Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Savoring The Sunlight

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 16, 2009

As the sunlight came in the living room windows yesterday morning, I glanced at the date on the Minneapolis newspaper: February 15. And I thought of another February 15, thirty-five years distant now, when sunlight seemed like salvation.

I doubt that I’ve ever lived through a more dreary winter than the one I went through in Fredericia, Denmark in 1973-74. Living there was, of course, a joy and an adventure, but the winter was hard. It’s not that it was cold: The temperatures were generally around freezing, 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius), which for someone from Minnesota wasn’t chilly at all. There were a few days when the temperature dipped to -10 or so Fahrenheit (-23 Celsius), levels that our Danish friends said they’d not seen since World War II, but those stretches didn’t last long and weren’t all that cold by the standards of the Minnesota winters to which we were accustomed.

The difficult part was the lack of sunlight. From the middle of November on, for the next three months, it was cloudy and dreary. The sun showed its face from time to time, but only as a brief respite – an hour or two – before the clouds dimmed the light once more. And Denmark is far enough north that the winter sun rises much later and sets much earlier than in Minnesota: In the depth of December, daylight began about nine o’clock in the morning and ended around three o’clock in the afternoon, which – combined with the near constant cloud cover – left us in what seemed like permanent gloom.

And then came February 15. The sky was blue from horizon to horizon, and the air was brisk but not cold. We had no classes that day, and those of us living at the youth hostel headed out into the sunlight, many of us with cameras. I can’t speak for all, but the bunch of kids I wandered around with had no plans, no real destination. We were just wandering in the sunshine, liberated at least for a day.

The stripe of sunlight across our carpet and the date on the newspaper yesterday morning reminded me of that sunny walk through Fredericia, and as I recalled the sunshine, I wondered what our friends at home might have heard on the radio that day.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, February 16, 1974)

“Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” by Brownsville Station, Big Tree 16011 (No. 22)

“Me and Baby Brother” by War, United Artists 350 (No. 53)

“Lookin’ For A Love” by Bobby Womack, United Artists 375 (No. 70)

“Stop To Start” by Blue Magic, Atco 6949 (No. 81)

“Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” by New York City, Chelsea 0150 (No. 88)

“I’ll Be The Other Woman” by the Soul Children, Stax 0182 (No. 94)

Brownsville Station was one of the numerous blues-based boogie bands that arose in the early 1970s, coming out of Detroit to record a clutch of albums between 1970 and 1980 and then fading into obscurity. “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” was the group’s glorious moment, if that’s not too glowing a term for it. The high school references sparked memories for those already older than that and likely rang true for those still playing high school Parcheesi. The record peaked at No. 3. I was surprised to learn this morning that Brownsville Station had more than one hit: “Kings Of The Party” went to No. 31 in the fall of 1974. (The umlaut-obsessed Mötley Crüe covered “Smokin’” in 1985; that version went to No. 16.)

War’s funky and cool “Me and Baby Brother” was on its way down the chart, having peaked at No. 15. I tend to think that War is under-rated and often ignored when talk turns to great bands of the 1970s. In terms of popularity, the group had twelve Top 40 hits, and most of them were pretty good (“Why Can’t We Be Friends” is the exception), and that’s a better record than achieved by a lot of bands that are remembered more frequently. And the group’s albums were good, too, especially Deliver the Word (which was the source for “Me and Baby Brother”) and The World Is A Ghetto.

In two years, I’d not posted a single song by Bobby Womack, and now, in ten days, he’s come up twice. I’m not sure why that is. But “Lookin’ For A Love” is well worth a listen or even three. It was the third and last Top 40 hit for Womack, peaking at No. 10 at the end of April. (The record topped the R&B chart for three weeks.)

The singles by Blue Magic and New York City were nice bits of Philadelphia soul (despite the latter group’s name). “Stop To Start,” from Blue Magic’s first, self-titled album, sounds like something that came from Thom Bell, but it was produced by Steve Bernstein, Norman Harris and Alan Rubens, who – along with the group members – tapped the Philly sound perfectly. “Stop To Start” peaked at No. 74 during a six-week run in the Hot 100, but that summer, Blue Magic’s “Sideshow” went to No. 8 (No. 1 on the R&B chart). New York City had reached No. 17 with “I’m Doin’ Fine Now” – a Thom Bell production – in the spring of 1973, but the Bell-produced “Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” got no further up the chart than No. 79.

The Soul Children, a two-man, two-woman vocal group, recorded several albums for Stax in the late 1960s and early 1970s and had one blindingly good single, “Hearsay,” which went to No. 44 in May of 1972. “I’ll Be The Other Woman,” a slower and more reflective but still good piece of work, went to No. 36, the only Top 40 hit for the group.

Note:
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Edited slightly on archival posting.

Interconnected, For Better Or Worse

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 1, 2008

Sometimes, if I really stop and think about it, the interconnectedness of the world astounds me. With cell phones, PDAs, email, instant messaging and all the other ways we communicate with each other, one never needs to be out of touch. Well, there are places in the world with limited access to cell networks and so on, but they are increasingly rare.

And that increasing connectedness will change us – has already begun to do so – in ways that we cannot possible anticipate. (I recall a long-ago magazine piece about the slipperiness of predictions; it pointed out that pundits in New York City predicted in the 1880s, given the city’s reliance on horses, that the streets of the city would be several feet deep in manure by the middle of the twentieth century. You never know.)

Looking back, however, I can guess that today’s connectedness would have changed one major part of my life, and not for the better. During the college year I spent in Fredericia, Denmark, I was separated for the first time in my life from my family and friends. Had I been able to use email, cell phones, texting and all the other tools of today’s communications, my time away would have been immeasurably different, and – I think – a lot less valuable to me.

I was in touch with friends and family throughout the year, of course, writing and receiving frequent letters and cards. But that contact was very limited. It took a week for a letter to make its way from Denmark to Minnesota and another week for a reply to arrive, which gives one a lot of time to think – or worry, if so inclined – between statements. And trans-Atlantic telephone calls were expensive. I called Minnesota from Denmark twice: On Christmas Day and then in April, when I returned to Fredericia after being on the road for a month.

And I think the distance created by being out of touch was good for me. If I’d had access to today’s numerous means of communication, I think I might have held tightly to my friends at home and not been as adventurous as I was. I don’t know. Perhaps not. But I think that one of the central facts of my time away was that it was time away in all ways, and I’d guess that holds true for all of us who were in Denmark that year. We’re a fairly tight group, even thirty-five years later, with all the changes that life brings. Reunions are regular and well attended. I’m not at all sure that we’d feel as connected as we have to each other over the years if we’d carried our friends from home in our pockets.

On a less important scale, one of the fascinating things about being away was losing track of popular culture. Events, catch phrases, fads and especially music had come and gone while we were gone. Friends sent many of us tapes that we shared in our lounge, so we heard some of what was popular, both Top 40 and albums. But there have been numerous times over the years – and I think this likely happened to all of us – when I’d hear a song for the first time and learn it had been popular during the time I was away.

Here’s a selection from the Billboard Top 40 during the week of September 29, 1973. A few of these had hit the Top 40 before I left, but the vast majority of them were records I had to catch up on later (in some cases, years later).

A Baker’s Dozen from 1973, Vol. 4
“Redneck Friend” by Jackson Browne, Asylum 11023 (No. 99 as of Sept. 29, 1973))

“Make Me Twice The Man” by New York City, Chelsea 0025 (No. 96)

“This Time It’s Real” by Tower of Power, Warner Bros. 7733 (No. 74)

“Jesse” by Roberta Flack, Atlantic 2982 (No. 68)

“I Can’t Stand The Rain” by Ann Peebles, Hi 2248 (No. 64)

“Such A Night” by Dr. John, Atco 6937 (No. 56)

“Nutbush City Limits” by Ike & Tina Turner, United Artists 298 (No. 50)

“In The Midnight Hour” by Cross Country, Atco 6934 (No. 31)

“Why Me” by Kris Kristofferson, Monument 8571 (No. 23)

“Yes We Can Can” by the Pointer Sisters, Blue Thumb 229 (No. 16)

“Brother Louie” by Stories, Kama Sutra 577 (No. 11)

“My Maria” by B.W. Stevenson, RCA Victor 0030 (No. 9)

“We’re An American Band” by Grand Funk, Capitol 3660 (No. 1)

A few notes:

Jackson Browne was perhaps the quintessential singer/songwriter of the 1970s, so “Redneck Friend,” one of the few real rockers Browne ever recorded, was a pleasant surprise. It didn’t get much radio play – never made the Top 40 – but it’s a great mood-changer when heard in the context of Browne’s 1973 album, For Everyman.

I don’t ever recall hearing New York City’s “Make Me Twice The Man” before this morning, when I rummaged through the stacks and found the album. Despite the group’s name, it’s a nice piece of Philly soul, and you can hear the imprint of Thom Bell (the O’Jays, the Stylistics, the Spinners) in every groove. New York City had reached No. 17 in the spring of 1973 with “I’m Doin’ Fine Now.”

I still love “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” especially the first few seconds. Ann Peebles has spent her career trying to record something else this good. She’s done well, but she’s never reached the same heights as she did here.

Another single I don’t recall hearing was Cross Country’s version of “In The Midnight Hour,” which is different enough to deserve a hearing (if ultimately nowhere as good as Wilson Pickett’s version). Leonard at Redtelephone66, the blog where I found Cross Country’s album, said when he posted the record that Cross Country was a group formed by three of the four members of the Tokens in 1971. The single reached No. 30 during a four-week stay in the Top 40.

Stories’ single “Brother Louie” was quite the sensation in 1973, with its tale of an interracial romance. The fact that it was pretty good listening, too, sometimes got lost in the brouhaha.

If I had to pick the best of these, I’d likely go with “Yes We Can Can,” the Pointer Sisters’ single written by Allen Toussaint or maybe B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria,” which was possibly the rootsiest record of 1973.