Posts Tagged ‘Jefferson Airplane’

In Early ’72

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 8, 2010

When I think of the first weeks of 1972, no huge or poignant memory comes to mind. I was beginning my second quarter of college; the most important thing I’d learned during my first quarter was that I was going to have to study if I wanted to improve on my 1.67 GPA. This wasn’t high school and I was going to have to work at it

I’ve always been grateful that my parents were both educators and understood the value of letting me find my own way through the thickets of college. After that disastrous first quarter, I began to learn how to study, and my GPA rose rapidly over the next three years. Had I come from a smaller town and/or from a family not so certain about the value of education, that wasted first quarter could easily have resulted in my heading back to Long Prairie or a similar small town and a job at the local gas station or grocery store.

But I, as the saying goes, began to apply myself as 1972 began. I paid attention in class and took better notes, and I made sure I read what I was assigned to read. When classes were done for the day, I swept the stairs and classroom floors in the Business Building for two hours. And I spent more time hanging around the campus radio station.

I’d gotten an AM-FM radio for Christmas, and my attachment to Top 40 and to AM radio began to fade. I began to dig into the albums I heard at the campus radio station and that I heard from other FM stations as I explored that side of the radio universe. I still listened to Top 40 on occasion, but not nearly as often as I had during previous years. Still, the music was all around, and almost everything in the top ten in the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending January 8, 1972, is familiar, if not exactly loved:

“Brand New Key” by Melanie
“American Pie” by Don McLean
“Family Affair” by Sly & The Family Stone
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
“Got To Be There” by Michael Jackson
“Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band
“Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards
“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” by the New Seekers
“Cherish” by David Cassidy
“Hey Girl/I Knew You When” by Donny Osmond

And there was some interesting stuff a little further down the chart, too:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, January 8, 1972)
“Hey Big Brother” by Rare Earth [No. 22]
“Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” by the Temptations [No. 39]
“Without You” by Nilsson [No. 54]
“Pretty As You Feel” by Jefferson Airplane [No. 60]
“After All This Time” by Merry Clayton [No. 71]
“Get Up and Get Down” by the Dramatics [No. 78]

I really only recall two of these, which I think is more an indication of my slide toward album rock during the 1971-72 college year than it is a comment on the tunes. On the other hand, the two that I do recall are two of the three that found their ways into the Top 40: The Rare Earth and Nilsson singles. I’m sure I heard the Temptations’ record, but it doesn’t seem to have penetrated. I might have heard the Merry Clayton recording as an album track at the college radio station, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear the Jefferson Airplane or Dramatics singles until years later.

“Hey Big Brother” still sounds to me a little bit clunky, as did all of Rare Earth’s singles. That’s not bad, but the records aren’t as smooth as you’d expect from a band that came through the Motown door. (The group had its own Rare Earth label but had been one of the first white acts signed to the Motown label.) But that clunkiness does lend the group’s records an identity. “Hey Big Brother” eventually climbed another three spots to No. 19. There is a labeling anomaly with the record: All the commercial 45 labels I can find online list the time as 2:59, while a label I saw for a DJ promo stereo/mono 45 listed the correct time of 4:45, at least on the stereo side.

A few weeks ago, I tried to rip my vinyl copy of the Temptations’ single, but I thought there might be a skip. I think it was just a funky bit of rhythm, having listened to this copy that I got from another source, a rip of the 1972 album Solid Rock. The record – supposedly a comment from writers Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield on Motown singer David Ruffin, who had left the Temptations a few years earlier – peaked at No. 18.

The late Harry Nilsson was capable of pulling off irony with a straight face, so it’s possible, I suppose, that “Without You” was actually a joke, a commentary on songs of lost love. I’ve never read anywhere that he had any such intentions, but it’s something – given the rest of his career – that I’ve occasionally wondered about. But I don’t think that’s the case. The record – which spent four weeks at No. 1 in February and March of 1972 – is just too damned sad. At least until Nilsson opens up the pipes in the end and blows you away.

All-Music Guide has this to say about Jefferson Airplane’s “Pretty As You Feel,” which was sitting at its peak position of No. 60 as January 8, 1972 came along: “Constructed from a live, in-the-studio jam that features Carlos Santana, ‘Pretty As You Feel’ was then picked up by new Airplane member Joey Covington, who wrote the lyrics. Musically, it’s a soulful exercise in a jazz-inflected strut, with a strong but mellow blues feeling. The lyrics are a take on the stupidity of changing one’s appearance for appearance’s sake – to be, that is, au naturel.” Three weeks later, the record had fallen out of the Hot 100. The jacket of the Bark album and the 45 labels I’ve seen have the record running 4:29, but oddly enough, on the Airplane anthology Flight Log, there is an edit of the song that runs 3:07. I haven’t listened to that piece of vinyl for years; I’ll have to do so soon.

I’ve liked Merry Clayton’s version of Carole King’s “After All This Time” ever since I heard the Merry Clayton album many years ago, wherever that was. But until last evening, when I was digging through the Billboard listings for early 1972, I’d had no idea that it was ever released as a single. It didn’t do well: by January 8, the record had been in the Hot 100 for five weeks and, as it turned out, had reached its peak at No. 71. It tumbled out of the chart during the next three weeks. Listening to it this morning, I still think it’s better than a lot of stuff that prospered on the charts that winter.

I don’t have a lot to say about the Dramatics’ “Get Up and Get Down,” except that it’s got a great groove. Unless you’re in traction or something like that, your head should be bobbing by the time the horns start calling at about the nine-second mark. The record didn’t do well: Its No. 78 ranking in the January 8 Hot 100 was its peak.

(My best guesses – based on comparing running times with those listed on 45 labels I found online – is that these are the recordings that were released as singles. Those I’m most sure of are the ones I’ve tagged with single catalog numbers [in two cases, along with the album from which they were pulled as singles]. The two I’ve tagged with just the album titles, I’m just not certain about.)

Willie Mitchell, RIP
Having mentioned Al Green in the top ten list above, I should note the passing this week of Willie Mitchell, who crafted the Hi Records sound that backed Green and a great number of others on hits and other recordings. While I love the Hi Records sound and acknowledge Mitchell’s huge influence, I’ll let others more qualified than I handle the tributes, starting with Larry at Funky 16 Corners.

‘If You Smile At Me . . .’

May 15, 2022

Originally posted August 18, 2009

While driving across town on an errand last week, I heard the oldies station play “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first, self-titled album. As I listened, I realized that I hadn’t heard the song for a while. After a few moments, I realized as well that it had been even longer – much longer – since I’d listened to the entire album. I’ve written here before about forgetting about albums as meaningful collections of songs because I so often run the RealPlayer on random, and thus get only one piece of an album at a time. And I wondered to myself how well Crosby, Stills & Nash holds up as an album.

So that evening, I listened to Crosby, Stills & Nash from beginning to end, just to see how it sounds as a united piece of work these days. It still ranks pretty high on my all-time list, but I was chagrined to realize that I’d forgotten the running order of the album. As David Crosby’s “Guinnevere” faded away, I couldn’t recall what came next, and hearing “You Don’t Have To Cry” startled me; it sounded somehow wrong. The surprise pointed out to me how much my listening has shifted away from albums to random single tracks over the past ten years.

As I have for years, I found the album’s most interesting song to be “Wooden Ships.”  It’s not the best song on the album; I’d have to give that nod to either “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” or “Long Time Gone.” But it’s always fascinated me with its post-apocalyptic vision of survivors fleeing in the wooden ships on the water.

Beyond the recording itself, there are a couple of interesting things about “Wooden Ships.” The writing credit on the CSN album lists Crosby and Stills, but there was a third writer. Crosby himself tells the tale, as All-Music Guide relates:

“According to Crosby’s liner notes in the four-disc career retrospective Crosby, Stills & Nash [Box Set] (1991), the song was ‘written in the main cabin of my boat, the Mayan. I had the music already [and] Paul Kanter [sic] wrote two verses, Stephen wrote one and I added the bits at both ends.’ He also explains the cryptic lyrics such as ‘silver people on the shoreline’ – which are those left behind in their nuclear radiation suits. Crosby concludes that the authors ‘imagined ourselves as the few survivors, escaping on a boat to create a new civilization.’”

I’m not sure who’s responsible for the spelling error in that paragraph, but the third writer was Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane. And “Wooden Ships” was included on the Airplane’s 1969 release Volunteers. (The writing credit there is “Crosby-Kantner-Stills.”)

Wikipedia helps clarify things: “Kantner could not be credited as one of the joint authors-composers on the original release of Crosby, Stills & Nash due to legal issues, but he is thus credited on the 2006 re-release. The song was also released by Jefferson Airplane the same year on the album Volunteers. Both versions are considered to be original versions of the song, although they differ slightly in wording and melody.”

(Wikipedia also notes that co-writer Stills’ interpretation of the song differs from Crosby’s, saying “Stills has stated at music festivals that the song is in fact about the Holocaust in Europe during World War II. Though the obscure lyrics do not refer specifically to the events of the war, the story of the song can be interpreted as the meeting of two deserters or non-Jewish individuals who are fleeing Europe to avoid starvation or participation in anti-Semitic violence. In this context, the ‘silver people on the shoreline’ may refer to Nazi soldiers. The lyrics ‘Horror grips us as we watch you die / All we can do is echo your anguished cries, / Stare as all human feelings die’ could indicate that the characters in the song are observing a horrific slaughter yet can do nothing to prevent it.”)

Anyway, if both versions are considered original, then neither is a cover? Well, okay. But one of them was released first. Which one was it?

Crosby, Stills & Nash was released on May 29, 1969, according to AMG. Finding a release date for Volunteers is a bit murkier. The album’s page at AMG has a release date of November 1969, but the AMG page about the song “Wooden Ships” says the two albums were “issued within months of each other in the spring of ’69.” I’d lean toward a November release for Volunteers, as the Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums has the album hitting the chart in late November. (The album spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 13. Crosby, Stills & Nash reached the album chart in the first week of July 1969 and spent forty weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 6.)

[Note from 2022: Wikipedia has a U.S. release date of November 2, 1969, for Volunteers.]

There aren’t a lot of covers of the song; AMG lists a total of ninety-three CDs that contain a version of the song, and the vast majority of those are by CSN or Jefferson Airplane or combinations of members of those groups. Others listed as having recorded the song are: Animal Bag, The Browne Sisters & George Cavanaugh, Matthew Cook, the De Capo Players, the Future Sound of London, Andy Guzie, Chris Harwood, Lana Lane, Jennifer Matthews, the Rochford Jazz Ensemble, Son of Adam, II Big and Zion I.

Of all the covers of “Wooden Ships,” only two of them are listed from the years before 2000: Animal Bag’s cover, which was on a 1994 release titled Offering and about which I otherwise know nothing, and Chris Harwood’s version, which was on her 1970 album, Nice to Meet Miss Christine. Reviews of Harwood’s album – and of her version of “Wooden Ships” – are spotty. But it’s always interesting to hear another singer’s take on a song. (My thanks to Lizardson at Time Has Told Me.)

[Note from 2022: The website Second Hand Songs lists seventeen covers of “Wooden Ships,” though few of the artists listed in the preceding paragraph are mentioned there. Seven of those covers are dated before the year 2000. Artists mentioned at SHS include Christine Harwood, Lana Lane and the Ides of March. Notes added May 15, 2022.]

So here are the two original versions of “Wooden Ships” (that still sounds odd to me) along with Harwood’s cover from 1970 and, as a bonus, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s performance of the song at Woodstock in the early morning hours forty years ago today.

“Wooden Ships” by Crosby, Stills & Nash from Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969

“Wooden Ships” by Jefferson Airplane from Volunteers, 1969

“Wooden Ships” by Chris Harwood from Nice to Meet Miss Christine, 1970

“Wooden Ships” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at Woodstock, August 18, 1969

The Great Covers List
There was quite a nice response to my post a week ago when I asked which recordings would wind up in a list of best cover versions of all time. We got a couple of fifteen-song lists and a few other comments; the resulting collection of songs would make up a couple of very good CDs. And I’m going to add five recordings to the list as my nominees:

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Helpless” from She Used To Wanna Be A Ballerina, 1971
Johnny Winters’ “Highway 61” from Second Winter, 1969.
Ike & Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” Liberty 56216, 1971
Joe Cocker’s “Cry Me A River” from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, 1970
The Band’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” from Cahoots, 1971

What cover versions grab you? Leave a note, and in a few weeks, I’ll likely start digging into them.

Learning To Drive

May 6, 2022

Originally posted July 6, 2009

I’ve written a bit about cars here: the 1961 Falcon I called Farley, the first car I owned part of and the one that took Rick, Gary and me to Winnipeg in 1972; my dad’s 1952 Ford, and a few others. (I have yet to tell the tale of Toby the Toyota; someday, perhaps.)

Something this weekend reminded me, however, not so much of cars but of driver’s education, that horrible process required before I could sit behind the wheel of any car on my own. I took the course forty years ago this summer, in 1969.

I was not a good driving student. I got flustered easily. That made my behind-the-wheel training – driving around St. Cloud in an auto owned by the school district and very clearly marked “Student Driver” – a less-than-pleasant experience (for me and, I assume, for my instructor as well). Every Wednesday evening, for five or so weeks, two other students and I would take turns driving around the city, turning, merging, driving down ramps and trying to master parallel parking. I was expert at none of those things.

I did get practice between those weekly sessions. On weekends and during other evenings, my dad would get in the passenger seat beside me in our 1964 Ford, and we’d head out across the railroad tracks to a triangular course he’d determined a few years earlier when my sister was learning to drive. I’d drive along the roads, practicing accelerating and braking – I can still hear Dad holler “brake-brake-brake-brake-brake!” – and turning. After a few times around the triangle, he’d have me turn into a driveway and back out the other way, so I could practice left turns instead of right turns.

It’s funny: I hadn’t thought for years of the triangle route we drove during those evenings. But the lot on which we now live borders two of those three streets. I can see one of them from my study window. And I marvel, forty years later, at my dad’s ability to ride along as I slowly learned to drive and to be comfortable doing so. His patience was, I now know, remarkable. Around the triangle we went, time and time again, and he may have been as frustrated as I was, but he was always willing.

I passed the driver’s education course that summer, the summer before I turned sixteen. Shortly after my birthday, I went downtown, not far from the courthouse, and took my driver’s test. I passed the written test but failed the road test – mostly, I think, because I was nervous. I finally passed on the fifth try, just after I turned seventeen. And a little more than a year later, my long procession of cars began with Farley, that 1961 Falcon.

A Six-Pack of Cars

“Back Seat of My Car” by Percy Thrillington from Thrillington [1977]
“Stolen Car” by Bruce Springsteen from The River [1980]
“Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” by Billy Ocean, Jive 9678 [1988]
“Car On A Hill” by Joni Mitchell from Court and Spark [1974]
“She Has Funny Cars” by Jefferson Airplane from Surrealistic Pillow [1967]
“Strangers In A Car” by Marc Cohn from Marc Cohn [1991]

Some folks who stop by here will recognize the name of Percy Thrillington. I think his self-titled 1977 album was the only one he released under that name. It’s an instrumental version of Ram, the 1971 album by Paul and Linda McCartney. Now, why the world needed an instrumental version of Ram is an open question. The answer resides in mind of Mr. Thrillington, who is far better known around the world as Paul McCartney himself. Released with little note six years after it was recorded, the album is quite valuable in the collector’s market; the CD, released and then deleted shortly afterward, is also a collector’s item.

“Stolen Car” is another one of Springsteen’s tales of regular folks caught in lives gone off-track. I wonder sometimes if all those tales in song – “Hungry Heart” comes to mind soonest, but there are many of them in Springsteen’s catalog – are metaphors for a culture that lost its way some years ago and continues to wander astray, or are they just story songs. I’m sure Springsteen’s been asked, and I don’t know what his answer has been or would be. I’d say they’re both metaphor and story, but that’s just me.

I still like the Billy Ocean single, but not nearly as much as I did twenty years ago. Its production sounds dated and over-bearing. But it’s still catchy, with a still-great hook. The record was the last of Ocean’s six Top Ten hits, spending two weeks at No. 1.

“Car On A Hill” is one of those songscapes that Joni Mitchell has put together so expertly during her career, but especially during the early 1970s. With a swooping and slightly cluttered instrumental break, the song sets a mood more than tells a story. As I listened to it again this morning, the words “watercolor landscape” kept coming back to me, and that’s as good a description as any today. The only other thing I can say is that this morning, “Car On A Hill” sounds like 1974 felt.

The drumbeats and then the guitar figure that open Jefferson Airplane’s “She Has Funny Cars” put me squarely in the basement rec room in the house I grew up in. Surrealistic Pillow was one of the few albums my sister owned during those years, and I have no idea how often she played it. I played the record a lot, however, and it became one of my favorites. I’m a little amused by how mellow the entire album seems now; at the time, it seemed like a sonic explosion.

“Strangers In A Car” has one of the more disconcerting opening verses I can remember. I know the song is a commentary on isolation, but this morning, at least, I was unable to pay much attention to the rest of the song after listening closely to the first verse:

There’s a stranger in a car
Driving down your street,
Acts like he knows who you are.
Slaps his hand on the empty seat and says,
“Are you gonna get in
Or are you gonna stay out?”
Just a stranger in a car.
Might be the one they told you about.

It had been a while since I’d thought much about it, and it left me shaking my head. Are the times that different? Or would the song have been that disconcerting in 1991? I don’t know.

Looking Back Fifty

August 3, 2017

Here’s what the Top Ten in the Billboard 200 looked like fifty years ago this week:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Headquarters by the Monkees
Surrealistic Pillow by the Jefferson Airplane
Flowers by the Rolling Stones
The Doors
Sounds Like by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You by Aretha Franklin
Born Free by Andy Williams
Revenge by Bill Cosby
Dr. Zhivago original soundtrack

The only one of those that might have been in our basement rec room when it opened for business a few months later – if I recall things correctly, Dad was still working on the paneling and the suspended ceiling as the summer of 1967 began to tip towards autumn – would have been the Jefferson Airplane record.

I don’t know if my sister already had the record when the stereo was moved to the basement during the 1967-68 school year or if she got the record after our basement rec room was up and hosting. I do know that I listened to the record many times between early 1968 and the summer of 1972, when my sister took her records with her to her new home in the Twin Cities.

I also know that only one other record in that Top Ten list ever made its way into the Kilian Boulevard rec room. That was Sgt. Pepper, which I bought sometime during July 1970. Most of the others came along later; the albums by the Monkees, the Doors, the Stones, Aretha Franklin and Andy Williams eventually found places on my shelves, as did the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack. And based on a cursory look this morning, the only one of them that survived the Great Vinyl Selloff in the past year was the Beatles’ album.

Looking at the digital shelves, I have two tracks from Sounds Like, one track each from Flowers and the Andy Williams album, and nothing from the Cosby album. The other six are here complete.

As to what shows up from those albums on the iPod, which has about 3,800 tracks on it, well, I’ve included “Within You, Without You” and the ending suite from Sgt. Pepper, “The Crystal Ship” from The Doors, “Respect” and “Dr. Feelgood” from the Aretha album, “Comin’ Back To Me,” “Today,” and “How Do You Feel” from the Jefferson Airplane album (along with single versions of “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love”), “Casino Royale” from the Tijuana Brass album, and nothing from the other five albums in that long-ago Top Ten.

I’m not really sure if all that winnowing proves anything except that I like Surrealistic Pillow more than I do Sgt. Pepper (and as I’ve thought about it over the years, there are a fair number of other albums I also like more than I do Sgt. Pepper) and that I tend to land on singles from the other 1967 albums. So we’ll listen to a track from Surrealistic Pillow this morning. Here’s the pretty (and echo-laden) “Today.”

Saturday Single No. 373

January 4, 2014

It was one of those lost mornings around here today. I went out as my coffee brewed to see if I could scrape the overnight sleet from the walk. The narrow walkway around the house will have to wait until we have a little bit of warmer weather, and I’ll put some de-icer on it. That could be a few days; it’s supposed to get very cold here, with highs tomorrow and Monday well below zero; the wind chill Sunday night into Monday is expected to approach -60 F (-51 C).

(The Texas Gal and I have talked a bit about going outside around midnight Sunday and standing in the wind just to see what that feels like. I suspect we’d head back into the house running out of synonyms for “cold.”)

The new and wider sidewalk from the house to the street was easier, and it’s cleared enough that we shouldn’t run the risk of having the pizza guy slip, break a hip and sue our landlord (if we were cruel enough to order a pizza for delivery on a night when the wind chill is heading toward -60).

Anyway, as I leaned on the shovel and looked at my work about 9:30 this morning, the Texas Gal walked around the house from the garage and seconded my opinion from the evening before: The battery in our second car – a 2003 Cavalier – was dead. She went inside to call the garage up the road, and instead of having a peanut butter sandwich and writing a post for this space, I wound up greeting the guy from the garage who jump-started the Cavalier. I then followed the Texas Gal as she drove the Cavalier to the garage for a new battery, an oil change and – in a late addition to the menu – new front brakes.

And as long as we were already out, we went to the bakery and the grocery/discount store as the morning ticked away, and by the time we had stopped back at the garage and come home, the morning was gone. I had planned to write something about Phil Everly, the younger of the Everly Brothers, who passed away Friday. But my energy is gone, so I’ll gather my thoughts over the weekend and see if I have anything of value to say about him on Monday.

In the meantime, I went looking for a song about cars, and I came across an old favorite. In fact, I’m not at all sure what it’s about, but that’s okay, because when I have an opportunity to share something from Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow, I need to do so. That’s why the Airplane’s “She Has Funny Cars” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Look Inside Your Mirror . . .’

January 6, 2012

As it happens, tales from 1972 will have to wait again, likely until next week, delayed today by the barriers of health and schedule. I’m not at all certain the tale will be worth the build-up by that point, but I’ll no doubt lay it out and hope that the music I find in the depths of the Hot 100 will make up for any insufficiency on the part of the story.

And we’ll ease into the weekend with the Jefferson Airplane sounding like, well, like the Jefferson Airplane mostly obsessing on one sentence in a hazy stupor. Forty years ago this week, in January 1972, “Pretty As You Feel” was sitting at No. 60 in the Billboard Hot 100, which turned out to be the peak of a ten-week stay on the chart. It would be the Airplane’s last Hot 100 hit. “Long John Silver” would bubble under at No. 104 in October 1972, and then two years later, the revamped group would emerge as Jefferson Starship.

Here’s “Pretty As You Feel.” Wikipedia notes that the single was excerpted from a longer jam on the Airplane’s album Bark. The uncredited presence of Carlos Santana makes the single a little better than one might expect.

Chart Digging: September 30, 1967

September 30, 2011

As September took its bows and October prepared for its entrance in 1967, your faithful narrator was . . . Well, what was I doing?

I had probably just ordered my first subscription to Sports Illustrated. For some reason, the sports bug had bitten me during the summer, and I asked Dad about the magazine sometime during September. I recall that the first edition that arrived at our home had Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals on the cover, and the Sports Illustrated website tells me that the edition was dated October 16, which means that it likely arrived the previous Thursday, October 12. Once the magazine began showing up, I’d rely on it for the occasional oral reports on news events required in my social studies class that year. But as September ended, I was waiting, which means I was less than two weeks away from beginning to feed the sports obsessions that thrive to this day.

Having thought about it for a bit this morning, I’ve concluded that a number of separate strains of sports in Minnesota piqued my interest that late summer: The Minnesota Twins were in a four-team race for the American League pennant, a race eventually won by the Boston Red Sox. The Minnesota Vikings had hired a new coach who – not quite twenty years earlier – had been one of the greatest athletes ever at the University of Minnesota, a fellow named Bud Grant. And two new professional teams began play that autumn, the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League and the Minnesota Muskies of the American Basketball Association. The Muskies would be gone – moved to Florida – within a year, and the North Stars would decamp for Dallas in the mid-1990s, but during their first seasons, the two teams drew me into sports I’d never known well before.

Add to that was the success already unfolding for three football teams I followed that autumn: The St. Cloud Tech Tigers would go 8-1 and finish in the state’s Top Ten, the St. Cloud State Huskies would go 8-1 and tie for their conference title, and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers would go 8-2 and tie for first place in the Big Ten, a position they’ve not come close to since then. All of those things combined, I think, to make me for the first time a sports fan.

Beyond sports, I know that I was already looking forward to the school musical in spring, and I was watching from a distance as a young lady whose attentions I desired made her own way through the obstacles of ninth grade.

Perhaps the most important thing about the beginning of that school year, though, was that I was observing all these things from, literally, a new perspective: I’d grown taller over the summer and had gotten more slender, so much so that it took a second look for some of my classmates to recognize me as the school year got under way. (That summer’s growth was only the start: Between the end of eighth grade in spring of 1967 and the beginning of my junior year in the fall of 1969, I grew fourteen inches.)

Taller or not, I was still stuck in my old listening habits: Soundtracks, Al Hirt, Herb Alpert and the odd bit of traditional pop. But, as had been the case for some time, I heard all around me the Top 40 music of the day, so most of the Billboard Top Ten was familiar to me as September ended:

“The Letter” by the Box Tops
“Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry
“Never My Love” by the Association
“Come Back When You Grow Up” by Bobby Vee & the Strangers
“Reflections” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” by Jay & the Techniques
“(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” by Jackie Wilson
“Funky Broadway” by Wilson Pickett
“I Dig Rock and Roll Music” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison

That’s a good Top Ten. The Jay & the Techniques single is a little lightweight – the same could be said about the winking and distinctly unrocking Peter Paul & Mary single – but other than that, this would be a great thirty-five or so minutes of radio listening.

As is my habit, though, I’m heading deeper into the Billboard Hot 100 for September 30, 1967, seeing what might be found in the lower reaches. And this time around, we’ll stay well beyond No. 100, with six tunes that were sitting in the Bubbling Under section of that Billboard chart. We’ll start near the bottom and move toward the surface.

The one album from Jefferson Airplane that I’ve not spent much time exploring is the trippy After Bathing At Baxter’s. The record, says All-Music Guide, “was among the purest of rock’s psychedelic albums, offering few concessions to popular taste and none to the needs of AM radio.” And AM radio returned the favor. Two singles from the album got into the Hot 100, but none of them got into the Top 40; the most successful, “The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil,” went to No. 42; “Two Heads” was its B side, sitting at No. 133 during the last week of September. Along with being trippy, it sounds angry, which to me helps explain its peak of No. 124. The last single from Baxter’s to make the Hot 100 was “Watch Her Ride,” which entered the Hot 100 in mid-December and got as high as No. 61.

The name of P.J. Proby has popped up enough over the years in used record bins and in charts I’ve looked at that I’m aware that I know very little about the man. A native of Houston, he’s best known, I suppose, for his cover of “Niki Hoeky,” which went to No. 23 in early 1967. AMG says he “never really hit it big in his homeland, but his trouser-busting stage antics helped make him a genuine pop star in England at the height of the British Invasion.” Okay. Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles tells me that Proby had seven other singles in or near the Hot 100; the best performing of those was “Hold Me” from 1964, which went to No. 70. In the last week of September, his “Just Holding On” was at No. 130, up four slots from its initial spot in the Bubbling Under section. It’s not a bad record, but it’s not all that distinctive, either. It would be gone from the chart the following week.

Gene Thomas and Debbe Neville were a country-pop duo, according to Whitburn, and “Go With Me” was the first of five singles they placed on or near the charts. Thomas had been a singer and songwriter who had a couple of records hit the Hot 100 in 1961 and 1963. He was working as a songwriter for Acuff-Rose in 1965 when he met Neville in Nashville, and the two ended up recording as Gene & Debbe for TRX, an imprint of the Acuff-Rose label Hickory. “Go With Me,” a folk-rock-ish tune, was sitting at No. 129 at the end of September. It would peak at No. 78. The duo would hit the Top 20 early in 1968, when “Playboy” went to No. 17, but none of their other singles would do nearly as well, with the best-performing being “Lovin’ Season,” which went to No. 81 during the summer of 1968.

So far as I know, I’d never heard of Freddie McCoy until this morning. A jazz vibraphone player, McCoy released seven albums in the mid-1960s that seem to have mixed covers of pop-rock tunes with some mildly funky and rootsy originals. In the autumn of 1967, “Peas ’N’ Rice” was the title track to McCoy’s fourth album on the Prestige label; the album included covers of hits like “Summer in the City,” “1-2-3,” and “Lightning Strikes.” “Peas ’N’ Rice” has a quiet groove to it, and I may have to dig around and see if I can find anymore of McCoy’s work. The single, the only one McCoy ever placed in the Hot 100, was sitting at No. 119 as September 1967 ended; it would peak at No. 92.

Dino, Desi & Billy had it easy. Dino was the son of singer and actor Dean Martin, Desi was the son of Cuban bandleader and actor Desi Arnaz and actress Lucille Ball, and Billy was a classmate of the other two in Beverly Hills. When the trio wanted to form a band, they got a record deal with Reprise, a label owned by a friend of Dino’s dad: Frank Sinatra. The trio eventually got eight singles into the charts, with the best-performing of them being the first, “I’m A Fool,” which went to No. 17 in the summer of 1965. “Not the Lovin’ Kind” followed and went to No. 25 in the autumn of 1965. None of the trio’s other singles made it into the Top 40; during the last week in September 1967, “Kitty Doyle” was sitting at No. 115; it’s a nice piece of bouncy pop that would peak at No. 108.

The man who would record as The Fantastic Johnny C was born Johnny Corley in South Carolina. An R&B singer, he’d put five singles in or near the Hot 100 between the autumn of 1967 and the spring of 1969. (Three of those singles reached the R&B Top 40 as well.) But none of the four follow-ups had anywhere near the success of the first single Johnny C put on the charts: “Boogaloo Down Broadway” went to No. 7 in late December, also reaching No. 5 on the R&B chart. Brilliantly simple and funky, it’s a treasure.

The Airplane Gets Groovy

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 22, 2008

From a surplus of options at YouTube last week to slender pickings today. I found a few things that related to the last few days’ posts but nothing I really liked. (In the case of the Indigo Girls, nothing that I could post here; embedding had been disabled on a couple of very nice clips.)

So I wandered back to last Saturday and the Jefferson Airplane and found a clip of the group from the Smothers Brothers television show in 1967. The Airplane lip-synchs both of its hits – “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” – in a couple of utterly psychedelic videos. (There’s an audio glitch in “Somebody to Love” that’s mildly annoying, but the video is worth watching anyway.)

Saturday Single No. 72

June 28, 2011

Originally posted May 17, 2008

I spend a fair amount of time at a music forum called Groovy Fab. When I post stuff here, I leave a note there. I wander, of course, through other folks’ music posts (and find lots of stuff, some of which ends up being posted here). And, as is the case with most such forums, there are questions, surveys and discussions.*

In December 2006, a forum member called rocketboy started a discussion by asking members to list the Top Ten albums from the years 1950-76. Not a list of favorite albums, but an objective list of the best ten albums from those years. There was one rule: No more than two albums from any one artist.

For a year and a half, I’ve wandered through the forum without answering the question. Sometimes I was short on time. Other times, I thought to myself that I hadn’t really thought the matter through and was certain to leave a response that I’d want to change almost immediately. Yesterday, though, I took a deep breath and worked on my list of the best ten albums from 1950-1976. I first made a list of favorites, and then culled out the choices that were personal quirks. I’d once made a similar list here, noting in June last year my thirteen favorite albums (with only one from any one artist). That list was:

Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks
Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street
The Band: The Band
Beatles: Abbey Road
Boz Scaggs: Silk Degrees
Johnny Rivers: Realization
Bruce Springsteen: Tunnel of Love
Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon
Moody Blues: Question of Balance
Carole King: Tapestry
Danko, Fjeld, Andersen: Ridin’ On The Blinds
Bonnie Raitt: Nick of Time
Delaney & Bonnie & Friends: Motel Shot

This time, the bottom five of those didn’t make the list. Ridin’ On The Blinds and Nick of Time were released after 1976, and the other three, well, I simply overlooked them (although they wouldn’t have ended up in the Top Ten anyway, as it turned out). And then I strayed: I added two selections based on personal taste, not long-term merit, to get to my Top Ten: Glenn Yarbrough’s To Emily Whenever I May Find Her and J. J. Cale’s Naturally.

I reminded myself that the list was supposed to be based on long-term merit, not personal taste. I sighed, removed the Yarbrough and the Cale. I looked for a long time at the Boz Scaggs, decided that, as good an album as it is, it’s probably more Top Thirty than Top Ten and pulled it off.

Another sigh, and I changed the Springsteen from Tunnel of Love – an admittedly quirky selection – to Born to Run. And I added three albums, struggled with the order for a while, and came up with this:

1. Abbey Road, the Beatles, 1969

2. The Band, The Band, 1969

3. Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan, 1975

4. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen, 1975

5. Exile on Main Street, the Rolling Stones, 1972

6. Surrealistic Pillow, Jefferson Airplane, 1967

7. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973

8. Déjà Vu, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 1970

9. Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East, Allman Brothers Band, 1971

10. Realization, Johnny Rivers, 1968

No Little Richard, no Elvis, no Chuck Berry. But they – and many more – I consider more as singles artists than album artists. If you want a list of the ten most important artists/acts from 1950 to 1976, all three of them would be there, and probably others that went unmentioned here.

I think it’s a reasonably good Top Ten. I imagine some folks would quibble with the Johnny Rivers album. I know it’s an album that doesn’t often show up on these types of lists, but – having thought hard about it – I think it belongs.

I was surprised to find out how well I regarded Surrealistic Pillow, which I’ve mentioned only in passing three times on this blog without ever posting anything from it. Its two best-known songs, of course, are the hits: “Somebody to Love” went to No. 5, and “White Rabbit” reached No. 8, both in 1967. But it’s an album full of gems, recorded at the moment when folk rock was going psychedelic, an album that’s much more mellow than that description might make one expect. My favorite track from the record is straight folk rock, however, without a hint of psychedelia, a quiet song that closed Side One of the record in its vinyl configuration.

Written by Marty Balin, “Comin’ Back To Me” is this week’s Saturday Single.

Jefferson Airplane – “Comin’ Back To Me” [1967]

*Since this post was originally published, the Groovy Fab forum was closed and then reopened and has since been closed. There are signs that it may come back again. Note added June 28, 2011.

The Ultimate Jukebox, Part Two

February 1, 2010

We’re back – that would be Odd and Pop, the two little imaginary tuneheads who sit on my shoulders, and me – from our unplanned time off. And we have our very own domain name now, which should provide some insulation as we continue to examine music and my life and how the two intersect.

We began the exploration of the Ultimate Jukebox in one of our last posts at the other location, and I mentioned a few of the notable records that weren’t among the two-hundred and twenty-eight that would play in that mythical jukebox. Some of them were likely surprises. Two of them –  Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” – were in fact the last records trimmed. And I should note that I’ve only replaced one of them for sure: I have one slot that I’m keeping as quasi-available among the six selections for Week 38, the last week of this tour. I have a record in that slot right now, but if something comes into view that I think works better, I’m reserving the right to switch it. That might even turn out to be “Baker Street” after all. But the other two-hundred and twenty-seven songs are set.

What eras do they come from? Well, the earliest was released in 1948, and there are three from 1999, the last year I examined. Even before I count, I’m certain that the years 1969 and 1970 will be heavily represented. Let’s take a look:

1948: 1
1949: 0
From the 1940s: One

1950: 0
1951: 1
1952: 1
1953: 0
1954: 0
1955: 0
1956: 0
1957: 1
1958: 3
1959: 2
From the 1950s: Eight

1960: 0
1961: 3
1962: 0
1963: 2
1964: 2
1965: 4
1966: 6
1967: 7
1968: 13
1969: 23
From the 1960s: Sixty

1970: 32
1971: 15
1972: 17
1973: 12
1974: 9
1975: 11
1976: 10
1977: 5
1978: 7
1979: 3
From the 1970s: One-hundred and twenty-one

1980: 3
1981: 2
1982: 3
1983: 3
1984: 3
1985: 0
1986: 3
1987: 2
1988: 3
1989: 0
From the 1980s: Twenty-two

1990: 1
1991: 2
1992: 2
1993: 4
1994: 1
1995: 1
1996: 1
1997: 1
1998: 0
1999: 3
From the 1990s: Sixteen

So there you have it: Massive domination by the 1970s, with the period 1968-1976 providing one-hundred and forty-two of the two-hundred and twenty-eight records – about sixty-two percent – of the tunes in my Ultimate Jukebox. Is this a surprise? Anyway, here’s the second cluster of six songs:

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 2
“Comin’ Back To Me” by Jefferson Airplane from Surrealistic Pillow [1967]
“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers from Realization [1967]
“Black Diamond” by the Bee Gees from Odessa [1969]
“Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers from 3+3 [1973]
“Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez from Diamonds and Rust [1975]
“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen from Born To Run [1975]

More than forty years after the fact, it might be difficult to realize, and instructive to do so, that the acid-folk rock of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow was once revolutionary. Today, even the crunchy chords of “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover” – the album’s heaviest sounds, by my reckoning – are pretty mellow. Back in 1968, when my sister brought the record home, however, I thought it was a little loud. But there was one moment of mellow bliss on the record: “Comin’ Back To Me.” Hushed, lyrical, thoughtful and heart-breaking, “Comin’ Back To Me” just might be the oft-ignored heart of Surrealistic Pillow. Key lines: “Strollin’ the hill overlooking the shore, I realize I have been here before. The shadow in the mist could have been anyone. I saw you. I saw you comin’ back to me.”

I’ve written before about “Summer Rain,” although none of those words are easily accessible. I don’t know for sure why the record remains among the top four or five of all time for me. Part of it, I think, is the descending bass line in the verse, a compositional technique – some might call it a gimmick – that always pulls me into a song. Part of it, I’m sure, is that the story the song tells is a happy one: Boy meets girl, boy woos girl (with the help of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), boy wins girl. And part of the attraction is the way Rivers sells the song. In a long career filled with good performances, this might be Rivers’ best. Like the vast majority of the versions of “Summer Rain” found in hits packages, the version here is pulled from the album Realization. Thus, it includes the storm sound effects before the guitar figure opens the music, and it fades out before more sound effects arise to connect to the next track on the album. According to regular reader Yah Shure, the single – released in late 1967, about six months before the album (and which went to No. 14) – had no sound effects, opening with the guitar figure. Key lines: “We sailed into the sunset, drifted home caught by a gulfstream. Never gave a thought for tomorrow. Just let tomorrow be.”

The 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide called the Bee Gees’ Odessa “the Sgt. Pepper’s copy all ’60s headliners felt driven to attempt,” adding parenthetically, “the Bee Gees’ wasn’t bad; faulting it for pretentiousness makes absolutely no sense.” I’ve puzzled over that statement for more than ten years now, and I’m still not sure what reviewer Paul Evans was trying to say. But that’s okay: I’ve been listening to Odessa for more than forty years now, and I’m not entirely certain what the Bee Gees were trying to say, either. I shared the album here once, which indicates, generally, the regard I have for it. But there is no doubt that the album is studded with ballads whose lyrics are willfully obscure at best. “Black Diamond” might be the most obscure of all, but the opaque lyrics are offset by music so eloquently gorgeous that it might not matter at all what the Brothers Gibb are singing about. Key lines, I think: “And I won’t die, so don’t cry. I’ll be home. Those big black diamonds that lie there for me, by the tall white mountains which lie by the sea.”

The Isley Brothers’ reimagining of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” is a marvel. The original had been, of course, a folk-rock/singer-songwriter-type hit, anchored by a sweet instrumental hook and truly beautiful harmonies. The Isleys found the R&B song inside the pop-folk record and stretched it for more than six minutes. And maybe it’s just me, but I find a sonic connection between the Isleys’ version of “Summer Breeze” and two versions of “Strawberry Letter 23,” those being Shuggie Otis’ 1971 single, which predated the Isleys’ work, and the Brothers Johnson’s 1977 cover of Otis’ song. Whatever the sonic influences in any direction, “Summer Breeze” finds a sweet groove. The Isleys released a single with the album track split into parts one and two, but neither side hit the Top 40. (I have a hunch that the two-sided single might have done well on the R&B chart; does anyone out there know?) Key lines: “Feel the arms that reach out to hold me in the evening, when the day is through.”

The album Diamonds & Rust was released in April 1975, but it wasn’t until the following autumn, I would guess, that I became aware of its extraordinary title song. The record became one of my student union jukebox favorites that fall, and it did pretty well in other areas, as well, as it went to No. 35 in the Billboard Top 40, only the second Baez single to do that well. (The first was her cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which went to No. 3 during the late summer and autumn of 1971.) Musically and lyrically, “Diamonds & Rust” is quite simply the best thing Joan Baez ever wrote or recorded. The shimmering music is perfect for her unsentimental, guarded and affectionate reliving of her affair with Bob Dylan. Baez’ intimacy with the topic – as opposed to the seemingly reflexive distance she’d frequently placed between herself and even the most intimate of songs – pulls listeners into her world and helps us understand her place in a pairing that was momentous to both Baez and Dylan at a time when their work was helping to defining an era. (For a take on that topic from Dylan, whose work can often be more difficult to penetrate than a black curtain, I turn to – as starting points – “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” and “Visions of Johanna” from Blonde On Blonde.) Key lines: “Our breath comes out white clouds, mingles and hangs in the air. Speaking strictly for me, we both could have died then and there.”

I have seven versions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” in my collection, including an alternate take from 1975, some live versions (including a killer acoustic version I once shared) and a bootleg or two. All have their attractions, but I keep coming back to the original, the version that led off Side Two of the Born To Run album. And the song grabs hold of me tighter and tighter as the years go by. It’s not the tale of the mythical backstreets that holds me, although I have some affection for the kids huddled on the beach in the mist. It’s the pure sonic audacity of the song that pulls me in time and again, the young Springsteen’s ambition for musical significance that’s almost as audible as that great count-in just before the last verse. Then consider that Springsteen has almost certainly exceeded his ambitions over the thirty-five years since “Born To Run” went to No. 23, and one realizes that “Born To Run” (and the rest of the LP, of course) was neither wish nor hope nor dream but a statement of intent. (Writer and Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh had the same reaction; while reviewing Born To Run in the second edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, he said: “clarity of purpose and mammoth ambition drip from the grooves.”) Key lines: “Will you walk with me out on the wire, ’cause baby, I’m just a scared and lonely rider. But I gotta find out how it feels. I want to know if love is wild, girl, I want to know if love is real.”

Regular readers – and I have to assume they’ll find this new location – will observe that I’ve changed my approach slightly. I think all my readers will understand.