Posts Tagged ‘Mike Nesmith’

‘I Think I Will Travel To Rio . . .’

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 21, 2009

Well, I found something pretty interesting at YouTube this morning: Here’s a video that Mike Nesmith put together for his single “Rio” in 1977, when the song went to No. 1 in Australia. This was, as the YouTube poster points out in his comments, four years before MTV went on the air. It’s a witty video, as is the song.

And that’s so good – and I have such a long list of things to do today – that we’ll leave it right there. I think we’ll visit 1972 tomorrow.

A Note
Blogger tells me as I get ready to post this that Echoes In The Wind has 699 posts and this will be No. 700. There have actually been a few more than that, but some have disappeared over these two-plus years. Either way, the only thing to do is . . . celebrate!

“Celebrate” by Three Dog Night, ABC/Dunhill 4229 [1969]

Note: Because some of the first posts on this archives site were created by combining some of the very early posts on the original Blogger site, this is not the 700th post on this site. It’s not far off, though.

From A Yodel To The Wool Hat

October 3, 2012

Originally posted May 18, 2009

I never was much of a Monkees fan. I knew the hits, and I likely could have named the four guys, but I doubt if I could have ever matched names to pictures. Later on, after the hoopla was over and I actually was listening to Top 40, along came a song that I quite liked: “Joanne,” credited to Mike Nesmith and the First National Band. After that, I kept my ears open for anything else by Nesmith, but nothing else hit the Top 40, and I – being not very adventurous in my record shopping – pretty much forgot about Mike Nesmith (though he continued to produce records in a country-rock vein).

Jump to 2007: A rock journalist and enthusiast named Mitch Lopate discovers Echoes In The Wind and leaves a note and sends an email now and then. A friendship develops, and in emails and the occasional phone call, Mitch notes his favorites from over the long sweep of rock and all its musical relatives. Among them is Mike Nesmith. On his advice, I buy a couple of CDs and listen. Still persuading me, Mitch makes sure I have a copy of Nesmith’s 1977 album From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing. I listen, but the magic eludes me. So I’ve asked Mitch to explain it. Here’s his response:

A music journalist has to be careful when accepting an offer to write an essay about his or her favored musician of choice. In my case, I was caught by my own trap (the term is “hoisted by one’s own petard,” and I think it was used on an early Star Trek episode with Captain Kirk). What simply happened to me is that whiteray threw the idea back in my lap and asked, “What makes Michael Nesmith more interesting than any of the other country-folk-rock musicians from the same time period in his genre?” It took a few days to let it simmer until I found an answer – or several. For one, he yodels.

No, not the pastry; the way he sings, of course. He yodels – and that clued me in to some of the Nez magic. It’s his way of carrying along the legacy and tradition of those singers who incorporated that method into their work in the country vein of musical bloodlines. Jimmie “The Singing Brakeman” Rodgers, for one – and absolutely, there’s a big hunk of Hank Williams, too. They would surely be included – it’s part of Nesmith’s heritage as a native son of the Republic of Texas; it’s that mix of refined/respectable gentleman and hell-raisin’ rascal. It’s also a mix and blend of Nashville, but it comes through other locations and fellow musicians as well. It goes as far as the Pacific Northwest region where Danny O’Keefe comes from (listen to “I’m Sober Now”) – and then you can count in Boz Scaggs down at the Muscle Shoals studio in 1969, working on “Waiting for a Train.” Nez, however, makes it a staple part of his production – and it just fits naturally, as though he knew he was born to yippee and whoop. And no, I already know how much influence folks like Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Pure Prairie League had – I mean it’s different when Nesmith plays because it’s like he was singing about himself and not some distant ideal or goal like a busted romance and how to fix it.

If you really want to hear how far back he made it clear, turn it back to the Monkees’ first album and slip on “Papa Gene’s Blues.” That James Burton-like Nashville lead guitar is, I think, where Mike’s heart has been right from the start. Follow that with “Sunny Girlfriend” from the Headquarters release, and you’ve got the next clue. Forget all that foolishness that was part of the group’s act: Michael Nesmith was always a serious musician who honored his country roots. And backing that up is the whine of a pedal steel guitar – it’s found on almost all his songs (“Mama Nantucket” is a great example – and not the kind of title I’d associate with the instrument.)

That’s another part of the man’s appeal: He had a businessman’s approach to writing songs and lyrics in an honest but earnest way that lacks any fancy gimmicks. It was his approach to acting as well; for what it matters, there was no other option with the clowning antics that made the other three Monkees seem so cute. Even the Beatles needed George Harrison to be serious at times. Nez, on his part, keeps his production basic and focused – but adds just a tad of mischief. My favorite tune is “Rio,” partially because he deliberately rearranges words and images to create a fantasy of escaping to South America for the adventure of it – and the way he plays on the title itself when a woman’s voice proclaims, “Not Reno, dummy! Rio! Rio de JIN-ero!”

See? It’s not an obvious thing; it’s more simple than all the elaborate parts. He sings and plays like a musical collection of old movie stars: he’s sort of a singing mix of the best characteristics of Cary Grant and Gary Cooper: polite, firm, and funny, and quiet when it counts. That is, quiet until he writes a song – and then he’s out for a good laugh and a good time on the town. Heck, maybe it’s that Mike Nesmith is and always has been a man who knew what he wanted and how to do it – and he lets the music do his walking and talking. Or maybe it’s just that confidence that comes from – can I say – “a home on the range”? Any way I try to pin it down, it just comes down to a man who knew what he could do and how to make it fit his needs and his music as well as his life story. Can’t argue that with a man in a wool hat.

From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing by Mike Nesmith [1977]

Tracks
Rio
Casablanca Moonlight
More Than We Imagine
Navajo Trail
We Are Awake
Wisdom Has Its Way
Love’s First Kiss
The Other Room

Mitch adds, by way of closing:

“I enjoyed the project a whole lot because I really admired that guy. I mean, he was the only one in the group who made sense – most of the time.  Photon Wing really is a good album – when I first heard ‘Rio,’ I thought, ‘What clever writing; kind of a sensible Warren Zevon.’”

Another Turn Through The Junkyard

June 6, 2011

Originally posted January 28, 2008

Well, quite a busy weekend around here!

We saw Richie Havens in concert Friday evening, as I mentioned Saturday. Saturday evening, we went over to the St. Cloud State campus and its National Hockey Center, where we saw the SCS Huskies lose 5-3 to the Mavericks from Minnesota State University, Mankato. (That’s a university that used to be plain old Mankato State, but its leaders decided a while back that it would sound more important if it were called Minnesota State University, Mankato. I wonder if the TV show Coach had anything to do with that, considering that the popular show took place for most of its run at a fictional Minnesota State? In any case, the uniqueness of the name went away after the state university at Moorhead did the same, calling itself Minnesota State University, Moorhead.)

And Sunday? Well, I spent the bulk of my time yesterday installing my new external hard drive and then transferring over to it more than 20,000 mp3s. The drive is a My Book from Western Digital, which I selected after a general recommendation by my nephew, who works in IT for the Osseo school district in the Twin Cities. He told me that he didn’t have specific model recommendations, but he listed a few manufacturers that he said put out good products, and Western was one of them. So when we were out Saturday, we stopped by the local outlet of the big box electronics store and found a 500-gig drive on sale.

Having heard horror stories, I backed up those mp3s that would be the hardest to replace – about twenty gigs, or a quarter of the collection – and then installed the new drive and began to transfer the mp3s. It took about three hours for the eighty-five gigs of music to find its way to its new home. And then I wasted a few hours messing around with RealPlayer. Prompted by a popup from Real.com, I installed a new version. I didn’t like it, so I spent some time finding and reinstalling the old version (thank goodness for Old Version) and finally got settled.

Next comes the process of reloading all the obscure (and sometimes rather odd) albums that I’ve recorded to CDs and pulled from the player over the past couple of years. I’m not sure how many of those albums I’ll share as albums, but tracks from them should begin popping up in Baker’s Dozens fairly soon.

Given that I have tinkering to do with all those CDs – about seventeen of them, each packed with about 700 MB of music – I thought I’d forego ripping an album this morning and instead take a Monday morning walk through the Junkyard, 1950-1999. And as someone responded to Saturday’s post about the Richie Havens concert with a request, we’ll start with Havens’ 1967 recording of “Follow.”

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard

“Follow” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag, 1967

“Human Touch” by Bruce Springsteen from Human Touch, 1992

“Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds, GNP Crescendo single 372, 1967

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan with the Grateful Dead from Dylan & The Dead, 1989

“Chain of Love” by Lesley Duncan from Sing Children Sing, 1971

“Carolina Moon” by Mr. Acker Bilk from Stranger On The Shore, 1961

“Sideshow” by Blue Magic, Atco single 6961, 1974

“Too Much To Lose” by Gordon Lightfoot, RCA Studios, Toronto, 1972

“Wax Minute” by Mike Nesmith from Tantamount to Treason, 1972

“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“House That Jack Built” by Thelma Jones, Barry single 1023, 1968

“Smile A Little Smile For Me” by the Flying Machine, Congress single 6000, 1969

“Get Down Tonight” by KC & the Sunshine Band, T.K. single 1009, 1975

“Keep Love In Your Soul” by Gary Wright from Headin’ Home, 1979

“Fancy Dancer” by Bread from Guitar Man, 1972

A few notes:

I hesitated when the track from Dylan & the Dead came up, as the album is truly one of the worst entries in the catalogs of both Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. It sounded like a great idea, I guess, and from what I’ve read in various places, there are tapes of Dylan and the Dead performing marvelously. But it didn’t happen on the tour that this album came from.

Lesley Duncan was one of the better session singers in the UK, or so I’ve read, and as a result, she had some estimable musicians – including Elton John – supporting her when she recorded Sing Children Sing. The album is a pleasant enough slice of early Seventies singer-songwriter, but it didn’t draw much attention in what was a crowded field. Duncan recorded four more albums through 1977, again without much success. I like her music, and “Chain of Love” is pretty representative. Sing Children Sing was released on CD on the Edsel label (!) in 2000, and copies now go for more than $80.

“Carolina Moon” is a track from the album released by England’s Mr. Acker Bilk after the idiosyncratic clarinetist had a No. 1 hit in 1962 with the lilting and lovely “Stranger on the Shore.” Bilk never had another Top 40 hit, but his musicianship has kept him quite popular among trad jazz fans in England, with his most recent album – among those listed with dates at All-Music Guide – being 2005’s The Acker Bilk/Danny Moss Quintet.

With its spoken carney-barker introduction, it could be easy to dismiss “Sideshow” as a novelty. But the record succeeds despite that corny intro and remains one of the prettiest of the singles that came out of the Philly Soul movement in the 1970s.

The Mike Nesmith track comes from one of the highly regarded series of country-rock records that the one-time Monkee released during the early 1970s. Any of them are worth checking out. (Those interested in eccentricity should also look into Nesmith’s 1968 oddity, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings.)

Thelma Jones came out of the gospel music world and was the first to record “The House That Jack Built.” A little later in 1968, Aretha Franklin’s cover of the song would slice Jones’ version to shreds, but it’s always interesting to hear the original.

The Flying Machine was a British studio group, not to be confused with James Taylor’s similarly named group. The Brits did bubble-gummish work and the sold some records although “Smile A Little Smile For Me” was their only U.S. hit. Coming as it did from the year I truly began to listen to the Top 40 on the first radio I ever owned, it always brings a smile.

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.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1973

April 21, 2011

Originally posted May 23, 2007

Well, with today’s Baker’s Dozen, we plug a hole in the trail of years that’s been sitting there for a while. We’ve been back as far as 1967 and forward as far as 1979. (We’ll head further yet in either direction, and I imagine we’ll also begin repeating some years; there are plenty of tunes yet to hear.) The entire time, however, I was aware that I hadn’t touched on one of my favorite years: 1973.

Looking back, some years just stand out, poking their heads high above the others in the field of memory. For me, one of the tallest years in that field is 1973. It started during my second year of college, an academic year in which I began to find myself academically, to understand how to study and how to learn in college, skills that, quite honestly, I’d not needed to be able to succeed in high school. Along about the same time, I began to find friends, kindred spirits gathered around a long table at the student union. And I began to prepare myself for an academic year overseas, my junior year in Fredericia, Denmark, beginning that autumn.

My going to Denmark was almost an accident. A friend had seen an announcement in the college newspaper about an informational meeting concerning the planned year in Denmark. She had a commitment that evening and asked me to go and take notes. I went to the meeting and went to Denmark; she didn’t. I say “almost an accident” because there really are no accidents in our lives. We end up where we are supposed to end up, no matter how crooked the path may have been.

I’d never been away from home before, and I spent many nighttime hours that spring and summer sitting at the window of my room, looking out at the empty intersection below, wondering what I would find. And I was still wondering on the eve of my twentieth birthday as I walked away from Rick and my family and boarded a Finnair jet for Copenhagen with more than a hundred others from St. Cloud State.

So what did I find? Well, that’s a book in itself. In fact, one of the projects that captivates me these days is based on my journal of that academic year. I’m transcribing the daily entries and then writing anything else I recall about the day, and much more happened than I wrote down, both small events and large. (I have many of the letters that I wrote home to my family, and those, too, will become part of the project.) As clichéd as it sounds, I began to find myself, began to figure out how I fit into my skin and how I fit into the universe. And as I learned those things, I changed.

We’re all in the process of changing, in tiny increments from day to day. It’s not often any of us get a chance to assess in one moment the change that has accumulated over a longer period of time. So it turned out that one of the most fascinating moments of the entire eight-and-a-half months I was gone took place at the very end, in May 1974, the day I came home. Back in St. Cloud, looking forward to a home-cooked steak dinner (I don’t believe I’d had a beef steak during the entire time I was gone; horse, yes, I think, but no beef), I lugged my two suitcases upstairs, heading to my room.

I stopped in the doorway. There, on the door and the closet door, were my NFL pennants. The walls were decorated with Sports Illustrated covers featuring the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota North Stars and with sports logos of my own design, for teams that existed only in my imagination. And above the bulletin board, in a place of honor, was a large picture of Secretariat blowing the field away in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

I stared at the room, mine for seventeen years. And the thought that came to mind as I set the suitcases down in the doorway, looking at the things that had been so dear to me less than a year earlier, was “That kid didn’t come home.”

And here are some songs from the year that kid left:

“Prairie Lullaby” by Michael Nesmith from Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash

“All The Way From Memphis” by Mott the Hoople from Mott

“Your Turn To Cry” by Bettye LaVette from Child of the Seventies

“Six O’Clock” by Ringo Starr from Ringo

“Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney & Wings from Band on the Run

“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” by Stevie Wonder from Innervisions

“California On My Mind” by Tony Joe White from Home Made Ice Cream

“We Are People” by Oasis from Oasis

“The Wall Song” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby

“Better Find Jesus” by Mason Proffit from Rockfish Crossing

“Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road, Kama Sutra single 569

“Junkman” by Danny O’Keefe from Breezy Stories

“The Hard Way Every Time” by Jim Croce from I Got A Name

Some notes about some of the songs:

“Prairie Lullaby” was the closer to Mike Nesmith’s Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash, a stellar country-rock album that’s largely forgotten these days. Nesmith, of course, was one of the Monkees, no doubt the most talented of the four, and the country-rock tone of this 1973 record fits in nicely with most of the work he did after leaving the TV-inspired group.

“All The Way From Memphis” was the crunchy and soaring opener to Mott, Mott the Hoople’s follow-up to All The Young Dudes the year before. As All-Music Guide notes, glam never sounded as much like rock as it did on Mott.

The juxtaposition of two songs by ex-Beatles amused me. The albums they came from, arguably two of the three or four best post-breakup albums by any of the Beatles, were released in December. “Six O’Clock,” from Ringo’s best solo album, was written by McCartney, who plays piano and synthesizer on the song – and adds backing vocals with his wife, Linda – while long-time Beatle pal Klaus Voorman plays bass.

The Oasis of “We Are People” is a one-shot project by Detroit-area musicians Joel Siegel and Sherry Fox, who – along with Richard Hovey – went to San Francisco and managed to talk their ways into the studio where David Crosby was recording his first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name. Stunned and intrigued by the trio’s music, the amused Crosby helped the trio land a contract with Atlantic, but the resulting album never got released. Siegel and Fox recorded Oasis in 1973, but that went nowhere, if it even was released. I’m not certain, as one has to read between the lines in the various accounts of the trio’s experiences. (The trio’s entire output – the Atlantic album, Oasis and various other projects, were finally released in 1993 on Retrospective Dreams, a two-CD set that was, for some reason, limited to only a thousand copies.)

Danny O’Keefe is better known for his 1972 hit “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” but his Breezy Stories album benefited from assistance from such luminaries as Dr. John, Donny Hathaway, David Bromberg and Cissy Houston, to name the best-known. It was a pretty good piece of pop rock/singer-songwriter work, pretty representative of its time.