Posts Tagged ‘Quarterflash’

Down From The Shelves

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 8, 2009

Once more into the Valley of the Unplayed!

Wondering what marvels – or otherwise – might be found today in the crates atop the bookcases, I reached up and pulled down a clutch of LPs this morning, and then I added one that had recently arrived in the mail. From those, I hoped to find six songs with minimal noise. And that’s what I came up with.

En route, I had to regretfully skip over several LPs that had too much surface noise: Tighten Up by Archie Bell & the Drells; Blues and Bluegrass by Mike Auldridge; Stranger on the Shore by Mr. Acker Bilk; Born Free by Andy Williams; and Golden Hits by Roger Miller. The greatest disappointment in that bunch would have been the Archie Bell & the Drells album, based simply on the expectations raised by the title track, one of the great singles of 1968. I was, in fact, a little relieved when Track Four, “You’re Mine,” turned out to have too much noise, as it was a pretty bad piece of filler. So I happily moved on.

I thought I’d start off with the one record I chose purposefully this morning: Chi Coltrane’s little-known third album, Road to Tomorrow arrived in the mail last week. Not long ago, someone left a note here about it. I did a quick Ebay search and found a copy for sale at a remarkably low price. And a week later, the mail carrier dropped it off.

I’ve listened to only bits and pieces of it, but I’m not impressed. I guess I didn’t expect to be, however, as Coltrane’s second album, Let It Ride, was also mediocre, with only one good track, her version of “Hallelujah” (done earlier by Sweathog and by the Clique). All in all – and I’m not sure why I sometimes dig into an some artists’ catalogs so deeply; I guess I’m hoping to hear something others missed – one can classify Coltrane’s work into three categories: One great single (1972’s “Thunder and Lightning”), her decent take on “Hallelujah” (offered here once before) and the rest.

Anyway, here’s Track Four of Coltrane’s 1977 album, Road to Tomorrow. It’s an okay piece of pop.

“Ooh Baby” by Chi Coltrane from Road to Tomrrow [1977]

One of the media storms of early 1978 concerned the film Pretty Baby, a fictional account of the lives of a photographer and several working girls during 1917 in New Orleans’ Storyville, the city’s red light district. There would have been little ruckus about the film, I imagine, had it not been for the inclusion of several nude scenes featuring the then-twelve-year-old Brooke Shields as the daughter of a prostitute who was, in effect, in training for the life herself.

The film, by Louis Malle, won the Technical Grand Prize at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival. More to the point for our purposes here, the film’s score won an Academy Award in the “Adaptadion Score” category, with its mix of jazz, ragtime and blues echoing the sound of New Orleans in the first decades of the Twentieth Century. I’ve had a copy of the soundtrack sitting around for more than ten years and have never felt compelled to listen to more than a track at a time or so. Maybe I’ll rip the whole thing now that it’s out of the crates.

“Pretty Baby” by the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra from the soundtrack to Pretty Baby [1978]

As I’ve noted here before, during 1998 and 1999, I was stockpiling records faster than I could play them. A couple of those showed up in the cluster of LPs I pulled from the crates today, including one that might never have been played by anybody.

When I pulled Patti La Belle’s Winner In You from its jacket and put it onto the turntable, I had to push fairly hard, as if it had never been placed on a spindle before. That, combined with the sheer gloss of the record and the lack of any noise as it played, told me that the record might be utterly new. At any rate, it had not been played often.

I’ve never been much of a Patti La Belle fan. I liked her work with LaBelle in the 1970s. (Who didn’t love “Lady Marmalade” and its lesson in essential French? It went to No. 1.) And I thought “On My Own,” her duet with Michael McDonald (another No. 1 hit), was okay. But for some reason – most likely the simple volume of records I had available to listen to – Winner In You, which included “On My Own,” stayed in the crates. I don’t think it will go back there; I’ll almost certainly listen to it and put it in the regular stacks this week, even if I don’t rip all of it to mp3s. Here’s Track Four:

“Kiss Away The Pain” by Patti La Belle from Winner In You [1986]

About once a year, since we moved to St. Cloud in 2002, the Texas Gal and I head down to the Twin Cities for some major shopping. That means fabric stores for her, bookstores for both of us, and, usually, a couple hours at Cheapo’s on Lake Street for me. During one of those visits, in 2005, I began to remedy a major gap in my collection.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of the best-known bands in the Twin Cities area was the Lamont Cranston Band (sometimes styled as the Lamont Cranston Blues Band). I knew of the band although I’d never seen it perform. But amid all the other music to collect and listen to, the hard-driving Lamont Cranston Band never seemed to make it onto my list. During one of our first summers in St. Cloud, the Texas Gal and I went to see the River Bats, St. Cloud’s team in a summer college baseball league.

And among the music used to rev up the crowd was Lamont Cranston’s “Upper Mississippi Shakedown.” Reminded of the band’s artistry, I put several of the group’s albums on my list, and during a 2005 visit to Cheapo’s, I found Up From The Alley. I put it in one of the crates to await its turn, and then I had absolutely forgot that I had it until this morning. A couple of the tracks from the album ended up on a 1993 CD of the band’s best work, including Track Four. But, holding true to the intent of this feature, I ripped the track from the vinyl this morning:

“Oughta Be A Law” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Up From The Alley [1980]

Michael Franks had one quirky near-hit in, I think, 1976 – “Popsicle Toes” – and I have three of his albums: I’ve listened to The Art of Tea and Sleeping Gypsy, but I’ve never pulled Tiger in the Rain, his 1979 album, out of the crates until this morning. And I’ve concluded this morning that the meandering quality that made “Popsicle Toes” seem pleasantly quirky in the mid-1970s now seems wearisome. I can’t fault the musicianship, but nothing about the track I ripped this morning grabs me at all.

“Hideaway” by Michael Franks from Tiger in the Rain [1979]

Quarterflash had one very good hit, “Harden My Heart” in 1981, amid a string of four albums that took the band into 1991. Having listened to a fair amount of the group via mp3s that other bloggers have sent me, nothing from the band’s self-titled debut seemed likely to surprise me. But “Valerie,” the fourth track on the record, did.

“Valerie” was written by Marv Ross, but as sung by his wife, Rindy (who plays the saxophone that gave Quarterflash its distinctive sound), it’s a little eye-opening for 1981: The song is an exploration of a budding same-sex relationship that startled the narrator enough that she passed up the chance for a romance and now seems to regret having done so.

The sound and production are clearly that of the Eighties, but the track has aged well, and Ross’ saxophone solo is a nice way to close.

“Valerie” by Quarterflash from Quarterflash [1981]

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 1985, Vol. 2

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 16, 2008

I watched most of the (very long) baseball All-Star Game last night. The most affecting portion of the broadcast, to me, was the introduction of the starters, with each starter joining members of the Baseball Hall of Fame waiting for them at their positions. As the game was in Yankee Stadium, the Yankee Hall of Fame members were introduced last at each position, and the final Hall of Fame member to be introduced was Yogi Berra. That made sense to me. Berra is most likely the greatest living Yankee.

(Joe DiMaggio, who died in 1999, insisted to his last day on being introduced as “the greatest living ballplayer” because he was given that title during a celebration of professional baseball’s centennial in 1969. If one wanted to extend the title to a new claimant, I would imagine that “the greatest living ballplayer” now would be Willie Mays, although one could argue without looking silly for Stan Musial.)

Anyway, as I watched the introductions and then most of the rest of the game – staying up way after midnight to see the American League win – I thought about the two times the All-Star Game took place in Minnesota, in 1965 and in 1985. I was eleven when the 1965 game was played at Metropolitan Stadium, and I paid no attention. I paid little attention to baseball at all in those years, preferring to read and to listen to my James Bond soundtracks.

In 1985, I might have watched some of the game, which took place in the relatively new Metrodome, but I wasn’t all that interested. I was back in Minnesota after finishing my graduate coursework at the University of Missouri. I had a thesis to write, and I poked at that unenthusiastically. I wrote about the Wright County board for a pool of eight newspapers. I played a lot of tabletop baseball. And I kept house and listened to the radio a lot. For many reasons, it was not a happy time.

But I do recall a fair amount of the music that pops up when I run a random selection for 1985:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1985, Vol. 2
“My Hometown” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Los Angeles Coliseum, Sept. 30

“Children’s Crusade” by Sting from The Dream of the Blue Turtles

“Turn Me Round” by A Drop In The Gray from Certain Sculptures

“Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears for Fears, Mercury single 880659

“This Is The Sea” by the Waterboys from This Is The Sea

“The Sweetest Taboo” by Sade, Portrait single 05713

“Goodbye Lucille #1 (Johnny Johnny)” by Prefab Sprout from Steve McQueen

“Just For You” by Quarterflash from Back Into Blue

“The Moon Is Full” by Albert Collins, Robert Cray & Johnny Copeland from Showdown!

“Indoctrination (A Design For Living)” by Dead Can Dance from Spleen and Ideal

“Tears Are Not Enough” by Northern Lights, CBS single 7073 (Canada)

“One Dream” by the Dream Academy from The Dream Academy

“Money$ Too Tight (To Mention)” by Simply Red, Elektra single 69528

A few comments:

The Springsteen selection is, of course, from the massive (five LPs) box set of live performances that was released in 1986. Considering his accomplishments, I get the sense that Springsteen is a relatively humble man, but Live/1975-85 came across almost like bragging. On the other hand, as All-Music Guide notes, the “box set, including 40 tracks and running over three and a half hours, was about the average length of a [Springsteen] show.”

Certain Sculptures is the only album ever released by A Drop In The Gray, and it’s a pretty good one. I didn’t know about the group twenty-three years ago. In fact, I was only recently introduced to the group at The Vinyl District, one of my regular stops on the blog-reading circuit. I liked what I heard in TVD’s recent post, so I went and got some more from Certain Sculptures. A 1985 review from Trouser Press quoted at the blog notes that A Drop In The Gray had a sound “approximating an updated Moody Blues.”

There are, every year, records that almost no one can avoid hearing. In 1985, two of those were “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and “The Sweetest Taboo.” Unless one lived in a remote corner of the universe, it seems, and watched only C-SPAN, you heard them somewhere, and you heard them frequently enough for those hooks to set in permanently. In fact, when someone says “1985” to me in the context of music, the Tears For Fears” record is one of several that come immediately to mind. (The others are “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister, “Centerfield” by John Fogerty and “We Are The World.” I could get along for a long time without hearing that latter song again.)

On the other hand, I could always stand to hear more by the Waterboys. This Is The Sea is one of the great albums of the Eighties: Literate, melancholy, ambitious and maybe just a hair pretentious, but if the group’s ambition – maybe more accurately, leader Mike Scott’s ambition – exceeded its abilities, it wasn’t by much. And in general, I’d rather listen to something ambitious than something routine.

Speaking of “We Are The World,” the song “Tears Are Not Enough” was the Canadian effort on the album USA for Africa: We Are the World. “Tears” was written by Bryan Adams, David Foster, Rachel Paiement and Jim Vallance and was recorded by a large contingent of north-of-the-border musicians who called themselves Northern Lights for the exercise. Music by committee rarely turns out well, no matter how noble the cause, making “Tears Are Not Enough” a period piece at best, albeit one that’s not nearly as familiar as its U.S.-based cousin.

Revisiting Jesse Winchester’s ‘Biloxi’

March 30, 2010

In February of 2007, I wrote about Jesse Winchester and my favorite among his songs. Here, updated and revised slightly, is what I said:

One of the great themes of popular music – from the pre-recording days when music’s popularity was measured only by sales of sheet music, through the entire Twentieth Century to today – is displacement. From the day in 1853 when Stephen Foster – America’s first popular songwriter – wrote “My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight,” American musicians and listeners have celebrated places dear to them, often longing for those places and grieving their separations from them.

The separation need not be physical: Time pulls us away, too, as places change and we ourselves are altered by the turning of the calendar. Joe South’s 1969 lament, “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” mourned the changes brought to his home place – and by extension, the entire south – by the so-called progress of that decade, which replaced orchards with offices and meadows with malls (and the orchards and meadows continue to disappear to this day, of course, not just in the south but all across the country).

The era during which Joe South sang – those volatile years from, say, 1965 to 1975 – was one of displacement for a lot of folks. Many of those who were displaced, of course, had not one bit of use for rock or soul or any of their relatives; they instead found their solace in gospel music or in the country stylings of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and their contemporaries. But the sense of longing wasn’t limited by genre. It’s not an accident that one of the better singles of the Beatles, the best group of the time – or any time, for that matter – told us all to get back to where we once belonged. We all wanted to go home.

One of those who couldn’t go home was Jesse Winchester, a native of Memphis who’d left the U.S. for Canada in 1967 instead of reporting for military service (and most likely an assignment to the war zone in Vietnam) when he got his draft notice. Living in Montreal in 1969, he met Robbie Robertson of The Band – himself a Canadian, of course, like three of the other four members of The Band. Robertson produced and played guitar on Winchester’s first album, Jesse Winchester, and brought along his band-mate Levon Helm to play drums and mandolin. The record, says All-Music Guide, “was timely: it spoke to a disaffected American generation that sympathized with Winchester’s pacifism. But it was also timeless: the songs revealed a powerful writing talent (recognized by the numerous artists who covered them), and Winchester’s gentle vocals made a wonderful vehicle for delivering them.”

Winchester, of course, was unable to perform in the U.S. to promote either the record or his career, and thus never was able to capture the attention of the listening and buying public as well as he likely deserved. He recorded four more albums in Canada until an amnesty proclaimed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 allowed him to return to the U.S. He’s recorded sporadically since then but has been an active performer, with several recent live albums preceding last year’s studio album, Love Filling Station.

Among all of Winchester’s fine songs, I find my favorite to be “Biloxi” from that first, self-titled album. Winchester’s back story comes along when I hear it, and regrets and longing linger under the gentle vocal as Winchester seems to recall the joy and solace he once found in a place he might never be able to see again. And all of that is why “Biloxi” belongs in the Ultimate Jukebox.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 10
“Question” by the Moody Blues, Threshold 67004 [1970]
“Biloxi” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester [1970]
“All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople, Columbia 45673 [1972]
“Oh, Babe, What Would You Say” by Hurricane Smith, Capitol 3383 [1972]
“Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash, Geffen 49824 [1981]
“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, Elektra 96412 [1988]

“Question” was my introduction to the Moody Blues. I think that introduction took place across the street at Rick’s, when he and Rob shared some albums Rob had borrowed from a friend. One of those albums was A Question of Balance. I was entranced by the group’s sound and the songs’ content: These guys were singing about the same kinds of questions I was grappling with at the time. I’ll acknowledge that the lyrical content of some of the Moodys’ albums has not aged well, though the songs on A Question of Balance do not seem now as overcooked as do many of those on the other albums. And “Question” – which went to No. 21 during the spring and early summer of 1970 – still sounds good today, although I’m not sure if that’s a matter of the song’s maturity or of my carrying inside me a perpetual sixteen-year-old. Over the years, on oldies radio, the album version – with the (synthesized?) horns calling out during the introduction – has pretty much driven the simple strummed guitar introduction of the single edit out of circulation. The version I found at YouTube seems to be a hybrid: it has the single’s introduction but runs longer – by my reading – than the single edit ever did.

None of the kids I was hanging around with during the autumn of 1972 were listening to Mott the Hoople, so neither was I. But when “All the Young Dudes” began to push itself out of the radio speakers from time to time that November – the record spent just three weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 37 – I put the band on my list of music to check out. It took me years to get there, having detoured figuratively through Muscle Shoals and Macon, Georgia, but the crunchy chords of “Dudes” remained fresh over the years, even as the glam poses of Ian Hunter and his band got very old. I never thought the record was all that much a tribute to glam rock, anyway, no matter what David Bowie might have had in mind when he wrote the song. And this morning, I read Mark Deming’s review of the song at All-Music Guide: “In Bowie’s version, there seems to be a vague, under-the-radar suggestion that the ‘dudes’ in question were rent boys or glammed-out fashion victims, but Hunter’s vocals (buoyed by Mick Ralphs’ soaring lead guitar and Verden Allen’s superbly sympathetic organ swells) turned the song into an anthem for the guys on the corner, sticking by each other through the ups and downs of their lives.” Sounds about right to me.

Sometimes a hit record comes along that is so utterly out of step with current trends that I imagine some listeners assume that its popularity is a joke or an ironic comment. So there likely were folks out there in radioland as 1972 turned into 1973 who were chuckling or raising irony-laced eyebrows every time Hurricane Smith came out of the speakers singing “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” The faux Twenties/Thirties backing track, the pinched and sometimes awkward vocal and the guileless and romantic lyrics made the record unlike anything around it in the Top 40. (When “Oh Babe” reached its peak at No. 3 during February 1973, it was bracketed by Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and “Dueling Banjos” by Eric Weisberg and Steve Mandell, which itself was unlike anything else in the Top 40, of course.) As is well known now, the singer’s real name was Norman Smith, and he’d been an engineer and producer for EMI in England, working with – among many others – the Beatles and Pink Floyd. “Oh Babe” was his only hit in the U.S. although he had better success in the U.K., where eccentricity sells better, I guess. Eccentric or not, when “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” comes out of the speakers when I’m around, it’s greeted with a smile that hasn’t the faintest trace of irony.

Given my general disinterest in music from the 1980s – it wasn’t as awful as I thought it was at the time, but I still don’t think it was as good as recent waves of Gen X nostalgia have posited – I wondered as I trimmed my list of songs how many tunes from that decade would end up in my metaphorical jukebox. As I detailed in an earlier post, twenty-two songs from the Eighties survived the trimming. Two of them are in this grouping, and they were selected for diametrically opposite reasons, one for sound and the other for story. From the opening sax riff by Rindy Ross through her vocals to the end of the song, “Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash just sounds good. The lyrics tell a universal tale, the songs lopes along, Ross’ vocals are believeable and, best of all, that sax riff is one of the greatest of all time. At the time the song was on the charts – it went to No. 3 during a nineteen-week stay after entering the Top 40 during early November 1981 – I wasn’t listening to a lot of Top 40, but “Harden My Heart” was inescapable. The radio station I listened to most often at home in those days was more focused on what I think was called adult contemporary, and Quarterflash was there, too.

By the time the end of the Eighties was drawing near, I was listening to newer music again, and when Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” hit the charts during the summer of 1988, I was fascinated by the record. It’s a no-frills recording: a simple acoustic guitar riff most of the way through with the drums and bass blowing in for the choruses. But it makes my list for its story, with its detail-studded portrait of a life on the fringes of American society, a life spent working in the check-out lane where the big house in the suburbs is unattainable, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether fate or frailty creates the barriers. “Fast Car” went to No. 6, and I sometimes wonder which reaction to the record was more prevalent among those who helped it get that high in the chart:  Was it “My God, that’s my life she’s singing about”? Or was it “Thank God that’s not my life she’s singing about”?