Posts Tagged ‘Mike Nesmith & The First National Band’

Complications With Fries On The Side

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 3, 2009

Just up the road from our place, right next to U.S. Highway 10, is a vacant building. Sometime in the last year, the auctioneer came by. They sold the booths and the counters, the grill and the deep-fat fryers, the hydraulic lifts and the gas pumps, the tool cabinets and all of the things that made the little building a gas station and restaurant for as many years as I can remember.

It was called Townsedge, and that was accurate enough in a practical sense. For many years, when folks would come into St. Cloud from the Twin Cities, Townsedge was the first gas station or restaurant they saw. They’d pass by a few other places – the marine shop, the masonry place and a used car lot or two – but if folks on the road had the usual travelers’ needs, Townsedge was the first place they saw where those needs could be met: Fill your tank, check the oil, buy a pack of smokes, sit down in a booth for a few minutes and have a cheeseburger straight from the grill, with a couple of pickle slices on the plate and a basket of fries on the side.

It was the kind of place you don’t often find anymore, and that’s truly a shame. There was another place like Townsedge across Highway 10, Fred’s Cafe, a classic American truck stop, and both Fred’s and Townsedge did well for many years. When Fred’s went out of business – that happened during the years I was away, but I think it was in the early 1990s – a chain convenience store/gas station took its place, and I’m sure that took business away from Townsedge. And when a franchised burger place opened up a couple of years ago about half a block from Townsedge, that pretty much told the tale.

After Dad retired, my folks went to Townsedge for coffee a couple of times a week, and after the Texas Gal and I moved here in 2002, I’d walk over and join them every once in a while. As we sat, I’d look around the place and gauge the ages of the customers. I’d see a few single moms with kids, but not many. Most of the time, I was the youngest person in the place (except for one or two of the waitresses). Once Dad was gone and Mom moved, I had no reason to go into Townsedge anymore, and not too long after that, I saw the “Closed” sign in the window as I drove by one day. And eventually, the auctioneer came by.

Places come and go, but Townsedge – as it was in the 1970s, not as it was in its last years – was a special place for a couple of reasons. First, the fries. The French fries at Townsedge – golden and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside – were among the best I have ever had. I’ve been to a few other places over the years whose fries were better, but when I was in high school, Townsedge had the best fries in town, and the little café was frequently the last stop during an evening spent out with friends.

Then there was the evening in early December 1970, during my senior year of high school. The St. Cloud Tech High School choirs had performed in concert, and a young lady and I were going to double up with another couple for burgers and fries at Townsedge. For some reason, the other guy had to cancel, so there were only three of us, my date and me on one side of the booth and the other young lady sitting across from us.

I dropped a quarter into the jukebox terminal in our booth. I have no idea what I played, but one of the other young folks elsewhere in the café had cued up the week’s No. 1 record, and that’s what we heard first. My date sang along for a few moments with the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You.” We all laughed, and I realized that my life right then was about as complicated as it had ever been. None of us mentioned it, but all three of us – my date, the other young lady and I – knew that if I’d had my druthers, I’d have been sitting on the other side of the booth, next to the gal whose boyfriend hadn’t been able to join us.

Then the waitress brought us our burgers and fries, and life moved on.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, December 5, 1970)
“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family (No. 1)
“Yellow River” by Christie (No. 23)
“Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin (No. 44)
“Silver Moon” by Mike Nesmith & the First National Band (No. 75)
“Lonely Days” by the Bee Gees (No. 81)
“Maggie” by Redbone (No. 100)

At the time, as I sat in that booth, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of “I Think I Love You.” It was pop, but it wasn’t serious, I thought. Something like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” now that was serious pop. It said something. The Beatles’ “Let It Be” was serious. The Partridge Family was a fake group from a television show, for cripe’s sake! The fact is, though, “I Think I Love You” remains – despite its very odd middle section – a well-produced record with a killer chorus/hook, not to mention a memorable and unmistakable introduction. But still, it was hard in the late months of 1970 to take the record seriously. The fact that the song wasn’t written by its performers seemed to matter a great deal. (The song came from the pen of Tony Romeo, a fairly prolific writer whose credits also include Lou Christie’s “I’m Gonna Make You Mine,” one of my favorite records.) Thirty-nine years later, that seems to matter very little, if at all. “I Think I Love You” was in its third and final week at No. 1 during the first week of December 1970.

Most of us who listened to “Yellow River” as it rolled out of our radio speakers in 1970 inferred, I am certain, that the narrator was just back from Vietnam or maybe – considering the narrator says his “war is won” – some mythical place like it:

So long, boy, you can take my place.
I got my papers, I got my pay,
So pack my bags and I’ll be on my way to Yellow River.
Put my gun down, the war is won.
Fill my glass high, the time has come.
I’m goin’ back to the place that I love: Yellow River.

The group Christie was made up of songwriter and singer Jeff Christie, guitarist Vic Elmes and drummer Mike Blakely. Wikipedia says that Christie first offered the song “Yellow River” to the group the Tremeloes, whose members included Blakely’s brother, Alan. The Tremeloes recorded the song but declined to release it and allowed Christie to use the backing track for its own version of the song. “Yellow River” spent eight weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 23. Christie’s follow-up, “San Bernadino,” barely edged into the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 100.

(Note from 2022: I’ve read in the year since 2009 that Christie actually had the U.S. Civil War in mind when he wrote “Yellow River.)

Back in late 1970, not much came out of the radio or the jukebox quite so insistently as Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” with its thunderous introduction and haunting wail. The immigrants of the title were, of course, the historical Vikings, descending from Scandinavia to raid, plunder and eventually trade:

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow
Hammer of the gods, we’ll drive our ships to new land,
To fight the horde, sing and cry: Valhalla, I am coming!

The record spent ten weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 16.

“Silver Moon” is a countryish gem from Mike Nesmith, who came to prominence, of course, as a member of the Monkees in the 1960s. Just a few months earlier, Nesmith had reached the Top 40 when “Joanne” went to No. 21. But “Silver Moon” didn’t quite catch on, peaking at No. 42 in mid-January 1971 before tumbling out of sight. I can’t help wondering if Nesmith’s work would have fared better a few years later during the rather brief heyday of country rock. I think it would have.

Rick and I were fans of the Bee Gees, so we were quite pleased – and tickled by the odd ending – the first time we heard “Lonely Days” sometime in December 1970. The record came from the album 2 Years On, which reunited Robin Gibb with his brothers, Barry and Maurice, following a brief separation. During that separation, Robin released a solo album, Robin’s Reign, while Barry and Maurice released Cucumber Castle as a Bee Gees album. We thought – and I still think – that 2 Years On was better than the two releases that came during the brothers’ rift. “Lonely Days” climbed into the Top 40 and spent ten weeks there, peaking at No. 3 in early 1971.

Redbone’s swampy pop-rock was still a couple years away from chart success, but “Maggie” provided a perfect preview to what listeners would get in 1972 with “The Witch Queen of New Orleans,” which went to No. 21, and then again in 1974, when “Come and Get Your Love” would go to No. 5. “Maggie” rose to No. 80 and stayed there for two weeks as 1970 turned into 1971 before falling out of the Hot 100.

Are these tracks the same as the singles? In two cases, I’m pretty sure that’s the case. “Maggie” is the single edit offered as a bonus track on Redbone’s Potlatch CD. “I Think I Love You” was ripped from a Billboard compilation on LP; the LP label listed the same running time – 2:28 – as did the Bell 45 label, but the actual running time was longer at 2:47. I suspect label skullduggery, which – as we all know – was quite frequent. The other four of these mp3s were pulled from the various groups’ albums, but the running times – based on comparison to labels from 45s found online – are about the same as those of the singles. Are they the same mixes as on the 45s? I have no idea.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 24, 2008

As the autumn of 1970 slid into view, things were changing around me. And I was changing, too.

I was a senior at St. Cloud Tech High, a member of a class that was half the size it had been three months earlier, when our junior year ended. The St. Cloud school district had opened a new high school on the north end of town – St. Cloud Apollo, home of the Eagles, named in honor of the space program – and what had been an 800-student class was suddenly split into two 400-student classes.

At the same time, freshmen joined the high school ranks instead of attending junior high school for another year, so each of the two high schools – Tech and Apollo – had about 1,600 students instead of the 2,400 or so that had clogged the corridors of Tech the previous year.

So there was more room in the halls, and it was easier to get to class. But I was aware as I wandered through those halls that most of my good friends were now across town. Oh, I found locker-room camaraderie as the head manager for the football team, but that seemed a little shallow to me (though I never said so). I made a few new friends, among them some young women from the sophomore class, but I began to spend a good deal of my time alone out of choice, not necessity.

For a long time, I’d worried what other people thought about me. That autumn, for the first time, I began to care more about what I thought about myself. I spent my free time reading what I liked – science fiction, astronomy, rock music history and criticism – and beginning to write bits of verse and lyrics (some of it inspired by the less-than-happy outcomes of my friendships with those sophomore girls). Even though I was flying solo in a world beginning to be defined by couples, I was pretty happy.

Sometime during the autumn, I filled out my lone college application, to St. Cloud State. I had thought for a brief time about the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, but I never bothered to apply. It was pretty well decided long before I was in high school that – like my dad and my sister before me – I would attend St. Cloud State. And it was just as well that I did: Learning how to survive college academically and socially was difficult enough in St. Cloud. I would have been utterly lost in the vastness of the University of Minnesota.

I should note that the college application dance in 1970 was a far different exercise for most of us than it is for today’s high school students. I imagine those applying to the more selective schools back then endured some anxiety. But St. Cloud State – and the other state universities – accepted pretty much anybody who’d shown basic proficiency in high school. The weeding-out that I think happens these days during the college application season began then during the fall quarter of college.

I recall sitting at my table and looking at St. Cloud State’s application form sometime during the latter weeks of September 1970, with the radio on the nightstand keeping me company. Here’s a selection of songs from the Billboard Hot 100 of September 19, 1970. I’m sure I heard at least one of these as I filled out my application.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 4
“Our World” by Blue Mink, Philips 40686 (?) (No. 102)

“Border Song” by Elton John, Uni 55246 (No. 93)

“Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard, Reprise 0942 (No. 85)

“Funk # 49” by the James Gang, ABC 11272 (No. 68)

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping (In My Bed)” by 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), Hot Wax 7004 (No. 52)

“Soul Shake” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Atco 6756 (No. 43)

“Everything’s Tuesday” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus 9079 (No. 38)

“Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor, Rare Earth 5013 (No. 35)

“Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad, Capitol 2877 (No. 31)

“Joanne” by Mike Nesmith & the First National Band, RCA Victor 0368 (28)

“Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0367 (No. 21)

“Don’t Play That Song” by Aretha Franklin with the Dixie Flyers, Atlantic 2751 (No. 11)

“Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman, Metromedia 194 (No. 5)

A few notes:

Blue Mink, a British group, never made the Top 40, and I doubt that I heard any of their singles when they came out. But I’ve heard a few things in the past year or so, and they’re pretty good. “Our World” might be the group’s best record.

I’ve never understood why Little Richard’s 1970s work on Reprise didn’t do any better. With a rootsy, gritty sound not all that distant from that of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the resources of Reprise Records, you’d think music as good as “Greenwood, Mississippi” would have been a hit. But “Greenwood” spent five weeks in the Hot 100 and never got higher than No. 85. (“Freedom Blues” had gone to No. 47 in the summer of 1970, and three other Reprise singles released in 1971 and 1972 never reached the Hot 100.)

“Soul Shake” went no higher than No. 43, which I’ve always thought was a shame. Delaney & Bonnie had two hits reach the Top 40 – “Never Ending Song of Love” and “Only You Know And I Know” – but “Soul Shake” puts both of those away with its combination of rock, white gospel and R&B.

“Somebody’s Been Sleeping” and “Everything’s Tuesday” are two good records from the labels launched by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland after they left Motown, where they’d been a crack writing and production team. “Sleeping” was the only Top 40 hit for 100 Proof (Aged In Soul), reaching No.8. “Everything’s Tuesday” only got to No. 38 for the Chairmen of the Board, who’d reached No. 3 earlier in 1970 with “Give Me Just A Little More Time.”

My fondness for two of these records – “Indiana Wants Me” and “Julie Do Ya Love Me” – stems no doubt from time and place rather than from artistic merit. I mean, with the first, the sirens at the start are hokey enough, but the bullhorn at the end – “This is the police. You are surrounded. Give yourself up!” – tips the scales over. But I still like it. As for the Bobby Sherman tune, well, there was a Julie at school, and no, she didn’t love me, but it was nice to think about.