Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Sinatra’

Birth Of A Sports Fan

June 3, 2022

Originally posted November 11, 2009

I mentioned the other day my abiding love of sports. As strong as that affection is, it took a while to develop. While I’d enjoyed watching St. Cloud State football when I was quite young – nine or ten years old – I hadn’t had any great passion for sports at the time. We went as a family to St. Cloud State basketball games – the Huskies had a very good small college team for most of the 1960s – and went occasionally across town to see the local minor league baseball team, the St. Cloud Rox. (And given the history of granite quarrying in the St. Cloud area, that has to be one of the great team nicknames of all time!) I enjoyed all of it, but it wasn’t a focal point of my life.

I’ve never figured out why, but that changed in September 1967. One of the reflections of that change, of my new-found interest in sports and competition, was my request – granted rapidly – to subscribe to Sports Illustrated. The first edition I got showed Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals on the cover, as the Cardinals were facing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The writing was crisp and clear, the photos were remarkable, and the magazine covered a wide variety of sports, including some things that I’d never considered as sport: Dog shows, chess, yachting. I absorbed it all, and it fueled the metamorphosis in me from casual fan to informed fan.

Why write about that metamorphosis today? Because of a confluence of events and anniversaries.

A man named Earsell Mackbee died Monday in Vallejo, California, ten days after being transferred there on a medical plane from a hospital in Minneapolis. Vallejo was where Mackbee grew up, and gravely ill as he was, he wanted to die at home. He got his wish, through the help of friends and the help of his former colleagues in the National Football League.

Mackbee was a defensive back for the Minnesota Vikings for five years, from 1965 through 1969. As I was learning about pro football in the fall of 1967 – through Sports Illustrated and through the Minneapolis and St. Cloud evening papers – Mackbee’s name was one that I recognized. Most likely because it was a different name – I knew no kids named Earsell – and also, I would guess, because he played a position that occasionally put him in the spotlight, whether for a lapse that resulted in a big play for the opponent or for a good play that benefitted the Vikings. He wasn’t an anonymous lineman, and one heard his name relatively frequently while watching the Vikings on television.

So Mackbee’s name – he wore jersey No. 46, I think – was one that I knew on a chilly Sunday in November 1967 – forty-two years ago tomorrow – when my dad and I set out from St. Cloud to go see the Vikings play the Detroit Lions. The tickets were ridiculously cheap by today’s standard: Five dollars each. (It’s good to keep inflation in mind, though. An online calculator tells me that what cost five dollars in 1967 would now cost almost thirty-two dollars.) And Dad and I settled into our seats in the front row of the second deck.

The Vikings and the Lions tied that afternoon, 10-10. The Vikings’ only touchdown came when Earsell Mackbee picked up a fumble and returned it fifty-five yards. It was one of two touchdowns he scored during his NFL career.

That game against the Lions and Mackbee’s touchdown have crossed my mind occasionally over the past forty-two years, but the memories came back with a rush two weeks ago, when I saw in the Minneapolis newspaper the news story about Mackbee being flown to California to die. There was a twinge of sorrow, but even stronger – and I think Mackbee would have liked this – was a flash of memory, a vision of the purple-clad Earsell Mackbee carrying the ball into the end zone on a grey November day in 1967.

A Six-Pack from November 1967
“Incense and Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock
“Stag-O-Lee” by Wilson Pickett
“Tell Mama” by Etta James
“Lady Bird” by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood
“Like An Old Time Movie” by Scott McKenzie
“Desiree” by the Left Bank

“Incense & Peppermints,” as I’ve likely said here before, is one of those records that powerfully bring back a time and place: I’m in the gym at South Junior High in St. Cloud during the last few minutes of the lunch period, and the rest of the guys and I are watching the girls dance to the Strawberry Alarm Clock. I imagine I’ve posted the song before, too, but it’s such a good single, at least to these ears, that I can’t help myself. The record peaked at No. 1.

The Wilson Pickett record is one of multiple versions of a song that’s been sliding around America for more than a hundred years, titled as “Stagger Lee,” “Stag-O-Lee,” “Stacker Lee” and more. (The two earliest versions I have were recorded in 1927: “Billy Lyons & Stack O’Lee” by Furry Lewis and “Stackalee” by Frank Hutchinson.) Pickett’s version, which went to No. 22, is pretty good, but it’s difficult for any R&B performer to top the 1959 version by Lloyd Price. (There seems to be some confusion about the exact title of Pickett’s recording: the Billboard chart and All-Music Guide have the title as “Stagger Lee,” while Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits has it as “Stag-O-Lee.” I’ve gone with Whitburn.

Etta James’ “Tell Mama” came out of sessions that took place in Muscle Shoals in 1967 and 1968. Those sessions provided James with her last two Top 40 hits: “Tell Mama” went to No. 23, and the Otis Redding-penned “Security” went to No. 35 in the spring of 1968. “Tell Mama” is a hard-hitting piece of Southern soul, and the entire Tell Mama album is worth a listen or two. (The album was released a few years ago in a remastered version with ten additional tracks from the sessions.)

“Lady Bird” is one of those odd and evocative singles that Lee Hazelwood wrote and produced for Nancy Sinatra, sometimes – as in this case – singing on the record as well. Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear one of those Hazelwood-produced records, it’s like being for a few moments in a mildly alternate universe: Things are just a little off-kilter but they still seem to all somehow make sense. It’s an interesting place to be for a short time. The record went to No. 20.

When a singer’s previous record was “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair),” what the heck do you do for a follow-up? In the case of Scott McKenzie, you go back into the studio with John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and record another one of Phillips’ songs. “Like An Old Time Movie” was the result, and it’s not a bad single. It’s got a decent lyric although McKenzie oversings it at points. It got to No. 24, and, as McKenzie’s second hit, it’s the only thing keeping him from being a One-Hit Wonder, as he never got into the Top 40 again.

“Desiree” was another attempt by the Left Bank to replicate the success of the group’s 1966 hit, “Walk Away Renee.” It’s not bad, but the vocals sound thin at times, especially given the busy backing they have to contend with. The record was newly listed in the November 11, 1967, Billboard as one of the songs bubbling under the Hot 100. By the next week, it was gone.

(I think these are all the single versions and I’ve tagged them as such, but I’m frankly not sure: Some of these might be album tracks. Whichever they are, the single versions were all in the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending November 11, 1967.)

‘Friday’s Child . . .’

January 29, 2021

So I went looking for songs with “Friday” in their titles, and there were about twenty of those in the RealPlayer. Some were obvious, like “Friday On My Mind” by the Easybeats. And then I spotted “Friday’s Child” by Nany Sinatra, a 1966 release on Reprise.

As the tune played, I checked Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: The record hit the Billboard Hot 100 in early July of 1966, the follow-up to “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” which went to No. 1 in February of that year, and to the No. 7 hit from spring of that year, “How Does That Grab You, Darlin’?”

“Friday’s Child,” written and produced by Lee Hazelwood (who was either Nancy Sinatra’s Svengali or her Henry Higgins), didn’t fare nearly as well, topping out at No. 36. That’s not surprising, as it’s an odd and unsettling piece of work:

Friday’s child hard luck is her brother
Friday’s child her sister’s misery
Friday’s child her daddy they call hard times
Friday’s child that’s me

Friday’s child born a little ugly
Friday’s child good looks passed her by
Friday’s child makes something look like nothing
Friday’s child am I, yeah

Friday’s child never climbed no mountain
Friday’s child she ain’t even gonna try
Friday’s child whom they’ll forget to bury
Friday’s child am I

Friday’s child am I

Sinatra’s version, perhaps not surprisingly, turns out to be a cover. Hazelwood recorded the song himself in March 1965, according to the website Second Hand Songs, and used it as the title track for his own album in 1965. The album didn’t chart, and if there were any singles pulled from the album, they didn’t chart either.

Hazelwood’s version of the song is a little busier than Sinatra’s but is disquieting, too, though perhaps a little less so:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1966

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 6, 2007

As 1966 rolled around, I was in the second half of seventh grade. I’d become adept at working the combination on my hallway locker, I hated P.E. and loved band, and I enjoyed social studies with Mr. Sales. We talked a lot about current events in social studies, and even then, I was a news junkie, looking through the newspapers – the Minneapolis Star and the St. Cloud Daily Times – almost as soon as they were delivered every afternoon. I also saw some news on television, and although I didn’t grasp the meaning of all of that I saw, I understood enough to begin to ask questions. I was, at the age of twelve, a reporter in training.

In mid-February, the Twin Cities Top 40 radio stations began playing a song that made news itself: “Ballad of the Green Berets,” a tribute to the men in his unit, written and recorded by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler. The song moved up the charts and was No. 1 for five weeks in March and April. For a brief time, to a public increasingly wary of bad war news coming from a small country in Southeast Asia, the Green Berets were heroes. Exactly what they did and whom they were fighting when they dropped into the jungle, we didn’t know. But we were glad they were doing it. After all, the government said that the Green Berets – and the rest of our boys who were in Vietnam – were fighting the Communists there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here.

Robin Moore, a writer with connections, trained with the Green Berets and wrote a laudatory book about them that hit the best-seller lists. He also turned out to have helped – to what degree, who knows? – Barry Sadler with the lyrics to his No. 1 song. (Out in Hollywood, John Wayne got hold of the rights to the book and – with his son producing – made the film The Green Berets, which came out in 1968 and had little resemblance to the book beyond the title and a fawning admiration for the soldiers of the special forces.)

It was likely in the spring of 1966 that my social studies class broke up into groups to do reports on issues in current events. Topics included civil rights, Indonesia, the USSR and more, including, of course, Vietnam. When Mr. Sales told us to find a group we were interested in, I gravitated to the cluster of desks labeled “Vietnam.” I wasn’t all that interested in the topic, but a girl whose name began with K had headed for those desks, too, and she was the current object of my unrequited affection.

Mr. Sales had said we should start by asking questions that needed to be answered about our topics. K had her notebook ready. “Any questions?” she asked, looking around the group. No one said anything for a moment.

I said, “How about, ‘Why did we send our military to Vietnam in the first place?’”

She looked at me and nodded, and wrote the question down in her notebook, neither of us realizing that answering that question accurately and completely would likely be enough to earn a doctoral degree someday. A couple other members of the group offered questions, and K wrote them down. Mr. Sales stopped by to see how we were doing, and K showed him the list of questions.

“Who asked that first one?” Four fingers pointed at me. He nodded and chewed his cheek and then told me, “The folks over in Poverty could use some help. You’ve got five people here and there are only three there. Why don’t you go and give them a hand?”

I grabbed my books and, with a last quick look at K (who either didn’t notice or chose not to), went to the other cluster of desks with Mr. Sales. He told them I was there to make the groups more equal, and I pulled a desk up and sat down. I don’t recall who had the notebook in which they would write their questions, but the page was blank. So were the looks on their faces as they turned to me.

“Well,” I said, “do we know what ‘poverty’ really means?” They all shook their heads from side to side. “Okay,” I said. “First question: What is poverty?” The recorder wrote the question down, and someone else asked the next question, which I think was “Where do poor people live?” We had no clue that the answer was “All around us.” And the discussion went on for a few more moments, and then Mr. Sales came along to see how we were doing.

He looked at our list of questions and asked, “Who asked that first question?” Three fingers pointed at me again. Mr. Sales nodded and then said to me, “Why don’t you just wander from group to group and look at their lists of questions and see if you can think of any for them?”

Oh, my god, I thought. Why don’t you just make me wear a shirt that says “Dork” on it?

But I spent the rest of the hour wandering from group to group, looking at questions and maybe even offering a question or two myself. The result of my being made a roving whatever resulted in my being a group of one, assigned the task of enlightening my classmates about Indonesia.

I frittered my time away, and on the day of my presentation, I taped an annotated map of Indonesia to the blackboard and dove in. What looked like hesitation due to stage fright was really me giving myself moments to scan the information in the little boxes on the map before relaying that information to my audience. I got a B on the presentation.

Even after the years for dating came along, I never did have a date with K. But we were friendly. In high school, she was a cheerleader and I was a manager, and, in the dark and quiet of school buses coming back from athletic events late at night, we did have some intense discussions about issues all of us were facing. I remember them vividly; I hope she does, too.

And here’s a Baker’s Dozen from 1966, the year Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler topped the charts for five weeks:

“Bleak City Woman” by Donovan from Mellow Yellow

“Great Airplane Strike” by Paul Revere & The Raiders from sessions for The Spirit of ‘67

“Journey To Time” by Kenny & The Kasuals, Mark Ltd. single 1006

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

“Muddy Water” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66175

“So Long Babe” by Nancy Sinatra from Boots

“Got To Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles from Revolver

“If Your Monkey Can’t Get It” by David Blue from David Blue

“Tomorrow Is A Long Time” by Elvis Presley from the Spinout soundtrack

“Georgy Girl” by the Seekers, Capitol single 5756

“Looking the World Over” by Big Mama Thornton from Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Waters Blues Band

“Double Crossing Time” by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers from Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton

“Don’t Bring Me Down” by the Animals, MGM single 13514

Some notes on a few of the songs:

I found Kenny & the Kasuals’ recording on Nuggets, Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968, Volume 2, one of the great box sets from Rhino of mid-1960s recordings. The record didn’t make the charts, so Kenny & the Kasuals aren’t even one-hit wonders, but music like theirs was busting out of garages and basements all over the country.

“I Saw Her Again” is one my favorite songs by the Mamas & the Papas, who delivered a string of strong, melodic singles in 1966 and 1967 – and a series of albums that had better non-single material than most albums did at the time. When the song comes out of the instrumental bridge at about the 2:43 mark, Denny Dohety delivers one of the classic moments in pop history with his “I saw her,” an instant before the other vocalists come in. It sounds perfectly arranged, but from what I’ve read, Doherty miscounted and came in too early. The rest of the group liked the way it sounded and kept it in. (Also, listen for the drum rolls far under the rest of the sound; it sure sounds like Hal Blaine to me!)

The cut by David Blue came from his self-titled debut, issued by Elektra in August, less than a month after Bob Dylan had his famous motorcycle accident that left his career – and life, for all anyone not connected with Dylan knew – in doubt. Blue was a friend of Dylan’s and their music sounds similar, notes All-Music Guide. AMG also notes that by the time Blue’s debut came out, he was already behind the tight curve of pop history, as the Beatles’ Revolver had upped the ante.

The Nancy Sinatra cut is pretty lame, a Lee Hazlewood-penned artifact recorded with crack musicians for the album that supported her No. 1 single, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” Not quite as lame, but still gimpy, was Elvis’ take on the Dylan song, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” which the King recorded for one of his mediocre movies. Elvis was still two years away from returning to musical relevance with his return to Memphis in 1968.

Big Mama Thornton was an elemental force of nature, bold, brash, supremely confident and extraordinarily talented. The first to record “Hound Dog,” in 1953, she faded from general view for most of that decade and came back to some extent with Ball ’n’ Chain in 1968, after Janis Joplin recorded and popularized the title cut. The recording here, with the Muddy Waters Blues Band, was recorded in 1966 but not released until 2004, twenty years after Thornton’s death.

Music Geek Heaven: New Reference Books!

February 25, 2011

The space devoted to music references on my bookshelves has expanded greatly in the last couple months, and I’m having a great time browsing. Through reference books? Well, yeah. After all, I was the kid who spent hours when he was about ten sitting quietly and reading volumes of Compton’s Illustrated Encyclopedia, one after the other.

(More likely than not, the title was actually Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia, as suggested in a comment by reader Yah Shure. I do have a good memory, but details can sometimes be a little foggy after nearly fifty years. Thanks, Yah Shure!)

The new books on my shelves are, if anything, more interesting than the Compton’s was, though I won’t say more useful. It was the encyclopedia that helped me figure out where Indochina was. And that gave me as a fifth-grader a little bit better grasp of the location and history of those small nations that were being named more and more frequently in the news in the early years of the 1960s.

The new volumes – all by Joel Whitburn – are Top Pop Singles, The Billboard Book of Top Country Hits and The Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits. The first was a Christmas present from the Texas Gal; the other two were the product of one of my occasional online buying sprees.

And all three are great fun. Top Pop Singles includes listings by artist and title of every song that reached the Billboard Hot 100 (or its earlier equivalents) and its Bubbling Under section from January of 1955 through the first weeks of July 2009. The R&B/hip-hop book presents data from even earlier, starting with the chart called the “Harlem Hit Parade” in October 1942 and ending in November 2004 with the chart now called R&B/Hip-Hop (a designation that debuted in late 1999). And the country book begins its tale with a chart collated from juke box plays around the country in January 1944 and gathers data through early 2006, with the chart at that time called “Hot Country Songs.”

I can hear some folks thinking: “Great fun”? Well, yeah. I’m a music geek and an information junkie. I’ve read – nearly cover-to-cover – all four editions of the Rolling Stone record and album guides, as well as the similar All-Music Guide to Rock. And I can lose myself browsing through any of the references on my shelf, whether that be any of the three books I mentioned to start this piece or any of the others, from The Billboard Book of No. 2 Hits through the Billboard Top Ten Album Charts, 1963-1998 to either of two editions of the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll.

So I’ve got three new books to divert me and – more to the point – help me be more accurate and broad-based in the information I toss out here. Sharp-eyed readers might have noticed a reference to two of the three books here already. I don’t seem to have cited yet the country hits book.

But all three of them got a little exercise this morning. I decided that I’d check each book for the earliest cited No. 1 hit from February 25 and then take a look at the No. 1 song from February 25, 1966, forty-five years ago today.

We’ll start with the R&B/Hip-Hop book, as its first entries come from a slightly earlier time than do those of the Country book. The No. 1 song on the Harlem Hit Parade for February 25, 1943, was “Apollo Jump” by Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra. Millinder was from Anniston, Alabama, and he and his band had ten records reach the R&B chart (which had various names) from 1942 through 1951. Among those who performed with his band were singers Wynonie Harris – his version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight” was No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1948 – and Gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who had four hits in the R&B Top 40 during the latter half of the 1940s, with her best-known song, “Strange Things Happening Every Day” reaching No. 2 on the R&B chart in 1945.

“Apollo Jump” was the second charted hit and second No. 1 hit for Millinder and his orchestra (though as his band pre-dated the chart data I have, one would assume Millinder had previously released records that were gauged as hits before that). Their 1942 take on the war-time ballad “When The Lights Go On Again (All Over The World)” had also gone to No. 1. And Millinder’s next two records to reach the chart – “Sweet Slumber” and “Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well” – would also go to No. 1. But sixty-eight years ago today, it was “Apollo Jump” and its jazzy, big-band sound that was at No. 1.

Things get a bit more familiar when we move ahead to 1966. The No. 1 record on the Hot R&B chart on February 25 of that year was from a Louisiana-born singer and guitar player who’d already scored an R&B and pop hit (No. 17 and No. 34, respectively) in 1961 with “Rainin’ In My Heart.” Five years later, James Moore, better known as Slim Harpo, would reach the top of the R&B chart (and go to No. 16 on the pop chart) with “Baby Scratch My Back.” Harpo would score two more hits on the R&B chart. One of those two R&B hits and two entirely different records would reach the Bubbling Under section of the pop chart; among those that bubbled under was the 1966 record “Shake Your Hips,” covered six years later by the Rolling Stones on Exile on Main St. For now, we’ll stay with Harpo’s No. 1 R&B hit, “Baby Scratch My Back.”

The earliest chart information presented in The Billboard Book of Top Country Hits is interesting for, among other things, its source, which is made clear in the chart’s title: “Most Played Juke Box Folk Records.” And it seems the definition of “folk” was pretty elastic, as the first year’s No. 1 records included work by, among others, Bing Crosby, Louis Jordan and the King Cole Trio, not performers we’d consider folk or country.

Jordan is, interestingly, listed in all three books. Three of his records reached the country chart in 1944, with two going to No. 1. He had fifty-seven records reach the R&B Top 40 between 1942 and 1951, with an astounding eighteen of them reaching No. 1. And in 1963, “Hard Head” bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 for one week at No. 128. Those eighteen No. 1 R&B hits, by the way, put Jordan third all-time behind Aretha Franklin’s twenty and Stevie Wonder’s nineteen; Jordan does hold, however, the record for the most weeks spent total at No. 1 on the R&B chart, with 113. Wonder is second at sixty-seven.

And one of those weeks at No. 1 for Jordan was the week that included February 25, 1944, as Jordan and His Tympany Five were on top of the country chart with the slightly salacious “Ration Blues.” The record was No. 1 for three weeks.

By the time we get to 1966, things are sounding decidedly more like what we think of as country. The artists who were at No. 1 for the first six months of that year were Red Sovine, Buck Owens, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves and Sonny James. And forty-five years ago today, it was Buck Owens & His Buckaroos at No. 1 with “Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line,” one of seventy-five records Owens put onto the country chart between 1959 and 1989. Owens had twenty-one records reach No. 1 on the country chart, which ranked twelfth all-time in 2006; Conway Twitty and George Strait were tied at the top of that list with forty No. 1 country hits each. In terms of weeks at No. 1, Owens racked up a total of eighty-two in his career, good for third place in 2006 behind Eddy Arnold’s 145 and Webb Pierce’s 111. “Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line,” provided Owens with seven of those No. 1 weeks (and went to No. 57 on the pop chart). Here’s a television performance from 1966.

Taking up at last the volume Top Pop Singles, we find at the No. 1 spot for its earliest February 25 a prime example of the regrettable and very common practice of white groups and performers covering songs originated by groups and performers with darker skins. The No. 1 record during the week of February 25, 1955, was “Sincerely” by the McGuire Sisters. Originally recorded by the Moonglows, a Cleveland group that included Harvey Fuqua, the tune is one of the great songs of the 1950s, and the Moonglow’s performance is stellar. Their version, in direct competition with the McGuire Sisters’ cover, went to No. 20 and reached No. 2 on the R&B chart.

(Another egregious practice, of which “Sincerely” is also a prime example, was the claiming of part authorship of a song by those involved only with its recording, promotion or radio play. In the case of “Sincerely,” authorship credit is split to this day between Fuqua and Cleveland disk jockey Alan Freed, though how much Freed actually contributed is uncertain. In a piece about the Moonglows at the website BlackCat Rockabilly Europe, Fuqua is quoted as saying: “Alan would sit there and throw a word in every now and then so, ya know, we’d give him credit for that, sometimes all the credit.”)

Whatever the ethical and social considerations, however, it was the McGuire Sisters’ version of “Sincerely” that was atop the pop chart on February 25, 1955. It was the third week of a ten-week run at No. 1 for the record.

As we look at the pop chart from this week in 1966 and the year’s No. 1 hits, we find – unsurprisingly – familiar names. Up to this week forty-five years ago, the year’s top pop singles had been records by Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, Petula Clark and Lou Christie. And the fifth No. 1 song of the year belonged to Nancy Sinatra with “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” It was one of two No. 1 hits she’d claim, with the other being “Somethin’ Stupid,” her 1967 duet with her famous father. Altogether, Nancy Sinatra placed twenty-three records in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section from1965 into 1972. “Boots” was at No. 1 for just one week.