Posts Tagged ‘Mel & Tim’

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 From 1974, Vol. 3

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 24, 2008

I tend to read more than one book at a time. No, I don’t have two books in two hands and flip my head back and forth from volume to volume. I mean that I almost always have more than one book in progress and move back and forth between those books, depending on mood and circumstance. Along with The Shield of Time (mentioned the other day), I’m currently reading biographies of Roberto Clemente and Richie Havens and a book titled The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe and the Invention of Murder, an account of how a New York murder in 1841 became a public sensation from which – evidently – follow all of the public sensations created by the crimes that fascinate us. Daniel Stashower’s thesis seems to be – I’ve not read far into the book – that the furor and frenzy in Manhattan following the murder of Mary Rogers is the civic predecessor of modern-day public reaction to all the so-called “crimes of the century,” over which our culture hovers like some bloated, moralizing and baleful vulture (my words, not Stashower’s).

As fascinating as that is, the book I’m moving through quicker than any other right now is Boom!, the look back at the Sixties written by former NBC newsman Tom Brokaw. Somewhere along the line, I said that the cultural whirlwind that we call the Sixties began with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975. Brokaw considers the Sixties closed with the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, which is a reasonable stopping place. And his thesis, like that of many who have written before him, is that the Sixties are not really finished; they echo in today’s events and attitudes. (Though Brokaw’s thesis is not new, his book shines as a result of his clear and concise prose as well as the access he had to so many of the participants in the events under consideration.)

Indeed, if one wanted a confirmation that the events of the cultural era we call the Sixties have not gone away, all one needed to do was look at the front page of the Minneapolis StarTribune Saturday and today. The first of those stories noted that Sara Jane Olson of St. Paul had been released from a California prison after serving about six years for crimes committed in 1975 – a bank robbery that included a murder, and an attempt to bomb two police cars. The second story – today’s – reported that California authorities discovered that they had calculated Olson’s sentence incorrectly and she still has about a year to serve.

The link back to the Sixties, of course, is that in those days, Sara Jane Olson was known as Kathleen Soliah and was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the radical group that abducted heiress Patty Hearst in February of 1974 and committed other crimes both before and after most of its membership was killed when the house in which they took refuge burned down during a shoot-out with the Los Angeles Police Department in May 1974.

After the shootout/fire, Soliah, like Hearst and other members of the group, went back to the San Francisco area for some time. Soliah eventually moved to Minnesota, changed her name, married a doctor and raised a family under the name Sara Jane Olson.

When her identity was discovered as a result of a television show in 1999, I was working for a collection agency and was three years removed from reporting. Still, I was fascinated as I saw television coverage and read newspaper reports about the one-time radical turned doctor’s wife who’d hidden in St. Paul – right across the Mississippi River from my Minneapolis neighborhood – for more than twenty years. The reaction then to her arrest and now to her evidently mistaken and brief release make it clear that the Sixties – at least the Sixties of the SLA – are still with us, proving Brokaw’s thesis to be true in this case and, I am certain, in many more.

When the Symbionese Liberation Army brought itself into the news with its abduction of Patty Hearst, I was in Denmark. As with almost all things that took place in the U.S. during those nine months, it seemed as if I were seeing the kidnapping and all the rest of the news about the SLA through the wrong end of a telescope. Those of us in Fredericia knew things were happening – from the International Herald Tribune, from shared copies of the slender and expensive European editions of Time and Newsweek, and from conversation with our Danish friends, who translated coverage of events from Danish media. But out information was frequently old and sketchy.

By the time we students left Denmark on May 21, we knew there had been a shootout four days earlier but nothing more than that. I don’t think it was one of my first questions, but sometime during the forty-minute drive from the airport to my sister’s home the day I came home, I asked if Patty Hearst had been killed in the shootout. No, I was told. I nodded and went on to think of other things.

And as we think of other things, every once in a while the Sixties pop out of the box in which we try to store them neatly, and we’re reminded that the past is never really gone.

Here are some songs from the year the SLA burst into the headlines for the first time.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 3
“It’s Out Of My Hands” by the Soul Children from Friction

“Willie & The Hand Jive” by Eric Clapton from 461 Ocean Boulevard

“Another Park, Another Sunday” by the Doobie Brothers, Warner Bros. single 7795

“When It’s Over” by Cold Blood from Lydia

“I’d Be So Happy” by Three Dog Night from Hard Labor

“Even A Fool Would Let Go” by Gayle McCormick from One More Hour

“Just Like This Train” by Joni Mitchell from Court & Spark

“Everything Good To Ya (Ain’t Always Good For Ya)” by B.T. Express from Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied)

“Lady Marmalade” by Labelle from Nightbirds

“Keep the Faith” by Mel & Tim from Mel & Tim

“Take Me To The River” by Al Green from Al Green Explores Your Mind

“Faithless Love” by Linda Ronstadt from Heart Like A Wheel

“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan & The Band from Before the Flood

A few notes:

461 Ocean Boulevard is regarded, I think, as one of Clapton’s great albums, coming after his drug-wracked retreat following 1970’s Layla. It’s a good album, but I hesitate to say it’s a great album, as there are just a few too many hollow spots. I love “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Please Be With Me” and “Let It Grow,” to name three. Unfortunately, the randomizer selected “Willie & The Hand Jive,” which to me is one of the album’s hollow spots.

Cold Blood, a great late Sixties group from the San Francisco area, was struggling by 1974 – as many acts were – to hold its audience, which to be unhappily honest, had never been that large to begin with. It titled its 1974 album after its lead singer, the attractive Lydia Pense, and then changed its name to Lydia Pense & Cold Blood by 1976. The move didn’t work, and the group faded into obscurity, remembered only by fans and collectors of Bay Area groups until the CD boom in the 1990s. The music’s still good.

Hard Labor was the last Three Dog Night album to reach the Top 20, and is better remembered as the source of two pretty good singles “Sure As I’m Sittin’ Here” and “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”. Overall, the band – especially the singers who had given Three Dog Night its character and identity – sounded tired.

Gayle McCormick had been the lead singer for Smith, the band that reached No. 5 in 1970 with an incendiary version of Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You.” When Smith didn’t reach the charts again, McCormick recorded two pretty good solo albums right away: her self-titled debut in 1971 and Flesh & Blood in 1972. One More Hour came in 1974, and wasn’t quite to the level of the earlier records. This may be the first version of “Even A Fool Would Let Go,” a tune written by Kerry Chater and Tom Snow. All-Music Guide lists McCormick’s version as being the earliest in its database, but that’s not entirely persuasive. Even if it is first, it’s far from the best – I’d put my vote to Levon Helm’s 1982 version. Still, McCormick had a good voice, and at least battled the song to a draw, I think.

“Lady Marmalade” is an Allen Toussaint song that Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink brought back to life in the film Moulin Rogue and on the charts, reaching No. 1 for five weeks in 2001. The original version by LaBelle – Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash – came out on Nightbirds in 1974, and a single edit went to No. 1 for a week in 1975. It was so much more fun learning French from the jukebox than it had been in a third-floor classroom.

This was pretty much a random selection – I skipped stuff that had been previously posted – until the last song, when I decided to take over the universe’s work. I think I mentioned this version of “Like A Rolling Stone” when I wrote about stellar pop-rock introductions. This opener isn’t the best – I’d likely give that nod to the original “Layla” still – but it’s one of the few beginnings to a rock performance that left my jaw hanging the first time I heard it. Recorded, I believe, in Los Angeles, the performance provides an extraordinary capstone to the document of Bob Dylan and The Band on stage together.