Posts Tagged ‘Rod Stewart’

Saturday Single No. 753

September 18, 2021

Having looked yesterday at the Top Ten from the Billboard Hot 100 from fifty years ago this week, we may as well take a look at the Top Ten from that week’s album chart:

Tapestry by Carole King
Every Picture Tells A Story by Rod Stewart
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by the Moody Blues
Who’s Next
Ram
by Paul & Linda McCartney
Carpenters
Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon
by James Taylor
Shaft (Soundtrack) by Isaac Hayes
Master Of Reality by Black Sabbath
What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

That’s a great Top Ten. There are at least five in there that I’d call essential Seventies albums, those by King, Stewart, the Who, Hayes and Gaye. And four of the others aren’t that far behind. (I’m not certain about the Black Sabbath album simply because it’s in a genre in which I have no expertise at all. Anyone who wants can leave a comment assessing it.)

The earliest any of those came into my life was Ram, which I got as a high school graduation present. And I’ve owned eight of those ten as LPs, everything except the Black Sabbath and James Taylor albums. Then, between CDs and digital files, I have everything on that list except Master Of Reality.

It’s interesting that Rod Stewart shows up here today. Earlier this week, the Texas Gal and I were driving home from some errand when Stewart’s “Gasoline Alley” came on the radio. I’m not as familiar with the track, or with the 1970 album that’s its namesake, as I am with other portions of Stewart’s early solo work, but I recognized it immediately and I was struck by what seemed its sloppiness: guitars going every which way, the bass and percussion seemingly working off a different sheet. I should go back and listen to the entire album, I guess, but I think I’d hear the same thing.

And that contrasts with what I hear when I listen to Every Picture Tells A Story from 1971. Stewart produced both albums, but it seems that during the time between them, he learned some restraint. I’m not saying that every track on the later album was painstakingly precise, but the rowdiness that gives Gasoline Alley its somewhat ramshackle air is gone.

I dunno, maybe I’m hearing things that aren’t there. But anyway, here’s “Seems Like A Long Time” from Every Picture Tells A Story, a cover of a tune that was originally recorded by Brewer & Shipley. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Up Above My Head . . .’

May 20, 2014

I’m out of commission today, the combination of a spring cold and muscles still aching from Saturday’s construction and garden efforts. So I’m punting, but here’s a 1964 release from Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men (with, according to several things I’ve read, Rod Stewart’s recording debut). Written by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, here’s “Up Above My Head.”

Sixteen Years Gone

June 1, 2012

Originally posted April 13, 2009

I was puttering with some mp3 tags this morning while the Texas Gal was getting ready for her day, the radio tuned to public radio as it almost always is during those morning preparations. And I heard the radio host mention that it was sixteen years ago today that the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League played their final home game. After the season’s final game in Chicago, and before the start of the next hockey season, the team’s then-owner – may he learn that Hell is playing goalie without pads and a mask! – moved the team to Texas, creating the Dallas Stars.

The North Stars’ first year of existence was the 1967-68 season. And it was in the autumn of 1967 that I became a sports fan. Why then? I don’t know, but I imagine that the birth of the North Stars had something to do with it. And while the Minnesota Vikings have probably always been my favorite of all the professional teams I’ve followed over the years, the North Stars were always a close second.

I went to one or two games a season during high school and my early college years. After I was out in the workforce, I saw maybe one every couple of years, although those outings became more rare when the price of tickets rose at a rate faster than my income grew. But I still watched games on television. I also spent many evenings listening to the radio as Al Shaver – the only play-by-play announcer the North Stars ever had – brought the action into my home. And I hoped for the best for the team through times of good fortune and bad, through seasons of mediocrity and through a good number of playoff seasons, two of which ended with losses in the Stanley Cup finals.

Once the North Stars were gone, I understood at least a little how baseball fans in Brooklyn felt when the Dodgers left for Los Angeles and how football fans in Baltimore felt when the Colts moved to Indianapolis. In addition, I felt as if a portion of my youth had been taken from me. And I think that youthful connection is the key to the grief I felt when the North Stars left town.

Whatever the source, the grief was real. And it wasn’t limited just to fans. I was working for the Eden Prairie newspaper at the time the North Stars left town, and a number of the North Stars lived in that suburb. One afternoon shortly after the hockey season ended, I was at one of the city’s elementary schools for a photo assignment, and I saw one of the North Stars in the school corridor, about to pick up one of his children. He recognized me, as he and I had spent a few hours talking not long before when I was doing research for a feature story about youth hockey. I asked him if he was going to go south with the team, and he smiled and said he’d be announcing his decision soon. (He in fact retired instead.) And then I asked what the players thought of the move. He shook his head sadly and then said, “I really shouldn’t say much.” But his face gave his feelings away.

The sorrow and anger faded at least a little, as it always does. The National Hockey League eventually placed another team in Minnesota, the Wild. I regret that the NHL did not do for Minnesota fans what the National Football League did for fans of the Cleveland Browns when the team left town after the 1995 season. The NFL allowed owner Art Model to move the team, but reserved the Browns’ nickname, colors and records for a new franchise in Cleveland. The NHL should have done the same for Minnesota.

But that didn’t happen, and I follow the Wild, though the team is not nearly as important to me as were the North Stars. (And I happen to think the Wild’s nickname is one of the silliest in professional athletics!) The Dallas Stars went on to win the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1999.

May they never win another.

A Six-Pack From 1993
“Bittersweet” by Big Head Todd and the Monsters from Sister Sweetly
“One World” by the Freddy Jones Band from Waiting for the Night
“Handbags & Gladrags” by Rod Stewart from Unplugged . . . and Seated
“Bury My Lovely” by October Project from October Project
“’74-’75” by the Connells from Ring
“I Don’t Wanna Talk About It” by the Indigo Girls from the soundtrack to Philadelphia

I was startled the first time I heard “Bittersweet,” most likely on Cities 97. I thought at the time – and still do – that the song is an almost perfect melding of music and lyric as it tells its sad tale. It’s a lovely song, but there are most likely times in everyone’s life when it wouldn’t be advisable to listen too acutely to the words of the third and final verse:

I know we don’t talk about it.
We don’t tell each other all the little things that we need.
We work our way around each other as we tremble and we bleed.

I’ve got a couple of CDs by the Freddy Jones Band, but I don’t listen to them too often, and I’m not sure why. I dropped Waiting for the Night into the player the other day and – as has been the case since I first heard the group, also most likely on Cities 97 – liked what I heard. Waiting for the Night was the first of four albums the group did for Capricorn in the 1990s; there was one CD on Polydor, as well. A sixth CD followed in 2001 on Sony Special Products. And a new CD, Time Well Wasted, is currently available through the band’s website; on Out The Box Records, the new CD has ten new live versions of songs from earlier releases and two new studio tracks recorded in 2008. (One page on the website indicates that the CD went on sale in December; another page says that the CD will be available tomorrow, April 14. I don’t know which is correct.)

When Rod Stewart – with the help of long-time pal and bandmate Ron Wood – did the unplugged thing for MTV, I wasn’t particularly blown away by what I heard. As I may have mentioned here earlier, Stewart had lost my attention with “Tonight’s The Night” back in late 1976. Beyond that date, the only thing I’d heard from Stewart that I liked was his version of Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train.” But combing through his Unplugged . . . and Seated release, I liked the CD’s version of “Handbags & Gladrags.”

October Project wasn’t around for long – three years and two CDs in its original configuration – but the group somehow managed to sneak into my awareness. And I love lead singer Mary Fahl’s voice, but the group’s ornate songs seems to work better one song at a time than heard as entire albums. I have a version of “Bury My Lovely” performed live on Cities 97 (and released on one of the station’s annual samplers) that I prefer by just a little to the original version, but it was recorded in 1994. Perhaps another time.

I know very little about the Connells. I came across Ring at a blog I frequent and like it a lot. According to All-Music Guide, “’74-’75” was released as a single to alternative radio stations and did fairly well. (My thanks to Yonnor at Jajaah.)

It’s a little baffling to realize that it’s been sixteen years since the release of the film Philadelphia. It doesn’t seem nearly that long. In any case, the soundtrack for the film has aged gracefully, at least in these precincts, with nine original songs from a wide range of artists. The soundtrack is most likely remembered as the source of Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” and Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” (Springsteen’s song won an Academy Award for Best Song; Young’s song was nominated), But the Indigo Girls’ “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It” (written by the late Danny Whitten of Crazy Horse) is fresh as well, maybe even fresher than the two previously mentioned songs.

Reposts
Glory Road by Maggie’s Farm, 1992
Original post here.

Can’t Stop The Madness by Birtha, 1973
Original post here.

Ronnie Hawkins – Ronnie Hawkins (1970)
Original post here.

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.)

Two Downtown Trains: Rod Stewart & Tom Waits

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 10, 2008

Not a lot from Monday’s Baker’s Dozen was available at YouTube this morning. I passed on a portion of The Band’s performance of “Mystery Train” from the farewell film, The Last Waltz. (If I could have found the full performance, featuring Paul Butterfield on harp, I likely would have settled for that.)

A little further down Monday’s list came Rod Stewart’s “Downtown Train.” I found the 1989 video for it, which I’m not sure I’d ever seen. It’s actually very good, as videos go.

A little farther down the page at YouTube, I found a “Downtown Train” video from 1985 by Tom Waits, who wrote the song. Waits is one of rock’s true idiosyncratics, and the video does not disappoint.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Trains

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 7, 2008

Almost every night as I went to sleep during my childhood and youth, I’d hear the sound of trains. The tracks sliced through the east side of St. Cloud, with southbound trains heading for the Twin Cities and northbound trains heading for either the nearby passenger terminal or the rail yard across the river on the north side. As the trains neared the intersection with Seventh Street two blocks from our house, the engineers would let loose their horns, and so very often, I’d slide into sleep with the sound of a train and its horn easing my way.

The tracks on the east side back then were part of the Great Northern Railway, built in the late years of the nineteenth century from St. Paul and Duluth across the northern tier of the U.S. to Washington and Oregon. We kids would watch from the schoolyard as the trains roared past, most of the cars bearing the GN logo – a mountain goat standing on a rocky outcrop – and we’d wave as the caboose passed by. More often than not, the railroad men in the caboose would wave back.

(How long has it been since I’ve seen a caboose, much less waved at one? I have no idea, but it’s been years. Their absence isn’t the only change, of course: The railroad, after many mergers, is now called the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. Its only business is freight. Amtrak uses the route for its passenger service, which stops here twice a day, heading east to the Twin Cities and Chicago in the early morning and heading west across the plains just after midnight.)

Paul Simon wrote, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance.” I’m not sure about everybody, but it’s true for me, and I imagine for a lot of the kids who grew up within earshot of the tracks on the east side. The Texas Gal and I live about a block from those same tracks, and trains provide a frequent, and pleasant, background sound. (When we’re watching television with the sliding door open, the sound coming across the little meadow can drown out the television; those are moments I’m grateful for the ability to pause the television.)

It’s a little less noisy these days, though: Trains coming through here are no longer allowed to blow their horns. Late last year, the two crossings nearest our home were reconstructed to provide greater safety, and the stretch of tracks through St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids (a smaller city adjacent to St. Cloud on the north) was proclaimed a “no horn” zone. That’s too bad, in a way. The horns could be intrusive, but they were also a part of the background of life here on the east side. Just moments ago, as I was writing this, I heard a faint train horn, maybe from over on the north side, and I realized I’ve missed the sound.

What is it about the sound of a train, with or without its horn? I can’t answer for others, but to me, it’s the sound of exploration and adventure, the sound of another place calling me onward. I’m sublimely happy with where I am in all ways. But when a train comes by, the clatter of its wheels on the track calls me to come away.

I’ve done a very little bit of train travel in the U.S., mostly between St. Cloud and Minot when I was teaching in the North Dakota city twenty years ago. During my nine months in Europe while I was in college, I had a rail pass for two months and logged about 11,000 miles of train travel, from Denmark south as far as Rome and north as far as Narvik, Norway, the farthest point north one could travel on the rail lines in Europe. I suppose it’s the echo of those long-ago adventures I hear when the wheels clatter on the rails.

A Baker’s Dozen of Trains
“Mystery Train” by The Band from Moondog Matinee, 1973

“Night Train” by James Brown, King single 5614, 1961

“Glendale Train” by the New Riders Of The Purple Sage from New Riders Of The Purple Sage, 1971

“Memphis Train” by Rufus Thomas, Stax single 250, 1968

“Long Black Train” by Josh Turner from Long Black Train, 2003

“Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart, Warner Bros. single 22685, 1989

“Southbound Train” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby, 1973

“When The Train Comes” by the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver from Reach For The Sky, 1975

“Time Run Like A Freight Train” by Eric Andersen from Stages: The Lost Album, 1973/1991

“Last Train To Memphis” by Johnny Rivers from Last Train To Memphis, 1998

“The Blue Train” by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris & Linda Ronstadt from Trio II, 1999

“Love Train” by the O’Jays, Philadelphia International single 3524, 1973

“Trains” by Al Stewart from Famous Last Words, 1993

A few notes:

Moondog Matinee was The Band’s salute to vintage rock & roll and R&B. At the time, many listeners perceived it as a stopgap record, but to my mind, it’s a document of where some of The Band’s myriad influences lie. Some of the tracks on the album work better than others, it’s true, and “Mystery Train” might be the best of them all.

I don’t often share songs recorded after 1999, but Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train” is so good I have to make an exception. Turner’s deep country voice and the moody backing track make the song sound as if it’s always been around and Turner discovered it in some back-road adventure.

Back in 1989, long after I’d written off Rod Stewart, he came along with “Downtown Train,” his stellar reading of the Tom Waits tune. There’s a nice version of the song by Everything But The Girl on its 1998 album Acoustic, but the Stewart version, I think, is the definitive one.

A while back, I shared “Page 43” from the Graham Nash/David Crosby album. “Southbound Train” is one of the two other superlative tracks from that album (“Immigration Man” is the other.) As I think I said then, of all the sub-combinations to come out of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young conglomeration, the pairing of Nash and Crosby might have been the best.

The Eric Andersen track was supposed to be on his Stages album, recorded in 1973. As I’ve related here before, CBS lost the tapes. Andersen re-recorded the song – and several others from Stages – for 1975’s Be True To You. After the Stages tapes were re-discovered in 1989, the album – with some additional songs – was released in 1991. As good as the 1975 version of “Time Run Like A Freight Train” was – and it is a good one – this version, the original, is much better.

This list is far less random than these usually are. As well as trimming out a few songs that were released after 1999, I skipped over four or five from the 1950s. (Trains were clearly a staple topic of country music then.) I’m glad I did, otherwise “Love Train” might not have made the list. Propulsive, joyous and very much of its time, “Love Train” is a great single.

I’ve read some critics of Al Stewart say that he over-reaches when he takes on history. Maybe, but sometimes he succeeds greatly. “Trains” is one his successes, taking the listener from schoolboy days in post-World War II England to 1990s commuter travel on the American East Coast, with stops along the way at the trenched front of World War I and the haunted rail spurs that brought innocents to their deaths in World War II’s occupied Poland.

A Baker’s Dozen For Minneapolis

April 30, 2011

Originally posted August 3, 2007

Things like this aren’t supposed to happen. Bridges aren’t supposed to fall down.

No, we didn’t lose anyone. No relatives or friends were on the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis Wednesday evening when it groaned and tumbled into the Mississippi River. But in the larger sense that I think everyone out there understands, those were our friends and neighbors: those who stood dazed on a section of highway sitting on the water, those who helped get the crying children out of that precariously perched school bus, those who crawled up the steep remnants of the bridge and helped others do the same, and yes, those – evidently and thankfully few – who remain lost and in the water still.

The Texas Gal’s sister called us about 6:30 Wednesday evening, asking if we were okay, adding that she knew that sometimes the Texas Gal has to go to Minneapolis for her work. I was confused by her question. We were watching the news, but we were running about fifteen minutes behind, as I’d put the television on pause while we got dinner together. When she told me what had happened, all I could say was “What?” The words made no sense.

Listening, I carried the phone into the living room. The Texas Gal said later that from the look on my face, she thought that someone in one of our families had died. We changed the channel to bring the television up to current time, said goodbye and hung up. Then the Texas Gal and I sat there, stunned, and watched the news for more than three hours.

I called my sister’s house and talked to my brother-in-law. Everyone was safe. We got a couple more calls from Texas, friends seeing if we were okay. And we were, of course. Except that we weren’t. From time to time, things happen that shred the verities in our lives: The doctor has bad news. Someone swallows something the wrong way. A summer storm spawns tornadoes. A car runs a red light into another car’s path. And a bridge falls into the river.

We live less than a mile from the Mississippi River and cross it frequently – the Texas Gal does so everyday and I do a couple times a week. When I lived in Minneapolis eight years ago, I drove on the I-35W bridge every day on my way to work. Crossing the river safely is something we’ve taken for granted, just like those folks who were driving on Interstate 35W Wednesday night took it for granted. We might not for a while. So we – like most Minnesotans and like our friends all around the country – weren’t entirely okay. We were better off than those souls caught in the horror and better off than their families and friends, certainly, but we were shaken.

Now, all the various agencies will go about their jobs. In not that long a time, the last unfortunates will be found and identified. The shattered and twisted bridge will be removed and studied. A new one will be designed and begin to rise. People will point fingers in blame, some in honest outrage and some, sadly, for political gain.

And as all of those things happen, shock and grief will eventually wane – not for some time yet, but eventually – and the wounded will heal. We’ll move forward, having been reminded that every day, we are all no more than one instant from disaster. We always have been and we always will be. It sometimes takes something like a bridge falling into a river to remind us of that and thus to remind us to take nothing for granted, ever.

So if you have children, if you have parents, if you have brothers and sisters, if you have friends, then let them know how much they matter to you. Today.

A Baker’s Dozen for Minneapolis:

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel from Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

“Follow” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag (1968)

“East of Ginger Trees” by Seals & Crofts from Summer Breeze (1972)

“Every Grain of Sand” by Bob Dylan from Shot of Love (1981)

“The Circle Game” by Tom Rush from The Circle Game (1968)

“Whispering Pines” by The Band from The Band (1969)

“Get It While You Can” by Janis Joplin from Pearl (1970)

“Long As I Can See The Light” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy single 645 (1970)

“Page 43” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby (1973)

“We Are Not Helpless” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills (1970)

“Seems Like A Long Time” by Rod Stewart from Every Picture Tells A Story (1971)

“I Shall Be Released” by Joe Cocker from With A Little Help From My Friends (1969)

“Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, The End” by the Beatles from Abbey Road (1969)

Another One Found In The Stacks

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 6, 2007

It was all because of Bertie Higgins.

The RealPlayer was rolling on random the other night while I played some tabletop baseball (another one of my passions, which I refer to at times on my other blog, the horribly neglected Whiteray’s Musings). Along came Bertie Higgins and his 1982 hit, “Key Largo.” But the introduction sounded off. So I played it again.

And it was off. I’m not at all sure where I got the mp3 of the song, but it was missing the first three notes. So I finished the game I was playing and headed for the stacks, planning to pull Higgins’ LP out and fire up the ION USB turntable. The records in the H section went from “Hiatt, John” to “High Cotton.” No “Higgins, Bertie.”

I stood there rubbing my beard for a moment, certain that I owned a copy of Higgins’ album, Just Another Day in Paradise. I could see the cover in my mind. So I went to a couple of crates where I keep LPs I’ve logged but have not yet played. Some Steve Forbert and Lamont Cranston. A collection of Russian folk songs. Amy Grant. Frank Sinatra. Chilliwack. Some musicals and classical. A Ronco disco collection. Lots of other stuff.

But no Bertie Higgins.

Utterly confused, I went to the computer and pulled up the LP Log. No listing for “Higgins, Bertie.” Despite my certainty, I don’t own the album. So I took a deep breath and looked at the three-foot long shelf that contains my various anthologies, including a lot of Ronco and K-Tel products. I don’t have them indexed by song. If I had “Key Largo” on one of them, I would have to find it by pulling each record out and scanning first for dates of 1982 or later and then for the individual title.

Were the first three notes of the introduction really that important to me?

Well, yes. So I began pulling records off the shelf. About twenty minutes later, I found a record called If We Knew Then . . . produced in 1986 to, oddly enough, promote a drug to reduce high blood pressure. It first side – the “Then” side – had five songs from the 1950s: Vic Damone’s “On The Street Where You Live” and Doris Day’s “Secret Love” among them. Side Two, the “Now” side, had, among its five songs, “Key Largo.”

Ten minutes later, I had an mp3 with those three notes whose absence had annoyed me an hour earlier. And I began to dig through the other collections to see what other single cuts I could find that I might want to add to the mp3 collection. And I pulled out a record titled Rock Generation, Vol. 5, subtitled “The First Rhythm & Blues Festival in England (Birmingham Town Hall, 28th February 1964).”

I stared at it and at the list of performers: Spencer Davies, spelled just like that. Long John Baldry. Rod Stewart. Stevie Winwood. Eric Clapton. Sonny Boy Williamson.

When did I get this? I turned it over. “February 25, 1999,” said the date. The location was clear from the price tag on the front: Cheapo’s, on Lake Street in South Minneapolis.

Back at the computer, I opened a new file for recording, cleaned the record and put it on the ION. As it played, I looked over the cover, noting that it was released (evidently in 1965) on the French BYG label with liner notes by one Giorgio Gomelsky. I listened closely. Not bad. Except for the fact that Steve Winwood’s mike failed during the first cut by the Spencer Davies R&B Quartet (as the group was billed), the recording was pretty good.

And clearly, even if the recording were mediocre, its historical import is large enough to excuse some audio flaws. What a lineup! And how was it I didn’t know I had this? Had I been distracted that day, looking forward to listening to some other LP I’d found that day in pristine condition? (Looking at the LP Log, if other acquisitions distracted me that day, it was likely the two Al Green LPs. Other buys that day were LPs by Roy Buchanan, Donovan, Buddy Guy, T-Bone Burnett, Graham Central Station and Otis Rush. A pretty good haul for one day!)

The first side ended. I paused the recording, cleaned Side Two and started it and the recorder again, and I tried to figure out how I could have slid this treasure in with the Roncos. I try to separate the anthologies to some degree on that shelf, with the more valuable ones – in terms of rarity of content – clustered together at one end. As Sonny Boy blew his harp in front of the Yardbirds, all I could figure out was that on that Thursday evening in 1999, I just hadn’t been paying attention.

Then I realized I likely didn’t play any of those records on that day. Back then, when I lived in Minneapolis, Thursday evening was band practice, a weekly get-together with friends for the sake of the music and camaraderie. I’d no doubt grabbed the records during a quick stop on my way home from work and then headed off to practice.

But as Sonny Boy closed his set with a solo turn on “Bye-Bye Bird” and all the performers began a long version of “Got My Mojo Working,” I realized that I still had no idea why I’d seemingly not realized the value of the record when I got it. Well, sometimes, I guess, I’m just asleep at the switch. And I evidently played the record and shoved in between the Roncos without thinking.

Posting the record here should rectify that poor decision of eight years ago. Most of the performers on the record are well known, though some of the group memberships changed between the time of this recording in February 1964 and the time the groups became more well known to music fans in general and certainly to those on the American side of the big pond.

Spencer Davies R&B Quartet was made of, at the time, Davies himself, of course, on guitar; Stevie Winwood on guitar, vocals and organ; Muff Winwood on bass; and Peter York on drums.

Long John Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men were: Baldry on vocals; Rod Stewart on vocals; Jeff Bradford on lead guitar; Cliff Barton on bass; Ian Armit on piano; and Billy Law on drums.

The Yardbirds were: Eric Clapton on lead guitar; Paul Samwell-Smith on bass; Chris Dreja on rhythm guitar; and Jim McCarty on drums.

The members of the Liverpool Roadrunners were not listed on the back of the record. Their current website is here.

The track listing is:

“Dimples” by the Spencer Davies R&B Quartet
“You Gonna Make It If You Try” by the Liverpool Roadrunners
“Mary Ann” by the Liverpool Roadrunners
“Bright Lights Big City” by Rod Stewart
“The Two Nineteen” by Long John Baldry
“Night Time Is The Right Time” by the Spencer Davies R&B Quartet
“Slows Walk” by Sonny Boy Williamson and the Yardbirds
“Highway 69” by Sonny Boy Williamson and the Yardbirds
“My Little Cabin” by Sonny Boy Williamson and the Yardbirds
“Bye-Bye Bird” by Sonny Boy Williamson
“Got My Mojo Working” [listed simply as “Mojo”] by everyone.

All-Music Guide indicates that the album was released on CD in 2000 on the Spalax label. GEMM has a couple of listings for the CD through U.S.-based shops that specialize in imports, with prices ranging right around $25. Several copies of the LP are listed there as well, with prices as low as about $5 and as high as $90, with most of the copies being priced between $10 and $30.

Rock Generation, Vol. 5 [1965]

‘Down-town! Down-town!’

July 20, 2010

Every so often, a record makes its way up the charts and touches something in the public that makes it not just a hit record but a pop culture sensation. Even those who do not listen to pop music become aware of it, and the record might even become a tag line that sums up an era – or at least a portion of an era.

Two of the more prominent such records I can recall span a good-sized length of time and a huge distance on the quality meter: “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles in 1964 (No. 1 for seven weeks) and “Macarena (bayside boys mix)” by Los Del Rio in 1996 (No. 1 for fourteen weeks). Others that come to mind – and this will be a brief list created after minimal research, so it will necessarily be incomplete; readers are invited to leave their own suggestions in a comment – include:

“The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Fess Parker Bill Hayes, No. 1 for five weeks in 1955 (backed by the power of the Disney television show and one of the largest [and possibly earliest] marketing blitzes of tie-in merchandise in the United States).

“Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley, No. 1 for 11 weeks in 1956.

“The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley, No. 1 for six weeks in 1958.

“The Twist” by Chubby Checker, No. 1 for one week in 1960 and for two weeks in 1962.

“Ode to Billy Joe” by Bobbie Gentry, No. 1 for four weeks in 1967.

“American Pie, Parts I and II” by Don McLean, No. 1 for four weeks in 1972. (I wonder how many deejays played the split 45 – which I recall hearing on the air at least once – and how many went for the album track.)

“Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn Featuring Tony Orlando, No. 1 for four weeks in 1973. (This might be the most influential pop song of all time, given the reflexive reaction these days to mount displays of yellow ribbons for someone who is lost or gone away.)

“Convoy” by C. W. McCall, No. 1 for one week in 1976.

After that, except for “Macarena,” I’m not at all sure, given my tenuous connection to pop culture – especially pop music – during many of the years that followed. As I said, I would welcome suggestions.

So what brought that somewhat slender list to the fore today? It seems to me that the first entry in today’s selection from the Ultimate Jukebox might belong on that list. It was one of those records that seemed omnipresent at the time it was out, and it seemed at the time that everyone knew the record: the young folks who listened to Top 40 radio, the young folks who didn’t (and I, of course, was one of those) and the older folks who didn’t listen to Top 40. The record? “Downtown” by Petula Clark.

“Downtown” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 87 during the week of December 19, 1964, then skipped to No. 41. It went to No. 12 in the first week of 1965 and then to No. 5 and to No. 4 before spending the last two weeks of January at No. 1. That’s not the quickest rise ever (I recall writing about “Let It Be” and its massive leap), but it has to rank up there pretty well.

And everyone seemed to like it. It was a bouncy bit of pop sung well and produced well. (The 1992 edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide said the record had “a mild Phil Spector-ish production,” which nails it pretty well.) It wasn’t rock, by any long stretch of the imagination (despite the voters for the Grammys who honored the record as the Best Rock and Roll Recording of 1965). And it had one hell of a hook, with its “Down-town!” (Without digging around, it strikes me that songwriter Tony Hatch came up with the shortest hook possible; or can a hook be just one note?)

Anyway, while perhaps not as influential on pop culture as some of the records in the list above, “Downtown” seemed to be everywhere as 1964 ended and 1965 began. Here’s a video, probably from around that time, of Petula Clark lip-synching the song.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 26
“Downtown” by Petula Clark, Warner Bros. 5494 [1964]
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells, Atlantic 2478 [1968]
“Handbags & Gladrags” by Rod Stewart from The Rod Stewart Album [1969]
“Travelin’ Band” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy 637 [1970]
“Highway 49” by Howlin’ Wolf from The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions [1970]
“Thunder & Lightning” by Chi Coltrane, Columbia 45640 [1972]

I mentioned when I started this project that there was still one record I was uncertain about including and that I’d make that decision during Week 38 when I present the final six records in the jukebox. Actually, there’s another record whose place I’ve debated over the past few months: “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells. Sometimes when it pops up in company with the other songs on my Zen player it seems flat and blah and utterly out of place. Other times, it seems vibrant and creative and indispensible as Archie Bell calls his players out and brings them into the mix. Obviously, this week it seems the latter, and now I can quit dithering about it and just enjoy a record that was No. 1 for two weeks in the spring of 1968.

For the second week in a row, Rod Stewart shows up here, this time with “Handbags & Gladrags,” another one of those songs that I collect in as many versions as I can find. Written by Michael D’Abo (who was the lead singer for Manfred Mann as well as having a respected solo career), the plaintive song gets probably its best reading as an album track on Stewart’s first album (titled An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down in Britain). The album had no hit singles in the U.S., and that’s always baffled me; the inclusion of “Handbags & Gladrags” on Stewart’s first anthology, Sing It Again Rod, has always made me wonder if the track was released as a single in the U.K. (and if it was released here and utterly tanked). Whatever the case, the track is another bit of sweet testimony as to how good Stewart once was.

CCR’s “Travelin’ Band” peaked at No. 2 in early March of 1970. The record lasts only two minutes and seven seconds, but into those 127 seconds, John Fogerty and his bandmates pack in plenty of potent reminders of Little Richard and the rest of the artists he had to have listened to during his youth in California. As it happens, I’m not the only person to hear Little Richard in “Travelin’ Man.” According to The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles, Arco Industries, which owned the copyright to Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly,” filed suit against Fogerty for what it said was his use of the song. The Billboard book cites CCR bassist Stu Cook as saying in Bad Moon Rising: “The song is a direct rip-off of Little Richard’s style . . . I always thought it sounded more like ‘Long Tall Sally.’ Of course, Little Richard wasn’t above quoting himself, either.” The suit was settled, Cook is quoted as saying, when CCR’s label, Fantasy, bought the Little Richard tune from Venice Music.

A while back, on one of those evenings when my pal Rob and I were sifting through the mp3 collection for something he could use in one of his classes, I clicked on Howlin’ Wolf’s reading of “Highway 49” from his London sessions in May 1970. As Eric Clapton’s incendiary intro rang out, Rob stared and blurted, “That’s not blues, that’s rock ’n’ roll!” Actually, it’s both, merged in a way that points out how difficult it can be to sort genres when performances get close to the edges. Given the Wolf’s vocal performance, it would be hard to argue that “Highway 49” is not blues. Given the instrumental backing of the track, it would be hard to argue against rock. So the best thing to do, I think, is to quit worrying about labels and just enjoy the Wolf as he and his long-time guitarist Hubert Sumlin work with one of the best collections of rock musicians ever brought together as a backing band: Clapton on lead guitar, Bill Wyman on bass, Charlie Watts on percussion and Jeffrey M. Carp on harmonica. (Steve Winwood played keyboards, but according to the notes in the CD reissue, his parts were added later in Chicago.)

One of the first albums I ripped from vinyl and shared through the first version of this blog was Chi Coltrane’s self-titled debut album, anchored by her only hit single, “Thunder and Lightning.” The rest of the album was fairly good, but none of the songs matched up against that single, which turned out to be Coltrane’s only hit. I’d liked “Thunder and Lightning” a fair amount when it was on the radio, so after I posted that first album I dug around online and found two more of the Wisconsin-born singer’s albums, 1973’s Let It Ride and Road to Tomorrow from 1977. Let It Ride features a cover of “Hallelujah,” first recorded by the Clique in 1969 and later a minor hit for Sweathog in 1971, but otherwise the two albums are pretty blah. That’s okay. There remains “Thunder and Lightning,” which went to No. 17 during the autumn of 1972.

‘I’m Shinin’ Like A New Dime’

July 14, 2010

By the time 1989 rolled around, a casual fan might have thought – hell, I did think – that even though he was still recording, the creative portion of Rod Stewart’s career was done, leaving behind four superb albums and a lot of work that was both difficult and painful to listen to. As brilliant as his work with Faces had been, his early solo work was better, with The Rod Stewart Album, Gasoline Alley, Every Picture Tells A Story and Never A Dull Moment following one after the other during the years from 1969 through 1972.

And there were some hits in those albums: “Maggie May” was inescapable during the autumn of 1971, perching at No. 1 for five weeks. That was undoubtedly Stewart’s biggest hit, but there were others, as measured by making the Billboard Hot 100: “(I Know) I’m Losing You” (credited to Rod Stewart & Faces), “You Wear It Well,” a cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Angel,” “Cut Across Shorty,” “Reason To Believe” and “Twisting the Night Away.” And all of them were good listening.

And then, for me, Rod Stewart disappeared and some artless lookalike with a similar voice and horrible taste took his place. There are those who will argue the merits of the Tom Dowd-produced pair of Atlantic Crossing and Night on the Town, but I found both albums too slick by far, and with the puzzling success of the latter’s hit single, “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” – it spent the last seven weeks of 1976 and the first week of 1977 at No. 1 – I bailed on Rod Stewart for the rest of the 1970s and nearly all of the 1980s, never seeking out his music, wincing when I saw him perform on television and hitting the buttons on the car radio to change stations whenever I heard his voice coming from the speakers.

And then, one evening in late 1989, as I sat reading with the radio in the corner playing low, I heard an immediately haunting introduction of woodwinds and strings over piano. I stopped reading, and then Rod Stewart sang: “Outside, another yellow moon has punched a hole in the night time mist. I climb through the window and down to the street. I’m shinin’ like a new dime.”

The record blew me away, and I spent several fruitless weeks trying to find it on vinyl. It was, of course, a cover of Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train,” and Stewart’s savvy reading of the tune was the best thing he’d done in about seventeen years. (He’d had nineteen Top 40 hits in the intervening years, when I was paying no attention.) Others seemed to like the record as well: It reached No. 3 in the Top 40, and went to No. 1 for one week on the Adult Contemporary chart and for two weeks on the Mainstream Rock chart. And in doing so, it fulfilled its commercial purpose, which was to draw attention to the release of Stewart’s sixty-four song Storyteller anthology, released in December of 1989.

From there, of course, Stewart continued to release albums and have hits, none of which grabbed me too much, and after the turn of the century, he devoted much of his effort to four albums of songs from what he calls “The Great American Songbook,” covering tunes like “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Thanks for the Memory.” He’s also released one album covering classic rock songs. For my purposes, he’s become irrelevant again. But I can still listen to those four great albums from long ago and to that one incandescent single from 1989 that reminded me how great Rod Stewart could be.

A note: My pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ recommended in a post this week the 1985 collaboration between Stewart and Jeff Beck on the Impressions’ 1965 hit “People Get Ready.” The track, from Beck’s album, Flash, reached No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went to No. 5 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Being disconnected from a lot of stuff – including music – in 1985, I missed it. Go watch the video at jb’s place and you’ll know why I wish I hadn’t. Great find, jb!

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 25
“Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2365 [1966]
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy 625 [1969]
“Hallelujah” by Sweathog, Columbia 45492 [1971]
“La Grange” by ZZ Top, London 203 [1974]
“Take It To The Limit” by the Eagles, Asylum 45293 [1976]
“Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart, Warner Bros. 22685 [1988]

Is “Mustang Sally” the quintessential Wilson Pickett hit? It’s a tough question to ask about a performer who had thirty-two records in the Billboard Hot 100 – sixteen of them in the Top 40 – between 1965 and 1972, as well as thirty-six hits on the R&B chart, a run that ended in 1987. I suppose one could choose between the two Top Ten hits – “Land Of 1000 Dances” went to No. 6 in 1966 and “Funky Broadway went to No. 8 a year later – but there’s something about the insistent beat underneath “Mustang Sally” that continues to pull me in, almost forty-four years after Pickett covered Sir Mac Rice’s 1965 hit. (Rice’s version went to No. 15 on the R&B chart.) And once the beat pulls me in, the rest of it – the sax honking underneath, the organ dancing above, the horn accents, Pickett’s gritty vocal, and above all the story of Sally who just wants to ride – gets me bobbing my head for a good chunk of the day.

“Green River” wasn’t the first Top Ten hit for Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising” predated “Green River by six and three months, respectively – but it should have been. I’ve always heard “Green River” as the band’s statement of purpose, telling its listeners that even in the confused and shattered times of 1969, there was a place where things remained as they should:

Old Cody Junior took me over,
Said, “You’re gonna find the world is smold’rin’.
And if you get lost, come on home to Green River.

John Fogerty’s memories of bullfrogs, dragonflies and a barefoot girl dancin’ in the moonlight went to No. 2 for one week in September 1969.

I’ve written about Sweathog and “Hallelujah” a couple of times before, once calling the band kind of a Steppenwolf Light, and then wondering later if that was fair. I’m still not sure if that assessment is fair or not, but I can say this, for whatever conclusions it might inspire: There are no records by Steppenwolf in the Ultimate Jukebox, and Sweathog’s lone hit – it topped out at No. 33 during the last week of 1971 – is here. From the clanking introduction with its gospel piano and percussion through the workmanlike vocal and jubilant choruses, Sweathog’s single hit is fun. It doesn’t tap any major memories; it’s more of a dimly recalled artifact that it would have been nice to hear more often long ago. And that’s reason enough for it to be here.

La Grange, Texas, is a burg of less than five thousand folks lying about midway between Austin and Houston, and I would imagine that, like its not-too-distant cousin of China Grove, La Grange has had its share of visitors coming to town over the past thirty-some years with their car stereos blasting as they cross the city limits. The song, of course, would be ZZ Top’s superb boogie with indistinct lyrics, “La Grange.” Since I’ve never understood the lyrics to the song, and the LP The Best of ZZ Top doesn’t have a lyric sheet, I thought I’d clarify things for myself and perhaps provide a public service for others by putting the lyrics in this post. I found the lyrics at sing365.com, and I’ve made a revision or three based on my own listening this morning:

Rumor spreadin’ ’round in that Texas town
’Bout that shack outside La Grange.
(And you know what I’m talkin’ about.)
Just let me know if you wanna go
To that home out on the range.
They gotta lotta nice girls, ah!

Have mercy.
A-heh, how, how, how. A-heh!
A-how, how, how.

Well, I hear it’s fine if you got the time
And the ten to get yourself in.
A-hmm, hmm.
And I hear it’s tight most ev’ry night,
But now I might be mistaken.
Hmm, hmm, hmm.

“La Grange” just missed being ZZ Top’s first Top 40 hit, peaking at No. 41 during the last week of June 1974; the band’s string of eight Top 40 hits began during the summer of 1975 with “Tush,” which went to No. 20.

“Take It To The Limit” is the only record by the Eagles to make my final two-hundred and twenty-eight. Now, I enjoy the Eagles’ music just fine when it pops up on random. But back then, during the years from 1972 through 1981 when the band had sixteen Top 40 singles, I could take the Eagles or leave them. And although I enjoyed most of the singles when they came my way, I never sought the group’s music out. I didn’t add any Eagles LPs to the shelves until 1988, when I picked up Their Greatest Hits; I’ve added a few others since then. This is not to knock the group, but the music of Glenn Frey, Don Henley et al. almost never grabbed me. So why “Take It To The Limit,” which went to No. 4 in early 1976? Because more than a decade later, the song surfaced in my life as a talisman, encouraging me do everything I could to make some major and necessary changes. And that makes the song good for a smile: