Posts Tagged ‘Sanford/Townsend Band’

Doing It Again

May 18, 2022

Originally posted September 8, 2009

I was reminded this weekend of the summer of 1985:

I’d returned that February to Minnesota after eighteen months in graduate school in Missouri. I was doing some free-lance work, and sometime in April, to keep the budget from stretching as thin as tissue paper, I started working weekend overnight shifts at a local convenience store. While that was sometimes interesting, and while it fulfilled its purpose of keeping us from going broke, it wasn’t a lot of fun. But we do what we have to do.

Then, one weekday afternoon around the end of May, I got a call from DQ, the editor and publisher of the Monticello paper, my old boss. He said he’d heard I was working the graveyard shift, and he wondered if I’d like to spend my summer covering sports free-lance for the Times. As one might expect, that was a better prospect than manning the counter at Tom Thumb. So I soon found myself back among familiar faces, covering town team baseball, slow-pitch softball, American Legion and Babe Ruth baseball and all the bits and pieces that make up the summer sports scene in a small town.

I’d covered all of those before, of course, during the nearly six years I’d been a reporter and then the news editor at the paper. But there was something different (different beyond the financial structure, that is). For some reason, in early 1985, baseball – the game and its history – captured my attention. I bought my first tabletop game (after occasionally battling Rob during visits to his house). I bought the first serious bits of a baseball library, with one of the first volumes being The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. And when DQ called and offered me the sports department for the summer, with its emphasis on baseball, I was ready.

I’d reported on baseball before, of course, covering six seasons of high school ball in Monticello and nearby Big Lake, and spending six summers writing accounts of the town team’s efforts. But I’d never really had more than a basic grasp of the game. Now I was digging more deeply, reading about the game’s history, yes, but also learning how to watch baseball more analytically, learning how to see a game as it was played.

The coach of Monti’s American Legion team that summer, though he was not much older than I, was one of the town’s old baseball hands. His history and that of recent baseball in Monticello were intertwined. He’d played high school and Legion ball for Monticello and for years had been the manager, organizer and No. 1 pitcher for the town team. No longer able to play, he was coaching the American Legion squad, and when he noticed how much more I’d learned about baseball and how eager I was to learn more, he invited me – during those evenings I was covering his team – to sit in the dugout and keep the scorebook.

Very soon, I was spending my evenings with the Legion team even when I wasn’t covering the game, per se. I became in some ways part of the team, and my reporting about the team and its games became better for that.

(That’s one of the unique qualities about small-town journalism, that one can sometimes be a part of the community events one reports about. Becoming attached to the local American Legion baseball team provides little chance for conflict of interest, of course, although there are scenarios where such a conflict could arise. [Given that I was covering only sports that summer, the most likely possibility, I would think, would be something regarding broken eligibility rules and forfeits.] But during my earlier years at the Monticello paper, I was a member of the local school district’s community education policy board, and I was active in Democratic politics. That works in a small town – and Monticello at the time was home to a little more than three thousand folks – because people in town know you as more than a byline in the weekly paper, and either trust you a little more or else know where to find you when they want to complain. I’d hazard that the smaller the community, the more frequently one will find folks from the local paper filling other roles in town that seem to bring the possibility of conflict of interest. As one heads up the population ladder, however, the greater distance between a reporter and his or her audience makes such involvement less frequent and less wise.)

It felt good to be accepted in the dugout and on the field that summer. Even opposing coaches of teams we played – and my use of “we” indicates how I still feel about that Monti team – recognized me and nodded at me when our paths crossed before games. The most important thing to me about that summer of American Legion baseball, however, was being a better baseball writer. I’d been okay during the six years that had come earlier. But because of my reading, because of a new-found love of the game, I was better prepared. I had a second chance to something I loved and to do it better than I had before.

I thought of that summer of 1985 and my second chance to write about baseball this weekend because this post – the first real post at my new digs on WordPress – is the start of my second chance at a music blog. I’m not sure how different this version of Echoes In The Wind will be from the one that Blogger deleted last week. Maybe very little. I do have a sense that I won’t be posting six days every week, as I ended up doing there. (The Saturday Single will continue, though, starting with No. 148 four days from now.) There may be great changes beyond the location and the appearance, or the blog may be much the same. I don’t know.

All I really know is that Echoes In The Wind has a home again.

A Six-Pack of Again
“Back On The Street Again” by Swampwater from Swampwater [1971]
“Don’t Let Me Down Again” by Richard Torrance & Eureka from Belle of the Ball [1975]
“Play It Again” by Ray Thomas from From Mighty Oaks [1975]
“Born Again” by Emily Bindiger from Emily [1971]
“Sunshine In My Heart Again” by the Sanford/Townsend Band from Smoke From A Distant Fire [1977]
“Back Here Again” by Cold Blood from Lydia Pense & Cold Blood [1976]

Swampwater, notes All-Music Guide, is better remembered here in the U.S. as Linda Ronstadt’s first backing band after her time with the Stone Poneys. “Back On The Street Again” comes from the group’s second album, the group’s first on RCA. (The group’s debut, on Starday/King, was similarly titled Swampwater; I’ve on occasion seen the second album, the RCA record, titled Swamp Water, but I’ve gone with the more common single-word spelling, confusing though it may be.) The song here may ring a few sonic bells in listener’s heads. The Stone Poneys recorded it for their final album, Evergreen, Vol. 2, and the Sunshine Company had a minor hit with the song, with the record spending three weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 36. Swampwater’s version kind of falls in a niche between the sweet pop of the Sunshine Company and early country rock, tending toward the latter when the steel guitar solo pops up.

“Don’t Let Me Down Again” is a Lindsey Buckingham tune that showed up on Buckingham Nicks in 1973 and has popped up in a few other places, including Belle of the Ball, a 1975 album by Richard Torrance and his band Eureka. Torrance’s version of the tune has some similarities to Fleetwood Mac, which entered its California rock era during the same year, 1975.  Belle of the Ball was one of two albums Torrance released on the Shelter label, started by Leon Russell; three more came on Capitol. I like his stuff; it’s post-hippie California rock, but sometimes it seems just a shade more muscular than that description would lead one to expect. Some more of Torrance’s stuff just might show up here soon.

Ray Thomas is, as All-Music Guide points out, “of a handful of well-known flute players in rock music.” And he’s spent most of his professional life playing that flute for one band: The Moody Blues. From Mighty Oaks was recorded and released during the hiatus the band took between 1972’s Seventh Sojourn and 1978’s Octave. Interestingly, a look at the credits at AMG – assuming they’re complete – shows that no other member of the Moodies was involved in Thomas’ first solo album. (He also released Hopes, Wishes and Dreams in 1976.) Nevertheless, From Mighty Oaks sounds like a Moodies album, as one might expect. And it’s perhaps overdone, at times. But at the very worst, it’s pleasant, and at the time – when listeners and fans had no firm indication if the Moody Blues were going to record again – it was one of several solo projects that helped fill the gap.

Emily Bindiger is an American actress and singer. Her bio at Wikipedia is filled with impressive credits: She’s a member of the a capella group The Accidentals. She’s recorded for soundtracks for movies such as The Stepford Wives, One Life to Live, Bullets Over Broadway, Everyone Says I Love You, Donnie Brasco, The Hudsucker Proxy, Michael Collins and many, many more. And those are just a few highlights from her entry. But Wikipedia doesn’t mention one of the most interesting things about her; nor does her page at The Accidentals website: In 1971, when she was sixteen, Emily Bindiger recorded an album of what the blog Fantasy called “folk psych” with the French band Dynastie Crisis. “Born Again” is from that album, titled simply Emily, and is a pretty good example of what the record offered. The music can be a bit spare, but I like it. (Thanks for Fantasy for the rip.)

“Sunshine In My Heart Again” is a decent track from the second album by Ed Sanford and John Townsend and their band.  There is some confusion in various sources about the album’s title and the band’s name. Most sources call the album Smoke From A Distant Fire, while AMG appends the word The to the beginning. And while the band’s name on the album cover is clearly Sanford and Townsend, the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits calls the group the Sanford/Townsend Band. Of course, that latter might have been the credit on the hit single pulled from the album. The hit, as I’d imagine most of you know, was the title track, ”Smoke From A Distant Fire,” which went to No. 9 during the late summer of 1977.

“Back Here Again” comes from Lydia Pense & Cold Blood, the last album Cold Blood released during its run in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (The group has released two CDs in the past few years; the first is an album of live performances from 1973 and the second is an album of new material, 2005’s Transfusion.) Still funky, with Lydia Pense still singing well, Lydia Pense & Cold Blood – which was released in 1976 on ABC – evidently got little attention. And that was too bad. Cold Blood was one of those groups that, with a little bit of luck, could have reached the top tier. The same can be said for a lot of groups and performers, I know, but not many of them were as tight, as funky or as good as Cold Blood.

Missing The Midnight Special

January 20, 2015

Rummaging around on Facebook over the weekend, I came across a link to a piece at the Rolling Stone website offering seventeen reasons to adulate Stevie Nicks. Now, I don’t adulate Nicks, nor do I need reasons to do so, but I do admire her and like a lot of her music, both with and without Fleetwood Mac.

So I didn’t need to click through for those seventeen reasons, but the video that was embedded in the piece tempted me. And I found myself watching the Mac’s performance of “Rhiannon” on the June 11, 1976, episode of The Midnight Special.

(Note: That video was deleted; the video below is from an April presentation of The Midnight Special, and a copyright notice below says the performance is from January 1976. Who knows? Note added December 13, 2020.)

I loved pretty much everything about that clip and wished for maybe the thousandth time that I’d paid more attention to The Midnight Special. The late-night Friday show* ran from February 1973 into May 1981, and I’m not at all sure why I didn’t watch it even occasionally, much less regularly.

During most of the early years – up to the middle of the summer of ’76, not long after above Fleetwood Mac performance – I could easily have watched the show on the old black-and-white in my room (with the sound turned down some so as not to wake my folks in the adjacent bedroom). After that, at least in a couple of places, I might have had to persuade a couple of roommates (or for a few years, the Other Half) to watch with me. But I never even tried.

So I never got on board, and I wish I had. There are selected performances from the show’s nine seasons available commercially, but I’m not about to spring the cash that Time/Life is asking for discs of those assorted performances. Instead, I wander on occasion through the valley at YouTube, finding bits and pieces of things I missed half a lifetime (or more) ago, things like Linda Ronstadt (introduced by José Feliciano as a country performer) making her way through a December 1973 performance of “You’re No Good” and a May 1977 performance of “Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band.

It’s a seemingly bottomless trove of long-ago treasure, and I can easily get lost clicking from video to video (something that happens occasionally anyway, though with less of a focus). Well, there are worse things to get hooked on, I suppose. And for this morning, we’ll close with a performance by Redbone from February 1974, when they opened “Come And Get Your Love” with a Native American dance quite possibly pulled – though I’m not certain – from the Shoshone heritage of Pat and Lolly Vegas, the group’s founders.

*The show followed The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which meant that for most of its run, The Midnight Special actually started at midnight here in the Central Time Zone. When Carson trimmed his show to an hour in late 1980, The Midnight Special aired at 11:30 our time.

Summer Songs, Part Three

August 27, 2013

We left off our series of posts about summer-defining songs a couple of weeks ago with 1975’s “Wildfire” and “I’m Not Lisa.” (The first two posts are here and here.) After that year, I spent two more summers at St. Cloud State before heading off to the world of work.

I wrote earlier this summer about how it felt to move away from Kilian Boulevard during the summer of 1976, and I noted in that post that Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” was one of the defining sounds of that season. And it was, as its strains take me back to the creaky house on St. Cloud’s North Side where I spent the next nine months. But there are a few other songs – heard on radio and jukebox – that also pull me back to the summer of 1976.

Some of them are “Silly Love Songs” by Wings, “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band, “Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck, “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” by England Dan & John Ford Coley and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John & Kiki Dee. But the record that surprised me the most this morning with its visceral tug as I browsed the Billboard Hot 100 from July 10, 1976, was “This Masquerade” by George Benson.

Benson’s single doesn’t take to me any specific place or moment, but it feels like the summer of 1976: Moving away from home, taking graduate courses, taking an inventory of library equipment with my long-gone pal Murl, being delighted and confused by having a long-term relationship for the first time. It’s all there under the sound of Benson’s jazzy guitar and subdued vocal.

A year later, I was still spending my days on campus, now having changed my aim from graduate work to a minor in print journalism. My summer course load was all about writing: Writing stories for two editions in a newspaper workshop, writing a three-times a week newscast for a television workshop, writing a script by adapting a short story for a film workshop,* and writing and editing pieces for the arts section of the college paper, the University Chronicle.

By the time that season came around, I was living in a small mobile home that I rented from Murl. My social life was varied, as my girlfriend and I took a break from each other that year that began sometime around the beginning of May and ended in August, when we reunited. It was a busy summer, my last for some time as a student. So what songs take me back there?

Consulting once again the Billboard Hot 100 from mid-summer – this one from July 9, 1977 – I see some resonant titles: “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti (which I heard only at the theater and on the stereo in my home but not on the radio), “Easy” by the Commodores, another record by England Dan & John Ford Coley, “It’s Sad To Belong” and “Ariel” by Dean Friedman. (That last is an odd companion to the others, yes, but I heard it the other day on the Seventies channel offered by our cable company, and I was startled by how quickly it tugged me back to the summer of ’77. Maybe it was the “peasant blouse with nothing underneath.”)

The record that yanks me back hardest, however, to that summer of writing and dating and living by myself for the first time is one that’s been featured here in this space at least once and probably more than that: “Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band:

I was going to rummage around in the memory chest and see if any of the thirty-five summers since 1977 had such an elemental connection with records, radio and song. But for most of my life after 1977, I was working for a living (in more recent years, being a househusband) and spent little enough time listening to radio. And not even a summer in graduate school in 1984 provides memories linked vividly enough with music. So it’s best to end this exercise here after looking at the ten summers from 1968 through 1977. I’ll be back later this week, possibly with “Yellow,” the next segment of Floyd’s Prism.

*The story I adapted, “The Chaser” by John Collier, was first published in 1940 and continues to be one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. I’d found it in an anthology I’d rescued one summer from the discard pile at St. Cloud State’s library, and because of its elegant use of language, I’d always thought that with the right production it would make a hell of a short film. From what I see online, it was adapted for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone in 1960, which doesn’t surprise me. I do have two regrets about my adaptation and the rather good film that came out of it: First, miscommunication between me and the folks who did the credits resulted in Collier’s name being omitted from our film, and second, I have somehow managed to lose my copy of the film.

First Steps Into The Adult World

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 22, 2008

It was about late August in 1977 when I finally quit going to college and entered – however tentatively – the adult world. A recession the year before had made it tough for that year’s college grads – of which I was one – to find jobs, so I’d remained in school, doing some graduate work in 1976 and then, in 1977, adding a print journalism minor to my undergraduate degree in mass communications/television.

By the end of the summer, I had that minor finished, having taken a couple of courses in print reporting, editing and layout and a couple of writing workshops. I’d also spent six months as the arts editor for St. Cloud State’s University Chronicle, the student newspaper, corralling reporters to write about everything from theater productions to ceramics festivals; I wrote a lot of movie reviews and had a grand time with all of it.

I was renting a small mobile home from Murl, next to the one where he and his wife lived. I sat at my kitchen table many evenings that July and August, writing letters to newspapers that might need a reporter and listening to WJON, where my college classmate, Jim, usually took the evening shift. I chatted with him occasionally and frequently won the station’s trivia contests.

As the summer drew to a close, two things became clear. First, I’d likely have to find another place to live. Murl, faced with an unexpected vacancy in the spring, had rented me the mobile home at a discount rate for five months. Come September, the rate would revert to the norm, and that would be beyond my means unless I found a job at one of the small newspapers in the area. Second, the state of the economy combined with my lack of experience meant that the odds of finding a newspaper job – whether near St. Cloud or elsewhere – were slender at best. One day in August, my girlfriend of the time and I drove to a small town north of Eau Claire, Wisconsin – about 150 miles away – where I interviewed to be the editor of the local newspaper.

The publisher expressed reservations throughout the interview about my inexperience, while I tried to reassure him that I could handle whatever came my way. I was torn as we drove back to St. Cloud: I needed a job, but did I want to live in a town where four of the five businesses on the main street had displays in their windows of Green Bay Packers souvenirs? It was a question I didn’t have to ponder long. A few days later, the publisher called me and told me that he’d “found a real writer.”

(Even though I likely wasn’t prepared for that job at the time, his dismissal rankled. In the spring of 1983, while I was at the Monticello paper en route to graduate school, I saw in the Minneapolis paper that the same publisher was once again seeking an editor for his paper. I was tempted to send my resume, complete with the list of ten or so state and national reporting awards I’d won, and apply for the job. If it were offered, I thought darkly, I’d decline, telling him I’d decided to write for a real newspaper. I didn’t apply.)

Not quite despairing but concerned, I went one August day to the local offices of a federal program called the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), which acted – among other things – as a bridge between workers and jobs. Perhaps the center’s listings had some job for which I was qualified. My intake interviewer turned out to be a fellow who had bought a car from one of my roommates while I was living in the cold house on the north side. He recalled that my training was in communications, and forty-five minutes after walking into St. Cloud’s CETA office, I was the office’s public relations manager.

The job didn’t pay a lot, something a little better than minimum wage, if I recall correctly. But it was an income, and with the right living circumstances, I could make it work. As it was, my girlfriend also needed new quarters, and her mother owned a cabin on a lake about fifteen miles southeast of St. Cloud. It was rustic: no heat and limited hot water, but we were young, and it was still summertime. So she and I and the two cats we shared moved out to the lake at the end of August for a two-month stay.

Here’s some of the music I recall hearing late that summer and during our two-month sojourn at the lake:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1977, Vol. 3
“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle, United Artists 1016 (No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of August 20, 1977)

“Heaven on the 7th Floor” by Paul Nicholas, RSO 878 (No. 79)

“It’s Sad To Belong” by England Dan & John Ford Coley, Big Tree 16088 (No. 74)

“Ariel” by Dean Friedman, Lifesong 45022 (No. 63)

“Angel in Your Arms” by Hot, Big Tree 16085 (No. 61)

“Knowing Me, Knowing You” by Abba, Atlantic 3387 (No. 57)

“Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)” by Bill Conti, United Artists 940 (No. 54)

“Boogie Nights” by Heatwave, Epic 50370 (No. 51)

“Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson, A&M 1949 (No. 23)

“Give A Little Bit” by Supertramp, A&M 1938 (No. 17)

“Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band, Warner Bros. 8370 (No. 15)

“Whatcha Gonna Do” by Pablo Cruise, A&M 1920 (No. 6)

“Easy” by the Commodores, Motown 1418 (No. 5)

A few notes:

The Crystal Gayle song was inescapable as the summer faded and autumn moved in. It entered the Top 40 in late September and spent three weeks at No. 2 later that autumn. I swear we heard it every evening as we drove home from our jobs in St. Cloud to the cabin.

“Ariel” was Dean Friedman’s only Top 40 hit ever, and it has to be one of the more odd records to crack the charts in 1977. (I’d say “ever,” but there are lots of odd singles out there.) The strained voice, the ramble-on-until-he-has-to-take-a-breath lyrics, the geeky background singers: it’s one of those records your either like or hate. Enough people liked it that it went to No. 26. It’s still got some charm for me, and Friedman got the details right about post-hippie, pre-disco America, from the peasant blouse to the Legion Hall.

“Knowing Me, Knowing You” was Abba’s eighth Top 40 single, and I wondered if the act was getting stale. To me, the great Abba singles were “SOS” in 1975 and “Dancing Queen” from earlier in 1977. But “Knowing Me, Knowing You” grew on me as the season moved on. It was pretty good radio fare, and it stayed in the Top 40 for ten weeks, reaching No. 14.

During the spring and summer of 1977, I filled a lot of space in the university newspaper’s arts section praising the movie Rocky, especially its soundtrack, no doubt boring my readers along the way. I’m not sure these days how highly I would rate the movie (I may ponder that some day and write about it here), but I still think that Bill Conti’s soundtrack – especially “Gonna Fly Now” – was a gem, one of the great soundtracks of the decade and maybe all time. Conti’s version of “Gonna Fly Now” was No. 1 on the Billboard chart for one week in July 1977. Oddly enough, we didn’t hear it all that often in Minnesota; the local stations seemed to prefer Maynard Ferguson’s propulsive cover of “Gonna Fly Now,” which went only to No. 28 in Billboard.

The Brothers Johnson “Strawberry Letter 23” – a cover of Shuggie Otis’ 1971 single – was a piece of smooth-edged funk that sounded like nothing else coming out of a radio speaker that late summer and early autumn. The record peaked at No. 5 on the Top 40 but reached No. 1 for a week on the R&B chart. The guitar solo is by Lee Ritenour.

I’ve posted “Smoke From A Distant Fire” here before, but it’s good enough to repeat it. One of the great one-hit wonders, it popped up on the car radio the other day, and it held its place as one of the few records that I let play, sitting in the parked car until the record is over and only then going about my business. It peaked at No. 9 that fall.

As always, bitrates will vary.

(It’s entirely possible that some of these selections are album tracks instead of single edits. If so, my apologies.)

Coming Attraction
This is just another reminder to stop by here Sunday when caithiseach of The Great Vinyl Meltdown fills us in on his thirteen favorite singles. It’s a good list with some good listening.

Saturday Single No. 32

May 10, 2011

Originally posted September 22, 2007

Well, I spent some time dithering today about what I should do here. Oh, I knew I wanted to do my standard single, but I had no idea which one it should be.

I looked at the date, 9/22, and wondered what tunes I had in the library that might be nine minutes and twenty-two seconds long. I found one. “Edward the Mad Shirt Grinder” from Shady Grove, a 1969 album by Quicksilver Messenger Service clocks in at 9:22. Well, that’s not exactly what I was looking for, I thought, as Nicky Hopkins’ piano led the Quicksilver boys through their paces.

And then I thought of the last few posts I’d read by a blogging colleague, JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, as he’s been marking One Hit Wonder Day, which takes place next Tuesday, September 25. I was particularly taken with his listing of the greatest one-hit wonders year by year, the upshot of which was that the greatest (in terms of best chart performance, not quality) one-hit wonder during the years 1955-1986 was Zager & Evan’s “In The Years 2525.” I was gratified because as silly as the song is, it’s been one of my guilty pleasures since 1969.

Anyway, as I thought about the upcoming One Hit Wonder Day, I decided to let the RealPlayer roll on from the Quicksilver track and find me a one-hit wonder from the same stretch of years. (I really need to update my reference library to cover the 1990s.)

We started with nice music: Bobby Whitlock’s “Thorn Tree In A Garden” from Derek & the Dominos Layla. Some odd stuff: “Glory Glory,” a gospel outing by Robin McNamara, a track from his 1970 album Lay A Little Lovin’ On Me. “I Love How You Love Me,” a 1961 track (No. 5) from the Paris Sisters was a close one; they had one other Top 40 hit, “He Knows I Love Him Too Much,” which hit No. 34 in 1962.

Lightning Hopkins rolled by, as did Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. “Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad slid in, and I was surprised to see that the group had nine Top 40 hits. We rolled on. Lighthouse’s “One Fine Morning” (No. 24, 1971) popped up, and I recalled JB’s words of caution: the Canadian group also had a hit with “Sunny Days” (No. 34, 1972).

Dixie Chicks, Mason Proffit, Chris Thomas King, Steely Dan, and then Badfinger’s “Day After Day.” Another great single, but it was just one of four Top 40 hits for the British fellas. A few clicks later, there was the familiar sound of a twangy descending guitar, the brainchild of the recently deceased Lee Hazlewood, but then the vocal kicked in: a French chanteuse singing “Ces Bottes Sont Faites Pour Marcher,” a French version of Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 hit about what her boots were made for. We walk on.

Phoebe Snow! She had a one-hit wonder with her 1975 single “Poetry Man” (No. 5), but instead of the single, we get a fine cover of the McCartney tune, “Every Night,” from her 1978 album, Against The Grain. From there it was a trek through a fair amount of 1950s R&B and pre-World War II blues. The Shelton Brothers went through their 1947 version of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Matchbox Blues,” later covered by both Carl Perkins and the Beatles.

Carolyn Franklin, who never hit the Top 40, and then her sister, Aretha, who had thirty-seven Top 40 hits. The Band. Country Joe & The Fish. Joy Of Cooking. John Hammond. A 1968 one-album group called Gentle Soul. Some Bulgarian choral music. The Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir didn’t have any Top 40 hits, although I find the music – collected on the album Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices) and its follow-ups – fascinating.

The Boss. Delbert McClinton. Spencer Bohren. (Do yourself a favor and check out his music.) William Bell, who hit the Top 40 once with “Tryin’ To Love Two,” but this is his version of “Nothing Takes The Place Of You.” Slim Harpo. Manassas. An album track from the Mamas and the Papas. The Rolling Stones and “Heart of Stone.” I look at the RealPlayer and the seventeen tracks visible in the window. None of the seventeen is a one-hit wonder. I click to the next seventeen.

I see something that makes me pause. It’s the first one-hit wonder I’ve seen in the display since I started this: “Birthday” by the Underground Sunshine, which hit No. 26 in 1969. Is this like horseshoes? Is close good enough? And then the Stones’ song ends and the RealPlayer shifts to the next random track, away from temptation and on to Long John Baldry, who – even though I like his music a great deal – was a no-hit wonder. Ian & Sylvia wander past, as do Joe Cocker and Nick Drake. I find myself wishing that Zager & Evans would show up and end this. Or even Four Jacks & A Jill (“Master Jack,” No. 18 in 1968). Some John Barry soundtrack music wanders past, as does Big Bill Broonzy and some more Joy of Cooking followed by Ian Thomas. But it’s “Runner” from 1981 and not “Painted Ladies” (No. 34) from 1973.

Orleans’ “Dance With Me” (No. 6, 1975), another of my guilty pleasures, pops up. But the group had two other singles in the Top 40. More R&B followed by Sixpence None The Richer. The Bangles, sadly, had [several] hits after “Manic Monday.”* Sonny Boy Williamson II, Otha Turner, Bob Brozman, the Voices of East Harlem, Jimmie Spheeris and Brewer & Shipley follow.

And then came a flutter of drums introducing a truly great bluesy track that blew out of our radio speakers in the late summer and autumn of 1977, peaking at No. 9 (at least on the Cash Box chart) exactly thirty years ago this week. The Sanford/Townsend Band never had another Top 40 hit, and that’s why “Smoke From A Distant Fire” is this week’s Saturday single.

Sanford/Townsend Band – “Smoke From A Distant Fire” [1977]

*I originally wrote that the Bangles two hits after “Manic Monday.” They had, of course, many more than that – eight, to be precise. The error can be credited to not having updated my reference library and relying on a copy of the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits that was published in 1987. [Note added May 11, 2011.]

A Baker’s Dozen (Plus) From 1977

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 25, 2007

Today’s Baker’s Dozen actually numbers twenty songs. I decided to add some bonus material because I won’t be posting again for a little more than a week. The Texas Gal and I are heading south tomorrow to visit her family in the Dallas area and do some touring in San Antonio and around Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

So I thought I’d give you some extra tunes today. Don’t listen to them all at once! (I couldn’t help it: My dad used to give me similar warnings about my allowance, back when a quarter really could buy something.)

A note about how I compile the Baker’s Dozens: I generally sort the year’s songs by running time and set the RealPlayer on random. If I don’t have a selected starting song – I did not this week – them I start with the shortest song I have for that year (usually a television theme or something negligible) and then go from there. The only rules I have are not to post something I’ve posted since I began the blog in January, and only one song per artist.

But I screwed up midway through this batch. I have a lot of odd stuff in the collection – fight songs, commercials, television themes and other stuff – and at about No. 10, the RealPlayer landed on a 1977 recording of the national anthem of the Soviet Union. I found it recently at a site that offers hundreds of mp3s of songs from that nation’s 74-year existence. When the anthem popped up, I thought, “That’s just a little too odd for my audience,” and I hit the advance button, got a repeat performer, got another repeat and another repeat and got lost.

So I started over again, somewhere around the entry from Chicago, and when I got to the end of eighteen songs, I thought, well, I should put the Soviet anthem in anyway, so I made it a twenty-song selection, adding the Thelma Houston tune through a random jump.

And I got to thinking about the Soviet anthem. About forty years ago – which is not that many years ago, as these things go – acknowledging some affection for that particular piece of music could have left one open to criticism. Anything that had even a slight whiff of respect or affection for the USSR was suspicious. I recall a presentation to one of the local civic organizations – Elks, Moose, Lions, Eagles, Rotary, I don’t remember which one – sometime in 1969, I think, when the speaker pointed out that the Beatles, by opening their 1968 self-titled album (the “White Album”) with “Back In The USSR,” were proclaiming their intent to indoctrinate their listeners with their Communist views. While the kids in the audience snorted and rolled their eyes, our parents nodded and made mental notes to see what we were listening to.

(For the record, my parents were far more upset by “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” than they were by “Back In The USSR,” which was a Chuck Berry/Beach Boys pastiche/tribute, anyway!)

But I do acknowledge a fondness for the Soviet anthem, partly because it is a stirring piece of music, to my ears, and partly because hearing it reminds me of watching the Olympics during my younger years and seeing red-clad athlete after athlete standing atop the awards platform with a gold medal as the anthem echoed through the arena. (I especially recall the Soviet gymnasts and my admiration for the dark elegance of Ludmilla Tourischeva.)

Anyway, here’s today’s augmented Baker’s Dozen, from the year of 1977.

“Native New Yorker” by Odyssey, RCA single 11129

“Wings” by Rick Nelson from Intakes

“The Trumpet Vine” by Kate Wolf from Lines On The Paper

“Velvet Green” by Jethro Tull from Songs From The Wood

“Jammin’” by Bob Marley & the Wailers from Exodus

“Kitty Come Home” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Dancer With Bruised Knees

“Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancing)” by Johnny Rivers, Big Tree single 16094

“I Got The News” by Steely Dan from Aja

“Moolah Moo Mazuma (Sin City Wahh-oo)” by the Sanford-Townsend Band from Smoke From A Distant
Fire

“Morning Man” by Toni Brown & Terry Garthwaite from The Joy

“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters from Hard Again

“Mississippi Delta City Blues” by Chicago from Chicago XI

“Sunshine Day” by Osibisa from Welcome Home

“Hog Of The Forsaken” by Michael Hurley from Long Journey

“Running On Empty” by Jackson Browne from Running On Empty

“Fantasy” by Earth, Wind & Fire from All ‘N All

“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees from Saturday Night Fever soundtrack

“Something So Right” by Phoebe Snow from Never Letting Go

“Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston, Tamla single 54278

National Anthem of the Soviet Union by the Red Army Choir.*

A few notes:

“Wings” is pretty indicative of the country-rock direction Rick Nelson was taking during the 1970s. He didn’t have a lot of chart success, but he was still recording music well worth hearing, and did so until his untimely death in 1985.

Speaking of musicians and untimely deaths, Kate Wolf is not nearly as well known as most of the musicians here, and that’s a shame. “The Trumpet Vine” is from her second album, Lines On The Paper, and – like much of her work – is a quiet celebration of domestic harmony and simplicity. Her folk-influenced work – which ended with her death from leukemia in 1986 – is well worth seeking out.

“Moolah Moo Mazuma (Sin City Wahh-oo)” is, I think, the Sanford-Townsend Band’s attempt at cataloguing and criticizing the excesses of L.A. It’s not a bad recording, but the guys seem to have their tongues thrust pretty firmly in their cheeks, which doesn’t work. You either preach against the decadence or you celebrate it, I think. And the S-T Band doesn’t pull it off nearly as well as the Eagles did a few years earlier with “Life In The Fast Lane” or as well as David & David did in 1986 with “Welcome To The Boomtown.” Still, it’s a fun cut.

I’ve posted some work by Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite here before and talked about their work with Joy of Cooking. “Morning Man,” from what I think was their final piece of work together, has some of the ambience of their Joy of Cooking recordings.

Muddy Waters’ performance on this version of “I Can’t Be Satisfied” is a delight. Produced by Johnny Winter – who also plays guitar – the album Hard Again marked a late-in-life comeback for Waters, one of the five or six largest figures in Twentieth Century American music.

I did not know about Michael Hurley until a few years ago, when the producers of HBO’s Deadwood used “The Hog Of The Forsaken” in one of the show’s first-season episodes. It’s odd, all right, and I plan to explore Hurley’s music further.

I wondered, as I let the RealPlayer run, which – if any – of the hits from Saturday Night Fever would pop up. That it was “Stayin’ Alive” seems appropriate. Although many of the songs from the movie’s soundtrack are fun to hear, “Stayin’ Alive” has an iconic power that sums up the movie – and the era the movie celebrated and created – in a way that nothing else from the soundtrack could (with the possible exception, I guess, of the Trammps’’).

*After a few years of digging and listening, I’m almost certain that the performance of the Soviet National Anthem is by the Red Army Choir, so I’ve changed the listing and the tag  from  “unknown choir.” Note added June 12, 2011.

‘Shahdaroba’ Is The Word They Whisper Low . . .

September 17, 2010

Last television season, one of my favorite shows, Mad Men, ended its season finale – as it does all its episodes – with a popular song framing the last moments. As ad man Don Draper’s wife, Betty, flew to Nevada with her lover to get a divorce, Draper found himself checking into a hotel, and the mournful music – though it had a positive final lyric – underlined the melancholy and uncertainty of the moment. As I watched, I recognized the voice: It was unmistakably Roy Orbison. But the song?

I had no clue. The melody and accompaniment were clearly based on Middle Eastern themes, as was the lyric:

Where the Nile flows
And the moon glows

On the silent sand
Of an ancient land

When a dream dies
And the heart cries
“Shahdaroba”
Is the word they whisper low

Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
Means the future is much better than the past
Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
In the future you will find a love that lasts

So when tears flow
And you don’t know
What on earth to do
And your world is blue

When your dream dies

And your heart cries
Shahdaroba
Fate knows what’s best for you

Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
Face the future and forget about the past
Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
In the future you will find a love that lasts

Shahdaroba

As soon as the show was over, I wandered to the record stacks and pulled out The All-Time Greatest Hits Of Roy Orbison, and on Side Three I found a song titled “Shahdaroba” and put it on the turntable. That was the tune. And it was just as haunting without the visuals of the television show.

I’ve seen the title spelled numerous ways. The listing inside the jacket of the two-LP set I pulled from my shelves listed the song as “Shahadararoba,” which I knew wasn’t right. The listing at All-Music Guide for the album I have has the title as “Shahadaroba,” while the CD version of the two-LP album I have now – listed at Amazon – spells the title “Shadaroba.” And on-line listings for merchants selling the record include several spellings, with “Shahdaroba” being the most frequent (although frequency in those precincts is certainly no guarantee of accuracy). The generally accurate folks at the Both Sides Now discography site have it as “Shahdaroba,” as does the label on the LP I have, so I’m going with that.

Whatever the spelling, the haunting recording used to close last season’s Mad Men was from 1963 and was released as the B-side of Orbison’s No. 7 hit, “In Dreams.” And although I know I’d heard it before – no LP goes into my stacks without being played at least once – it evidently didn’t leave much of an impression when I got the album in February 1998. (I do remember being intrigued by “Leah” on the same album and immediately using it in several mixtapes for friends; I wish now I’d paid more attention to “Shahdaroba.”)

I’m not entirely certain when the practice began of closing television shows with an entire popular song in the soundtrack continuing over the credits. Sometime in the 1990s, when I watched very little television? Or earlier? I don’t know. I do know that I’ve listed in recent weeks two songs from the 1960s that were brought to my attention in that way: “Shahdaroba” today and Richie Havens’ “Follow,” which I wrote about two weeks ago.

The virtues of “Shahdaroba” – written by one Cindy Walker – are clear and include a great vocal from Orbison, an eerie melody with what I think is an oboe providing the sinuous counter-melody, and an enigmatic yet hopeful set of lyrics. There’s clearly room for it in the Ultimate Jukebox.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 34
“Shahdaroba” by Roy Orbison, Monument 806 [1963]
“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” by the 5th Dimension, Soul City 772 [1969]
“Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band from The Band [1969]
“Minnesota” by Northern Light, Glacier 4501 [1975]
“Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band, Warner Bros. 8370 [1977]
“Mandolin Rain” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range from The Way It Is [1986]

I’ve written before about the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” and its place as the first musical 45 I ever bought with my own cash. (Long-time readers will remember my discovery of Dickie Goodman’s “Batman and His Grandmother” in a box and my memory of that being my first 45 purchase of any kind.) Why does “Aquarius” belong here? First, having been pulled from the musical Hair, the two songs that were merged to form a medley reflect a good portion – some of the most positive portions – of the spirit of the late 1960s. Second, the 5th Dimension’s pop-soul sounded good then and still sounds good today, with production by Bones Howe and backing provided by a large cast of session stars that included Larry Knechtel and Hal Blaine. Third, and most importantly, I guess, I just like it.

I was out on an errand with my mother sometime in January 1970, and I had the radio tuned to KDWB, one of the Twin Cities’ Top 40 stations. I remember exactly where we were – I drive past the spot on St. Cloud’s North Side on occasion – when the strains of The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” came out of the radio. I’d been listening to Top 40 for a few months, and I’d heard the song before, but for some reason, this was the first time I’d really listened. I took in the drum and guitar riff introduction, Levon Helm’s countryish vocal with its sly “hee-hee” along the way, the ensemble choruses and Garth Hudson’s twangy fills that sounded like a jew’s harp (I had one of those at home and twanged it on occasion), and I wondered why I hadn’t paid the song any attention before. Every evening from then on, I listened for “Up On Cripple Creek” as I tuned into WJON, just down the street and across the tracks. Why I just didn’t go out to Musicland and buy the single or the album, I have no idea. I wouldn’t buy any LPs until May of that year, when I would get stuff by the Beatles and Chicago. By that time, I’d likely forgotten about The Band.  “Up On Cripple Creek” peaked at No. 25 in early January 1970, and by the middle of the month, the record had dropped out of the Top 40 and consequently faded from the airwaves and, evidently, my memory. That Christmas, in 1970, Rick brought The Band back into my life when he gave me The Band, the group’s second album. I loved most of it, and made a vow to look into the group’s other work. I did so eventually, and The Band is still my all-time favorite group. And “Up On Cripple Creek” is about as good a track as that talented group ever recorded.

Every state should have its own popular song. Sorting through songs whose titles refer to states – just off the top of my head – maybe the best would be “Georgia On My Mind.” In the spring of 1975, Minnesota got its own popular song when the group Northern Light released “Minnesota.” With its harp glissandos, Beach Boys-inspired harmonies, a great blues harp solo and its iconic opening of a loon calling across the water, “Minnesota” reeled me in right away. I don’t have access to any Twin Cities charts from that spring, but the record, as you might expect, got a lot of airplay here. It did get a little bit of national attention, peaking at No. 88 in the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-May and reaching No. 77 on the Cashbox chart a few weeks later. I was lucky enough to find a near-mint copy of the 45 at a garage sale here in St. Cloud a few years ago, so I can hear the tune whenever I want, but I feel even luckier when I’m in the car and I hear the call of the loon and the rest of the single on the oldies station.

(For more on “Minnesota” and Northern Light, check out the post my friend jb put up at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ in May.)

A true one-hit wonder, “Smoke From A Distant Fire” came from the first, self-titled album by the Sanford/Townsend Band. And nothing else on the group’s first album or on its two follow-up albums was ever quite as good as that single. Bursting from the speakers with a drum intro followed by a bluesy guitar solo, the record grabbed one’s attention from the start. Add the solid vocal and great guitar and saxophone solos, and you have a hit single. The record went to No. 9 in the late summer of 1977 and was a vital part of the soundtrack to my life as I was finally finished with school and tentatively began to find my place in the working world.

Sanford/Townsend Band – “Smoke From A Distant Fire [1977]

The gorgeous piano introduction to “Mandolin Rain” pulls me back to a place of refuge. During the winter of 1986-87, I made a number of poor life decisions, and for several months, the only place I felt I could relax was in my teaching office at St. Cloud State, a tiny space in the offices of the Performing Arts Center. I had a cassette player there, and I’d retreat there for lunch, eating the same thing every day for most of those months: egg salad on wheat bread and black coffee. A friend in the public relations office frequently loaned me music from his large tape collection, and one day he handed me The Way It Is, the first release from Bruce Hornsby & The Range. I liked most of it but loved “Mandolin Rain.” The record went to No. 4 early in 1987, but it was No. 1 on my list, and I listened to that side of the cassette two or three times a week that winter and early spring. Late in the spring of 1987, I emerged from my cocoon, thirty pounds lighter, a little bit wiser, and ready to live again. I’ve never been certain what the lyrics of the song are really about, but to me they sound like a tale of necessary and welcome transformation.

Bruce Hornsby & The Range – “Mandolin Rain” [1986]

 

(“Shahdaroba” © Combine Music Corporation)

(Chart error corrected since first posted,)