Posts Tagged ‘Olivia Newton-John’

At Home With The Radio: 1981

January 13, 2021

I’ve noted here on occasion that during the times when I was a reporter in Monticello – November 1977 into August 1983 – there were numerous Saturday evenings when the Other Half and I turned off the TV and let KSTP-FM keep us company from the Twin Cities.

Here’s some of what we would have heard had we spent an evening like that forty years ago this week. Courtesy of the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, this is the Top Ten from KSTP-FM released January 13, 1981, forty years ago today:

“(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon
“The Tide Is High” by Blondie
“Every Woman In The World” by Air Supply
“Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan
“Love On The Rocks” by Neil Diamond
“I Love A Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt
“Never Be The Same” by Christopher Cross
“I Made It Through The Rain” by Barry Manilow
“It’s My Turn” by Diana Ross
“Suddenly” by Olivia Newton-John & Cliff Richard

That likely would have been one of those evenings when – thirty minutes in – one of us would have turned to the other and said, “Some good music tonight,” and the other would have murmured “Yeah, there is,” while involved in a Stephen King novel (me) or a crafting project (her).

But how does that set play forty years later? I admit I had to duck out to YouTube to refresh my memories of two of those – the Newton-John/Richard record and the Cross single. The first is okay, carrying reminders of the indigestible movie Xanadu, and the second is decent, but even after listening to it this morning, it remains unmemorable, even though the entire Christopher Cross album is in the digital stacks.

But there are a couple of gems in that Top Ten: The John Lennon record would still have been making us a little sad, as it had been just more than a month since he was murdered, but it remains a good record; and “Hey Nineteen” is one of Steely Dan’s less opaque offerings, at least.

The others there that can still evince a smile from me forty years later are the records by Eddie Rabbitt, Blondie and Barry Manilow. That last – “I Made It Through The Rain” – is the kind of bittersweet schmaltz aimed directly at romantic fools such as I. And for all its flaws – and there are several – it’s a good memory.

I can, however, do without the records from Diamond, Ross and Air Supply.

About half of those ten are among the 81,000 sorted tracks on the digital shelves. Have any of them made it into the iPod and thus my day-to-day listening?

Well, just the records by Eddie Rabbitt and Blondie. “Hey Nineteen” should be in there (and likely will by the end of the day), and I’m thinking about the John Lennon record. And the Manilow.

So what do we feature today? Well, why not something from Xanadu? That’s a rhetorical question; there may in fact be many reasons why not. And why? Just because it showed up here today.

So, here’s “Suddenly” by Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard. As well as making the Top Ten at KSTP-FM (and peaking at No. 9 there), the record went to No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.

Love, Murder & Regret

October 26, 2018

One of my regular stops for tunes new to me or for new perspectives on tunes familiar is the fine blog Any Major Dude With Half A Heart. From imaginatively themed mixes to the multi-part history of country music, I’ve gotten more tunes from the Halfhearted Dude than I can easily digest, all offered with trenchant commentary.

We don’t agree on everything. There are tunes and genres he likes that leave me wanting, and I know there are tunes and genres dear to me that likely draw from the Dude eye-rolls worthy of a teen. As an example, I wasn’t crazy about everything he offered this week in his “Any Major Murder Songs Vol. 1,” which was nevertheless a fun mix. And one of the tracks in the mix pulled me back to one of my own explorations here: Olivia Newton-John’s 1971 cover of “Banks Of The Ohio,” a song of love, murder and regret.

I included Newton-John’s live performance of the song five years ago when I looked a little bit at the song’s long history. As I wrote then, it was startling “to see earlier this week in the Billboard Hot 100 from October 30, 1971, that Olivia Newton-John had a hit with a gender-flipped version of ‘Banks Of The Ohio.’ The single went only to No. 94 here in the U.S. (No. 34 on the Adult Contemporary chart), but it was No. 1 for five weeks in Australia.”

Here’s the studio version:

The Halfhearted Dude called the track “the weirdest” of the twenty-four he included in his murder collection. I left a note at his blog suggesting that if he truly wanted weird, he should listen to Glenn Yarbrough’s take on the tune, found on his 1957 album Come Sit By My Side. The video I linked to five years ago was layered with surface noise; in this video, the purposeful and disquieting dissonance conjured up by Yarbrough and his producer, whoever he was, is much more audible, as is Yarbrough’s odd and jarring diction. I called the whole thing “creepy” five years ago, and I have not changed my mind.

And when I shared Yarbrough’s “Banks Of The Ohio” five years ago, frequent visitor, commenter and pal Yah Shure agreed with my assessment: “Creepy is right! Must thoroughly cleanse musical palate now.”

He went on to compare Yarbrough’s take on the old folk song to a record a local band recorded during his youth:

Some fellow students from my high school were in a band called the Poore Boyes, whose “Give” – a 1966 single on the local Summer label – was a reverb-drenched love-’er and stab-’er affair that I’m guessing didn’t generate boatloads of requests at their high school prom gigs, in spite of some airplay on KDWB. It had that minor key/echo/surf Kay Bank Recording Studio sound (think “Liar, Liar” with knives and blood.)

Here’s the Poore Boyes “Give” on the Summer label (along with the B-side “It’s Love”):

There was a second version of “Give” by the Poore Boyes, Yah Shure said:

The group re-cut . . . er, re-recorded “Give” in a much drier version for Capitol’s perennially-hitless Uptown subsidiary, but the lyrics sounded even creepier – more premeditated, even – when uncloaked from the murky, damp darkness of the earlier echo-fest.

Here’s that second version:

I’ll let Yah Shure have the final word on “Give,” from his comments five years ago: “Maybe Olivia should’ve covered it.”

‘Only Say That You’ll Be Mine . . .’

November 1, 2013

When one wanders through the vast field of American folk songs – the songs that arose here in the years before recorded music, that folks sang at home and passed on via oral traditions, and that provide at least part of the foundation of today’s popular music – one finds mayhem of all sorts. Take a listen to numerous entries, for example, in Harry Smith’s massive Anthology of American Folk Music, and you’ll find jealousy, robbery, rape, accidental death, murder and more.

At least two of those are present in “Down On The Banks Of The Ohio” as recorded in 1936 by the Blue Sky Boys. The song wasn’t included in Smith’s original three volumes in 1952 (reissued in 1997 in a six-CD box), but it showed up in a 2000 release of a fourth volume Smith never completed. In that song – released on the Bluebird and Montgomery Ward labels (and used in 1973 in the soundtrack to the movie Paper Moon) – the Blue Sky Boys sing:

Come my love, let’s take a walk,
Just a little ways away.
While we walk along, we’ll talk,
Talk about our wedding day.

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

I drew my knife across her throat,
And to my breast she gently pressed.
“Oh please, oh please, don’t murder me,
For I’m unprepared to die you see.”

I taken her by her lily white hand.
I let her down and I bade her stand.
There I plunged her in to drown,
And watched her as she floated down.

Returning home ’tween twelve and one.
Thinking of the deed I done.
I murdered a girl I love, you see,
Because she would not marry me.

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

Next day as I returning home
I met the sheriff standing in the door.
He said “Young man, come with me and go,
Down to the banks of the Ohio.”

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

The song, according to Wikipedia, comes from the 19th century, and many versions with different verses have arisen since. In the first recorded version of the tune, performed in 1927 by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers, the young lady confesses that she loves another, and that spurs the narrator to murder. In that 1927 version, however, the sheriff makes no appearance, leaving the murderer to grieve on the banks of the river.

Okay, so jealousy and murder were not uncommon in song (and still are not, perhaps especially in county music, the most direct descendant of the folk songs Smith collected), but it was still startling to see earlier this week in the Billboard Hot 100 from October 30, 1971, that Olivia Newton-John had a hit with a gender-flipped version of “Banks Of The Ohio.” The single went only to No. 94 here in the U.S. (No. 34 on the Adult Contemporary chart), but it was No. 1 for five weeks in Australia. Here’s a 1971 television appearance:

Newton-John’s version trims out the verses that provide motive for the murder, that tell of the drowning and that bring in the sheriff, yet it’s still a jarring song for 1971 when one listens to the story. Well, maybe not; 1971 was also the year that the Buoys hit No. 17 with “Timothy,” a barely disguised tale about a cave-in and cannibalism. But I wonder how many folks who sang along with the pretty chorus of Newton-John’s hit shook their heads when they realized that things were not as pleasant as they seemed along the banks of the Ohio.

Newton-John’s version of the song is the only one that’s hit the Billboard Hot 100 and AC Top 40. No version has ever reached the R&B or Country Top 40s. Finding it in the R&B listings would have surprised me, but a greater surprise was its absence from the country chart. In the years before and after Newton-John’s cover of the song, there have been plenty of other countryish covers, both as “Banks Of The Ohio” and “Down On The Banks Of The Ohio.” (Wikipedia notes a couple other titles, too: Henry Whittier recorded the song in the 1920s as “I’ll Never Be Yours,” and the song has sometimes been titled “On the Banks of the Old Pedee.”)

As I wandered through numerous covers of “Banks Of The Ohio” in the past few days (and I won’t note all of them; you can go to Second Hand Songs and find the list I used as a starting point if you’re so inclined), a few stood out. I liked the version by Howard & Gerald with the Starlite Mountain Boys that was released in 1970 on Mountain Doer (or Mo Do) Records of Marion, West Virginia. The same was true of the version the Kossoy Sisters included on their 1956 album, Bowling Green and Other Folk Songs from the Southern Mountains. And a current artist named Tom Roush recorded a very lush take on the song for his album My Grandfather’s Clock: More Music of 19th Century America, released just this year.

But the most fascinating version of the old song I’ve found in the past few days comes from a very familiar artist. The person who posted it on YouTube called it “the creepiest version” of the song, and I can’t disagree. Here, from his 1957 album, Come Sit By My Side, and studded with dissonance, is Glenn Yarbrough’s take on “Banks Of The Ohio.”

Video changed October 15, 2020.

A Baker’s Dozen For The Heartstrings

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 6, 2008

Boy, I gotta pay attention to what I write.

I was wandering through the cyberattic last evening, seeing if any of last spring’s posts needed reviewal or brought up something more to write about. And I found a post in which I listed my three favorite singles.

They were “Summer Rain,” a 1967 single by Johnny Rivers, “We” from Shawn Phillips, released in 1972 , and “Long, Long Time,” Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 minor hit. That was on May 24.

Then, less than three weeks ago, I offered up the Association’s “Cherish” as the perfect pop-rock single.

Now, there may be a difference between a favorite single and “perfect” single, but it would be slight. What the comparison between the two posts means is that I’ve been in the process of refining my views, and when reminded of another possibility – or when recalling something I’ve forgotten for a short time – I can modify my views. For some reason, when I was writing the May post headed by “Summer Rain” – sparked by a discussion at a bulletin board – I didn’t think about “Cherish.”

Why? Because I forgot about it. I wrote the bulletin board post that sparked my post here off the top of my head, and the Association record slipped my mind. But as I look at the four songs in question – the three from the May post and “Cherish,” I realize that they all do come from a list I did put together some time ago, a list of songs guaranteed to tug at my heart. They don’t all have memories of young women attached to them, although some of them do. But every one of them – when it pops up on the radio or the RealPlayer – will make me slow down for a moment or two, during which the bartender of my soul serves me a cup of bittersweet wine.

So, after excluding “Cherish,” and Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” as I posted both here fairly recently, here are the thirteen best songs remaining on that list:

A Baker’s Dozen for the Heartstrings
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by the Supremes & the Temptations, Motown single 1137, 1968

“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66267, 1967

“It Don’t Matter To Me” by Bread, Elektra single 45701, 1970

“Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt, Capitol single 2846, 1970

“Hey Tomorrow” by Jim Croce from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, 1972

“I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John, MCA single 40280, 1974

“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues, Reprise single 0686, 1968

“We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” by Seal & Crofts, Warner Bros. single 7740, 1973

“We” by Shawn Phillips, A&M single 1402, 1972

“All That Heaven Will Allow” by Bruce Springsteen from Tunnel of Love, 1987

“Sentimental Lady” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Cobwebs and Dust” by Gordon Lightfoot from If You Could Read My Mind, 1970

“Four Strong Winds” by Neil Young from Comes A Time, 1978

A few notes:

Most of these, I acknowledge, are pop or singer-songwriter stuff, pretty mellow tunes for soul-searching in the dark hours, but the opener, well, even when the performers at Motown were baring their souls, they did so with a groove. The opening drums (has to be Benny Benjamin, I think) and then the low horns, followed by the horn chorus, well, all I can still say, forty years after I first heard it, is wow! My reference books are all packed away, or I’d credit the producer. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t sound light enough for a Smokey Robinson session. Maybe Holland-Dozier-Holland, or possibly even Berry Gordy himself. Anyone out there know? Whoever did it, they got it right.*

Bread recorded “It Don’t Matter To Me” twice. The first version, on the group’s first, self-titled album in 1969, sounds flatter than the single version that was released a year later. That’s likely recording technique instead of performance, and my preference for the single instead of the album track is likely based on familiarity, but the single version does seem the better of the two.

I expect a summons from the Taste Police – a term I’ve borrowed from fellow blogger Any Major Dude – regarding the Newton-John selection. Well, I’m guilty! Cuff me and lead me away! Make me listen to Ambrosia and Air Supply! “I Honestly Love You” is a good song (Peter Allen’s work) and a good recording. And I think it’s by far the best thing Newton-John has recorded in a long and indifferent career.

All of these have lyrics designed to make one sigh or worse, but the best lyric here might be “All That Heaven Will Allow,” with Springsteen’s working man taking us through three uses of the title phrase with three different meanings. A neat trick, and the Boss makes us believe it.

Fleetwood Mac should have had a hit with “Sentimental Lady” when Bare Trees came out in 1972. As it turned out, a remake by writer Bob Welch reached No. 8 in 1977, but the original is by far the better version of the song.

*As it happens, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was not produced by any of those luminaries I mentioned, but by Frank Wilson, about whom I know nothing. Note added and post revised slightly July 27, 2011.