Posts Tagged ‘Peter Gabriel’

‘Looking For Mercy Street . . .’

July 5, 2022

Originally posted December 1, 2009

There are, I am sure, numerous blank spots in my music collections: holes where one would otherwise expect to find LPs and CDs by major artists or of major styles and subcultures of music. One of those that I know about is Genesis. I have none of the British group’s work on LP or on CD. I do have the mp3 for one of the group’s albums, 1973’s Selling England By The Pound, but hearing it on occasion – and quite liking it – hasn’t spurred me to go out and get any of the group’s other twenty or so other albums.

I’m not at all sure why that hole exists. The group came along at a time – during the early 1970s – when I listened to a little bit of everything. Why none of its music made it to my shelves is a mystery. The two better-known members of the group who went on to solo careers are represented at least a little: I have – and like – Phil Collins’ Face Value and Hello, I Must Be Going! And I have the LP of Peter Gabriel’s So, a 1986 album that I regard as one of the great albums of all time (in the top fifty, maybe?). In addition, I have digital files for So and for two of Gabriel’s earlier self-titled albums, the 1977 effort colloquially known as “Car” and the 1980 album frequently called “Melt.” Even so, there’s not a lot of music here by the two of them, but it’s enough to know that I like it and I really need to go get more.

The problem is, of course, that the same words – “I really need to go get more” – can be written about the work of almost any musical performer or group represented in my collection. My attention and my resources are limited. Post like this – in which I acknowledge gaps in my collection and in my knowledge – sometimes serve as the equivalent of Post-It Notes, little pastel flags telling me to find the single edit of the Moody Blues’ “Question” or to check the bitrate of the mp3s by Maria McKee or – as in this case – to find more music by one or more performers.

Those reminders get my attention, and when the resources are available, those tasks are done and gaps are filled. So in the near future, I expect I’ll dig a little deeper into Genesis, into the solo careers of Collins and Gabriel and wherever else those explorations lead me.

In the meantime, I listened once again the other day to So, losing myself in “Red Rain,” “In Your Eyes,” “Don’t Give Up” (with the angelic presence of Kate Bush) and, especially, “Mercy Street.”

Of the Peter Gabriel songs I know – and the preceding paragraphs should make it very clear that there will be many I do not know – the one I find most compelling is “Mercy Street.” I’m not sure why, and I don’t intend to analyze that attraction today. I would have thought my favorite might be “Don’t Give Up,” but “Mercy Street” kept coming to mind yesterday.

(Part of the song’s attraction for me might be that “Mercy Street” is dedicated “for Anne Sexton.” Sexton, says Wikipedia, “was an influential American poet and writer known for her highly personal, confessional poetry.” Sexton, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 and who dealt frequently in her work with her long battle with depression, took her own life in 1974.)

And with Gabriel’s version in my head yesterday, my RealPlayer came to rest randomly on a cover of the song from an Iain Matthews album that’s also a favorite of mine, 1990’s Pure and Crooked.

So I thought I’d see who else has covered the song. All-Music Guide lists ninety-one CDs that contain “Mercy Street,” with about thirty of those being various versions by Gabriel himself. Among those listed as having covered the song are Christy Baron, Black Uhuru, Al di Meola, Danni Carlos, Jane Duboc, Fenix, Valerie Graschaire, Herbie Hancock, Keith James, Lee Jeffriess, Leaving the Ozone, Kate McGarry, Ransom Notes, A Reminiscent Drive, Jenny Reynolds, Richard Shindell, Storyville, Sugar Plum Fairies, John Tesh and David Widelock.

Some of those names are familiar to me; most aren’t. But “Mercy Street” seems to be a song that can survive being pulled into numerous styles and interpretations. I may dig up some of these covers in the future.

For now, I have two cover versions to offer. The first is, of course, by Iain Matthews, the one-time member of Fairport Convention and the founder of the short-lived Matthews Southern Comfort. He’s issued more than twenty-five LPs and CDs since 1969, most of them well-received. Pure and Crooked contained more original material than covers, a rarity for Matthews, but to my ears, “Mercy Street” is the best thing on the CD.

The other cover of “Mercy Street” comes from Miriam, the first popular music release by South African-born Miriam Stockley, a classically trained vocalist who’s recorded primarily in that field. She was also a member of Praise, a contemporary Christian group that released one CD in 1992. Her 1999 album, notes All-Music Guide, had songs performed “in English, Zuli and a language she just made up.” That debut album, AMG notes, came off as a “fusion of classical, world, pop and new age elements.” I found Miriam by accident a year after its release, and Miriam Stockley’s name remains on my list of performers to explore further.

That said, here is the original version of “Mercy Street” and covers by Iain Matthews and Miriam Stockley.

“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel from So [1986]

“Mercy Street” by Iain Matthews from Pure and Crooked [1990]

“Mercy Street” by Miriam Stockley from Miriam [1999]

Our Pictures Tell Our Stories

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 27, 2009

One of the things my sister and her family gave our mother for Christmas in December was a digital picture frame. Now at home on Mom’s dresser, its memory is loaded with pictures of our family, of Mom and Dad and of Mom’s family, going all the way back to the day her parents were married in 1915.

The selection of photos available to my sister was a little limited. Not that we don’t have family photos. We have a lot of them. One of the most pervasive mental images I have of my childhood is Dad aiming his camera during family gatherings, on vacation, or simply to record daily life. Every September, from the day my sister started kindergarten in 1955 until the day I started my last full year of college in 1975, he took pictures of us as we headed off for the first day of school. Early on, he used a Kodak 35mm camera; in the late 1960s, he got a Minolta single-lens reflex 35mm, and year after year, he took pictures.

But the vast majority of our pictures – from the time before my sister and I were born until the last years of Dad’s life – are on slides.

So one of the other gifts my sister and her family gave Mom last Christmas was a scanner that digitizes slides. My sister thought that we could dig into the boxes of slides and find some that Mom would want to display on her digital picture frame. Mom, of course, doesn’t have a computer. I do, and the minor task of learning how to use the scanner has fallen to me. So now that spring is here, Mom and I will head up to the storage unit in Sartell and see what we find.

But beyond finding pictures for Mom to display, my sister and I decided that it would be a good thing to digitize all of the family slides. The task is daunting: Dad put about half of his slides in special storage boxes; the rest remain in the little yellow boxes that came from Dan Marsh Drug, where we took our film for years. I’m guessing that there are thirty special storage boxes each holding at least 120 slides and about as many slides in the yellow boxes as there are in the special boxes. My basic math tells me that’s an estimated total of 7,200 slides. Many haven’t been looked at in years.

That wasn’t always the case. Every once in a while on a Sunday evening, Dad would put up the screen and get out his old Argus projector and we’d look at slides: birthdays and Christmases, family reunions and picnics, backyard silliness and flower gardens. And we’d see portraits and snapshots of my mom’s folks, and all of our aunts and uncles and cousins, many of whom are long gone now. I’ll see all of those and more as I convert those slides to digital files: Our family’s history.

We’ll soon go up to Sartell and get the first boxes of slides, and I will begin saving those pieces of history. But I needed to learn to use the scanner, and I needed as well to convert to digital files the slides I took during my long-ago college year away. So I’ve been practicing both conversion and editing. And here are two thirty-five year old photos: One of a twenty-year-old whiteray, snapped by an obliging Swede in Stockholm, and one of the many I took during my visit to Stonehenge.

A Six-Pack of Pictures
“Every Picture Tells A Story” by Rod Stewart from Every Picture Tells A Story, 1971
“Take Another Picture” by Quarterflash from Take Another Picture, 1983
“Picture Book” by Simply Red from Picture Book, 1985
“This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)” by Peter Gabriel from So, 1986
“All the Pictures on the Wall” by Paul Weller from Wild Wood, 1993
“Pictures of You” by the Cure from Disintegration, 1989

Bonus Track
“Photograph” by Ringo Starr, Apple 1865, 1973

Three of the albums from which these tracks come would rank fairly high in any all-time list I put together, certainly in the top one hundred, I think. (And that’s pretty high, considering.). Those three are Every Picture Tells A Story, So and Disintegration. (I think Wild Wood may rank that highly in time, but I’m still taking that one in and haven’t made my mind up yet.)

As to Quarterflash and Simply Red, well, the albums are good ones but ultimately less than great. Still, both albums provide good listening. I’m particularly struck by how well the music of Quarterflash has aged, from the radio-friendly 1981 single “Harden My Heart” onward. Of course, the defining sound of the group, for the most part, was Rindy Ross’ saxophone, and I’m a sucker for a good sax break.

What’s most interesting to me about this list of tunes is that five of them come from well beyond the spread of years where I find most of the music I offer. That might mean my horizons are being broadened through the give and take in conversation and sounds that occurs in the blogging community. Or is just might mean that there weren’t very many good songs about pictures in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (And I don’t think that was the case.)

The best thing here? The Cure’s shimmering “Pictures of You,” without a doubt. The most inscrutable? Peter Gabriel’s “This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds).”

I threw the bonus track in at the last moment because it fit the theme, because it’s a marvelous piece of pop-rock, and because it gives me another chance to listen to Bobby Keys (credited this time as “Keyes”) play saxophone.

(I said in yesterday’s post that I’d share some music from 1974 today. I decided to go with the theme instead of the year, but one day very soon, I’ll have a tale from 1974 and will dip into a Billboard Hot 100 from that time.)

A Baker’s Dozen From 1986

May 12, 2011

Originally posted October 10, 2007

Well, 1986.

In late 1992, as the year was nearing its end, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth characterized it as the annus horribilis, or horrible year. As 1986 turned into 1987, I felt the same way.

The year had started all right. A consortium of weekly newspaper publishers for whom I’d been covering government in Wright County as a freelancer had decided in December, not unexpectedly, not to continue the arrangement into the new year. And as January approached, I sought new employment. It wasn’t urgent, as I was married at the time and had been house-husbanding while I was a freelancer. But I wanted to get back into the workforce on a more substantial basis.

I was already teaching one course – a weekly night class: Introduction to Mass Communication – at St. Cloud State, so in mid-January I drove from Monticello to St. Cloud and the campus to nose around for possible additional jobs there. I dropped in at the university’s public relations office, where the director was a long-time family acquaintance. (My father had retired only two years earlier after thirty-three years as a teacher and administrator.) He took my resume and told me, regretfully, that he didn’t foresee any openings in his operations.

The next day he called. The main writer in his office had given him a week’s notice, and he wondered if I would fill in while a search began for her replacement. He added that I could certainly apply for the permanent position. So the following Monday, the last in January, I began to commute to St. Cloud every day. The thirty-mile drive, I learned, gave me time to organize my day in the morning, and time to wind down from it in the evening.

On my second day in the public relations office, the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated in the Florida sky just more than a minute after it was launched. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but that horrible event can be seen in retrospect as an omen. In about May, my life – not a bad one at the time, as these things go – began to disintegrate as well, unraveling at the seams like a poorly sewn garment.

I don’t want to rehash the events of 1986, and I don’t want to bore anyone else with them. Let it suffice to say that by the end of the year, I could sit in my easy chair in Monticello and see, figuratively, the tatters of my life on the floor. It took a long time to clean up the mess and an even longer time – with a couple of false starts – to create a new garment in which to live my life.

So I wasn’t listening much to music in 1986, having other things on my mind. And in retrospect, that was good. If I had been attentive to music, then many of the tunes from the year would carry a layer of grief with them and would be nearly intolerable to hear even today. As it turned out, I generally absorbed the music of 1986 at a later date, so listening to the year’s music is not an unhappy exercise.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1986

“Welcome to the Boomtown” by David & David, A&M single 2857

“Precious Memories” by Bob Dylan from Knocked Out Loaded

“I Ain’t Drunk” by Albert Collins from Cold Snap

“Shanghai Surprise” by George Harrison with Vicki Brown, Shanghai Surprise soundtrack

“All I Need Is A Miracle” by Mike & the Mechanics, Atlantic single 89450

“Under African Skies” by Paul Simon from Graceland

“Amanda” by Boston, MCA single 52756

“West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys, EMI America single 8307

“The Spirit” by the Moody Blues from The Other Side Of Life

“Something So Strong” by Crowded House, Capitol single 5695

“Still Around” by Robert Cray from Strong Persuader

“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel from So

“The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby & the Range from The Way It Is

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Welcome to the Boomtown” is one of the best singles that I think almost everyone forgets about. Its atmosphere, its story and its production values all sparkle as it tells its tale of dissolution, ennui and despair in the big city. Although Columbia, Missouri – which I’d left in 1985 – was no double for L.A., the reference to Denny’s always makes me think of the Denny’s along the freeway in Columbia. I would occasionally stop by for a late-night omelet, and the cast of characters I saw regularly there could easily populate a story set in any city about lives whirling into hard habits and out of control.

The Bob Dylan track is one of the lesser songs from one of his lesser albums. I had hoped that if a track from Knocked Out Loaded popped up during the random run, it would be “Brownsville Girl,” the eleven-minute epic Dylan wrote with playwright Sam Shepard. That track contains two of the more fascinating, disruptive and frankly strange verses ever to appear in a Dylan song:

“Well, we crossed the panhandle and then we headed towards Amarillo.
“We pulled up where Henry Porter used to live. He owned a wreckin’ lot outside of town about a mile.
“Ruby was in the backyard hanging clothes, she had her red hair tied back. She saw us come rolling up in a trail of dust.
“She said, ‘Henry ain’t here but you can come on in, he’ll be back in a little while.’
 
“Then she told us how times were tough and about how she was thinkin’ of bummin’ a ride back to where she started.
“But ya know, she changed the subject every time money came up.
“She said, ‘Welcome to the land of the living dead.’ You could tell she was so broken-hearted.
“She said, ‘Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt.’”

Sounds like Bob Dylan meets Sam Shepard to me.

If you don’t recall “Shanghai Surprise” even though you’re old enough to do so, that’s not really startling. It was the title tune to a film starring Madonna and Sean Penn, then newlyweds. George Harrison’s Handmade Films produced it, which is how the one-time Beatle ended up doing the soundtrack, which was never released as an album. There are a few single-sided 45s of the title tune out there, selling for more than $1,000. “Shanghai Surprise,” along with “Zig-zag,” a song from the film that had been released as the b-side of the single “When We Was Fab,” ended up as bonus tracks on a 2004 CD reissue of Harrison’s 1987 album, Cloud Nine.

“Amanda” came from Third Stage, Boston’s long-awaited and long-delayed third album. In general, I have little affection for the music labeled arena rock. Boston, however, I like, and “Amanda” may be my favorite track by the group. Listening to it today for the first time in a while, though, I hear echoes of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” from three years earlier.

The Robert Cray tune is an album track from Strong Persuader, the record that made Cray famous and, to my mind, signaled the blues boom that was to come in the 1990s. Cray’s R&B-tinged blues have aged well.

I was glad to see something from Peter Gabriel’s So show up during the random run. I was never much of a fan of Genesis, so I was surprised by the depth and beauty of the album. Even twenty-one years after its release, it remains fresh and truly beautiful at points, which is a rare thing.

Chart Digging: August 23, 1980

August 23, 2010

Back in 1980, it was a Saturday when August 23 rolled around. I might have been somewhere around town that morning, shooting photos of one event or another for the next week’s edition of the Monticello paper. But – camera in hand or not – I know I was thinking about and planning the next week’s edition, as the start of school was rapidly approaching.

One of the most surprising things I learned during the first couple of years I spent at the Monticello paper was how tightly tied a small town’s identity and calendar are to the local schools. And the local newspaper is tied right there with the rest of the town, running through an annual cycle that didn’t vary much during the nearly six years I spent at Monticello. (Nor was that cycle much diffrent at any of the other weekly newspapers for which I wrote elsewhere in Minnesota or in Kansas over the years.)

The cycle would begin in early August with photo stories about preparations: Custodians polishing gym floors, teachers unpacking boxes and decorating bulletin boards, administrators conferring with teachers new to the district, cooks stockpiling ingredients for lunches, and althletes on the fall sports teams practicing on the fields and courts. By the time we got to the fourth week of August – which was just around the weekend, no matter what I was doing on Saturday, August 23, 1980 – we were set for school, all of us.

No matter what time of year it is, one of the things a reporter spends a lot of time doing is moving from place to place. On at least three of the five weekdays, I’d spend a fair amount of my day driving from interview to interview, from photo appointment to photo appointment, back to the office and back out again. And as I drove, the radio was always on. In 1980, I was generally listening to a Twin Cities station called KS95, which wasn’t quite Top 40, but its playlist came close, so I knew most of the records in the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100 for that August 23:

“Magic” by Olivia Newton-John
“Sailing” by Christopher Cross
“Take Your Time (Do It Right)” by the S.O.S. Band
“Emotional Rescue” by the Rolling Stones
“Upside Down” by Diana Ross
“It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” by Billy Joel
“Fame” by Irene Cara
“All Out Of Love” by Air Supply
“Let My Love Open The Door” by Pete Townshend
“More Love” by Kim Carnes

I said I knew most of the records; I didn’t say I liked them. It’s telling that none of those ten songs is among the nearly 47,000 mp3s on my external drive. Not one.

But I think that’s an anomaly. As I look further down the Hot 100 for that August Saturday, I see titles of records I did enjoy then and still enjoy today. Not as many as there would be from other years and other eras, but still quite a few.

One of those was sitting at No. 37, having peaked at No. 8, where it spent two weeks as July turned into August. The record was “Tired Of Toein’ The Line” by Rocky Burnette, a performer who had a pretty good genealogy: He was the son of Johnny Burnette, who was the leader of the Rock & Roll Trio in the mid-1950s and then had four Top 40 hits on his own in the early 1960s; the highest charting was “You’re Sixteen,” which went to No. 8 in late December 1960. In addition, Rocky’s uncle Dorsey had played in the Trio and had one Top 40 hit, “(There Was A) Tall Oak Tree,” which went to No. 23 in March 1960.

Earlier in 1980, Pat Benatar had scored her first two Top 40 records: “Heartbreaker,” which went to No. 23 in March, and “We Live For Love,” which got to No. 27 in June. I’m guessing that “You Better Run” was her next single, and it wasn’t quite as successful: It was at No. 46 on August 23 and would rise during the next week to No. 42, where it peaked, failing to reach the Top 40. The record was one of few such failures for Benatar during that time: From August 1980 to through 1986, she had thirteen more records hit the Top 40, with four of them in the Top Ten.

The Rossington-Collins Band was born out of the October 1977 airplane crash that killed three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd – leader Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines – as well as the band’s assistant road manager and two pilots. After the crash, Allen Collins and Gary Rossington formed their new band, which went on to record two albums, Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere in 1980 and This Is The Way in 1982. “Don’t Misunderstand Me,” from the first album, was at No. 59 on August 23, 1980; it would spend the next two weeks at its peak position of No. 55. (Two tracks from the second album would reach the Mainstream Rock chart – “Gotta Get It Straight” would go to No. 50 and “Welcome Me Home” would reach No. 9 – but neither record would make the Hot 100.)

A partnership that I do not at all recall was the one that paired Jon Anderson of Yes with Vangelis, co-founder of Aphrodite’s Child and electronica musician (who was a year away from finding major fame with the soundtrack to Chariots of Fire). The two, billed as Jon & Vangelis, released four albums, including a 1980 release titled Short Stories. “I Hear You Now” from that first album was at No. 73 on August 23, 1980, and peaked at No. 58 in mid-September.

A little bit further down that August 23, 1980, chart, at No. 80, we find what looks to be Peter Gabriel’s second foray into the Hot 100 as a solo artist. “Solsbury Hill” had gone to No. 68 in 1977, and now, “Games Without Frontiers,” a release from Gabriel’s third self-titled album – this being the one with the melting face – was making its way up the chart. The record would peak at No. 48 the last two weeks of September.

I know nothing about the group called Touch beyond what All-Music Guide can tell me, which is that the group evolved from the “pomp trio American Tears, who recorded three records for Columbia in the ’70s.” The new group recorded one album, Touch I, from which two singles hit the Hot 100: The second single, “Don’t You Know What Love Is,” went to No. 69 in February of 1981. The first single – the one that concerns us here – was “When The Spirit Moves You” and it was sitting at No. 100 on August 23, 1980, having peaked a week earlier at No. 65.

 That’s six, and that’s enough for today. Look for the next installment of the Ultimate Jukebox on Wednesday.