Posts Tagged ‘James Taylor’

Here’s To The Kiddie Corner Kid

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 6, 2009

Well, it’s Babe Ruth’s birthday today. The Sultan of Swat was born in Baltimore on February 6, 1895.

That also means that it’s Rick’s birthday. Coming from a family that cared a great deal about baseball, the Kiddie Corner Kid never let me forget that he shared a birthday with Ruth. It doesn’t matter that, later in life, I discovered I have my own Hall of Fame member with whom I share a birthday: Napoleon Lajoie. In the famous ballplayer game, Babe Ruth trumps ’em all.

So the Kid turns another year older today, following the numerical path I trod back in September. I recall one afternoon when we were about ten, and one of Rick’s family members insisted that he had to be older than I was because he was born in February and I was born in September. The concept of September of one year coming earlier than February of the next was elusive, and at the time, it seemed important to be able to claim to be older than the other person.

These days, the only advantage I can find to being older than Rick or anyone else is that I get to claim a senior discount earlier. (I routinely get such discounts without asking these days; such is the power of a gray beard.)

Anyway, having remembered Babe Ruth’s birthday, I went back to the files to find a Billboard Hot 100 from February 6. That turned out to come from 1971, when we were both still in high school. As I’ve related here other times, that was when we were taking an astronomy class together at St. Cloud Tech, playing a lot of tabletop hockey and writing the occasional song lyric together. We also listened to a lot of music, whether on the record player or the radio. Our favorite album in those days was either The Band, which Rick had given me for Christmas just more than a month earlier, or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu.

When it was radio, it was either KDWB in the Twin Cities or WJON over across the tracks. I’ve pulled five records from the Hot 100 that I know we heard around the time of Babe Ruth’s birthday in 1971 and one that I doubt that we ever heard. So these are for the Kiddie Corner Kid as his odometer rolls another digit. May there be miles to go for both of us.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, February 6, 1971)

“Born to Wander” by Rare Earth, Rare Earth 5021 (No. 17)

“1900 Yesterday” by Liz Damon’s Orient Express, White Whale 368 (No. 35)

“Temptation Eyes” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4263 (No. 41)

“Whole Lotta Love” by Collective Consciousness Society, RAK 4501 (No. 64)

“Country Road” by James Taylor, Warner Bros. 7460 (No. 81)

“Timothy” by the Buoys, Scepter 12275 (No. 100)

Rare Earth, one of the first white acts signed by Motown, put together a nice string of singles in 1970-71, three of them in the Top Ten: “Get Ready” hit No. 4, “(I Know) I’m Losing You” went to No. 7, and “I Just Want To Celebrate” reached No. 7 as well. In between the latter two came “Born To Wander,” which I think is at least as good a record as the other three. For one reason or another, though, it went only as high as No. 17, and so it generally gets ignored when the programmers for the oldies stations read their charts and their tea leaves. Rare Earth added two more hits: “Hey Big Brother” went to No. 19 as 1971 turned into 1972, and “Warm Ride” – written by the Bee Gees – went to No. 39 in mid-1978. I’m not aware of ever having heard “Warm Ride,” but given its time period and its Bee Gees’ provenance, I would think it has to be Rare Earth’s version of disco, an idea almost as contrary and dismaying as that of Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious touring with Up With People.

Speaking of Up With People and things of that ilk (I never pass up an opportunity to use the word “ilk”), Liz Damon’s Orient Express might not have been rooted in nostalgia all the time, but the group’s one hit certainly was. Damon’s nine-person group was based in Hawaii – there’s a slight but certain tropical lilt in the background of “1900 Yesterday” – and managed to turn a very pretty song into a minor hit: The record peaked at No. 33 and spent a total of twelve weeks in the Hot 100.

During my first quarter of college, in the autumn of 1971, one of the guys I hung around with would wince whenever he heard “Temptation Eyes.” That song, he said, was the story of his senior year of high school. We never got details, but then, I’d expect that almost any American schoolboy could find a bit of himself in almost any song the Grass Roots did during those years. And that sparks a thought that I should possibly explore: Is one of the things that makes a record a great record the possibility that the listener can see him- or herself inside the tale the record tells? Whatever the answer, “Temptation Eyes” eventually got as high as No. 15.

I don’t remember Collective Consciousness Society (CCS) at all. I was first tipped to the British group in a post last summer by Jeff at AM, Then FM, who then pointed me in the direction of Flea Market Funk, where DJ Prestige had posted the mp3 of the group’s instrumental version of “Whole Lotta Love.” And then this winter, while digging in my box of unsorted 45s, I found a copy of CCS’ “Tap Turns On The Water,” released later in 1971. Despite the prominence in the UK of some of the group’s members – see Wikipedia – there’s something not very serious about the group’s sound, almost like a low-level British Traveling Wilburys way ahead of its time. “Whole Lotta Love” peaked at No. 58 during a four-week stay in the Hot 100.

“Country Road” was the second – I think – single pulled from James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James album; “Fire And Rain” had gone to No. 3 in the autumn of 1970. And I think that the direct contrast may have hampered “Country Road,” which was a good record but one not nearly as good as its predecessor: “Fire And Rain” is one of the iconic records in the oldies playlist. “Country Road” has the added misfortune of being easily confused with John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which came along in June of 1971. Whatever the reasons, Taylor’s “Country Road” seems to get a little bit lost, and that’s too bad. This week was its first appearance in the Hot 100; it took six weeks for “Country Road” to climb from No. 81 to No. 37, and two weeks later, it was gone from the charts.

I asked the question above: Is one of the things that makes a record a great record the possibility that the listener can see him- or herself inside the tale the record tells? Well, in the case of the Buoys’ “Timothy,” I would hope not. The tale of a cave-in, implied cannibalism and amnesia is not a place any sane listener would want to be. It’s a catchy record, what with its persistent guitar strum and horn accents, but I doubt that it’s a song that inspires many sing-alongs. I seem to remember a bit of hoo-ha among our elders because of its story, a hoo-ha that would likely be much larger if the song were released today. Or maybe not; I’m not at all sure sometimes how jaded we have become. Anyway, “Timothy” spent seventeen weeks in the Hot 100, peaking at No. 17.

‘Never Die Young’

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 27, 2007

I’ve always thought that James Taylor’s song, “Never Die Young,” was a sad one, despite the lyric that has the entwined couple “sail on, sail on.” A portion of an interview posted at YouTube along with the video Taylor made for the song shows the composer to be in agreement with that.

“One of the great cliches of pop is that the love between a man and a woman can keep out the rest of the world, and it’s that impossibility that the song addresses,” Taylor told the New York Times in February of 1988. “To me, it’s a sad song.”

For those sharp of eye, yes, the crew includes Leland Sklar on bass and Rosemary Butler, among on backing vocals.

Video deleted.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1988

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 26, 2007

I was out on the prairie in Minot, North Dakota, for not quite two years, from August 1987 to the end of June 1989. That makes 1988 the only full year I spent there, living in the front end of a duplex on a quiet street not all that far from the state university where I taught.

That summer was the warmest year since the Dustbowl and droughts of the 1930s, with temperatures routinely topping the hundred-degree mark. With the university not in session, I moved my computer from my home – which had no air conditioning – to my university office and wrote there. My weekday routine during most of that summer was a good one: Mornings, I’d edit and revise the previous day’s production, and late afternoons and evenings, I’d go back to the office and write new material, working on a novel with a writing partner in Minnesota and another one that was solely my creation. (The first has never been finished, though work resumed on it during this past year; the second was finished in 1989 but has never been published.)

For some reason, the state of North Dakota allowed its university faculty members to take their salaries over the nine months that school was in session or spread out over only eleven months. That second option meant that at the end of the summer, there would be one month with no income, and for those whose budgeting skills were challenged – and here I raise my hand without hesitation – that meant finding another source of income during that last month of summer. Accordingly, I found myself in the office of a temporary staffing firm, being interviewed by a young woman.

She glanced over my application and smiled brightly. “Now,” she said, “tell me about yourself. What specialized training have you had?”

I thought for a moment. I’d been a public relations writer, a reporter, an editor, and I’d taught all those things at one time or another. I’d also taught the history of journalism. As I finished my mental cataloguing, I chuckled. The young woman looked askance at me, the wattage of her smile dimming a little.

“I’m a journalist,” I said. “Beyond that, I have no specialized training.”

She persevered, still smiling. “What do you do well?”

I smiled back. “I read and write very well.”

Her smile dimmed appreciably, and – as it turned out – she had no place for me to work. Now, reporting is more than just reading and writing, of course. Research and analysis, interviewing techniques, the ability to listen carefully and other skills are essential. But reading and writing are the core skills of a good journalist. And I was being honest.

I wound up spending fifteen days late that summer doing telephone sales, calling individuals in Minot who’d expressed an interest one way or another in joining a health club, trying to sell them memberships. I was pretty good at it, but I was relieved when I walked out of that office for the final time, my pocket holding a check large enough to tide me over until I got the first check of the new academic year from the university.

I continued to make the rounds of the flea markets and the garage sales that summer, scavenging LPs wherever I went. I also made plenty of new purchases in stores around Minot and during a quick trip back to St. Cloud in August. It was during that year that music publications like Rolling Stone and others began to publish pieces about the death of the LP in the face of the popularity of the newly marketed CD. I began to find new LPs a little more difficult to find.

As always, the music I did find helped ease my way through the year, providing solace during a year of massive personal and professional challenges, about which nothing more need be said than that they existed.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1988
“Love Me Like a Soldier” by Darden Smith from Darden Smith

“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen from Chimes of Freedom

“Silvio” by Bob Dylan from Down In The Groove

“Trouble in the Fields” by Nanci Griffith from One Fair Summer Evening

“Zimbabwe” by Toni Childs from Union

“I’ll Tell Me Ma” Van Morrison & the Chieftains from Irish Heartbeat

“Never Die Young” by James Taylor, Columbia single 07616

“Eternal Flame” by the Bangles, Columbia single 68533

“To Love Is To Bury” by the Cowboy Junkies from The Trinity Session

“Loving Arms” by Livingston Taylor (with Leah Kunkel), Critique single 2486

“Last Night” by the Traveling Wilburys from The Traveling Wilburys

“Let It Roll” by Little Feat from Let It Roll

“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, Elektra single 96412

A few notes about some of the recordings and artists:

I’ve shared much of Darden Smith’s early work here. “Love Me Like A Soldier” is from his major label debut, which also includes reworkings of three songs from his first album, Native Soil. This track, I think, is one of the better ones from Darden Smith, which found the Austin-born performer getting some help from such luminaries as Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett.

This version of “Born To Run” is the slowed-down acoustic version that Springsteen performed frequently in the 1980s. In a short story around that time, I described the transition over the years between the two versions like this:

He used to end his concerts with ‘Born to Run,’ guitars and drums and saxophone wailing while the road went by and he and the girl on the cycle roared toward whatever tomorrow would bring them because they knew it had to be better or at least no worse than what they had tonight and the roaring of the cycle that the narrator rode got mixed up with the roar of the crowd at the Boss’s feet and the music pounded and thundered with a noisy momentum that carried the E Street Band and its Boss and the audience in the arena toward some wonderful finish, and baby, we were all born to run.

But when he toured a few years later, at the end of the shows, when the audience might have been ready to rock but when Bruce and the guys with him were ready to go home, he’d play it slow. Solo, with only a quiet acoustic guitar. It was almost thoughtful and sad, and the crowd was quiet. And it was right to do it like that: We had what we had, even if it wasn’t what we all dreamed of. And none of us were running anymore.

Bob Dylan’s Down in the Groove is kind of a ramshackle album, pieced together – or so it seems – from bits and pieces that Dylan found himself with after a series of low-key sessions. It’s an amiable album, but it makes no grand statement – nor any statement at all, actually. Still, it’s a fun album, a mix of originals and covers, and “Silvio” is pretty representative.

Toni Childs and Tracy Chapman were two members of a diverse group of young women who came to prominence in the late 1980s, a group that the observing media carelessly lumped together in the category of New Folkies. Among the others so lumped were Suzanne Vega and the Indigo Girls. Sometimes the category fit well – as it did with Chapman and the Indigo Girls – and sometimes it didn’t, as with Childs. She was a singer-songwriter, but her work was more ornate and opaque, with production techniques being laid over her swirling songs in a way that didn’t happen with the others. Union was Child’s first release, and to my ears, the parable of “Zimbabwe” is its centerpiece. Two more albums followed: House of Hope in 1991 and The Women’s Boat in 1994. All are well worth finding. The same holds true for the larger output of Tracy Chapman, of course, which to my ears is more rooted in folk than is Childs’ work. From her first self-titled release – “Fast Car” was the first single – through her most recent release, 2005’s Where You Live, Chapman has been firm in calling for change, both internally in her listeners’ hearts and externally in the world in which she and her listeners live. The narrator of “Fast Car” is hopeful but realistic, a posture that seems more reasonable than most. And it was a great radio single, too!

“Let It Roll” is the title track from the first Little Feat album recorded when the group reconvened following the death of founder Lowell George. Some fans were offended by the band’s regrouping, but the fact was that George’s involvement in the band’s efforts had diminished more and more during the years he struggled with the difficulties that finally took his life. Let It Roll is a pretty good album by a group that decided to go on doing what it did best: make music.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 11, 2007

I’ve been dithering back and forth for a few days, trying to decide what year to feature in today’s Baker’s Dozen. I spent some time sorting out the tunes from various years on the RealPlayer (in the process realizing that I might need to beef up the number of tunes for some of the years prior to the British Invasion and for the 1980s) trying to decide.

I was thinking about 1969 and about 1970 but I couldn’t make up my mind. Finally, as the Texas Gal was pulling on her coat to leave for work this morning, I gave her the choice between those two years and 1966. Without hesitation, she chose 1970. So I looked at my list of love songs that I sometimes use as a starting point. Two were from 1970: “It Don’t Matter To Me” by Bread and “Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt.

Without telling her which songs they were, I asked her to choose between Love Song No. 1, Love Song No. 2 or a random start. And she chose a random start.

And I think we came up with a pretty good set of songs for the year, which is truly one of my favorite years for music, as it was the first full calendar year when I was listening consistently to pop and rock. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my first two album purchases with my own money – as opposed to gifts – were the Beatles’ Let It Be and the double album with the silver cover that was labeled simply Chicago and has since come to be called Chicago II.

By the end of the year, the collection had grown to include albums by the Bee Gees, by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Band as well several more LPs by the Beatles. I also spent a lot of time listening to Top 40 radio; looking at a list of the year’s major single releases in Norm N. Nite’s Rock On Almanac is like looking at a roster of old friends.

So here are thirteen old friends:

“Arizona” by Mark Lindsay from Arizona

“Please Call Home” by the Allman Brothers Band from Idlewild South

“Heavy Church” by Three Dog Night from Naturally

“The Mob” by the Meters from Look-Ka Py Py

“Blue Boy” by Joni Mitchell from Ladies of the Canyon

“Built for Comfort” by Howlin’ Wolf from The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions

“New Morning” by Bob Dylan from New Morning

“Casey Jones” by the Grateful Dead from Workingman’s Dead

“Sunny Skies” by James Taylor from Sweet Baby James

“Down Along The Cove” by Johnny Jenkins from Ton-Ton Macoute!

“Let It Be” by Aretha Franklin from This Girl’s in Love With You

“Do You Remember The Sun” by It’s A Beautiful Day from Marrying Maiden

“Upon The Earth” by Illustration from Illustration

A few notes about this Baker’s Dozen:

Mark Lindsay, as you might know, had been the frontman for Paul Revere and the Raiders, which had thirteen Top 40 hits – four in the Top Ten – during the 1960s. I’ve always thought that “Arizona” was one of the last gasps in the Top 40 of the hippie sensibility with its references to San Francisco, rainbow shades, posting posters and Indian braids. And “Arizona” was a perfect self-adopted name, in an era when hippie children called themselves Sunshine and Harmony and Wavy Gravy and Heloise and Abelard.

I’ve thought for years that “Please Call Home,” a Gregg Allman original, was nearly the perfect blues song, and it’s still surprising, almost forty years after the fact, to realize that when it came out, the Allman Brothers Band had been together for only a year or so (although all of its members had been woodshedding in other bands for years).

The Meters, as All-Music Guide says, “defined New Orleans funk, not only on their own recordings, but also as the backing band for numerous artists,” including Allen Toussaint, Paul McCartney and Robert Palmer. Look-Ka Py Py was the second album by the group headed by Art Neville.

Howlin’ Wolf’s “Built For Comfort” comes from the sessions recorded in London in 1970. The Wolf, who was not healthy, brought along his long-time guitarist Hubert Sumlin. Joining them in the studio were such British luminaries as Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones. Former Stones pianist Ian Stewart pitched in, and a dummer credited only as “Richie” but better known as Ringo Starr came by for a track or two. Blues purists don’t care much for the resulting album, but I think it’s fine. Highlights include Clapton quietly asking the Wolf to demonstrate to the players how he wants the opening to “The Red Rooster” to go, and a rousing version of Big Joe Williams’ classic “Highway 49.”

“Down Along The Cove” was originally intended to be part of a Duane Allman solo album that never came to fruition after the creation of the Allman Brothers Band. The backing tracks already in the can were presented to Jenkins for Ton-Ton Macoute. That’s Duane on guitar here, and fellow Allman Brothers Butch Trucks, Jaimoe and Berry Oakley also worked on the sessions.

The boys from Muscle Shoals provide the backing for Aretha on This Girl’s In Love With You, and the saxophone solo comes from King Curtis.

Illustration was a horn-rock band fronted by Bill Ledster, and “Upon The Earth” was the opening cut from the group’s self-titled debut on the Janus label. (The group also released Man Made in 1974 on Good Noise.) According to the website of band member John Ranger, the group was formed at the Fontain Bleu in St. Jean, Quebec in 1969. You can listen to both of Illustration’s albums – and a few other things – at Ranger’s website.