Posts Tagged ‘Janis Ian’

Autumn At Its Peak

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 27, 2009

I spent three autumns – those of 1983, 1984 and 1990 – in Columbia, Missouri, a city just far enough south that autumn is a beautiful and lengthy season, warm and colorful into November. There was no sense of impending chill, for the most part, but then Missouri is far enough south that in normal years, the oncoming winter is neither overly chilly nor markedly drear. It was as if the beauty of autumn came free, a season of change and color and mellow mood for which no winter payment was demanded.

In Minnesota, I think, autumn is viewed in two ways. (I imagine there are those who don’t spend any time thinking about the meaning of autumn or of any of the seasons; I do not understand such folk, and I pity them.) Autumn to some of us is a borrowed joy, a season of oranges, reds and browns tinged with enough melancholy to make it pleasant, a pageant of waning sunlight and cool air for which we pay during the long Northland winter.

Or else autumn is a gift of nature, a bonus time of sunlit afternoons and chill, misty mornings, the seasonal equivalent of a two-minute warning, with Nature telling us that our temperate times are soon to end and if we have things to accomplish, we best do them today: Rake the lawn, clean the gutters, gaze at the long Vs of geese heading south, and then look at the half-moon attended by Jupiter and feel the chill of the breeze from the north.

So which is it? Do we borrow autumn’s subtle spectacle and pay for it later, when the wind carries the empty chill of Arctic air instead of the scent of brown and gold leaves? Or is autumn a gift, a season of time passing that levies no obligation but to cherish it?

I think the season may be both gift and obligation at the same time. If autumn does have a price, though, it’s not just winter’s winds. I think that price is closely related to the weight of autumns gone by. The season is my favorite, and as I wander through my fifty-seventh autumn, I carry with me much of what transpired in those previous fifty-six autumnal seasons. This is not heavy baggage; it’s a backpack’s worth at most. And not all of the memories stuffed into the backpack are sad ones: This week, for instance, brings the Texas Gal and me the joy of the second anniversary of our wedding. Last week, I realized that my father would have turned ninety, were he still among us. That’s he’s not is a sorrow; that he was here for so many years, until he was eighty-three, was a joy, and both of those thoughts, too, belong in the autumnal backpack.

When rummaging through that backpack, one does find years when autumn was a series of troubles, but one also finds years when autumn was one bit of joy following another for months. When those troubles and joys come in consecutive years, their impact is huge, even though more than thirty years have passed. As autumn began in 1974, I was still recovering from the lung ailment that had taken most of my summer away. In late September, my father had a heart attack, one from which he fully recovered, but we had no way to know at the time. And a month later came a horrific traffic accident in which I was badly injured and lost a dear friend. For a long time, the only thing I knew about the future was that it would arrive and would eventually bring another autumn. Whether that next autumn would be better was not something I was willing to assume.

It was better. If there is a shining season during the years I spent on the campus of St. Cloud State, it is the autumn of 1975. Dad was healthy, I was healthy. My classes – the last I’d take on campus before my internship and graduation – fascinated me, and two of them were instrumental in my learning to be a writer. I still spent a great deal of time at The Table in the student union, though as some folks had graduated, the cast of characters was evolving. I was also spending a lot of time with my pal Murl, whom I’d met that summer.

It was a golden time, one that seems more rich in memory with each passing year. But there were concrete reasons for that sense of goodness: Hope and renewal found me for the first time in a year. (That healing was a process, of course, and had started some seasons earlier, but it was during that autumn of 1975 that I truly began to feel mended.) My smile returned. And all around me – my home, my car, the student union, downtown bars and everywhere else – music was a friend once more, instead of a reminder of loss. And here are some of the friends I heard.

A Six-Pack From A Golden Autumn (1975)
“Miracles” by Jefferson Starship from Red Octopus
“Dance With Me” by Orleans, Asylum 456261
“Sky High” by Jigsaw from Sky High
“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian from Watercolors
“My Little Town” by Simon & Garfunkel, Columbia 10230
“SOS” by ABBA, Atlantic 3265

None of these, of course, are anything near obscure, but there are a couple of them that don’t get aired all that frequently on oldies radio. I heard the intro to “Miracles” on the radio the other day while I was out on some errands; it was the first time in a long time I’d heard the song on the radio, I thought. I ended up taking a longer path home than normal, just to hear the whole thing.

Along with “Miracles,” I think that “Sky High” and “At Seventeen” are also a little bit ignored and maybe forgotten, which is too bad. All six of these did well on the charts, with five of them hitting the Top Ten: An edit of “Miracles” went to No. 3; “Dance With Me” topped at No. 6; “Sky High” went to No. 3; “At Seventeen” also reached No. 3, “My Little Town” got as high as No. 9; and “SOS” peaked at No. 15.

These records aren’t necessarily the best sounds from the autumn of 1975, but they are among the ones that come to mind most quickly when I think of that season. More to the point, when I hear any of them, I am reminded of the healing golden-orange light of the autumn of 1975 and the renewal I felt all through that season. And I think two of them would make my all-time jukebox (a mental exercise at this point, but perhaps the basis for a series of posts in the future): “Miracles” and “Dance With Me.”

(I think that the three I’ve tagged as singles – the ABBA, the Simon & Garfunkel and the Orleans – are in fact the single edits, but I’m not anywhere near certain about that. Information to the contrary would be appreciated.)

Saturday Single No. 674

January 25, 2020

Some songs haunt.

As I read the paper this morning, the RealPlayer wandered through 1975: Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Albert Hammond, Seals & Crofts, Barry Manilow, and then Janis Ian:

The days are okay
I watch the TV in the afternoons
If I get lonely,
The sound of other voices,
Other rooms are near to me
I’m not afraid . . .

And in the winter,
Extra blankets for the cold
Fix the heater, getting old
I am wiser now, you know
And still as big a fool concerning you . . .

And I was pulled back twenty years, into the winter after I was overexposed to toxic chemicals and was left unable to work, unsure of where I could go safely for more than a few minutes, and uncertain of the future. I was isolated in a new apartment in the southern reaches of Minneapolis, and I was lonely.

Ian’s song “In The Winter” has left me feeling desolate from the first time I heard it during the late summer of 1988. It’s from her 1975 album Between The Lines, the album that contains the remarkable “At Seventeen,” which itself is no joyful romp in the meadow. But the angst in “At Seventeen,” is a look back to youth, and when it came out of speakers everywhere during the late summer and early autumn of 1975, it was a tale of memory. And those of us at The Table at St. Cloud State – all attuned for years to Thoreau’s distant drummer – could listen and agree that our younger days had been confusing and sometimes far less than happy.

But “In The Winter” has no insulation of time gone, being written in the present instead of as a look back. I first heard it, I imagine, in September 1988, when Between The Lines was among a batch of records I brought home from a Saturday excursion to either the flea market or some garage sales. It had been a difficult summer, and in Ian’s dirge of solitude after the end of a relationship, I heard echoes of my life at the time.

And this morning, as it came up, I was back for a moment in another desolate time, January 2000, when I wondering how where my life would go (not knowing, of course, that by mid-February, during my first full week online, my life would take another astounding turn, this one fulfilling). I must have heard it during that winter, but whether I sought it out to underline my depression or forgot it was on the album as I cued it up, I do not know. (I’d like to think it was the latter.)

It’s still a bleak song, but beyond that first twinge, its tale is now memory, like the tale of “At Seventeen” was forty-five years ago. And its appearance this morning during random play is a reminder – one we all sometimes need, I think – that bleakness doesn’t always last. And all of that means that Janis Ian’s “In The Winter” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Nine’

April 18, 2013

It’s time for “Nine” as the integers march on, and when we sort the 67,400 mp3s on the digital shelves, we come up with ninety-one mp3s, but only about ten of those tracks will suit our purposes this morning.

What do we leave behind? Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” and Muddy Waters’ “She’s Nineteen Years Old” won’t work for us, nor will “John Nineteen Forty-One,” the elegiac closing instrumental on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1970 opus Jesus Christ Superstar. We’ll pass on “19 Somethin’,” a 2002 tribute to the 1970s and 1980s by country boy Mark Wills, and we’ll pass as well on Paul McCartney’s 1973 track “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five.” Also unqualified are Julius Daniels’ 1927 recording of “Ninety-Nine Year Blues,” several versions of “Ninety-Nine And a Half (Won’t Do)” and the Sonics’ 1965 album track “Strychnine.”

Also going by the wayside are two versions of “Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street)” – one by Bob Dylan and one by country singer John Berry – along with most of the tracks on the Cloud Nine albums by the Temptations (1969) and George Harrison (1987). We’ll also ignore Steve Winwood’s 2008 album, Nine Lives, and the few tracks I have from Bonnie Raitt’s similarly titled album from 1986.

One Nine Seven Zero, a 1970 album by French singer Françoise Hardy also goes in the “no thanks” pile this morning as do single tracks by Nova’s Nine, James K. Nine and two similarly titled tracks: “Janine,” a 1971 plaint by Parrish & Gurvitz, and “Jeannine,” a decent 1969 single from Neil Sedaka.

Having disposed of those and others, where do we start? With some tasty slide guitar, I think, found in “Cloud 9” from Harrison’s similarly titled 1987 album. The album, produced by Harrison with fellow Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne, was seen as one of Harrison’s best and went to No. 8 on the Billboard 200; the single “Got My Mind Set On You” went to No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart. I don’t know why Harrison used the numeral “9” in the title of the track and the word “nine” in the album’s title, but either way, the sweetly morose “Cloud 9” is a nice way to start our short journey this morning.

And we’ll stay with clouds for another track: A cover of the Temptations’ “Cloud Nine” by Cuban conga player Mongo Santamaria. There are four albums of Santamaria’s work from the late 1960s and the 1970s on the digital shelves here, all of them good for getting the feet tapping, the head bouncing and the fingers dancing on the keyboard. “Cloud Nine” comes from Santamaria’s 1969 album Stoned Soul, and a shorter version of the track went to No. 32 on the Bilboard Hot 100 as well as to No. 33 on the R&B chart and No. 30 on the AC chart. It was the second of two Top 40 hit for the Cuban percussionist; in 1963, “Watermelon Man” went to No. 10 on the pop chart, No. 8 on the R&B chart and No. 3 on the AC chart.

At the thoroughly enjoyable blog, Dr. Schluss’ Garage of Psychedelic Obscurities, the good doctor had this to say about Sitar & Strings, a 1968 album by the Nirvana Sitar & Strings Group: “I’m always up for a psychsploitation album early in the morning . . . and this one can certainly fill in for the cheese missing from my eggs. Just as the title sort of suggests, we’ve got a bunch of late 60’s hits with the melody lines played on a sitar while 101 Strings-style orchestrations lumber on in the background. You’re either in for this ride or you’re not.” Well, I’m in, and the NS&SG’s track “Nine O’Clock” twangs and twingles along nicely this morning. The group’s Sitar & Strings album, according to Leonard at red telephone 66, had eight covers and three originals, and as I don’t see any listing of a tune titled “Nine O’Clock” making the charts, the track must have been one of the originals. (If I’m wrong, someone please let me know.) It’s good, trippy Thursday morning music.

“Nine Pound Hammer” is a traditional English folk song, and the earliest recorded version of it, according to Second Hand Songs, came from Al Hopkins & The Buckle Busters in 1927. The earliest version in my stacks comes from the Monroe Brothers, who recorded it for Bluebird in 1936, and the best-known version of the tune is likely the 1947 cover by Merle Travis (who, having added a few lines to the traditional song, is frequently given writing credit). The version on the table this morning, however, comes from the Beau Brummels, better known for the 1965 hits “Laugh, Laugh” and “Just A Little.” In 1967, the San Francisco group recorded “Nine Pound Hammer” for their album Triangle, a collection of songs that All Music Guide called “a ruminative dream cycle.” The album barely edged into the Billboard chart, peaking at No. 197.

Janis Ian’s 1975 comeback might have seemed to come out of nowhere. That was when her album Between the Lines went to No. 1 and its single, “At Seventeen,” went to No. 3 in the Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the AC chart. But the foundation for that comeback seems to have been laid the year before when Ian’s album Stars went to No. 83 and a single from the album, “The Man You Are In Me,” went to No. 33 on the AC chart. (It bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 104.) Now, those aren’t great numbers, but keep in mind that Ian had been absent from the singles chart since 1967. “Page Nine” was one of the tracks on Stars, and like the album it comes from – and Between the Lines a year later – its sound is for me one of the defining sounds of the mid-1970s.

Over the course of something like 1,200 posts at this blog, I’ve mentioned the British progressive group Caravan twice: Once when cataloging the records I brought home in a certain November and once when I included a track from the group in a random mix. Today, we’ll make it three mentions with the inclusion in today’s offerings of the group’s side-long suite, “Nine Feet Underground” from the group’s 1971 album In the Land of Grey and Pink. In his assessment of the album, Bruce Eder of All Music Guide called the piece “musically daring,” noting that it “didn’t seem half as long as its 23 minutes” and adding that it was “a dazzling showcase for Pye Hastings’ searing lead guitar and Dave Sinclair’s soaring organ and piano work.”

Turning The Corner

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 22, 2008

We’ve turned the corner.

Sometime yesterday morning, the sun went as far south in the sky as it goes, and it began to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good new for those of us who find the winter grim and gloomy. I must have a touch of seasonal affective disorder. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that – as I have think I’ve mentioned here before – likely is a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic forebears. Given what we know now of our physical earth, we know that the days of longer light will return come springtime. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen, at least not this year. Today will bring slightly more daylight than did yesterday, and the day after that will bring more than will today. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’ve turned the corner toward the light.

A Six-Pack of Light
“As You Lean Into The Light” by Paul Weller from Heavy Soul, 1997

“Light A Light” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“Long As I Can See the Light” by Joe Cocker from Hymn For My Soul, 2007

“Look for the Light” by B. W. Stevenson from Calabasas, 1974

“Real Light” by the Jayhawks from Tomorrow The Green Grass, 1995

“Carnival of Light” by Dead Can Dance from Dead Can Dance, 1984

A few notes:

I don’t know a lot about Paul Weller, which is a rather large gap in my database, considering that – as All-Music Guide says – there was a time in Britain when Weller was “worshipped as a demigod.” That’s figurative, of course, or maybe not. There might have been altars dedicated to Weller in a bleak corner in Leeds or somewhere else. But his solo work – which followed his days with the Jam and with Style Council – intrigues me. I’m digging deeper these days. And I do love “As You Lean Into The Light.”

The better-known track from Janis Ian’s Between the Lines is “At Seventeen,” which went to No. 3 in Setpember of 1975. “Light A Light” has the some of the same qualities as the hit: a yearning yet seemingly stoic vocal, lyrics that are literate without being over-bearing, and a seemingly effortless melody. On the other hand, I’ve been a fool for Janis Ian ever since 1967 and “Society’s Child,” so take that into account.

The long tale of Joe Cocker is well known: Brilliance in the late 1960s and early 1970s, comebacks here and there, the occasional indifference of the listening public, the also occasional bouts of excess of one kind or another. But forty years down the pike, one thing remains: The man is one of the greatest interpreters of song to ever face a microphone, and here, he does wondrous things to John Fogerty’s “Long As I Can See The Light.”

On the flipside of the longevity stakes was B.W. Stevenson. He had a No. 9 hit in 1973 with “My Maria,” a song that never reached the country charts for which RCA had intended it. The album it came from, also titled My Maria, sparkled, as did the follow-up, Calabasas. Neither of them sold well, joining two previous albums in the cutout bins. He moved from label to label, issuing three more albums that no one bought, and he died in 1988 shortly after heart surgery, at the age of 38. I don’t know about the other albums, but My Maria and Calabasas are well worth listening to. I found them on a one-CD package not long ago.

I’ll let the Jayhawks’ country-rooted pop-rock and Dead Can Dance’s world-new age trance stand on their own, except to say that I like both and both are well worth checking out.

Janis, Bob & The Wailers & The Boss

July 25, 2011

Originally posted July 24, 2008

Doing my normal Thursday wandering at YouTube this morning, I found some nice things related to yesterday’s Baker’s Dozen.

Here’s a clip of Janis Ian performing “At Seventeen.” It came from the April 23, 1976, episode of Midnight Special, on which Ian was the guest host and performed six songs. Other guests that night were Joan Baez, the Electric Light Orchestra, Larry Groce and Flora Purim.

I also found a remarkable concert performance of “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. There’s no date on the clip, but the song was first released on Natty Dread in 1974, and Marley, of course, died in 1981. Beyond that bracket, the best I can do is guess. Does anyone out there have any more information?*

And here’s a black-and-white clip of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band performing “The Promised Land” at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, on September 19, 1978. The visuals are a little grainy, but the music is excellent.

*The Marley video to which I originally linked has been removed. I found instead a video of another remarkable performance of “No Woman, No Cry” at the Amandla Festival of Unity, which took place July 21, 1979, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Note added July 25, 2011.

‘Travels Through The 20th Century’

July 25, 2011

Originally posted July 23, 2008

Every once in a while, I come across a book that I just have to tell people about.

(And it’s a good thing I have outlets with which to do so – this blog and my monthly meeting of Bookcrossing – or I fear I’d be out on the streets, gripping folks by the elbow, showing them a book: “Have you read this? You need to read this! It’s one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.” It would not take long before I’d either be warned by the police to quit or else taken away for some observation.)

Anyway, during my regular stop at the public library last weekend, I spotted a book on the new reading shelf that looked interesting enough to take a chance on: In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century by Geert Max. I sifted the pages quickly, and got the impression that it was a collection of travel pieces from through the years. It sounded interesting enough, so I dropped it in the book bag and brought it home.

I’ve shared a few books here over the past year and a half, and always with the note that the book in question is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. Not wanting that claim to be diluted, I should note that I read – at a guess – six to ten books a month. I’m a rapid reader, and even with the blog and my other writing and my househusband duties, I have a good chunk of time every day for reading. So in the past year and a half, let’s say I’ve read eight books a month; that comes out to 144 books.

Some of those were just okay, a couple I recall as actually very bad. Most were good, and there were a very few that were superior. In Europe is one of them. It turned out to be something far more interesting than an anthology of travel journalism.

In 1999, Max – a writer for the Dutch newspaper, NRC Handlesblad – was assigned to travel Europe for a year, researching and writing pieces on the history of the Twentieth Century on the continent. The book is arranged in chronological order, beginning with his January 1999 travels, during which he covered the years from 1900 to 1914. For that segment of the century, Max traveled to Paris, London, Berlin and Vienna, the four main capitals of Europe during the time when the stage was being prepared for World War I.

Using diaries, histories and publications from the time, and combining those accounts with his observations of the current state of the various locales, Max (aided, no doubt, by what appears to be a remarkable job by translator Sam Garrett) weaves a readable and fascinating history of Europe in the last century. His February travels shift from Vienna and focus on Belgium and northern France, as he chronicles the lives and deaths of millions of young men in the carnage that was the deadlocked Western Front during World War I.

And as he tours a Belgian war cemetery at Houthulst, he brings that long-gone war back to the present:

“I hear a dull thud. A blue mist comes floating across the frosty fields. In the field behind the cemetery, the DOVO, the Belgian War Munition Demolition Service, has blown up another heap of First World War ammunition. They do it twice a day, one and a half tons a year. When the farmers find grenades they leave them at the base of the utility masts, and the miners collect them. And so it goes on here. Generation after generation, this soil continues to vomit up grenades, buttons, buckles, knives, skulls, bottles, rifles, sometimes even a whole tank. The Great War never ends.”

I am tempted every day to rush through my obligations – or to ignore them – so I can that much sooner pick up Max’s book and continue my explorations through the history he found on his travels.

As I read his account of World War I, I thought – as a writer tends to do – about the only time I ever wrote about that first great war. It was in 1978, a piece timed for November 11, Veterans Day, which would be the sixtieth anniversary of the armistice that ended the brutal battle of attrition in France. Still rather new to Monticello, I asked around a bit and found a veteran of World War I who was still alert and was willing to talk about his experience in France.

Frankie was never at the front, but he said he saw enough of the work of the battlefront as wounded and dead soldiers came back through the rear echelons. I took notes and reported his words, our photographer got a picture of Frankie and his wife, Marie, and we borrowed a 1918 picture of Frankie looking every inch the doughboy in his uniform. But I could not find a way as deadline approached that week to describe the look in Frankie’s eyes as he cast himself sixty years back and recalled for me the dirt, the fear, the noise, the blood, the horrible waste that he saw from the edges of the war.

Some things are too profound for words. In In Europe, I think, Max uses his finely chiseled prose and his eye for fine detail to come closer than most can to finding a way around that barrier.

As sometimes happens here, there’s no graceful way to move to the music. Here’s a generally random selection from the year when I wrote about World War I:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1978, Vol. 2
“Do You Wanna Dance” by Janis Ian from Janis Ian

“Heavy Horses” by Jethro Tull from Heavy Horses

“Lookin’ For A Place” by Chilliwack from Lights From The Valley

“Don’t Look Back” by Boston from Don’t Look Back

“Shattered” by the Rolling Stones from Some Girls

“Is This Love” by Bob Marley & the Wailers from Kaya

“Lotta Love” by Neil Young from Comes A Time

“You Belong To Me” by Carly Simon, Elektra single 45477

“The Darker Side” by the Lamont Cranston Band from El Cee Notes

“Here Goes” by the Bliss Band from Dinner With Raoul

“The Promised Land” by Bruce Springsteen from Darkness on the Edge of Town

“Never Make A Move Too Soon” by B.B. King, ABC single 12380

“Take Me to the River” by the Talking Heads from More Songs About Buildings and Food

A few notes:

I have a soft spot for Janis Ian. Anyone who can chronicle high school desperation the way she did in 1975’s “At Seventeen” deserves a pass now and then. Her 1978 self-titled album, though it had its moments, generally deserved that pass, as it was her third album in three years that didn’t come up to the quality of 1975’s Between the Lines. On the other hand, not many albums from anyone else can meet that standard, either. Luckily, “Do You Wanna Dance” is one of the better songs on the 1978 album.

Heavy Horses saw Jethro Tull continuing the back-to-the-roots shift that the band had started with 1977’s Songs From the Wood, with both albums celebrating English folk. Horses, as All-Music Guide notes, is “chock-full of gorgeous melodies, briskly played acoustic guitars and mandolins, and Ian Anderson’s flute lilting in the background, backed by the group in top form.” That’s not to say the album is lightweight, just noting where its inspirations came from.

In the two years since the release of its self-titled debut, Boston hadn’t changed much. “Don’t Look Back” is a decent song, but it – and any of the other seven songs on the album Don’t Look Back – has the same sound as the debut album. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but I kind of wonder why the group bothered.

If I had to go through my 1978 collection and rank the albums, I think that every time, I’d come up with Neil Young’s Comes A Time in the top spot. Far more country-ish than most of his other albums, it’s also the one that Young seems most relaxed with. It sounds like he had fun making the record, and I rarely get that sense about his music.

When I did my long post for last year’s Vinyl Record Day, I wrote “the Bliss Band sounds to me a bit like Pablo Cruise or the Little River Band, both of which were hitting the charts about the time Dinner With Raoul was recorded. There’s a touch of Steely Dan in there, too.” I stand by that, but it’s a sound that’s grown on me in the past eleven months. (A note: This year’s blogswarm for Vinyl Record Day, August 12, is once again being organized by JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.)

“The Promised Land” is one of my favorite Springsteen tracks of all time. (I suppose I should do an all-Springsteen post someday, listing my favorite thirteen.) He’s done some that are a little better, but what makes “The Promised Land” work is its setting: It’s an anthem that carries at least some hope amid the desperation and drear of the rest of Darkness at the Edge of Town.

Another Turn Through The Junkyard

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 28, 2008

Well, quite a busy weekend around here!

We saw Richie Havens in concert Friday evening, as I mentioned Saturday. Saturday evening, we went over to the St. Cloud State campus and its National Hockey Center, where we saw the SCS Huskies lose 5-3 to the Mavericks from Minnesota State University, Mankato. (That’s a university that used to be plain old Mankato State, but its leaders decided a while back that it would sound more important if it were called Minnesota State University, Mankato. I wonder if the TV show Coach had anything to do with that, considering that the popular show took place for most of its run at a fictional Minnesota State? In any case, the uniqueness of the name went away after the state university at Moorhead did the same, calling itself Minnesota State University, Moorhead.)

And Sunday? Well, I spent the bulk of my time yesterday installing my new external hard drive and then transferring over to it more than 20,000 mp3s. The drive is a My Book from Western Digital, which I selected after a general recommendation by my nephew, who works in IT for the Osseo school district in the Twin Cities. He told me that he didn’t have specific model recommendations, but he listed a few manufacturers that he said put out good products, and Western was one of them. So when we were out Saturday, we stopped by the local outlet of the big box electronics store and found a 500-gig drive on sale.

Having heard horror stories, I backed up those mp3s that would be the hardest to replace – about twenty gigs, or a quarter of the collection – and then installed the new drive and began to transfer the mp3s. It took about three hours for the eighty-five gigs of music to find its way to its new home. And then I wasted a few hours messing around with RealPlayer. Prompted by a popup from Real.com, I installed a new version. I didn’t like it, so I spent some time finding and reinstalling the old version (thank goodness for Old Version) and finally got settled.

Next comes the process of reloading all the obscure (and sometimes rather odd) albums that I’ve recorded to CDs and pulled from the player over the past couple of years. I’m not sure how many of those albums I’ll share as albums, but tracks from them should begin popping up in Baker’s Dozens fairly soon.

Given that I have tinkering to do with all those CDs – about seventeen of them, each packed with about 700 MB of music – I thought I’d forego ripping an album this morning and instead take a Monday morning walk through the Junkyard, 1950-1999. And as someone responded to Saturday’s post about the Richie Havens concert with a request, we’ll start with Havens’ 1967 recording of “Follow.”

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard

“Follow” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag, 1967

“Human Touch” by Bruce Springsteen from Human Touch, 1992

“Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds, GNP Crescendo single 372, 1967

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan with the Grateful Dead from Dylan & The Dead, 1989

“Chain of Love” by Lesley Duncan from Sing Children Sing, 1971

“Carolina Moon” by Mr. Acker Bilk from Stranger On The Shore, 1961

“Sideshow” by Blue Magic, Atco single 6961, 1974

“Too Much To Lose” by Gordon Lightfoot, RCA Studios, Toronto, 1972

“Wax Minute” by Mike Nesmith from Tantamount to Treason, 1972

“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“House That Jack Built” by Thelma Jones, Barry single 1023, 1968

“Smile A Little Smile For Me” by the Flying Machine, Congress single 6000, 1969

“Get Down Tonight” by KC & the Sunshine Band, T.K. single 1009, 1975

“Keep Love In Your Soul” by Gary Wright from Headin’ Home, 1979

“Fancy Dancer” by Bread from Guitar Man, 1972

A few notes:

I hesitated when the track from Dylan & the Dead came up, as the album is truly one of the worst entries in the catalogs of both Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. It sounded like a great idea, I guess, and from what I’ve read in various places, there are tapes of Dylan and the Dead performing marvelously. But it didn’t happen on the tour that this album came from.

Lesley Duncan was one of the better session singers in the UK, or so I’ve read, and as a result, she had some estimable musicians – including Elton John – supporting her when she recorded Sing Children Sing. The album is a pleasant enough slice of early Seventies singer-songwriter, but it didn’t draw much attention in what was a crowded field. Duncan recorded four more albums through 1977, again without much success. I like her music, and “Chain of Love” is pretty representative. Sing Children Sing was released on CD on the Edsel label (!) in 2000, and copies now go for more than $80.

“Carolina Moon” is a track from the album released by England’s Mr. Acker Bilk after the idiosyncratic clarinetist had a No. 1 hit in 1962 with the lilting and lovely “Stranger on the Shore.” Bilk never had another Top 40 hit, but his musicianship has kept him quite popular among trad jazz fans in England, with his most recent album – among those listed with dates at All-Music Guide – being 2005’s The Acker Bilk/Danny Moss Quintet.

With its spoken carney-barker introduction, it could be easy to dismiss “Sideshow” as a novelty. But the record succeeds despite that corny intro and remains one of the prettiest of the singles that came out of the Philly Soul movement in the 1970s.

The Mike Nesmith track comes from one of the highly regarded series of country-rock records that the one-time Monkee released during the early 1970s. Any of them are worth checking out. (Those interested in eccentricity should also look into Nesmith’s 1968 oddity, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings.)

Thelma Jones came out of the gospel music world and was the first to record “The House That Jack Built.” A little later in 1968, Aretha Franklin’s cover of the song would slice Jones’ version to shreds, but it’s always interesting to hear the original.

The Flying Machine was a British studio group, not to be confused with James Taylor’s similarly named group. The Brits did bubble-gummish work and the sold some records although “Smile A Little Smile For Me” was their only U.S. hit. Coming as it did from the year I truly began to listen to the Top 40 on the first radio I ever owned, it always brings a smile.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Winter

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 5, 2007

Through the window, I hear the skrik-skrik of someone scraping ice from a vehicle in the parking lot. We got another six inches of snow yesterday afternoon (on top of the six or so inches from Saturday), and it came in the afternoon, causing havoc during what passes for rush hour here in St. Cloud.

It looks like this winter is going to be a tougher one than the past few have been. At least, it’s starting out that way, with two six-inch snowfalls in four days and another storm heading our direction for tomorrow. The past few years haven’t seen much snow at all, and it’s generally come later in the season. And some of those winters have seemed to bring fewer days of sub-zero cold, the kind of cold that makes snow squeak under your feet and makes your cheeks burn.

Were winters colder when I was a kid? I don’t know. I remember walking in some pretty cold weather during my elementary school days. For the seven years I went to Lincoln School (kindergarten through sixth grade), I walked the five blocks from Kilian Boulevard to the school almost every day. On those winter days when the wind came from the north or northwest, we’d turn around and back our way to school, whole clusters of kids walking in reverse along Fifth Avenue Southeast.

(One very clear recollection that points out how times have changed is that the girls were still required to wear skirts or dresses in school. They could wear slacks under their dresses or skirts when they walked to school, but those slacks had to come off once they got inside.)

On very frigid days, those snow-squeaking days when the temperature was at twenty below zero or colder (that’s about twenty-nine degrees below zero Celsius), my mom or dad would drive us – my sister was three years ahead of me – the five blocks to school, often picking up classmates of ours along the way. And on occasion during my first few years of elementary school, I’d get a ride to school from Ed, the college fellow who lived in the next block and was the quarterback for the St. Cloud State Huskies football team.

Do kids still walk to school in any season? I don’t know. I do have a sense that kids no longer do as much outdoors as we used to do. Forty years ago, there were two city-maintained outdoor skating rinks within walking distance of our house: one right across the highway from Lincoln School (with a walking bridge over the highway providing easy access), and another about six blocks south of us on Kilian Boulevard. I was never a very good skater, but I spent my time with Rick and the other neighborhood kids scuffling around the two rinks. And on occasion, we’d go downtown where the city maintained a skating surface on Lake George.

And once every couple of weeks, we’d grab our saucer sleds and head down to the big hill in Riverside Park for a weekend afternoon of sliding, coming home cold and wet, tired and happy.

The rink on Kilian is long gone now, its location having become part of a permanent rose garden. I don’t think there’s a rink near Lincoln anymore. The open area that was flooded each winter is still there, but the warming house is long gone. And the old warming house on Lake George came down years ago, too. I suppose kids who want to skate do so in the ice arenas that were built during the years I was gone.

I would imagine, though, that kids still slide down the hill in Riverside Park. I hope so. And this year, it looks as if there will be plenty of snow for them.

A Baker’s Dozen of Winter

“The First Chill of Winter” by Boo Hewerdine & Darden Smith from Evidence, 1989

“Winterlude” by Bob Dylan from New Morning, 1970

“A Hazy Shade of Winter” by Simon & Garfunkel from Bookends, 1968

“Song of Winter” by Françoise Hardy from One Nine Seven Zero, 1970

“Winterlong” by Neil Young, unreleased, 1974

“Wintery Feeling” by Jesse Winchester from A Touch On The Rainy Side, 1978

“The Coldest Winter in Memory” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“In The Winter” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“Song For A Winter’s Night” by Gordon Lightfoot from The Way I Feel, 1967

“The Winter is Cold” by Wendy & Bonnie from Genesis, 1969

“Lion in Winter” by the Bee Gees from Trafalgar, 1971

“Winter Winds’ by Fotheringay from Fotheringay, 1970

“Sometimes In Winter” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Blood, Sweat & Tears, 1969

A few notes on some of the songs and artists:

I’ve posted the Hewerdine and Smith album Evidence here before, but I could not resist starting this list with “The First Chill of Winter,” which is one of my favorite songs.

The album One Nine Seven Zero, the source of French chanteuse Françoise Hardy’s “Song of Winter,” was originally released in 1969 in South Africa under the title of English 3. A year later, it was released in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand as One Nine Seven Zero. In the U.S. and Canada, the album’s title was Alone. I don’t think there’s any difference between the albums, but the source I had for the album called it One Nine Seven Zero, so that’s what I’ve called it.

The Neil Young track, “Winterlong” was included on Decade, his 1977 retrospective. The only other place the song shows up officially is on the 2006 release, Live at the Fillmore East, which documents a 1970 performance by Young with Crazy Horse.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter Night” may be more familiar in a version by Sarah McLachlan. Her nicely done cover of the song was released on the soundtrack of a 1994 remake of the Christmas film, Miracle on 34th Street, although the recording was not used in the film.

“The Winter Is Cold” comes from one of the more remarkable one-shot recordings of the 1960s. Genesis came from San Francisco-based sisters, Wendy and Bonnie Flowers, who were seventeen and thirteen, respectively, at the time. It was released on the Skye label, which folded soon after the record came out, dooming any chances for the record to gain any attention. “The Winter Is Cold” is one of the lesser tracks on the album, I think, but the album – re-released on the Sundazed label in 2001 with bonus tracks – is worth finding.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 2

May 11, 2011

Originally posted October 3, 2007

Ever try to move a house?

The phone rang early one evening during the summer of 1975, as I was reading in the rec room downstairs, with the Allman Brothers Band keeping me company from the stereo. It was Murl, a graduate student at St. Cloud State who was both a friend and a co-worker on a special crew at the college’s Department of Learning Resources (known in earlier, less pedagogical times as the library).

“I’m over here on the northeast side,” Murl said, giving me an address. “Get your butt over here.”

Not being sure what Murl had in mind, I shrugged and followed directions. A few moments later, I parked my ’61 Falcon – I called it Farley – in front of a small house up on blocks that had a portion of the roof torn off. As I walked toward the house, still puzzled, Murl poked his head up through the empty space where the roof had been. “C’mon up and put on a pair of gloves,” he said.

I went inside and up the narrow stairway, noting that there wasn’t much to the house: a living room, kitchen, bathroom and a small bedroom downstairs and a cramped attic, now about half of it open to the sky.

“We’re taking the top four feet off of it,” Murl said. I waited. He grinned.

“Why?” I finally asked, and he explained.

The house and its property had been purchased – if I remember correctly – by the city, and the house was set to be demolished. Murl and his brothers thought that the house – in pretty good shape and only about fifty years old – might be a good storage building out on their parents’ farm in the western part of the state

So Murl and his brothers bought the house and scouted a route from St. Cloud out to the farm near Chokio, not all that far from the South Dakota border. Murl said they’d worked out a route that used only county and township roads because using state or federal highways would require permit fees that they’d rather avoid. But, due to overhead wires along those county and township roads, the top four feet of the house had to come off. A few days earlier, Murl and his brothers had sawn through the main supports of the roof and taken part of the roof off, and now Murl was pulling the remainder of the roof down to that four-foot point. That left the chimney.

I spent that evening and the next working with Murl in that attic, pulling down the chimney and rigging a cable down the center of the open space that would guide low overhead wires across the house as it moved across the state. A day or so later, the house was jacked and placed on a truck bed.

And of course, having been involved in preparing the house for the move, there was no way I was going to miss the actual move. I got to Murl’s house about five o’clock that morning, and he and I drove to the house site and clambered into the truck cab. His brothers got into a pickup truck and pulled ahead of us, and we set out.

We drove at no more than thirty, maybe thirty-five miles an hour, weaving our way west through central Minnesota, sipping black coffee and eating an occasional sandwich from the lunch we’d packed. The brothers had a carefully mapped route and a list of locations of all the overhead wires that we’d have to lift to get the house under them. Using a T-shaped tool made of two-by-fours, we gingerly lifted power lines and telephone lines, easing the truck and its cargo all the way to Chokio.

We got to Murl’s folks’ farm about six that evening, and just as we got the house off the truck and onto blocks, the rains came, soaking us all as we scrambled across the barnyard to the house. An hour or so later, Murl and I got back into the truck and drove – at standard speed, this time – the 110 or so miles back to St. Cloud. We got home late, dirty, wet and tired, but we were young, and the next morning, we reported back to our summer tasks at the college.

Murl’s gone now. Cancer took him a little more than three years ago. During one of my last visits with him, about a month before he died, he mentioned with a laugh our moving the house that day. “We might have made it more work than it should have been,” he said.

Maybe, I said.

He grinned and said the last words I ever heard him speak. “It sure was a lot of fun, though, wasn’t it?”

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975

“Diamonds & Rust” by Joan Baez from Diamonds & Rust

“Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John” by the Allman Brothers Band from Win, Lose or Draw

“Now and Then” by Gordon Lightfoot from Cold on the Shoulder

“Wheels” by Emmylou Harris from Elite Hotel

“Between the Lines” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines

“Love Comes Through My Door” by Homestead & Wolfe from Our Times

“Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” by Steely Dan from Katy Lied

“Two More Bottles Of Wine” by Delbert McClinton from Victim of Life’s Circumstances

“Monday Morning” by Fleetwood Mac from Fleetwood Mac

“Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War, United Artists single 629

“Solitaire” by the Carpenters, A&M single 1721

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Bob Dylan from Blood on the Tracks

“December 1963 (Oh What A Night)” by the Four Seasons, Warner Bros. single 8168

A few notes on some of the songs:

The song “Diamonds and Rust” might be the best thing Joan Baez ever recorded. Its layered spooky and echoing sound mimics the way memories lay on top of each other and come to the surface one by one, as Baez coolly dissects her long relationship with Bob Dylan: “Yes, I loved you dearly, and if you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ve already paid.”

The Allman Brothers Band track is an okay piece, taken from an album that itself was just okay. “Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John” is pleasant listening, as is Win, Lose or Draw, but for a band with such a tremendous past, this was a disappointing present.

The Janis Ian track is a pretty good one. It’s the title track of her comeback album, which found her thrust into the spotlight for the first time since she was a prodigy back in 1967. The best song on the album, to my mind, is “At Seventeen,” which reached No. 3 during the summer of 1975.

Homestead & Wolfe’s Our Times was a remarkable one-shot, featuring good songs, great lead vocals and harmony and the backing work of some of the best studio players in the Los Angeles area. “Love Comes Through My Door” was pretty representative of the record, whose tale is told here.

I’ve long thought that “Why Can’t We Be Friends” was one of the silliest songs ever laid onto a record. War did some very good stuff around this time, but this song gives me a headache.

Conversely, I’ve thought since Blood on the Tracks came out that “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” was one of Bob Dylan’s best and most-ignored songs. From the sprightly harmonica introduction through the fadeout, Dylan accepts without distress or irony that the woman he’s addressing will entrance him and inevitably leave him. Bonus points to Bobby for rhyming “Honolula” and “Ashtabula.”

Note
After thinking about it for a few years, it’s likely that  our adventure moving the house took place during the summer of 1976 instead of  the summer of 1975. That year’s difference, however, would alter neither the friendship  Murl and I shared nor the fun we had moving the house, whenever we did it. And  the tunes from 1975, the year our friendship blossomed, are still great. Note added May 11, 2011.

A Random Twenty-Five

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 15, 2007

Just for fun, and for those who might be interested in what ninety minutes of my listening might be like, I thought I’d post a list of twenty-five songs that come up with the RealPlayer set on random:

“Maggie” by Redbone from Potlatch, 1970

“Turn It Over” by the Youngbloods from Elephant Mountain, 1969

“Hamm’s Beer Jingle” from television commercial, ca. 1953

“A Candle In The Window” by Linda Eder from Civil War: The Complete Work, 1999

“Kansas” by Melanie from Gather Me, 1971

“Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You” by the Bee Gees from Bee Gees’ First, 1967

“Hootchie Kootchie Woman” by Tim Hardin, previously unreleased from 1964

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into The Music, 1979

“Manic Monday” by the Bangles from Different Light, 1986

“Water Colors” by Janis Ian from Between The Lines, 1975

“Turn Around” by the Everly Brothers from Roots, 1968

“Ophelia” by the Animal Liberation Orchestra from Endless Highway: The Music Of The Band, 2007

“You Know You Can’t Lose” by Shelagh McDonald from The Shelagh McDonald Album, 1970

“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1032, 1962

“Little Maggie” by Bob Dylan from Good As I Been To You, 1992

“Into The Fire” by Bruce Springsteen from The Rising, 2002

“Rock Me” by Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim, Chess recording session, 1961

“Texarkana” by R.E.M. from Out of Time, 1991

“Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I’m Gone?” by Muddy Waters from The London Muddy Waters Sessions, 1971

“From The Morning” by Nick Drake from Pink Moon, 1972

“In the Land of Make Believe” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty In Memphis, 1969

“You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell from Coming Back For More, 1977

“You Must Be Laughing Somewhere” by Jimmie Spheeris from You Must Be Laughing Somewhere, 1984

“Pink Elephant” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies from Rapid City Muscle Car, 1994

“Bierdna” by Hedningarna (Swedish neo-folk group) from Hippjokk, 1997

Well, it’s a little surprising that there’s no music from before 1960. A fair number of the 17,558 mp3s on the RealPlayer come from the 1950s or earlier. It’s also a little light on R&B. I’m not sure what this proves, if anything. But I was interested to see how it came out, and I hope you out there might be, too.

Look for another piece of resurrected vinyl tomorrow!