Posts Tagged ‘Moody Blues’

On A Plane From Clear Lake . . .

December 16, 2011

Originally posted February 3, 2009

I’ve wondered for months what to put in this space today. The following essay is taken from The Heart of Rock & Soul, the marvelous 1989 book by Dave Marsh. It accompanies Marsh’s assessment of Ritchie Valens’ “Come On, Let’s Go,” which Marsh ranked as No. 757 in his listing of the 1,001 greatest singles. But Marsh’s piece, as so often happens, is about much more than one song:

The plane stayed in the air . . .

The Big Bopper laughed it off. Scored another hit or two, then changed his name back to J. P. Richardson and became a TV game show host, halfway between Wink Martindale and Monty Hall, with an extensive collection of hairpieces, the most famous weight control problem in the United States, and two weeks a year live in Vegas, doing stand-up and a little old-time rock and roll schtick.

There, he’d occasionally run into Buddy, who quit the tour after the close call in Clear Lake, just refused to get back on the tour bus and waited out the storm in a motel room, got a ride back home and told promoter Irving Felt to stuff it. When the lawsuits were over, he and Maria Elena tried moving back to Lubbock, but it was impossible for a white man and a Puerto Rican woman to be comfortably married in west Texas. They came back to New York and in 1965, split up. Maria Elena kept their three children, and half of Buddy’s increasingly lucrative catalog of copyrights.

Buddy toured with the Beatles, who spoke of him worshipfully, but after his 1964 album produced by Phil Spector, had no more hits as a performer. As a writer, he remained in demand and in 1972, wrote a show based on the old days on the rock and roll circuit, bringing a lot of his old friends – Guitar Baker, King Curtis, the Crickets, Darlene Love – back to the limelight for the first time in a few years. But Buddy wasn’t in the show; he said he’d lost the desire. John Lennon said it was the best thing he’d seen since the Jerry Lee Lewis tour of Britain in the fifties. Bob Dylan said nothing, but he went three nights running. When it closed on Broadway, the show went on the road and then set up in Vegas, where it ran on the Strip as a revue for fifteen years.

Neither Buddy nor the Bopper ever saw much of Ritchie, though of course he was offered a part in Buddy’s revival show. He was now a 300-pound session guitarist and mostly invisible to the rock and roll world, working jingle dates and living in East L.A., where he was a legend to the few who knew the full story and respected as the best guitar teacher in the community. Offers to make records he greeted with a shrug, though he made one nice duet LP with Carlos Santana.

The couple times Ritchie did albums under his own name, though, the results were half-hearted. He told his daughter that success was one thing, but that record labels messed with your music too much. The only one of his hits that he’d agree to play at all was “C’mon Let’s Go,” because it was just a guitar tune. He refused to even consider playing “La Babma,” which he regarded as a travesty of Mexican folk-culture, or “Donna,” because he hated his own confessions of puppy love weakness. And he never wanted anything to do with touring again.

A Six-Pack for February 3
“The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll (#2)” by Muddy Waters from Hard Again [1977]

“Rock N Roll Gypsies” by Jesse Ed Davis from Jesse Davis [1971]

“Only You and Rock and Roll” by Redbone from Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes [1974]

“I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” by the Moody Blues from Seventh Sojourn [1972]

“They Call It Rock & Roll Music” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from To Bonnie From Delaney [1970]

“It Will Stand” by the Showmen, Minit 632 [1961]

Caught Unawares By The Chill

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 21, 2008

The weatherfolk on television and radio tell us that this isn’t the real beginning of winter’s cold creep. The temperatures this weekend, they say, will reach into the mid-thirties. But today is a chill preview of what will eventually come and stay with us for a while.

When I turned on the computer this morning, my little WeatherBug told me enough: The temperature outside was 3 Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius). Most mornings, I’m able to stay inside and sip a cup of coffee while the outside world stretches and limbers its muscles. This morning, I was due at the doctor’s office (they drew blood for tests in advance of my annual physical next week; no biggie) at 7:50. So I bundled up and headed across town, then stopped on my way home at Tom’s Barbershop and the grocery store.

This is Minnesota. I’ve lived here most of my life, and it’s going to be cold. I know that. But it seems like every year that first blast of Arctic air catches us by surprise and we do a double take when we look at the temperature reading on that first frigid morning. It doesn’t take us more than a couple of days to readjust, and by the time January brings with it temperatures that can slide to -30 F or colder, we’re almost blasé.

But that first frozen day, like today, still seems to catch us unawares.

A Six-Pack of Cold
“Cold, Cold, Cold” by Dr. John from In The Right Place, 1973

“Cold Lady” by Humble Pie from Town and Country, 1969

“Cold Winter’s Day” by the BoDeans from Go Slow Down, 1993

“Until I’m Dead and Cold” by B.B. King from Indianola Mississippi Seeds, 1970

“Cold Missouri Waters” by Cry Cry Cry from Cry Cry Cry, 1998

“It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart” by the Moody Blues from The Present, 1983

A few notes:

Some years ago, I read in one of the many books of album reviews I’ve scanned that the first two Humble Pie albums – As Safe as Yesterday Is and Town and Country – had an ambience not unlike that of The Band’s first albums. Being an easy sell, I wandered down to the record store and dug through the used albums in the “H” bin. Having brought the two albums home and listened to them, I wasn’t altogether certain that the review was right. But the albums were pretty good, and I hung on to them. Of the two, I think Town and Country is the better album, and “Cold Lady” is one of its better tracks.

For a long time, the only thing I knew about the BoDeans was that they came from Wisconsin (Waukesha, not far west of Milwaukee) and that they sang “Good Things,” a live version of which got an incredible amount of airplay in the early 1990s on Cities 97 in the Twin Cities. Over the past eight years or so – late, but at least I got there – I’ve explored the band’s catalog, and I quite like it. “Cold Winter’s Day” is a pretty good track.

Speaking of having to catch up, the Moody Blues somehow released an album in 1983 that I missed entirely at the time. I think a lot of people did. The Present is not one of the group’s better albums, and listeners seemed to know that. Its predecessor, Long Distance Voyager, was No. 1 for three weeks during a twenty-three-week stay in the Top 40, and its successor, The Other Side of Life, went to No. 9 during its twenty-two weeks in the Top 40. The Present was in the chart for only six weeks and went to No. 26. “It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart” is the most memorable song on the album.

Cry Cry Cry was a one-shot release by a trio of contemporary folk artists: Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell. It’s quite a nice album.

A Tale Of Shelves And A Saw

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 12, 2008

My dad, along with being an educator, was a craftsman. His undergraduate degree was in industrial arts, which he’d hoped to teach in a high school. Biding his time until there was a teaching position open somewhere near St. Cloud, he returned to the campus of St. Cloud Teachers College – now St. Cloud State University – after he graduated. (Family lore says it was the next day, but I’m not certain.) He took what was expected to be a temporary position and wound up retiring thirty-three years later from St. Cloud State as an assistant professor of learning resources. He never taught industrial arts.

But he put his industrial arts training and experience to good use, doing a lot of the maintenance on our home – painting, minor electrical work, some carpentry and more – when I was a kid and in the years after I was grown. One of his major projects was turning half the basement into a rec room when I was in junior high. Local contractors installed wall studs, electrical outlets and carpet, and Dad took it from there, wrestling paneling into place and nailing it to the studs, measuring and installing a hanging ceiling with its tiles, and all the rest, creating a room that was a haven for my sister and me and our friends during our teen years and later.

Along the way, Dad gathered together an immense collection of tools and equipment, and when we cleared out the place on Kilian after he died, some of it came my way: his Montgomery Wards tool chest – much larger and better stocked than the rudimentary toolbox with which I’ve been making do over the years – and some additional tools, including a power drill, a power sander and an electric sabre saw.

Power tools, for some reason, have always scared me – a lot. I’m not sure why. The only one I’d ever used was a borrowed power drill to install a set of mini-blinds about ten years ago, and even that small drill made me uneasy. I’ve never done a lot of carpentry or other work requiring tools, anyway. During the mid-1980s, I did design and build some simple bookcases, but that’s been about the limit of my work. And I did those jobs with handsaws and hand tools.

This week, as I was installing my well-traveled brick and board bookcase in the study, I realized I was going to put more records on it than ever before, so it would need more support, a column of bricks in the center of the shelves to match the columns at the ends of the shelves. I wandered around town yesterday and managed to find three additional large patio blocks that matched the ones I’d bought almost twenty years ago. (The sales agent at the masonry yard was disappointed I didn’t need more of them; he wanted to clear as many of the antiquated blocks from his storage as he could.) And the guys at the lumberyard gladly cut the additional pieces of wood plank I needed to put on my shelves under the new blocks to extend the blocks’ height so the shelves would accommodate LPs.

But I could not find one piece I required, another foot, as it were: a masonry piece to put on the floor, centered under the first shelf, that would match the height of the two thick masonry pieces that held up the ends of that first shelf. As I left the masonry yard and headed home with three bricks, six wood pieces to put under the bricks and more than six feet of extra wood, I realized that three thicknesses of that extra wood plank would equal the thickness of the two masonry pieces already serving as feet. All I had to do was saw off three pieces of the extra board I got at the lumberyard, and I could stack those pieces for the missing foot.

So after hauling everything inside, I took the extra board down to the rudimentary workbench left by earlier residents of the house, where I’d installed Dad’s toolbox and the other things that had been his. With the measuring tape, I marked off three lengths of five inches, and then I grabbed a saw and got to work. It went slowly, of course. And a third of the way into the first cut, I stopped. In a box on the shelf, I realized, was the sabre saw.

I shuddered a little, thinking of the mayhem a potential mishap could cause. Once I shooed the cats upstairs and closed the door, I got out the sabre saw and plugged it in. Wanting to get a sense of how it felt before I applied it to wood, I tentatively turned it on, then off. And then I got busy. A few minutes later, I had the three pieces of board I needed. I put the saw back in its box and the box back on the shelf, and I swept up the sawdust, honestly trembling a little.

A few hours later, the revamped shelves were up and loaded: three shelves of records topped by a shelf of books. The three inexpertly cut pieces of wood are hidden under the first shelf. I don’t know when I might next have an occasion to use the sabre saw. But now I know I can if I have to.

A Baker’s Dozen of Saws
“The Last Time I Saw Richard” by Joni Mitchell from Blue, 1971

“When I Saw You” by the Ronettes, Philles single 133, 1964

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack, Atlantic single 2864, 1972

“I Saw Her Again” by the Mamas & the Papas, Dunhill single 4031, 1966

“I Saw The Light” by Mason Proffit from Bare Back Rider, 1972

“Ride My See-Saw” by the Moody Blues from In Search of the Lost Chord, 1968

“The Last Time I Saw Jacqueline” by the Neon Philharmonic from The Moth Confesses, 1969

“See Saw” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2574, 1968

“Jigsaw Puzzle of Life” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Kate & Anna McGarrigle, 1975

“Junior Saw It Happen” by the Steve Miller Band from Children of the Future, 1968

“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Pearls, Bell single 1254 (UK?), 1972

“I Saw It On T.V.” by John Fogerty from Centerfield, 1985

“Crosscut Saw” by Albert King from Born Under A Bad Sign, 1967

A few notes:

This is mostly a random selection. The only song I chose was the closer, Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw,” because it seemed appropriate.

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was omnipresent during early 1972. Originally recorded for Flack’s First Take album in 1969, the song – written by British folksinger Ewan MacColl – was used as background music in Clint Eastwood’s film Play Misty For Me, which came out in late 1971. After that, Atlantic trimmed about a minute from the track and issued it as a single. The record entered the Top 40 in March and spent six weeks at No. 1, eventually earning Flack and MacColl Grammy awards for, respectively, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

Bare Back Rider was the second and final major label release from Mason Proffit, one of the best bands never to make it big. In its review of Bare Back Rider, All-Music Guide notes: “You’d have thought that music this impressive could get a hearing, but Mason Proffit appeared at a time when music fans were more polarized than musicians, not only by music but by politics and culture. Despite the band’s evident affection for traditional country music, their left-wing political stance and status as hippie rock musicians meant they could never be accepted in Nashville. And their music was too overtly country for them to score a pop hit. Thus, they were doomed to appeal only on the country-rock-oriented Los Angeles club scene and to some music critics.”

“The Last Time I Saw Jacqueline” is a nice bit of trippy pop from the Neon Philharmonic, better known for the same album’s “Morning Girl,” a sweet coming-of-age single that went to No. 17 in the spring and summer of 1969. The Neon Philharmonic, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was a chamber-sized orchestra of Nashville City Orchestra musicians. Tupper Saussy did the writing and Don Gant handled the vocals. Bonus points for rhyming “restaurant” and “debutante.”

The McGarrigle sisters show up here now and then, and every time they do, especially when it’s a track from 1975’s Kate & Anna McGarrigle, I think back to the first time I read or heard about them, in the 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide: “Two sisters from Montreal make music that’s crisp, nonelectric and utterly magical. Singing now in English, now in French, they suffuse their records with brightness and wit, proving that the inspired amateurism of the mid-Seventies can be dazzling.” Were/are they that good? Yes.

“You Came, You Saw, You Conquered” by the Pearls is a cover (from the United Kingdom, I believe; anyone know?) of the Ronettes’ version, which was released as a single on A&M in 1969. The Pearls’ version is not bad, but the echo on the record is a faint whisper of the echo in the Ronettes’ single, which itself was a faint whisper of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound that made them famous.

Saturday Single No. 77

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 21, 2008

The arrival of the solstice yesterday makes it almost a requirement that one write about summer. And as the sun lingered in the western sky last evening, I sorted through songs, looking for something on which I could hang a tale or at least an emotion.

I’ve written about a few summers (or parts of summers) of my youth: working at the annual trapshoot for three years, mowing lawns and scrubbing floors at the college in 1971, the 1972 trip to Winnipeg with my pals, moving a house with my friend Murl in 1975, and most recently, recovering from the 1974 ailment that assailed my lungs.*

As I looked through lists of songs last evening, I remembered something else about 1972’s summer, the one that ended with Rick and Gary and me going to Winnipeg. I recalled the way I spent most Saturday evenings: on long bike rides.

Rick, heading into his senior year of high school, was spending more time on weekends with his classmates. And the friends I’d made during my first year of college had gone back home, most to the Twin Cities. I was working twenty or so hours a week as a janitor, which kept me mostly busy Monday through Friday, but Saturday evenings, as that summer began, found me flying solo and without a flight plan.

So I got in the habit of getting on my Schwinn Typhoon about, oh, seven o’clock each Saturday evening and heading south along Riverside Drive, down the steep hill that led to the old narrow bridge across the Mississippi. Across the river and then up a steep hill. From there, I’d wander the south side, eventually riding past the building where I spent my junior high school years and past the homes where lived two girls I’d known in high school, a couple years younger than I. (Did I want them to see me? I think so. Did they? I’ve never known.)

I’d make my way to downtown, cross the river via the De Soto Bridge and head home, concluding about a five-mile ride. Along the way, I’d stop at the municipal swimming pool. I’d lock my bike to the rack, stop at the concession stand and buy a Frozen Milkshake – a candy bar very much like a Milky Way frozen onto a stick – and sit in the bleachers by the pool for a few moments, watching without seeing as the kids splashed and swam, and listening to the music that came over the PA system.

What did I hear? I recall Malo’s “Suavecito” and the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.” I heard “Too Late To Turn Back Now” by Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose and “How Do You Do” by Mouth & McNeal. I also remember Procol Harum’s “Conquistador” and a Carly Simon tune from the previous summer, the depressing “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.”

I also recall another song from one of those Saturday evenings as I ate my frozen treat, vaguely watching the swimmers and pondering how odd my life seemed that summer. It’s a record that peaked at No. 29 during the third week of June 1972, a record that meshed perfectly with my Saturday evening thoughts.

That’s why “Isn’t Life Strange,” pulled from the Moody Blues’ album, Seventh Sojourn, is this week’s Saturday Single.**

Moody Blues – “Isn’t Life Strange” [1972]

Note: I’m not sure if there was a single edit, but if there was, I don’t have it. This is the album track.

*As noted on the post about moving the house, that almost certainly took place in 1976 rather than 1975. But that, as I noted when I published that post on this archival site, changes nothing about the friendship Murl and I shared nor does it diminish the quality of the music I offered from 1975.

**Reader and pal Yah Shure left a comment soon after this post went up, noting that the single release of “Isn’t Life Strange” preceded by a fair amount of time the release of the album Seventh Sojourn. Saying that the track was “pulled from the album,” he said, is a bit of an overstatement.  Notes added July 13, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Roads

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 18, 2008

Although music has always been a part of my life, I’ve not always been very active in finding the music I liked; I let it come to me. I listened to the radio, to the jukeboxes at places that had them, and occasionally went out and bought a record or two. With the exception of the Beatles – whose entire Capitol/Apple catalog I had before I turned nineteen – I made no attempt for many years to focus on any one performer or group. I bought a few records here and there, but not many, as I wandered from my college days into the first years of adulthood.

That changed in 1987, when I spent time with a woman whose love of music equaled mine. We spent many hours of our brief time together in record stores and listening to music new and old in our apartments in St. Cloud. I moved to Minot to teach in the late summer of 1987, hopeful in all ways and renewed in my love of music. As a result, there are a few albums that I bought during my first year in Minot that, for me, carry in their grooves that sense of hope. That hope did not survive into the next summer, but I still love those albums despite that and even though they may not be the best work of the artists or groups involved.

Four of those albums that come most immediately to mind are Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night, Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Memphis Record by Elvis Presley. The first three of those were new albums, and I enjoy them still; the best of them is likely the Springsteen. The Presley album – a two-record set – collects the studio work he did in Memphis in 1969, much of it released that year on From Elvis in Memphis. Some of it was released on the awkwardly titled From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis and two tracks, I believe, were released as non-album singles.

For someone who paid little attention to Elvis while he was alive, The Memphis Record was a revelation. This was not the bloated Elvis who’d been the butt of too many unfunny jokes during his last years. The photos on the ornate double record jacket – made to look like a newspaper – confirmed that, but all one had to do was listen to the music to hear a lean, hungry and talented performer trying his best – with success – to make himself relevant again. Looking back, I recalled that I’d always liked the singles from those sessions – “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain” and “In The Ghetto” – but I’d never thought much about them. So here I was, almost twenty years later, realizing that those singles were the tip of a musical iceberg that was larger and better than I’d thought possible.

I listened to all four sides of the record frequently that first autumn in Minot and came to love the music. One song – new to me – stood out, though. I’m not at all sure why, but Elvis’ version of “True Love Travels On a Gravel Road” is to me one of the best things he ever recorded, and it remains one of my favorite tracks ever. So I’m going to use it as the starting point today.

A Baker’s Dozen of Roads
“True Love Travels On a Gravel Road” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis In Memphis, 1969

“The Long and Winding Road” by Richie Havens from Sings Beatles And Dylan, 1987

“Eternity Road” by the Moody Blues from To Our Children’s Children’s Children, 1969

“Seven Roads (Second Version)” by Fanny, from the sessions for Fanny, 1970

“The Road Shines Bright” by John Stewart from The Lonesome Picker Rides Again, 1971

“Rocky Road” by Peter, Paul & Mary from In The Wind, 1963

“Dark Road” by Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee from Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Sing, 1958

“Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors from Morrison Hotel, 1970

“On the Road” by Michael Johnson from There Is A Breeze, 1973

“The Road to Cairo” by David Ackles from David Ackles, 1968

“Tobacco Road” by Bill Wyman & The Rhythm Kings from Struttin’ Our Stuff, 1998

“Six Days On The Road” by Taj Mahal from Giant Step, 1969

“Too Many Roads” by Carolyn Franklin from If You Want Me, 1976

A few notes:

I chuckled when – one day after sharing my negative assessment of the Beatles’ version of “The Long And Winding Road” – Richie Havens’ version of the song popped up. Even from Havens, one of my favorites, it’s only just okay. I’m coming to the conclusion – long overdue, no doubt – that it’s the song I don’t care for, not necessarily the singer. The album that the track comes from – Sings Beatles and Dylan – is nevertheless a good one, well worth finding.

I tend to think that one either loves the Moody Blues or detests them. I like them, even as I acknowledge that their hippie philosophy – which could induce eye rolls even forty years ago – is sometimes a bit much. But I do like their sound, and it’s only when the MB’s get into thoughts truly too heavy to carry – as in “Om” from In Search of the Lost Chord – that I begin to roll my own eyes. To Our Children’s Children’s Children is one of the group’s better albums musically and lyrically.

The version of Fanny’s “Seven Roads” that popped up here is an alternate take, a little bit shorter and a little bit tougher than the version that closed the group’s self-titled first album. Fanny didn’t hang around long – the all-woman group recorded five albums between 1970 and 1974 – but what the group left behind is pretty good. A limited edition box set – First Time in a Long Time: The Reprise Recordings – came out in 2002 and covers everything except the group’s final album, which came out on Casablanca. If you can find it – the box set is available online for prices starting around $70 – it would most likely be all the Fanny you would need.

“Dark Road” is a typical track from a typical album by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. There’s nothing fancy about it, just the two of them, guitar and blues harp (and a little bit of help from drummer Gene Moore). But it’s folk blues about as good – and authentic – as you can get them, recorded before the blues revival of the 1960s.

I don’t know much about David Ackles – I need to do some digging – but I’ve heard a few things and I like them. “The Road to Cairo” is a haunting song and record.

Carolyn Franklin was, of course, Aretha’s sister – she crossed over in 1988 – and If You Want Me was the last of five albums she released on RCA. From what I can tell, only her first album, 1969’s Baby Dynamite, has ever been released on CD. If You Want Me is the only one I have, and it’s pretty good.

(I should note that The Memphis Record is out of print but available if you dig online. The CD release of From Elvis In Memphis has some bonus tracks to go along with the original album. Both have been supplanted by a 1999 release called Suspicious Minds, a two-disc set that has – I believe – everything Elvis released from those 1969 sessions in Memphis as well as a good number of alternate takes and bonus tracks. It’s a good one.)

A Baker’s Dozen Of ‘Song’

June 20, 2011

Originally published March 31, 2008

I did some record keeping yesterday as I was watching the NCAA basketball tournament.

(My bracket is still looking not too bad: I got three of the Final Four correct – North Carolina, UCLA and Kansas. I missed on only Memphis. From here on, I have Kansas and UCLA winning on Saturday and Kansas taking the title a week from today. The less said about the NCAA Division I hockey tournament, however, the better. Both St. Cloud State and the University of Minnesota were bounced in the first round. Things aren’t much better in Madison, Wisconsin, where my friend JB blogs; the UW Badgers lost a 3-2 overtime decision Sunday to the hated North Dakota Sioux.)

Anyway, as I said, I did some record keeping, and I learned that since I started this blog in January 2007, I have shared 115 albums, and I learned that twenty-one of those records came from 1970, the most from any one year

I didn’t do any work on the number of songs shared through Baker’s Dozens and so on, but that should be easy to estimate: Sixty-six Baker’s Dozens times thirteen equals 858; I’ve done nine Junkyards, but on only seven of those, I think, was every song shared, so call that 110; I’ve shared sixty-three Saturday Singles* and forty or so songs under the Tuesday Cover label. There were a few other songs shared with no label or plan, so let’s add ten to the total. We get 1,081 songs. (I know there were some repeated songs and at least one double Baker’s Dozen in there, but this is an estimate.) That’s a pretty impressive total.

Continuing my number-crunching this morning, I decided to look at the entire collection of mp3s and see which years command most of my attention. I hadn’t done this since, oh, October, but the general shape of the data didn’t change. If I were to put the numbers in a bar graph, the big bars would be from 1967 through 1973. (Is this a surprise? No.)

Here are the numbers of mp3s from those seven years and from the years immediately preceding and following them:

1966: 609
1967: 1029
1968: 1450
1969: 1680
1970: 1936
1971: 1789
1972: 1531
1973: 1092
1974: 724

A final set of numbers may be of interest. Here’s how the mp3s sort out by decade. (I have a total of nineteen mp3s from the years 1900-1919, so we’ll ignore those.)

1920s: 382
1930s: 412
1940s: 275
1950s: 920
1960s: 6552
1970s: 9384
1980s: 2056
1990s: 2763
2000s: 2645

As I was doing this, I was also casting about for a topic for today’s Baker’s Dozen, and I thought I ought to do something with a musical term. I asked the RealPlayer to sort for the word “music,” and it listed every one of the 25,338 mp3s. So I decided to gather a group of songs with the word “song” in the title.

A Baker’s Dozen of “Song”
“Moonchild River Song” by Eric Andersen from Stages: The Lost Album, recorded in 1973, released in 1991

“Never Ending Song of Love” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from Motel Shot, 1971

“Song of the Sun” by Robin Scott from Woman From The Warm Grass, 1969

“Your Song” by Elton John, Uni single 55265, 1970

“Snake Song” by Townes Van Zandt from Flyin’ Shoes, 1978

“Superman’s Song” by the Crash Test Dummies from Ghosts That Haunt Me, 1991

“Just A Song” by Dave Mason from Alone Together, 1970

“Harvest Song” by Magic Carpet from Magic Carpet, 1971

“Everybody Knows (The River Song)” by O.V. Wright from If It’s Only For Tonight, 1965

“My Song” by the Moody Blues from Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, 1971

“Sing A Song Of Love To Me” by Chris Rea from Auberge, 1991

“Sleep Song” by Graham Nash from Songs for Beginners, 1971

“Don’t Play That Song” by Aretha Franklin from Aretha Live at Fillmore West, 1971

A few notes:

In 1972, Eric Andersen released Blue River, an extraordinary album that put him in position to be among the best of the singer/songwriters of the day, certainly in critical acclaim and possibly – depending on how his next record did – in sales and popularity. That next record, Stages, was nearly complete when the master tapes were lost, along with whatever momentum Andersen’s career had. He regrouped as well as he could, and in 1991, the tapes were found somewhere in Columbia’s storage rooms. Andersen recorded a few new songs and did a little bit of work on the old tapes before releasing Stages: The Lost Album. It’s a great album.

During my European travels, I spent about ten days wandering through northern Scandinavia with an Australian fellow named John. We spent one night in Kemi, a small town in Finland. The next morning, we learned we’d forgotten about a time zone change and had missed the first train back to Sweden. We had a couple hours to kill, so we sat in a café near the railroad station, drinking coffee and listening to the jukebox. At one point, a record came on that sounded familiar, but it took me a moment to place it. I have never heard anything else in my life quite as strange as “Never Ending Song of Love” sung in Finnish.

Robin Scott’s album, Woman From The Warm Grass, was assessed perfectly by All-Music Guide: “Scott’s vocals and songs were earnest and verbose, with the reflective fragile moodiness (and yearning, sometimes florid romanticism) found in many British folk/folk-rock singer/songwriters of the era.” AMG adds, “‘Song of the Sun’ has the poetic wordy gray melancholy very particular to this period of British folk.” Scott’s music isn’t bad, just a little bit of a downer.

I remember hearing on the Minneapolis station Cities 97 that at the time it came out, in 1991, and for maybe a year or so afterward. “Superman’s Song” by the Crash Test Dummies was the station’s most requested song. I’m not sure I get it. On the other hand, it’s a catchy song with a great hook, and I’ve found myself humming it as I finish this post.

You want hippie mysticism, sitar and all? Try Magic Carpet’s “Harvest Song.” The song, brief as it is, wears on one, and in general, the album is listenable only in small portions, mostly as a period piece. I’ve seen two dates for the record, 1971 and 1972, but AMG says the former, so I’ll go with that.

Chris Rea’s Auberge is a gloomy album, and “Sing A Song Of Love To Me” doesn’t change that. But no one does gloomy quite as well as Chris Rea.

*Given that a Saturday Single post would occasionally be deleted by the bloghost, the numbering of the Saturday Singles posts was at times out of sequence. At the time this post was originally written, I had shared – based on the archives thus far posted – sixty-four Saturday Singles. Note added June 20, 2011.

It’s Time For A New Barbershop

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 11, 2009

I need a haircut this morning. Generally, the Texas Gal takes care of that over the weekends, but for some reason – simple inattention comes to mind – we didn’t get it done. So this morning, after I finish posting I’ll head out to the barbershop.

The barbershop won’t – it appears – be the one I used to go to when I was a kid. Last time I went past the old bank building across the street from the Lutheran church, the sign was still hanging there: “Laumeyer’s Barber Shop.” That was maybe a month ago, so I assume the shop was still operating. But when I called the number I found online this morning, the phone was disconnected. I checked the phone book and got the same number, and then called directory assistance. There’s no current listing.

It’s been a little more than thirty years since I last got my hair cut at Laumeyer’s, just before I left St. Cloud for Monticello. And Laumeyer’s was the location for my first professional haircut, when I was thirteen, just before entering ninth grade.

Up to then, my dad had cut my hair. I’d sit on a metal stool in the back porch/sewing room, and he’d use the black electric clippers that he’d had since before my memories began. He’d try gamely not to dig the clippers’ corners into my scalp, but it would happen. As years went on and boys’ hair became longer, he tried to adapt. I no longer wore my hair trimmed down to a basic-training-worthy quarter-inch. It was a bit longer, especially in the front, where my natural widow’s peak resulted in a three-inch long wave of hair poking its way forward, like the prow of a ship sailing through my forehead, or else, when my hair got longer, like a brown wave breaking over the prow of that very same ship.

That wasn’t very stylish, a fact that even Dad realized as the summer of 1967, the one between eighth and ninth grades, approached its end. One Saturday he pulled me aside shortly after I got up and told me I had an appointment for a haircut at Laumeyer’s that afternoon. He gave me, oh, maybe $1 or $1.50 to cover the cost. That afternoon, I rode my 1965 Schwinn Typhoon – the very same one that still resides in my garage – down Wilson Avenue and across East St. Germain to a small building not far from the railroad tracks. With my bike locked to a sign in front of the building, I walked into a barbershop for the first time.

I walked out an hour later with my hair trimmed almost all around, except in front where Duane had managed to fashion the summer’s growth into what looked like Beatle bangs across my forehead. Never mind that the Beatles by this time had moved on to far more hirsute appearances; it was better than my hair being a living sculpture of “The Voyage of the S.S. Dork.”

My hair’s style continued to evolve over the next ten years, as I made Laumeyer’s a regular stop. My hair got longer, and as it did, Jim and Duane and Ron – I didn’t see the need to cleave to just one barber – trimmed it and advised me on where to part it and how to take care of it.

As I sat in the barber’s chair for brief times through high school and into college, I heard conversations with other customers that implied years of acquaintance, an awareness that all of the three barbers had about their clients that included not just preferred hairstyle but also a small town knowledge of other preferences and of their lives:

“How’s your boy like the Army?”

“You still drivin’ that Chevy, then?”

“That first year of college, that first year away, yeah, that can be tough for them.”

“My wife’s aunt had that last year, but the docs say they got all of it.”

“He had Budweiser and Old Style on ice, an’ I walk up to him and says, ‘Where’s the Cold Spring?’ An’ he laughed and laughed.”

“I heard from one of the guys over there that they may cut back to two shifts. That’s gonna be tough for a lotta fellas.”

The guys cutting my hair asked about school, and what my college plans were, but no matter how important those things were to me, they didn’t seem to fit into the adult universe of conversation. I was sitting in the big barber chair, but it still felt as if I were dining at the kids’ table.

I was gone the one year during college and came back with hair longer than ever and with a beard and mustache as well, and they laughed at my stories as I laughed at theirs. As myth tells us and as most men learn, there is more to a barbershop than haircuts. They are home to, among other things, tales of other places, whether those other places be offices, factory floors, far-off jungles of war, or similarly distant taverns and museums. I’d had a glimpse of that before I left, and now that I had tales to tell of life elsewhere, I felt more a part of the brotherhood of the barbershop than I ever had before.

I remained in that brotherhood for the remaining few years I had left in St. Cloud. While I was gone, from 1977 into 2002, I had numerous barbers care for my hair, shaved and regrew the beard several times (not the mustache; that’s been a permanent part of my look since December 1973). At times my hair was fairly short, and other times, it wasn’t: For about four years, I had a ponytail that reached to the middle of my back. And I was never really in one place long enough to find that barbershop camaraderie again.

These days, I have my hair trimmed to the scalp, but I still have a beard and mustache that need trimming. After I finish here, I guess I’ll drive by Laumeyer’s just to make sure it’s closed, and then drive around the corner to Tom’s, a barbershop on Wilson that’s been there since I was a little stomper. Tom doesn’t take appointments; He said I’d get in pretty quick “as long as there isn’t six guys waitin’.”

Going to a new barbershop at the age of fifty-four feels oddly like going to a new school at the age of fourteen. So we’ll start with an appropriate tune and take a walk through the junkyard from there.

A Monday Walk Through The Junkyard
“Hair” by the Cowsills, MGM single 14026, 1969

“Let Me In” by Bonnie Raitt from Takin’ My Time, 1973

“Wait A Million Years” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill single 4198, 1969

“Someday Baby” by Muddy Waters with the Rolling Stones, Checkerboard, Chicago, November 1981

“Trains Don’t Run From Nashville” by Kate Campbell from Songs from the Levee, 1995

“Miracle” by the Moody Blues from Sur La Mer, 1988

“Country Pie” by Bob Dylan from Nashville Skyline, 1969

“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White, Monument single 1104, 1969

“The Assassination” by the Dixie Nightingales, Chalice single 102, 1965

“Monument” by Gene Parsons from Kindling, 1973

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Jeff Healey from Hell To Pay, 1990

“Candy Man Blues” by Ten Wheel Drive with Genya Ravan from Construction No. 1, 1969

“Not Another Night” by the Sapphire Thinkers from From Within, 1969

“Fragile” by Nanci Griffith from Flyer, 1994

“Cloud 9” by George Harrison from Cloud Nine, 1988

A few notes:

“Hair” is of course the title song from the musical that so scandalized folks starting with its premiere in 1967 and then its move to Broadway a year later. Drugs, sex, profanity, irreverence and naked people on stage! Nevertheless, the composers and writers – James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot – came up with numerous songs that became anthems for the age (as well as hits for various performers). “Hair” is the most humorous and even perhaps vaudevillian; other songs that became hits, all in 1969, were “Easy To Be Hard” (Three Dog Night), “Good Morning, Starshine” (Oliver), and most notably, I guess, “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” (5th Dimension).

The Bonnie Raitt track comes from the album of hers that is likely my favorite. With notables like Lowell George of Litte Feat, Taj Mahal, Milt Holland, Earl Palmer and others taking part, the record continues to be a great listen and was likely the high point of Raitt’s career until Nick of Time in 1989.

I’m not sure where I got the soundboard recording of Muddy Waters with the Stones. The sound is a little thick at times, but it’s a pretty good performance, especially considering that Muddy was ailing at the time; he would be dead in less than two years.

“Polk Salad Annie” was no doubt among the first deep southern numbers I ever heard coming out of my radio speaker in 1969. I loved it then and I love it today: “Chomp, chomp-chomp!”

“The Assassination” is a harrowing and pretty take on the killing of President John Kennedy in Dallas in November 1963. As it played, I wondered – as I did the first time I heard it – who had the guts to create it and who would listen to it more than once, anyway? The Dixie Nightingales were a long-time Southern Gospel group that in the early 1960s signed with Memphis’ Stax Records. Chalice was evidently a Stax subsidiary label.

Sapphire Thinkers was a California band that recorded the one album, From Within. Chocoreve, where I evidently found the rip, is a blog that’s a great source for late 1960s obscurities, among other things. The writer there noted that the album is “likable and strong enough to hold your attention for repeat plays. Elements from disparate sources are brought in – Curt Boettcher sunshine pop, Bay Area teen [T]op 40 psych like Neighb’rhood Childr’n, Sunset Strip organ/fuzz/flute a la Strawberry Alarm Clock – yet the end result is consistent and convincing, with plenty of strength in the songwriting and arrangements, and no major weaknesses.” Thanks, Chocoreve.

Saturday Single No. 48

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 29, 2007

It’s quite easy to ignore the Moody Blues these days. A quick look at their recent slate of releases, as compiled by All-Music Guide, makes the reader yawn: A live album in 2005, a Christmas release in 2003, an “authorized bootleg” and another live CD in 2000, mediocre studio albums in 1999 and 1991 bracketing another live album in 1993, and a Europe-only compilation in 1990 (it’s a mystery why that compilation is not listed on the same page as the other numerous compilations at AMG).

One has to go back to the 1980s to find a significant piece of work, an interesting statement when it’s made about a band that continues to record and perform. Sur La Mer, which came out in 1988, was pleasant but inconsequential. The album – the last Moody Blues album I was able to buy in a vinyl format – reached No. 38 on the Billboard chart. Its single, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” peaked at No. 40 during a thirteen-week stay in the Cash Box Top 100, and reached No. 30 on the Billboard chart. (The song reached No. 2 on the Billboard list of “Mainstream Rock Tracks,” the existence of which underlines the fragmentation of the radio audience more than anything else, and the album’s second single, “No More Lies,” went to No. 15 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart, another seemingly minor chart.)

So Sur La Mer was a minor success, especially when compared to what the Moody Blues regularly found up to that time: Starting with Days of Future Passed in 1968 through The Other Side of Life in 1986, the Moodies had thirteen consecutive albums reach the Billboard chart, six of them in the Top Ten and two – Seventh Sojourn and Long Distance Voyager – reach No. 1.

Despite that success, not everyone liked the Moody Blues. What riled the Moodies’ detractors most, it seems, was the scope of the group’s vision: The Moodies sounded as if they wanted to be important. In their most popular years – the late 1960s and early 1970s – the Moody Blues’ symphonic sound carried along with it lyrics that were mystical and philosophical, a marriage of words and music that some listeners found moving and meaningful and that others dismissed as excessively romantic balderdash.

The approach was a ornate one, to be sure, and when it didn’t work, it left the group easily open to ridicule and parody, as was the case – to me – with the final portions of 1968’s In Search of the Lost Chord and its closing tracks, “The Word” and “Om.” But when it worked, I found the approach thrilling. I’ve always loved the Wall of Sound that Phil Spector created and used on his singles and on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album, which came out in 1970. Sonically, the Moody Blues’ approach had much the same attraction. From 1970’s Question of Balance onward, through Every Good Boy Deserves Favour in 1971 and into 1972’s Seventh Sojourn, I loved the Moodies’ sound, and I went back to pick up on those albums I had missed.

Did I buy into the lyrics? I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes, to be sure, the lyrical content was a little thick and heavy, self-consciously strained in an effort to be poetic and meaningful. When they were, I shrugged. I don’t think I was a particularly demanding consumer. I liked the albums and listened to them frequently.

I likely was listening to Seventh Sojourn thirty-five years ago this week when it became the Moody Blues’ first No. 1 album. I’d gotten the record as a Christmas gift from Rick, and I recall playing it frequently during the week after Christmas. The record’s sound was a little less ornate and its lyrics a little less mystical than was the case on the group’s previous record, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. But the changes worked, I thought, as the group’s vision seemed to have shifted from cosmic exploration to social justice (love and romance were still subjects for exploration, as well; several of the eight tracks on Seventh Sojourn are nicely done love songs).

Seventh Sojourn turned out to be an album I love for a number of reasons. First, I do like the Moody Blues, and the album fit nicely into their body of work. Second, I believe it was the last Christmas gift Rick ever gave me; the next Christmas, I was in Denmark, and after I returned home, we’d grown away from each other a little. And although we’ve reconnected in recent years and see each other regularly, we don’t exchange gifts. Third, the music of our youth stays with us forever, and Seventh Sojourn came along in the middle of my second year of college. Fourth and last, some of the album’s concerns – fear and isolation, societal dislocation and more – remain valid concerns today. For all those reasons, the album remains high on the list of those I love.

So thirty-five years after Seventh Sojourn took over the No. 1 slot on the charts, the album’s opener, “Lost In A Lost World,” is today’s Saturday Single.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1986

May 12, 2011

Originally posted October 10, 2007

Well, 1986.

In late 1992, as the year was nearing its end, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth characterized it as the annus horribilis, or horrible year. As 1986 turned into 1987, I felt the same way.

The year had started all right. A consortium of weekly newspaper publishers for whom I’d been covering government in Wright County as a freelancer had decided in December, not unexpectedly, not to continue the arrangement into the new year. And as January approached, I sought new employment. It wasn’t urgent, as I was married at the time and had been house-husbanding while I was a freelancer. But I wanted to get back into the workforce on a more substantial basis.

I was already teaching one course – a weekly night class: Introduction to Mass Communication – at St. Cloud State, so in mid-January I drove from Monticello to St. Cloud and the campus to nose around for possible additional jobs there. I dropped in at the university’s public relations office, where the director was a long-time family acquaintance. (My father had retired only two years earlier after thirty-three years as a teacher and administrator.) He took my resume and told me, regretfully, that he didn’t foresee any openings in his operations.

The next day he called. The main writer in his office had given him a week’s notice, and he wondered if I would fill in while a search began for her replacement. He added that I could certainly apply for the permanent position. So the following Monday, the last in January, I began to commute to St. Cloud every day. The thirty-mile drive, I learned, gave me time to organize my day in the morning, and time to wind down from it in the evening.

On my second day in the public relations office, the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated in the Florida sky just more than a minute after it was launched. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but that horrible event can be seen in retrospect as an omen. In about May, my life – not a bad one at the time, as these things go – began to disintegrate as well, unraveling at the seams like a poorly sewn garment.

I don’t want to rehash the events of 1986, and I don’t want to bore anyone else with them. Let it suffice to say that by the end of the year, I could sit in my easy chair in Monticello and see, figuratively, the tatters of my life on the floor. It took a long time to clean up the mess and an even longer time – with a couple of false starts – to create a new garment in which to live my life.

So I wasn’t listening much to music in 1986, having other things on my mind. And in retrospect, that was good. If I had been attentive to music, then many of the tunes from the year would carry a layer of grief with them and would be nearly intolerable to hear even today. As it turned out, I generally absorbed the music of 1986 at a later date, so listening to the year’s music is not an unhappy exercise.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1986

“Welcome to the Boomtown” by David & David, A&M single 2857

“Precious Memories” by Bob Dylan from Knocked Out Loaded

“I Ain’t Drunk” by Albert Collins from Cold Snap

“Shanghai Surprise” by George Harrison with Vicki Brown, Shanghai Surprise soundtrack

“All I Need Is A Miracle” by Mike & the Mechanics, Atlantic single 89450

“Under African Skies” by Paul Simon from Graceland

“Amanda” by Boston, MCA single 52756

“West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys, EMI America single 8307

“The Spirit” by the Moody Blues from The Other Side Of Life

“Something So Strong” by Crowded House, Capitol single 5695

“Still Around” by Robert Cray from Strong Persuader

“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel from So

“The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby & the Range from The Way It Is

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Welcome to the Boomtown” is one of the best singles that I think almost everyone forgets about. Its atmosphere, its story and its production values all sparkle as it tells its tale of dissolution, ennui and despair in the big city. Although Columbia, Missouri – which I’d left in 1985 – was no double for L.A., the reference to Denny’s always makes me think of the Denny’s along the freeway in Columbia. I would occasionally stop by for a late-night omelet, and the cast of characters I saw regularly there could easily populate a story set in any city about lives whirling into hard habits and out of control.

The Bob Dylan track is one of the lesser songs from one of his lesser albums. I had hoped that if a track from Knocked Out Loaded popped up during the random run, it would be “Brownsville Girl,” the eleven-minute epic Dylan wrote with playwright Sam Shepard. That track contains two of the more fascinating, disruptive and frankly strange verses ever to appear in a Dylan song:

“Well, we crossed the panhandle and then we headed towards Amarillo.
“We pulled up where Henry Porter used to live. He owned a wreckin’ lot outside of town about a mile.
“Ruby was in the backyard hanging clothes, she had her red hair tied back. She saw us come rolling up in a trail of dust.
“She said, ‘Henry ain’t here but you can come on in, he’ll be back in a little while.’
 
“Then she told us how times were tough and about how she was thinkin’ of bummin’ a ride back to where she started.
“But ya know, she changed the subject every time money came up.
“She said, ‘Welcome to the land of the living dead.’ You could tell she was so broken-hearted.
“She said, ‘Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt.’”

Sounds like Bob Dylan meets Sam Shepard to me.

If you don’t recall “Shanghai Surprise” even though you’re old enough to do so, that’s not really startling. It was the title tune to a film starring Madonna and Sean Penn, then newlyweds. George Harrison’s Handmade Films produced it, which is how the one-time Beatle ended up doing the soundtrack, which was never released as an album. There are a few single-sided 45s of the title tune out there, selling for more than $1,000. “Shanghai Surprise,” along with “Zig-zag,” a song from the film that had been released as the b-side of the single “When We Was Fab,” ended up as bonus tracks on a 2004 CD reissue of Harrison’s 1987 album, Cloud Nine.

“Amanda” came from Third Stage, Boston’s long-awaited and long-delayed third album. In general, I have little affection for the music labeled arena rock. Boston, however, I like, and “Amanda” may be my favorite track by the group. Listening to it today for the first time in a while, though, I hear echoes of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” from three years earlier.

The Robert Cray tune is an album track from Strong Persuader, the record that made Cray famous and, to my mind, signaled the blues boom that was to come in the 1990s. Cray’s R&B-tinged blues have aged well.

I was glad to see something from Peter Gabriel’s So show up during the random run. I was never much of a fan of Genesis, so I was surprised by the depth and beauty of the album. Even twenty-one years after its release, it remains fresh and truly beautiful at points, which is a rare thing.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1983

May 6, 2011

Originally posted September 5, 2007

This is a busy week around here. The Texas Gal took the week off from work, and we’re investing a lot of our time in sorting through stuff, trying to make room.

Our apartment is not small, by any means, but we are both collectors, and the space available to expand collections – books for both of us, records and CDs for me and fabric and yarn for her (gathered not for its own sake but for use in quilting and crocheting) – becomes more limited as time slithers on.

So we spent yesterday going through closets and identifying things that we could live without. This morning we took a carload of stuff to the local Goodwill store. And we have the garage to go through yet, a back wall of boxes in which resides more surplus. The hope is to winnow the boxes on the back wall enough so that boxes currently in the apartment – filled with things we wish to keep but do not at the moment need – can be shifted to the garage.

That will leave us more room in the apartment, until we fill the created space with books, music and textiles. Eventually, I fear, we will have to either rent a storage unit somewhere nearby or make a breakthrough in physics that will allow us to store things in a fourth dimension, one that allows easy access for retrieval.

Luckily for me, mp3s take up very little real space, leaving it possible for me to spend a morning rummaging through the sounds of 1983. That was the year I left Monticello and its weekly newspaper and went to graduate school at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

It’s a very fine school (next year, it will celebrate one hundred years since its founding as the world’s first journalism school) and a challenging one. Drawing students to Columbia, Missouri, from all over the world for its graduate and undergraduate programs, it taught me at least as much out of the classrooms and labs as it did in them. During the eighteen months I spent in Columbia, I got to know students from all over the U.S. as well as from Germany, France, South Africa, the U.S.S.R. and China, to name just a few. After six years in a small Minnesota town – a good town, but a small town nevertheless – graduate school brought me into a much larger and more complex world.

I spent twenty hours a week working as a graduate assistant, helping edit the Columbia Missourian, a daily paper written by students at the journalism school and edited by faculty members. Classes were rigorous, but basically, beyond my work at the newspaper, graduate school boiled down to reading and writing, two of my core strengths. So I enjoyed it immensely, and I did well.

There was plenty of time for fun, too, of course: Intense discussions over beer and pizza at a place called Shakespeare’s. Beer and burgers and talk at the Old Heidelberg. Beer and talk and good music at the homes of any number of my fellow students, grad students and undergraduates alike. (The beer was generally dark and plentiful, though not particularly distinctive; I had not yet become too discerning or demanding about my brews.)

And being on a college campus put me in an environment where I once again heard a lot of newer music. I wasn’t as immersed in the music as I had been as an undergrad, I suppose. But I think I was more attuned to the tunes than I had been while working at the newspaper in Minnesota.

And then there was MTV. Late in 1983, I had cable television installed and I spent a fair amount of time with the television tuned to MTV, playing it in the background, kind of like radio with pictures. (This was back when MTV’s main purpose was to play music videos, an activity that has since become rare, if not nonexistent on the network.) So I heard a lot of new music that way, too.

As a result, I’m more familiar with the music from 1983 than I thought I would be when I began to assemble today’s random Baker’s Dozen:

“They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman, MCA single 52347

“Sweetheart Like You” by Bob Dylan from Infidels

“Romance” by Gordon Lightfoot from Salute

“Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top, Warner Bros. single 9576

“Help!” by Isaac Scott from Big Time Blues Man

“Ta ‘Me Mo Shui” by Clannad from Magical Ring

“Who Knows Where The Time Goes” by Kate Wolf from Give Yourself To Love

“It’s Cold Outside Your Heart” by the Moody Blues from The Present

“Crawdad Hole” by Big Joe Turner & Roomful of Blues from Blues Train

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler, Columbia single 03906

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” by the Eurythmics, RCA single 13533

“Breaking Us In Two” by Joe Jackson, A&M single 2510

“Holiday” by Madonna from Madonna

A few notes on some of the songs:

Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” is one of those tunes that brings MTV to mind. The song is a witty pastiche of the early 1960s girl group sound, and the video itself is witty, especially the final shot of Tracey riding off with the slumming Paul McCartney. I love the chimes, too, which I’ve always kind of heard as a salute to Phil Spector.

Isaac Scott, who died in 2001, was a legend in Seattle. His bluesy take on the Beatles’ “Help” is an eye-opener. If I’m not mistaken, I found this track at the blog Rato Records, where Rato on occasion posts collections of obscure covers of Beatles songs. Many of those covers are a little bit lame; some of them are superb. This one falls in the latter category.

Sometime in the late 1990s, I discovered – probably through Enya, who was a member before her solo career – Clannad. Sitting firmly in a niche between new age and traditional, Clannad offers a sometimes breathy but often gorgeous take on Celtic music. Magical Ring might be the group’s best album.

Give Yourself To Love is an album of live performances released in 1983, a few years before Kate Wolf died from cancer. Her take on Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” is one of the better versions I’ve heard of that well-covered tune.

Big Joe Turner was one of the elemental forces in Kansas City R&B in the 1950s, and Blues Train, his 1983 album recorded with Roomful of Blues, sounds as if it came from KC sometime during those years. To repeat a Dave Marsh line, dated but never out of date.

Never having been a big Madonna fan, I’m unsure if this version of “Holiday,” which was on her self-titled debut album, is the same as the version that was released as the single. A six-minute dance single would not be unheard of, but I can’t find any information that tells me if the album track and the single were identical.