Posts Tagged ‘Pacific Gas & Electric’

PG&E, Fats, Stevie Ray & Jimi

May 31, 2017

Originally posted June 18, 2009

I found an interesting clip of Pacific Gas & Electric performing a long version of “Are You Ready.” It sounds like a live performance – I miss the background singers – but there’s no sign of an audience, not even any audience sounds at the end of the performance. Still, it’s a decent performance from – according to the video poster – 1970.

Here’s a concert performance of “Walking To New Orleans” from Fats Domino. Based on the few visual clues available, I’d put this in the 1990s, maybe a bit earlier. Does anyone know? From what I can tell on later examination, the performance was in 1985.

I found a clip of Stevie Ray Vaughan doing an instrumental version of “Little Wing” in what appears to be a European open-air venue around, maybe, 1985. He moves into a cover of “Third Stone From The Sun” before the clip ends.

Video deleted.

Finally, here’s a YouTube posting with only still pictures. But that’s okay, the audio is Jimi Hendrix’ performance of “Little Wing” (with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums) during the second show at San Francisco’s Winterland on October 12, 1968.

Video deleted.

A while back, I posted a single track from the self-titled 1974 album by Isis, which was kind of a female version of Earth, Wind & Fire. I’ve been thinking about posting the full album, but I’ve learned that it’s now available on CD, which is good news. It’s an import, yeah, with the corresponding price, but still, it’s out there.

Slightly revised on archival posting.

Saturday Single No. 136

June 5, 2015

Originally posted June 13, 2009

I’m not exactly sure when I first heard the record that is today’s Saturday Single.

I used to think I knew: I was certain that the first time I heard Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready?” was in 1970 while I was in one of the traps at the local gun club, the semi-buried shelters where I spent four days each summer for three years.

I know I heard “Are You Ready?” while toiling at the trap shoot that year. I brought my radio every day, just like most of the other fellows who worked as “setters,” sitting in the dirty trap pits and placing targets on the whirring machines so they could be thrown into the air and then blown apart by shotgun blasts. I have a clear memory of the Pacific Gas & Electric tune coming from the speakers during one of the slow times, after one group of shooters was done and before the shooters in the next group had taken their places.

That gave me time to close my eyes and listen to the up-tempo record, to hear the background singers and the trippy guitar solo. Looking back over the years, as I’ve thought about the song, I’ve been certain that the first time I heard “Are You Ready?” was in that little pit, enduring the dust and grime and isolation for the sake of fifteen dollars a day (which was pretty good cash for a sixteen-year-old kid in 1970).

But that’s probably not the case. As I dug into the record’s history this week, I noticed that “Are You Ready?” entered the Billboard Top 40 on June 13, 1970, thirty-nine years ago next week. A week earlier, thirty-nine years ago today, it sat at No. 43 in the Billboard Hot 100. As much as I was listening to Top 40 at the time, I most likely heard the PG&E record around the beginning of June as it approached the Top 40, certainly by the middle of June, when it was climbing to its peak at No. 14.

And the state trap shoot – the only event I ever worked out at the gun club – would have taken place no earlier than July. So I likely would have heard “Are You Ready?” on my radio at home or in the car before then, and I’m not sure why that particular hearing of that particular record sticks in my mind. I mean, it was a good radio record, but then, so were a lot of tunes at that time. Just to cherry-pick a few from the Top 40 of thirty-nine years ago today:

No. 5: “Love On A Two-Way Street” by the Moments
No. 7: “Make Me Smile” by Chicago
No. 12: “Ride, Captain, Ride” by Blues Image
No. 18: “American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who
No. 20: “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations
No. 25: “Reflections of My Life” by the Marmalade
No. 34: “Spirit in the Dark” by Aretha Franklin

Some of the other records surrounding these are a little lame, in retrospect – the Poppy Family’s “Which Way You Going, Billy?” limps considerably, as an example – but at the time, I found Top 40 radio speaking to me in every portion of my life. And one of my favorites at the time was, in fact, “Are You Ready?” So whatever the reason, something about that moment, that playing of the record, stuck in my mind.

So when I began collecting vinyl in the late 1980s, one of the songs I wanted to find was Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready?” But I couldn’t find the record as I remembered it. On the group’s album – also titled Are You Ready? – the track began with a long, slow and overly dramatic introduction: “There’s rumors of war . . . men dying and women crying . . .” Eventually, the track kicked into the up-tempo song I remembered, and that was fine. But it wasn’t what I remembered from the radio.

During the late 1980s and on into the 1990s, I looked on occasion for the original. I checked out stacks of 45s at used record shops, and I grabbed every anthology I found that listed “Are You Ready?” as one of its tracks. Same thing, every time: the long version with a running time of 5:49.

Now, it’s not like finding the original “Are You Ready?” was all-consuming. It was a search that popped up now and then, and the popups came less and less frequently as time went on. A couple of weeks ago, however, caithiseach and I were talking about long-sought records, and I mentioned “Are You Ready?” and its two versions. He said he thought he had the short version, the one that got radio play, on a 45. So he brought it over the other day, and – to the dismay of both of us – it turned out to be the long version.

Casting about to determine if the short version had ever been released commercially or if it had been distributed only to radio stations, we looked on Ebay. I’d looked there at other times, but one never knows. And there we found a listing for a white-label Columbia single of “Are You Ready?” with a running time of 2:40. The price wasn’t much – $5.99 plus shipping – but there are times when patience is in short supply.

“You know who might have that?” I asked caithiseach.

He nodded. “Yah Shure,” he said.

So we sent a note to our pal Yah Shure, explaining our quest of the moment. That evening, an mp3 rip of the short version of “Are You Ready?” arrived via email.

Yah Shure wrote: “Oh yeah… ‘Are You Ready?’  That one ranked right up there with People’s ‘I Love You’ in terms of getting a much l-o-n-g-e-r 45 than what was played on the radio, with an equally s-l-o-w-w-w-w and seemingly endless intro to boot.”

He confirmed our suspicions that the DJ 45 was, in 1970, the only source of the radio edit. His copy, he said, came from “the long-out-of-print 1996 Dick Bartley Presents Collector’s Essentials: The ’70s CD on Varèse Sarabande.  This is the same CD that contained the single version of ‘One Fine Morning’ . . . It also included the DJ 45 edit of ‘Beach Baby’ by First Class, as well as the edited side of the short/long ‘Radar Love’ DJ 45.  Oh, and the 45 version of Potliquor’s ‘Cheer,’ too.  No wonder this CD now commands $30-plus on the used market.”

I may have to save my shekels and look for that CD eventually. For now, though, I’m thankful to Yah Shure for the mp3. And here’s how “Are You Ready?” sounded coming out of the radio speakers in 1970, today’s Saturday Single:

Revised slightly on archival posting.

Summer Songs, Part One

August 8, 2013

The RealPlayer hummed along the other day as I did a little housekeeping in the study, trying to do something more substantial than simply move stacks of books, paper and 45 rpm records from one flat surface to another. Not much got accomplished, especially after the RealPlayer settled on “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.

For just a few moments, it was the summer of 1972: A half-time janitor gig on campus, my sister’s wedding, my first car and a road trip to Winnipeg. While there are other records that bring back portions of that summer – “Alone Again, Naturally” has me cleaning venetian blinds and “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” has me driving north to Canada – there’s something about the Flack/Hathaway single that somehow sums up the feel of the whole summer. The record was inescapable (though I never wanted to escape it) as it went to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts.

As the mp3 played, I found the video above and posted it at Facebook and then sat and wondered what other records have such visceral connections with specific summers of my younger days. It seemed worth some digging, both in reference books and memory.

Paging through the Sixties, no records really say “Summer!” until I get to 1968. I wasn’t listening to Top 40 at home yet, but that was the first summer I worked as a setter at the state trap shoot, spending about ten hours a day for four days straight placing clay targets on a scary machine. As did the other setters, I brought a radio, and my semi-subterranean corner of the world was filled with KDWB’s Top 40 most of the day and Minnesota Twins baseball for a couple of hours in the afternoons.

Four records trigger memories as I page through Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits and look at a late July 1968 survey from WDGY, KDWB’s main competitor: “Indian Lake” by the Cowsills, “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams, “Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues and “Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela. The Vogues’ single has a niche of its own in my memory, but the 1968 record that to this day says “trap shoot” (and thus “Summer of ’68”) is “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors, which spent two weeks at No. 1 in early August that year.

Looking back to 1969, the memories of my RCA radio at the trap shoot have to compete with the memories of the radio in the training room at St. Cloud Tech, as the last weeks of summer were my first weeks of being both a manager for the Tigers football team and a dedicated Top 40 listener. But checking Bronson and a late July survey from KDWB, it’s the trap shoot that wins. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells are in the running, but nothing says “Summer 1969” for good or ill – and many folks will think it ill – like “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans, a record that sat atop the Hot 100 for six weeks and on top of the AC chart for two weeks.

The summer of 1970 was my third and final trap shoot summer, but by the time the four-day event rolled around, I’d been listening to Top 40 for nearly a year. That means there are many more songs I recall from that summer with only a little help needed from Bronson’s book or a KDWB survey. Near the top of the list (in memory and quality) are Bread’s “Make It With You,” Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold,”  “Ride, Captain, Ride” by Blues Image, “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War and the 5 Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child.” But the top spot  in my Summer of ’70 list goes to a record that I’ve mentioned numerous times in six-plus years of blogging: “Are You Ready” by Pacific Gas & Electric. The record peaked in the Hot 100 at No. 14.

That’s a good place to stop. We’ll pick up this slender thread next week and see – beyond “Where Is The Love” – which records defined summers after my high school days. In the meantime, any readers who wish can answer this question:

What are your summer records?

Garage Paintin’ Music

August 10, 2012

I suppose it might have been in July, but I think it was a sunny morning in August 1970 when my dad presented me with a couple of paintbrushes, some turpentine, some rags and a couple of gallons of white paint. The west side of the garage needed painting.

Actually, I imagine the entire garage needed painting and he was presenting me with the west side as a test: The south side of the garage was fronted by rose bushes, the east side held a door and a window and had a begonia bed in front of it, and the north side had the overhead door. If I could handle a blank wall without mishap, I might be trustworthy enough to be let loose on one of the other three sides. I was not, one might guess, particularly adept at handyman-type chores.

Why do I think it was August? Because as well as the paint, the brushes, the turpentine and the rags, I took with me out to the garage that morning my RCA radio, the one that had been my grandfather’s, the one I’d brought up from the basement about a year earlier as I answered the siren call of Top 40 music. I opened the overhead door, ran an extension cord around to the back of the garage and provided myself with some entertainment as I painted.

And one of the records I heard that morning on the Twin Cities’ KDWB was one of my favorites at the time, a record that was sitting at No. 19 forty-two years ago this week: the “Overture From Tommy” by the Assembled Multitude. (It still is a favorite of mine; when it popped up the other week on the mp3 player in the kitchen, I found myself doing one of my unorthodox kitchen dances, using a soup ladle as a mallet for air chimes when the real chimes come in at the forty-nine second mark.)

I recall bobbing my head to the record as I painted that morning, happily refraining from using my paint-laden brush as an air chimes mallet or a conductor’s baton. I was trying to be responsible and careful as I worked. Nevertheless, by the end of the morning, when I had finished the job, there were a few spatters of white paint on the radio’s brown casing, spots that were still there when the radio was removed from the basement (where I placed it after getting an AM/FM radio) in 2004.

Along with checking where “Overture From Tommy” sat forty-two years ago this week, I took a deeper look this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from August 15, 1970. Usually, of course, I’m looking for obscure singles, records that pretty much stayed at the bottom of the chart. But this morning, I thought I’d look for records that were favorites of mine at the time, records I was likely to have heard that morning as I painted the garage.

Heading down only a little to No. 22, we find “Are You Ready” by Pacific Gas & Electric. I’ve mentioned the record numerous times during the past five-plus years, but it’s here again because it mattered to me. I’d be a high school senior in less than a month, and the following summer, after I graduated, I knew my folks would expect me to find some kind of summer job. Yes, I was doing chores during that summer of 1970, and I did spend four days working at the state trap shoot at the nearby gun club, but for the most part, that summer was mine. And “Are You Ready” is a record that over the years has come to be a defining sound of that last free summer.

At the time, being a relatively recent convert to the Church of 45s, I don’t know that I’d ever heard of “Duke of Earl,” Gene Chandler’s classic No. 1 hit from 1962. Early in my senior year, I would come across a slender paperback, The Poetry of Rock, in which Richard Goldstein gathered and commented on rock and pop lyrics he thought significant. Among the lyrics in that book were those to “Duke of Earl.” But it took me years to connect the Gene Chandler mentioned as the singer of “Duke of Earl” in Goldstein’s book to the Gene Chandler whose “Groovy Situation” was sitting at No. 36 as I painted, heading to No. 11 on the pop chart (and No. 8 on the R&B chart, about which I know I was utterly unaware). I had much to learn. But I liked “Groovy Situation,” and that was a start.

Despite being clueless about the origins and background of much of the music I heard coming from that old RCA radio, I was developing – via the commentary of my friends, a little bit of reading in music magazines and the shifting sands of my own tastes – a sense not only of what I liked but of what was, for the lack of a better word at the moment, valuable. I knew the difference between Bob Dylan and Bobby Sherman, and I would spend much of my life digging into the work of the former and forgetting about the latter. Nevertheless, one of the records I was glad to hear coming out of the radio that morning was “Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman, which was sitting at No. 38 on its way to No. 5. Why? Well, it was romantic adolescent pop, and I was a romantic adolescent. In memory, it doesn’t hurt that there would actually be a Julie during my senior year, one whose charms I noticed but whose interest in me I absolutely missed.

The concept of groups covering other performers’ earlier hits was also something I had to assimilate. The previous autumn – as I’ve related here before – I quite liked “Birthday,” the No. 26 hit by Underground Sunshine, and when confronted some months later by the Beatles’ version from the White Album, I wondered  (without, thankfully, expressing the thought to my friends) why the Beatles had recorded another group’s song. With some exceptions, my knowledge of pop music as I painted the garage still started with the late summer of 1969. So if Rare Earth’s trippy cover of the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You” came through the speakers that sunny morning, I would have had no awareness that there had been an earlier, earthier version of the song that had gone to No. 8 (No. 1 R&B) in 1966. All I knew was that I liked the record, which was sitting at No. 47 that week, on its way to No. 7, and I certainly didn’t realize that the trippiness I liked would eventually trap Rare Earth’s “(I Know) I’m Losing You” in that specific time.

In the song “Yellow River,” Tony Christie – billed on the label as just Christie – sings about coming home from war:

So long, boy, you can take my place
Got my papers, I got my pay
So pack my bags and I’ll be on my way to Yellow River

Put my gun down, the war is won
Fill my glass high, the time has come
I’m going back to the place that I love: Yellow River

A note at Wikipedia says that Christie wrote the song from the viewpoint of a Confederate soldier returning from the U.S. Civil War, but I have a sense that a lot of folks who listened to Christie’s words in 1970 heard the story of a soldier coming home from Vietnam instead. “Yellow River” was sitting at No. 80 forty-two years ago this week and would eventually climb to No. 23, and as often as I would hear the song that late summer and autumn, I don’t think I ever listened closely enough to hear either the story that Christie intended nor the parallel tale that must have echoed in the record’s chords for thousands of Americans who were not all that much older than I was when I was painting the garage.

Working At The Trapshoot

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 13, 2007

There weren’t a lot of ways for a kid to make money in St. Cloud when the 1960s were turning into the 1970s. Supposedly, you could work when you turned sixteen, but with a state college in the city and two small private colleges within twelve miles, there were plenty of college-age kids available for employers; younger kids didn’t get many of the jobs.

I suppose there were paper routes, and one always saw ads in the back of comic books for stuff that could be sold door-to-door, but I never tried any of those. My first crack at any kind of employment was a hot, dirty, somewhat dangerous job that I got through my pal Rick.

There was – still is, for that matter – a gun club southeast of the city that hosted the state trapshooting championships every year in early to mid-July. Rick went to school with one of the club owner’s sons and worked at the gun club for various events. By the summer of 1968, he managed to get me a job at the gun club for the four days of the state trap shoot. I was what they called a “setter.”

Trapshooting, as you might know, involves contestants with shotguns trying to shoot clay targets that fly through the air, propelled there by a machine located in a small structure dug into the earth. It was my job to sit in one of those little structures for about ten to twelve hours a day. As the whirring machine threw each target out into the open for the contestants to aim at, I took another clay target – called a “bird” – from the stack in front of me and placed it on the machine’s arm, which oscillated slightly from right to left to provide differing angles for the bird’s trajectory. The small pit was filled with boxes full of birds, and along with making sure to place a new bird on the machine every fifteen seconds or so, I had to open the cardboard boxes and make certain I had access to more birds when the stack from which I was currently working ran out. 

Every once in a while, I’d be a little slow getting the bird onto the machine, and the throwing arm would hit the bird as I was lowering it in place, shattering it and leaving me worrying about the safety of my hand. If that happened too many times, the gun club manager would mention it, not out of concern for my hand but out of concern for the convenience of the shooters, who were annoyed when their call for a target brought no target. It was even worse during the doubles competition, when a setter had to get two birds onto the machine, first with the left hand, then with the right hand.

A sonic digression: The traditional call for a target is for the shooter to shout out the word “pull,” probably from the time when targets – live birds at one time – were released by the pull of a rope. Shooters tend to develop their own versions of that traditional call, much in the same way umpires develop their own calls for strikes and balls. It’s hard to guess how to spell some of the sounds I heard shooters use as they called for a target, but this is what some of them sounded like: “Wheeeeeeeeeent!” “Poooooooooooowell!” “Hrant!” “Houp!” “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” And so on. Some of them, of course, just said, “Pull!”

I only got to hear the shooters for a limited time, during my three or four breaks a day. The vast majority of the time, I was down in the pit, unpacking boxes of birds and setting them on the machine arm. I did that for, as I said, ten to twelve hours a day for the four-day run of the trap meet. It was boring, and it was dirty, as the targets were made out of what I would guess was some kind of petrochemical mix that resulted in a substance very much like hard tar. I’d come out of the pit at night with my face and hands covered with the thick black dust the birds gave off. There was something toxic in the dust, so that about a week after the trapshoot, the skin on my face would turn dark and brittle and then peel off in wide strips. I doubt if it did much good for my long-term health.

So why do it? Well, as I said, there weren’t a lot of ways for kids to make money back then. And I got $40 for my first state shoot in 1968, $50 in 1969 and $60 in 1970, pretty good money for four days back then, when the minimum wage was less than $1.50 an hour. I don’t recall what I did with the cash from the other two years, but in 1969, I used my money to buy a cassette tape recorder.

So why am I writing about the state trap meet and toxic clay birds? Because one of the ways in which we setters – those of us consigned to the pits with their oscillating machines – kept our sanity was by bringing radios. Tuned for the most part to either KBWB or WDGY, the two Top 40 stations in the Twin Cities, our radios gave us at least something to listen to above the whirr of the machine and the sound of shotguns going of along the line all day long.

As a result, there are songs that I call “trap shoot songs.” Those are songs that I either heard for the first time or else heard so frequently during a trap shoot, that when I hear them now, almost forty years later, I am for an instant back down in that dusty pit, keeping a stack of birds in front of me, taking advantage of a lull to open a new box of birds and doing my best to make sure that the whirling arm of the trap machine does not have a chance to whack at my fingers as I place another bird.

Some of those songs are: “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams; “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors; “People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals; “Get Together” by the Youngbloods; “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & the Shondells; “Make It With You” by Bread; “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War; and the song that leads off today’s album rip, “Are You Ready?” by Pacific Gas & Electric.

The version of the song on the album – also titled Are You Ready – is longer and a bit different than the single was. The slow recitation at the start of the song was edited off for the single, and I imagine that some of the repeated choruses might have been, too. As a whole, the album is a pretty good piece of San Francisco blues-rock, with the highlights being the title cut, a good, gritty version of the traditional tune “Staggolee,” and an interesting cover of “When A Man Loves A Woman.”

Not many of the members of Pacific Gas & Electric remain well known (the best known would be lead singer Charlie Allen), but the group got some help from a few well-known friends: Rusty Young of Poco provides steel guitar on “Mother, Why Do You Cry?” and the background chorus on both “Are You Ready?” and “When A Man Loves A Woman” includes session singers extraordinaire Merry Clayton, Venetta Fields and Clydie King.

(Thanks to Peter Patnaik at Honey, Where You Been So Long? for reminding me I had this album by posting “Staggolee” the other day. It’s a fine blog, focusing mostly on pre-World War II blues. Check it out!)

Track listing:

Are You Ready?
Hawg For You
Staggolee
The Blackberry
Love, Love, Love, Love, Love
Mother, Why Do You Cry?
Elvira
Screamin’
When A Man Loves A Woman

Pacific Gas & Electric – Are You Ready [1970]

Of ‘Miracles’ and Miracles

July 9, 2010

Five of the six songs in this week’s installment of the Ultimate Jukebox take me places, which is probably not a surprise, as those five fall temporally into what I imagine could be called my “sweet spot,” after the place on a baseball player’s bat that makes the ball soar. My sweet spot is the years 1970 through 1975, a time when music was just about the most important thing in my life. And if there were events and people that were more important during those years, then their passages through my life were marked by records.

The sixth record in this set, which is actually the oldest, has no real time or place associations for me, as it came out when I was five years old and I didn’t hear it until I was much older than that. It’s a great record, or it wouldn’t be here, but my connection to it is less visceral.

What intrigued me about the other five records when I first looked at the random selection for this week was that, even though they do come from a relatively brief span of time, hearing them now puts me in five different places. One of them puts me in the shelter of my bedroom, listening to my old RCA radio on an early spring day. Another puts me in one of the trap houses at the gun club that I mentioned in my most recent post, with the same RCA radio keeping me company as I earn part of my sixty dollars.

By the time the third of the five records in question was released, I’d just started my second year of college, and the tune places me in Atwood Center, which is a little odd, as I didn’t start spending a lot of time there until a bit later than that. And then the fourth record drops me down in one of the strangest places any record puts me: It’s a sticky summer evening, and I’m with Rick and our occasional pal Gary, standing in line at the Dairy Queen. (There are in fact, two records that put me in that moment, and I can only assume that we heard them from a radio or from speakers in the ceiling as we waited in line; the other Dairy Queen record did not make it into the Ultimate Jukebox.)

In a little bit, I’ll untangle any mysteries about which of those four records puts me where. But before I do, I’ll look at the fifth of those records, which is probably the most powerful in its association with its time. The very first, almost tentative strains of Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles” whirl me back to the autumn of 1975, a season I’ve written about many times before. The place is the tree-lined wide sidewalk between Centennial Hall and Stewart Hall on the campus of St. Cloud State. I’m heading from Centennial, where I work at the periodicals counter, to Stewart, where the mass communications department has its offices and where most of my classes take place. To my immediate left is Atwood Center, where my friends and I gather at The Table.

It must be October, as the leaves on the trees are yellow. (That makes sense, as the single – an edit of the album track – entered the Top 40 in late September and hung around for thirteen weeks, peaking at No. 3.) And I’m thinking as I walk – and as I did numerous times during that autumn – that miracles do happen. I was alive, I had good friends and I liked my classes. I hadn’t yet found the romantic miracle that Marty Balin was singing about, but in time, I hoped, that would come. For the moment, I was thriving, and that was miracle enough.

There are plenty of passionate listeners and critics who over the years have derided Grace Slick, Marty Balin and company for selling out at one time or another in pursuit of hit records. Did that happen with Red Octopus in 1975? Or later, with Earth or Nuclear Furniture? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I liked the Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow and Volunteers, and I didn’t care much for some of the rest of the Airplane’s catalog. I liked Red Octopus and didn’t care much for a lot of the stuff that followed (though for sentimental reasons, “Sara” from 1986 can tug at me).

So what does all that have to do with the price of cookies in Tonga? I’m not entirely sure, but I think what I’m nibbling at is the weight of expectations and demand that a storied past can put on performers.  No, Red Octopus did not sound like Surrealistic Pillow, but then, 1975 did not sound like, or feel like, 1967. I do think that as Starship, the performers we’re talking about here lost their ways and ended up producing boring records. But the problem to me was that the records were boring, not that the records didn’t sound like 1967 or 1969 or whatever year one might have in mind. And I think that over the years, lots of people have carped at Red Octopus because it didn’t sound like classic Airplane.

Well, how could it? The times had changed, and so had the group. And I think Red Octopus holds up pretty well as an album: There are a couple of clinkers, yes, but there is also a cluster of good tracks and, of course, one genuine miracle.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 24
“Rave On” by Buddy Holly, Coral 61985 [1958]
“Reflections of My Life” by Marmalade, London 20058 [1970]
“Are You Ready?” by Pacific Gas & Electric, Columbia 45154 [1970]
“You’re Still A Young Man” by Tower of Power from Bump City [1972]
“Diamond Girl” by Seals & Crofts from Diamond Girl [1973]
“Miracles” by Jefferson Starship from Red Octopus [1975]

A friend of mine and I once talked about putting together a book and website about the history of rock music using the metaphor of a forest. The story of rock, we thought, would stem from the performers we were calling the Five Big Trees. It was a horribly simplistic idea, and I think I knew that at the time, which may be why the project never went anywhere. To begin, any reasonable forest of rock ’n’ roll would of course have more than five big trees. But one of the things we got right was naming Buddy Holly as one of those big trees. First, the music he released in his tragically short career remains interesting and vital today. It should also be noted that he pretty much invented the idea of a group that not only wrote its own songs but also had a great deal of influence over the production of its records in the studio. “Rave On” was one of Holly’s lesser hits – it went to No. 37 in the summer of 1958 – but to me, it holds all of the virtues of Holly’s music: a good beat, cogent lyrics, a strong melody and that idiosyncratic hiccup:

Marmalade’s “Reflections of My Life” is the song that puts me in my room with my radio. I remember sitting up on my bed reading when these simple and melancholy chords came out of the speaker, followed by drums, a liquid bass line and some of the saddest lyrics I’d ever heard. A Scottish group, Marmalade released albums through the 1970s and on into the ’80s, but until a couple of years ago, I don’t know that I’d ever heard anything by the band but its one hit. “Reflections of My Life” went to No. 10 in the spring of 1970 and, beyond the trigger of memory, still sounds interesting today. (I find it odd that All-Music Guide begins its entry with the statement: “Marmalade is . . . best remembered today for one record, their cover of the Beatles’ ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’.” That’s not the universe I live in; is it that way for anyone else?)

I’ve written about Pacific Gas & Electric’s single “Are You Ready” a couple of times: I noted that hearing it in my bunker was one of the indelible memories of working at the trap shoot in 1970, and I detailed the difficulty of finding the short version of the song, which was evidently issued only as a disk jockey release. (Thanks again, Yah Shure!) The long version was interesting the first couple of times I heard it, but it just doesn’t do anything for me anymore.  The short version, the one I heard coming out of my radio, still kicks:

The horn section for Tower of Power is renowned not only for its work on the group’s albums but also for its session and guest work. And it’s always amazing when listening to Tower of Power’s work to hear how well that horn section is integrated into an R&B/funk context. (My first hearing of that integration sometime in the early 1970s wouldn’t have been such a surprise, of course, if I’d ever really listened to James Brown.) I’m not sure that “You’re Still A Young Man” contains the best work that the TOP horns ever did, but the song’s opening cascade of horns is to me one of the classic moments in the group’s history. The record earned TOP the first of its three hits, going to No. 29 in the late summer of 1972. And all I can figure is that I heard the record at least once on the jukebox at Atwood Center, because when those horns start their intro, there I am.

James Seals and Dash Crofts first hit the charts in 1972, after fourteen years of playing together either in bands or as a duo. And for a time, the duo was so successful that it’s hard to say whether their sound fit the times or whether it in some ways defined the times. I know that for several years back then, every nightspot I went to that offered live music regularly booked singer-songwriter duos with guitars and tight harmonies. And Seals & Crofts’ early hits were – and still are – great records: melodic, with great hooks and good lyrics (though those lyrics could get over-wrought; the best example might be “Hummingbird”). Two of their singles will show up in this project; today’s selection, “Diamond Girl,” is the record that puts me in line at the Dairy Queen during the summer of 1973, waiting for a frozen treat and preparing to leave home. Whatever the reason for the song staying with me, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. The single – an edit of the album track – went to No. 6 that summer.