Posts Tagged ‘Rolling Stones’

On The Reading Table

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 29, 2009

Here’s a quick look at what’s on my reading table:

The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. I’ve read a few things by Winchester before, most notably A Crack in the Edge of the World, his account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and The Meaning of Everything, which turned out to be a history of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the man can make anything interesting.

In the book currently on my table, Winchester tells the tale of English eccentric Joseph Needham, a Cambridge scientist who became fascinated with China. Posted there by the British government during World War II, Needham became an expert on the scientific history of China. After the war, he continued his research, eventually producing seventeen volumes of his Science and Civilisation in China, making him “the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.”

As well as being a relentless researcher – his knowledge of Needham’s eccentric personal life and professional writings is deep – Winchester knows how to write. His books – and this is the fourth I’ve read, I believe – pull me into regions and disciplines that I not only know little of but that I’ve honestly never thought about much.

Next in the pile – I tend to read three or four things at a time, switching off every couple of days; I’ve done so for years – is sneaker wars, Barbara Smit’s history of the adidas and Puma shoe companies, from their founding in a small town in Germany just after World War II through the years when the two companies, as the dust jacket says, “changed the business of sport.”

It’s an interesting book, and my having visited the adidas headquarters no doubt makes it more so for me. Smit’s research seems strong enough. The dust jacket does not say where Smit was born, though it says she lives in France. That might matter, as every once in a while, something in the book’s diction or word choice makes me stop and think. As an example, while writing about Joe Namath, who was one of the earlier American top athletes to wear Puma shoes, Smit writes that Namath played his college football at the University of Alabama, “which he led to a football championship title in 1964.”

That “football championship title” bothers me. I’d have edited it “national championship.” I’m about halfway through the book, and I’ve come across about five or six things like that – word choices, odd juxtapositions – that make me stop. Being a writer, I look at them and revise them mentally, and then go on. But it’s dangerous for a writer if a reader stops reading for any reason. He or she might not start up again.

The most intriguing book on my current reading table is The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. The blurb on the back says: “Despite its apparent materialty the universe is actually a kind of 3-D projection and is ultimately no more real than a hologram. This astonishing idea was pioneered by two of the world’s most eminent thinkers, physicist David Bohm . . . and the quantum physicist Karl Pribam. The holographic theory of the world encompasses not only reality as we know it, including hitherto unexplained phenomena, but is capable of explaining such occurrences as telepathy, paranormal and out-of-body experiences, synchronicity, ‘lucid’ dreaming and even mystical and religious traditions such as cosmic unity and miraculous healings.”

This is one I’m moving slowly through, taking my time and digesting each sentence, each idea, each section. I don’t think I’ll be able to assess the ideas in the book until sometime after I’ve completed reading it. But I can say that it’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. The inscription from my friend Patti, who gave me the book, tells me to “Enjoy the ride!” And I’m doing so.

The fourth book in the current reading pile showed up this week after a trip to the new regional library in downtown St. Cloud. I’d read a review of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell in one of the national newsmagazines; I forget which one. While the review praised the book, the book’s topic gave me pause: The Kindly Ones is the fictional memoir of a Dr. Maximilien Aue, a Nazi war criminal. From Poland and Ukraine, where the carnage begins for Dr. Aue (and which is where I am, just eighty-seven pages into a 975-page volume), the reader and the doctor will travel onward through the blood, fire and horror.

Littell wrote in French, and the English translation was done by Charlotte Mandell, so one never knows who really to credit, but The Kindly Ones is – so far – one of the more elegantly written books I’ve read in many years. The contrast of that elegance with the brutishness and cruelty that Dr. Aue seems to be carefully assessing as he takes part in it makes The Kindly Ones a difficult book, to say the least. I think I’ll finish it, and I have a sense I will not likely forget it, though I may not truly enjoy it.

As often happens when I write about books, there’s no easy way to slide into the topic of music, so we’ll just jump. Here’s a selection of stuff from the 1980s just because I felt like it today.

A Six-Pack of Random Eighties Tunes
“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire from Raise! [1981]
“No Use In Crying” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You [1981]
“Michael” by Secession, bonus track from A Dark Enchantment [1987]
“The Lazarus Heart” by Sting from …Nothing Like The Sun [1987]
“Angel Eyes” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light [1988]
“Don’t Talk” by 10,000 Maniacs from In My Tribe [1987]

This is the album version of “Let’s Groove,” found on Raise! The single ran about a minute and forty seconds shorter, which still gave folks plenty of time to get out onto the dance floor and shake it. The record was the last big hit for Earth, Wind & Fire, reaching No. 3 on the pop chart and spending eight weeks in the No. 1 slot of the R&B chart. Earth, Wind & Fire would reach the Top 40 chart one more time, with “Fall In Love With Me,” which went to No. 17 in 1983.

“Ain’t No Use In Crying” is one of the less-than-stellar ballads that the Rolling Stones used to flesh out the second side of Tattoo You. While the song may not have been one of the best in the Stones’ catalog, however, the recording was pretty good. The band and Mick Jagger all sound generally interested in the proceedings, which hasn’t always been the case.

I remember absolutely nothing about “Michael” or Secession and know only what I can hear this morning; The song’s mannered vocals and synth sound puts it clearly in the 1987 slot where I have it tagged. So let’s go dig a little. At Amazon, used copies of A Dark Enchantment – a UK-issued CD – have a starting price of $99. A search for “Secession” at All-Music Guide brings up little, just a list of similar artists: Switchblade Symphony, Dance Society and Psyche. As I dig a little deeper, I learn that the blog Systems of Romance must be where I got this and the rest of A Dark Enchantment. “Michael” was evidently one of several bonus tracks on the CD reissue. I like it.

I’m of two minds about Sting. Sometimes when one of his songs pops up on random play, I put down what I am doing and listen intently. At other times, with an almost irritated shrug, I each over and click through to the next song. I guess what that means is that I have to be in the right mood to listen to Sting. And when I’m in that mood, his stuff is pretty great.

“Angel Eyes” is the ballad that brought blind guitarist/singer Jeff Healey into the spotlight, a sweet and lovely song. (Whenever I hear it, I’m transported to Minot, North Dakota, and one of the more pleasant episodes of my stay on the prairie, so that’s all right.) An edit of “Angel Eyes” was released as a single and went to No. 5 during the summer and autumn of 1989. See The Light was a pretty decent album, too. Healey died in March 2008 in Toronto, Ontario.*

In My Tribe is assessed by All-Music Guide as the breakthrough record for 10,000 Maniacs, and I guess that’s accurate, although the band’s major label debut, The Wishing Chair, got the group some attention, if I recall things correctly. Either way, the band’s sounds was unique enough that people actually listened. Chief among those things that made the sound unique, of course, is the arresting and beautiful voice of Natalie Merchant.

*The linked video is evidently the single edit. Video linked and note added July 1, 2013.

A Landmark In Peril

February 1, 2012

Originally posted February 23, 2009

Twice during trips to visit the Texas Gal’s family in the Dallas area, she and I have driven into the heart of downtown Dallas, to a portion of the city whose good days are long gone. There, we’ve visited Park Avenue and the building at 508, where Robert Johnson recorded thirteen tracks over a two-day period in 1937. As well as taking pictures, I’ve stood on the front step, sharing the same space once occupied by both Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton.

The other week, the Texas Gal’s mom and sister sent me a clipping of a story from the Dallas Morning News, detailing the uncertain future of the building at 508 Park Avenue.

(It seems that the links to the images that ran with the story are no longer working. [Nor, for that matter, is the link to the story.] Here’s a photo of the front door of the building that I took on one of our two visits to Park Avenue.)

It would be nice to have the building saved, of course, both for its exterior architecture and for its place in music history. But I’m guessing that won’t happen. In the meantime, here are cover versions of some of the songs Robert Johnson recorded during his two days in Dallas in July of 1937.*

A Six-Pack of 508 Park Avenue
“Stop Breakin’ Down” by the Jeff Healey Band from Cover To Cover [1995]
“Malted Milk” by Eric Clapton from Unplugged [1992]
“Traveling Riverside Blues” by John Hammond from Country Blues [1964]
“Love In Vain” by the Rolling Stones from ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!’ [1970]
“Stones In My Passway” by Chris Thomas King from Me, My Guitar and the Blues [1992]
“I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man” by Robert Lockwood, Jr. & Carey Bell from Hellhound on My Trail: Songs of Robert Johnson [2000]

*I was too pessimistic, it seems: According to this piece in the January 26, 2012, edition of the Dallas Observer, the building at 508 Park Avenue will be restored and become the site of the Museum of Street Culture. That will include a recording studio on the floor of the building where Robert Johnson and others played, and – according to the January 26, 2012 piece – a memorial of some sort in the corner of that floor where Johnson and other musicians actually sat or stood to record. Note added February 1, 2012

Heading To The Doctor’s Office

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 26, 2008

I fully expect to be lectured this morning.

Very shortly, I’ll drive across town to the clinic, where Dr. Julie will give me my annual physical. I expect everything to be fine, except my chronic ailments, which require some management, and my cholesterol, which I expect to be high. And that’s where I anticipate the lecture, or at least discussion.

Some of the problem is out of my control. One of the things my father bestowed to me in the dice roll of genetics was high cholesterol. It’s exacerbated, as well, by one of my chronic problems. But there are some things within my control: diet and medication. Although I probably eat healthier now than I did when I was living alone, there could be improvements; I like a cheeseburger with bacon and special sauce as much as – maybe more than – the next guy. I could eat better.

As to medication, well, I have on my desk a bottle of pills intended to help lower my cholesterol level. All I have to do is remember to take them. That happens about half of the time, maybe, and that needs to improve, obviously. I expect to hear about it this morning from Dr. Julie.

A Six-Pack of Doctors
“Midnight Doctor” by Willie Clayton from No Getting Over Me (1995)

“Dear Doctor” by the Rolling Stones from Beggar’s Banquet (1968)

“Witch Doctor” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon (1991)

“Doctor” by the Bliss Band from Neon Smiles (1979)

“Witch Doctor” by David Seville, Liberty 55132 (1958)

“Doctor” by Wishbone Ash from Wishbone Four (1973)

A few notes:

Willie Clayton came out of Indianola, Mississippi, as a teen-ager in 1971 and ended up in Memphis, recording for Hi Records’ Pawn subsidiary, but nothing hit until 1984, according to All-Music Guide. Since the late 1980s, Clayton has recorded a string of bluesy R&B albums for a series of labels. Every time his music pops up on the player, I realize how good he is.

“Witch Doctor” is a slightly spooky track from Spencer Bohren, who had a conversation with Dr. John in the early 1970s that spurred him to move to New Orleans for a decade. Since then, Bohren’s music has explored the cross-currents of that most unique of American cities. If you’ve heard nothing but the occasional Bohren track that shows up here, do yourself a favor and check out his catalog. For some reason, Full Moon was released only in France and can be hard to find, but there are plenty of other albums to check out.

A while back, I offered the first album by the Bliss Band, 1978’s Dinner With Raoul. “Doctor” is from the group’s second album, a 1979 issue titled Neon Smiles. It’s also pretty good, and I’ll likely post it very soon. A big “thank you” to walknthabass.

The David Seville “Witch Doctor” is, of course, the novelty record with the “Ooh eeh, ooh ah ah, ting-tang, walla-walla-bing-bang” chorus. The record spent three weeks at No. 1 during the first half of 1958. Seville then took the technology for increasing the pitch of recorded voices without altering the tempo – as I understand it – and created the Chipmunks, who had their own No. 1 hit the next winter with “The Chipmunk Song,” which has become a perennial. I heard it the other day while driving across town.

A Baker’s Dozen of caithiseach’s Favorites

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 24, 2008

(Our guest poster today is caithiseach, who generally hangs his hat at The Great Vinyl Meltdown.)

It must have been the frozen custard cake. We were eating it when whiteray asked me what my favorite single was. I thought for far too long, then I gave him an answer. A day later, with the custard still in his system, he invited me to guest-blog this Baker’s Dozen of my favorite singles. I could not pass up the opportunity to write in this blog, the first music blog I ever read, and the inspiration for my own blog, which deals with quirky old 45s I collected when I was a kid.

Today I have been set a different task: to write about songs that you probably know. I had made my job somewhat easier by adding a marker to the digital filenames of my favorite Hot 100 hits. So I sorted out the favorites, some 400 of them. Then, in order not to think too much or too long, I culled any song I thought might be one of my thirteen favorites. I may have missed some really good songs that I didn’t mark, and surely I am skipping some superb singles that I don’t own or have not digitized, but I used the Force and let it tell me what to do with the material at hand.

One thing I looked for was songs that truly were singles. Crisp story lines, nicely rounded finishes, no sense that the song was hacked out of a larger work, the way a Pink Floyd single would be. I see an artistry in a perfect single that matches the magic of an excellent short story. It’s satisfying in itself, not incomplete and co-dependent like a chapter in a novel. As Oliver Wendell Holmes might have said, I know a real single when I hear one.

By accident I pulled out exactly forty finalists, which suits my way of thinking about music – in terms of countdowns. When I was ten, I started counting down my ten favorite hits, playing them in my mind when I mowed the lawn each Saturday. That short music chart had as much fluidity as a Billboard chart, but it also had a consistency that reflected the amount of thought I put into it. I remember such momentous decisions as replacing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at No.1 with “The Love You Save.”

Today’s Top Thirteen doesn’t have a lot in common with my final lawn-mowing Top Ten, because I stopped mowing the family lawn around 1982, when I graduated from college. But several songs from that era slipped into the forty candidates for this Baker’s Dozen, and I’m pleased that I still like the songs I enjoyed in my teen years. It would be awful to have outgrown myself completely.

I also started doing the DJ countdown thing on my record player when I was about eight. With just one turntable, that made for a lot of chatter between songs. That’s what you’ll get here; I’m going to explain my choices, rather than give valuable information about the artists, as whiteray does. And I’ll go bottom to top, so here goes:

13. “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond [Bang 578, 1970]

As much as I like other early Diamond hits, this song about betrayal and the response to it stuck with me as a clean discussion of the topic, with no self-pity to muck it up. The delicious Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich production, with the acoustic guitar accented by somber horns, meshed perfectly with the message.

12. “Shattered Glass” by Laura Branigan [Atlantic 89245, 1987]

This cut climbed only to No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100. What puts it here is ninety percent appreciation and ten percent desire to share a song you probably have never heard. I was rolling into Bloomington, Indiana after a very long drive, and I got stuck at a very long light at two a.m. This song, new to me then, came on the radio, and I cranked it to stay awake. My car was rocking on its springs already when Laura hit the climax notes of the chorus. The tsunami of sound left my brain unable to process all of the sound in real time. If you play this song loudly enough, her voice at that point will leave an impression on you that will never fade.

11. “No Matter What” by Badfinger [Apple 1822, 1970]

The story of Pete Ham and Tom Evans is tragic, and their band’s output was inconsistent, but they worked magic several times, most notably here. I am a sucker for songs that go silent abruptly and use a drumbeat to pull the music back in. I love the guitar work. I don’t tire of listening to Pete Ham singing. It’s a song about hanging in there. I wish people had hounded these two guys less relentlessly.

10. “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the 4 Seasons [Warner/Curb 8168, 1976]

Three of my forty finalists were on the same chart in March-April 1976, and two of them are in the final thirteen. This song’s bass line has whiteray’s blessing as perhaps the best bass line ever, and that is what drew me to the song in the first place. An amazing piano part carries the song into the second vocal phrase, where the bass kicks in, and Gerri Polci’s turn as lead vocalist gives welcome respite from Frankie Valli. Apart from the message that not learning a lover’s name is an okay thing, the song chronicles a wondrous event without getting tacky. And you should fiddle with your graphic equalizer and isolate that bass line. Mmmmm.

9. “Lucky Lips” by Ruth Brown [Atlantic 1125, 1957]

The year of 1957 was very good for me, musically. I wasn’t born yet, but Pérez Prado recorded “Why Wait” then (had it been an A side, it would be No. 2 here), and Ruth Brown gave us this bright shuffle that rolls along like a diesel engine with a hundred cars behind it. Any song that starts with a long, growly sax note gets my vote, and this one boasts the “No Matter What” silence as well. It would be a good song with anyone else singing it, but no one could put joy into a vocal the way Ruth Brown did.

8. “No One Is to Blame” by Howard Jones [Elektra 69549, 1986]

Almost an answer to No. 4 below, now that I think about it, I found this song heartbreaking at a time when I was heartbroken. Singing about the unattainable, Jones doesn’t get all of the words right, says I, but the melody, his soulful delivery, the percussion – it works for me in inexplicable ways.

7. “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies [Calendar 1008, 1969]

We’re getting to writhe-on-the-floor-in-ecstasy territory now, at least in the case of the upbeat songs. I blogged about this song, which was my one source of joy in 1969, a year that beat me to a pulp. I admire Jeff Barry beyond words, and if you forget the reasons why this song is so gentle, you’ll be able to appreciate the genius he injected into every beat.

6. “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones [London 910, 1969]

Charting simultaneously with “Sugar, Sugar,” this song gave my appreciation of music new range. Until then, I was too young for the Stones, but I figured them out here. The recurrent caithiseach theme of a horn section helps to reel me in, but I also love suspended fourths in any song, and the unified vision the guitars give to the subject matter round it all out. I always think about this being Brian Jones’ last work, and it tears me up.

5. “Misty” by Johnny Mathis [Columbia 41483, 1959]

The song is amazingly evocative poetry, and this arrangement, with artfully understated vocals, is the only version anyone needs to hear. Even so, I didn’t become familiar with “Misty” until 1984, when I waited table at the Raging Bull, a fine-dining establishment in Merrillville, Indiana, that provided music by pianist-singer Tony Liggins. He turned me on to the song, then I found the Mathis version on a Time-Life CD of 1959 hits. From there, the recording crept into my mind to the point that, after a bit of meditation, it wound up at No. 5 here.

4. “Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez [A&M 1737, 1975]

As much as I enjoy her singing tunes by The Band, and as much as I could enjoy her singing almost any song, Joan accomplished something here that almost defies description, so forgive me if I fail you: She should be as bitter as Alanis Morrissette in these lyrics, but she is so graceful with her condemnation of Dylan that she soars above the situation and avoids sounding like a bitch. Start there, and add a chord progression that is as memorable (and inspired) as what Hoagy Carmichael came up with for “Stardust.” But “Stardust” does not have the eerie, haunting resonance of this song, of course. I don’t know how she could use any major chords in this song, but she chose exactly the right ones, at the right moments. I would crawl to where she is to thank her for the song, if I thought I could get past her bodyguards.

3. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen [Elektra 45297, 1976]

I can explain this one. Freddie Mercury trusted his audience to be able to handle big words and big sounds. I enjoyed his work when he was alive, and I ache to have him back now that he’s gone. As a polar opposite to its fellow 1976 chart hit “December, 1963,” this song provided gravity without being maudlin or unlistenable in its pomposity. I think the song must have been a lot of fun to write and record, and I have always found it fun to listen to. My big problem with it came when my sister borrowed my single and scratched it in such a way that you could hear the entire song except for the gong, which is where it skipped. Thanks, Lisa.

2. “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA [Atlantic 3457, 1978]

In 1977-78, on Friday nights I watched Midnight Special. About two a.m., a truck would drop off Saturday newspapers for me to deliver. If I felt like it, I delivered the papers after the show rather than get up four hours later to do my job. Apart from almost getting shot once, it worked out fine. And one morning, I delivered my seventy-five papers with one song stuck in my head. Wolfman Jack had just played a string of ABBA promo clips, and he ended with their “new single,” which was three months away from its U.S. release. I had never heard an intro like the one to “Take a Chance on Me”: an a cappella female lead with male chant underpinning? Then the synth comes in, and finally the song explodes. A sweet message of at-some-point-to-be-requited love, the song is boundlessly cheery but not cloying. Another time, I was sitting in a disco in Salzburg, Austria, drinking expensive imported beer (Budweiser, their only beverage). The dance floor was empty. The DJ tossed on this song, the locals screamed, and before the chant started, there were a hundred couples grinding away. As they say, two hundred Austrians can’t be wrong.

1. “He’s a Rebel” by the Crystals [Philles 106, 1962]

The vocalists are actually Darlene Love and the Blossoms. Phil Spector needed a Crystals record, and they weren’t available, and a voice is just a musical instrument, right? Well, I don’t think so. Gene Pitney’s composition captured the tug-of-war between leather-clad surly teens and frightened parents, with a girl’s arms as the rope, as succinctly as could be done. The girl’s choice is clear, which makes the song scarier for “adults” and an anthem for teens who want to push the envelope. Spector recorded some of his other songs very well, but this one includes a wistful piano, hot horns, a tasteful sax solo – and Darlene Love. She appeals to me more than any other Spector girl singer, and she took control of this song to a degree the actual Crystals might not have attained. From the time I became well-aware of this song, around 1970, it has ranged from first to third on my list of favorites. It’s time I admitted to myself that I don’t think any juxtaposition of lyrics, melody, vocals and arrangement tops this one.

Thanks, whiteray, for giving me this chance to think about the concept, and for the space to publish it. Thanks to you for reading what I wrote.

Some of the other songs I considered were:

“Theme from A Summer Place” by Percy Faith

“What’s a Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You)” by Timi Yuro

“Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph

“Washington Square” by the Village Stompers

“Java” by Al Hirt

“Downtown” by Petula Clark

“Bus Stop” by the Hollies

“Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison

“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat

“Cecelia” by Simon & Garfunkel

“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5

“Be My Baby” by Andy Kim

“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon

“The World Is a Ghetto” by War

“ I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” by ABBA

“ Just Between You and Me” by April Wine

“Rosanna” by Toto

“Hello” by Lionel Richie

“Cherry Bomb” by John Cougar Mellencamp

‘Travels Through The 20th Century’

July 25, 2011

Originally posted July 23, 2008

Every once in a while, I come across a book that I just have to tell people about.

(And it’s a good thing I have outlets with which to do so – this blog and my monthly meeting of Bookcrossing – or I fear I’d be out on the streets, gripping folks by the elbow, showing them a book: “Have you read this? You need to read this! It’s one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.” It would not take long before I’d either be warned by the police to quit or else taken away for some observation.)

Anyway, during my regular stop at the public library last weekend, I spotted a book on the new reading shelf that looked interesting enough to take a chance on: In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century by Geert Max. I sifted the pages quickly, and got the impression that it was a collection of travel pieces from through the years. It sounded interesting enough, so I dropped it in the book bag and brought it home.

I’ve shared a few books here over the past year and a half, and always with the note that the book in question is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. Not wanting that claim to be diluted, I should note that I read – at a guess – six to ten books a month. I’m a rapid reader, and even with the blog and my other writing and my househusband duties, I have a good chunk of time every day for reading. So in the past year and a half, let’s say I’ve read eight books a month; that comes out to 144 books.

Some of those were just okay, a couple I recall as actually very bad. Most were good, and there were a very few that were superior. In Europe is one of them. It turned out to be something far more interesting than an anthology of travel journalism.

In 1999, Max – a writer for the Dutch newspaper, NRC Handlesblad – was assigned to travel Europe for a year, researching and writing pieces on the history of the Twentieth Century on the continent. The book is arranged in chronological order, beginning with his January 1999 travels, during which he covered the years from 1900 to 1914. For that segment of the century, Max traveled to Paris, London, Berlin and Vienna, the four main capitals of Europe during the time when the stage was being prepared for World War I.

Using diaries, histories and publications from the time, and combining those accounts with his observations of the current state of the various locales, Max (aided, no doubt, by what appears to be a remarkable job by translator Sam Garrett) weaves a readable and fascinating history of Europe in the last century. His February travels shift from Vienna and focus on Belgium and northern France, as he chronicles the lives and deaths of millions of young men in the carnage that was the deadlocked Western Front during World War I.

And as he tours a Belgian war cemetery at Houthulst, he brings that long-gone war back to the present:

“I hear a dull thud. A blue mist comes floating across the frosty fields. In the field behind the cemetery, the DOVO, the Belgian War Munition Demolition Service, has blown up another heap of First World War ammunition. They do it twice a day, one and a half tons a year. When the farmers find grenades they leave them at the base of the utility masts, and the miners collect them. And so it goes on here. Generation after generation, this soil continues to vomit up grenades, buttons, buckles, knives, skulls, bottles, rifles, sometimes even a whole tank. The Great War never ends.”

I am tempted every day to rush through my obligations – or to ignore them – so I can that much sooner pick up Max’s book and continue my explorations through the history he found on his travels.

As I read his account of World War I, I thought – as a writer tends to do – about the only time I ever wrote about that first great war. It was in 1978, a piece timed for November 11, Veterans Day, which would be the sixtieth anniversary of the armistice that ended the brutal battle of attrition in France. Still rather new to Monticello, I asked around a bit and found a veteran of World War I who was still alert and was willing to talk about his experience in France.

Frankie was never at the front, but he said he saw enough of the work of the battlefront as wounded and dead soldiers came back through the rear echelons. I took notes and reported his words, our photographer got a picture of Frankie and his wife, Marie, and we borrowed a 1918 picture of Frankie looking every inch the doughboy in his uniform. But I could not find a way as deadline approached that week to describe the look in Frankie’s eyes as he cast himself sixty years back and recalled for me the dirt, the fear, the noise, the blood, the horrible waste that he saw from the edges of the war.

Some things are too profound for words. In In Europe, I think, Max uses his finely chiseled prose and his eye for fine detail to come closer than most can to finding a way around that barrier.

As sometimes happens here, there’s no graceful way to move to the music. Here’s a generally random selection from the year when I wrote about World War I:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1978, Vol. 2
“Do You Wanna Dance” by Janis Ian from Janis Ian

“Heavy Horses” by Jethro Tull from Heavy Horses

“Lookin’ For A Place” by Chilliwack from Lights From The Valley

“Don’t Look Back” by Boston from Don’t Look Back

“Shattered” by the Rolling Stones from Some Girls

“Is This Love” by Bob Marley & the Wailers from Kaya

“Lotta Love” by Neil Young from Comes A Time

“You Belong To Me” by Carly Simon, Elektra single 45477

“The Darker Side” by the Lamont Cranston Band from El Cee Notes

“Here Goes” by the Bliss Band from Dinner With Raoul

“The Promised Land” by Bruce Springsteen from Darkness on the Edge of Town

“Never Make A Move Too Soon” by B.B. King, ABC single 12380

“Take Me to the River” by the Talking Heads from More Songs About Buildings and Food

A few notes:

I have a soft spot for Janis Ian. Anyone who can chronicle high school desperation the way she did in 1975’s “At Seventeen” deserves a pass now and then. Her 1978 self-titled album, though it had its moments, generally deserved that pass, as it was her third album in three years that didn’t come up to the quality of 1975’s Between the Lines. On the other hand, not many albums from anyone else can meet that standard, either. Luckily, “Do You Wanna Dance” is one of the better songs on the 1978 album.

Heavy Horses saw Jethro Tull continuing the back-to-the-roots shift that the band had started with 1977’s Songs From the Wood, with both albums celebrating English folk. Horses, as All-Music Guide notes, is “chock-full of gorgeous melodies, briskly played acoustic guitars and mandolins, and Ian Anderson’s flute lilting in the background, backed by the group in top form.” That’s not to say the album is lightweight, just noting where its inspirations came from.

In the two years since the release of its self-titled debut, Boston hadn’t changed much. “Don’t Look Back” is a decent song, but it – and any of the other seven songs on the album Don’t Look Back – has the same sound as the debut album. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but I kind of wonder why the group bothered.

If I had to go through my 1978 collection and rank the albums, I think that every time, I’d come up with Neil Young’s Comes A Time in the top spot. Far more country-ish than most of his other albums, it’s also the one that Young seems most relaxed with. It sounds like he had fun making the record, and I rarely get that sense about his music.

When I did my long post for last year’s Vinyl Record Day, I wrote “the Bliss Band sounds to me a bit like Pablo Cruise or the Little River Band, both of which were hitting the charts about the time Dinner With Raoul was recorded. There’s a touch of Steely Dan in there, too.” I stand by that, but it’s a sound that’s grown on me in the past eleven months. (A note: This year’s blogswarm for Vinyl Record Day, August 12, is once again being organized by JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.)

“The Promised Land” is one of my favorite Springsteen tracks of all time. (I suppose I should do an all-Springsteen post someday, listing my favorite thirteen.) He’s done some that are a little better, but what makes “The Promised Land” work is its setting: It’s an anthem that carries at least some hope amid the desperation and drear of the rest of Darkness at the Edge of Town.

Saturday Single No. 73

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 24, 2008

My use of the word “single” in the title of this weekly feature, as regular visitors to this valley know, is perhaps misleading: The songs presented here on Saturdays have not always been issued as singles. Some of them no doubt have been, either on 45s or on CDs. But if so, that’s coincidental. The point of the weekly discussion is to focus on a single track. And of course, sometimes I cheat there, as I occasionally present a pair of recordings for what seems to me to be a good reason. I don’t think I’ve ever done three at a time; if I did, I’d likely call it something different, maybe “A Three-Ring Circus.” (And the internal lights go on: someone is finally at home in my cranium on this sleepy Saturday, and that idea may be too good to just mention here and forget about. A circus may be in this blog’s future.)

Last week, I presented here the list I left at a board called Groovy Fab, my list of the best ten albums from the years 1950-1976. And I ended the post with the song “Comin’ Back To Me” from Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow album, which I’d ranked No. 6. (As the notes added to last week’s post indicate, I had a brief colloquy with the Half-Hearted Dude, who suggested that Otis Redding’s Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul and an album by Aretha Franklin might have found a place on my list. I replied that Otis Blue and Aretha’s Lady Soul would have made the list if it had been fifteen places long, and I added that No. 11 on my list was Marvin Gaye’s classic album What’s Going On.)

At about the same time, a member at Groovy Fab asked readers to list their favorite single. Most folks listed three, so I did as well: “Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers, “We” by Shawn Phillips and “Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt. I then added, “Honorable mention to ‘Wild Horses’ by the Rolling Stones. And if the Beatles had ever released ‘Back In The U.S.S.R.’ as a single, there would be no doubt about my No. 1.”*

(Four of those five are no doubt familiar. The Shawn Phillips song was on his 1972 Faces album and was released as a single in 1974 without making the Top 40. I posted it here once, and will likely find a reason to do so again some day.)

Having listed ten great albums and three favorite singles at Groovy Fab, I got to wondering what would happen if I combined those concepts? If I made a list of my favorite single tracks from those ten albums in my list, what would I find?

Well, “Summer Rain” would be there, but what else would we find? And even as I write that question, I do not know the answer. I’m going to make these decisions on the fly here, because – as I have noted in these precincts at least once – it’s more fun to do things without a net. And here’s the list I presented last week:

1. Abbey Road, the Beatles, 1969

2. The Band, The Band, 1969

3. Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan, 1975

4. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen, 1975

5. Exile on Main Street, the Rolling Stones, 1972

6. Surrealistic Pillow, Jefferson Airplane, 1967

7. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973

8. Déjà Vu, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 1970

9. Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East, Allman Brothers Band, 1971

10. Realization, Johnny Rivers, 1968

Boy, a tough one right at the top. I love the “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” medley that almost closes Abbey Road. (“Her Majesty” actually closes the record, of course.) I don’t think Paul McCartney has provided us many vocal performances better than on “Oh Darling.” And I have what must be a juvenile affinity – easy to ignore, thank goodness – for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” But the best track on the record remains the first one I ever heard: John Lennon’s “Come Together.”

I got The Band as a Christmas present long before I ever heard Music From Big Pink or any of the legendary performances of The Band with Bob Dylan, so the twelve tracks on the group’s second album were all I knew of the group for a very long time. As good as “Up On Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” are, they’ve also become a little tired, so that cuts the number of great songs down to ten from twelve. But three truly stand out to me, and the sad elegy of “Whispering Pines” and the mournful “Unfaithful Servant” are eclipsed only by the autumnal regret and frustration of “King Harvest (Has Surely Come).”

I wrote a bit about Blood On The Tracks earlier this week, and readers might reasonably conclude that my favorite track from the album is “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” They’d be right. Second place? Maybe “Tangled Up In Blue” or “Shelter From The Storm,” but more likely “If You See Her, Say Hello.”

I know that many Springsteen fans think that “Thunder Road” is the apex of Springsteen’s body of work. It’s a good song and recording, without a doubt, starting quietly and slowly insinuating its way into your ears and heart. But I’ll go with the booming, throbbing title track: I’m way too old for the kind of running the narrator and his girl are considering, but every time I hear “Born To Run,” the record is powerful enough to make me wish for an instant that I’d done more running toward the edge and less staying safe in the middle when I was younger.

The singles from Exile On Main Street were “Tumbling Dice” (No. 7) and “Happy” (No. 22) but they were hardly the only great tracks from this sprawling, bluesy and decadent album. Out of an absurd excess of riches, I guess I’d choose “Stop Breaking Down,” mostly because it’s one of the greatest covers ever of one of Robert Johnson’s sublime blues.

I shared “Comin’ Back To Me” from Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow here last week, and nothing had happened in the past week to change my belief that it’s the best song on that great album.

Now we come to the problem with true concept albums, at least those whose tracks tend to blend into one another: On further review of an earlier statement, only two tracks from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon can really stand alone as separate entities without sounding utterly incomplete: “Money” and “Time.” I’d earlier thought the same thing of “Us and Them,” but I have changed my mind. “Us and Them” might be the heart of the album – and a stunning song – but it works imperfectly as a stand-alone because it blends so seamlessly into “Any Colour You Like” and the album-ending duo of “Brain Damage/Eclipse.” “Money” has never done much for me, so we fall to “Time,” which works as a single track because of its alarm-clock beginning and its fade-out before the start of “The Great Gig in the Sky.” “Time” is also sublimely depressing in its assertion: “No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun.”

I once selected Graham Nash’s sweet “Teach Your Children” – from Déjà Vu – as one of the ten songs I’d take to a desert island. It’s still a great song, probably the best thing Nash has written in a long career, but does it still hold up, when directly compared to the other songs on a great album? Well, I think so. Neil Young’s “Helpless” comes close, as does Stephen Stills’ “Carry On,” the album’s opener, and the group’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” But I’ll stick with “Teach Your Children,” quite possibly the only song I’d still choose from that desert island list of twenty years ago. (I need to find that list and share it here; it would be interesting.)

The Allman Brothers Band’s 1971 Fillmore East album – released in numerous configurations in the years since the advent of the CD – remains the group’s high point. By September of that year, Duane Allman was gone, and the group went into the second phase of its existence. It might be understandable to select one of the longer tracks, either the twenty-two minute “Whipping Post” or the thirteen-minute version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” But to me, the band’s brilliance shines most in the album’s first track, the group’s concise and superb version of Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues.”

I listed “Summer Rain” from Realization as my favorite single of all time, so there’s no point in digging into the album any further.

That’s a pretty good list of single tracks:

“Come Together” by the Beatles

“King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” by The Band

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Bob Dylan

“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen

“Stop Breaking Down” by the Rolling Stones

“Comin’ Back To Me” by the Jefferson Airplane

“Time” by Pink Floyd

“Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

“Statesboro Blues” by the Allman Brothers Band

“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers

And pulled from that list, partly on a whim and partly because it’s possibly the least familiar track on the list (maybe tied with “Comin’ Back To Me”), “Stop Breaking Down” by the Rolling Stones is this week’s Saturday Single.

Rolling Stones – “Stop Breaking Down” [1972]

*Long-time readers will note the absence from my list of top singles the Association’s “Cherish.” To put it simply, I blew it while making my top three list at Groovy Fab. As I assemble this post for the archives, more than three years after writing it, “Cherish” remains at the top of my list of favorite singles, but my comment about “Back In The U.S.S.R.” still stands. Note added June 29, 2011.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1973, Vol. 3

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 13, 2008

The first time I saw Billy Preston, he performed in an open-air concert at Selke Field on St. Cloud’s East Side. Selke’s stone walls date from the 1930s and enclose an entire city block. Until not too many years ago, about a third of the space was used for a football field and a surrounding running track. The rest of the area was open space for whatever uses the university might have.

And on a Saturday afternoon in May 1973, its use was as a home for the day for the legendary keyboard player and singer. I recall that my parents had no problem with my going to the concert – I was nineteen. I’m sure, however, that they had some concerns about my companion for the day. Let’s call her Sunny. She was twenty-six, divorced with two kids, in fragile recovery from an addition to at least one illegal substance, and was paying her way through college and feeding her children by dancing in a strip joint.

I’d met Sunny at The Table at school, and I have to give my folks credit: Mom and Dad never really said anything as I spent a few months seeing Sunny at school and then spending a fair amount of time at her apartment during evenings and weekends. My memory tells me that Sunny might even have come over to our home for dinner at least once, an encounter that would have shown my parents that she was actually pretty self-effacing, quiet with a sweet smile and a nice laugh and not at all the rough woman that they might have feared meeting, given only a description.

But I could tell all through the spring that my folks had their concerns, and looking back, that was reasonable. Between Sunny and me lay vast gaps in age and experience, gaps that scared me a little bit, to be honest, as I spent time with her and got closer to her during the spring and early summer.

We never were lovers. I would have happily accepted that role had it been offered, but I didn’t push for it. During the time that we spent hanging around her home or various drinking establishments, there were a few other men who came and went. Several times when I left Sunny’s home in the evening, there were men there who clearly would not be leaving until morning. Did that bother me? Yes, but given my utter inexperience in that aspect of life, it also brought me a sense of quiet relief. I never pushed for more.

I was happy spending time with her and her friends – they were a wide-ranging and fascinating group of people – and also spending time with her kids. I’ll call them Luke and Bethy, and they were eight and six, respectively. We went on picnics, played mini-golf once, I think, and the four of us – augmented more than once by one or more of Sunny’s lady friends and very rarely by one of the men she knew – would go shopping, ending the outing with a stop at a burger joint.

She was good to her kids, tried to be a good mom, from what I knew about the mom biz when I was nineteen, and she seemed – looking back – to be doing well at walking the slender bridge of recovery. I only recall one time when I truly questioned her judgment: In May, the four of us drove to St. Paul with tickets to see the Doobie Brothers. Along the way, we picked up a man she knew, a stop I’d not been told about, but that was okay. At the show, however, Sunny and her guy went dancing in the open space in front of the stage, leaving her two children sitting in the front row, scared and overwhelmed by the crowd and the spectacle and the sounds booming from the ten-foot-tall speaker not all that far away. For most of the concert, I sat between the kids, an arm around each one, very angry.

The academic year ended, and I stayed on campus for the summer, working half-time as a janitor and half-time for Learning Resources. I saw Sunny a few times early in the summer, as I got ready for my time in Denmark. Later, in August of 1973, she was one of those who arranged a surprise going-away party for me at the Grand Mantel, our favorite place for drinks. She sent me off with a kiss.

The night I got home from Denmark, in late May, 1974, I went down to the Grand Mantel to meet Sam, who’d left a note on my car to that effect a day or two earlier. He couldn’t make it that evening, it turned out, but I called him and we arranged to meet the next day on campus. While we were talking, I asked him quickly about some of our mutual friends. All seemed fine until I asked, “And Sunny – how’s she doing?”

There was a silence. “That,” said Sam, “is a sad situation.” He paused before telling me more. She’d gone back to drugs and dropped out of school. He thought the county had taken the kids away from her. And he wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think she was in St. Cloud anymore.

One of the next few days, I drove past the apartment where Sunny and her kids had lived when I left town. It was empty. I never saw her again.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1973, Vol. 3

We’ll start with a song that Sunny and I danced to during that May 1973 concert, and then go on to a song that often makes me think of her. And we’ll go random from there.

“Will It Go Round In Circles” by Billy Preston, A&M single 1411

“Too Late For Prayin’” by Gordon Lightfoot from Sundown

“I’m Just A Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like A Man)” by Hall & Oates from Abandoned Luncheonette

“Mind Games” by John Lennon, Apple single 1868

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

“The Great Gig in the Sky” by Pink Floyd from Dark Side of the Moon

“Tumbling Dice” by the Rolling Stones, Brussels, Belgium, October 17

“Final Theme” by Bob Dylan from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

“Clever Girl” by Tower of Power from Tower of Power

“You Got To Reap Just What You Sow” by Joy of Cooking from Same Old Song And Dance (unreleased)

“Let It Ride” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Mercury single 73457

“If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” by the Staple Singers from Be What You Are

“Together” by El Chicano from El Chicano

A few notes:

The Hall & Oates tune is one of the great tracks from an album that I think gets ignored when talk turns to great records. The album was released in 1973, and “She’s Gone” went out as a single for the first time in 1974, but neither the album nor the single went anywhere until 1976, when they both reached the charts. But both the album and the single soon became afterthoughts to the duo’s more current work at the time. “She’s Gone” survives in the Oldies rotation, but Abandoned Luncheonette deserves a better fate than it got.

The year of 1973 falls smack-dab in the middle of John Lennon’s so-called “Lost Weekend.” His albums might have been fuzzily thought out at the time – Mind Games especially has always seemed erratic – but he could still find great singles inside himself. And the title track to that erratic album was one of them.

Among the various combination of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young, the duo of Crosby and Nash produced some of the best music. Graham Nash/David Crosby was the best of the albums the duo recorded, and “Page 43,” Crosby’s brief and sweet exploration of the purpose of life, is the best track on the album: “ . . . and you should have a sip of it, else you’ll find . . . it’s passed you by.”

It’s difficult to pull individual track from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon without pulling the music entirely out of context. “Money,” which opened Side Two of the original vinyl, worked. “Time” from Side One, and “Us and Them,” from Side Two, worked a little less well. But “The Great Gig In The Sky,” which closed Side One, somehow manages here to stand on its own. If I have my Pink Floyd lore correct, Clare Torry provides the swooping vocals.

I don’t often offer soundboard recordings/bootlegs here. The Muddy Waters recording with the Rolling Stones the other day was an exception. So, too, is the Rolling Stones’ version of “Tumbling Dice” today. Supposedly recorded for a live album, the Brussels show gives a good look at the Stones when they were truly “The Greatest Rock & Roll Band In The World,” and to me, it’s a reminder of how they sounded when I saw them in Denmark thirteen days before they played this show in Brussels.

Of the final four groups in today’s list, the only one you seem have a chance of hearing on Oldies radio is Bachman-Turner Overdrive and its seven Top 40 hits, and that’s too bad. Joy of Cooking, as readers know, is one of my favorite forgotten groups of those years when the Sixties blended into the Seventies, but the group never hit the Top 40. The Staples Singers had eight Top 40 hits between 1971 and 1975, including two No. 1 songs (“I’ll Take You There” in 1972 and “Let’s Do It Again” in 1975), but I don’t recall the last time I heard them on any of the Oldies stations I listen to. The same holds true for El Chicano, which wasn’t nearly as successful reaching the charts as BTO or the Staples but still did have two Top 40 hits, including the sweet “Tell Her She’s Lovely” (No. 40 for one week!) in 1973.

It’s Time For A New Barbershop

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 11, 2009

I need a haircut this morning. Generally, the Texas Gal takes care of that over the weekends, but for some reason – simple inattention comes to mind – we didn’t get it done. So this morning, after I finish posting I’ll head out to the barbershop.

The barbershop won’t – it appears – be the one I used to go to when I was a kid. Last time I went past the old bank building across the street from the Lutheran church, the sign was still hanging there: “Laumeyer’s Barber Shop.” That was maybe a month ago, so I assume the shop was still operating. But when I called the number I found online this morning, the phone was disconnected. I checked the phone book and got the same number, and then called directory assistance. There’s no current listing.

It’s been a little more than thirty years since I last got my hair cut at Laumeyer’s, just before I left St. Cloud for Monticello. And Laumeyer’s was the location for my first professional haircut, when I was thirteen, just before entering ninth grade.

Up to then, my dad had cut my hair. I’d sit on a metal stool in the back porch/sewing room, and he’d use the black electric clippers that he’d had since before my memories began. He’d try gamely not to dig the clippers’ corners into my scalp, but it would happen. As years went on and boys’ hair became longer, he tried to adapt. I no longer wore my hair trimmed down to a basic-training-worthy quarter-inch. It was a bit longer, especially in the front, where my natural widow’s peak resulted in a three-inch long wave of hair poking its way forward, like the prow of a ship sailing through my forehead, or else, when my hair got longer, like a brown wave breaking over the prow of that very same ship.

That wasn’t very stylish, a fact that even Dad realized as the summer of 1967, the one between eighth and ninth grades, approached its end. One Saturday he pulled me aside shortly after I got up and told me I had an appointment for a haircut at Laumeyer’s that afternoon. He gave me, oh, maybe $1 or $1.50 to cover the cost. That afternoon, I rode my 1965 Schwinn Typhoon – the very same one that still resides in my garage – down Wilson Avenue and across East St. Germain to a small building not far from the railroad tracks. With my bike locked to a sign in front of the building, I walked into a barbershop for the first time.

I walked out an hour later with my hair trimmed almost all around, except in front where Duane had managed to fashion the summer’s growth into what looked like Beatle bangs across my forehead. Never mind that the Beatles by this time had moved on to far more hirsute appearances; it was better than my hair being a living sculpture of “The Voyage of the S.S. Dork.”

My hair’s style continued to evolve over the next ten years, as I made Laumeyer’s a regular stop. My hair got longer, and as it did, Jim and Duane and Ron – I didn’t see the need to cleave to just one barber – trimmed it and advised me on where to part it and how to take care of it.

As I sat in the barber’s chair for brief times through high school and into college, I heard conversations with other customers that implied years of acquaintance, an awareness that all of the three barbers had about their clients that included not just preferred hairstyle but also a small town knowledge of other preferences and of their lives:

“How’s your boy like the Army?”

“You still drivin’ that Chevy, then?”

“That first year of college, that first year away, yeah, that can be tough for them.”

“My wife’s aunt had that last year, but the docs say they got all of it.”

“He had Budweiser and Old Style on ice, an’ I walk up to him and says, ‘Where’s the Cold Spring?’ An’ he laughed and laughed.”

“I heard from one of the guys over there that they may cut back to two shifts. That’s gonna be tough for a lotta fellas.”

The guys cutting my hair asked about school, and what my college plans were, but no matter how important those things were to me, they didn’t seem to fit into the adult universe of conversation. I was sitting in the big barber chair, but it still felt as if I were dining at the kids’ table.

I was gone the one year during college and came back with hair longer than ever and with a beard and mustache as well, and they laughed at my stories as I laughed at theirs. As myth tells us and as most men learn, there is more to a barbershop than haircuts. They are home to, among other things, tales of other places, whether those other places be offices, factory floors, far-off jungles of war, or similarly distant taverns and museums. I’d had a glimpse of that before I left, and now that I had tales to tell of life elsewhere, I felt more a part of the brotherhood of the barbershop than I ever had before.

I remained in that brotherhood for the remaining few years I had left in St. Cloud. While I was gone, from 1977 into 2002, I had numerous barbers care for my hair, shaved and regrew the beard several times (not the mustache; that’s been a permanent part of my look since December 1973). At times my hair was fairly short, and other times, it wasn’t: For about four years, I had a ponytail that reached to the middle of my back. And I was never really in one place long enough to find that barbershop camaraderie again.

These days, I have my hair trimmed to the scalp, but I still have a beard and mustache that need trimming. After I finish here, I guess I’ll drive by Laumeyer’s just to make sure it’s closed, and then drive around the corner to Tom’s, a barbershop on Wilson that’s been there since I was a little stomper. Tom doesn’t take appointments; He said I’d get in pretty quick “as long as there isn’t six guys waitin’.”

Going to a new barbershop at the age of fifty-four feels oddly like going to a new school at the age of fourteen. So we’ll start with an appropriate tune and take a walk through the junkyard from there.

A Monday Walk Through The Junkyard
“Hair” by the Cowsills, MGM single 14026, 1969

“Let Me In” by Bonnie Raitt from Takin’ My Time, 1973

“Wait A Million Years” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill single 4198, 1969

“Someday Baby” by Muddy Waters with the Rolling Stones, Checkerboard, Chicago, November 1981

“Trains Don’t Run From Nashville” by Kate Campbell from Songs from the Levee, 1995

“Miracle” by the Moody Blues from Sur La Mer, 1988

“Country Pie” by Bob Dylan from Nashville Skyline, 1969

“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White, Monument single 1104, 1969

“The Assassination” by the Dixie Nightingales, Chalice single 102, 1965

“Monument” by Gene Parsons from Kindling, 1973

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Jeff Healey from Hell To Pay, 1990

“Candy Man Blues” by Ten Wheel Drive with Genya Ravan from Construction No. 1, 1969

“Not Another Night” by the Sapphire Thinkers from From Within, 1969

“Fragile” by Nanci Griffith from Flyer, 1994

“Cloud 9” by George Harrison from Cloud Nine, 1988

A few notes:

“Hair” is of course the title song from the musical that so scandalized folks starting with its premiere in 1967 and then its move to Broadway a year later. Drugs, sex, profanity, irreverence and naked people on stage! Nevertheless, the composers and writers – James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot – came up with numerous songs that became anthems for the age (as well as hits for various performers). “Hair” is the most humorous and even perhaps vaudevillian; other songs that became hits, all in 1969, were “Easy To Be Hard” (Three Dog Night), “Good Morning, Starshine” (Oliver), and most notably, I guess, “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” (5th Dimension).

The Bonnie Raitt track comes from the album of hers that is likely my favorite. With notables like Lowell George of Litte Feat, Taj Mahal, Milt Holland, Earl Palmer and others taking part, the record continues to be a great listen and was likely the high point of Raitt’s career until Nick of Time in 1989.

I’m not sure where I got the soundboard recording of Muddy Waters with the Stones. The sound is a little thick at times, but it’s a pretty good performance, especially considering that Muddy was ailing at the time; he would be dead in less than two years.

“Polk Salad Annie” was no doubt among the first deep southern numbers I ever heard coming out of my radio speaker in 1969. I loved it then and I love it today: “Chomp, chomp-chomp!”

“The Assassination” is a harrowing and pretty take on the killing of President John Kennedy in Dallas in November 1963. As it played, I wondered – as I did the first time I heard it – who had the guts to create it and who would listen to it more than once, anyway? The Dixie Nightingales were a long-time Southern Gospel group that in the early 1960s signed with Memphis’ Stax Records. Chalice was evidently a Stax subsidiary label.

Sapphire Thinkers was a California band that recorded the one album, From Within. Chocoreve, where I evidently found the rip, is a blog that’s a great source for late 1960s obscurities, among other things. The writer there noted that the album is “likable and strong enough to hold your attention for repeat plays. Elements from disparate sources are brought in – Curt Boettcher sunshine pop, Bay Area teen [T]op 40 psych like Neighb’rhood Childr’n, Sunset Strip organ/fuzz/flute a la Strawberry Alarm Clock – yet the end result is consistent and convincing, with plenty of strength in the songwriting and arrangements, and no major weaknesses.” Thanks, Chocoreve.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 2

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 17, 2007

It was in early 1972 that I began my slide into an addiction that persists to this day. Just like in the songs and the movies, it was because of a woman. And an older woman, at that.

I was a college freshman. She was a sophomore. And the addiction was coffee.

It was about midway through my first year of college, and I stopped one Friday morning to say hi to the secretaries in Headley Hall, the building where I’d worked briefly as a janitor the summer before. As I chatted with Ginny – who wasn’t all that much older than I was – her new part-time assistant, a student, came to her desk with a question. Ginny introduced me to Char, a sophomore. She smiled, I smiled, she went back to work and I said goodbye to Ginny and went off to class.

My plans for that weekend were more elaborate than usual. I still lived at home, but two or three times during that first year of college I spent a weekend staying with friends in one of the dorms on campus. We’d hang around the dorm or hit some parties Friday night, recuperate on Saturday, and do the same thing Saturday night and generally act like college kids. The weekend would start as soon as I finished my two-hour stint as a janitor in the Business Building that afternoon. I’d head from there to my dad’s office in the library, grab the overnight bag I’d left there that morning, and then walk to the dorm where Rick and Dave lived.

As I headed down a staircase in Stewart Hall toward the tunnel to the Business Building, I heard a voice greet me. It was Char, the young lady I’d met that morning. We talked for a few minutes and then she asked what my plans were for the weekend. I told her I was staying on campus, and then – emboldened by who knows what – asked if she wanted to hang around with me and with my friends that evening. She agreed. So we spent a good chunk of time with each other that evening, and we spent an hour or so talking and cuddling in a little lounge in her dorm Sunday afternoon. I called her Monday evening, and for the next few months, we saw each other frequently.

One evening after a movie, we stopped to have something to eat. I ordered a soda to go with my food, and Char ordered coffee. Looking back, we were both kids, of course, but to me, as we sat there, she seemed so much more adult sipping her coffee than I did slurping Coke through a straw. That thought stayed with me, and the following Monday, when I had an hour to kill at the student union before heading off to sweep floors at the Business Building, I took a cup of coffee to my table.

About two months later, Char and I went different directions, which saddened me. But I was young, and after some grieving, there was always the prospect of someone new on the next stairway. So I walked on.

And more than thirty-five years later, I’m still drinking coffee.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 2

“Heart of Gold” by Bettye LaVette, Atco single 6891

“Soft Parade of Years” by Dion from Suite For Late Summer

“Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, Philadelphia Int. single 3521

“All Down The Line” by the Rolling Stones from Exile On Main Street

“Woman’s Gotta Have It” by Bobby Womack, United Artists single 50902

“Gypsy” by Van Morrison from Saint Dominic’s Preview

“(I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes” by The Band from Rock of Ages

“Nobody Like You” by Bread from Baby I’m-A Want You

“Harvest” by Neil Young from Harvest

“Hold On This Time” by Fontella Bass from Free

“Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)” by Manassas from Manassas

“Cry Like a Rainstorm” by Eric Justin Kaz from If You’re Lonely

“Hearsay” by the Soul Children, Stax single 119

A few notes on some of the songs:

Bettye LaVette’s standout cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” was part of Atlantic Records’ attempt to make LaVette the star she likely should have been. Recorded in Detroit, where she’d recorded earlier in her career, the record tanked, as did a single recorded in Muscle Shoals later that year. After that, Atlantic pulled the plug on LaVette’s album Child of the ’70s, which was finally released – with extra tracks – not all that long ago by Rhino. It’s worth finding. (Thanks to Red Kelly at The A Side for the info and the tip.)

I do recall hearing Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” at least once while sipping a cup of coffee in the student union. It would have been in the fall of the year, though, when Paul’s record was No 1 for three weeks and was almost inescapable. It’s still a great record. (Billy Paul isn’t quite a One-Hit Wonder, as he reached No. 37 with “Thanks For Saving My Life” in the spring of 1974. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one.)

The more I listen to “All Down The Line” and the tracks that surround it, the more certain I am that Exile On Main Street is the best album the Rolling Stones ever recorded and almost certainly one of the best five albums of all time.

“(I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes,” which Chuck Willis wrote and took to No. 24 in 1958, was one of The Band’s perennial concert favorites. This version comes from Rock of Ages, the live recording of a New Year’s Eve performance at the end of 1971, with horn charts put together for the event by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint. The album is a great one, and it’s available in an expanded version that includes ten bonus tracks, including three tracks with Bob Dylan.

“Cry Like A Rainstorm,” done here by its writer, Eric Kaz, is more familiar in versions by Bonnie Raitt on Takin’ My Time from 1973 and by Linda Ronstadt on Cry Like a Rainstorm – Howl Like the Wind in 1989.

The Soul Children’s “Hearsay” is just a great piece of Stax music.

Recalling A Long-Delayed Transaction

May 6, 2011

Originally posted September 4, 2007

I bought a record thirty-four years ago today. It was defective.

But didn’t get to return it for almost nine months.

One of the first shops that sold used records in St. Cloud was a place called Axis, on St. Germain near the western edge of downtown. It opened, I would guess, around 1970, just about the time I was starting to buy pop and rock albums – mostly the Beatles to start – and I guess it stayed in business for about seven or eight years. I seem to recall buying records there in 1977, when I was finishing up my college work. Soon after that, I left town. And somewhere along the line, when I came back for a visit, Axis was gone.

Actually, in its last few years, the shop had focused more on leather goods – coats, boots, belts and some very cool hats – than it had music. From, oh, 1975 on, the records were still there, but were relegated to a portion of the display space that decreased regularly, and the selection of new records in particular seemed to dwindle.

But for a few years, as I finished high school and went through my first couple years of college, Axis was the place to go downtown for a good selection of music, both new and used. During my first two years of college, I’d pop in regularly and flip through the used racks, looking for something I’d not tried before, as the financial risk was minimal – prices were more than reasonable. One evening in April 1972, I found a copy of the Rolling Stones’ live album, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! I paid $1.99 for it. (The price tag is still on it.)

I think, without checking the log, the only Stones’ album I had at the time was Sticky Fingers, which I loved. And when I took Ya-Ya’s home and dropped the needle, I loved it, too. It went to the top of the rotation list of my rapidly growing but still relatively small collection. I shared it frequently with friends, bringing it along when I visited. One evening in the spring of 1973, I visited a married couple a few years older than I, friends I’d met through church who were still adjusting to the result of an accident that left him in a wheelchair. We had a nice dinner and good conversation, but by the end of the evening, we realized that we hadn’t listened to any of the music I’d brought along. The one record they were very interested in hearing was Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out! So I left it with them.

I didn’t see them frequently. I knew they were dealing with a lot of stress, so I didn’t get in touch with them too often as the spring and summer of 1973 moved on. But I did miss my Stones’ album. One Saturday near the end of summer – a couple weeks before I was to leave St. Cloud for my nine-month stay in Denmark – I ran into them downtown. We chatted for a while, and before we parted, I asked about my record. They said they’d find it and give me a call.

The day before I was to leave town, she stopped by our house. They were sorry, but they couldn’t find my record, she said. She apologized and gave me six bucks to buy a replacement. The next day, September 4, 1973, with our group’s plane scheduled to leave at 9 p.m., I had time to run a number of final errands downtown. I added to the errands a stop at Axis, where I picked up a new copy of Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out! I had a few quiet moments late that afternoon, maybe two hours before my parents and I were going to head to the Twin Cities and the airport, so I dropped the record on the turntable. And it skipped. And skipped. And skipped.

I put the record back into the jacket. I didn’t have time to return it. So I left it there in the box with my other records. If I could return it when I got home, on the other side of the great unknown that was my time away, I would.

I got home the following May. And along with running around town to reconnect with friends, I took some time in those first busy days to sit in the rec room downstairs and get caught up on some reading. It would be nice to hear some of the music I’d missed over the time I was gone, I thought, so I went to the box where I kept my records. And there, in the front of the box, was the copy of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! that my friends had lost, with the price tag still on it. Behind it, still in the shrink-wrap, was the copy of the same record I’d bought the day I left, the one that skipped.

Confused, I asked my mom about the record, and she said that during the time I’d been gone, my friends had moved, and while they were packing, they’d found my record and had brought it back. Okay, I said, I’ll have to go give them six bucks. No, Mom said. They’d told her that I shouldn’t worry about the money. Well, okay. But what I needed to do now was return a defective record that I’d bought almost nine months ago and try to exchange it for a different title. That might be tricky.

Later that afternoon, I walked into Axis carrying the defective copy of Ya-Ya’s and was greeted by the shop’s owner. “What can I do for you?” he asked, eyeing the record.

“Well, I’ve got a story to tell you,” I said. He nodded, and I told my tale. He told me to find whatever I wanted for the same price as I’d paid almost nine months earlier, and I walked out a few minutes later with the Allman Brothers Band’s Brothers and Sisters, one of those albums I’d heard day after day in the lounge at the hostel in Denmark.

My $1.99 copy of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! still plays well, as does the Allman Brothers Band record. For today’s Tuesday Cover, in commemoration of that purchase thirty-four years ago today, I’ve selected one of the three cover versions the Rolling Stones released in 1970* on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! Here’s “Love In Vain,” written and originally recorded by Robert Johnson in Dallas in 1937.

*The performances on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! were recorded in 1969, with the album being released the next year. [Note added May 6, 2011.]