon Russell, Shelter 40378 (No. 19)

“Fame” by David Bowie, RCA Victor 10320 (No. 12)

“They Just Can’t Stop It (Games People Play)” by the Spinners, Atlantic 3284 (No. 9)

“Dance With Me” by Orleans, Asylum 45261 (No. 6)

“Bad Blood” by Neil Sedaka, Rocket 40460 (No. 1)

A few notes:

The Marshall Tucker Band was far more country-oriented than most of their brethren who recorded for the Capricorn label. “Fire On The Mountain,” which features Charlie Daniels on fiddle, would not be out of place on today’s country radio. Of course, a lot of what passes for country music these days would not have been out of place on rock and pop radio in 1975. Brooks & Dunn, for instance, often sound – instrumentally, at least – like the Rolling Stones gone off to Nashville. Anyway, more than thirty years on, the Marshall Tucker Band is still good listening.

I remember sitting at The Table in Atwood Center sometime during the autumn of 1975 and hearing the first low piano notes of “My Little Town” coming from the jukebox. I liked Paul Simon’s solo work, but it somehow sounded so right to hear his voice blend once more with Art Garfunkel’s (whose solo work was far less accomplished than Simon’s). And I think the song itself is one of Simon’s ignored masterpieces both musically and in the lyrics that detail the stifling atmospheres many of us perceive in our own hometowns as we grow.

I don’t have the Isley’s “Fight the Power, Part 1,” which went as high as No. 4, nor do I recall hearing it that autumn. But the album track from which Part 1 was pulled is too funky and, well, too good in its call to action to leave it out. I imagine the word “bulls**t” was bleeped on the radio.

A few of these singles, to this day, say “autumn of 1975” to me more than do the others. Among the most evocative – taking me back to sunny days on campus at a time when I was probably happier and more secure, both personally and in school, than I had ever been – are Earth, Wind & Fire’s “The Way Of The World” and Orleans’ “Dance With Me.” I love a lot of the rest of EW&F’s catalog, too, but “The Way Of The World” is my favorite. I guess “Dance With Me” is my favorite track by Orleans, too, but then, it has to be: It’s the only one I ever listen to.

Two of the other records here also take me back to a specific place on one specific evening that November: A pal of mine and I hit a series of drinking emporiums one Friday evening and wound up at a place called The Bucket, which was located in a spot that I believe placed it outside of the city limits of both St. Cloud and the nearby small town of Sartell. It was a rough place, and it had recently added to its attractions the diversion of young women disrobing while they danced on a small stage. Hey, we were twenty-two, okay? Anyway, among the songs one of the entertainers selected from the jukebox to accompany her efforts were David Bowie’s “Fame” and Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood.” Thankfully, they don’t pop up often, but when they do, those two tunes put me for just a moment in a Stearns County strip joint.

It’s Monday Again

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 15, 2008

Mondays in our culture are greeted with groans. The weekend’s over and it’s time to put on real shoes and – depending on the milieu one works in – nice clothes including that silly wardrobe piece called a necktie.

(I only ever had one job that required a necktie – when I was the main public relations writer for St. Cloud State for a couple of years in the late 1980s. When I taught college at a couple of other places, I wore a tie on occasion but not all the time. When I did, I had a pretty good collection to choose from, as I had about twenty neckties at one time. I’m down to about eight ties now, but then, I’ve worn a necktie only twice in the past five years, both times for a funeral. I do have a favorite necktie, however rarely I wear it: a blue, gold and white concoction from the Grateful Dead clothing line that I won through a radio trivia contest.)

Anyway, I never dreaded Mondays the way most folks do: When I was reporting and/or teaching, I enjoyed my work as much as I enjoyed anything, and heading to work for another week energized me. In later years – the late 1990s – when I was temping and then working in the collections field, I realize now that I looked forward to Mondays because I essentially spent my weekends by myself, and Monday meant I would see people again. I guess it’s a blessing I didn’t realize how unhappy I was during those years.

These days, being based at home and spending my time on this blog, some other writing and taking care of the apartment, Mondays are in many ways just another weekday. If we’ve had a busy weekend, Monday may find me tired, and I can sometimes find it difficult to move about. Beyond that, Monday could just as well be Thursday, except for the routine I’ve developed here.

And, holding to that routine, here’s an album for you this Monday: the Isley Brothers’ 3+3 from 1973.

I’ve shared two of the tracks from the album before, “Summer Breeze” and “Sunshine (Go Away Today),” both good tracks. The rest of the album, I think, is just as good.

The brothers had a Top Ten hit in the summer of 1973 with their own “That Lady, Pt. 1,” an edit of the album’s opening track and their four other compositions shine, too, especially the gospelish “You Walk Your Way” and the light funk of “What It Comes Down To.” But they have a sure touch with covers, as well. Along with “Summer Breeze” and “Sunshine,” the brothers – the three original Isleys joined here by two younger brothers and a cousin, explaining the album’s title – cover James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and the Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music.”

Having listened to the album as a whole a few times (and having heard the songs as they come up singly in random rotation), I have a hard time pulling out any tracks that don’t seem to work. Maybe the Doobie Brothers cover, which doesn’t seem to nestle into the Isleys’ approach quite as easily as the other covers. Overall, the album is certainly more rock oriented than the Isleys’ earlier work, but leans toward funk, too. It’s a good listen.

Tracks:
Who’s That Lady?
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
If You Were There
You Walk Your Way
Listen to the Music
What It Comes Down To
Sunshine (Go Away Today)
Summer Breeze
The Highways of My Life

Isley Brothers – 3+3 [1973]

‘If I Was You, I’d Harvest . . .’

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 89, 2008

I got some good advice from my grandfather at least once.

I was twenty, and I’d recently returned from my time in Denmark. While I’d been gone, I’d grown my first beard and mustache, kind of by default. I’d been packing my backpack for a trip during a December quarter break, and I decided that I could save a little room by not packing my razor – a Schick injector, if I remember correctly – and the other things needed to shave. So I headed off into Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, looking scruffier by the day, at least until the growth progressed enough to be considered a beard and mustache.

As I said, I was twenty, and the resulting foliage wasn’t lush. The mustache was okay, but the beard stayed pretty much confined to my jaw line; my cheeks were barren. But it was a lot easier not having to shave every day, especially during those times when I was wandering, living out of a backpack.

I came home in May, and a few days afterward (just days before I entered the hospital, which I wrote about the other day), I saw my grandparents – my mom’s folks – for the first time in almost nine months. My grandfather was eighty-two and had been a farmer all his life. He came up to me, looked closely at the growth on my face. He tugged at it lightly.

Then he nodded and said, “If I was you, I’d harvest this crop, fertilize and hope for better next year.”

It was another year and a half before I took his advice. I shaved off that first beard in December 1975, when I was interning in the sports department of a Twin Cities television station; I thought that being clean-shaven might increase the chances of getting some airtime and perhaps even getting a job. I kept the mustache, though.

And for the next twelve years or so, the beard came and went. I grew one a few years into my time at the Monticello newspaper and shaved it off one hot July day a couple years later. I let it grow out again during graduate school in Missouri and shaved it off about the time I moved back to Minnesota. And when I was teaching in Minot, I quit shaving during the 1987 Thanksgiving break, and that beard has stayed with me for more than twenty years now. And throughout all that, the mustache has stayed; my upper lip last felt a razor on December 5, 1973.

One of the things that means, of course, is that the Texas Gal – whom I met in 2000 – has never seen me clean-shaven. She occasionally suggests that she’d like to. I think about it, and I might shave for her someday. But as I’m not at all interested in shaving every day ever again, so I’d only grow it back right away. And the mustache would stay, no matter what.

The beard did fill in during my twenties, covering my cheeks quite nicely. But it’s no longer brown. I could call it “salt and pepper,” but only if I were willing to admit that whoever seasoned it used a lot more salt than pepper. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good beard. I think Grandpa would be proud of the crop.

Here’s a Baker’s Dozen from 1975. We’ll start with the record that was No. 1 the week I first took my grandfather’s advice.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 3
“Let’s Do It Again” by the Staple Singers, Curtom single 0109

“I Dreamed Last Night” by Justin Hayward & John Lodge from Blue Jays

“Arkansas Line” by Elvin Bishop, Capricorn single 0237

“As Surely As I Stand Here” by Tower of Power from In The Slot

“Naked in the Rain” by David Crosby & Graham Nash from Wind On The Water

“All About Love” by Earth, Wind & Fire from That’s The Way Of The World

“Pick Up The Pieces” by Doris Duke from Woman

“Livin’ For The Weekend” by the O’Jays from Family Reunion

“End of the Line” by Roxy Music from Siren

“Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright, Warner Brothers single 8143

“Lonelier Are Fools” by the Three Degrees from With Love

“It Makes No Difference” by The Band from Northern Lights – Southern Cross

“Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers, T-Neck single 2256

A few notes:

“Let’s Do It Again” was the title song from a soundtrack written by Curtis Mayfield. After the success of Superfly in 1971, Mayfield composed a series of soundtracks that were generally pretty good, most of them much better than the films they backed. Let’s Do It Again, which I’ve never seen, starred Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, John Amos, Ossie Davis and Jimmie Walker. Oh, and that odd noise at the start of the song? It’s supposed to be that way. I pulled out the vinyl this morning and checked.

Blue Jays was one of several projects by members of the Moody Blues that surfaced in the mid-1970s. The group took a break after 1972’s Seventh Sojourn that lasted until 1978 and the release of Octave. Other albums came from Ray Thomas, the Graeme Edge Band and Mike Pinder. (There may be some I’m forgetting.) Of the various projects, I think Blue Jays turned out the best.

Doris Duke, a deep soul singer who’d been recording since the mid-1960s, released Woman on the Scepter label in the U.S. after it had been released on Contempo in Britain. While not up the quality of her 1969 album, I’m A Loser (recorded at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia, and released on the soon-to-fail Canyon label), Woman, according to Jason Ankeny of All-Music Guide, is a “much-acclaimed set.” His fellow AMG reviewer, Andrew Hamilton says, however, “If you play this LP once, there’s no need to play it again; you didn’t miss anything the first time, and it doesn’t get any better the second time around.” Who’s right? I lean toward Ankeny’s assessment; it’s a pretty good record.

If I’m in the right mood, I generally enjoy hearing Roxy Music’s work, at least one track at a time. If I listen to entire albums – with the exception of 1982’s Avalon – the group’s music sounds cold and fussy. Siren seems less that way than the rest of the group’s 1970s output, I guess. But it still feels as if I’m listening to the group through a closed window, a barrier that the musicians aren’t the least bit interested in getting past.

“It Makes No Difference” was one of the last great songs The Band recorded during its original incarnation – “Acadian Driftwood,” also on Northern Lights – Southern Cross, is one as well – and one of the last great songs that Robbie Robertson wrote (nothing in his solo career has come close to the songs he wrote for The Band). One of The Band’s strengths was the ability to match a song with the appropriate voice, and here, Rick Danko’s yearning tenor – echoed by Garth Hudson’s soprano saxophone solo – fits perfectly. This track can melt your heart.

Does Album Sequencing Matter In The MP3 Era?

June 24, 2011

Originally posted April 29, 2008

Matt the maintenance man came by yesterday with a screen he’d had replaced for one of our windows. (Our kitten, Oscar, had been sitting at the window and began playing with a small rip in the screen. When the Texas Gal and I looked up, he’d enlarged the rip to a cat-sized hole and had his head and shoulders out of the window, twenty feet above the ground!) As generally happens when Matt comes by, we end up talking music.

He said he’d been listening to radio coverage of the fortieth anniversary of the founding of one of the Twin Cities’ record stores, the Electric Fetus, which has a branch here in St. Cloud. “And someone at the radio station made the point,” Matt told me, “that people these days only listen to songs one at a time, for the most part. They don’t listen to albums as albums anymore.”

I plead guilty, generally. I usually have the RealPlayer set on random and jump from song to song, style to style, era to era. When I get new music, I sometimes play it all the way through – first track through last – but not often. I usually jump around a bit in the CD – something that would have been awkward to do with vinyl – or else just let the tracks pop up when they will at random. I imagine a lot of other people do the same. And that brings me to a question: Do artists take as much care these days with the sequencing of songs on a CD as many performers seemed to do with vinyl say, thirty years ago and more?

I’m sure some – maybe many – do. From what I’ve read over the years, Bruce Springsteen does. Maybe most of them do. I’m not sure. But the care and attention a performer invests in sequencing can be frustrated by the ease with which a listener can jump around in an individual CD and can also intersperse the songs on an individual CD in the rest of a music collection. A performer might wonder if there’s a point to caring and decide not to worry about the sequence. I don’t know.

I’d already been pondering the question when Matt brought up the comment he’d heard. A little while back, I’d gotten hold of 3+3, a 1973 album by the Isley Brothers, recorded at a time when the original trio of Isleys brought three musician into the group to alter and expand their sound. I ripped the album and put into the player without listening to much of it. And the other evening, a funky bass and clavinet (I think) came frogging out of the speakers, pulling my attention away from whatever it was I was doing. The drums came in, and then – after twenty-five seconds – came the almost dirge-like vocal: “Sunshine move away today, don’t feel much like dancing.”

It was, of course, a cover of “Sunshine,” the song that Jonathan Edwards wrote and recorded in 1971 and took to No. 4. But Edwards’ version of the song was a peppy, almost light-hearted, take that has a running time of just more than two minutes, with only acoustic guitars and a little bit of percussion to carry the song along. I was never all that fond of the record, although it was pleasant enough – and brief enough – that hearing it on the radio was no great trial. But I’ve always thought that the record was a little too upbeat for the message the words were carrying, making Edwards seem a little disconnected from the meaning of his own work.

The dirge-like quality of the Isleys’ version, though, seemed much more in tune with the heart of the song, and I wondered how it fit in with the rest of the 3+3 album. And as I looked at the sequence of the album, I began to think. From what I can tell, “Sunshine” – listed as “Sunshine “(Go Away Today)” by the Isleys – is the second song on Side Two of the original configuration. The side begins with “What It Comes Down To,” a propulsive, danceable track with a catchy chorus and a decent love lyric. The contrast between the end of that track and the foreboding intro to “Sunshine” makes for a fascinating contrast.

And when “Sunshine” ends with a slashing guitar atop the clavinet, there’s another contrast when the next track starts, as the Isleys slide into a mellow and soulful version of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze.”

In the days when my new music came entirely on vinyl, I always listened to an album in sequence when I played it for the first time. And after my experience with the Isleys and my conversation with Matt this week, I’m thinking I might need to go back to that practice. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to end my habit of offering recordings here that are pulled from albums, but I think I’m going to be a little more aware of the original context of those recordings, when I can be.

And I still wonder whether the sequence of songs on albums today is as important as it was when music came solely on vinyl. While you’re pondering that, here’s the Isley Brothers.

Isley Brothers – “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” [1973]

A Baker’s Dozen for Summer

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 20, 2007

The solstice is upon us tomorrow, the longest day of the year – as measured by sunlight – in the Northern Hemisphere. That means those poor sods in Australia and Argentina and other southern places will stumble around in the dark for a longer period than normal, of course. It also means that the Druids – as I mentioned in Monday’s post – will gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise over the stone called the Heel Stone as part of their annual ceremonies.

We don’t have any hoopla to mark the beginning of meteorological summer here, as far as I know. There’s no ceremonial dipping of the season’s first ice cream cone or anything like that. The fact that summer as a state of mind has already started likely has something to do with the absence of such things. Summer’s been here for a while, no matter what the calendar says.

Maybe it’s not the same now, but thirty-some years ago, for me and the kids I knew, summer – specifically the summer after high school graduation – marked our first real entry into the workforce. I imagine some kids had worked earlier, but I think that most of us in the Class of 1971 got our first real taste of the so-called adult world very shortly after we took off our caps and gowns. For me, that meant spending forty hours a week doing whatever it was the maintenance department at St. Cloud State wanted me to do. And I got the remarkable sum of $2.10 an hour for doing it.

I spent the first half of that summer mowing lawns, riding a huge roaring machine across the green expanses of lawn on campus. Quite honestly, the mowers were a little scary, requiring a fair amount of strength in order to mow anything but a straight line. As there weren’t any areas of lawn that didn’t require a turn now and then, I did not do well mowing lawn, and by mid-summer, I was transferred indoors to the janitorial corps.

And in the building that housed the art and industrial arts departments, I met Mike. A few years older than I was, Mike was loud, profane and funny. For a week or so, he and I filled in for the vacationing regular janitors in Headley Hall, and then maintenance management assigned me to Mike and we became a roving floor cleaning crew, moving from building to building with our mops and buckets and detergents and electric floor scrubber. The first time Mike turned the operation of the scrubber over to me, the machine – which glides along the floor atop a whirling scrubbing pad – deposited me on my rump on a slippery wet floor. Mike laughed, and all I could do was join in. By the end of the summer, though, I could scrub and polish a floor with the best of them, which pleased me a lot. (At the age of seventeen, one takes one’s accomplishments when and where they surface.)

In August, we switched to an evening schedule, 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., to clean the floors in Whitney House, the luxurious one-time private home that then housed the offices of the college president and several vice presidents. We were only allotted thirty minutes for lunch, but given that we had to spend a fair amount of time waiting for mopped floors and newly waxed floors to dry, that was okay.

One evening in Whitney House, Mike and I were lounging in the lower-level office of one of the vice presidents, sipping cola and waiting for the floor in an adjacent office to dry so we could wax it. As we waited, we amused ourselves by browsing through the vice-president’s collection of Playboy magazines (a collection that I imagine would get the vice-president disciplined for harassment these days). As we paged through the most recent editions – which were fairly innocent by today’s standards – we heard a scream upstairs. It was Betty, the nighttime matron!

We ran upstairs, and as we did, we heard a door slam. We saw that the closet where our supplies were kept was closed, and the knob was turning. “Betty, are you okay?” Mike asked through the closet door.

“No,” said Betty. She was a sweet lady, but she was, in today’s terms, developmentally challenged. “There’s a bat, and I don’t want him to get me!”

Mike and I looked around. There, flying up and down the grand staircase of Whitney House, was a small brown bat. “I’ll get him with a broom,” Mike said. But the brooms were in the closet with Betty. It took Mike a few minutes to persuade her to unlock the closet so he could get one. At length, the door opened, and Betty’s hand offered Mike a broom. He took it, and Betty pulled her hand back in and locked the door again.

Mike headed for the stairway with me in tow. The bat came toward him, its course parallel to the stairs, and Mike took aim. Three or four times, he flailed at the flying mammal. Every time, the bat wheeled in its flight and the broom went past harmlessly. We began to laugh, mostly at Mike’s futility but also at the moans and cries still coming from Betty in the closet. On his fourth try, Mike swung harder. The broom again missed the bat and then continued on toward me. I turned my back. The head of the broom struck me between my shoulder blades, and the broomstick broke neatly in two.

We laughed harder.

Mike slumped against the wall near the closet, laughing, and said to me, “You try it.”

I looked for a weapon. The broomstick was useless. I looked in my right hand, where I still carried the vice-president’s most recent edition of Playboy. As the bat flew away from me, up the staircase, I rolled the magazine into a cylinder. At the landing where the staircase turned, the bat reversed its course and headed toward me. I waited at the bottom of the stairs, and as the bat neared me, I rose on my tiptoes and delivered an overhead smash that Bjorn Borg would have envied, catching the bat from behind, where his sonar did no good, and driving him into the carpet.

Mike took a broom and dustpan from Betty’s cart, scooped up the creature and placed him under a tree outside. Evidently, I had only stunned him, for when we checked, half an hour later, the bat was gone. It took us about that long to persuade Betty it was safe to leave the closet.

And then we went back downstairs. I put the magazine back into the vice-president’s desk, and Mike and I waxed the floor of the adjacent office and then moved on to the next office, still laughing.

A couple of years later, when I was working for the library at a job that took me all over campus, I ran into Mike. He told me Betty had retired but that every time he saw her, she talked about the bat in Whitney House. Mike was still floating, filling in for janitors on vacation, but he no longer worked the floor cleaning crew or worked nights. And he missed that.

“We had a good summer that year, didn’t we?” he said to me. “That was a good one.” And he was right.

So, to celebrate the summer that technically starts tomorrow, and to celebrate as well all the good summers of the past – including the summer I spent scrubbing floors – here’s a Baker’s Dozen of songs with the word “summer” in their titles:

“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66267, 1967

“The Boys Of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen single 29141, 1984

“Summertime” by Scarlett Johansson from Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars, 2006

“Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers from 3+3, 1973

“The Endless Summer” by the Sandals from The Endless Summer soundtrack, 1966

“Summer Wages” by Ian & Sylvia from Ian & Sylvia, 1971

“Summer’s Almost Gone” by the Doors from Waiting For The Sun, 1968

“Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone, Epic single 10497, 1969

“Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels, Capitol single 5271, 1983

“Fifteen Summers” by Gallagher & Lyle from Breakaway, 1976

“Summertime Dream” by Gordon Lightfoot from Summertime Dream, 1976

“Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” by Joan Baez from Diamonds & Rust, 1975

“Summer Wine” by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood from Nancy & Lee, 1968

A few notes about the songs:

This is a random selection. I sorted all the songs with “summer” in their titles or album titles, selected “Summer Rain” as the first, and then let the RealPlayer go. I then decided that the word “summer” had to be in the song title, not the album title. And I rejected Brewer & Shipley’s “Indian Summer” as not being quite in the spirit of things. So this is what we got.

A few songs missed the cut that would have been nice. Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime” comes to mind, as does Frank Sinatra’s melancholy “Summer Wind.” I love Seals & Crofts’ version of “Summer Breeze,” but it’s so well known that I was glad to see the Isley Brothers’ long version show up instead.

Johnny Rivers’ “Summer Rain” is one of my all-time favorite songs (it would make my Top Twenty for certain), and I was a little surprised to see that the single was not released in summer, that it was released late in the autumn, first making the charts in December of 1967. But then I thought about the last verse of the song, and that made sense. The song is from Rivers’ Realization, which was on my recent list of my favorite albums.

The album Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars, from which the Scarlett Johansson performance comes, was a benefit record for “Music Matters,” an educational program of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I thought that, for an actress not known for singing, Johansson pulled it off pretty well.

I wrote a while back about working at the state trap shoot for three summers when I was in high school and about how I heard some songs so frequently down in the trap pit that they became what I call “trap shoot songs.” “Hot Fun In The Summertime” is one of those songs, redolent of black dust and the smell of gunpowder and the sound of shotguns.

“Summer Wine,” as over-written as it might be – a condition not rare among songs penned by Lee Hazlewood – is nevertheless one of my favorite songs, no matter who sings it. The Nancy & Lee version is not the original – that showed up on a Hazlewood album a year or two earlier than this, I believe – but it is, I think, the best.