Posts Tagged ‘Richard & Linda Thompson’

A Baker’s Dozen From 1982

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 22, 2007

When I settled on 1982 as the year for this morning’s Baker’s Dozen – after dabbling with the ideas of 1963 and 1964, two other years still unexplored – I wasn’t entirely hopeful.

I know I listened to the radio during the year – most likely to the station in the Twin Cities that at the time played “the hits of the Sixties, the Seventies and today” without playing all of the Top 40. Nothing very rude or raucous came out of the station’s studios. Not being a radio guy, I’m not sure what the format was called; I think today it would be called “Adult Contemporary.”

I thought about 1982 while the RealPlayer was sorting mp3s, though, and I realized that I couldn’t independently recall hearing a lot of music during the year. In fact, only one song came to mind, “Wasted On The Way” by Crosby, Stills & Nash, which I recall hearing as I drove through Iowa on my way to check out the graduate school at the University of Missouri. And I thought it was odd that I would remember so little music; after all, music has been one of the main foundations of my life. And on a practical level, a good part of a reporter’s workweek is spent driving to and from things, and I always had the car radio on. And the radio frequently provided the background to evenings at home, as we didn’t watch much television. But what did I hear? I really don’t recall.

Oh, I know what some of the music from 1982 was, having dug into it later and filled in the record collection with things I missed. But I must have been on autopilot that year, for I have no hooks of memory on which to hang any songs.

Still, the Baker’s Dozen is pretty decent selection:

“It’s Raining Again” by Supertramp, A&M single 2502

“Walking on a Wire” by Richard & Linda Thompson from Shoot Out The Lights

“Marina Del Rey” by George Strait, MCA single 52120

“Take A Chance With Me” by Roxy Music from Avalon

“Thank You For The Promises” by Gordon Lightfoot from Shadows

“Still In Saigon” by the Charlie Daniels Band, Epic single 02828

“Straight Back” by Fleetwood Mac from Mirage

“Up Where We Belong” by Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes from the soundtrack to An Office and a Gentleman

“Cleaning Windows” by Van Morrison from Beautiful Vision

“I Can’t Survive” by Jimmy Johnson from North/South

“A Good Man Is Hard To Find (Pittsburgh)” by Bruce Springsteen at the Power Station, New York

“Take Me Home” by Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle from the soundtrack to One From The Heart

“Roll Me Away” by Bob Seger, Capitol single 5235

A few notes on some of the songs:

Supertramp was in the middle of a pretty good run when the jaunty “It’s Raining Again” was released. It was the British group’s seventh Top 40 hit and the sixth to reach the Top 20 in a three-year period. The song reached No. 11, but it was the band’s last stay in the Top 20.

“Walking on a Wire” comes from Shoot Out the Lights, the last project that Richard and Linda Thompson released before they divorced. Listeners might assume that the edginess of the material came from the tensions of the pending split, but All-Music Guide notes that most of the material was at least a couple years old. Nevertheless, there is an edge to Shoot Out the Lights that isn’t as pronounced in the couple’s earlier work. “Walking on a Wire” is typical, but the entire album is worth a listen.

I don’t have a lot of George Strait music, but for some reason, I find that “Marina Del Rey” grows more and more charming every time I hear it. Maybe it’s the dissonance of the place: One doesn’t think of a country boy taking his vacation in Marina Del Rey. Someplace on a southern river or the Gulf Coast seems more likely. But “Marina Del Rey” works, a judgment with which country listeners agreed in 1982: the record reached No. 6 on the country charts.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Thank You For the Promises” is one of those songs that can nearly always move me to tears. Much of the album from which it comes, Shadows, is somber, and this track is typical of those parts of the record.

Jimmy Johnson is a native of Mississippi and brother to soul/R&B singer Syl Johnson. North/South, the album from which “I Can’t Survive” comes, is a nice serving of third-generation Chicago blues.

The last two songs, as stylistically different as any two can be, are a fitting conclusion, especially since it’s a random pairing. Both of them – “Take Me Home” overtly and “Roll Me Away” more implicitly – are about finding home, that physical and emotional place where one can rest.

We’re Halfway Home

June 2, 2010

This is the nineteenth segment, out of a planned thirty-eight, in which I’m exploring the records that would belong in what I call my Ultimate Jukebox. That means we’re halfway home. And I find it entirely fitting that one of the two songs that sparked this idea comes along this week by happenstance.

Last October, I wrote, in a meditation on autumn (and specifically on the autumn of 1975):

If there is a shining season during the years I spent on the campus of St. Cloud State, it is the autumn of 1975. . . .  It was a golden time, one that seems more rich in memory with each passing year. But there were concrete reasons for that sense of goodness: Hope and renewal found me for the first time in a year. . . . My smile returned. And all around me – my home, my car, the student union, downtown bars and everywhere else – music was a friend once more, instead of a reminder of loss.”

Among the six songs I offered that day were selections from Jefferson Starship and Orleans, and as I wrote about those six, I said: “I think two of them would make my all-time jukebox (a mental exercise at this point, but perhaps the basis for a series of posts in the future): ‘Miracles’ and ‘Dance With Me.’”

Well, both of those did make the final list. “Miracles” will come along in a few weeks, but this week’s six selections are anchored by Orleans’ “Dance With Me.” As you likely know, it’s a sweet love song, written by the group’s John Hall and his wife, Johanna, and produced and performed nicely. In one sense, that’s all there is to say for it: It’s a nice tune and a nice record, and it spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 6.

But for me – as some songs are for everyone who loves music, I imagine (or at least hope) – “Dance With Me” is magic. In memory, it seems like I heard it everywhere I went during that sweet autumn as I figuratively danced through my classes and my work and my free time. As that quarter began – and the record began its time in the Top 40 – there was no special person to whom I could extend the invitation to dance; by the time the record was about to fall out of the Top 40 in early November, there was.

And almost thirty-five years later, after changes upon changes, there’s still someone to invite to the dance, as “Dance With Me” is also one of the Texas Gal’s favorite records.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 19
“Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass, Checker 1120 [1965]
“Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra, Reprise 05090 [1966]
“Anyday” by Derek & the Dominos from Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs [1970]
“Dance With Me” by Orleans, Asylum 45261 [1975]
“(Don’t) Fear the Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult from Agents of Fortune [1976]
“Wall of Death” by Richard & Linda Thompson from Shoot Out The Lights [1982]

The most accurate description, for me, of Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me” comes – as is so often the case – from Dave Marsh, who called the record the “[b]est non-Aretha Aretha ever,” noting that the sound was not surprising, as Bass’ mother was gospel music star Martha Bass, who got her own start with the Clara Ward Singers, who traveled with Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha’s father. In any case, “Rescue Me” is a fine slice of mid-Sixties R&B from the Chess studios in Chicago. The record went to No. 4 during the autumn of 1965 and was No. 1 for four weeks on the R&B chart.

Even though the record pre-dates the time when I gave full attention to the Top 40, I’m certain I heard Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” during 1966, when it went to No. 25 (and spent one week at the top of the Adult Contemporary chart). I imagine that if nothing else, I heard it late one evening as our household was turning in for the night: For about twenty minutes as we got ready for bed, Dad would turn on the transistor radio on his bedside table. The radio – which Dad had appropriated from my sister, although she didn’t seem to care – was almost always tuned to KFAM, the station on the west side of town, and our twenty minutes of music at bedtime was very definitely middle of the road, not like that rock and roll that the station nearest us, WJON, played. (I wonder now if KFAM’s format might have been called adult contemporary?) In any case, I’m certain that my faint memory of having heard “Summer Wind” comes from one of those evenings during the autumn of 1966. So why does it show up here? Because it’s a good record with a subtle performance by Sinatra, and it reminds me of my dad.

I love “Layla.” I have since I first heard it in 1970, and I dug it more when it was re-released as a single in 1972. But its familiarity worked against it when I was sorting through titles to list here. The burning riff that opens “Layla” would certainly wake up the denizens of any coffeehouse in which I installed my hypothetical jukebox, but I think that after that opening burst, folks would think, “Oh, yeah, ‘Layla,’” and push the music into the background. My choice from the Layla album is instead “Anyday,” which has almost as arresting an opening and, I’m thinking, wouldn’t be quite as familiar nor as easily dismissed. Even if I’m wrong about that, “Anyday” is a tremendous piece of rock, with the descending bass line that always intrigues me and great vocals by both Eric Clapton and co-writer Bobby Whitlock.

“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” which went to No. 12 during the autumn of 1976, is pretty much all I really know about Blue Öyster Cult. I’ve got the Agents of Fortune LP and I have mp3s of some of the group’s other stuff, but it all tends to get lost in the (literal) shuffle. That just puts the group’s work onto a (long) list of music I need to pay more attention to, and the list gets longer every week. But the loping, looping introduction to “Reaper” commands my attention whenever it pops up on the computer or on the Zen player, and the “la-la-la-la-la” refrain remains chilling. According to Wikipedia, writer Donald Roeser – better known as Buck Dharma – says the song is not, as is often supposed, about death but about eternal love. That may be what he thinks, but I know how it feels to me, and “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” feels like an invitation to step through a door I’ve seen once and am not nearly ready to see again.

“Wall of Death,” the closing song on Richard and Linda Thompson’s grim and tense 1982 masterpiece, Shoot Out The Lights, is, if one would believe the lyrics, about an amusement park ride. Given the real-life circumstances of the recording sessions – from what I’ve read, the Thompsons’ marriage was crumbling rapidly at the time – one can find all sorts of metaphors in the song. I’m reminded as I write of Bruce Springsteen’s 1987 single “Tunnel of Love,” which also used an amusement park ride as a metaphor for the circumstances of his failing marriage to Julianne Phillips. Somehow “Wall of Death” seems darker than that, though: “On the Wall Of Death all the world is far from me. On the Wall Of Death it’s the nearest to being free. . . . You can waste your time on the other rides. This is the nearest to being alive. Oh, let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death.”  Or it just could be Richard Thompson’s voice, which has a much more somber cast. Either way, it’s an arresting song: