Posts Tagged ‘Roxy Music’

Saturday Single No. 148

May 18, 2022

Originally posted September 12, 2009.

I never did get to looking at August LP acquisitions in the years after 1989; time and circumstance have made that idea bit outdated. Perhaps when August turns our way again, I’ll recall and then remedy that omission. On the other hand, there may be more vibrant things about which to write when the eighth month comes to call next summer.

And the first September Saturday has slid past without my marking it here. I was – as regulars know – taking a few days off to move my figurative stuff here to WordPress. So I thought we’d just jump over August and see what records came my way in September, starting this week with the years from 1964 through 1989. (Some of these will be among the most enduring records in my collection, as my birthday falls in this month, and my family and friends have generally had a good idea of what I’d like.)

My first album, as I’ve noted here more than once, was Al Hirt’s Honey In The Horn, which showed up on the turntable early one morning in 1964. A year later, Sonny and Cher’s Look At Us occupied the same space. During the summer of 1967, I spent a week at a band camp on the campus of what was then Bemidji State College, nestled among the pines of Northern Minnesota; in September, I received in the mail an LP made up of the various bands’ performances during that week’s culminating concert.

The Beatles’ Revolver, an album I consider either the best or second-best that group ever recorded (it changes places with Abbey Road in my internal rankings), came my way in September 1970. And then we jump to 1974, when I picked up on a September evening the first of the two Duane Allman anthologies.

In 1977, having tentatively entered the workforce, I found a used copy of the Moody Blues’ Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and later that month, I bought from a co-worker three albums: Seals & Crofts’ Greatest Hits, Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits and Michael Johnson There is a Breeze. (The latter was quite possibly the final step toward collecting all the music we had listened to in the lounge during my stay in Denmark four years earlier.)

I found myself from time to time dipping into classical music, sometimes purchasing recordings of pieces I played as part of the St. Cloud Tech High School Orchestra, other times just trying something new. During a shopping trip to the Twin Cities in September 1978, I found a sale on classical recordings; I bought two records, one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s famed Symphony No. 5, and one of Wolfgang Mozart’s Symphonies No. 40 and No. 41. Three years later, in September 1981, I added a collection of George Gershwin pieces to the classical shelf, and then put a copy of the Moody Blues’ Long Distance Voyager on the main shelf.

For some reason, September in the earlier years isn’t a month jammed with lots of record acquisitions. An accident of timing, I guess. We move forward several years – and several life changes – to 1987, when my birthday brought me Dan Fogelberg’s Nether Lands and the soundtrack to the movie Stand By Me (a record packed with fine music from the latter years of the 1950s). Later that month, I’d add John Wesley Harding, a great album, and Real Live, an okay album, to my growing collection of the works of Bob Dylan.

September of 1988 was a different story. I added thirty-eight LPs to the shelves that month, with the most interesting of them being maybe a clutch of records by the Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa, The Grateful Dead and Workingman’s Dead. The least of those September records? Well, there were a couple of anthologies that might have been half-good, but I’d say that chief among the records that didn’t age well were Luna Sea by Firefall and Bonnie Tyler’s Faster Than The Speed Of Night.

A year later, I bought only a few records in September (having binged in July and August). During a trip to visit a lady friend in Kansas, I spent some money in Wichita on a few Gordon Lightfoot albums, one Gram Parsons, a copy of the early Beatles album, Introducing the Beatles on Vee-Jay (an album that’s almost certainly a fake printed long after the fact, as are most supposed copies of the Vee-Jay record these days), a Sly & the Family Stone album and the charity extravaganza, We Are The World. Back in Minnesota, I found the History of Eric Clapton, every track of which I had on other Clapton albums, and Roxy Music’s brilliant Avalon, introducing myself finally to the British band.

And that’s a nice place to stop for a Saturday Single.

“More Than This” by Roxy Music from Avalon [1982]

A Long Overdue Thank You

February 15, 2012

Originally posted February 27, 2009

I don’t really remember much about the day I graduated from St. Cloud State, thirty-three years ago tomorrow. There are pictures in boxes somewhere, showing me in my cap and gown, some taken with my folks and some taken with my girlfriend of the time, but I don’t recall walking across the stage to get my diploma.

I know we went to lunch at a restaurant called The Griffin Room in the Germain Hotel. The building still stands, but it’s condos or apartments now, and the restaurant closed long ago. Beyond that, the day is a blank spot. I imagine I was just relieved to be done with college and done with my internship at a Twin Cities television station. I was ready to get started on my career in television sports.

And a funny thing happened on the way to that career. I never got there. Oh, I tried: I sat at the table in the basement rec room three or four evenings a week, typing letters to television stations in smaller markets in the Upper Midwest, expressing my interest in working for them, should they have any openings in their sports or news departments. (This was, of course, in the days before computers, when every letter had to be typed individually; the letters also had to be error-free and without many erasures and corrections, in order to make the best impression. It was slow work.)

I got a few courteous letters back from news and sports directors. But there was a little something called a recession going on: In the late winter and spring that year, the economy was stalled and advertising revenues at television stations were flat. So hiring an inexperienced kid right out of college wasn’t an attractive way for a news or sports director to use his resources. I did get four interviews that spring: I drove to television stations in Fargo, Duluth, Rochester and the Twin Cities suburbs. I got no offers, but in Fargo, Rochester and Duluth, the news directors told me that I needed to go back to school and learn how to operate a sixteen-millimeter camera.

These were the days before portable video cameras were widespread; the technology was becoming available, and in a few years, it would become affordable for even stations in small markets. But for the time being, stations used film, and in those small markets, reporters were expected to shoot their own film. I’d focused so much on my writing during college that I’d missed that.

The last of the four interviews was at the Twin Cities station that at the time was an ABC affiliate. I drove into the Minneapolis suburb of Edina very early one day. The sports director was a fellow named George McKenzie (it could have been “Mackenzie,” but I don’t think so). He interviewed me briefly and then handed me a pile of wire stories. He told me to sit down at the typewriter and put together a five-minute sportscast and then go down the hall to the studio, where the cameraman and director were waiting to tape me. I did all that, and then sat in a small room with a cup of coffee, waiting.

George McKenzie came in and sat. “You,” he said, “are a terrific writer, and you have a good memory. You hardly ever looked at your script. Your eyes were on the camera, and that’s good.” He paused, looked at the table and nodded, and then he looked at me. Then he changed my life.

“This is going to be hard for you to hear,” he said “but you’re not going to make it in television. Some people have the ability to come through the camera and be alive on the screen, and some people don’t. You are one of those who don’t. I’d suggest you focus on your writing. You’ll do fine with that. You have a bright future, but I’m afraid it’s not going to be in television.”

I went back to St. Cloud, sad and uncertain. I took a few graduate courses and a year later – after some thinking and some scuffling – I began taking the courses that would add a minor in print journalism to my degree. In time, I realized that George McKenzie had been right. I may have been too stunned at the moment to thank him. I do so now.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, February 28, 1976)
“Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)” by the Bee Gees, RSO 519 (No. 18)
“Love Is The Drug” by Roxy Music, Atco 7042 (No. 35)
“In France They Kiss On Main Street” by Joni Mitchell, Asylum 45298 (No. 66)
“Union Man” by the Cate Brothers, Asylum 45294 (No. 74)
“New Orleans” by the Staple Singers, Curtom 0113 (No. 88)
“Train Called Freedom” by the South Shore Commission, Wand 11294 (No. 98)

I was surprised to learn that I’d not posted “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love),” as it’s one of my favorite singles from the winter of 1975-76. In the years just before, the Bee Gees had re-emerged: With “Fanny” and the rest of the Main Course album, they were heading toward the falsetto plus disco sound that they used to rule a good portion of the world in 1977-78 with “Stayin’ Alive” and the other tunes from Saturday Night Fever. That said, “Fanny” – which peaked at No. 12 – is nowhere near disco; it’s just a sweet slice of pop that still brings a smile to my face.

I do not recall the Roxy Music single from the time. If I’d ever heard it, I think I would have shaken my head and passed the dish on down the table. It wasn’t until sometime in the 1980s, when I picked up Avalon more or less by accident, that I gave Roxy Music more than a glance. I still find the band’s music cold and fussy, but in small doses, it can be compelling. And “Love Is The Drug” is, come to think of it, the perfect song for the seeming lack of emotional commitment that the band brought to its music. It peaked at No. 30 and was the band’s only Top 40 hit.

“In France They Kiss On Main Street” is – if there is such a thing – a typical Joni Mitchell 1970s single: Light and airy, with a delicate melody and sometimes cryptic lyrics that meander a little bit before getting to the point. That might sound like I don’t care for it, but that’s not the case. I like both the single and the album it came from, The Hissing Of Summer Lawns. But, as is the case with a lot of music, I like Mitchell’s stuff mixed in with other tunes rather than heard as an entire album on its own. The single spent four weeks in the Hot 100, three of them at No. 66, before falling out of the chart. Best word combination: “Rock ’n’ roll choirboys.”

I’ve posted a couple of albums by the Cate Brothers here, and I’ve posted “Union Man” separately, too, but that was almost two years ago, which is something like a couple thousand blogyears. The music business is littered with the hopes of those performers and groups that should have made it big; the Cate Brothers are pretty high on my list of shouldas. “Union Man” got up to No. 24 but was the brothers’ only Top 40 hit. They kept on playing, though, touring the American South through the 1980s, and in the 1990s, they released a couple of CDs, followed by 2004’s Play by the Rules, which the folks at All-Music Guide like pretty well.

The Staple Singers’ “New Orleans” is a nice piece of funky R&B that got only as high as No. 70. Its failure to do better is another one of those mysteries in life, because it surely deserved more attention. The single comes from Let’s Do It Again, a movie soundtrack written and produced by Curtis Mayfield. It’s an album that’s well worth finding, as is the case with most anything done by the Staples.

All I really know about the South Shore Commission is what I’ve found at AMG. The group’s self-titled 1976 album and the single edit of “Train Called Freedom” were produced by Philadelphia’s Bunny Sigler, and the group’s sound fits in well with what’s come to be called the Philly Sound. “Train Called Freedom” is a pretty good track, but its lyrics beg for comparison with the O’Jays’ 1972 hit, “Love Train,” a competition that the earlier single, unsurprisingly, wins. That said, the South Shore Commission record is still fun. It peaked at No. 86.

Who Might Rank Among Them?

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 19, 2008

I got my new copy of Rolling Stone yesterday, the one that trumpets on its cover the listing inside of the one hundred greatest singers of all time. The cover also bears a picture of Aretha Franklin, who took the top spot on that list of singers.

Now, I love lists of stuff, especially lists relating to music. And Rolling Stone does a lot of them. I could walk across the study and pull from the bookshelf about fifteen editions of the magazine from the last twenty or so years that have a list ranking something in rock ’n’ roll history, whether it’s albums or songs or singles or guitarists or what-have-you. And this list – greatest singers – seems to be a suitable topic.

I haven’t waded my way through the entire one hundred names yet; I’ve read the foreword of the section, looked at the list of the folks who voted and read the entries on the first five singers: Aretha, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and John Lennon. That’s a pretty impressive top five. Maybe not quite as powerful but still impressive were the names of the folks who wrote the short essays about that top five: Mary J. Blige, Billy Joel, Robert Plant, Van Morrison and Jackson Browne. I am looking forward, sometime later today, to sitting down with the magazine and digging into the remaining ninety-five singers on the list.

I suppose I should look ahead and note here which singers rounded out the Top Ten: Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and James Brown. I could make a number of observations, but I’ll keep still on most of them until I’ve absorbed the entire list. I will make one comment.

The list of voters – made up of musicians, journalists and critics – seems to have been pretty well spread among the generations and sub-genres of rock music. In other words, there was no overloading on any one era or style. And those various voters decided that the ten greatest singers in rock history are seven dead guys and two men and one woman whose greatest work was turned was turned out between thirty and forty years ago. (Some might argue that Dylan’s recent work is among his best; it might be, but still, that hardly dents the point I’m about to make.)

What the Rolling Stone voters are telling us is that not one of the ten greatest singers in rock ’n’ roll history has started his or her career in the years since, oh, 1964 (the year that Redding released his debut album). That’s a remarkable statement, and it’s one for which I don’t seem to have a response. (I’ve been staring at the screen and keyboard for about five minutes trying to find words; they’re not there.)

Now, I love the music of the Sixties and the Seventies. Anyone who stops by here knows that, and it’s an understandable passion: That music is the music of my childhood, youth and young adulthood. But those decades are not the sole source of good music by talented artists. And I think the best thing about lists like the one in the current Rolling Stone is that they start discussions. So I’m going to throw out a question and (with luck and some effort from my readers) we’ll start a discussion here. That question:

Who is the best rock (in all its forms) singer to start his or her career, oh, let’s say, after 1970, and where would that person fall among the top ten anointed by Rolling Stone?

Just so you don’t have go back and pick them out, here are the names of those ten singers again:

Aretha Franklin
Ray Charles
Elvis Presley
Sam Cooke
John Lennon
Marvin Gaye
Bob Dylan
Otis Redding
Stevie Wonder
James Brown

And to accompany that, we’ll do a random six-pack of tunes from artists who came along after 1970:

“Rain” by Terence Trent D’Arby from Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby, 1987. (Debut album)

“Late In My Bed” by Elizabeth Barraclough from Elizabeth Barraclough, 1978. (Debut album)

“That’s What They Say” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light, 1988. (Debut album)

“All I Want Is You” by Roxy Music from Country Life, 1974. (Debut album in 1972)

“Fadeaway” by the BoDeans from Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, 1986. (Debut album)

“Roman” by the Church from Heyday, 1986. (Debut album in 1981)

I don’t think that any of the lead singers there will challenge for that Top Ten list, but Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music might belong in the Top Fifty or so. That’s beside the point, though. This was a random selection of songs.

Again, what I do want to know from readers is: Who, from the artists who came along post-1970, could reasonably be considered for that top ten? Lemme know!

‘If I Was You, I’d Harvest . . .’

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 89, 2008

I got some good advice from my grandfather at least once.

I was twenty, and I’d recently returned from my time in Denmark. While I’d been gone, I’d grown my first beard and mustache, kind of by default. I’d been packing my backpack for a trip during a December quarter break, and I decided that I could save a little room by not packing my razor – a Schick injector, if I remember correctly – and the other things needed to shave. So I headed off into Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, looking scruffier by the day, at least until the growth progressed enough to be considered a beard and mustache.

As I said, I was twenty, and the resulting foliage wasn’t lush. The mustache was okay, but the beard stayed pretty much confined to my jaw line; my cheeks were barren. But it was a lot easier not having to shave every day, especially during those times when I was wandering, living out of a backpack.

I came home in May, and a few days afterward (just days before I entered the hospital, which I wrote about the other day), I saw my grandparents – my mom’s folks – for the first time in almost nine months. My grandfather was eighty-two and had been a farmer all his life. He came up to me, looked closely at the growth on my face. He tugged at it lightly.

Then he nodded and said, “If I was you, I’d harvest this crop, fertilize and hope for better next year.”

It was another year and a half before I took his advice. I shaved off that first beard in December 1975, when I was interning in the sports department of a Twin Cities television station; I thought that being clean-shaven might increase the chances of getting some airtime and perhaps even getting a job. I kept the mustache, though.

And for the next twelve years or so, the beard came and went. I grew one a few years into my time at the Monticello newspaper and shaved it off one hot July day a couple years later. I let it grow out again during graduate school in Missouri and shaved it off about the time I moved back to Minnesota. And when I was teaching in Minot, I quit shaving during the 1987 Thanksgiving break, and that beard has stayed with me for more than twenty years now. And throughout all that, the mustache has stayed; my upper lip last felt a razor on December 5, 1973.

One of the things that means, of course, is that the Texas Gal – whom I met in 2000 – has never seen me clean-shaven. She occasionally suggests that she’d like to. I think about it, and I might shave for her someday. But as I’m not at all interested in shaving every day ever again, so I’d only grow it back right away. And the mustache would stay, no matter what.

The beard did fill in during my twenties, covering my cheeks quite nicely. But it’s no longer brown. I could call it “salt and pepper,” but only if I were willing to admit that whoever seasoned it used a lot more salt than pepper. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good beard. I think Grandpa would be proud of the crop.

Here’s a Baker’s Dozen from 1975. We’ll start with the record that was No. 1 the week I first took my grandfather’s advice.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 3
“Let’s Do It Again” by the Staple Singers, Curtom single 0109

“I Dreamed Last Night” by Justin Hayward & John Lodge from Blue Jays

“Arkansas Line” by Elvin Bishop, Capricorn single 0237

“As Surely As I Stand Here” by Tower of Power from In The Slot

“Naked in the Rain” by David Crosby & Graham Nash from Wind On The Water

“All About Love” by Earth, Wind & Fire from That’s The Way Of The World

“Pick Up The Pieces” by Doris Duke from Woman

“Livin’ For The Weekend” by the O’Jays from Family Reunion

“End of the Line” by Roxy Music from Siren

“Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright, Warner Brothers single 8143

“Lonelier Are Fools” by the Three Degrees from With Love

“It Makes No Difference” by The Band from Northern Lights – Southern Cross

“Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers, T-Neck single 2256

A few notes:

“Let’s Do It Again” was the title song from a soundtrack written by Curtis Mayfield. After the success of Superfly in 1971, Mayfield composed a series of soundtracks that were generally pretty good, most of them much better than the films they backed. Let’s Do It Again, which I’ve never seen, starred Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, John Amos, Ossie Davis and Jimmie Walker. Oh, and that odd noise at the start of the song? It’s supposed to be that way. I pulled out the vinyl this morning and checked.

Blue Jays was one of several projects by members of the Moody Blues that surfaced in the mid-1970s. The group took a break after 1972’s Seventh Sojourn that lasted until 1978 and the release of Octave. Other albums came from Ray Thomas, the Graeme Edge Band and Mike Pinder. (There may be some I’m forgetting.) Of the various projects, I think Blue Jays turned out the best.

Doris Duke, a deep soul singer who’d been recording since the mid-1960s, released Woman on the Scepter label in the U.S. after it had been released on Contempo in Britain. While not up the quality of her 1969 album, I’m A Loser (recorded at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia, and released on the soon-to-fail Canyon label), Woman, according to Jason Ankeny of All-Music Guide, is a “much-acclaimed set.” His fellow AMG reviewer, Andrew Hamilton says, however, “If you play this LP once, there’s no need to play it again; you didn’t miss anything the first time, and it doesn’t get any better the second time around.” Who’s right? I lean toward Ankeny’s assessment; it’s a pretty good record.

If I’m in the right mood, I generally enjoy hearing Roxy Music’s work, at least one track at a time. If I listen to entire albums – with the exception of 1982’s Avalon – the group’s music sounds cold and fussy. Siren seems less that way than the rest of the group’s 1970s output, I guess. But it still feels as if I’m listening to the group through a closed window, a barrier that the musicians aren’t the least bit interested in getting past.

“It Makes No Difference” was one of the last great songs The Band recorded during its original incarnation – “Acadian Driftwood,” also on Northern Lights – Southern Cross, is one as well – and one of the last great songs that Robbie Robertson wrote (nothing in his solo career has come close to the songs he wrote for The Band). One of The Band’s strengths was the ability to match a song with the appropriate voice, and here, Rick Danko’s yearning tenor – echoed by Garth Hudson’s soprano saxophone solo – fits perfectly. This track can melt your heart.

Chart Digging: May 26, 1979

May 27, 2011

While pondering tunes heard early in his Seventies childhood the other day, the writer at Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas mentioned that he no doubt heard some of them while in the back seat of his family’s turquoise AMC Gremlin. I mentioned in a comment that back in those days, my then-wife and I had a friend who drove a Gremlin, though hers was yellow with black stripes, and I added that we ourselves had owned an AMC Hornet (green, of course).

And that got me thinking about the spring of 1979, when we got that 1974 (I think) Hornet, replacing the clunky and decaying Ford Galaxy that the other half of the household had been driving for a few years. (We’d already upgraded the vehicle in my side of the driveway, going from a clunky 1967 Falcon wagon to a 1972 Toyota Corona with a stop at a 1971 Plymouth Duster along the way.)

We’d been talking about retiring the Galaxy for some time, but our conversations continued to carry the tone of “We’re going to have to do something one of these days,” rather than the urgency of “We need to replace that car this month before it falls apart.” And then, one evening, she noticed an ad in the shopping supplement published by the Monticello Times offering a Hornet for sale for what seemed a reasonable price. The car was just outside the little burg of Becker, about eight miles away.

The next day was a Thursday, a slow day at the newspaper, and the Other Half was able to get away from her office as well, so we drove to Becker. The car looked and drove fine, and though neither of us was too mechanically inclined, we noticed no obvious flaws, so we told the seller we were interested and headed back to Monticello to check out financing.

And here’s the part that seems remarkable to me: From the Times offices, I walked across the parking lot to the local bank at about one o’clock that afternoon. Ten minutes later, I was sitting across the desk from George, one of the owners of the bank. And fifteen minutes later, I was walking back to my own desk in the next building after depositing something like $900 in my checkbook to buy a car.

That doesn’t seem like that much money these days, but according to an online inflation calculator, that $900 was the equivalent of about $2,600 these days. And all it took was a brief conversation, some simple work on a short loan form and less than half an hour. The equivalent transaction these days, I imagine, would take at least a couple of days.

But as I think about it, there were a number of things that made that transaction easy: First, the bank was an independent bank, and George – being one of the co-owners – was the final authority. My application didn’t have to be shuffled up a paper chain through three or four managers. Second, George’s bank was the only bank in town: The Other Half and I had accounts there, as did the Monticello Times, so George probably had a good idea of our financial circumstances even before he looked anything up. And if something went wrong, all George had to do to find me was walk across the parking lot. Third, and this pretty much trumps everything else: Monticello was still a small town, with about 3,000 people. And at the time, that’s how business was done in a small town. Maybe it still is, but I have my doubts.

Anyway, by the time the sun set that evening, the Hornet was in our driveway, and we were most likely listening to the radio as the evening wore on. And we likely heard at least a couple of the Billboard Top Ten from the fourth week in May of 1979:

“Reunited” by Peaches & Herb
“Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer
“In the Navy” by the Village People
“Love You Inside Out” by the Bee Gees
“Goodnight Tonight” by Wings
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
“Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” by the Jacksons
“Just When I Needed You Most” by Randy Vanwarmer
“Stumblin’ In” by Suzi Quatro & Chris Norman
“Love is the Answer” by England Dan & John Ford Coley

Well, if we heard some of those that evening – and I imagine we did – it might have been a long evening indeed. The only record I ever liked of any of those – and I still like it a lot – was the Sister Sledge single. That Top Ten shows me clearly the reasons I spent a lot of time listening to a light jazz radio station in those days.

As usual, though, a closer look at the Billboard Hot 100 from that week – dated May 26, 1979 – reveals some interesting tunes and tales. Musically, one of the best things I see as I look down that list was a tune by three one-time members of the Byrds that was sitting at No. 78. “Don’t You Write Her Off Like That” by McGuinn, Clark & Hillman had peaked a week earlier at No. 33 and was on its way down the chart. The group’s self-titled album, the source of the single, got as high as No. 39. A second single from that album topped out at No. 104, and a second album, City, got only to No. 136 in 1980. But “Don’t You Write Her Off Like That” does have some charm:

Over the course of his career, the late Frank Zappa had five singles reach the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section. Of course, Zappa being Zappa, those singles were, well, different. Thirty-two years ago, the acerbic and surreal “Dancing Fool” was sitting at its peak position of No. 45, giving listeners across the country Zappa’s skewed view of the disco craze. I’m not sure it mattered to him, but the record would end up being Zappa’s second-highest ranking record ever. (“Valley Girl,” featuring his daughter Moon Unit, went to No. 32 in 1982.)

Another take on the wide outbreak of disco fever (and yes, the Other Half and I did watch Deney Terrio’s syndicated show on Saturday evenings) came from Roxy Music, whose forlorn “Dance Away” was sitting at No. 58 during the fourth week of May in 1979. The tune, like much of the album Manifesto, was more accessible than had been earlier Roxy Music projects. As All-Music Guide notes: “[T]rading sonic adventure for lush, accessible disco-pop isn’t entirely satisfactory, even if it is momentarily seductive.” I’m not sure I agree entirely. In any event, the single peaked at No. 44.

I’ve listened to “Church” by Bob Welch, the one-time member of Fleetwood Mac, a couple of times since I saw it listed at No. 86 in the Hot 100 from this week in 1979, and I still don’t know what to make of it. In some ways, I hear a lost great single, very much of its time but better than most of the stuff on the radio in those days. But I’m also hearing bits and pieces of other stuff from the time, as if Welch were imitating groups and performers who themselves were influenced by the early 1970s Fleetwood Mac. And I hear echoes of the Mac’s own Mystery to Me album from 1973. At any rate, the single went only as high as No. 73. On the other hand, the album Three Hearts – the source of “Church” and a follow-up to 1977’s French Kiss – got to No. 20.

In 1978, Chris Rea had a No. 12 hit with “Fool (If You Think It’s Over),” and the album Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? went to No. 49 (although the title track of the album went peaked only at No. 71). In the spring of 1979, Rea’s “Diamonds” peaked at No. 44 and was sitting at No. 93 during the fourth week of May. It doesn’t seem to have had the charm that made “Fool” a hummable hit. Although Rea never cracked the Top Forty again, he’s done some interesting stuff, and I’ll likely be writing about one of those interesting tracks next week.

Smack dab at the bottom of the chart for May 26, 1979, is a relic of one of the worst programming decisions in television history. Charged with reversing the decline of NBC Television in the late 1970s, Fred Silverman evidently decided that the best way to find a hit was to throw lots of crap at the wall and see if any of it stuck. One of his ideas was to craft – and the word is used loosely there – a series around a duo of young Japanese women who sang disco songs in phonetically rendered English. The show, officially titled Pink Lady also featured American comedian Jeff Altman (which provided the show with its popular title of Pink Lady and Jeff). Wikipedia notes: “The format of the show consisted of musical numbers alternating with sketch comedy. The running gag of the series was the girls’ lack of understanding of American culture and the English language; in reality, Pink Lady did not speak fluent English. Jeff would then attempt to translate and explain the meaning of things which led to more confusion. The series also featured Pink Lady performing various songs . . . along with interaction with celebrity and musical guests. The group would end the show by jumping into a hot tub together.” The show was ranked No. 35 by TV Guide on its list of the fifty worst television shows ever TV Guide. And at No. 110 in the Billboard Hot 100 from May 26, 1979 was “Kiss In The Dark” by Pink Lady.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1982

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 22, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Straight Back” by Fleetwood Mac from Mirage

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

“Cleaning Windows” by Van Morrison from Beautiful Vision

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

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

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

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

A few notes on some of the songs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Pain! Burning In My Heart . . .’

August 26, 2010

I wonder how likely this story is in today’s music and radio world:

Some local kids decide to form a band, and through hard work, a love of music and a little bit of radio luck, the band records some songs, has one or two of them pressed on a 45 (or burned on a CD these days, I guess) and the music finds its way onto the air and to the top of the local Top 40 stations’ playlists.

It reads like the concept for a B-list movie, one that’s not truly awful but is nevertheless utterly predictable, its script packed to the gills with rough and ready clichés and with clueless lines like the earnest “Our record’s too good not to make it!” or the cynical “Freakin’ radio weasels! They say our freakin’ sound is out of date!”

But during the years I was a radio listener – the late 1960s and early 1970s, in case you haven’t been paying attention – stories like that (although perhaps without the radio weasels) happened frequently, from the largest markets on the coasts to the smaller markets in the Midwest and South. In my exploration of Blogworld, I often come across stories of still-beloved bands that had local hits with 45s and/or albums. My pal Jeff at AM, Then FM wrote just this week about the upsurge of “fierce Wisconsin nostalgia” for an early Seventies band named Clicker, a wave of nostalgia that it seems he had a hand in creating with earlier posts.

In Minnesota, several local bands during the early rock era reached the local charts, delighting their cadres of fans in the Upper Midwest. One of those bands, the Trashmen, hit the national stage and saw their immortal record “Surfin’ Bird” spend two weeks at No. 4 on the Billboard chart as January turned into February in 1964.

Another one of those local records played a part – how large, I’m not sure – in completing my metamorphosis to committed Top 40 listener. I’ve mentioned before that it was during the last half of August 1969 when I really began to listen to Top 40 radio. Finding myself hanging around with St. Cloud Tech’s football team during the two weeks of summer practice, I realized that the radio – likely tuned to KDWB in the Twin Cities – was providing a pretty good soundtrack for my life, at least for that portion of it spent on the sidelines of a football field and in the locker room across the way.

There were a lot of good records on the air. According to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, the Top Ten on KDWB for this week in 1969 was:

“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“It’s Getting Better” by Mama Cass
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Pain” by the Mystics
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen
“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition
“Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon        
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White

Of those ten, and there are some great ones in there, the one that matters here this morning is “Pain,” the No. 4 record from forty-one years ago this week. The Mystics were a Twin Cities group (originally called Michael’s Mystics), and the single was released on the Metromedia label. According to ARSA, “Pain” had been the No. 1 single on KDWB for the preceding week, and the same was true at WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other main Top 40 station of the time.

And when “Pain” came on the air, there was something about it that made it stand out even in the elite company of hits from the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and the rest. The hard-charging horn-laced introduction is what grabbed me, I think. The tale told by the lyric is okay, but I think it was the horns. I don’t know who to thank for the arrangement; the credit on the 45 reads only “A Path Production.” But almost every time “Pain” came on the radio that late summer and early fall, I’d stop what I was doing and just listen. It remained one of my favorite songs long after it fell down the charts and its airplay ended.

Not that I did anything about it. If I’d been thinking at all, I would have headed out to Woolworth’s or Kresge’s or Musicland and gotten myself a copy of the record. I didn’t.

But I was enamored enough of the record to pop for a ticket to a high school dance a couple weeks into the school year. The ticket cost all of fifty cents, I imagine. I had no plans of getting on the dance floor, nor did my pal Mike, who went with me. We’d be content to hang along the gym wall in the old Central School, listening to the tunes and watching the girls on the dance floor. We were there for one reason only: The band for the dance was the Mystics, and we wanted to hear “Pain.” And, of course, about two hours into the three-hour dance, the Mystics obliged. Satisfied, Mike and I made our ways home.

It was, I think, the first time I’d heard a radio hit played live by the original band. And that memory is sweet.

It was years before I ever heard the song again; in fact, after a while, it would be years before I even though about “Pain” again. You know how life goes: Things happen and more things happen, and some of the things you thought you’d never forget end up pushed to the back on the shelves of memory, gathering dust until someday for some reason, something pushes one of those things to the front of the shelf, where it seems shiny and new again.

It was the mid-1990s, so call it twenty-five years since I’d heard the Mystics’ single. One of the guys who played in the band at Jake’s had played, if I recall correctly, in another well-known Twin Cities band, Danny’s Reasons. During a break one night, he was telling tales, and he mentioned the Mystics.

“The Mystics?” I asked. “The guys who released ‘Pain’?” The very ones, Larry said. I hadn’t thought about “Pain” for years. The conversation wandered on as I made a mental note to check the singles bins at Cheapo’s every once in a while. And a couple of weeks later, when I saw a poster for a record show at no more than eight blocks from my home, I made a note to head out on Saturday and see what I could find.

Well, I found a copy of “Pain.” In its original Metromedia sleeve. For something like $100. The fellow obligingly pulled the 45 from the sleeve and put it on the turntable. I listened to the record for the first time in about twenty-five years, looked at the price tag on the plastic sleeve and shook my head. “Not this time,” I told the fellow regretfully.

From then on, I’d check for the record sporadically at the places where I bought my LPs. After I moved further south and east in Minneapolis in 1999, I had new places to check. No luck. And once the Texas Gal and I moved to St. Cloud in 2002, well, there were really no places to check except on-line stores. I took a look this morning.

There is one copy of “Pain” offered for sale through Music Stack.com. It’s priced at $46.92. One copy of the 45 was priced at $75 at the Global E-commerce Mega-Market (GEMM) but was evidently sold this morning. Prices like those have been pretty consistent over the past eight years, when there’s been a copy of the record on the market.

But I don’t need those copies. On a January Saturday in 2003, the Texas Gal and I made one of our occasional trips to the small town of Pierz to stock up on bacon at Thielen Meats. On the way back, we came through the very small town of Royalton, on U.S. Highway 10 about twenty miles north of St. Cloud. An antique shop was doing business in what appeared to be an old bank building, so we pulled over and went in.

I’m not sure what the Texas Gal looked at, but in the second room I entered, I found a tall rotating rack filled with 45s carefully put into paper and then plastic sleeves. I began digging. And about midway down the second side, I did a double-take: “Pain” by the Mystics. Eyebrows raised, I looked for the price, and I did another double-take: two dollars.

Needless to say, the record came home with me. And a few years later, when the Texas Gal gave me a USB turntable for Christmas, “Pain” was the first record I pulled from the shelves to convert to an mp3. It still sounds as good as it did coming out of the speakers on an August day forty-one years ago this week.

(The record shown and used in the video is the original release, according to reader Yah Shure, not a later release, as I originally stated. My copy of the record is Metromedia 130, and the record is credited to simply “The Mystics.” It’s worth noting that the Grass Roots also recorded “Pain,” releasing it as an album track on their 1969 LP Lovin’ Things. They did a good job, but they’re not the Mystics, you know.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 31
“Pain” by the Mystics, Metromedia 130 [1969]
“Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You)” by Lulu from New Routes [1970]
“Sky High” by Jigsaw, Chelsea 3022 [1975]
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, Cotillion 44251 [1979]
“More Than This” by Roxy Music from Avalon [1982]
“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen 29141 [1984]

Sometime in February 1970, I was home from school for a day, and I had the radio on as I was sitting up in bed sniffling or coughing or whatever I was doing. I stopped dead still, however, when I heard the quiet introduction to Lulu’s “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You).” I listened, entranced, as she took the song from that quiet start to unexpected places. I knew Lulu from “To Sir With Love,” which went to No. 1 in 1967, but this sounded like a different singer, one dealing with much more than a schoolgirl crush. From crayons to perfume, indeed. Lulu’s warm and intimate performance took the record to No. 22 in that late winter.  Add to that performance the fact that I was just beginning to know what it was like to be a fool for someone, and you have all you need to make a song a favorite for life.

Lulu – “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You)”

There are no emotional connections, no tales of hearing my life in the music, with Jigsaw’s “Sky High.” It’s just one of those records that has always been fun to listen to. The heartbreak content of the lyrics, to tell the truth, doesn’t seem to work, mostly because the guys from Jigsaw – the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits says the quartet came from England while All-Music Guide says the band was founded in Brisbane, Australia, in 1966 – seem to be having too much fun singing about their love being blown sky high to be grieving too much about it. And it is fun, from the opening twanging – what instrument makes that sound? – through the swirling strings and punchy horns of the introduction onward. “Sky High” spent two weeks at No. 3 in December of 1975.

Speaking of fun, from the instant I hear the drum figure and quick piano runs of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” there’s a smile on my face. The disco proclamation of kinship spent two weeks at No. 2 during June of 1979, brightening the summer and providing that season’s Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team with an anthem. With their athletic skills thus supplemented, the Pirates – led by thirty-nine-year-old Willie (Pops) Stargell – won baseball’s World Series that fall, winning the final three games to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in seven games. And seeing the Orioles lose – just like the effervescent vocals and sly beat of “We Are Family” – is always a reason to smile.

I love album covers. Not to the extent that I have any framed and displayed on the walls of the study, although I do have a large poster of the cover to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the wall. But I’ve enjoyed over the years the art of good album covers, and I’ve also enjoyed over time the utterly inept work put into bad album covers. But only once have I ever bought an album based only on the look of the cover. It was the summer of 1989. I’d returned to Minnesota after my generally unhappy time on the Dakota prairie, and I was celebrating my return by touring Minneapolis-area record shops. In a shop in the suburb of Richfield, I came across a cover illustration so arresting that I bought the album without having the slightest idea what I would hear.

The record was Avalon, the 1982 effort by Roxy Music. All I knew of Roxy Music at the time was that the group was British. I had no awareness of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera or any of the other members of the group over the years; I didn’t know about Siren, Manifesto, Country Life, or any of the other albums. I was clueless. But the cover to Avalon fascinated me. I took the record home and, luckily, I liked it, especially “More Than This” and the title tune. In later years, I explored the rest of Roxy Music’s catalog, and I found the earlier albums well done but a little brittle and fussy, not nearly as warm and inviting as Avalon. It’s fine when tracks from those earlier albums pop up at random. But I don’t go looking for them. Avalon I do, especially that shimmering title tune and “More Than This,” which was a No. 6 hit in Britain (No. 103 here in the U.S.).

It was almost winter – the second week of December 1984 – when Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” entered the Top 40. Even in the relatively mild winter of mid-Missouri, the wind whistled around the corners of the house, making winter seem harder. To me, that matched the sonic dish that Henley had served, and I had the sense that he was singing about things much more fundamental than the passing of one warm season:

Out on the road today,
I saw a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac.

A voice inside my head said ‘Don’t look back.
‘You can never look back.’

The final verses – I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun . . . I can tell you, my love for you will still be strong – are more traditional for making a pledge of fealty. But what sticks with me from the record – which went to No. 5 during the second week of February 1985 – is that warning, one I ignore frequently but with greater misgivings as the days race by: ‘Don’t look back. You can never look back.”

(Sequence of Mystics’ name and of record’s release have been corrected since post was first published; thanks for the info, Yah Shure.)