Posts Tagged ‘Nilsson’

In Early ’72

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 8, 2010

When I think of the first weeks of 1972, no huge or poignant memory comes to mind. I was beginning my second quarter of college; the most important thing I’d learned during my first quarter was that I was going to have to study if I wanted to improve on my 1.67 GPA. This wasn’t high school and I was going to have to work at it

I’ve always been grateful that my parents were both educators and understood the value of letting me find my own way through the thickets of college. After that disastrous first quarter, I began to learn how to study, and my GPA rose rapidly over the next three years. Had I come from a smaller town and/or from a family not so certain about the value of education, that wasted first quarter could easily have resulted in my heading back to Long Prairie or a similar small town and a job at the local gas station or grocery store.

But I, as the saying goes, began to apply myself as 1972 began. I paid attention in class and took better notes, and I made sure I read what I was assigned to read. When classes were done for the day, I swept the stairs and classroom floors in the Business Building for two hours. And I spent more time hanging around the campus radio station.

I’d gotten an AM-FM radio for Christmas, and my attachment to Top 40 and to AM radio began to fade. I began to dig into the albums I heard at the campus radio station and that I heard from other FM stations as I explored that side of the radio universe. I still listened to Top 40 on occasion, but not nearly as often as I had during previous years. Still, the music was all around, and almost everything in the top ten in the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending January 8, 1972, is familiar, if not exactly loved:

“Brand New Key” by Melanie
“American Pie” by Don McLean
“Family Affair” by Sly & The Family Stone
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
“Got To Be There” by Michael Jackson
“Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band
“Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards
“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” by the New Seekers
“Cherish” by David Cassidy
“Hey Girl/I Knew You When” by Donny Osmond

And there was some interesting stuff a little further down the chart, too:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, January 8, 1972)
“Hey Big Brother” by Rare Earth [No. 22]
“Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” by the Temptations [No. 39]
“Without You” by Nilsson [No. 54]
“Pretty As You Feel” by Jefferson Airplane [No. 60]
“After All This Time” by Merry Clayton [No. 71]
“Get Up and Get Down” by the Dramatics [No. 78]

I really only recall two of these, which I think is more an indication of my slide toward album rock during the 1971-72 college year than it is a comment on the tunes. On the other hand, the two that I do recall are two of the three that found their ways into the Top 40: The Rare Earth and Nilsson singles. I’m sure I heard the Temptations’ record, but it doesn’t seem to have penetrated. I might have heard the Merry Clayton recording as an album track at the college radio station, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear the Jefferson Airplane or Dramatics singles until years later.

“Hey Big Brother” still sounds to me a little bit clunky, as did all of Rare Earth’s singles. That’s not bad, but the records aren’t as smooth as you’d expect from a band that came through the Motown door. (The group had its own Rare Earth label but had been one of the first white acts signed to the Motown label.) But that clunkiness does lend the group’s records an identity. “Hey Big Brother” eventually climbed another three spots to No. 19. There is a labeling anomaly with the record: All the commercial 45 labels I can find online list the time as 2:59, while a label I saw for a DJ promo stereo/mono 45 listed the correct time of 4:45, at least on the stereo side.

A few weeks ago, I tried to rip my vinyl copy of the Temptations’ single, but I thought there might be a skip. I think it was just a funky bit of rhythm, having listened to this copy that I got from another source, a rip of the 1972 album Solid Rock. The record – supposedly a comment from writers Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield on Motown singer David Ruffin, who had left the Temptations a few years earlier – peaked at No. 18.

The late Harry Nilsson was capable of pulling off irony with a straight face, so it’s possible, I suppose, that “Without You” was actually a joke, a commentary on songs of lost love. I’ve never read anywhere that he had any such intentions, but it’s something – given the rest of his career – that I’ve occasionally wondered about. But I don’t think that’s the case. The record – which spent four weeks at No. 1 in February and March of 1972 – is just too damned sad. At least until Nilsson opens up the pipes in the end and blows you away.

All-Music Guide has this to say about Jefferson Airplane’s “Pretty As You Feel,” which was sitting at its peak position of No. 60 as January 8, 1972 came along: “Constructed from a live, in-the-studio jam that features Carlos Santana, ‘Pretty As You Feel’ was then picked up by new Airplane member Joey Covington, who wrote the lyrics. Musically, it’s a soulful exercise in a jazz-inflected strut, with a strong but mellow blues feeling. The lyrics are a take on the stupidity of changing one’s appearance for appearance’s sake – to be, that is, au naturel.” Three weeks later, the record had fallen out of the Hot 100. The jacket of the Bark album and the 45 labels I’ve seen have the record running 4:29, but oddly enough, on the Airplane anthology Flight Log, there is an edit of the song that runs 3:07. I haven’t listened to that piece of vinyl for years; I’ll have to do so soon.

I’ve liked Merry Clayton’s version of Carole King’s “After All This Time” ever since I heard the Merry Clayton album many years ago, wherever that was. But until last evening, when I was digging through the Billboard listings for early 1972, I’d had no idea that it was ever released as a single. It didn’t do well: by January 8, the record had been in the Hot 100 for five weeks and, as it turned out, had reached its peak at No. 71. It tumbled out of the chart during the next three weeks. Listening to it this morning, I still think it’s better than a lot of stuff that prospered on the charts that winter.

I don’t have a lot to say about the Dramatics’ “Get Up and Get Down,” except that it’s got a great groove. Unless you’re in traction or something like that, your head should be bobbing by the time the horns start calling at about the nine-second mark. The record didn’t do well: Its No. 78 ranking in the January 8 Hot 100 was its peak.

(My best guesses – based on comparing running times with those listed on 45 labels I found online – is that these are the recordings that were released as singles. Those I’m most sure of are the ones I’ve tagged with single catalog numbers [in two cases, along with the album from which they were pulled as singles]. The two I’ve tagged with just the album titles, I’m just not certain about.)

Willie Mitchell, RIP
Having mentioned Al Green in the top ten list above, I should note the passing this week of Willie Mitchell, who crafted the Hi Records sound that backed Green and a great number of others on hits and other recordings. While I love the Hi Records sound and acknowledge Mitchell’s huge influence, I’ll let others more qualified than I handle the tributes, starting with Larry at Funky 16 Corners.

Friends, Joe South, Nilsson & More

August 5, 2011

Originally posted August 28, 2008

This will be my last post for about week, as it’s time to focus on packing and moving. The movers come Tuesday, and we’re hoping – as I’ve said before – to have the lighter and smaller stuff already carried across to the new place when the truck gets here. So it’s time to take some time. If all goes as planned, I’ll be back September 5 with a First Friday post looking at September 1968.

I did my usual wandering through YouTube this morning. Here’s the Friends of Distinction lip-synching “Love or Let Me Be Lonely” on television sometime around 1970. (The ending is chopped, unfortunately.)

Video deleted.

I also found what appears to be a television performance by Joe South as he sings “The Games People Play,” which was released on his Introspect album in 1968:

Here’s a video from Beat Club – a German show originating in Bremen that ran from 1965 through 1972, according to Wikipedia – with Harry Nilsson performing “Everybody’s Talkin’.” I don’t think Harry did a lot of television, so this could be fairly rare.

And I’ll close for the time being with an actual live performance from right around 1969, with Chuck Negron leading Three Dog Night through a pretty good rendition of “Easy To Be Hard.”

Video deleted

See you in a little more than a week!

As The End Of The Year Draws Near

August 5, 2011

Originally posted August 27, 2008

As August enters its last days, we’re coming to the end of another year.

Forget that December 31/January 1 stuff. That’s bookkeeping. For me – and for many, I think – the years turn over sometime during the first weeks of September.

During my school days, for thirteen years, the new year began on the day after Labor Day with the first day of school. For another six years – I went to college on the extended plan – the year began sometime in September when the fall quarter started. If I’d pondered that sense of timing at all in those days, I would have expected it to change when I went into the adult world. But it didn’t. Years still turned as August ended and September began.

Part of that was because of my work: Small town newspapers find so much of their content in the local schools that their calendars are tied to the schools’ calendars. In between my newspaper years, I went to graduate school and then taught and worked at several colleges and universities, so my life continued to be tied to a literal calendar that ran from September onward.

But it’s been more than ten years since I was a reporter. My day-to-day life has no connection with the schools, with colleges and universities, with the regular events that command the attention of reporters and editors. And still, it feels to me as if a year is ending in these few days. And it feels as if a new year is about to begin.

Maybe it’s conditioning from all those early years in school. Maybe it’s something so instinctive in the human mind, perhaps something tied to the harvest-time, that we’ve lost track of where it comes from. (It occurs to me that, if the perception of years turning at this time of year is innately tied to the harvest, folks whose forbears were native to the Southern Hemisphere would have a different perception. Anyone from those precincts have a thought?)

Whatever the reason, this time of year has always felt like a time of renewal and change. One such time, an August/September that stands out clearly (I know I’ve mentioned it before), came in 1969, when I spent daytimes of the last weeks of summer at football practice, lugging equipment and supplies around for the Tech Tigers and then hanging around the locker room, sharing ribald stories and the music that came from the training room radio.

In a way that very little else does, music marks our years. And here are some tunes that are markers for me from late August and early September of that year.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1969, Vol. 3
“Goodbye Columbus” by the Association, Warner Bros. 7265 (No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100, August 23, 1969)

“Going In Circles” by the Friends of Distinction, RCA 0204 (No. 90)

“Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” by Joe South, Capitol 2592 (No. 84)

“I’m Gonna Make You Mine” by Lou Christie, Buddah 116 (No. 66)

“Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson, RCA Victor 0161 (No. 49)

“Keem-O-Sabe” by the Electric Indian, United Artists 50563 (No. 39)

“Share Your Love With Me” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic 2650 (No. 31)

“Marrakesh Express” by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Atlantic 2652 (No. 28)

“Soul Deep” by the Box Tops, Mala 12040 (No. 24)

“Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night, Dunhill/ABC 4203 (No. 18)

“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, Reprise 0829 (No. 11)

“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy 625 (No. 7)

“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon, Imperial 66385 (No. 6)

A few notes:

I’ve always been surprised that “Goodbye Columbus” – the theme from the film of the same name – didn’t do better. The record peaked at No. 88 on September 6 and then fell off the chart.

“Everybody’s Talkin’” is one of those tunes that has a few different versions out there. It was used in the film Midnight Cowboy, and two different versions of it are on the official soundtrack. Neither of them sounds like the one I remember coming from my radio. The version here is from Nilsson’s 1968 album Aerial Ballet, and I think this was the version that got airplay as the single, which reached No. 6. I could be wrong. Anyone know?

“Keem-O-Sabe” was one of those instrumentals that occasionally popped up in the Top 40, and the thought occurs that it likely wouldn’t have a chance of doing so today, given changes in attitudes. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that Electric Indian was actually a group of studio musicians from Philadelphia; some of them later were members of MFSB. The record peaked at No. 16.

I liked Kenny Rogers when he was with the First Edition; the group had four more Top 40 hits after “Ruby” peaked at No. 6. They were “Ruben James” and “Something’s Burning,” which I recall, and “Tell It All Brother” and “Heed The Call,” which I don’t. (I have “Heed The Call” but I don’t remember hearing it in 1970.) After those four, Rogers was absent from the Top 40 for seven years, until “Lucille” began his remarkable run of success as a country crossover artist, a string of tunes that didn’t interest me much.

I imagine that, if asked to pick the perfect CCR record, lots of folks would go with “Proud Mary.” Nothing wrong with that one, but something about “Green River” grabbed me the first time I heard that opening guitar riff, and it’s never let me go.

Chicken Livers & Art Deco

April 28, 2010

During the 1960s and early 1970s, my family visited downtown Minneapolis something like four or five times a year. The suburban malls and all the hoo-ha that eventually developed around them were in their infancy at the time; when you wanted serious shopping, you went downtown, maybe to St. Paul but far more often to Minneapolis.

During one of those trips to Minneapolis – occasioned, I believe by an appointment for my dad at the nearby Fort Snelling Veterans Administration Hospital – my mom and I found ourselves on our own as lunchtime approached. I was maybe ten, so call it 1964. She took me to a cafeteria called the Forum. We made our way through the line, pushing our trays along their winding paths atop the tubular steel guides. I passed on meatloaf, Salisbury steak, hambugers and fries. Something had caught my eye, something creamy on a mess of golden egg noodles.

When I got there, the sign told me that the dish was chicken livers in cream sauce over noodles. It’s not a dish one would expect to find in a restaurant menu today, in downtown Minneapolis or even in downtown Olivia in the heart of Minnesota’s farm belt. But the Forum must have sold plenty of chicken livers over egg noodles back then, certainly enough to keep the dish on the menu for years to come. Because maybe two years after Mom took me to the Forum for the first time, I was allowed to wander free in downtown Minneapolis on our visits there, and whenever my wandering included lunchtime, I went to the Forum for chicken livers over noodles. And that went on for at least another eight years, until sometime after I graduated from high school.

There was another attraction to the place, beyond the draw of chicken livers in cream sauce: The Forum’s interior was a visual feast. In later years, I saw it described as one of the premier Art Deco interiors in the country. At twelve years old, I wouldn’t have known Art Deco from Art Shamsky, but I did know that I loved the unique interior of the Forum. It was simply fun to be inside a place where there was so much going on visually. And to eat lunch there was a highlight of many trips to Minneapolis over those years.

I thought about all that yesterday when the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on the newly reopened Forum, now a bar and restaurant. In 1975, the cafeteria closed down and the space was converted to a restaurant and disco, Scottie’s on Seventh. Eventually, urban renewal closed in on the building that hosted the Forum, and the building came down. But not until after the Art Deco interior was disassembled and saved. It was installed in the new City Center that went up on the site, and during the early 1980s, Scottie’s reopened there. By 1996, it was the turn of a restaurant called Goodfellow’s to take over the space, and five years ago, the space went dark.

It’s now the Forum again, a restaurant instead of a cafeteria, and it’s a place that the Texas Gal and I are making plans to see, likely for lunch during a planned August overnight in the Twin Cities. The newspaper says the interior has been lovingly restored and renewed (there’s a slideshow about the place’s design here), and that’s good news. I spent a few minutes this morning looking at the menu online, and the food sounds fine. No chicken livers, though.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 14
“California Girls” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 5464 [1965]
‘Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson, RCA Victor 0161 [1968]
“Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman, Track 2656 [1969]
“Day After Day” by Badfinger, Apple 1841 [1971]
“Get It On” by Chase from Chase (not the single Epic 10738) [1971]
“No Tears (In The End)” by Roberta Flack from Killing Me Softly [1973]

None of these songs have any connection to downtown Minneapolis, to the Forum cafeteria or to creamed chicken livers on noodles, as far as I know. The only connection is the time. There is no doubt that during the months that the first two songs on this list were popular – and maybe during the brief popularity of the third song, too – a searcher could have found a young whiteray at least once and possibly more often sitting happily at a table in the Forum, enjoying a meal in the big city all on his own.

I think about that today, and I shudder. The downtown of a major American city is no longer a place where one would allow a twelve-year-old boy from out of town to wander freely. But forty-odd years ago, downtown Minneapolis was safe ground; the times were different. And I’m glad I grew up then instead of now.

By including “California Girls” in the selections for my mythical jukebox, I’m not by any means saying it’s one of the two-hundred and twenty-eight greatest records. It’s not. I do think it’s the Beach Boys’ greatest single, crowded for that spot only by “Surfin’ U.S.A.” And there was no real analysis or deliberation that led me to those rankings. Rather, it’s a visceral reaction. For most of their history, the Beach Boys have meant very little to me. The early stuff was pleasant but to me – looking back as I must, not having heard it much when it was on the radio – is unremarkable. The records I remember hearing as they came out, the later catalog, is stuff that I find to be artsy simply for the sake of being artsy, with “Good Vibrations” being the premier example. (Or maybe the premier example is SMiLE, the “long-lost treasure” that Brian Wilson completed and released in 2004. I should note that I rarely sell music – LPs or CDs. Once they’re home, they stay here, unless I need cash badly – as has happened at times over the years – or unless I find the music so unrewarding that I seen no need to keep it. A couple of years after I bought it, I sold SMiLE, and I didn’t need the cash.) Anyway, the thought of the Ultimate Jukebox without at least one Beach Boys’ record in it seemed odd, and I think this is the only selection I made to ensure a group’s presence in this list. Given that, I selected “California Girls,” which went to No. 3 in 1965, and I chose it partly because its essence is echoed in loving parody in the Beatles’ “Back In The U.S.S.R.”

Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” brings back echoes, of course, of the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, which used the record in its soundtrack. I have a sense that Nilsson recorded Fred Neil’s song more than once, as it seems I’ve run across several different versions of the song. And to be honest, I don’t know which is the original and which, if any, were created for the film. I believe the original version is the one that Nilsson recorded for his album Aerial Ballet in 1968, which is where I get the date I listed above. And I think that was the version that was released as a single when the movie came out in 1969, with the single reaching No. 6 in the late summer and early autumn of that year. I’ve never seen Midnight Cowboy, and every time “Everybody’s Talkin’” pops up on the radio or on my player here at home, I tell myself that I have to put the movie’s title in my video queue. And I forget to do so every time.

Dave Marsh writes in The Heart of Rock & Soul: “Of all the sixties’ testimony to the necessity for immediate social revolution, “Something In The Air” is by far the most elegantly atmospheric.” The single – and the following album, which is almost as consistently good – was produced by the Who’s Pete Townshend, with Andy “Thunderclap” Newman on piano, Speedy Keen on drums, a young Jimmy McCulloch on guitar and – Marsh says – “Bijou Drains, a bassist with a giant beak, pipestem legs and unorthodox windmill playing style.” Drains, of course, was Townshend on a busman’s holiday. The single that resulted remains at moments thrilling, though there are also moments when it sounds as if the record – which barely pierced the Top 40, peaking at No. 37 in the autumn of 1969 – was patched together with Scotch tape. As clunky as some of the production is, it’s still a fascinating and fun record.

Badfinger’s “Day After Day” remains, nearly forty years later, a gorgeous song. Written by Pete Ham and produced by Todd Rundgren for Straight Up, the group’s third album, the single went to No. 4 as 1971 turned into 1972. Badfinger’s sad story is well-known, for the most part; those who are unfamiliar can find it here. For my purposes, it’s enough today to say that the group provided some fine singles and albums, and “Day After Day” might be the best.

I’ve written several times about the horn rock bands of the early 1970s, among which Chase might have had the most talent (and likely, too, the most horns, what with three trumpets). “Get It On” came curling out of radio speakers during the summer of 1971, when the record went to No. 24. Four (pretty good) albums and three years later, the story ended when Bill Chase and three other members of the band (and two pilots) were killed in an airplane crash in southwestern Minnesota. Even after all these years, the cascading trumpets give me a little bit of a chill.

I don’t know that I’d thought of exploring Roberta Flack’s music much until late in 1974, when a friend gave me a copy of Flack’s Killing Me Softly album. I knew the title track, of course, which had gone to No. 1 in early 1973. I knew Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” which closed the album. And even though I’ve listened to the record on and off for more than thirty-five years now, the rest of the record remains vague to me, with the exception of two tracks: “When You Smile” was the song that the ladyfriend who gave me the record quoted to me one evening over a quiet drink, a wish just short of a promise that never came true. And “No Tears (In The End)” is a loping piece of light funk that never fails to make me want to dance, and it’s home to a lyric that still talks to me today.

(Revised slightly, with one correction, since first posting.)