Posts Tagged ‘Melanie’

‘Raise The Candles High . . .’

May 16, 2018

Glancing at the Billboard Hot 100 from May 16, 1970 – an astounding forty-eight years ago today – I played a quick Games With Numbers and converted today’s date – 5/16/18 – to thirty-nine. And sitting at No. 39 forty-eight years ago today was Melanie’s “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain),” the anthem she composed after the experience of performing at Woodstock the previous August.

Recorded with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, the single had jumped twenty-three spots in the previous week and was on its way to a peak position of No. 6. It got there during the second week of July, about the time that the state trapshoot took place at a gun club just outside the St. Cloud city limits. I heard the record often as I sat in a trap for four long days, loading clay targets on a scary humming machine and trying not to get my fingers broken.

And since I’ve never featured the single here (and because long ago I characterized Melanie Safka in this space as the quintessential hippie chick), here’s “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain).”

(I think this is the single version, but there are so many versions offered at YouTube that I’m really not sure.)

‘In The Jingle Jangle Morning . . .’

October 8, 2013

A couple times yesterday, I thought about college research papers, specifically papers for two general education English courses where the point was to learn to put together a paper, not necessarily research anything of value.

The first instance came when I saw a graphic on Facebook detailing citation styles for information gleaned from new media. In other words, if you quote from a blog post in a paper, how do you cite it? And how do you list it in your sources? The graphic covered blog posts, Facebook posts, tweets and a few other new media sources, and it listed citation styles for both Modern Library Association and American Psychological Association formats.

And then yesterday, as my physical therapist gave my strained right elbow an ultrasound treatment, she and I were discussing Attention Deficit Disorder, which I have and which she thought her daughter might have. She mentioned, among a number of examples, that her daughter has difficulty planning ahead and making sure school work – both routine assignments and major projects like research papers – is started and completed on time.

(If that seems like a little bit of an odd conversation for a physical therapist and her patient, well, I thought so, too, but it was also an opportunity for me to reinforce a parent’s decision to consider and to deal with a child’s ADD. Having dealt with the condition all my life – and it made my elementary and junior high school years more difficult than they needed to be, undiagnosed as it was – I’m perfectly willing to listen and provide that reinforcement if I can help even one young person have an easier time dealing with ADD than I did.)

Anyway, those two reminders of research papers took me back to the spring of 1972 and English 162 at St. Cloud State, when I was given the task of writing a research paper on any serious topic; the goal was not, of course, mastery of the topic but rather to learn how to structure such a paper and how to handle notes and citations. Wanting to write about something that was interesting as well as serious enough to gain my instructor’s approval, I chose to write about references to drugs in the lyrics of popular music.

When it came to writing about individual songs, I covered all the usual suspects, some cryptic and some not: the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” the Association’s “Along Comes Mary,” Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming Into Los Angeles,” Steppenwolf’s cautionary “Snowblind Friend” and “The Pusher,” and more. I also included Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” As I’ve noted before, this was about the time when I was first digging into Dylan’s music as well as a time when I was writing a lot of lyrics, and the words to “Mr. Tambourine Man” were a revelation. I’d heard the song before, of course, by both Dylan and the Byrds, but seeing the words as a written artifact was somehow different. I particularly recall reading:

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

I wish I could say that reading Dylan instead of listening to him made me a better writer. Well, it might have, but if so, that happened only over a long period of time. There was no magic transformation as I sat in St. Cloud State’s Centennial Hall looking at those words. I do recall thinking, perhaps for the first time, “Geez, I wish I could write like that.”

And millions of words later, there are still times when I hear something – maybe something familiar, maybe something I’ve never heard before – and think the same thing.

In the next few days, I’ll be digging into covers of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and there are many of them, which is no surprise. We’ll start this journey with one of the better covers I’ve found, Melanie’s thoughtful and somewhat sorrowful cover from her 1968 album, Born to Be.

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.

It’s Time To Get A Little More Healthy

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 14, 2008

Our joining a gym last week was a last-gasp maneuver in the Battle of the Waist Line.

Neither of us – The Texas Gal or me – has ever been very active. I played some recreational softball, tennis and racquetball in my twenties and rode my bicycle on occasion during my late thirties and forties. But some chronic health problems – now under control – and the expected changes in lifestyle since I quit smoking about eight years ago have resulted in my gaining about fifty to sixty pounds.

I’m not pleased. And sitting on the couch, pondering how to lose weight while American Idol played out on the TV screen, didn’t seem to be solving the problem. So last week, the Texas Gal and I made our way to a new fitness center about six blocks away. It’s a pretty low-key place, and it has the things we need: treadmills for her, stationary bikes for me, and a reasonable collection of circuit training equipment. Our plan to is get to the center three times a week and see how it goes. While one of my goals is to lose some weight, my overall goal is simply to become more active and feel better doing it.

And so far, I’ve enjoyed our two visits. I like the stationary bicycle, and I’m learning about the circuit training. The fatigue I feel when we leave the center is a good feeling. But there are some things: The cardio machines – treadmills, bikes, and other training machines – face a wall on which there are four television monitors. Folks with mp3 players that have FM radios in them can listen to the televisions on specific frequencies. As I didn’t have one of those during last week’s two visits, I watched the monitors that showed closed-captioning, ESPN’s Sports Center on the first visit and That ’70s Show the second visit. The ESPN was okay, as it usually is, but it was a slow day. I was never impressed with That ’70s Show when I could hear it, and watching it with captions was no better. The Texas Gal – who was closer to the wall and had a good view only of one monitor playing some game show, agreed. We needed something to battle boredom.

So yesterday, we made another small step into the current world: I wandered out to one of our major electronics dealers and bought two portable mp3 players. They’re by Creative, a firm I’d never heard of before, and the model is called Zen V Plus; they seem perfectly adequate to our needs. Each has two gig of storage (actually, 1.89), and it was simple enough to install the software and have mine pull 384 songs at random from my computer. After figuring out the random function, the only way to celebrate this one small piece of my commitment to better health was to take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard:

“Sweet Cocaine” (live) by Fred Neil from Other Side of This Life, 1971

“Love Song” by Elton John from Tumbleweed Connection, 1970

“Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon, 1989

“Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac from Then Play On, 1969

“My Home Is A Prison” by Lonesome Sundown, Excello single 2012, 1960

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees from TSOP, 1974

“White Dove” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Sweet Sixteen” by B.B. King from Live in the Cook County Jail, 1971

“Comin’ Back To Me” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

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

“Old Brown Dog” by Ralph McTell from You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here, 1971

“Overall Junction” by Albert King from King of the Blues Guitar, 1969

“Devil Got My Woman” by Bob Brozman from Golden Slide, 1997

“Adam’s Toon” by Trees from On The Shore, 1970

“Just Like A Woman” by Bob Dylan from Before The Flood, 1974

A few notes:

Fred Neil’s Other Side of This Life was the last record released by the reclusive singer/songwriter during his lifetime. Cobbled together from a live performance and from bits and pieces that seemed to be studio outtakes, it didn’t draw much attention. But some of the live performances were among the best versions Neil had ever done of some of his songs. “Sweet Cocaine” falls into that category, as does Neil’s performance of his most famous song, “Everybody’s Talkin’” Considering the slenderness of Neil’s discography, Other Side of This Life is a pretty good record.

The Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon was the first album the New Orleans-based group released on A&M, and it was a pretty good effort, with some updated sounds being blended into the Neville’s traditional R&B/funk mix. The Nevilles even try something that sounds like hip-hop dragged through the swamp on “Sister Rosa.” The version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” does pretty well, too, in a far more traditional vein.

The Fleetwood Mac of Then Play On is made up of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and guitarists Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green and Danny Kirwin. The group was no longer a blues band, per se, although blues still informed a lot of the material. But longer pieces like the nine-minute “Oh Well” showed that the group was clearly listening to other music being recorded around them in England circa 1969. It’s a fascinating piece off a pretty good album.

I know nothing more about Lonesome Sundown than what All-Music Guide can tell me: Born Cornelius Green in 1928, the singer recorded numerous swampy blues like “My Home Is A Prison” between 1956 and 1965, when he retired from blues to devote his energies to the church (coming out of that retirement for one album in 1977). Green died in his home state of Louisiana in 1995 at age sixty-six.

“TSOP” was in fact the sound of Philadelphia and – in a very short time – the sound of all America. The brainchild of Philly producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song – originally produced as the theme for the television show Soul Train­­ – went to No. 1 in March 1974 and helped set the stage for the disco explosion to come. The version here is the album track, which was 2:15 longer than the single edit. Still makes you wanna dance, doesn’t it?

The Richie Havens track is an excellent version of one of the better songs Jefferson Airplane ever recorded. “Comin’ Back To Me,” a Marty Balin composition, was one of the best things on 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane’s second album and first with Grace Slick. I remember, during high school, reading the words to “Comin’ Back To Me” in a book of rock lyrics assessed as poetry and being blown away by them. More than thirty years later, their effect is the same. And Havens pretty much steals the song with his performance.

The three blues performances here – by B.B. King, Albert King and Bob Brozman – are pretty good. Brozman is certainly the least known, and I’m not going to say he rises to the level of the two Kings, who need no words from me about their brilliance. But Brozman’s pretty good. I’m not sure where I stumbled across his album, Golden Slide, but Brozman’s name went pretty quickly onto my list of performers I want to hear a lot more often.

The Authentic Hippie Chick

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 10, 2007

I recall reading in an edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide an assessment of the Mamas & the Papas as a collection of late Sixties archetypes that worked in tandem with the group members’ undeniable talent. The reviewer, Paul Evans, said Michelle Phillips’ visual slot was a the “mistily gorgeous hippie chick.”

That’s true, I guess, but to those of us listeners and observers in the late 1960s and early 1970s who were fascinated by such creatures, the real hippie chick was Melanie. As good as the Mamas & the Papas were – and they were mighty good, indeed – their work often seemed to be all too carefully produced and packaged, a triumph of craft over creativity, and the group’s image seemed to be carefully crafted as well. Melanie, on the other hand, seemed a lot more free in her music, and she was as gorgeous in her dark way as was the blonde Michelle.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the Mamas & the Papas’ music. It holds up well after forty years. But it always seemed – and still does, even as I sing along – to be carefully calculated. Maybe that’s why my favorite moment in their music is Denny Doherty’s errant entrance after the instrumental bridge in “I Saw Her Again,” an unplanned moment that worked so well that the group left the error intact.

Melanie, who came out of Queens, New York, in 1969, about two years after the Mamas & the Papas’ moment had ended, no doubt put as much care into her music and her recordings as did the California quartet, but the overall sense I got from her music was that of an artist a little more relaxed and a lot more experimental. And the content of her music was closer to the hippie ethos, it seemed to me at the time and still does today, than was the product of the Mamas & the Papas.

The most enduring of Melanie’s work, of course, is the result of her performing at Woodstock on August 16, 1969. “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain),” a gospel-inflected 1970 single that reached No. 6, was written as a tribute to the Woodstock audience and was recorded with the Edwin Hawkins Singers (fresh from their own Top 40 hit, “Oh Happy Day” in 1969). The single became the centerpiece of Melanie’s third album, Candles In The Rain. (The album’s cover, showing a portrait of the twenty-three-year-old singer smiling beatifically while strumming her guitar in candlelight, says “gorgeous hippie chick” to me more than any picture I ever saw of Michelle Phillips!)

The album itself went to No. 17, and two more of Melanie’s albums reached the Top 40 as well, with Leftover Wine going to No. 33 in 1970 and Gather Me reaching No. 15 in 1971 (at least in part on the strength of “Brand New Key,” a single that spent three weeks at No. 1 as 1971 turned into 1972). All-Music Guide notes that Gather Me, released on Melanie’s own label, Neighborhood Records, may be her best album (and gives her props for using “Brand New Key” to sneak Freudian imagery into the Top 40). The follow-up album, Stoneground Words, according to AMG, is “a mature, intelligent and ambitious work, easily as good as most singer/songwriter fare of its time.” Despite that, Stoneground Words failed to reach the Top 40, and Melanie’s time in the spotlight was done.

(Melanie has never quit recording. The AMG discography shows consistent entries released by a wide variety of labels nearly to the present, with the most recent collection of new work being – from what I can tell – 2004’s Paled By Dimmer Light, which appears to be available only as a download. Her most recent work available on CD, it seems, is 2002’s Crazy Love.)

Although it may not be quite as realized a work as Gather Me or Stoneground Words, Melanie’s 1970 album Candles In The Rain remains, to me, the foundation of Melanie’s work. Along with “Lay Down,” the album featured the lovely “Leftover Wine,” nicely done covers of the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” and James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind” as well as the original version of “Look What They’ve Done To My Song, Ma,” a song that the New Seekers took to No. 14 in the autumn of 1970.

I’ve included in the zip file the long version of “Lay Down” that was released by Buddah in 1972 on the anthology, Four Sides of Melanie.

Candles In The Rain
Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)
Carolina In My Mind
Citiest People
What Have They Done To My Song Ma
The Good Guys
Loving Baby Girl
Ruby Tuesday
Leftover Wine

Bonus Track
Lay Down (Candles In The Rain) [Long Version]

Melanie – Candles In The Rain [1970]

A Random Twenty-Five

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 15, 2007

Just for fun, and for those who might be interested in what ninety minutes of my listening might be like, I thought I’d post a list of twenty-five songs that come up with the RealPlayer set on random:

“Maggie” by Redbone from Potlatch, 1970

“Turn It Over” by the Youngbloods from Elephant Mountain, 1969

“Hamm’s Beer Jingle” from television commercial, ca. 1953

“A Candle In The Window” by Linda Eder from Civil War: The Complete Work, 1999

“Kansas” by Melanie from Gather Me, 1971

“Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You” by the Bee Gees from Bee Gees’ First, 1967

“Hootchie Kootchie Woman” by Tim Hardin, previously unreleased from 1964

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into The Music, 1979

“Manic Monday” by the Bangles from Different Light, 1986

“Water Colors” by Janis Ian from Between The Lines, 1975

“Turn Around” by the Everly Brothers from Roots, 1968

“Ophelia” by the Animal Liberation Orchestra from Endless Highway: The Music Of The Band, 2007

“You Know You Can’t Lose” by Shelagh McDonald from The Shelagh McDonald Album, 1970

“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1032, 1962

“Little Maggie” by Bob Dylan from Good As I Been To You, 1992

“Into The Fire” by Bruce Springsteen from The Rising, 2002

“Rock Me” by Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim, Chess recording session, 1961

“Texarkana” by R.E.M. from Out of Time, 1991

“Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I’m Gone?” by Muddy Waters from The London Muddy Waters Sessions, 1971

“From The Morning” by Nick Drake from Pink Moon, 1972

“In the Land of Make Believe” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty In Memphis, 1969

“You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell from Coming Back For More, 1977

“You Must Be Laughing Somewhere” by Jimmie Spheeris from You Must Be Laughing Somewhere, 1984

“Pink Elephant” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies from Rapid City Muscle Car, 1994

“Bierdna” by Hedningarna (Swedish neo-folk group) from Hippjokk, 1997

Well, it’s a little surprising that there’s no music from before 1960. A fair number of the 17,558 mp3s on the RealPlayer come from the 1950s or earlier. It’s also a little light on R&B. I’m not sure what this proves, if anything. But I was interested to see how it came out, and I hope you out there might be, too.

Look for another piece of resurrected vinyl tomorrow!