Posts Tagged ‘Sanford/Townsend Band’

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

“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.