Posts Tagged ‘Joan Baez’

We’ve Done Much But Still Have Much To Do

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 19, 2009

The two events on consecutive days are an opinion writer’s dream.

I’m talking, of course, about the unique juxtaposition of today’s national holiday commemorating the life and contributions of the Rev. Martin Luther King with tomorrow’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president. Some editorial writers and columnist may tell that we have achieved our goal and left division behind. Others will tell us we have made a good start. I lean toward the latter view. Still, there is no doubt that there is much to celebrate. After Mr. Obama takes the oath of office, we can all rejoice that we as a nation are so much closer than we were to keeping the promises made in our founding documents.

There is here a reluctance to write much about race relations in the United States (or anywhere, for that matter). Why? Because I stand on the wrong side of the divide to truly know what the state of those relations is and has been. I can read, I can listen, I can guess. But I can never know. What I have observed in my lifetime makes me hopeful, but when I try to write about the topic, I find myself stumbling around like a blindfolded man in a dark house: I have no assurance that I know what I am doing or where I am headed.

(I recall the tale of another man who stood on the same side of that divide as I do. In 1959, writer John Howard Griffin, who was white, darkened his skin with the help of a doctor and spent six weeks traveling as an African American man through Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. For anyone, but especially for those who see the 1950s and 1960s as distant history, if I could suggest one book that might provide a glimpse of what life was like in the segregated southern states in the U.S., it would be Black Like Me.)

As we celebrate and remember today and tomorrow, one of the things that I hope that we all keep in mind is that we have just begun to keep our promises. And those promises were sworn not only to those with darker skin colors but also to those with colder homes, emptier plates, fewer opportunities and far more challenges than most of us in this nation have to deal with. The racial divide still exists, of course, and those on both sides need to continue to keep faith. But the deeper divide, I think, is economic, and that divide – aggravated, no doubt, by the dismal economic news of recent months – leaves far too many of us in want. And I doubt whether those shackled by economic need are truly free.

This is certainly a darker piece than I intended to write. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I do not celebrate the vast progress we have made in the U.S. nor the remarkable achievement of this nation in electing Barack Obama as its president. I am pleased and encouraged both historically and in the moment. There is much yet to be done, and we need to remember that in the days, months and years to come. But we have come a long way, and that is worth celebrating.

Here’s some music to mark these moments:

“Chimes of Freedom” by the Byrds from Mr. Tambourine Man, 1965

“A Ray of Hope” by the Rascals from Freedom Suite, 1969

“We Shall Overcome” by Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions Band from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions-American Land Edition, 2006

“I Want My Freedom” by Marie Queenie Lyons from Soul Forever, 1970

“Freedom Blues” by Little Richard, Reprise 0907, 1970

“We Shall Be Free” by Maria Muldaur, Odetta, Joan Baez & Holly Near from Yes We Can, 2008

Some of these are well known and obvious. Little Richard certainly isn’t among the lesser-known here, but his 1970s releases are. “Freedom Blues” was pulled from The Rill Thing, one of several albums Little Richard recorded for Reprise in the early 1970s. (A few years ago, Rhino Handmade produced a limited CD reissue of those albums; copies currently run at about $150.)

I don’t know much about Marie Queenie Lyons. Soul Forever is the only album of hers listed at All-Music Guide. The recording comes from a post at My Blog Too. There’s some information about her and her connection to James Brown at Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven.*

Of the albums listed, my favorite is the final one, Yes We Can, on which Maria Muldaur draws together a bunch of friends and a great bunch of politically charged songs that serve as calls to action. One need not agree with the performers’ politics to enjoy the music.

*My Blog Too has been deleted since this piece was posted. Note added November 30, 2011.

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A Baker’s Dozen of caithiseach’s Favorites

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 24, 2008

(Our guest poster today is caithiseach, who generally hangs his hat at The Great Vinyl Meltdown.)

It must have been the frozen custard cake. We were eating it when whiteray asked me what my favorite single was. I thought for far too long, then I gave him an answer. A day later, with the custard still in his system, he invited me to guest-blog this Baker’s Dozen of my favorite singles. I could not pass up the opportunity to write in this blog, the first music blog I ever read, and the inspiration for my own blog, which deals with quirky old 45s I collected when I was a kid.

Today I have been set a different task: to write about songs that you probably know. I had made my job somewhat easier by adding a marker to the digital filenames of my favorite Hot 100 hits. So I sorted out the favorites, some 400 of them. Then, in order not to think too much or too long, I culled any song I thought might be one of my thirteen favorites. I may have missed some really good songs that I didn’t mark, and surely I am skipping some superb singles that I don’t own or have not digitized, but I used the Force and let it tell me what to do with the material at hand.

One thing I looked for was songs that truly were singles. Crisp story lines, nicely rounded finishes, no sense that the song was hacked out of a larger work, the way a Pink Floyd single would be. I see an artistry in a perfect single that matches the magic of an excellent short story. It’s satisfying in itself, not incomplete and co-dependent like a chapter in a novel. As Oliver Wendell Holmes might have said, I know a real single when I hear one.

By accident I pulled out exactly forty finalists, which suits my way of thinking about music – in terms of countdowns. When I was ten, I started counting down my ten favorite hits, playing them in my mind when I mowed the lawn each Saturday. That short music chart had as much fluidity as a Billboard chart, but it also had a consistency that reflected the amount of thought I put into it. I remember such momentous decisions as replacing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at No.1 with “The Love You Save.”

Today’s Top Thirteen doesn’t have a lot in common with my final lawn-mowing Top Ten, because I stopped mowing the family lawn around 1982, when I graduated from college. But several songs from that era slipped into the forty candidates for this Baker’s Dozen, and I’m pleased that I still like the songs I enjoyed in my teen years. It would be awful to have outgrown myself completely.

I also started doing the DJ countdown thing on my record player when I was about eight. With just one turntable, that made for a lot of chatter between songs. That’s what you’ll get here; I’m going to explain my choices, rather than give valuable information about the artists, as whiteray does. And I’ll go bottom to top, so here goes:

13. “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond [Bang 578, 1970]

As much as I like other early Diamond hits, this song about betrayal and the response to it stuck with me as a clean discussion of the topic, with no self-pity to muck it up. The delicious Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich production, with the acoustic guitar accented by somber horns, meshed perfectly with the message.

12. “Shattered Glass” by Laura Branigan [Atlantic 89245, 1987]

This cut climbed only to No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100. What puts it here is ninety percent appreciation and ten percent desire to share a song you probably have never heard. I was rolling into Bloomington, Indiana after a very long drive, and I got stuck at a very long light at two a.m. This song, new to me then, came on the radio, and I cranked it to stay awake. My car was rocking on its springs already when Laura hit the climax notes of the chorus. The tsunami of sound left my brain unable to process all of the sound in real time. If you play this song loudly enough, her voice at that point will leave an impression on you that will never fade.

11. “No Matter What” by Badfinger [Apple 1822, 1970]

The story of Pete Ham and Tom Evans is tragic, and their band’s output was inconsistent, but they worked magic several times, most notably here. I am a sucker for songs that go silent abruptly and use a drumbeat to pull the music back in. I love the guitar work. I don’t tire of listening to Pete Ham singing. It’s a song about hanging in there. I wish people had hounded these two guys less relentlessly.

10. “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the 4 Seasons [Warner/Curb 8168, 1976]

Three of my forty finalists were on the same chart in March-April 1976, and two of them are in the final thirteen. This song’s bass line has whiteray’s blessing as perhaps the best bass line ever, and that is what drew me to the song in the first place. An amazing piano part carries the song into the second vocal phrase, where the bass kicks in, and Gerri Polci’s turn as lead vocalist gives welcome respite from Frankie Valli. Apart from the message that not learning a lover’s name is an okay thing, the song chronicles a wondrous event without getting tacky. And you should fiddle with your graphic equalizer and isolate that bass line. Mmmmm.

9. “Lucky Lips” by Ruth Brown [Atlantic 1125, 1957]

The year of 1957 was very good for me, musically. I wasn’t born yet, but Pérez Prado recorded “Why Wait” then (had it been an A side, it would be No. 2 here), and Ruth Brown gave us this bright shuffle that rolls along like a diesel engine with a hundred cars behind it. Any song that starts with a long, growly sax note gets my vote, and this one boasts the “No Matter What” silence as well. It would be a good song with anyone else singing it, but no one could put joy into a vocal the way Ruth Brown did.

8. “No One Is to Blame” by Howard Jones [Elektra 69549, 1986]

Almost an answer to No. 4 below, now that I think about it, I found this song heartbreaking at a time when I was heartbroken. Singing about the unattainable, Jones doesn’t get all of the words right, says I, but the melody, his soulful delivery, the percussion – it works for me in inexplicable ways.

7. “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies [Calendar 1008, 1969]

We’re getting to writhe-on-the-floor-in-ecstasy territory now, at least in the case of the upbeat songs. I blogged about this song, which was my one source of joy in 1969, a year that beat me to a pulp. I admire Jeff Barry beyond words, and if you forget the reasons why this song is so gentle, you’ll be able to appreciate the genius he injected into every beat.

6. “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones [London 910, 1969]

Charting simultaneously with “Sugar, Sugar,” this song gave my appreciation of music new range. Until then, I was too young for the Stones, but I figured them out here. The recurrent caithiseach theme of a horn section helps to reel me in, but I also love suspended fourths in any song, and the unified vision the guitars give to the subject matter round it all out. I always think about this being Brian Jones’ last work, and it tears me up.

5. “Misty” by Johnny Mathis [Columbia 41483, 1959]

The song is amazingly evocative poetry, and this arrangement, with artfully understated vocals, is the only version anyone needs to hear. Even so, I didn’t become familiar with “Misty” until 1984, when I waited table at the Raging Bull, a fine-dining establishment in Merrillville, Indiana, that provided music by pianist-singer Tony Liggins. He turned me on to the song, then I found the Mathis version on a Time-Life CD of 1959 hits. From there, the recording crept into my mind to the point that, after a bit of meditation, it wound up at No. 5 here.

4. “Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez [A&M 1737, 1975]

As much as I enjoy her singing tunes by The Band, and as much as I could enjoy her singing almost any song, Joan accomplished something here that almost defies description, so forgive me if I fail you: She should be as bitter as Alanis Morrissette in these lyrics, but she is so graceful with her condemnation of Dylan that she soars above the situation and avoids sounding like a bitch. Start there, and add a chord progression that is as memorable (and inspired) as what Hoagy Carmichael came up with for “Stardust.” But “Stardust” does not have the eerie, haunting resonance of this song, of course. I don’t know how she could use any major chords in this song, but she chose exactly the right ones, at the right moments. I would crawl to where she is to thank her for the song, if I thought I could get past her bodyguards.

3. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen [Elektra 45297, 1976]

I can explain this one. Freddie Mercury trusted his audience to be able to handle big words and big sounds. I enjoyed his work when he was alive, and I ache to have him back now that he’s gone. As a polar opposite to its fellow 1976 chart hit “December, 1963,” this song provided gravity without being maudlin or unlistenable in its pomposity. I think the song must have been a lot of fun to write and record, and I have always found it fun to listen to. My big problem with it came when my sister borrowed my single and scratched it in such a way that you could hear the entire song except for the gong, which is where it skipped. Thanks, Lisa.

2. “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA [Atlantic 3457, 1978]

In 1977-78, on Friday nights I watched Midnight Special. About two a.m., a truck would drop off Saturday newspapers for me to deliver. If I felt like it, I delivered the papers after the show rather than get up four hours later to do my job. Apart from almost getting shot once, it worked out fine. And one morning, I delivered my seventy-five papers with one song stuck in my head. Wolfman Jack had just played a string of ABBA promo clips, and he ended with their “new single,” which was three months away from its U.S. release. I had never heard an intro like the one to “Take a Chance on Me”: an a cappella female lead with male chant underpinning? Then the synth comes in, and finally the song explodes. A sweet message of at-some-point-to-be-requited love, the song is boundlessly cheery but not cloying. Another time, I was sitting in a disco in Salzburg, Austria, drinking expensive imported beer (Budweiser, their only beverage). The dance floor was empty. The DJ tossed on this song, the locals screamed, and before the chant started, there were a hundred couples grinding away. As they say, two hundred Austrians can’t be wrong.

1. “He’s a Rebel” by the Crystals [Philles 106, 1962]

The vocalists are actually Darlene Love and the Blossoms. Phil Spector needed a Crystals record, and they weren’t available, and a voice is just a musical instrument, right? Well, I don’t think so. Gene Pitney’s composition captured the tug-of-war between leather-clad surly teens and frightened parents, with a girl’s arms as the rope, as succinctly as could be done. The girl’s choice is clear, which makes the song scarier for “adults” and an anthem for teens who want to push the envelope. Spector recorded some of his other songs very well, but this one includes a wistful piano, hot horns, a tasteful sax solo – and Darlene Love. She appeals to me more than any other Spector girl singer, and she took control of this song to a degree the actual Crystals might not have attained. From the time I became well-aware of this song, around 1970, it has ranged from first to third on my list of favorites. It’s time I admitted to myself that I don’t think any juxtaposition of lyrics, melody, vocals and arrangement tops this one.

Thanks, whiteray, for giving me this chance to think about the concept, and for the space to publish it. Thanks to you for reading what I wrote.

Some of the other songs I considered were:

“Theme from A Summer Place” by Percy Faith

“What’s a Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You)” by Timi Yuro

“Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph

“Washington Square” by the Village Stompers

“Java” by Al Hirt

“Downtown” by Petula Clark

“Bus Stop” by the Hollies

“Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison

“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat

“Cecelia” by Simon & Garfunkel

“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5

“Be My Baby” by Andy Kim

“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon

“The World Is a Ghetto” by War

“ I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” by ABBA

“ Just Between You and Me” by April Wine

“Rosanna” by Toto

“Hello” by Lionel Richie

“Cherry Bomb” by John Cougar Mellencamp

First Friday: July 1968

July 18, 2011

Originally posted July 4, 2008

It seems as if the world took a deep breath in July 1968.

The first six months of the year had brought blow after blow, especially for those who lived in the United States: The growing and bitter debate over the Vietnam War, the capitulation of a sitting president, the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. And even events that didn’t directly affect the U.S. – one of those being the general revolt in France in May – came into American homes through increasingly immediate news coverage, which brought with it images that made many, I’m sure, feel as if the entire world had gone mad.

The listing of events of July 1968 at Wikipedia is fairly slender, and nothing that is listed triggers gut-wrenching memories, as do so many of the events listed there for the first half of the year. Still, in the bright glare of hindsight, there is at least one event that intrigues:

On the first day of the month, the U.S.’ Central Intelligence Agency inaugurated its Phoenix program in Vietnam. Coordinated with the security apparatus of South Vietnam, the program was designed to “identify and ‘neutralize’ (via infiltration, capture, or assassination) the civilian infrastructure supporting the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam.” That organization – the National Liberation Front – was better known as the Viet Cong, the guerillas operating in South Vietnam in support of North Vietnam.

According to the entry at Wikipedia – which pulled information from the March/April 2006 edition of Military Review and from a paper written by a U.S. Army colonel at the U.S. Army War College – the Phoenix Program was half a success. Between 1968 and 1972, South Vietnamese militia and police forces, using data gathered by CIA operatives “neutralized 81,740 NLF members, of whom 26,369 were killed.”

The matter-of-fact language chills me. Some would say, I imagine, that war is war and one does what one has to. But the CIA was (and is) not military, and – as government investigations in the mid-1970s revealed – was essentially accountable to no one for many of its 1960s operations.

And the Phoenix program, notes Wikipedia, was not fully successful. First, the wrong people were sometimes “neutralized,” having been purposely mis-identified as Viet Cong by rivals. Second, by 1968, the Viet Cong were well established throughout South Vietnam; the organization had won, to use a phrase that became a cliché in later years, the “hearts and minds” of many South Vietnamese.

The words “Phoenix program” are for many, I imagine, a memory of the Seventies rather than the Sixties, for it was in the mid-1970s that Congress investigated years of intelligence activities. That was when Phoenix and all the other shadowy efforts – some tragic, some laughable – came to light. But that particular effort began on a Monday at the start of July 1968.

A few other things happened that month, some of which echo to this day:

Saddam Hussein becamee vice chairman of Iraq’s ruling Revolutionary Council on July 17 after a coup d’état.

Pope Paul VI published his encyclical Humana Vitae (On Human Life) on July 25. The encyclical bans birth control.

Mount Arenal, a volcano in Costa Rica that was presumed extinct, erupted July 29 for the first time in four hundred years, destroying the town of Arenal and killing eighty-seven people. The eruption caused three new and active craters to form, and the volcano has been active ever since, with minor eruptions taking place every five to ten minutes.

In Cleveland, Ohio, police surveillance of African-American militant Fred (Ahmed) Evans and his followers – they were suspected of purchasing illegal weapons – resulted in a July 23 shootout in the city’s Glenville neighborhood. Six or seven people were killed (Wikipedia says that newspaper accounts differ) and fifteen were wounded. In addition, the confrontation sparked arson and looting throughout the six square miles of the neighborhood that continued until police and the National Guard restored order July 28.

Even in those days, at the age of fourteen, I followed the news fairly closely, and I have no recollection at all of those events, which came to be known at the Glenville Shootout. I’m sure accounts were in the news and on television, and in hindsight, it seems like a fairly major event. But for some reason, it didn’t stick.

Then again, not a lot of things have stuck with me from that month. I guess I had a pretty standard American Midwest summer: a few chores in the mornings, orchestra practice (and occasional performances) on Monday evenings, lots of time spent knocking about the neighborhood with Rick.

The only thing that was really new that summer of ’68 was that I worked out at the trap shoot for the first time, maybe at the end of July but more likely a week or two later. As I wrote more than a year ago, there were a number of songs I heard so frequently on the radio in the trap pit that they immediately take me back to that dirty and loud place. And a look ahead at the Billboard lists shows some of those songs nearing the top of the chart as August approached.

But as July started, here’s what the Top 15 looked like:

“This Guy’s in Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“The Horse” by Cliff Nobles
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones
“The Look of Love” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela
“Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
“Angel of the Morning” by Merilee Rush and the Turnabouts
“Here Comes the Judge” by Shorty Long
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris
“Reach out of the Darkness” by Friend and Lover
“Yummy Yummy Yummy” by the Ohio Express
“Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells
“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Think” by Aretha Franklin
“Indian Lake” by the Cowsills

That’s an okay Top 15. It could rock a little more, yeah, as only the Stones’ single and “Think” have much bite. As I noted when I wrote about June 1968, I can definitely get along without “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and “Mony Mony,” and “Here Comes the Judge” is a novelty that’s funny on occasion but doesn’t wear especially well. (It was inspired by a running gag on the television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.)

But even if it’s a pretty mellow top 15, there’s some nice stuff there. The Alpert and Mendes singles are sweet, and “Angel of the Morning” is one of the great one-hit wonders of all time. “Lady Willpower” is a nice – if a little bombastic – period piece. “Mrs. Robinson” was a great single, now heading down the charts after hitting No. 1 for three weeks. And – speaking of bombast – for some reason, I’ve always had a fondness for “MacArthur Park.”

Then there was “Indian Lake” with its unremarkable-for-its-time war whoops, which I would guess would be unthinkable today. I wonder if the record – which went as high as No. 10 in late June – is on any oldies playlists anywhere. I don’t recall hearing it on radio for years.

Over on the Billboard album chart during the first week of July 1968, the top spot was occupied for the fourteenth straight week by an album with Simon & Garfunkel on it. For five of those weeks – including this first week in July – that album had been Simon & Gafunkel’s Bookends. The top album for the other seven weeks had been the soundtrack to The Graduate, which featured four previously released songs by Simon & Garfunkel as well as snippets of an early version of “Mrs. Robinson.” (The full and final version was on Bookends.)

The two albums had switched places for a couple of weeks, but from May 11 through July 6, the top two spots on the chart belonged to Simon & Garfunkel. And on July 6, 1968, here’s how the Top 10 looked:

Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack
The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Disraeli Gears by Cream
A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris
Look Around by Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66
The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees by the Monkees
Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel

Movement on the album chart was close to glacial. Seven of those albums had been in the Top Ten during the first week in June. The three that hadn’t were the Richard Harris, Sergio Mendes and Jimi Hendrix albums, and Are You Experienced had been bouncing in and out of the Top Ten for months.

I would have no time for the Goldsboro, and there would be better Monkees albums to own if one wanted to go beyond the singles. (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. and Headquarters come to mind.) With those exceptions, it’s not a bad Top 10: Some pretty robust rock, some folk rock, some Latin sounds and some instrumentals that aren’t utterly soporific.

The album I’m sharing today didn’t come near the Top 10, peaking at No. 30 during a five-week stay on the album chart in February and March of 1969. But it’s still an interesting album: I can’t be absolutely sure, but I think that Joan Baez’ Any Day Now was the first album made up entirely of covers of songs by Bob Dylan.*

And who better than Baez to do it? She was the reigning queen of folk when Dylan shambled onto the world’s stage in 1962 and 1963; her support and her recordings of some of his early work gave him exposure and legitimacy. Lovers for a few years, the two of them were linked inextricably and permanently by their pre-eminence in the folk movement of the early 1960s. So if anyone had a claim on covering Bob Dylan for an entire album, Baez did

And for the most part, Baez does well. The decision to record the album in Nashville was probably the crucial decision regarding the entire project. Using many of the same musicians that Dylan had used for Blonde on Blonde in 1966 (two of whom also played on Dylan’s John Wesley Harding in 1967), Baez puts Dylan’s songs into a country-ish context. The sessions for Any Day Now took place in September or October 1968 (sources I’ve seen differ), shortly after the release of the Byrds’ landmark album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and it seems pertinent to wonder how much influence the Byrds’ sound had on Baez.

Highlights? The most obvious is “Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word,” a song that Dylan has seemingly never recorded. In addition, her recording of “The Walls of Red Wing,” was, it seems, the first ever released: Dylan’s version was released in 1991. (The song, maybe not one of Dylan’s best, is of interest here because “The Walls of Red Wing” surrounded Minnesota’s penal institution for boys in the 1960s, a place of rumor and dread even for those generally well-behaved.)

Another highlight is “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which surfaced for the first time on Sweetheart of the Rodeo but gets a warmer and more relaxed reading here.

One of the chief assets of Any Day Now is in Baez’ vocal approach. On many of her folk recordings of the early 1960s, there was little interpretation, with every folk song presented almost as a jewel to be admired and not to be tampered with. By the time she got to Any Day Now, Baez was becoming an interpreter, leaning on some words and phrases and sliding past others, telling tales with the songs rather than presenting them as museum pieces. That makes Any Day Now one of Baez’ most accessible albums. (The same holds true for Baez’ next release, 1969’s David’s Album, which was recorded at the same time as Any Day Now.)

Musicians listed for the Any Day Now sessions at All-Music Guide are: Harold Bradley, Jerry Kennedy, Grady Martin, Jerry Reed, Harold Rugg, Stephen Stills and Pete Wade on guitar; David Briggs on keyboards; Kenny Buttrey on drums; Fred Carter on mandolin; Pete Drake on steel guitar; Johnny Gimble, Tommy Jackson and Buddy Spicher on violin; Junior Husky and Norbert Putnam on bass; Bill Pursell on piano; and Hargus “Pig” Robbins on keyboards.

Tracks:
Love Minus Zero/No Limit
North Country Blues
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Drifter’s Escape
I Pity The Poor Immigrant
Tears of Rage
Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
The Walls of Red Wing
Dear Landlord
One Too Many Mornings
I Shall Be Released
Boots of Spanish Leather
Walkin’ Down the Line
Restless Farewell

Joan Baez – Any Day Now [1968]

*Any Day Now was not the first album made up entirely of covers of Bob Dylan tunes. In a later post, I passed on information from readers citing an albums by Odetta and I noted an album by Linda Mason cited at All-Music Guide. Note added July 18 & 20, 2011.

Saturday Singles Nos. 54 & 55

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 2, 2008

Well, having no other ideas this morning as I sat down to find a single, I decided I would let the RealPlayer run randomly until it did one of two things: Find me a song from the years 1950-2000 with the word “shadow” in its title – a measure of respect to the legendary groundhog who will come out of his burrow today and scoot back in for another six weeks should his shadow startle him – or else find me a song by playing a second track (from that same stretch of years) from any one artist, in tribute to the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, in which Murray lives the same day over and over.

So, we’ll see how long it takes. I prime the RealPlayer by sorting the 22,988 files by length. Then I play the shortest clip – a recording of Al Shaver, the play-by-play announcer for the Minnesota North Stars for the entire time the team existed. From sometime between 1967 and 1993, Shaver exults, “He shoots, he scores!”

And the player moves on to the Grateful Dead, singing “Brokedown Palace” from American Beauty (1970). A mellow start to the day. We get a 1969 track from Pearls Before Swine, an interesting group, and then “Hard Times” from Eric Clapton’s 1991 live bonanza, 24 Nights. “Fannin Street” is a nice bit of 1964 folk blues from Koerner, Ray & Glover. And then an obscure 1967 track from Del Shannon: “New Orleans (Mardi Gras)”

Some Aretha, followed by Little Feat, John Hammond, Steely Dan, some unreleased Derek & the Dominos, then some Howlin’ Wolf. Fred Neil sings “It Looks Like Rain” from 1967, which is at least about the weather. And repetition of a sort comes along with Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice,” also from 1967. But no prize, so on to the next tune, which turns out to be Dan Fogelberg’s 1982 track, “Empty Cages.” Followed by songs from Marvin Gaye, Three Dog Night, the Bee Gees, Boz Scaggs, Duncan Browne and the Ray Conniff Singers (“Somewhere, My Love” from 1966).

Led Zeppelin comes up next, which makes for an interesting juxtaposition. Then the Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama, followed by Tim Hardin, Wishbone Ash and a current day blues performer called Molten Mike. Sixties R&B legend Baby Huey wanders past, as do Crabby Appleton, Moby Grape and an obscure Sixties group called the Fabulous Bachelors (“Not Like She” from 1966). Ellen McIlwaine from 1973, Supertramp’s “Logical Song” from 1979. Candi Staton from 1970. This might not have been a good idea.

We get Bob Dylan live. Well, that’s hopeful, as I have more tracks by Dylan – 465 – than by any other artist. Then we get some Swedish pop from 1989, Buddy Miles from 1970, Mother Earth from 1969, some Dusty Springfield, Bonnie Koloc, Jefferson Airplane, Robert Cray and then Bobby “Blue” Bland with “Stormy Monday” from 1961. Nice listening, especially that last, but we click on.

And then, here comes Bob Dylan with “A Simple Twist of Fate” from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. One of the points of Groundhog Day (if not the main point) was that living the same day over and over would quickly turn life to boredom and – in my opinion – eventually to horror. I know people who feel that way about listening to Bob Dylan.

I don’t, of course. The raw number of mp3s says that Dylan is my favorite performer, and that’s likely true. Others frequently say they like Dylan’s songs but prefer to hear others perform them; the Texas Gal is in that camp. So, for those folks – and in the repetitive spirit of Groundhog Day – I’ll post a second version of the song, a sprightly take by Joan Baez from her 1975 album, Diamonds & Rust.

Here, then, are your Saturday Singles:

Bob Dylan – “Simple Twist of Fate” [1975]

Joan Baez – “Simple Twist of Fate” [1975]

 

‘Diamonds & Rust,’ 1975

May 12, 2011

Originally posted October 4, 2007

Ever since yesterday morning, when I put together the Baker’s Dozen from 1975, I’ve had the introduction to “Diamonds & Rust” running through my brain.

Yes, an earworm, but this one’s not so bad. I listen to something else and it goes away, only to come back at a quiet moment. And when it does, it brings a memory: It is late autumn of that year, and I am for a moment sitting with my friends at a long table in the student union at St. Cloud State, laughing at someone’s ribald remark and listening to Joan Baez as she sings from the jukebox against the wall.

So why fight it? Here’s a video of Baez in concert in 1975, evidently closing the show – or at least her portion of it – with “Diamonds & Rust.”

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 Baker’s Dozen for Summer

April 23, 2011

Originally posted June 20, 2007

The solstice is upon us tomorrow, the longest day of the year – as measured by sunlight – in the Northern Hemisphere. That means those poor sods in Australia and Argentina and other southern places will stumble around in the dark for a longer period than normal, of course. It also means that the Druids – as I mentioned in Monday’s post – will gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise over the stone called the Heel Stone as part of their annual ceremonies.

We don’t have any hoopla to mark the beginning of meteorological summer here, as far as I know. There’s no ceremonial dipping of the season’s first ice cream cone or anything like that. The fact that summer as a state of mind has already started likely has something to do with the absence of such things. Summer’s been here for a while, no matter what the calendar says.

Maybe it’s not the same now, but thirty-some years ago, for me and the kids I knew, summer – specifically the summer after high school graduation – marked our first real entry into the workforce. I imagine some kids had worked earlier, but I think that most of us in the Class of 1971 got our first real taste of the so-called adult world very shortly after we took off our caps and gowns. For me, that meant spending forty hours a week doing whatever it was the maintenance department at St. Cloud State wanted me to do. And I got the remarkable sum of $2.10 an hour for doing it.

I spent the first half of that summer mowing lawns, riding a huge roaring machine across the green expanses of lawn on campus. Quite honestly, the mowers were a little scary, requiring a fair amount of strength in order to mow anything but a straight line. As there weren’t any areas of lawn that didn’t require a turn now and then, I did not do well mowing lawn, and by mid-summer, I was transferred indoors to the janitorial corps.

And in the building that housed the art and industrial arts departments, I met Mike. A few years older than I was, Mike was loud, profane and funny. For a week or so, he and I filled in for the vacationing regular janitors in Headley Hall, and then maintenance management assigned me to Mike and we became a roving floor cleaning crew, moving from building to building with our mops and buckets and detergents and electric floor scrubber. The first time Mike turned the operation of the scrubber over to me, the machine – which glides along the floor atop a whirling scrubbing pad – deposited me on my rump on a slippery wet floor. Mike laughed, and all I could do was join in. By the end of the summer, though, I could scrub and polish a floor with the best of them, which pleased me a lot. (At the age of seventeen, one takes one’s accomplishments when and where they surface.)

In August, we switched to an evening schedule, 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., to clean the floors in Whitney House, the luxurious one-time private home that then housed the offices of the college president and several vice presidents. We were only allotted thirty minutes for lunch, but given that we had to spend a fair amount of time waiting for mopped floors and newly waxed floors to dry, that was okay.

One evening in Whitney House, Mike and I were lounging in the lower-level office of one of the vice presidents, sipping cola and waiting for the floor in an adjacent office to dry so we could wax it. As we waited, we amused ourselves by browsing through the vice-president’s collection of Playboy magazines (a collection that I imagine would get the vice-president disciplined for harassment these days). As we paged through the most recent editions – which were fairly innocent by today’s standards – we heard a scream upstairs. It was Betty, the nighttime matron!

We ran upstairs, and as we did, we heard a door slam. We saw that the closet where our supplies were kept was closed, and the knob was turning. “Betty, are you okay?” Mike asked through the closet door.

“No,” said Betty. She was a sweet lady, but she was, in today’s terms, developmentally challenged. “There’s a bat, and I don’t want him to get me!”

Mike and I looked around. There, flying up and down the grand staircase of Whitney House, was a small brown bat. “I’ll get him with a broom,” Mike said. But the brooms were in the closet with Betty. It took Mike a few minutes to persuade her to unlock the closet so he could get one. At length, the door opened, and Betty’s hand offered Mike a broom. He took it, and Betty pulled her hand back in and locked the door again.

Mike headed for the stairway with me in tow. The bat came toward him, its course parallel to the stairs, and Mike took aim. Three or four times, he flailed at the flying mammal. Every time, the bat wheeled in its flight and the broom went past harmlessly. We began to laugh, mostly at Mike’s futility but also at the moans and cries still coming from Betty in the closet. On his fourth try, Mike swung harder. The broom again missed the bat and then continued on toward me. I turned my back. The head of the broom struck me between my shoulder blades, and the broomstick broke neatly in two.

We laughed harder.

Mike slumped against the wall near the closet, laughing, and said to me, “You try it.”

I looked for a weapon. The broomstick was useless. I looked in my right hand, where I still carried the vice-president’s most recent edition of Playboy. As the bat flew away from me, up the staircase, I rolled the magazine into a cylinder. At the landing where the staircase turned, the bat reversed its course and headed toward me. I waited at the bottom of the stairs, and as the bat neared me, I rose on my tiptoes and delivered an overhead smash that Bjorn Borg would have envied, catching the bat from behind, where his sonar did no good, and driving him into the carpet.

Mike took a broom and dustpan from Betty’s cart, scooped up the creature and placed him under a tree outside. Evidently, I had only stunned him, for when we checked, half an hour later, the bat was gone. It took us about that long to persuade Betty it was safe to leave the closet.

And then we went back downstairs. I put the magazine back into the vice-president’s desk, and Mike and I waxed the floor of the adjacent office and then moved on to the next office, still laughing.

A couple of years later, when I was working for the library at a job that took me all over campus, I ran into Mike. He told me Betty had retired but that every time he saw her, she talked about the bat in Whitney House. Mike was still floating, filling in for janitors on vacation, but he no longer worked the floor cleaning crew or worked nights. And he missed that.

“We had a good summer that year, didn’t we?” he said to me. “That was a good one.” And he was right.

So, to celebrate the summer that technically starts tomorrow, and to celebrate as well all the good summers of the past – including the summer I spent scrubbing floors – here’s a Baker’s Dozen of songs with the word “summer” in their titles:

“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66267, 1967

“The Boys Of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen single 29141, 1984

“Summertime” by Scarlett Johansson from Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars, 2006

“Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers from 3+3, 1973

“The Endless Summer” by the Sandals from The Endless Summer soundtrack, 1966

“Summer Wages” by Ian & Sylvia from Ian & Sylvia, 1971

“Summer’s Almost Gone” by the Doors from Waiting For The Sun, 1968

“Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone, Epic single 10497, 1969

“Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels, Capitol single 5271, 1983

“Fifteen Summers” by Gallagher & Lyle from Breakaway, 1976

“Summertime Dream” by Gordon Lightfoot from Summertime Dream, 1976

“Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” by Joan Baez from Diamonds & Rust, 1975

“Summer Wine” by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood from Nancy & Lee, 1968

A few notes about the songs:

This is a random selection. I sorted all the songs with “summer” in their titles or album titles, selected “Summer Rain” as the first, and then let the RealPlayer go. I then decided that the word “summer” had to be in the song title, not the album title. And I rejected Brewer & Shipley’s “Indian Summer” as not being quite in the spirit of things. So this is what we got.

A few songs missed the cut that would have been nice. Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime” comes to mind, as does Frank Sinatra’s melancholy “Summer Wind.” I love Seals & Crofts’ version of “Summer Breeze,” but it’s so well known that I was glad to see the Isley Brothers’ long version show up instead.

Johnny Rivers’ “Summer Rain” is one of my all-time favorite songs (it would make my Top Twenty for certain), and I was a little surprised to see that the single was not released in summer, that it was released late in the autumn, first making the charts in December of 1967. But then I thought about the last verse of the song, and that made sense. The song is from Rivers’ Realization, which was on my recent list of my favorite albums.

The album Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars, from which the Scarlett Johansson performance comes, was a benefit record for “Music Matters,” an educational program of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I thought that, for an actress not known for singing, Johansson pulled it off pretty well.

I wrote a while back about working at the state trap shoot for three summers when I was in high school and about how I heard some songs so frequently down in the trap pit that they became what I call “trap shoot songs.” “Hot Fun In The Summertime” is one of those songs, redolent of black dust and the smell of gunpowder and the sound of shotguns.

“Summer Wine,” as over-written as it might be – a condition not rare among songs penned by Lee Hazlewood – is nevertheless one of my favorite songs, no matter who sings it. The Nancy & Lee version is not the original – that showed up on a Hazlewood album a year or two earlier than this, I believe – but it is, I think, the best.

A Baker’s Dozen For Stu

April 17, 2011

Originally posted March 14, 2007

In my comments about debb johnson and its self-titled album Monday, I mentioned my college friend Stu. Over the years, I’d lost track of him, having last seen him in 1989 and otherwise not having spoken to him since, oh, 1976. I was teaching at a university in North Dakota in 1989, and I visited him and his wife, Nancy, while back in Minnesota during a quarter break.

Last week, when I found the album debb johnson in the stacks, I Googled him and found what looked like a good email address. I shot off a short note and got busy with preparing the album for posting, as well as preparing for my annual hockey day with my trio of friends. (A short note about that: Schultz won for the third year in a row, although I did get one of my teams into the semifinals!) And when I finished posting the album yesterday, I thought about Stu and the email, and I realized that with the generic subject heading of “Hello,” it likely had been caught by his Spam filter.

So I Googled again and came up with a phone number for his office. And he and I spent a delightful twenty minutes or so on the phone, catching up a little bit with news of children, parents and of thirty-one years of living. I explained how he’d come to mind, and he was pleased that his brother-in-law’s music is available again (as limited as the venue might be). I asked if he knew when the album was recorded. He wasn’t sure, but he agreed that my estimate of 1970 was probably pretty accurate. We promised to stay in touch, a promise I intend to keep.

It was wonderful to talk to him. There was no awkwardness, as there sometimes can be when old friends talk for the first time in years. And I thought that to mark that conversation – and what I hope will be a true renewal of a friendship that mattered a great deal to me when I was a much younger man and still does so today – I’d pull this week’s baker’s dozen from the year of 1976, when both of us graduated from St. Cloud State University:

“Beautiful Noise” by Neil Diamond from Beautiful Noise.

“The Final Bell” by Bill Conti from the soundtrack to Rocky.

“Homeward Bound” by Paul Simon & George Harrison on Saturday Night Live, November 20.

“Northbound Bus” by the Flying Burrito Brothers from Airborne.

“The Woman That Got Away” by J.J. Cale from Troubadour.

“Satisfied ’N’ Tickled Too” by Taj Mahal from Satisfied ’N’ Tickled Too.

“12/8 Blues (All The Same)” by the Stills/Young Band from Long May You Run.

“Sand In Your Shoes” by Al Stewart from Year Of The Cat.

“How Deep It Goes” by Heart from Dreamboat Annie.

“Forever Young” by Joan Baez from From Every Stage.

“Come On In My Kitchen” by David Bromberg from How Late’ll Ya Play ‘Til?

“You Can Have My Soul” by Carolyn Franklin from If You Want Me.

“Right Before Your Eyes” by Ian Thomas from Goodnight Mrs. Calabash.