Posts Tagged ‘James Brown’

A Baker’s Dozen Of Trains

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 7, 2008

Almost every night as I went to sleep during my childhood and youth, I’d hear the sound of trains. The tracks sliced through the east side of St. Cloud, with southbound trains heading for the Twin Cities and northbound trains heading for either the nearby passenger terminal or the rail yard across the river on the north side. As the trains neared the intersection with Seventh Street two blocks from our house, the engineers would let loose their horns, and so very often, I’d slide into sleep with the sound of a train and its horn easing my way.

The tracks on the east side back then were part of the Great Northern Railway, built in the late years of the nineteenth century from St. Paul and Duluth across the northern tier of the U.S. to Washington and Oregon. We kids would watch from the schoolyard as the trains roared past, most of the cars bearing the GN logo – a mountain goat standing on a rocky outcrop – and we’d wave as the caboose passed by. More often than not, the railroad men in the caboose would wave back.

(How long has it been since I’ve seen a caboose, much less waved at one? I have no idea, but it’s been years. Their absence isn’t the only change, of course: The railroad, after many mergers, is now called the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. Its only business is freight. Amtrak uses the route for its passenger service, which stops here twice a day, heading east to the Twin Cities and Chicago in the early morning and heading west across the plains just after midnight.)

Paul Simon wrote, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance.” I’m not sure about everybody, but it’s true for me, and I imagine for a lot of the kids who grew up within earshot of the tracks on the east side. The Texas Gal and I live about a block from those same tracks, and trains provide a frequent, and pleasant, background sound. (When we’re watching television with the sliding door open, the sound coming across the little meadow can drown out the television; those are moments I’m grateful for the ability to pause the television.)

It’s a little less noisy these days, though: Trains coming through here are no longer allowed to blow their horns. Late last year, the two crossings nearest our home were reconstructed to provide greater safety, and the stretch of tracks through St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids (a smaller city adjacent to St. Cloud on the north) was proclaimed a “no horn” zone. That’s too bad, in a way. The horns could be intrusive, but they were also a part of the background of life here on the east side. Just moments ago, as I was writing this, I heard a faint train horn, maybe from over on the north side, and I realized I’ve missed the sound.

What is it about the sound of a train, with or without its horn? I can’t answer for others, but to me, it’s the sound of exploration and adventure, the sound of another place calling me onward. I’m sublimely happy with where I am in all ways. But when a train comes by, the clatter of its wheels on the track calls me to come away.

I’ve done a very little bit of train travel in the U.S., mostly between St. Cloud and Minot when I was teaching in the North Dakota city twenty years ago. During my nine months in Europe while I was in college, I had a rail pass for two months and logged about 11,000 miles of train travel, from Denmark south as far as Rome and north as far as Narvik, Norway, the farthest point north one could travel on the rail lines in Europe. I suppose it’s the echo of those long-ago adventures I hear when the wheels clatter on the rails.

A Baker’s Dozen of Trains
“Mystery Train” by The Band from Moondog Matinee, 1973

“Night Train” by James Brown, King single 5614, 1961

“Glendale Train” by the New Riders Of The Purple Sage from New Riders Of The Purple Sage, 1971

“Memphis Train” by Rufus Thomas, Stax single 250, 1968

“Long Black Train” by Josh Turner from Long Black Train, 2003

“Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart, Warner Bros. single 22685, 1989

“Southbound Train” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby, 1973

“When The Train Comes” by the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver from Reach For The Sky, 1975

“Time Run Like A Freight Train” by Eric Andersen from Stages: The Lost Album, 1973/1991

“Last Train To Memphis” by Johnny Rivers from Last Train To Memphis, 1998

“The Blue Train” by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris & Linda Ronstadt from Trio II, 1999

“Love Train” by the O’Jays, Philadelphia International single 3524, 1973

“Trains” by Al Stewart from Famous Last Words, 1993

A few notes:

Moondog Matinee was The Band’s salute to vintage rock & roll and R&B. At the time, many listeners perceived it as a stopgap record, but to my mind, it’s a document of where some of The Band’s myriad influences lie. Some of the tracks on the album work better than others, it’s true, and “Mystery Train” might be the best of them all.

I don’t often share songs recorded after 1999, but Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train” is so good I have to make an exception. Turner’s deep country voice and the moody backing track make the song sound as if it’s always been around and Turner discovered it in some back-road adventure.

Back in 1989, long after I’d written off Rod Stewart, he came along with “Downtown Train,” his stellar reading of the Tom Waits tune. There’s a nice version of the song by Everything But The Girl on its 1998 album Acoustic, but the Stewart version, I think, is the definitive one.

A while back, I shared “Page 43” from the Graham Nash/David Crosby album. “Southbound Train” is one of the two other superlative tracks from that album (“Immigration Man” is the other.) As I think I said then, of all the sub-combinations to come out of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young conglomeration, the pairing of Nash and Crosby might have been the best.

The Eric Andersen track was supposed to be on his Stages album, recorded in 1973. As I’ve related here before, CBS lost the tapes. Andersen re-recorded the song – and several others from Stages – for 1975’s Be True To You. After the Stages tapes were re-discovered in 1989, the album – with some additional songs – was released in 1991. As good as the 1975 version of “Time Run Like A Freight Train” was – and it is a good one – this version, the original, is much better.

This list is far less random than these usually are. As well as trimming out a few songs that were released after 1999, I skipped over four or five from the 1950s. (Trains were clearly a staple topic of country music then.) I’m glad I did, otherwise “Love Train” might not have made the list. Propulsive, joyous and very much of its time, “Love Train” is a great single.

I’ve read some critics of Al Stewart say that he over-reaches when he takes on history. Maybe, but sometimes he succeeds greatly. “Trains” is one his successes, taking the listener from schoolboy days in post-World War II England to 1990s commuter travel on the American East Coast, with stops along the way at the trenched front of World War I and the haunted rail spurs that brought innocents to their deaths in World War II’s occupied Poland.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1961

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 16, 2008

We watched the film The Good Shepherd the other evening, the Matt Damon/Angelina Jolie film about one man’s career in U.S. intelligence, from the OSS to the CIA, from 1940 or so to about 1962. Much of story took place in 1961, with Matt Damon’s character and others in the agency trying to find out who had leaked to the Communists – Russian or Cuban – the plans for a U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

While the film’s story is interesting – lots of historical detail done right, for those who enjoy that sort of thing (I am one of them) – and the acting is impeccable, especially Damon’s, what I found most fascinating was the movie’s portrayal of 1961, the details of a time that stands shrouded in mist at the edge of my memory. The look of the city buses, the household décor, the clothing – for men, women and children – all of it was familiar.

One of the film’s details that struck me was men wearing hats: snap-brim fedoras, panamas, trilbys. I remember watching my dad retrieve his hat from the closet shelf moments before heading out the door each morning. I’ve seen pictures of crowds, usually baseball games, during the 1950s and early 1960s, and nearly every man is wearing a hat. Not a cap, a hat. Modern lore has it that the end of the hat as an essential accessory for men began in 1961, when President John Kennedy delivered his Inaugural address outdoors, bare-headed in Washington’s January chill. The hat as an accessory hung on for a while after that, but – according to those who catalog such things – its remaining time was short.

So much of what I saw of 1961 in The Good Shepherd was familiar, but I really recall very little about the year, which was the year I turned eight. I do remember talk about the Berlin Wall going up in August. What else? Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in April, and a month later, Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space. In October, Roger Maris hits his 61st home run, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s 1927 record by one.

To state the obvious, it was an incredibly different time, and the year’s pop culture reflected that just as much as the events of the year. The top-rated television shows for the season that began in the autumn of 1961 – and yes, there was such a thing as a television season – were:

Wagon Train
Bonanza
Gunsmoke
Hazel
Perry Mason
The Red Skelton Show
The Andy Griffith Show
The Danny Thomas Show
Dr. Kildare
Candid Camera

According to Billboard, the year’s top five singles were:

“Tossin’ and Turnin” by Bobby Lewis
“I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline
“Michael” by the Highwaymen
“Cryin’” by Roy Orbison
“Runaway” by Del Shannon

That listing, in some ways, baffles me. The Lewis, Shannon and Highwaymen singles all went to No. 1 during the year, and Orbison’s single went to No. 2. But “I Fall To Pieces” went no higher than No. 12 on the chart during a ten-week stay. I imagine there’s some explanation, but the presence of the Cline record is especially baffling because the second-longest stay at No. 1 during 1961 was the five weeks by Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John,” which missed the top five. Any chart mavens out there know how that happens?

A few other songs that hit No. 1 for more than a week were: “Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, “Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk, “Pony Time” by Chubby Checker, “Surrender” by Elvis Presley, “Blue Moon” by the Marcels, “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson, “Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, “Take Good Care Of My Baby” by Bobby Vee, “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles, “Runaround Sue” by Dion and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens.

And here’s what 1961 sounds like when I listen:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1961

“Spoonful” by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, Chess single 1771

“It Will Stand” by the Showmen, Minit single 632

“Crying in the Rain” by the Everly Brothers, Warner Bros. single 5250

“Voodoo Voodoo” by LaVern Baker, Atlantic single 2119

“One Mint Julep” by Ray Charles, Impulse! single 200

“Catfish Blues” by B.B. King from My Kind Of Blues

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens, RCA single 7954

“Too Much Monkey Business” by Elvis Presley, Flaming Star EP (RCA 128)

“Gypsy Woman” by the Impressions, ABC-Paramount single 10241

“Shake for Me” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1804

“Night Train” by James Brown, King single 5614

“I Done Somebody Wrong” by Elmore James, Fire single 1031

“Honky Tonk, Part II” by Earl Palmer, Liberty single 55356

A few notes:

“Spoonful” came from the pen of Chess studio legend Willie Dixon and was first recorded and released as a single in 1961 by Howlin’ Wolf. Five years after James and Fuqua released their version, the English trio Cream recorded it on Fresh Cream and it became a performance staple for the group, with live versions often going longer than fifteen minutes.

In The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh writes: “‘It Will Stand’ was . . . a boldly defiant stroke. Asserting that rock and roll was great was one thing, but this song actually implied that rock would last because it had meaning. This was far from Danny & the Juniors’ declaration of three years earlier that ‘Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay’ because Danny and the boys explicitly declared that they didn’t know why. [Lead singer General] Johnson’s faith was deeper and his record is an anthem that will last as long as rock and roll is heard.” As to General Johnson, he showed up at least once in the Top 40 – “It Will Stand” went to No. 62 –as the lead singer for the Chairmen of the Board in 1970 when “Give Me Just A Little More Time” went to No. 3.

The Ray Charles single, “One Mint Julep” must have some kind of story behind it. It’s one of two regular singles – according to the generally accurate website Soulful Kinda Music – that Charles released on the Impulse! label, evidently between his stays at Atlantic and at ABC-Paramount. The flip side of “One Mint Julep” was “Let’s Go,” and the other single – also in 1961 – was Impulse! 2002, with “I’ve Got News For You”/“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town.” In addition, there was a DJ promo release of “One Mint Julep.”

Latter-day listeners might be more familiar with other versions of at least two of the songs here. In 1970, Brian Hyland had a No. 3 hit with his cover of “Gypsy Woman.” And fans of blues artists John Hammond might recognize Howlin’ Wolf’s “Shake for Me” from Hammond’s 1969 album Southern Fried. (Legend Duane Allman sat in on four tracks from Southern Fried, including “Shake For Me.”)

I’ve wondered for years as to whether Earl Palmer’s record is titled “Honky Tonk Part II” or “Honky Tonk Part 11,” as the letters on the record label sure like like a pair of 1’s to me. Or it could be “Honky Tonk Part 1” with a mistaken extra digit. I’ve gone with the Roman numeral here. It’s not something I’ve lost a lot of sleep about, but whenever I see the 45, I wonder. This is one of those 45s I’ve had likely since it came out, when my sister would occasionally come home from the record store with a bag of ten 45s for $1.25 or something like that.*

*The single is clearly “Honky Tonk Part II,” and I knew that. My comment was a lame attempt at typographical humor, as the title mistakently uses Arabic numerals and reads “Honky Tonk Part 11” instead of “Honky Tonk Part II.” Note added June 4, 2011.