Posts Tagged ‘Joe Cocker’

‘And Watch The River Flow . . .’

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 13, 2010

It was around this time in 1972 that I bought my first Bob Dylan album. I’d heard Dylan plenty of times before, certainly: Just in the couple of years since I’d started listening to the radio, he’d had a Top Ten hit with “Lay, Lady, Lay” during the summer of 1969 and then reached the Top 40 in late 1971 with “George Jackson.” And I’d likely heard John Wesley Harding on one evening or another, hanging out at Rick’s. And that doesn’t count the other times I heard his songs just as part of the music around me before I really started paying attention.

But on a January day, I bought Dylan’s music for the first time. I actually bought two albums that day. Rick’s birthday was coming up soon, and he wanted Nashville Skyline. So I grabbed that at Musicland and then pawed through the rest of the Dylan records. I found a copy of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II and scanned the jacket. A pretty good mix. So brought it home with me, and as I wrapped Rick’s gift, I dropped my new record on the stereo.

And the first track was happily familiar: A rolling roadhouse piano accompanied by a twanging guitar announced the presence of “Watching The River Flow,” a song that had been released as a single during 1971. (It just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 41.) The rolling piano made it clear that the record had been recorded under the influence of Leon Russell, who in the first years of the Seventies was about as hot any performer ever was, sitting in on God knows how many major recording sessions, spearheading Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in early 1970, playing at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangla Desh during the summer of 1971 and seeing two of his own albums – Leon Russell & The Shelter People and Carney – hit the Top 40.

So the first sounds I heard from the first Dylan album I owned were and still are tasty ones. The track – which Russell co-produced with Bob Johnston – popped up the other night on the RealPlayer as I was reading, and the guitar and piano riff captured my attention just as quickly and fully as it had thirty-eight years ago. I nodded along through Dylan’s tale of countryside ennui and laziness, and then wondered, as I frequently do, who had covered the song and if I had any of those covers.

I dug into those questions the next morning. And I found that “Watching The River Flow” has not had a large number of cover versions released.

As “Watching The River Flow,” All-Music Guide finds a total of sixty-one recordings on CD, including Dylan’s work. (The song’s title is sometimes listed on LPs and CDs as “Watchin’ The River Flow,” but some of those variants are included in the database under the correct title; whether all of them are, I don’t know. I’d dig deeper, but AMG’s search function seems balky this morning.) Among those have recorded the song are the Asylum Street Spankers, the Boogie Woogie Company, Robert Crotty, Chris Farlowe, the Gadd Gang, Steve Gibbons, the Heart of Gold Band, Gordon Johnson, Ollie Mitchell, Zoot Money, the Porch Rockers, Earl Scruggs, Steve Wynn and Pete York.

I have four cover versions of the song, by Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Steve Forbert and the Minnesota-based bluesy Lamont Cranston Band. None of the four really quite get to the level of the original. Russell recorded his version for a 1999 project called Tangled Up In Blues: Songs Of Bob Dylan that’s actually pretty good. Russell’s cover is one of the few on the CD that doesn’t seem to work; it’s just a little too relaxed.

Joe Cocker’s version was part of his 1978 album Luxury You Can Afford, and bears witness to Cocker’s difficulties at the time. Like the rest of the album – and like a few other albums through the mid- to late 1970s and beyond – the recording seems to lack focus. It’s not awful, just not as striking as Cocker’s earlier work was (and as his work has at times been since 1987 or so).

Forbert recorded his version as “Watchin’ The River Flow” for a project titled I-10 Chronicles/2: One More For The Road. The CD and its predecessor were collections of Americana-tinged recordings put together for their association – or potential association, as seems to be the case with Forbert’s contribution – with Interstate 10, which crosses the United States’ southern tier. (The highway begins in Jacksonville, Florida, then parallels the coast of the Gulf of Mexico before crossing Texas and the desert southwest and ending in Los Angeles, California.) Forbert’s version is pretty good; I like it best of the four covers I’m offering here.

The Lamont Cranston Band’s cover of “Watchin’ The River Flow” is a live version recorded in December 1980 at the Cabooze bar in Minneapolis. It was included on a 1981 LP titled Bar Wars that was released mostly in the Twin Cities area, I assume. While I like some of what the band does with the song, I think it’s just a little too fast. But that’s me.

Here, then, are the original and four covers:

“Watching The River Flow” by Bob Dylan from Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II [1971]
“Watching The River Flow” by Joe Cocker from Luxury You Can Afford [1978]
“Watchin’ The River Flow” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Bar Wars [1981]
“Watching The River Flow” by Leon Russell from Tangled Up In Blues: Songs Of Bob Dylan [1999]
“Watchin’ The River Flow” by Steve Forbert from I-10 Chronicles/2: One More For The Road [2001]

Keeping Track: The LP Log

May 14, 2022

Originally posted August 12, 2009

Some time during the past year, I mentioned for the first time that I’ve kept track of when I’ve acquired my LPs and that I have a log for them that goes back to 1964. A few people asked me to write about the log, and I don’t think there’s a better time to do so than on Vinyl Record Day.

I remember when I thought for the first time that I should keep track of when I got my records: It was during the summer of 1970, when I bought my copy of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After I played the record, I thought to myself that I needed to find a way to keep track. So I pulled the out the plain white sleeve and wrote in pen at the very top (on the side margin actually, which is at the top when the sleeve is turned sideways) “June 1970.”

Then I went to the box where my sister and I kept our rock and pop records and did the same for the six of those records that were mine: Sonny & Cher’s Look At Us; Beatles ’65; Herman’s Hermits’ On Tour; the 5th Dimension’s Age of Aquarius; the Beatles’ Let It Be; and Chicago’s silver album from 1970.

Details stick with me: To mark my records on that first day, I used a red pen that happened to be sitting near the stereo in the basement rec room. It was a pen labeled “Property of the State of Minnesota” and no doubt came home from the college in my dad’s pocket one day. I used that same pen for about three years, I think, then switched to blue or black ink, whatever was handy.

For some reason, I only jotted down the month and year I’d gotten the records. And I only marked the rock, pop and soul records. I owned others, kept in a separate cabinet: Records by Al Hirt and the Tijuana Brass, some soundtracks and similar music, and some odd things. I didn’t pull those out and write months and years on them. It didn’t seem important at the time.

“Stardust” by Al Hirt from That Honey Horn Sound [1965]

“Carmen” by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass from Herb Alpert’s Ninth [1967]

If I’d wanted to record the actual dates when I’d acquired those first six rock, pop and R&B records, I could have dated four of them with precision. The only two albums for which I would not have known a date were those by the 5th Dimension and by Chicago. But those acquisitions were recent enough on that summer day that I knew the months. As to the others: I knew for certain that Beatles ’65 came to my sister and me for Christmas 1965. [Actually, it was most likely Christmas 1964, just about the time the record was released. Note added January 23, 2014.]  I bought Let It Be on the day it was released, May 18, 1970. I got the Herman’s Hermits and Sonny & Cher albums from my sister for my birthday and for Christmas in 1965; I liked the records okay, but Sonny & Cher and Herman’s Hermits weren’t, you know, Al Hirt and Herb Alpert.

“It’s Gonna Rain” by Sonny & Cher from Look At Us [1965]

“Don’t Try To Hurt Me” by Herman’s Hermits from On Tour [1965]

As it turned out, marking those seven records with that red pen on that afternoon began a journey that finds me today with a database that has information about 2,893 LPs. Like all things concerning my record collection, it’s not something I planned to do. I just kept on keeping track when I purchased or received records, from that summer afternoon in 1970 onward.

I look back now at my early acquisitions and I’m reminded of my own case of Beatlemania, a malady that came upon me in 1970. (That was six years later than the rest of America, and I’ve been running behind ever since. Well, not really, but it sometimes feels like that.) I decided sometime during the summer of 1970 that I was going to acquire all eighteen Beatles albums on Capitol and Apple by the time my pal Rick started his senior year of high school in September 1972. (I didn’t know that I’d set myself an impossible task: There were only seventeen Beatles albums on Capitol and Apple at the time; A Hard Day’s Night was released on United Artists, but never mind.)

So I look at the log for 1970, 1971 and 1972, and I see many Beatles albums: In the last few months of 1970, I bought Hey Jude on a shopping trip to the Twin Cities, I got Revolver for my birthday and a buddy in school gave me his slightly used copy of Magical Mystery Tour, and on and on. By the time Rick and I – with our friend, Gary – headed to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in August 1972, I had one Beatles record to go to complete the collection. I bought A Hard Day’s Night in Winnipeg, less than a month before Rick began his senior year.

(That was not quite so, as I misread lines in the database, an error that I noted in a later post; I bought Beatles VI in Winnipeg and completed my collection with the purchase not long afterward of A Hard Day’s Night.)

If I got records as gifts, I also jotted on the sleeve or on the jacket (oh, the record jackets I’ve written on over the years!) the name of the person who gave me the record. That’s why, when it actually came time to create a database of my records, I could include a “From” column. Probably the oddest notation in that column is my note for Rubber Soul. One morning in January 1972, I got to talking about music with the guy next to me in Math 121. I mentioned my Beatles quest, and he asked if I had Rubber Soul. I didn’t. The next day, he brought me his slightly used copy of Rubber Soul. The day after that, evidently, he dropped Math 121, because I never saw him again. I think his name was Jerry, so on the record and in the database, the notation reads “Jerry in math class (?)”

Another album that I had to guess about came from a discard pile at KVSC, St. Cloud State’s student-run radio station. I took it home and I played it once, I know, and I must not have been impressed, for I put it in the cabinet with my soundtracks and other non-rock stuff. That’s where I found it sometime during the 1990s, when I cleaned out the last of my records and junk from the house on Kilian Boulevard. While I was compiling the database, I came to that one record, Mark Turnbull’s Portrait of the Young Artist, and found that there was no date written on it. I do, however, remember claiming it from the discard pile. And I know that once the 1971-72 academic year ended, I spent almost no time at the radio station. So I got the record sometime between December 1971 and May 1972. I called it February 1972.

Around the same time, in early 1972, I happened upon two albums that led me down roads of exploration, and by looking at the entries in the log, one can see the number of artists and types of music I was listening to grow and grow. One of those albums was the compilation Eric Clapton At His Best, and the other was an album titled Joe Cocker!

“Family Circles (Portrait of the Young Artist)” by Mark Turnbull from Portrait of the Young Artist [1968]

“Darling Be Home Soon” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker! [1969]

With Mr. Turnbull’s album being one of the rare exceptions, I continued to record the month of acquisition for my records. When it came time years later to enter their dates into the database, all I had to work with was the month. So I used the first of the month, called it an estimated date and put the entry in italics: August 1, 1972. If I knew the exact date because of Christmas or a birthday or some other reason, I used regular type. That vagueness became unnecessary for records I got after September 13, 1974. Before heading out to a party that evening (who knows why I remember some of this stuff!), I went downtown, most likely to the shop called Axis, and bought a new copy of Duane Allman: An Anthology, and for some reason, I wrote down the exact date, as I would do from then on.

Sometimes I’ve missed. When I was entering all of this data into the computer in early 2002 – a task that took me about ten days, working on it about six hours a day – I found a few other records besides the Mark Turnbull album for which I had no date. Those I had to estimate, looking for a price tag if I bought it used (which would tell me where I bought it, and thus give me a timeframe based on when I frequented that store) or relying on my memory if I bought it new. I may be in error on some of those.

And remember the Al Hirt and Tijuana Brass records, along with the other stuff that predated my rock and pop days? When it came time to enter those, I had to do some estimating, too. One of them, I could date exactly: I got Hirt’s Honey in the Horn for my eleventh birthday. The others, well, I did the best I could.

And I would guess, looking at the database today, that I have exact dates for at least ninety percent of the records in the collection. And when I run through the database chronologically, the dates in italics become more and more rare and begin to stand out in that column as the years roll by. One of those later dates is for a copy – still sealed – of Harry Chapin’s last album, Sequel, purchased sometime during the autumn of 1990 at a record store in a mall on the west edge of Columbia, Missouri. (I kid you not; I remember this stuff.) I won’t open the record, but the songs on Sequel were re-released in 1987 on an album called Remember When the Music. I gave Sequel an estimated date of October 1, 1990.

Not far from Sequel in the log is the self-titled 1977 album by singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff, which I bought a few weeks later at that same store in the west side mall.

“I Miss America” by Harry Chapin from Remember When the Music [1987]
(Originally released on Sequel [1980])

“Someone To Lay Down Beside Me” by Karla Bonoff from Karla Bonoff [1977]

One of the things I did when I compiled the database in 2002 was to look at information in the albums’ notes. I made a note when the album included guest performances or other stars joining in. When I made an entry for a compilation, I put the names of the most prominent artists in the notes column. I also kept track of some sidemen and studio musicians, like the folks who played with Delaney & Bonnie (and Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton and George Harrison) and the Swampers from Muscle Shoals. As I’ve mentioned before, when I shop, I look for those names and a few others in album credits, and when I find those names, I generally take the album home.

One of those albums, one that I found at Cheapo’s in Minneapolis in 2003, raises a question: Who is Lori Jacobs? The liner notes to her 1973 album, Free, tell us that she “lives in Michigan and performs nightly at the Ann Arbor Road House. She used to be a teacher and she used to be married.” And then the notes talk about how her songs “tell the story of a newly-awakened [sic] lady, her loves and sorrows.”

What the notes don’t tell us is how a woman whose credits seem to be that she performs nightly in a lounge in Ann Arbor, Michigan, managed to record her album with the Swampers at Muscle Shoals. They’re all there: Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Pete Carr and Jimmy Johnson. Joining in the fun were Clayton Ivey, Harrison Calloway and Harvey Thompson, who worked at Rick Hall’s FAME studios after Beckett et al. went on their own. Rick Ruskin, a pretty well-known guitarist from Michigan, joins in. And among the folks who came out to sing background on one of Jacobs’ songs were Clydie King and Venetta Fields. Who is this woman?

Jacobs, of course, was one only one of the many musicians who made pilgrimages to the studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Muscle Shoals. Not many were as seemingly obscure as Jacobs, but my notes point out another singer-songwriter who worked with the Swampers but who’s also spent some time in the shadows.

“Free” by Lori Jacobs from Free [1973]

“Come On Down” by Wendy Waldman from Gypsy Symphony [1974]

(I have a sealed copy of Free which I plan to break open and rip to mp3s one of these days. When I do, I’ll share the entire album here. This mp3 came from the copy I bought in 2003, which has some severe scratches.)

I spend more time these days wandering through the database looking for errors than I do keeping the log up to date. I just don’t buy a lot of LPs anymore. There are only two places to get good-quality records in St. Cloud, and the stock in those stores doesn’t turn over often enough for me to spend much time digging through the records. When I do go through the bins, I’ll grab something if I recognize it from my want list and it’s fairly rare. I also go to garage sales on a regular basis; that’s how I found Chipmunk Rock, from which I shared “Whip It” a while back.

And of course, I use the database frequently for posts here, running through each month’s acquisitions down the years. Once I do that for all twelve months, I’ll have to be a lot more creative when it comes to finding posts for Saturdays.

Digging through the database for this post has reminded me of records I have that I’ve not listened to for a while. Like the Sonny & Cher album, which likely hasn’t been played since, oh, 1968. And Mark Turnbull’s album, which probably hasn’t been played since 1972.

And there are treasures in even the most recent entries. One of the few records I acquired during 2008 was Leo Kottke’s Circle ’Round the Sun, a gift from Mitch Lopate, whose name has popped up here occasionally. There are also treasures less sublime.

“Long Way Up The River” by Leo Kottke from Circle ’Round the Sun [1970]

“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by the Chipmunks from Chipmunk Rock [1982]

(All mp3s for this post were ripped from vinyl, so there are some bits of noise now and then.)

Echoes Of History

May 13, 2022

Originally posted August 4, 2009

Just as one song leads to another, so does one book pull a reader to another. About three weeks ago, I saw a reference to 1942 by Winston Groom, a history of that one year, looking at how it shaped the history of World War II. (The name of the author might be familiar; he wrote Forrest Gump, the novel that was turned into the Academy Award-winning film.) When I went to the website of my local library to reserve a copy of 1942, I saw that Groom has also written a series of books about the U.S. Civil War.

So, after reading 1942, I worked my way through Vicksburg 1863, an account of the Union campaign to take control of the Mississippi River, a campaign that ended with the surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi. From there, I moved on to Shrouds of Glory, an account of an 1864 campaign into Tennessee by a Confederate army. All three of the books read quickly, and Groom tells the tales well. But what made the books pertinent to this space was something I ran across on Page 17 of Shrouds of Glory:

“In addition, [Union General William Tecumseh] Sherman had at his disposal some three divisions of cavalry commanded by Generals Edward M. McCook, Kenner Garrard, and George Stoneman . . .”

I stopped reading, knowing I’d just read something that was familiar to me. I looked again. And I saw it. “George Stoneman.” And I heard Levon Helm’s voice in my head:

“Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train

“Till Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again . . .”

The song, of course, is “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which was included on The Band, the second album by the group that I’ve long called my favorite rock group of all time. I read long ago that Robbie Robertson, who composed the song, wrote it as a salute to the southern heritage of Arkansas-born Helm, who was the only non-Canadian in The Band. And I pondered the confluence of Groom’s book, Robertson’s song and Helm’s heritage at odd times for a few days.

And, as I almost always do, I thought about cover versions. I have covers of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by Johnny Cash, John Denver and Richie Havens, but none of them really grab me (which, as regards the Havens version, is a surprise to me). I also have a version by the Allman Brothers Band that was included on the 2007 release Endless Highway – The Music of The Band, but I don’t post a lot of things released after 1999, and I didn’t hear anything in the ABB version that made me want to change my mind. 

One version of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” that I do not have in my mp3 collection is the bastard cover by Joan Baez. Taking ludicrous liberties with Robertson’s lyrics – including turning Robert E. Lee into a steamboat – Baez got herself a No. 3 hit in 1971. But I won’t listen to it and won’t recommend that others do, either.

There certainly, are, no doubt, other covers of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” but instead of wandering off and making a list of other performers who’ve done the song – as I frequently do – I decided on a different route this morning: I’d look in my collection for cover versions of other songs by The Band. And here are four:

“The Weight” by Joe Cocker from Mad Dogs & Englishmen [Fillmore East, New York, March 28, 1970]

“Upp Till Ragvaldsträsk!” by Lalla Hanson from Upp Till Ragvaldsträsk! [1971]

“The Shape I’m In” by Bo Diddley from Another Dimension [1971]

“Twilight” by Danko-Fjeld-Andersen from Ridin’ On The Blinds [1994]

The Joe Cocker version of “The Weight” wasn’t included in the original LP release when the live album came out in 1970. The track was one of those added to the two-CD “Deluxe Edition” that was released in 2005. I have eighteen cover versions of “The Weight,” and probably the best-known versions are those by Aretha Franklin and King Curtis, both of which were included on anthologies of Duane Allman’s work. I decided to bypass those and share the Cocker version, as it’s pretty good and I’m not sure it’s all that well-known.

“Upp till Ragvaldsträsk!”  is a Swedish-language version of “Up On Cripple Creek.” I know very little about Lalla Hanson. He’s a Swedish performer who was a contemporary of the members of The Band, and “Upp till Ragvaldsträsk!” (which translates loosely to “Up To Ragvald’s Swamp,” I think) was the title track of his first album. If you’re interested, you can Google his name and click the link to translate the Swedish Wikipedia page, which will offer a link to a translation of his home page; or you can jump into the Swedish and see what you can glean. (I think I found the mp3 of “Upp till Ragvaldsträsk!” at The Band, a website that’s no longer very active. The mp3 is at a lower bitrate than I would usually share, but the unique quality of the track makes it worth hearing anyway.)

I got the Bo Diddley album, Another Dimension, from another blogger about the time Diddley died (June 2008). As usually happens with these things, I don’t recall where I found it, and backtracking from indices doesn’t provide me with any clues. Diddley does a pretty nice job on “The Shape I’m In.”

I’ve posted the Danko-Fjeld-Andersen album Ridin’ On The Blinds a couple of times (along with its predecessor, Danko Fjeld Andersen), but I can’t put up a list of covers of The Band’s songs without including the DFA version of “Twilight.” I never thought much of any of the versions The Band did of the song, but Danko’s reading on this version never fails to thrill me.

[Note from 2022: Given the greater awareness of historical and racial issues in the past few years, I admit to having some misgivings about “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” I haven’t yet decided what – if anything – to do about those misgivings. Note added May 13, 2022.]

Tempted

August 18, 2021

Days like this come around every once in a while, days when I’m tempted to post something like:

And after a while the echoes died out, and all that was left was silence.

But not today. As I often do, I’ll lean on tomorrow, this time on “All Our Tomorrows” by Joe Cocker. It’s from his 1987 album Unchain My Heart, and its chorus offers something that feels like hope:

All our tomorrows find their own ways
And hear the sound of a distant thunder fading away
Well, every lonely night we’ll make our own brand of delight
And take all the comfort we may

Here is is:

The Passing of Michael Jackson

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 26, 2009

The unexpected death yesterday of Michael Jackson prompts some thoughts: The Texas Gal and I have never been huge fans of either Jackson himself or of his childhood family group, the Jackson 5. And yet, I find five LPs on the shelves this morning – three solo works and two from the Jackson 5. And we have Thriller on CD as well as a Jackson 5 hits compilation.

That’s a pretty good chunk of music, considering that we both agreed as we watched yesterday’s news that we’d never been anything more than casual fans. That’s one small indication that Michael Jackson’s figurative shadow was large.

Here’s another, larger, indication of the same thing: News theory notes that the more newsworthy the event, the more prevalent will be the impulse among people to pass the word along to friends and strangers alike. Back in 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded during my second day of work at St. Cloud State. I remember passing the news on to my new boss and to a couple of people whom I did not know in the snack bar at Atwood; and as I ate there, I saw other folks doing the same thing: “Have you heard?” or variations thereof, repeated over and over.

So it’s telling that the first thing I did yesterday when I read online the news of Michael Jackson’s passing was to pick up the phone and call the Texas Gal at her office. I missed her; she was already on her way home. And the first thing she said to me when she came in was, “Have you heard? Michael Jackson died.”

Beyond that, what’s the impact of Michael Jackson’s death? For his family and friends, it’s a tragedy, obviously. For his ardent fans, it’s a great loss.

For the music world? I’d say it’s a loss of a great memory, not of a current giant. When I think of him, I see three Michael Jacksons in my mind: First, there was the powerhouse child belting out “ABC” and other hits. Then came the sly and lithe entertainer of “Thriller” and vampires, of “Billie Jean” and the moonwalk. Those two Michaels, especially the second, ruled and changed pop music. But finally, there was the seemingly confused and unhappy man of the years since, oh, 1990 or so. Others more attuned to his music may have a different take, but to me, it’s been close to twenty years since Michael Jackson was musically relevant.

I may be wrong about that judgment, but that doesn’t diminish the tabloid tragedies that we’ve all seen played out in print, on television and online during these latter years. And altogether, the fact that he was once the best in the world at what he did – truly the King of Pop – and that he lost that stature at least partly through his own seeming inability to cope is sad enough.

I’ll let others deal at length with Michael Jackson’s musical legacy, and there will be plenty who will do that. For now, I’ll just note that the first thought that entered my head when I heard that Michael Jackson had died was, “Well, he’s free now.”

Addendum, February 11, 2019: When this was first posted, some readers thought I was celebrating Jackson’s release from the accusations of sexual misconduct that dogged his final years. I was unclear. My thought was that Jackson was free from a life that was at its base unhappy, and though I failed to say so, I thought then and still think that Jackson’s unhappiness had its foundation in his childhood.

“I Shall Be Released” by Joe Cocker from With A Little Help From My Friends [1969]:

Saturday Single No. 616

November 17, 2018

The other week, I was going to discuss a few tracks pulled at random from 1969, so I started clicking. And along came “Something’s Coming On,” one of two bonus tracks appended in 1999 when A&M released a remastered version of Joe Cocker’s debut album, With A Little Help From My Friends. The other extra track was “The New Age Of Lily,”

The two were 1968 B-sides, with “The New Age Of Lily” backing “Marjorine,” which did not chart, and “Something’s Coming On” being the B-side of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” which went to No. 68 in Billboard in the middle of December.

And that immediately messed up my plans. Why, if we’re digging into randoms from 1969, do we land on a B-side that came out in 1968? Well, that’s because I tag albums with their years of release, and Cocker’s debut album was released in 1969. In the era of bonus tracks, one needs to look at the fine print in the booklet. Had I done so, I would have tagged the two bonus tracks as B-sides from 1968.

Yeah, I know. It sounds compulsive, and it is, a little. I like accuracy. And it’s easily corrected. But that morning, I was going to run around in 1969, and the track came out in 1968, and I didn’t want to start the random procession all over. So I did something else and set the idea of “Something’s Coming On” aside. Until today.

“Something’s Coming On” is a decent if not stellar piece of work and would have been at home on the album in place of “Marjorine” or maybe “Change In Louise,” neither of which I care for. It was written by Cocker along with Chris Stainton, who handles bass and piano. Clem Cattini is on drums, and Albert Lee and Jimmy Page handle the guitar work. I’m not at all sure, but I’d guess it’s Page who offers the solo at the end of the track.

And the Texas Gal is frying bacon and potatoes as I write this, so the only other thing I’m going to say is that “Something’s Coming On” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Do I Still Figure . . .’

September 14, 2018

So, following up on last Saturday’s post, we’ve been checking out various versions of the tune we know now as “Do I Still Figure In Your Life.” We start with the original by the Honeybus, titled at the time “(Do I Figure) In Your Life.” Written by Pete Dello of the Honeybus, the tune was released on Deram in 1967:

I notice a couple of things right off the top: The strings – both in the introduction and behind the vocals – remind me strongly of the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” and of some of the things that George Martin was doing with the Beatles. And the diction carries a hint of Bob Dylan. Still, the record sounds very much of its time and is a pleasant listen. And according to the author of a website about the band “(Do I Figure) In Your Life” deserved better than it got in 1967 Britain and “should have been a huge hit but inexplicably missed the charts despite heavy airplay and good reviews.”

(Given that the preceding assessment comes from a fan page, some skepticism is likely in order. But it is a pretty good record and would not have sounded out of place on a U.S. station in, say, October 1967.)

The first to cover the tune, as we learned last Saturday, was British pop singer Dave Berry, whose version, as I noted last week, “was released in 1968 on Decca in the U.K. and on a London promo in the U.S., according to Discogs.” Taking the slightly baroque approach of the Honeybus a little further, Berry started his take on “Do I Still Figure In Your Life” with a harpsichord solo and returned to the instrument in between verses. It’s a sweet version of the tune but – beyond the harpsichord – unremarkable.

Then, as noted last Saturday, came Joe Cocker, whose version was no doubt the first I ever heard of the song. (I was digging into memories in the past few days, and I think I heard Cocker’s version in a dorm room at St. Cloud State sometime during the autumn of 1971, a couple of years after the track came out on Cocker’s 1969 album, With A Little Help From My Friends.)

Picking around in the listing at Second Hand Songs, we’ll dig into the shambling version released by an artist who styled himself Creepy John Thomas. An Aussie, he also called himself Johnny Driver and played with the Edgar Broughton Band, according to Discogs. His take on Pete Dello’s song reverted to the original title, “(Do I Figure) In Your Life” and was included on his 1969 album, Creepy John Thomas:

Then came – as noted last Saturday – Kate Taylor, followed by the occasional revisiting of the song over the years, more frequently in the 1970s and sporadically since then. I ran across a few versions at YouTube that weren’t listed at Second Hand Songs, including a bland version from Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze, Mike & The Mechanics) and a sterile version from Norwegian singer Karoline Krüger.

And maybe it’s because it was the first version I ever heard, but I come to the conclusion – having listened to about twenty takes on the song in the last week – that no one does it like Joe Cocker:

Another One Gone

December 23, 2014

They keep falling. Musicians I listened to in my youth – and for many years after, in many cases – are departing more and more frequently from this world.

Yesterday it was Joe Cocker, who passed on at the age of 70 at his Colorado home. Though I don’t think I’ve written much about him – as least not as frequently as I have other performers – Cocker holds a firm place in my list of favorites for a couple of reasons.

First, he was the headline performer at my first Twin Cities rock concert. For Christmas 1971, my sister gave me a hand-made certificate good for two tickets to any concert I wanted to see, and when Joe Cocker scheduled an April concert at the now-gone Met Sports Center, I cashed in the certificate and took Rick down to the show with me.

I’ve noted here before that Cocker’s performance that night was erratic, as frequently was the case in those years. And I guess that’s being kind; he was drunk or high or both, and the first half of the show was ragged. But as the show wore on, Cocker became more focused, and at one point about three-quarters of the way through, the band – with Chris Stainton on piano, I think – tore into the introduction of “Hitchcock Railway,” and for the first time that evening, the Joe Cocker we heard was the Joe Cocker we’d expected to hear.

Here’s the studio version of “Hitchcock Railway” from Cocker’s 1969 album, Joe Cocker!

Then, from the same album, there’s Cocker’s cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darling Be Home Soon.” From the time I first heard the album – purchased used in the spring of 1972, when I was still in catch-up mode – Cocker’s take on John B. Sebastian’s lovely song has transfixed me.

I had come across Sebastian’s lyric a couple years earlier in a book titled The Poetry Of Rock, in which editor Richard Goldstein offers with brief – sometimes very brief – commentary lyrics that he thought were worthy of more thought than listeners might put into a three- or four-minute record or even a six- or seven-minute album track. The lyrics Goldstein offered the reader ranged widely, from Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl” and Leiber & Stoller’s “Hound Dog” to the Incredible String Band’s “Koeeoaddi There” and the Doors’ “The End.” Even after reading – and liking – the lyric – I’d never sought out the Spoonful’s version of “Darling Be Home Soon,” and the first time I met the song was on the Joe Cocker! album.

The combination of Sebastian’s yearning lyrics and the gospel-tinged joy that Cocker and his mates brought to the track made “Darling Be Home Soon” an anthem for me, one that I heard sometimes with joy, sometimes with despair and now – with both of us home at last – with contentment (though I still tend to play air piano when it shows up coming out of the speakers).

I kind of lost track of Joe Cocker during my college years. I caught up with 1969’s With A Little Help From My Friends and 1970’s raucous Mad Dogs & Englishmen. And then other performers took my attention, and when I went back to Cocker in 1975, I found the over-wrought “You Are So Beautiful” at No. 5, and then nothing much interested me until 1987’s Unchain My Heart, which I still enjoy.

In the past decades, I’ve gone back and checked out the years I skipped, and I’ve kept an ear on more recent releases. I enjoy some of it and find some of it tedious, but even with the stuff I like, something seems lacking. Maybe it’s not so much that the recent music has been flawed as that the first couple years of Cocker’s career were so brilliant that even the best of his later work seems pale. I rest my case on the live performance from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour of “Cry Me A River.”

Time To Rake Some Leaves

June 1, 2012

Originally posted on April 17, 2009

Our home sits on a fairly large lot, probably the equivalent of half a city block, as a guess. The other day, as I wandered across the lawn, I counted thirty-four oak trees. And there are a few others: one ash tree, some evergreens and two elms that have somehow managed to survive the ravages of Dutch elm disease. And there’s still room for a few shrubs. It’s a pretty good-sized patch of ground for one house in the city.

A couple of weeks ago, after winter retreated and the snow disappeared, the Texas Gal and I looked out at the leaves that had been buried under the snow and the branches that had fallen during the winter. It was quite a mess. And she, with the burden of work and school, and I, with my lame leg, looked at each other. “We need to get some rakes,” she said.

I nodded glumly. For some reason, there are few chores of yard work quite as daunting to me as raking. If I could stand to be in the exhaust fumes, I wouldn’t mind mowing the lawn. (As it happens, though, the fumes from almost any engine put me to sleep.) I won’t mind watering the few flowers we’ll have this summer, and a small vegetable plot, if we decide to invest in some peppers and tomatoes. (Of course, having been apartment dwellers, we’ll need to get gardening tools and a hose. We are lamentably unprepared for tending our garden.)

But the thought of trying to rake a lawn as large as ours filled me with something close to despair. It needed to be done, I agreed. I wondered if we should call our landlord and ask what’s been done in other years. We could, the Texas Gal said. Or we could go ahead and start working, little bits by little bits, and if our landlord showed up to clear the leaves, well, he’d know we had some initiative and that we care about the place.

So one of the tasks scheduled for this weekend is a trip to Handyman’s, our nifty East Side hardware store, for a rake. As it turns out, we won’t have to do the entire lawn. Late the other afternoon, as the Texas Gal came home from work, our landlord pulled up into the driveway with his lawn tractor, and he spent a couple of hours clearing the leaves and branches. The lawn looks pretty good, with the grass beginning to green.

We’ll still need a rake. There are still leaves packed into the flower beds, and there are a few piles of leaves close to the house that we’ll have to deal with. And I imagine we’ll soon make some decisions about what we might want to tend in our garden this summer.

A Six-Pack for Yard & Garden
“Sticks & Stones” by Joe Cocker from Mad Dogs & Englishmen [1970]
“Tall Trees” by Crowded House from Woodface [1991]
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela, Uni 55066 [1968]
“Leaves That Are Green” by Simon & Garfunkel from Sounds of Silence [1966]
“Wildflowers” by Tom Petty from Wildflowers [1994]
“Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James & the Shondells, Roulette 7028 [1968]

“Sticks & Stones” is Cocker’s live cover of the Ray Charles tune from 1960, with Leon Russell and the best big rock band ever assembled racing Cocker to see who can get to the end of the song first.

I’ve heard/read the label “Beatlesque” attached so many times to the 1980s and 1990s work of Crowded House that it’s ceased to mean anything. (I acknowledge that I may have attached said label to said work myself and thus contributed to my own confusion.) If the label is shorthand for “concise, melodic songs that insinuate themselves into the listener’s brain and heart,” then the label-users have it right.

I’ve written before about working at the state trapshoot, sitting in the little concrete hut and putting targets on the machine while listening to the radio. I wasn’t entirely familiar with everything I heard during my first trapshoot in 1968, but the cowbell announcing Hugh Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass” soon became a familiar and welcome sound. And I imagine I had a few chances to hear it over the four days I sat there: The record was No. 1 for two weeks in late July, right about the time of the trapshoot.

I’m actually not that big a fan of either the Simon & Garfunkel or Tom Petty tracks offered here. There’s nothing particularly wrong with either song or either record. In the case of “Leaves That Are Green,” I think I overdosed on the song during my early days of listening to Simon & Garfunkel, and in the case of the Petty tune, it came along at a time when I wasn’t listening to his stuff. In addition, both S&G and Petty had so many offerings that were better than these two. But these two had titles that fit into today’s package.

The occasionally cryptic lyric of “Crimson and Clover” fit in perfectly in the late 1960s and is still kind of goofily fun today. The record was one of several big hits for James and the Shondells (“Hanky Panky,” “ Mony Mony,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “I Think We’re Alone Now” as well as “Draggin’ the Line” for James on his own), and it spent a couple weeks at No. 1 in February 1969. Beyond the lyric, some of the record’s other vestiges of the time, like the phasing, might not have aged as well. Still, as I said, it’s fun.

Reposts
Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars [1977]
Levon Helm by Levon Helm [1978]
American Son by Levon Helm [1980]
Levon Helm by Levon Helm [1982]
Original post here.

Saturday Single No. 112

December 16, 2011

Originally posted January 31, 2009

I got to thinking this week about the folks who work in the so-called service industry. It’s got to be a tough sector to work in, and generally, I think, they do pretty well. The dry cleaning is usually done on time, and all of our shirts and sport coats come back to us; we generally don’t end up with a necktie that someone across town owns and wants back. Far more often than not, the bottle we get at the pharmacy actually contains the antibiotics we need, not the antidepressants ordered by the unhappy woman who lives two houses down. For the most part, things go well.

But we remember more clearly, of course, those times when things go less well. And the real test for folks who work in customer service is how they respond to the mischances or errors that foul things up. A shrug and a “Sorry!” are not nearly enough.

The Texas Gal and I got an opportunity last weekend to see how things should be handled. We’d each spent some time that Saturday afternoon on projects – she on a paper for school, I on combing through some music history – and we’d neglected to thaw anything for dinner. So we headed out into the chill air and decided on Old Chicago, a place we’d gone only once or twice before.

We ordered – rigatoni for her, a Cajun steak for me – and sat chatting as she sipped her Dr. Pepper and I tried a Finnegan’s Irish Amber, an ale from St. Paul’s Summit Brewing. Time slid past as we chatted about – among other things – how bad we think the economy will get and for how long. I finished the Finnegan’s, not all that impressed, and the waitress asked what I wanted to try next.

The beer list at Old Chicago is extensive, but the waitress – her name was Kate – warned me that the restaurant was revamping its list and some of the beers and ales listed might not be available. I nodded and ordered a Polish beer. Moments later, Kate came back and said it was no longer in stock. I ordered an English beer. Kate came back empty-handed again, almost embarrassed.

So I said, “Tell you what. Go to your bartender and ask him to send me the best obscure dark beer he’s got.” She grinned and headed off, and a few minutes later, she brought me a bottle of Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (from North Coast Brewing of California). And she said, “The bartender said that because your first two choices weren’t there, this one’s on the house.”

I was impressed. Not being able to fill orders for two relatively obscure beers from an extensive beer list is not a major failing. For me, the customer, it’s an “Oh, well, that’s too bad” moment. So getting the third order free was a pleasant surprise, and it told us a little bit about how that particular restaurant does business.

The Old Rasputin poured thick and dark, with a creamy brown head. And it might be the best beer I have ever had. If I were truly a beer reviewer, I’d say something like “It carries a dark chocolaty taste with sweet overtones and a hint of coffee, and an echo of that something sweet – cherries and plums? – lingers afterward.” I know, that sounds pretentious and all that. But it was that complex and, yes, that good. (The folks who frequent RateBeer.com certainly think it’s a fine beer.)

We were about to learn more about how Old Chicago does business. It was crowded and busy there that evening, but it began to seem – as we sat and talked – that it was taking quite some time for our food to arrive. And then, Kate came to our booth again, visibly unhappy. For some reason, she told us, the kitchen had set our orders aside and had just now gotten around to them. Because of the delay, she said, our meals were on the house.

We had nowhere else to be, so the delay didn’t disturb us. And as we ate our meals, the restaurant’s manager came over to make sure everything was okay. It was an object lesson in how – at a time when every customer is important – to keep customers wanting to return to your place of business.

So for Kate, the bartender, their manager and all the folks at St. Cloud’s Old Chicago, here’s Joe Cocker’s “Satisfied,” today’s Saturday Single.

“Satisfied” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart [1987]

Edited slightly on archival posting.