Posts Tagged ‘Joe Cocker’

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.

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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.

A Six-Pack Of North

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 14, 2009

Readers from other areas than the United States’ Upper Midwest must sometimes wonder if my clear obsession with weather – especially cold weather and its travails – is mine alone or if I share it with others.

Let me be clear: Nearly all of us here in this northern tier of the U.S. are obsessed with our winter weather. We shudder at the thought of it every autumn, celebrate its leaving in the spring and remember it fondly during the warmest part of summer. And during the actual season of winter, we shiver, we kick clusters of accumulated dirt and ice from the wheel wells of our vehicles, and we cock our ears for the latest wisdom from our local television forecasters: “It’ll be brutally cold tonight here in the metro area, colder still in the outlying areas. Bundle up, and make sure you have your emergency kit in your car if you need to drive. If you don’t need to go, stay home.”

We talk wintertime survival with the folks next to us in line at the hardware store: “A fella could do a lot worse than to have a couple sets of jumper cables in the car, you know,” said one of the parka-wearing customers the other week when I was waiting to pay for my new show shovels. Three similarly clad customers – chilled cheeks and noses glowing red in the store’s fluorescent lights – nodded. Most of us, I think, settle for one set of jumper cables in our vehicles, but the man who advised us was correct: There are worse things that having two sets. You could have none and be stuck in the shopping mall parking lot with a dead battery as the day’s light fades.

Even the national news folks noticed our current cold snap. Our weather was the lead item yesterday on the CBS Evening News. The piece showed pretty accurately the perverse pride we take in surviving and maybe even thriving in brutally cold conditions. Later last evening, during one of those little chat moments that happen during local newscasts, the anchorwoman on another Twin Cities television station told her colleagues that friends of hers had moved to Minnesota from Florida in the past year. She said she’d had a difficult time getting those friends to understand what they’d be facing come this cold season. I got the sense that the truth had startled the newcomers and that the newswoman was taking at least a little satisfaction from her friends’ chilly bewilderment.

From what the weather mavens tell us, tonight and tomorrow will be the coldest in this particular siege. Here in St. Cloud, the temperature will drop to -27 Fahrenheit (-33 Celsius), and with winds coming from the north, the wind chill will range from -36 to -46 Fahrenheit (-37 to -43 Celsius). It doesn’t look as though we’ll be setting any records, though. On February 2, 1996, folks in the little northern town of Tower, Minnesota, kept heading outside every few minutes to check the outdoor temperature, hoping to establish a new state record. They succeeded: The thermometer reading dropped at one point to -60 Fahrenheit (-51 Celsius).

This cold snap won’t bring with it any such extreme, from what I understand. And that’s fine, except for those folks in Embarrass, Minnesota, who would like their record back. As for me, sometime this afternoon, I will head out into the chill wind to run a few errands. I won’t be out long, and I’m not going far. But as I walk from the car to the stores, I’ll hunch my shoulders against the wind and – metaphorically if not literally – look back over my shoulder to see what’s coming at me from the north.

A Six Pack of North
“Girl From The North Country” by Joe Cocker and Leon Russell from Mad Dogs & Englishmen [1970]

“North Star” by Jesse Winchester from Third Down, 110 To Go [1972]

“Northern Sky” by Nick Drake from Bryter Later [1970]

“Song for the North Star” by Jorma Kaukonen from Quah [1974]

“North, South, East And West” by the Church from Starfish [1988]

“Theme from Northern Exposure by David Schwartz [1990]

A few notes:

The Cocker/Russell duet, though it gets a little ragged at the end, is one of my favorite highlights from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen album. I sometimes wonder if Cocker and/or Russell thought for a split-second: “Oh, my god, Bob Dylan’s come to listen to us!”

The Jesse Winchester track comes from the second album Winchester recorded in Canada while he was exiled from the United States for evading the Vietnam-era draft. It’s a pretty good album, if a little bit inferior to his self-titled debut.

Nick Drake wasn’t utterly unknown during his lifetime, but he was a pretty obscure singer/songwriter. Now, in the age of CD re-release, he’s better known than even he might have though possible before his death in 1974. Bryter Later was the second of the three albums he released during his lifetime and is not quite a bleak as the other two records.

Quah was the first solo album by Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane. Since 1974, Kaukonen has released a string of good albums in a style that leans more and more toward Americana, with 2007’s Stars in My Crown being the most recent. (A new album, River of Time, is set for a February 10 release, according to All-Music Guide.)

Still Mastering New Skills

November 9, 2011

Originally posted January 5, 2009

Another new skill! We hung curtains in the bedroom yesterday. Actually, I hung the curtains while the Texas Gal oversaw the operation, making certain that I got the curtain rod as high on the wall as it needed to be.

We’d had the curtains – washed, ironed and hanging in the closet – since mid-December, and had planned to hang them in the days before Christmas. But we kept putting the chore off. Okay, I kept putting it off, being worried about mis-measuring and drilling errant holes in the wall. But that part went okay. One of the three sets of holes is, I think, just a little higher than the other two, maybe by an eighth of an inch, meaning that to my critical eye, the curtain rod is slightly aslant.

But still, the curtains – striped in blues and beiges – look very good in the bedroom. They match the royal blue on the walls (a color we inherited from the house’s previous tenant but one we like, thankfully) and the blue and beige backing of the new quilt that the Texas Gal made for the room. (The front of the quilt is panels of blue, maroon and gold, some of which show logos of railroads, many of them long gone. It’s quite likely that we’ll be looking for other art based on railroads for the room.)

The Texas Gal says that besides looking nice, the curtains will also cut down drafts in the room. They seemed to do so last night, which was a good thing. The outside temperature dropped to –21 F (-29 C) during the night.

So I’m pleased. I’ll no doubt have more curtain rods to hang in the future and will likely do so capably. I have a sense, though, that whenever I think about it, I’ll wonder about that eight of an inch. The Texas Gal says no one will know if I don’t mention it. Well, it’s too late for that, so if you ever see our blue curtains, pretend you don’t notice that the rod slants just a tiny bit.

(I checked for songs about curtains and found only two, so here’s an acceptable substitute.)

A Six-Pack of Windows
“Rain on the Window” by the Hollies from Evolution, 1967

“Come To My Window” by Melissa Etheridge from Yes I Am, 1993

“Sign on the Window” by Melanie from Good Book, 1971

“Steamy Windows” by Tony Joe White from Closer to the Truth, 1991

“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker!, 1969

“Cars Hiss By My Window” by the Doors from L.A. Woman, 1971

A few notes:

Evolution was likely the Hollies’ most adventurous album, a blend of pop and psychedelia that fit neatly into the year of 1967. ”Rain on my Window” was typical of the record in that it tells a tale more complex than the Hollies’ music had dealt with up to that time, and it does so with some adventurous instrumentation, especially the horn interludes. “Carrie-Anne,” supposedly written for Marianne Faithful, was the hit off the album (No. 9). The rest of the album was a bit more challenging.

“Come To My Window” was one of several striking songs from Melissa Etheridge’s Yes I Am, an album about which All-Music Guide says: “Melissa Etheridge wasn’t out of the closet when she released Yes I Am in 1993, yet it’s hard not to notice the defiant acclamation in the album’s title. This barely concealed sense of sexual identity seeps out from the lyrics, and it informs the music as well, which is perhaps the most confident she has ever been. It’s also the most professional she’s ever been (perhaps not a coincidence) . . .” “Come To My Window” went to No. 25 in the spring of 1994; “I’m The Only One,” also from Yes I Am, reached No. 8 that autumn.

“Sign On The Window” has showed up here in two other versions: Bob Dylan’s original from New Morning and Jennifer Warnes’ cover version from 1979. Melanie’s version takes off at times in a hoedown, maybe finding in the fiddle a different center to the song than did Dylan and Warnes. It’s always seemed to me as if both Dylan and Warnes, as they sing wearily about finding a cabin in Utah and all the rest, were singing about things that they should have done in a distant past. Melanie’s country-style exuberance brings the song into the present.

Tony Joe White’s “Steamy Windows” fits right into the swamp groove that brought White some renown as a songwriter (“Rainy Night In Georgia”) and one hit (“Polk Salad Annie,” No. 8 in 1969). Actually, the entire Closer to the Truth album sits pretty much in the middle of the swamp, which in this case is a good place to be. Nevertheless, like most everything White has done since the early 1970s, it was ignored by most folks. I imagine White just shrugged. He’s released a cluster of worthwhile albums since then, a good share of them from live performances.

It continues to amaze me that Joe Cocker found as much of a song as he did in “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” a Paul McCartney tune that was first paired with John Lennon’s “Polythene Pam” on the Beatles’ Abbey Road. As much as I like the song and its place in the mini-suite on Abbey Road, when I first got the Cocker album, I had doubts that the song could stand on its own. But Cocker – with the help, no doubt, of producer Denny Cordell – made it work. (Leon Russell is also credited as a producer on Joe Cocker!, but I’m assuming that “Bathroom Window” came from Cordell; it doesn’t sound like a Leon Russell track. I could be wrong.) In his book Beatlesongs, William J. Dowlding notes that McCartney originally wanted Cocker to record the song before the Beatles did. I love the zig-zaggy ascending introduction.

The Doors’ track is a grim and spooky blues number done well. I’d say that the gloomy mien of the song might have presaged Morrison’s exit from the world in just a couple of months, but I think gloom, dread and weariness had been the Doors’ watchwords for quite some time beforehand.

Peace, In All Its Forms

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 23, 2008

Peace, In All Its Forms
“We Got to Have Peace” by Curtis Mayfield from Roots, 1971

“Peaceful in My Soul” by Jackie DeShannon from Jackie, 1972

“Give Peace A Chance” by Joe Cocker (Leon Russell on piano) from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, 1970

“Peace of Mind” by Neil Young from Comes A Time, 1978

“Peace Begins Within” by Mylon Lefevre from Mylon, 1970

“I Wish You Peace” by the Eagles from One Of These Nights, 1975

Turning The Corner

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 22, 2008

We’ve turned the corner.

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

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

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

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

We’ve turned the corner toward the light.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few notes:

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

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

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

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

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

A Room That Feels Like Mine

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 13, 2008

Not many days after we got all the furniture settled in the house, as I sat puttering idly at the computer and keeping half an eye on a football game – it must have been a Saturday – I began to hear repeated thumps and bangs coming from the loft. As the noise began, Clarence and Oscar fled down the stairs from the loft as rapidly as cat legs could carry them.

I left the study and went up to investigate: I found the Texas Gal wielding a hammer, attempting to put nails and hangers into the sturdy wallboard that lines the loft. Success was hard to come by. I asked if she needed help, and she declined. By the end of the afternoon, she had on the walls of the loft the things she felt most important to hang, some functional, some purely decorative. Among the decorative items were the Texas license plates she removed from her car when she first registered it in Minnesota.

I returned to my study and looked at the walls, still empty, and looked at the wide range of items waiting to find their places on the walls. Still not certain where they should all go – I tend to be a bit glacial about such decisions, a fact that sometimes perturbs the Texas Gal – I settled back into my chair and resumed my puttering and game-watching.

Last Saturday, I was finally ready. I’d gotten weary of moving framed things around whenever I wanted to pull a record from the stacks or a book from the shelves. The Texas Gal was away, heading with a friend to the city of Mankato – about a hundred and thirty miles away – on a quest for quilt and scrapbook shops. So after watching the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers win a football game at Illinois, I got out my hammer and some hangers and nails.

An hour later, I sat in my chair and surveyed the room. To the left of the north window was my framed poster of the cover to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. In the small space above the window: a plaque given me twenty-some years ago by the National Newspaper Association for feature writing.

From the window, heading to the corner, we find: The picture of my dad and his 1952 Ford; and a framed collection of pictures from 2002-2003, a chronicle of our move to St. Cloud and our first year here put together for me by the Texas Gal (one of those pictures is the last taken of me and my dad together, quite possibly the last picture he was ever in).

On the east wall are a cartoon poster of St. Cloud; a clock with its numbers ringing a drawing of an anonymous early 20th century baseball player; and a framed replica of the February 5, 1959, front page of the Clear Lake (Iowa) Mirror-Reporter, on which the lead story is the deaths in a plane crash two days earlier of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Boppper and pilot Roger Peterson.

Above a bookcase is an autographed picture of baseball player Joe Morgan, from the time he was with the Cincinnati Reds; and, above the door, a large replica of a Carlsberg HOF Pilsner bottle cap, a fixture that I brought home from Denmark thirty-five years ago, one that has had a place on the wall everywhere I have lived since.

I was pleased. Sixty minutes of work had turned the room from a place where I spent a lot of time into a room that felt like mine. A few things that I’ve had on the walls in other places will be packed away, and I’m not certain where the map of Middle Earth will go when its frame has been repaired. But it will find a place, as it has ever since my dad framed it for me in 1972.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 4
“Dinah Flo” by Boz Scaggs, Columbia 45670 (No. 88 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 7, 1972)

“Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins, People 608 (No. 66)

“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Philadelphia International 3520 (No. 61)

“All The Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople, Columbia 45673 (No. 60)

“Easy Livin’” by Uriah Heep, Mercury 73307 (No. 49)

“I’ll Be Around” by the Spinners, Atlantic 2904 (No. 40)

“Midnight Rider” by Joe Cocker & the Chris Stainton Band, A&M 1370 (No. 36)

“Starting All Over Again” by Mel & Tim, Stax 0127 (No. 25)

“Beautiful Sunday” by Daniel Boone, Mercury 73281 (No. 22)

“Garden Party” by Rick Nelson & the Stone Canyon Band, Decca 32980 (No. 15)

“Popcorn” by Hot Butter, Musicor 1458 (No. 10)

“Everybody Plays The Fool” by the Main Ingredient, RCA Victor 0731 (No. 4)

“Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” by Mac Davis, Columbia 45618 (No. 1)

A few notes:

The funkiest thing here, without a doubt, is Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It),” which was produced by James Brown. Collins sang background on many of Brown’s recordings and was for a time in the 1970s a member of Brown’s traveling band. People Records was Brown’s label, evidently an offshoot of Polydor.

There are four other superb soul/r&b singles on this list, making it better than I thought it would be when I first dug the week’s Hot 100 out of the files. The singles by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Spinners and the Main Ingredient are smooth and still go down so easy, even after more than thirty-five years. All of them, oddly, peaked at No. 3. The Mel & Tim single starts with a conversation between the two singers before sliding into another smooth groove. I’m not sure the conversation works; it’s a short recording anyway, and I generally conclude that I’d rather have more singing and less talk from Mel & Tim.

Mott the Hoople and Uriah Heep, two British groups, had far more success on the Billboard albums chart than on the Hot 100. (Uriah Heep got five albums into the Top 40 between 1972 and 1974; Mott the Hoople had three albums in the Top 40 between 1973 and 1975.) The tracks here, “All the Young Dudes” and “Easy Livin’,” were the two groups’ only Top 40 hits, with “Dudes” (produced by David Bowie) peaking at No. 37 and “Easy Livin’” getting only to No. 39. Still both fun, though.

Joe Cocker’s version of Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider” starts a little sluggishly but when it kicks in, it cooks pretty well. In fact, there might be too much going on, what with the horns and the gospel chorus. I don’t know who produced the record, as the album from which it came, 1972’s Joe Cocker, is one I don’t have. I may have to remedy that although I seem to recall the album getting pretty spotty reviews when it came out.

I think Mac Davis told the tale behind his No. 1 hit on every talk show on television in 1972: His publisher or producer or manager (I don’t recall which it was, and it doesn’t really matter) told him that, in order to be a hit, a song had to have a hook. So he wrote “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” which stayed at No. 1 for three weeks in the autumn of 1972.

A Baker’s Dozen Of A&M Singles

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 7, 2008

I remember being aware of three record labels when I was a young listener, between the ages of ten and thirteen. Not record labels as in business concerns but as in the designs on the paper at the center of the record, be it an LP or a 45.

There was the yellow and orange yin/yang swirl at the center of the one 45 I claimed ownership of (half ownership, actually, with my sister): the Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand/I Saw Her Standing There.” Other records to come would have that swirl, but that 45 in February 1964 was the first. (That swirl popped up the other day when I was wandering through the CD’s: Rhino copied it lovingly for its 1990 issue of The Rutles.)

Then there was the very old logo that RCA Victor used: the dog Nipper leaning over the Victrola, listening to “His Master’s Voice.” (There truly was a Nipper who listened to the gramophone; some of his story is told here.) The label RCA used was a little cluttered: Nipper and his Victrola and the LP’s title were above the spindle hole with data to either side of the hole and track listings and more data below. That was the label on my copy of Al Hirt’s Honey In The Horn, which came to me for my eleventh birthday.

And finally, the third of the labels I was aware of early on was on A&M records, the company started by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. Looking today at the design on the first A&M record I owned – Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass – I’m impressed by its clean look: the tan background, the very simple A&M logo. (The example shown here is from another album, obviously. As I don’t have a scanner, I find graphics where I can on the ’Net; this one came from BSN Publications, a treasure trove of LP discographies and history, including the histories of many label designs.)*

I don’t know that I had a favorite at the time, but it was during this period – the years from eleven to thirteen – that I began to play around with designing logos for imaginary sports teams, and in doing so, I began to look at typography and design. (Somewhere in a box in the closet is a folder full of logos that came from my pen.) And I recall looking at the A&M label one day and pondering its design as the sounds of Herb and the boys came from the stereo. I’m sure I came to no conclusions, except perhaps the one that might matter most of all: A nice label design is good, but it’s even better when it comes with good music.

And over the years A&M did pretty well with that, as today’s Baker’s Dozen shows.

A Baker’s Dozen of A&M Singles
“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert, A&M 929, 1968

“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite” by Boyce & Hart, A&M 893, 1968

“You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker, A&M 1641, 1974

“Is She Really Going Out With Him” by Joe Jackson, A&M 2132, 1979

“Superstar” by the Carpenters, A&M 1289, 1971

“Take The Long Way Home” by Supertramp, A&M 2193, 1979

“Come Saturday Morning” by the Sandpipers, A&M 1134, 1967

“The Captain Of Her Heart” by Double, A&M 2838, 1986

“Homburg,” by Procol Harum, A&M 885, 1968

“Hold On Loosely” by 38 Special, A&M 2316, 1981

“Memphis In The Meantime” by John Hiatt, A&M 2989, 1987

“Don’t You Want Me Baby” by Human League, A&M 2397, 1982

“Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson, A&M 1949, 1977

A few notes:

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were better known as a song-writing team than as performers, although “I Wonder . . .” went to No. 8 in early 1968 and was the second of three Top 40 hits for the duo. The LP, titled after the single, seems to be a collector’s item, at least in some circles. I had a copy of it under my arm at Cheapo’s one day in the 1990s, and an eccentric collector followed me around the store for a few moments, asking to look at the record and gushing, when I did, “Do you know how rare this is? What a prize this is?” He handed it back, and I said, “I do now.”

“You Are So Beautiful” is not my favorite among Joe Cocker’s singles on A&M. I would probably opt for “Cry Me A River,” taken from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. But “You Are So Beautiful” is what popped up in a random run of A&M singles. And it did pretty well, reaching No. 5 in the early months of 1975. It was Cocker’s eighth Top 40 single in a little more than five years; it would be his last until he hit No. 1 seven years later with his duet with Jennifer Warnes: “Up Where We Belong.”

I always thought of Joe Jackson as a weird guy who could never figure out what kind of songs he wanted to sing. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that his constant changes were indicative of an inventive mind rather than a lost musician. The new wave textures of “Is She Really Going Out With Him” didn’t grab me much at the time, but then, I was beginning to lose interest in most pop music in 1979. It’s pretty clear to me now that all of Jackson’s oeuvre has had a longer shelf life than much of the stuff that surrounded him at the time.

It was incredibly unhip to like the Carpenters when they came on the scene in the early 1970s. With their squeaky clean image and their music sitting on the softest part possible of the pop-rock sofa, they seemed like what our parents would want us to listen to. But Richard Carpenter was a pretty decent arranger: Some of his work is a bit busy and some a little too gooey today, but most of it now sounds quite good. And Karen Carpenter – poor girl – had a marvel of a voice. I don’t think that “Superstar” is her best performance – I’d probably go with “Goodbye To Love” instead – but she does find the lonely heart of the Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett song here.

On those nights when cares and worries keep you up past midnight with the radio playing softly underneath your dismay, the last thing you need to hear filtering from the speakers is Double’s great record, “The Captain Of Her Heart.” The only hit ever for the Swiss duo of Felix Haug and Kurt Maloo (No. 16), the song is guaranteed to increase the intensity of those cares and worries, especially if they’re of the romantic kind. (During the years when I had those kinds of nighttime cares and worries, I generally endured them in silence, just to avoid this sort of song.)

“Hold On Loosely” was 38 Special’s first Top 40 hit, coming before the group dropped the decimal point from its name. It’s a song I wasn’t all that familiar with until the Twin Cities oldies station I listen to shifted its format about a year and a half ago, adding hits and album tracks from the Eighties and trimming the Fifties and Sixties playlists. Angry calls and emails, along with declining ratings, spurred the station to revert to its earlier format not long ago. But “Hold On Loosely” stays in my RealPlayer because the Texas Gal likes it.

It’s entirely possible that some of these mp3s are album versions rather than single edits. If so, I apologize. As always, bit rates will vary.

*At this time, while assembling the archive of posts, I do have a scanner, but several attempts to scan labels on LPs have failed, so I pulled a scan I found online although not, this time, at Both Sides NowNote added June 27, 2011.

‘Please Don’t Put A Price On My Soul . . .’

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 18, 2008

As 1967 drew to a close, the world – or at least that portion of the world that paid close attention to rock music – waited to hear from Bob Dylan. He’d been silent since a motorcycle accident near the end of June 1966, and the music world had moved on without him.

Most accounts say that Dylan injured some of his neck vertebrae and had a concussion from the accident; other accounts over the years have said those injuries were overstated. Whatever the truth, it’s a fact that Dylan withdrew from performing and from releasing new material. After Blonde on Blonde, released just weeks before the accident, there came silence and rumors. Vague reports surfaced that Dylan was recording something with the Hawks, as the group that had backed him on his 1965-66 tours was then called. Exactly what was being recorded was unclear.

What was clear was that rock music’s direction was changing even as Dylan and the Hawks worked in isolation in Woodstock, N.Y. In August of 1966, the Beatles released Revolver, a remarkable album. In early 1967 came the even-more-remarkable double single of “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever,” and in June 1967, the released the extraordinary Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The reaction from upstate New York was silence.

In November 1967, the Rolling Stones released their response to Sgt. Pepper, the inconsequential Their Satanic Majesties Request. Its baroque complexities and psychedelic flourishes now seem self-conscious, but it was heard at the time as the most recent statement in the three-way conversation between the Beatles, the Stones and Dylan. Those complexities and flourishes made Dylan’s response, at the end of 1967, startling and baffling.

That response, John Wesley Harding, could not have been more different from what had come before, from others and Dylan both. In terms of Dylan’s own work, it was a huge shift away from what Dylan himself had called the “thin, wild mercury sound” of Blonde on Blonde. That contrast in itself was surprising, but when one compared the spare, almost countryish sound of John Wesley Harding to the more recent work by the two groups that critics and fans considered his great rivals, the Beatles and the Stones, the gulf between the works was astounding.

(Had those critics and fans been aware of the music that Dylan and the Hawks – soon to be rechristened The Band – were recording, the sound of John Wesley Harding would not have been such a surprise. It would take until 1975, with the release of The Basement Tapes, for the listening public to have authorized access to the Americana – alternately spare, ebullient, whimsical and cryptic – that provided in retrospect the bridge from Blonde on Blonde to John Wesley Harding as well as to The Band’s 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink.)

John Wesley Harding, it seems to me, occupies a distinct place in Dylan’s collected works. Not because of any deficiencies: It’s a great album, and it was a popular one, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard album chart and staying there for two weeks. But even for an artist known for abrupt shifts in focus, John Wesley Harding showed a startling shift in direction. On the other hand, with the benefit of hindsight, its music not only followed sensibly in the wake of The Basement Tapes but also anticipated the hybrid of country and rock that many musicians would aspire to in a very short time. (One of those musicians, Gram Parsons, certainly didn’t need to look outside of himself for inspiration, but I wonder sometimes what impact Dylan’s shift to a country-like sound had on Parsons’ goals and self-assurance as he led the Byrds toward the mid-1968 release of their classic country-rock album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.)

Like most of Dylan’s music over the years, the songs on John Wesley Harding have lent themselves to significant cover versions. The most well-known – and maybe the best – would likely be Jimi Hendrix’ take on “All Along the Watchtower.” Hendrix’ take on the song was so good that, over the years, Dylan would occasionally incorporate portions of Hendrix’ version into his own live shows. Another measure of how well Hendrix covered the song is that “All Along the Watchtower” gave Hendrix – whom I view as the quintessential album rocker – his only Top 40 single; the record went to No. 20 in the autumn of 1968.

There are other good covers from the album; every one of the twelve songs on John Wesley Harding has been covered by at least two other performers, which to me is just one more indication of the album’s greatness. The best of those covers? Richie Havens recorded “I Pity The Poor Immigrant” on his Richard P. Havens, 1983 album in 1969. Johnny Jenkins’ Ton-Ton Macoute! album from 1970 contains a saucy version of “Down Along The Cove,” with Duane Allman on guitar. But to my mind, the best cover of a song from John Wesley Harding is Joe Cocker’s take on “Dear Landlord” on his 1969 Joe Cocker!

Joe Cocker – “Dear Landlord” [1969]

A Baker’s Dozen of Tomorrows

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 14, 2007

I remember reading a piece – likely in the newspaper – about a linguistics professor who had taken it upon himself to determine the most beautiful word in the English language. I don’t recall when I read that, nor do I remember which university was involved, but I do recall that the professor concluded that the most beautiful word in the language was “cellar door.”

First of all, that’s two words. (It could be that the professor was considering sets of words.) Second, although the two words together do have a nice sound, words are more than sounds. Maybe as a linguist, one can separate the sound of the word from the meaning of the word, but as a writer, I can’t. And “cellar door” isn’t going to make the cut.

So what are the most beautiful words in the language? After all, if I’m going to quibble about someone else’s judgment, I’d better have some idea of my own, right? Well, I don’t have a Top Ten list, but I do have a couple of words. I think “home” and “tomorrow” top the ranks of English words.

Home, as poet Robert Frost noted, is our last refuge: the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in. We all need such a place. In fact, I don’t think it’s at all far-fetched to say that, whatever else we do with our lives, our main business here is seeking and creating a better refuge, a better place, a better home. In terms of pure sound, it’s a rather plain word, but its meaning makes “home” the sound of belonging somewhere. When we don’t have that, we ache, and when we find it, we are healed. How much better can one word be?

“Tomorrow” comes close. For someone as attuned to the past and as intrigued by memoir and memory as I am, it’s odd in a way that I didn’t select “yesterday” as one of my top two words. But as much as any of us might ponder yesterday and its lessons, we know all about it. And “tomorrow” brings the promise that things can change, that we can use yesterday’s lessons to make things better as they come to us. (Writing that sentence made me realize that there are two other very nice words to consider: “promise” and “change.” Well, another day, I guess.) Thinking about tomorrow is an act of optimism, it seems, maybe even an act of courage, even if all one is doing is putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

I had planned to rip and post an album today, but the Texas Gal is taking a day off from work and we have holiday preparations to make, so I will invest my time there. In the meantime, I got a note from a reader who asked for a specific song with the word “tomorrow” in its title, and that got me thinking. I’ll get back to “home” and “hope” and “promise” down the road, but for now, we’ll start with the requested song and go randomly from there.

A Baker’s Dozen of Tomorrows

“Tomorrow Is A Long Time” by Glenn Yarbrough from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, 1967

“Tomorrow” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Uni single 55046, 1967

“Tomorrow and Me” by Mike Nesmith from And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’, 1972

“Till Tomorrow” by Don McLean from American Pie, 1971

“Tomorrow” by Fanny from the Fanny Hill sessions, 1972

“You’re My Tomorrow” by Richie Havens from Now, 1991

“All Our Tomorrows” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart, 1987

“Love Me Tomorrow” by Boz Scaggs from Silk Degrees, 1976

“Goin’ Home Tomorrow” by Dr. John from Goin’ Back to New Orleans, 1992

“Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles from Revolver, 1966

“Waiting For Tomorrow” by Bettye LaVette from the Child Of The Seventies sessions, 1973

“Beginning Tomorrow” by Joy of Cooking from Castles, 1972

“This Time Tomorrow” by Sisters Love, Manchild single 5001, 1968

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

The Glenn Yarbrough track is a Bob Dylan song, one that Dylan wrote in 1962 or so but left unreleased until his second greatest hits album came out in 1971. Yarbrough’s was the first version I heard, and I like it pretty well, but over the years, I’ve come to value the version Dylan released in 1971, which came from a 1963 concert in New York.

The Strawberry Alarm Clock track has its place in history. It reached No. 23 in early 1968 and thus kept the West Coast group from being a One-Hit Wonder. The group’s only other chart entry was, of course, “Incense & Peppermints,” which reached No 1 for one week in 1967.

Once his time in the Monkees ended, Michael Nesmith put together a string of generally very good and sometimes great country rock albums, starting in the late 1960s and continuing through much of the 1970s. His 1972 release, And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, is likely the best of those.

Not long ago, I shared Fanny’s version of the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog.” The track “Tomorrow” comes from the same sessions.

“Tomorrow Never Knows” was one of John Lennon’s first excursions into tape-loop and odd sound psychedelic experimentation, a track that startled first-time listeners to Revolver when it came on after the Motown-influenced horns of “Got To Get You Into My Life.”

As regular readers might know, Joy of Cooking is one of my favorite relatively obscure bands of the 1970s. “Maybe Tomorrow” is one of the best tracks from Castles, the Berkeley-based band’s third and final release.

I’ve written about Sisters Love before, when I posted their cover of “Blackbird.” “This Time Tomorrow” is a sweet piece of pop soul.