Posts Tagged ‘Jigsaw’

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.)

Chart Digging: Love Songs

February 14, 2012

It’s Valentine’s Day today, so I thought I’d resurrect something I came across while I was posting some archival stuff the other week. It ran here three years ago today:

It being Valentine’s Day today, Blogworld is filled with love songs.

And that’s okay. If there’s one thing that should be celebrated more often, it’s love. And I can’t think of a more appropriate day to do so than today.

But what is there to say that hasn’t been said already, here and in a thousand thousand other places? Well, I think we can say that love – like the songs we write about it – is really about hope, promises, fear, joy, sorrow, yearning, bliss, despair, isolation, companionship, contentment and finally, peace.

I’ve heard it said – heck, I may have said so myself at one time or another, as many times as I’ve taken a climb on this Matterhorn of a topic – that we don’t really choose who we love. We just love, and we recognize the objects of our love when they enter our lives. The choices we make then are: first, whether to acknowledge the love, and second, how to express it. Those choices determine which of the feelings in the above list – hope, promises and so on – will embrace the two lovers.

Sometimes we choose badly. Most of the time, we hope, we don’t. And when one chooses well, when one acknowledges and expresses love in ways that nurture both souls, then the worst things on that list – isolation and despair – can be minimized, if not entirely avoided. What about fear and sorrow? Well, no person who loves another can avoid them. That’s not cynicism talking, that’s – to quote Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield by way of Marvin Gaye – the way love is. Fear and sorrow are the B-Side of hope and joy, and souls who love each other fear the inevitable parting and the resulting sorrow that comes even to those who have loved well and long.

I’d almost presume to say that if we do not grieve at a loved one’s leave-taking, we have not loved.

So, am I some kind of expert on love, to be throwing epigrams and lists of words around this morning? No, I’m just another pilgrim, one who has at times loved less than wisely and now – I believe – has learned to love well. These words are a description of my life, not a prescription for others. The only advice I would have for others on this day when we celebrate love is something someone told me long ago: Embrace love, wherever you find it.

Beyond that, all we need is a song.

One song would do, but I’ll offer a few more than that today. I thought I would dig into a number of Billboard Hot 100 charts for various February 14ths and find records in the lower reaches of those charts with “love” in their titles. We’ll start our digging in 1976 and go back a few years at a time.

The sound of “Love Fire” by Jigsaw – sitting at No. 79 on February 14, 1976 – was familiar to anyone who had heard the band’s No. 2 hit, “Sky High,” the autumn before. This time, however, the band was singing this time about love that was soaring rather than having been blown apart. Still, the twanging and booming introduction didn’t spark another Top Ten hit: “Love Fire” peaked at No. 30.

The Whispers were a Los Angeles soul group that notched twenty-one records in or near the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1990; a few of those made the Top 40, and one – 1987’s “Rock Steady – went to No. 7. (During the same general time period, the Whispers had fifteen records reach the R&B Top Ten, with “Rock Steady” and 1980’s “And The Beat Goes On” both reaching No. 1.) On Valentine’s Day of 1973, “Somebody Loves You” was at No. 94. It would go no higher.

In late 1969, Peggy Lee had reached No. 11 with the idiosyncratic “Is That All There Is,” a single pulled from the well-regarded (at least by All-Music Guide) album of the same name. By the time Valentine’s Day rolled around in 1970, Lee’s version of Randy Newman’s equally idiosyncratic “Love Story” was sitting at No. 105 in the bubbling under section of the Hot 100 chart. It went no higher and has the distinction of being the thirteenth and last of Lee’s singles to be listed in or near the Billboard Hot 100.

The Woolies were a garage rock band from East Lansing, Michigan, and as Valentine’s Day dawned in 1967, their cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” was parked at No. 113 in the Hot 100’s Bubbling Under section. Originally released on the Spirit label in 1966, the energetic workout was released on Dunhill in early 1967. The record – the only Hot 100 hit for the Woolies – eventually peaked at No. 95.

Little Johnny Taylor showed up here the other week when I dug into a chart from February 1972, and it’s never too soon for more. In mid-February 1964, Taylor’s “Since I Found A New Love” was sitting at No. 109. It would peak at No. 78. (The video shows the flip side of the Galaxy single and uses what seems to be the longer LP version of the track rather than the single, but so it goes.)

Ernestine Anderson was a jazz singer from Houston, and – like the Woolies – she shows up in the pages of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles just once: As Valentine’s Day 1961 came by, her very nice cover version of “A Lover’s Question” was bubbling under at No. 103. Clyde McPhatter’s original recording of the tune had gone to No. 6 in 1959, and Anderson’s fell far short of that, peaking a little later in 1961 at No. 98.

Autumn 1975: Learning New Skills

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 22, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“SOS” by Abba, Atlantic 3265 (No. 24)

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

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

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

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

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

A few notes:

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

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

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

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

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

‘Pain! Burning In My Heart . . .’

August 26, 2010

I wonder how likely this story is in today’s music and radio world:

Some local kids decide to form a band, and through hard work, a love of music and a little bit of radio luck, the band records some songs, has one or two of them pressed on a 45 (or burned on a CD these days, I guess) and the music finds its way onto the air and to the top of the local Top 40 stations’ playlists.

It reads like the concept for a B-list movie, one that’s not truly awful but is nevertheless utterly predictable, its script packed to the gills with rough and ready clichés and with clueless lines like the earnest “Our record’s too good not to make it!” or the cynical “Freakin’ radio weasels! They say our freakin’ sound is out of date!”

But during the years I was a radio listener – the late 1960s and early 1970s, in case you haven’t been paying attention – stories like that (although perhaps without the radio weasels) happened frequently, from the largest markets on the coasts to the smaller markets in the Midwest and South. In my exploration of Blogworld, I often come across stories of still-beloved bands that had local hits with 45s and/or albums. My pal Jeff at AM, Then FM wrote just this week about the upsurge of “fierce Wisconsin nostalgia” for an early Seventies band named Clicker, a wave of nostalgia that it seems he had a hand in creating with earlier posts.

In Minnesota, several local bands during the early rock era reached the local charts, delighting their cadres of fans in the Upper Midwest. One of those bands, the Trashmen, hit the national stage and saw their immortal record “Surfin’ Bird” spend two weeks at No. 4 on the Billboard chart as January turned into February in 1964.

Another one of those local records played a part – how large, I’m not sure – in completing my metamorphosis to committed Top 40 listener. I’ve mentioned before that it was during the last half of August 1969 when I really began to listen to Top 40 radio. Finding myself hanging around with St. Cloud Tech’s football team during the two weeks of summer practice, I realized that the radio – likely tuned to KDWB in the Twin Cities – was providing a pretty good soundtrack for my life, at least for that portion of it spent on the sidelines of a football field and in the locker room across the way.

There were a lot of good records on the air. According to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, the Top Ten on KDWB for this week in 1969 was:

“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“It’s Getting Better” by Mama Cass
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Pain” by the Mystics
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen
“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition
“Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon        
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White

Of those ten, and there are some great ones in there, the one that matters here this morning is “Pain,” the No. 4 record from forty-one years ago this week. The Mystics were a Twin Cities group (originally called Michael’s Mystics), and the single was released on the Metromedia label. According to ARSA, “Pain” had been the No. 1 single on KDWB for the preceding week, and the same was true at WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other main Top 40 station of the time.

And when “Pain” came on the air, there was something about it that made it stand out even in the elite company of hits from the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and the rest. The hard-charging horn-laced introduction is what grabbed me, I think. The tale told by the lyric is okay, but I think it was the horns. I don’t know who to thank for the arrangement; the credit on the 45 reads only “A Path Production.” But almost every time “Pain” came on the radio that late summer and early fall, I’d stop what I was doing and just listen. It remained one of my favorite songs long after it fell down the charts and its airplay ended.

Not that I did anything about it. If I’d been thinking at all, I would have headed out to Woolworth’s or Kresge’s or Musicland and gotten myself a copy of the record. I didn’t.

But I was enamored enough of the record to pop for a ticket to a high school dance a couple weeks into the school year. The ticket cost all of fifty cents, I imagine. I had no plans of getting on the dance floor, nor did my pal Mike, who went with me. We’d be content to hang along the gym wall in the old Central School, listening to the tunes and watching the girls on the dance floor. We were there for one reason only: The band for the dance was the Mystics, and we wanted to hear “Pain.” And, of course, about two hours into the three-hour dance, the Mystics obliged. Satisfied, Mike and I made our ways home.

It was, I think, the first time I’d heard a radio hit played live by the original band. And that memory is sweet.

It was years before I ever heard the song again; in fact, after a while, it would be years before I even though about “Pain” again. You know how life goes: Things happen and more things happen, and some of the things you thought you’d never forget end up pushed to the back on the shelves of memory, gathering dust until someday for some reason, something pushes one of those things to the front of the shelf, where it seems shiny and new again.

It was the mid-1990s, so call it twenty-five years since I’d heard the Mystics’ single. One of the guys who played in the band at Jake’s had played, if I recall correctly, in another well-known Twin Cities band, Danny’s Reasons. During a break one night, he was telling tales, and he mentioned the Mystics.

“The Mystics?” I asked. “The guys who released ‘Pain’?” The very ones, Larry said. I hadn’t thought about “Pain” for years. The conversation wandered on as I made a mental note to check the singles bins at Cheapo’s every once in a while. And a couple of weeks later, when I saw a poster for a record show at no more than eight blocks from my home, I made a note to head out on Saturday and see what I could find.

Well, I found a copy of “Pain.” In its original Metromedia sleeve. For something like $100. The fellow obligingly pulled the 45 from the sleeve and put it on the turntable. I listened to the record for the first time in about twenty-five years, looked at the price tag on the plastic sleeve and shook my head. “Not this time,” I told the fellow regretfully.

From then on, I’d check for the record sporadically at the places where I bought my LPs. After I moved further south and east in Minneapolis in 1999, I had new places to check. No luck. And once the Texas Gal and I moved to St. Cloud in 2002, well, there were really no places to check except on-line stores. I took a look this morning.

There is one copy of “Pain” offered for sale through Music Stack.com. It’s priced at $46.92. One copy of the 45 was priced at $75 at the Global E-commerce Mega-Market (GEMM) but was evidently sold this morning. Prices like those have been pretty consistent over the past eight years, when there’s been a copy of the record on the market.

But I don’t need those copies. On a January Saturday in 2003, the Texas Gal and I made one of our occasional trips to the small town of Pierz to stock up on bacon at Thielen Meats. On the way back, we came through the very small town of Royalton, on U.S. Highway 10 about twenty miles north of St. Cloud. An antique shop was doing business in what appeared to be an old bank building, so we pulled over and went in.

I’m not sure what the Texas Gal looked at, but in the second room I entered, I found a tall rotating rack filled with 45s carefully put into paper and then plastic sleeves. I began digging. And about midway down the second side, I did a double-take: “Pain” by the Mystics. Eyebrows raised, I looked for the price, and I did another double-take: two dollars.

Needless to say, the record came home with me. And a few years later, when the Texas Gal gave me a USB turntable for Christmas, “Pain” was the first record I pulled from the shelves to convert to an mp3. It still sounds as good as it did coming out of the speakers on an August day forty-one years ago this week.

(The record shown and used in the video is the original release, according to reader Yah Shure, not a later release, as I originally stated. My copy of the record is Metromedia 130, and the record is credited to simply “The Mystics.” It’s worth noting that the Grass Roots also recorded “Pain,” releasing it as an album track on their 1969 LP Lovin’ Things. They did a good job, but they’re not the Mystics, you know.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 31
“Pain” by the Mystics, Metromedia 130 [1969]
“Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You)” by Lulu from New Routes [1970]
“Sky High” by Jigsaw, Chelsea 3022 [1975]
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, Cotillion 44251 [1979]
“More Than This” by Roxy Music from Avalon [1982]
“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen 29141 [1984]

Sometime in February 1970, I was home from school for a day, and I had the radio on as I was sitting up in bed sniffling or coughing or whatever I was doing. I stopped dead still, however, when I heard the quiet introduction to Lulu’s “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You).” I listened, entranced, as she took the song from that quiet start to unexpected places. I knew Lulu from “To Sir With Love,” which went to No. 1 in 1967, but this sounded like a different singer, one dealing with much more than a schoolgirl crush. From crayons to perfume, indeed. Lulu’s warm and intimate performance took the record to No. 22 in that late winter.  Add to that performance the fact that I was just beginning to know what it was like to be a fool for someone, and you have all you need to make a song a favorite for life.

Lulu – “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You)”

There are no emotional connections, no tales of hearing my life in the music, with Jigsaw’s “Sky High.” It’s just one of those records that has always been fun to listen to. The heartbreak content of the lyrics, to tell the truth, doesn’t seem to work, mostly because the guys from Jigsaw – the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits says the quartet came from England while All-Music Guide says the band was founded in Brisbane, Australia, in 1966 – seem to be having too much fun singing about their love being blown sky high to be grieving too much about it. And it is fun, from the opening twanging – what instrument makes that sound? – through the swirling strings and punchy horns of the introduction onward. “Sky High” spent two weeks at No. 3 in December of 1975.

Speaking of fun, from the instant I hear the drum figure and quick piano runs of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” there’s a smile on my face. The disco proclamation of kinship spent two weeks at No. 2 during June of 1979, brightening the summer and providing that season’s Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team with an anthem. With their athletic skills thus supplemented, the Pirates – led by thirty-nine-year-old Willie (Pops) Stargell – won baseball’s World Series that fall, winning the final three games to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in seven games. And seeing the Orioles lose – just like the effervescent vocals and sly beat of “We Are Family” – is always a reason to smile.

I love album covers. Not to the extent that I have any framed and displayed on the walls of the study, although I do have a large poster of the cover to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the wall. But I’ve enjoyed over the years the art of good album covers, and I’ve also enjoyed over time the utterly inept work put into bad album covers. But only once have I ever bought an album based only on the look of the cover. It was the summer of 1989. I’d returned to Minnesota after my generally unhappy time on the Dakota prairie, and I was celebrating my return by touring Minneapolis-area record shops. In a shop in the suburb of Richfield, I came across a cover illustration so arresting that I bought the album without having the slightest idea what I would hear.

The record was Avalon, the 1982 effort by Roxy Music. All I knew of Roxy Music at the time was that the group was British. I had no awareness of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera or any of the other members of the group over the years; I didn’t know about Siren, Manifesto, Country Life, or any of the other albums. I was clueless. But the cover to Avalon fascinated me. I took the record home and, luckily, I liked it, especially “More Than This” and the title tune. In later years, I explored the rest of Roxy Music’s catalog, and I found the earlier albums well done but a little brittle and fussy, not nearly as warm and inviting as Avalon. It’s fine when tracks from those earlier albums pop up at random. But I don’t go looking for them. Avalon I do, especially that shimmering title tune and “More Than This,” which was a No. 6 hit in Britain (No. 103 here in the U.S.).

It was almost winter – the second week of December 1984 – when Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” entered the Top 40. Even in the relatively mild winter of mid-Missouri, the wind whistled around the corners of the house, making winter seem harder. To me, that matched the sonic dish that Henley had served, and I had the sense that he was singing about things much more fundamental than the passing of one warm season:

Out on the road today,
I saw a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac.

A voice inside my head said ‘Don’t look back.
‘You can never look back.’

The final verses – I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun . . . I can tell you, my love for you will still be strong – are more traditional for making a pledge of fealty. But what sticks with me from the record – which went to No. 5 during the second week of February 1985 – is that warning, one I ignore frequently but with greater misgivings as the days race by: ‘Don’t look back. You can never look back.”

(Sequence of Mystics’ name and of record’s release have been corrected since post was first published; thanks for the info, Yah Shure.)