Posts Tagged ‘Nanci Griffith’

A Baker’s Dozen Of Power

June 28, 2011

Originally posted May 19, 2008

I don’t play a lot of games on the computer. The Texas Gal and I – when she was still in Texas – used to go into the Yahoo! or Microsoft game sites and play spades and cribbage. We haven’t done that for a while, probably because the computers on which we would play are in adjacent rooms.

She plays more games than I do – I often hear beeps, whistles, gongs and other sounds coming from her precincts while I’m downloading something or wandering blogs or trying to learn the label and catalog number of an obscure 1969 single. I do have a few games. I played Sim City a lot soon after I got my first computer, and right now, I’ve got Sim City 4. I enjoy it, but I don’t play it as much as I used to.

I have a similar game called Pharaoh, about building a civilization in ancient Egypt. I’ve played it a couple of times, but I can never seem to get my little village’s residents to do anything but wander around in the mud of the Nile Delta. It makes some sense, I guess. For every imperial city, for every Memphis of the pharaohs, there had to be hundreds of little villages where the biggest event of the week was catching enough fish for lunch. I’ve about given up on my villagers, which – if they had any awareness at all – would likely be a relief for them.

My new game – the result of spending a couple of hours Saturday morning wandering through a few garage sales – is Civilization: Call to Power. According to the book that came with the disc, I’m supposed to be able to build an empire and thrive in competition with other empires, through war or trade or a combination of those two and other things I have not yet read about.

It looked interesting, so I grabbed the game for a very low price. I’ve heard of the series before, of course; my friend Rob had played other games in the Civilization series and says it’s possible to get very involved in them for hours at a time. Well, we’ll see. I loaded the game and opened the tutorial, which is set in the Italian peninsula. I got Rome built and then Pompeii, but I couldn’t seem to get much done after that, except send soldiers tramping over the same bits of land. As far as I could see, no one caught any fish. But I’ll keep trying. And as the game’s subtitle is Call to Power, I thought we’d see what we find in an appropriate Baker’s Dozen.

A Baker’s Dozen of Power
“Blues Power” by Koko Taylor from Blues Power, 1999

“Power of Love” by Bobby Whitlock & CoCo Carmel from Lovers, 2007

“Power of Two” by the Indigo Girls from Swamp Ophelia, 1994

“The Power of a Woman” by Spencer Wiggins, Goldwax single 330, 1967

“Power Of My Love” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis in Memphis, 1969

“Power in Music” by Maria Muldaur from Meet Me At Midnite, 1994

“Power to the People” by John Lennon, Apple single 1830, 1971

“Love Power” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty . . . Definitely, 1968

“High Powered Love” by Emmylou Harris from Cowgirl’s Prayer, 1993

“Zero Willpower” by Dan Penn from Do Right Man, 1994

“(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People” by the Chi-Lites, Brunswick single 55450, 1971

“Full-Lock Power Slide” by Boz Scaggs from My Time, 1972

“The Power Lines” by Nanci Griffith from Late Night Grande Hotel, 1991

A few notes:

The Koko Taylor track come from an Eric Clapton tribute, covers of his songs performed by blues artists. First released on the House of Blues label in 1999, the album has been re-titled several times. The most recent title seems to be Songs of Eric Clapton: All Bluesed Up! Taylor is one of two women on the album, and her version of “Blues Power” is reasonably good. The other woman is Ann Peebles, whose performance of “Tears in Heaven” is a revelation. Of the other tracks, maybe the most interesting, mostly on historical terms, is by Honeyboy Edwards, who gets from help from harp master James Cotton as he runs through the song that Clapton borrowed from his old friend Robert Johnson: “Crossroads.”

Even after almost twenty years of listening to their melodies, their lyrics, their vocals and their instrumentals, I’m blown away by the Indigo Girls almost every time I hear them. There are a few albums that sounded like missteps to me, but Swamp Ophelia isn’t one of them.

As All-Music Guide notes, “Spencer Wiggins had the poor fortune of being a great soul singer in a place where and at a time when there were more than enough of those to go around — namely Memphis . . . during the mid-’60s when Stax Records was the biggest name in town, Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records was on the rise, and Atlantic had practically made the town its second home.” But Wiggins’ work – mostly for Goldwax – was good listening, even if he didn’t have the pop chart success that many of his contemporaries did. I found “The Power of a Woman” on The Goldwax Years, a collection of twenty-two of Wiggins’ best performances that Kent released a couple of years ago.

Maria Muldaur’s been around for a long time, but I think her work has been widely ignored for a long time, too, especially by those who think that “Midnight at the Oasis” – her 1974 hit – defines her music. As catchy as the single was – and I liked it plenty – Muldaur’s music almost always had more to do with roots and Americana than pop, from her work with then-husband Geoff in the mid-Sixties through her albums of the mid-Seventies (including Maria Muldaur, the source of “Oasis,” which was an anomaly on the album just as it is in her career) and on into some great albums in the Nineties and this decade. Meet Me At Midnite is an excursion into the music of Memphis, and well worth a listen. (I’ll be writing more about Muldaur in the next couple weeks, I think.)

The name of Dan Penn might be the least well-known of the performers on this list, but since the mid-Sixties, Penn has been one of the great songwriters in American music. First in Memphis and later in Muscle Shoals, Penn – along with his writing partners, Spooner Oldham and Chips Moman – spent the 1960s and 1970s crafting songs that any fan of soul and R&B recognizes in an instant: “Do Right Woman,” “Dark End of the Street,” “A Woman Left Lonely,” “I’m Your Puppet” and many more. Do Right Man is Penn’s stab at recording his own versions of ten of those songs; with help from friends at Muscle Shoals and from Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, he does a pretty good job.

The Chi-Lites are remembered mostly as a sweet-sounding vocal group from Chicago whose love songs did pretty well going head-to-head with the similar sounds coming out of Philadelphia at the time. It might be somewhat surprising, then, to realize that “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People,” with its eerie opening synthesizer and its sociological rhetoric, was the group’s first Top 40 hit, going to No. 26 in the spring of 1971. Five months later, “Have You Seen Her” went to No. 3, and the Chi-Lites became a soft soul group. Too bad.

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From A Muscle To The Junkyard

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 22, 2008

As some cliché writer once said, there’s a first time for everything. I’m still not sold on the “everything” in that, but I do seem to have cataloged a “first time” that I don’t believe I’ve ever thought about.

I’ve been fighting a cold for a couple of days, and last evening, while sneezing, I pulled a muscle in my ribcage. I never knew one could do that. But I did, and one of the results is that I’m not very comfortable writing. So I’m not going to do much of that today, beyond a short introduction and some comments about some of the songs that pop up.

Several of the online outlets where I buy CDs have had sales and promotions lately, so there is an appreciable pile of CDs waiting to be logged into our collection here. Most of them are albums from the 1960s and 1970s, as I continue to fill gaps. In an effort to fill one such empty space, I finally picked up last week Wanted, the first album by the country-rock group Mason Proffit. So we’ll start today’s walk through the junkyard with “Two Hangmen,” the Vietnam-era protest song dressed up as a Western morality play. In the year it came out, I used to hear it through whispers of static on KAAY in Little Rock.

A Walk Through the Junkyard
“Two Hangmen” by Mason Proffit from Wanted, 1969

“Kid Charlemagne” by Steely Dan from The Royal Scam, 1976

“Wolves In The Kitchen” by John Stewart from Lonesome Picker Rides Again, 1971

“Hurt So Bad” by El Chicano from Viva Tirado, 1970

“Everything Is Gonna Be OK” by Dino Valente from Dino Valente, 1968

“Stranger Than Dreams” by Lowen & Navarro from Scratch at the Door, 1998

“Keeping the Faith” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man, 1983

“I Just Want To Make Love To You” by Muddy Waters, Chess single 1571, 1954

“Poems, Prayers & Promises” by John Denver, RCA single 0445, 1971

“So Easy” by Aztec Two-Step from Aztec Two-Step, 1972

“Love at the Five & Dime” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“That Girl Could Sing” by Jackson Browne from Hold Out, 1980

“One Fine Day” by Carole King, Capitol single 4864, 1980

“Out In The Country” by Three Dog Night from It Ain’t Easy, 1970

“Moses” by the Navarros, GNP Crescendo single 351, 1965

A few notes:

I’ve learned from conversations and correspondence with radio folks that “Two Hangmen” is one of those songs that brings a buzz when it is aired: The phones light up as listeners have questions, comments and just plain gratitude for being able to hear the song one more time.

Steely Dan’s sound was unique and so consistent from album to album that sometimes the group’s body of work can blend into a whole. While the Dan never released a truly bad album, there were a couple that weren’t as good, and I think The Royal Scam was one of those.

I’m not sure if Lowen & Navarro were as popular elsewhere in the 1990s as they seemed to be in Minnesota. Every two or three months, it seemed, the duo would stop by Cities 97 for a live-in-studio performance. Their acoustic folk-pop was well-done, and I enjoy the couple of CDs I have, but there never seemed to be much change or growth: the songs on 1998’s Scratch at the Door could easily have fit into Walking On A Wire, the duo’s 1991 debut CD.

I have seven LPs and three CDs of Billy Joel’s work in my collection. I’m not sure I need that much. That said, An Innocent Man is a good album, and if “Keeping the Faith” isn’t the best track on the record – I think that title goes to “Uptown Girl” – it’s nevertheless a good one. Maybe someday I’ll write a post examining why I’m not all that fond of Joel and his work, and maybe by the time I’m finished with that post, I’ll understand the ambivalence he brings out in me.

Aztec Two-Step was a folk-rock duo that released four albums during the 1970s and a few more sporadically since then, including 2004’s Days of Horses. Their self-titled debut in 1972 created some buzz, but by the time the duo recorded 1975’s Second Step, folk-rock was falling out of favor. The first album is the best, though all of their work is pleasant.

I’ve noticed that whenever I post a Nanci Griffith song among either a Baker’s Dozen or a Junkyard, it almost always has fewer hits than the other tracks posted that day. Do yourself a favor: Listen to “Love at the Five & Dime.” I think that if I were to make a list of the one hundred best songs in my mp3 collection – which now numbers around 23,600 – “Love at the Five & Dime” would be one of them. I know that Nanci Griffith is not as well known as other artists whose recordings are posted here. I know that her delivery can be quirky. But the woman can write a song, and this one is most likely her best, from where I listen.

The Carole King track was the single pulled from Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King, a 1980 record for which King recorded some of the songs she and her then-husband, Gerry Goffin crafted during the Brill Building days in the early 1960s. I’d call the album a must-have.

The Navarros’ “Moses” is not quite a novelty record, but it comes close. I almost skipped over it when it popped up at the tail end this morning, but then I decided it’s a good day for a little bit of a chuckle.

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.

Another Walk Through The Junkyard

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 18, 2008

I’m not feeling particularly well this morning (it will pass), and I am behind on household chores, so I’m not really going to write anything. But I thought I’d take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard (pre-2000) and see what we find. I’ll sort the songs by running time, and then start with the best song I see at about the midpoint of the collection, and we’ll go random from there.

“I’m Ready” by Muddy Waters from Fathers & Sons, 1969

“I’ll Follow The Sun” by the Beatles from Beatles For Sale, 1964

“Not My Way Home” by Nanci Griffith from The Dust Bowl Symphony, 1999

“I’m Her Daddy” by Bill Withers from Just As I Am, 1971

“Feels Like” by Al Stewart from Famous Last Words, 1993

“Little Girl” by Billy Preston from Encouraging Words, 1970

“Quiet About It” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester, 1970

“The Woo Woo Train” by the Valentines, Rama single 196, 1956

“The Spa” by John Barry from the soundtrack to Thunderball, 1965

“Funky Broadway” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic single 2430, 1967

“Angel of the Morning” by Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts, Bell single 705, 1968

“High, Low and In Between” by Townes Van Zandt from High, Low and In Between, 1972

“If (I Could Be With You)” by Lavelle White, Duke single 198, 1958

“I’ll Be Satisfied” by Don Covay from Mercy!, 1965

“The River” by Dan Fogelberg from Home Free, 1972

A few notes:

Fathers & Sons was a Chess Records project that brought together Muddy Waters and piano player Otis Spann with three members of the Butterfield Blues Band: leader Paul Butterfield, guitarist Mike Bloomfield and drummer Sam Lay. Also sitting was Duck Dunn of Booker T and the MGs, while drummer Buddy Miles played on one of the live tracks that made up the final album. Such mergings of talent and generations don’t always work out, of course, which makes Fathers & Sons that much more of a treasure. It’s one of the great albums of Waters’ long career, and a milestone for the other musicians, as well.

“I’ll Follow the Sun” is listed here as being from Beatles For Sale, and that is where it’s found these days in the CD racks. But I’ll always hear it as part of Beatles ’65, one of those albums that Capitol created during the group’s early years by trimming a few songs off a British release and adding some singles that weren’t on albums in the U.K.

The Dust Bowl Symphony was Nanci Griffith’s attempt to recast some of her more memorable songs as a suite, with backing from the London Symphony Orchestra. It doesn’t always work, and most of the songs on the album are likely better heard in their original settings. (“Not My Way Home” was originally released on 1997’s Blues Roses From the Moons.) One track that works, and is worth seeking out, is “Love at the Five and Dime,” which Griffith recast as a duet with Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish.

The Valentines were one of those groups that sprang up on street corners all through New York City during the mid-1950s. According to Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks, “The Woo Woo Train” was composed and arranged by the group in the recording studio’s men’s room the morning of the recording session. I think it’s a great track; I especially love the raucous sax solo.

Come June 1, it will be forty years since “Angel of the Morning” entered the Top 40. It’s still a gorgeous song – written by Chip Taylor – and a great record, and it’s certainly one of the most enduring of all one-hit wonders.

The bluesy R&B grit of “If (I Could Be With You)” is, to my mind, of a kind with most of the recordings coming from Texas-based Duke records in the late 1950s. (The label was also the home of legend Bobby “Blue” Bland.) Lavelle got her first success with the self-penned “If,” which she recorded while she was in her late 20s, if the date of 1958 is accurate (and it seems to be). White is still recording, and since 1994, has released three albums, two of them on the Antone’s label. The most recent of those is 2003’s Into the Mystic.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1989

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 9, 2008

At last we reach 1989, the year that I’ve long envisioned as the outer limit for these musical glances backward. Why stop there? Perhaps because music released after that might be too recent for me to have any perspective on it. After all, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that my calendar was telling me we were heading into the Nineties.

But a moment’s reflection tells me that it truly has been nineteen years since I woke up one January morning in Minot, North Dakota, and realized that two years was long enough to spend among strangers on the prairie. They’d been friendly strangers for the most part, but they were strangers nevertheless. I began preparing a summertime exit, either to Columbia, Missouri, or to the Twin Cities. (It wound up being the latter.)

That gap of nineteen years is a longer span than it felt like as it passed, and that tells me that time might allow me some perspective on the music of the 1990s after all. So I will likely extend this series of posts and mixes into that decade, albeit gingerly. Still, the focal point of this blog will remain the 1960s and 1970s simply because that’s where my musical heart lies.

So what was happening in 1989?

As related here nearly a year ago, two trips to the weekend flea market at the State Fair Grounds in Minot turned me from a casual buyer of old records into a collector and – by default – a researcher. Spurred by that, and by a relatively brief romance with a woman whose love for music approached mine, my record collection had grown accordingly. I’d brought just more than 200 LPs with me when I came to Minot in August of 1987; when I left there the first day of July 1989, I took 586 records with me.

I’d noticed in the past six months, though, that LPs were disappearing from retail shelves. There were maybe three places where I shopped for records in Minot, and by the spring of 1989, they were no longer bringing in much new vinyl, and the area of each store devoted to records was dwindling in favor of floor space for CDs. But there were a couple of used record stores in Minot, and there were many of them in the Twin Cities, which is where I decided to plant myself come July of 1989.

So what were we listening to that year? A look at the No. 1 songs for the year makes it abundantly clear that I was not listening much to what was popular. The records that reached the top of the Cash Box singles chart in 1989 were:

“Don’t Rush Me” by Taylor Dayne
“When I’m With You” by Sheriff
“Straight Up” by Paula Abdul
“Lost In Your Eyes” by Debbie Gibson
“The Living Years” by Mike + the Mechanics
“Eternal Flame” by the Bangles
“Girl You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli
“She Drives Me Crazy” by the Fine Young Cannibals
“Like A Prayer” by Madonna
“I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi
“Real Love” by Jody Watley
“Rock On” by Michael Damian
“Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler
“Satisfied” by Richard Marx
“Good Thing” by Fine Young Cannibals
“Express Yourself” by Madonna
“Batdance” by Prince
“Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx
“Cold Hearted” by Paula Abdul
“Don’t Wanna Lose You” by Gloria Estefan
“Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” by Milli Vanilli
“Cherish” by Madonna
“Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson
“Sowing The Seeds Of Love” by Tears For Fears
“Listen To Your Heart” by Roxette
“When I See You Smile” by Bad English
“Blame It On The Rain” by Milli Vanilli
“(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me” by Paula Abdul
“We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel
“Another Day In Paradise” by Phil Collins

That’s thirty songs at No. 1 in a calendar year. That wasn’t quite a record: Thirty-five songs hit the top spot (according to Billboard) in both 1974 and 1975. Cash Box shows thirty-two songs at No. 1 in 1986 and 1988. That puts 1989’s thirty No. 1 songs in fifth place among the thirty-five years since Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” reached the top spot and provided a (somewhat artificial) starting point for the rock era.

But if thirty records at No. 1 wasn’t the largest total ever, it was nevertheless a lot. And to me, it was one more indication of the fragmentation of the music audience that continues to this day. More styles meant more popular performers, which eventually meant more radio formats, each with a smaller audience. I mean, my friends and I were still listening to radio and to a lot of recorded music, whether that was LP, CD or tape. But for the most part, the songs listed above were not what I was listening to. (Some, like the tracks by Mike + the Mechanics and Billy Joel, were inescapable, no matter what format one listened to.) During the nine or so months that I lived in Anoka – north of Minneapolis – I began to listen to Cities 97, a Minneapolis radio station that still plays a splendid mix of old and new music. But it’s not Top 40.

So what did 1989 sound like at my house? Take a listen:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1989

“The Ballad of Hollis Brown” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon

“Too Soon To Tell” by Bonnie Raitt from Nick of Time

“Storms” by Nanci Griffith from Storms

“Trouble in Paradise” by Bruce Springsteen, at Soundworks West, Los Angeles, Dec. 1

“No Alibis” by Eric Clapton from Journeyman

“Shooting Star” by Bob Dylan from Oh Mercy

“I’d Love To Write Another Song” by Van Morrison from Avalon Sunset

“Rhythm of the Saints” by Paul Simon from Rhythm of the Saints

“Commonplace Streets” by the Jayhawks from Blue Earth

“Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls

“Shangri-La” by Don Henley from The End of the Innocence

“Where the Hawkwind Kills” by Daniel Lanois from Acadie

“Tequila Quicksand” by Alex Taylor from Voodoo in Me

A few notes:

The Neville Brothers track is one of two Dylan covers on Yellow Moon – the other is “With God On Our Side” – and both add some depth to an album that stands up well to repeated listening, even nineteen years later. Other highlights of the album – the first the Nevilles recorded for A&M after more than a decade of bouncing from label to label – include their take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Sister Rosa,” a tribute to civil rights hero Rosa Parks that takes hip-hop into the Louisiana swamp.

“Trouble in Paradise” comes from Tracks, the box set of previously unreleased material put out by Springsteen in 1998. Its 1989 recording date places it squarely between 1987’s Tunnel of Love and the pair of albums he released in 1992, Human Touch and Lucky Town. To me, “Trouble” could easily have been an outtake from Tunnel of Love, as it sounds as if it comes from much more near the heart than did any of the songs on the 1992 albums.

Bob Dylan has strayed from and returned to form time and again throughout his recording career. I think Oh Mercy is the best of all the albums that were greeted with one variation or another of “Dylan is back!” Working for the first time with producer Daniel Lanois (the pair of them would cop the Grammy for Album of the Year with Time Out Of Mind in 1997), Dylan put together a solid set of songs and performances for the first time in a long time, maybe since Desire in 1976. “Shooting Star,” the album’s closer, ranks among Dylan’s best songs of love gone awry.

The Jayhawks came out of Minneapolis with their hard-to-find – only a few thousand copies were ever pressed – self-titled debut in 1986, playing a mixture of rock, alternative rock and country rock that sounded like very little else being issued at the time. Blue Earth, the group’s second album, was basically a collection of demos given a little bit of tweaking in the studio. It gave listeners an idea of what the Jayhawks were about, but it wasn’t until 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall that the ’Hawks hit their marks. Still, Blue Earth is worth a listen.

One afternoon in August 1989, I was lingering over a cup of coffee in a restaurant in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, looking at the LPs I’d just scored at a nearby used record store. As I glanced over Roxy Music’s Avalon, I heard the college girls in the booth behind me talking about a new group they’d heard at someone’s home the night before, a duo with the odd name of the Indigo Girls. I jotted the name down, paid for my coffee and went back to the record store, where I found Indigo Girls on vinyl. Ever since, I’ve bought most of what the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have recorded, and I’d like to thank those long-ago college girls for the tip.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1988

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 26, 2007

I was out on the prairie in Minot, North Dakota, for not quite two years, from August 1987 to the end of June 1989. That makes 1988 the only full year I spent there, living in the front end of a duplex on a quiet street not all that far from the state university where I taught.

That summer was the warmest year since the Dustbowl and droughts of the 1930s, with temperatures routinely topping the hundred-degree mark. With the university not in session, I moved my computer from my home – which had no air conditioning – to my university office and wrote there. My weekday routine during most of that summer was a good one: Mornings, I’d edit and revise the previous day’s production, and late afternoons and evenings, I’d go back to the office and write new material, working on a novel with a writing partner in Minnesota and another one that was solely my creation. (The first has never been finished, though work resumed on it during this past year; the second was finished in 1989 but has never been published.)

For some reason, the state of North Dakota allowed its university faculty members to take their salaries over the nine months that school was in session or spread out over only eleven months. That second option meant that at the end of the summer, there would be one month with no income, and for those whose budgeting skills were challenged – and here I raise my hand without hesitation – that meant finding another source of income during that last month of summer. Accordingly, I found myself in the office of a temporary staffing firm, being interviewed by a young woman.

She glanced over my application and smiled brightly. “Now,” she said, “tell me about yourself. What specialized training have you had?”

I thought for a moment. I’d been a public relations writer, a reporter, an editor, and I’d taught all those things at one time or another. I’d also taught the history of journalism. As I finished my mental cataloguing, I chuckled. The young woman looked askance at me, the wattage of her smile dimming a little.

“I’m a journalist,” I said. “Beyond that, I have no specialized training.”

She persevered, still smiling. “What do you do well?”

I smiled back. “I read and write very well.”

Her smile dimmed appreciably, and – as it turned out – she had no place for me to work. Now, reporting is more than just reading and writing, of course. Research and analysis, interviewing techniques, the ability to listen carefully and other skills are essential. But reading and writing are the core skills of a good journalist. And I was being honest.

I wound up spending fifteen days late that summer doing telephone sales, calling individuals in Minot who’d expressed an interest one way or another in joining a health club, trying to sell them memberships. I was pretty good at it, but I was relieved when I walked out of that office for the final time, my pocket holding a check large enough to tide me over until I got the first check of the new academic year from the university.

I continued to make the rounds of the flea markets and the garage sales that summer, scavenging LPs wherever I went. I also made plenty of new purchases in stores around Minot and during a quick trip back to St. Cloud in August. It was during that year that music publications like Rolling Stone and others began to publish pieces about the death of the LP in the face of the popularity of the newly marketed CD. I began to find new LPs a little more difficult to find.

As always, the music I did find helped ease my way through the year, providing solace during a year of massive personal and professional challenges, about which nothing more need be said than that they existed.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1988
“Love Me Like a Soldier” by Darden Smith from Darden Smith

“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen from Chimes of Freedom

“Silvio” by Bob Dylan from Down In The Groove

“Trouble in the Fields” by Nanci Griffith from One Fair Summer Evening

“Zimbabwe” by Toni Childs from Union

“I’ll Tell Me Ma” Van Morrison & the Chieftains from Irish Heartbeat

“Never Die Young” by James Taylor, Columbia single 07616

“Eternal Flame” by the Bangles, Columbia single 68533

“To Love Is To Bury” by the Cowboy Junkies from The Trinity Session

“Loving Arms” by Livingston Taylor (with Leah Kunkel), Critique single 2486

“Last Night” by the Traveling Wilburys from The Traveling Wilburys

“Let It Roll” by Little Feat from Let It Roll

“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, Elektra single 96412

A few notes about some of the recordings and artists:

I’ve shared much of Darden Smith’s early work here. “Love Me Like A Soldier” is from his major label debut, which also includes reworkings of three songs from his first album, Native Soil. This track, I think, is one of the better ones from Darden Smith, which found the Austin-born performer getting some help from such luminaries as Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett.

This version of “Born To Run” is the slowed-down acoustic version that Springsteen performed frequently in the 1980s. In a short story around that time, I described the transition over the years between the two versions like this:

He used to end his concerts with ‘Born to Run,’ guitars and drums and saxophone wailing while the road went by and he and the girl on the cycle roared toward whatever tomorrow would bring them because they knew it had to be better or at least no worse than what they had tonight and the roaring of the cycle that the narrator rode got mixed up with the roar of the crowd at the Boss’s feet and the music pounded and thundered with a noisy momentum that carried the E Street Band and its Boss and the audience in the arena toward some wonderful finish, and baby, we were all born to run.

But when he toured a few years later, at the end of the shows, when the audience might have been ready to rock but when Bruce and the guys with him were ready to go home, he’d play it slow. Solo, with only a quiet acoustic guitar. It was almost thoughtful and sad, and the crowd was quiet. And it was right to do it like that: We had what we had, even if it wasn’t what we all dreamed of. And none of us were running anymore.

Bob Dylan’s Down in the Groove is kind of a ramshackle album, pieced together – or so it seems – from bits and pieces that Dylan found himself with after a series of low-key sessions. It’s an amiable album, but it makes no grand statement – nor any statement at all, actually. Still, it’s a fun album, a mix of originals and covers, and “Silvio” is pretty representative.

Toni Childs and Tracy Chapman were two members of a diverse group of young women who came to prominence in the late 1980s, a group that the observing media carelessly lumped together in the category of New Folkies. Among the others so lumped were Suzanne Vega and the Indigo Girls. Sometimes the category fit well – as it did with Chapman and the Indigo Girls – and sometimes it didn’t, as with Childs. She was a singer-songwriter, but her work was more ornate and opaque, with production techniques being laid over her swirling songs in a way that didn’t happen with the others. Union was Child’s first release, and to my ears, the parable of “Zimbabwe” is its centerpiece. Two more albums followed: House of Hope in 1991 and The Women’s Boat in 1994. All are well worth finding. The same holds true for the larger output of Tracy Chapman, of course, which to my ears is more rooted in folk than is Childs’ work. From her first self-titled release – “Fast Car” was the first single – through her most recent release, 2005’s Where You Live, Chapman has been firm in calling for change, both internally in her listeners’ hearts and externally in the world in which she and her listeners live. The narrator of “Fast Car” is hopeful but realistic, a posture that seems more reasonable than most. And it was a great radio single, too!

“Let It Roll” is the title track from the first Little Feat album recorded when the group reconvened following the death of founder Lowell George. Some fans were offended by the band’s regrouping, but the fact was that George’s involvement in the band’s efforts had diminished more and more during the years he struggled with the difficulties that finally took his life. Let It Roll is a pretty good album by a group that decided to go on doing what it did best: make music.

A Baker’s Dozen of Gone

May 20, 2011

Originally posted November 14, 2007

Everyone – more than once in their working lives, I imagine – has had a job assignment during which they look at their co-workers and ask, “Why are we doing this?”

And the answer comes back, “Because the boss wants it done.”

My first brush with that sort of assignment came mid-way through college, during the spring and summer of 1973. I’d been working at the St. Cloud State library – called the Learning Resources Center – since the fall before. I generally worked in the equipment distribution center on the first floor, but during breaks, I was often handed special assignments.

On the first Monday of spring break, my dad – the Assistant Dean of Learning Resources – assigned one of those special tasks to me and another student, a project on which we would spend our time for a week and a half. Dad showed us a reel-to reel videotape recorder (the height of technology in 1973). In particular, he pointed out the two-inch yellow letters that said “LRS,” letters that had been spray-painted on the recorder in the library’s receiving room and which stood for “Learning Resources Services.”

Dad handed us boxes of spray paint, nine cans of black and nine of white, and we each got two stencils – one of a rectangle about five inches wide and a little more than two inches high, and the other of the letters “LRS” about an inch high. Our job, he told us, was to go out on to the campus and systematically find every piece of equipment that belonged to Learning Resources: video recorders, television monitors, film projectors, slide projectors, tape recorders, record players, wheeled carts and more. On every piece of equipment we found, we were to paint a black rectangle over the two-inch yellow letters and then, when the black paint had dried, paint in white on the rectangle the smaller “LRS” in white.

We stared at him, probably with the look of people who have been smacked in the foreheads with billy clubs. As I processed the idea of what we had been assigned to do, two things came to mind. First, I had no idea how many pieces of audio-visual equipment there were on campus, but it was a lot. (Actually, it was about 17,000, as I learned two years later when my friend Murl and I headed up a campus-wide inventory during the summer we moved the house.) Second, as the scope of the project set in, the question “Why?” came to mind.

Dad had anticipated the realization and the question. He suggested we start with Stewart Hall, one of the main classroom buildings on campus, and then he said, “There is a lot of stuff out there, but you should be able to get to it all during the summer.”

I nodded, still a little stunned. “But why?” I finally asked.

He hesitated, chewed his cheek a little. “Because the dean wants it done,” he finally said. “So you’d better head to Stewart Hall.”

At home that evening, Dad told me that the dean had never liked the yellow color used to mark Learning Resources’ equipment, a hue in use for the three years the department had been in its new building. And, Dad said, the dean – a long-time family friend – had never cared for the font used for the stencil for those two-inch high letters. “He thinks the letters look ugly,” Dad said, shaking his head a little.

I offered the opinion that a black five-inch by two-inch box with smaller white letters would look pretty ugly, too, and Dad nodded. “Sometimes,” he told me, “you just do what the boss wants you to do, even if it doesn’t make sense.”

So for that spring break and then for twenty hours a week that summer, my colleague and I – augmented once the summer sessions started with a few other workers – worked our way across campus, poking our heads into classrooms, rummaging through closets in departmental offices and asking secretaries to let us into faculty offices, seeking out and painting over those yellow letters wherever we could find them. It wasn’t awful work, except when we had to work in smaller closets and the paint fumes got a bit thick. And the fellow I was working with – whose name has disappeared in the fog of years – was pleasant enough, a music fan like me, so we passed a lot of the time with good conversation.

One day during spring break, we decided to head to a local drive-in to grab some burgers for lunch and then head to his place, as he had an album he wanted me to hear. So as we ate, he cued up a song, and I heard one of the best things I’d heard in a long time, by a duo that was completely new to me. It was Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone,” off of their album, Abandoned Luncheonette. I loved it.

“A friend of mine told me about it,” my co-worker told me, “and it took me a long time to find the record. It’s pretty obscure.”

That wouldn’t be the case for long. In 1974, “She’s Gone” was released as a single and only reached No. 60, but in 1976, a re-released “She’s Gone” would go to No. 7, and Abandoned Luncheonette would find its way to No. 33 on the album chart, launching Hall & Oates’ long stay in the spotlight.

A Baker’s Dozen of Gone
“She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates from Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973

“Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills & Nash from Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969

“Real Real Gone” by Van Morrison from Enlightenment, 1990

“Goin’ Gone” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“My Baby’s Gone” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton, Juneteenth Festival, Houston, Texas, June 19, 1979

“Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” by Arlo Guthrie from Precious Friend, 1982

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66133, 1965

“Gone Again” by Fred Neil from Bleecker & MacDougal, 1965

“Going, Going, Gone” by Bob Dylan from Planet Waves, 1974

“Now You’re Gone” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs, 1969

“After the Love Is Gone” by Earth, Wind & Fire, ARC single 11033, 1979

“My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” by Chilliwack. Millennium single 11813, 1981

“Too Soon Gone” by The Band from Jericho, 1993

A few notes on some of the songs:

Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Long Time Gone” may be the best song on this list. The eerie and foreboding piece was David Crosby’s reaction to the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy.

My, but Lou Ann Barton can sing. And with Stevie Ray Vaughan helping, her 1979 rendition of “My Baby’s Gone” becomes downright incendiary. Three years later, Barton headed to Muscle Shoals to record her first album, one of only five she’s released, including a 1990 CD recorded with Marcia Ball and Angela Strehli. Any of them are worth seeking out.

Fred Neil was one of the more gifted songwriters and performers in the Greenwich Village scene during the early to mid-1960s, but his greatest claim to fame is the authorship of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” used as a theme in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy. Never a prolific artist, Neil retreated to Florida in the late 1960s and released only a live album in 1971 after that. He died of cancer in 2001. All-Music Guide calls the album Bleeker & MacDougal “one of the best efforts from the era in which folk was just beginning its transition to folk-rock.”

“Going, Going, Gone” is one of the better moments from Dylan’s Planet Waves album, the first release that had Dylan backed by The Band. (The double album The Basement Tapes, compiled from recordings done during the mid-1960s in Woodstock, New York, would come out in 1975.) Planet Waves is a muted album, showing none of the fiery interplay that listeners anticipated in a record released just ahead of Dylan’s 1974 tour with The Band, his first tour in some years. (The fiery interplay showed itself on the tour, as a listen to Before the Floor will bear out.)

Jericho was the first album released in the 1990s after Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson reconstituted the band with some new players. The abject “Too Soon Gone,” written by Jules Shear and Stan Szelest, is almost certainly a meditation on the 1989 suicide of original member Richard Manuel.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1987

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 24, 2007

In 1987, I began what I now call the nomadic phase of my life. During the nearly five-year period from May 1987 through March 1992, I moved eight times, wandering from Minnesota to North Dakota back to Minnesota to Kansas to Missouri and back to Minnesota.

It was, clearly, an unsettled time in my life. I taught at two universities, a college and a community college, lost one cat, wrote for four newspapers, wrote a novel and lots of lyrics, fell in love three times and watched it fade three times, bought more than six hundred records, made friends and lost friends, survived the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 (a total of twenty-eight inches of snow fell in the Twin Cities from October 31 through November 3), and wound up on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, where I lived for the next seven years, waiting (though I did not know it) for the Texas Gal’s path to intersect mine.

And, as always, I listened to a lot of music. Being on college campuses at various times during those years kept me more in touch with new music than I had been when I was working as a free-lance writer. That was especially true in Minot, where I advised the college newspaper for two academic years, from the autumn of 1987 through the spring of 1989. My office was adjacent to the paper’s newsroom/workroom and the sound of the radio in the next room was inescapable. Luckily, I liked most of what I heard.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1987

“There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret)” by Nanci Griffith from Lone Star State of Mind

“Hooked On Your Love” by Lynn White, Waylo single 3022

“Runaway Train” by Rosanne Cash from King’s Record Shop

“Someplace Else” by George Harrison from Cloud Nine

“Touch of Grey” by the Grateful Dead from In The Dark

“Paper In Fire” by John Mellencamp from The Lonesome Jubilee

“Yes” by Merry Clayton from the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing

“Tougher Than The Rest” by Bruce Springsteen from Tunnel of Love

“Tango In The Night” by Fleetwood Mac from Tango In The Night

“The Mystery” by Van Morrison from Poetic Champions Compose

“With You Or Without You” by U2 from The Joshua Tree

“Hazy Shade of Winter” by the Bangles, Def Jam single 07630

“Unchain My Heart” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart

A few notes on some of the songs:

Lynn White came from Alabama and had her first success in 1982 when Sho Me Records released her single “I Don’t Wanna Ever See Your Face Again.” Among those who heard it was Memphis producer Willie Mitchell, who released the single on his own label, Waylo, and brought White into his Memphis studio. Her records did well, and in 1987, “Hooked On Your Love” was released as the B-side to “He’ll Leave You For Her.” The single is a good indication of how Mitchell’s sound had evolved since the days of Al Green, Otis Clay and Ann Peebles. (Thanks to Red Kelly at The “B” Side for the tune and the information.)

Rosanne Cash’s “Runaway Train” is about as clear-headed an assessment of love flying off the rails on a curve as you can find in song. Written by John Stewart (of “Gold” and “Midnight Wind” from 1979) and produced by Rodney Crowell, Cash’s husband at the time, it’s a disquieting song. Dave Marsh, who ranked it at No. 590 in The Heart Of Rock & Soul, his listing of the 1001 greatest singles of all time, notes that the “husk of Rosanne’s singing and the thrash of those drums . . . evoke without flinching a million exhausted midnight fights between lovers too familiar with each other’s moves to be taken by surprise or learn anything new, too wrapped up in each other’s lives to know how to quit.”

It took the Grateful Dead more than twenty years to have a Top 40 single. The infectious “Touch of Grey” spent sixteen weeks on the Cash Box Top 100 chart in the autumn of 1987, peaking at No. 17.

Merry Clayton’s “Yes” was included on the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing when it was released in the fall of 1987. The song was released as a single in 1988 and spent twelve weeks on the Cash Box chart but didn’t quite make the Top 40, peaking at No. 42.

Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night is a sweet album and remains one of my favorites by the group. It was Lindsey Buckingham’s last work with the band until Say You Will in 2003, and he took his leave with an album that grows on me more and more every time I hear it. The title tune, which came up during a random play for this list, is all right, but I would have preferred “Caroline” or “Seven Wonders.”

“Unchain My Heart” is the opener and the title track to Joe Cocker’s lively and accomplished album of late 1987. I’m not sure how many times Cocker had mounted a comeback by 1987, but the album was one of his better comeback efforts and this track is one of the best on the record. That’s Clarence Clemons taking the saxophone solo.

As always, bit rates may vary.

Thanks 100,000 times!
Back in late 1989, I had a Toyota station wagon that was approaching the 100,000-mile mark. As I drove home one November evening, I could tell that the car would be at 99,999.8 miles when I put it in the garage for the evening. So I drove an extra time around my block, watching the odometer move to 100,000 and beyond. It’s one of those things you don’t often see (although as automobiles last longer these days, I imagine it’s more common).

I felt a little bit then like I did yesterday afternoon when I refreshed the page here at Echoes In The Wind and saw that the number of visitors had changed from 99,999 to 100,000. Someone in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, was the 100,000th visitor here since February 1. It’s a number that boggles my mind, and I just want to thank that Dutch visitor, and everyone else who stops by, for visiting my little corner of the ’Net.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1984

May 10, 2011

Originally posted September 19, 2007

Well, it’s beginning to feel a lot like 1984 here in Minnesota.

Oh, not George Orwell’s 1984, although I could chatter politics for some time and I do have my societal concerns. No, the 1984 I have in mind is Les Steckel’s 1984.

“Les Who?” I hear many of you mutter out there in the cyberworld. ”What record did he release? Did it make the Top 40?”

I’ve mentioned at times my passion for spectator sports. I follow most of the major sports fairly closely, with the exception of professional basketball. I watch a little of that, but not nearly with the regularity or interest with which I follow baseball, football and hockey. Of them all, my favorite sport and team – as measured by the emotional impact of the team’s performance – is professional football and the Minnesota Vikings. And as we sit just past the middle of September, with the autumnal equinox four days away, the NFL season is two games old, and it feels like 1984.

That was the year that Les Steckel took over for the retired Bud Grant as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and promptly led the Vikings to a 3-13 record. It wasn’t the worst season in the team’s history; in 1962, the team’s second season, was a hair worse at 2-11-1. And the uninspiring performance of the team in its first two games this season and the seeming disconnect from reality of the coaching staff (insisting on starting a second-year quarterback who is clearly not capable, right now, of playing that key position well enough to win) leaves me feeling like it’s 1984 all over again. I may be wrong, and I’d like to be wrong. But I think it’s going to be a long season here in the land of longboats and horns.

Luckily for me, in 1984, I was unable to see the vast majority of the Vikings’ games, as I was in graduate school in Missouri. That means that I watched the St. Louis Cardinals (still a few years from their flight to the Arizona desert), who were 9-7, and the Kansas City Chiefs, who were 8-8. The only Vikings game I saw all season was their 27-24 victory over Tampa Bay in early November when I was visiting some friends in northwestern Iowa.

Other than the Vikings’ performance, 1984 was a pretty good year. Grad school was fun and challenging, and I had a good nucleus of friends with whom to spend the free time I had. Nothing particularly stands out about the year, which is good, in retrospect. It was a quiet time. One thing I do recall is my stunned admiration in January when Apple announced the introduction of the Macintosh with a legendary commercial during the Super Bowl.

And here’s a Baker’s Dozen from a quiet year:

“Valotte” by Julian Lennon, Atlantic single 89609

“Countdown to Love” by Greg Phillinganes from the Streets of Fire soundtrack

“Crow Jane” by Sonny Terry from Whoopin’

“Seven Spanish Angels” by Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, Columbia single 04715

“Jungle Sweep” by Jimmie Spheeris from Spheeris

“Daddy Said” by Nanci Griffith from Once In A Very Blue Moon

“We Belong” by Pat Benatar, Chrysalis single 42826

“On the Wings of a Nightingale” by the Everly Brothers, Mercury single 880213

“Bobby Jean” by Bruce Springsteen from Born in the U.S.A.

“Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” by Fire Inc. from the Streets of Fire soundtrack

“Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan from Real Live

“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen single 29141

“If This Is It” by Huey Lewis & the News, Chrysalis single 4283

A few notes on some of the songs:

The Julian Lennon single isn’t much of a record to me, even though it reached No. 9 on the charts; I preferred his “Much Too Late For Goodbye,” which went to No. 5 early in 1985. As far as Julian himself goes, I tend to agree with the Rolling Stone Album Guide, which notes that the younger Lennon should be “commended for daring even to whisper after the echo of his formidable father.”

At the time Streets of Fire came out, I was writing occasional movie reviews for the Columbia Missourian, and I gave the film a pretty good review, based partly on the film itself and partly on the music. I looked at the movie a few years ago, and it has not aged well; it seems silly now. But the music is still pretty good, if maybe not to everyone’s taste. The Greg Phillinganes track, “Countdown to Love,” is a sprightly doo-woppy piece, while “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” was one of two bombastic Jim Steinman productions used in the movie, kind of a Great Wall of Sound production that featured, among others, Roy Bittan of the E Street Band on piano. Overblown, yes, but fun.

“Jungle Sweep” is from the album that Jimmie Spheeris completed work on hours before he was killed by a drunk driver on July 4, 1984. It was released by Sony in 2000 but was pulled back by the company shortly after that.

The Everly Brothers’ track was the single from their album EB ’84, a pretty good reunion album. The single was written and produced by Paul McCartney.