Posts Tagged ‘Shelagh McDonald’

My Faves From ’71

October 15, 2021

I saw a squib the other day on Facebook for a book titled Never a Dull Moment: 1971, The Year That Rock Exploded by writer and broadcaster David Hepworth, a book I plan to read as soon as the local library sends it my way. The squib was followed by a challenge to list the twenty best albums from that admittedly very rich year, now fifty years in the past.

Well, I love lists, as anyone who comes past here knows. I usually do lists of single tracks, although I recall listing my thirteen favorite albums in a very early post here (the post is here, but I’ll warn you, it wanders around for a while before getting to the list). I revised that list a little later, and I imagine if I took on the topic again, my list would look at least a little different than it did fourteen years ago.

So, I’ve put together – in no particular order – a  list of my twenty favorite albums from 1971, which was, in fact, a great year for music. The greatest? Impossible to say, except to note that it lies right in the middle of my sweet spot. The years of high school and early college – 1968 through 1974 – were the best years for music for me.

I should note that one album that I wrestled with was The Concert For Bangla Desh, but I decided that all-star live albums have an unfair advantage. I’ll just note that Leon Russell’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley at that concert might be the single best thing released in 1971.

Here are my twenty:

Tapestry by Carole King
Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
It Ain’t Easy by Long John Baldry
Naturally by J.J. Cale
The North Star Grassman and the Ravens by Sandy Denny
Madman Across The Water by Elton John
Pearl by Janis Joplin
Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney
Mudlark by Leo Kottke
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by the Moody Blues
Stargazer by Shelagh McDonald
Leon Russell & The Shelter People
Stoney End by Barbra Streisand
Teaser & The Firecat by Cat Stevens
Every Picture Tells A Story by Rod Stewart
The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys by Traffic
Just An Old Fashioned Love Song by Paul Williams
2 Years On by the Bee Gees
Chase (Self-Titled)
Closer To The Ground by Joy Of Cooking

This was not a deeply researched list. I simply sorted the mp3s in the RealPlayer for 1971 and then sifted through the 300 or so albums that showed up, so I imagine I might have missed one or two that I’ll think about later.

And again, without thinking too hard about it, I’ll choose a track to share here today. It’s the title track to Shelagh McDonald’s Stargazer. Her story, as I’ve said here before, is quite strange; here’s a link to her tale at Wikipedia. And here’s “Stargazer.”

Saturday Single No. 305

August 25, 2012

As August enters its final week, we see very clear signs of the coming change of seasons: The lawn is spotted with the first fallen brown oak leaves, and the lower leaves on about half of the oaks are turning color as they prepare to join them. Not all that long from now, the rest of the oaks and the basswood will follow, and most of the lawn will be deep in brown and yellow reminders that time never stops.

The two gardens are about played out, with only the pole beans and carrots remaining in the farther plot and the tomatoes still producing in the nearer one. That’s okay, though, because when it comes to picking, preparing, canning and eating fresh vegetables, the Texas Gal and I are about played out as well. We have added about forty jars of various pickles, about forty jars of green beans, five pounds of potatoes, eight to nine pints of pasta sauce and maybe four pints of various types of relish to our shelves in the fruit cellar and the freezer. Next weekend, we’ll likely take the last of the tomatoes and make some chili base.

(We also did put up a few pints of corn, but that corn came from the supermarket. Our first attempt at growing corn whimpered to a stunted halt, overwhelmed by heat, the lack of nitrogen and weeds.)

Other signs of autumn’s eventual arrival settle more and more each day into the frame of life here on the East Side: The slight morning mist in the low spots along the railroad tracks and the crowds of geese taking a break from their flights in a nearby yard are most easily noticed, but the most potent might be the shift in the breeze. On several days, as the temperature struggled to reach seventy degrees, the wind came across the yard from the northwest, cool, bracing and dry. Gone, for those days, at least, was the damp southwest wind that brings summer thunder.

One of the odd things about this year’s autumn prologue is the lack of acorns. By this time of August during our first three years here, acorns were plenty; one of the signal sounds of our annual picnic during its first two years was the crunching of acorns under the wheels of cars as our friends drove up Thirteenth Avenue. There are few if any acorns in the street this year; whether they will yet fall or whether they were hampered by the stop-and-start spring and a few overheated weeks of the summer, I do not know.

I do know that, acorns or not, our friends will drive up Thirteenth Avenue tomorrow for our annual get-together. I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather forecast all week; early on, WeatherBug offered a forty percent chance of rain for tomorrow, and I worried how we’d cope should we need shelter from a summer storm. But this morning’s forecast for tomorrow promises clear skies, west winds and a temperature near eighty degrees, a warm and sunny day for us to say farewell to this summer.

 So here’s a fitting and lovely piece of British folk music. Taken from Shelagh McDonald’s August 1971 sessions for a third album that was never completed, it’s “Sweet Sunlight,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Edited slightly after first posting.

Saturday Single No. 285

April 7, 2012

With chores and errands waiting for the second half of the day, it’s time for a six-track random walk through the junkyard this morning, and then we’ll select one of those six for this morning’s feature.

First up is “Ledbetter Heights,” the title track to Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s 1995 debut album, recorded while the blues guitarist was still in his teens. Thom Owens of All-Music Guide said, “It may still be a while before he says something original, but he plays with style, energy, and dedication, which is more than enough for a debut album.” I admit I’ve not kept up with Shepherd’s career as closely as I once thought I would. I’ll have to rectify that.

From there, we stop at “C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)” from Richard Ashcroft’s 2000 album Alone With Everybody. That was the first solo effort from the one-time frontman for the Verve, and it’s an album I find myself digging into more and more frequently. I never paid too much attention to the Verve at the time, but as I find Ashcroft’s solo work to be thoughtful and engaging, I’m tempted to go back to his group’s catalog.

I’ve written once before about Shelagh McDonald, whose tale is one of the strangest in pop-rock history and whose catalog – collected on the anthology Let No Man Steal Your Thyme – is beautiful and heart-breaking. Our third stop this morning is McDonald’s demo of her tune “Stargazer,” recorded in London in December 1970. The tune was recorded the next year with a full band and became the title track of McDonald’s second (and last) album. As nice as the album version is, there’s an amazing intimacy to the demo.

“Eclectic musical polymath” is a hell of a title to lay on anyone, yet it truly fits Ry Cooder. From the blues of the legendary Rising Sons through roots music to soundtracks (with some stops in between), Cooder’s  journey touches on just about every facet of American popular music (and a few other cultures as well). The track that popped up this morning was “Goodnight Irene,” the Leadbelly classic, which Cooder derivers with a touch of what sounds like Zydeco accordion. The track is the closer to Cooder’s 1976 classic, Chicken Skin Music.

No random journey here would be complete without at least one piece from a movie soundtrack. This time it’s “Creole Love Call,” a piece popularized by Duke Ellington but evidently written – according to Wikipedia – by Joe “King” Oliver. The track – with a haunting wordless vocal augmented first by a solo muted trumpet and later by full-throated trumpets and mellow woodwinds – is from the soundtrack to The Cotton Club, the 1984 film by Francis Ford Coppola. (The late John Barry is credited with the soundtrack work on the film, and he did compose several tracks. Did he also arrange “Creole Love Call” and other classic works for the film? I don’t know.)

Our final stop this morning is the late Sandy Denny’s “Bushes and Briars” from her 1972 self-titled album. Recorded with help from – among others – Richard and Linda Thompson, Allen Toussaint and Sneaky Pete Kleinow, the album is a delightful trip through folk-rock with a decidedly British tinge, and “Bushes and Briars” is one of its highlights.

Those are six fine candidates, but as soon as the Shelagh McDonald track popped up, I was leaning that direction, and nothing happened to change my mind. So, here’s McDonald’s December 1970 solo demo of “Stargazer,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

From The Kiddie Corner Kid

November 9, 2011

Originally posted January 6, 2009

It’s a compound word and can be either an adjective or an adverb. But the actual set of words itself comes in several variations: A quick search this morning at brought me a number of those variations:


I suppose there are some variations I’ve missed, but they all mean the same, referring to two things placed diagonally. In our neighborhood on Kilian Boulevard thirty-five or more years ago, it was Rick and I who lived kitty-corner to each other. I’ve written frequently of our escapades and our explorations of music, and he’s stopped by on occasion to comment. When he does so, he calls himself the “kiddie corner kid.”

He stopped by and left a note on my New Year’s Eve post, which included my New Year’s Eve lyric, “Twelve O’Clock High.”

The kiddie corner kid wrote:

“I always thought 12 o’clock high was a Gregory Peck WWII airforce movie. Or was it Gregory Peck in that western where the train comes in at 12 o’clock high? I can’t remember, BUT Gregory seems to be intertwined in all.

“Also I have a friend that could put your words to music, he uses this old pump organ in his basement and has a great way with putting musical notes with musical words. (I just can’t make up my mind.)”

I laughed until my eyes watered, but I imagine others read the note and went “Wha?” So a brief explanation might be in order, even though explanations can water down punch lines.

As to the first paragraph, although I’ve used it sparingly in the blog – maybe twice in two years – my first name is in fact Gregory. And yeah, Twelve O’Clock High was a 1949 Air Force film starring Gregory Peck. It also was a television series that ran for three seasons on the American network ABC in the 1960s. And the western Rick referred to was in fact High Noon, but that starred Gary Cooper, not Gregory Peck. I think Rick knew that.

The first paragraph made me smile. The second dissolved me in laughter. The basement in question was at my house, and there was an old pump organ – one my father had bought from his sister – in the corner. The pedals were a little stiff and the bellows a bit wheezy, but they worked. The labels on the stop knobs were printed in a confusing font that I’d call Olde English if the words had been English. The words were Swedish, I think, although they could have been Latin. Either way, they were unintelligible for kids of fifteen. But it didn’t matter; we’d pull out a few of the stops and noodle around on the organ. And one day, we wrote a song: “Can’t Make Up My Mind.”

The music is a pretty standard three-chord romp with a few dips and stops. The lyric, well, we were fifteen, maybe sixteen. “Can’t Make Up My Mind” is the first lyric I’d ever committed to paper. It’s pretty bad.

“Hey, it wasn’t that bad,” Rick told me last night. “It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful.”

Well, we can disagree on that. I told him we did better on our next effort, a little Lightfootesque ditty called “Sunday Afternoon.”

“Yeah,” he said. “That was all right.”

But with either of those songs – and the few other bits and pieces of songs we put together in those years – the product matters little. It was the process, the time spent together in common effort, that was the seed of the memories that we both cherish. “It’s funny,” he said, “the things that stick with you. I must have gone upstairs at your place for something, because I remember being on the landing, coming down the basement stairs, and hearing you in the basement, working on the song on that old organ.”

It was a good time, even if it wasn’t good music . . . yet.

A Six-Pack of Good Times
“Let The Good Times Roll” by Ray Charles, Atlantic 2047, 1960

“Old Times, Good Times” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills, 1970

“Good Times” by Shelagh McDonald from Stargazer, 1971

“For The Good Times” by Al Green from I’m Still In Love With You, 1972

“A Good Time Man Like Me Ain’t Got No Business (Singin’ The Blues)” by Jim Croce from Life & Times, 1973

“Good Times” by Chic from Risqué, 1979

A few notes:

Based solely on the catalog, “Let The Good Times Roll” was one of Ray Charles’ last singles for Atlantic before he moved to ABC-Paramount. The record didn’t make the Top 40, and it might not be in the top ten percent of Charles’ records, but a performance from Charles that’s less than stellar is, of course, better than a hell of a lot of music.

I’ve posted the Stephen Stills track at least once before, but it’s so good and happens to fit so well into today’s theme. The hit from Stephen Stills was, of course, “Love The One You’re With,” which went to No. 14 as 1970 slid into 1971. I’ve long thought that Stills should have released “Old Times Good Times,” which has Jimi Hendrix playing lead guitar, as a single. Hendrix had died only months before the album and its first single were released, and the single would have been a fitting memorial. But maybe it was too soon.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never before posted anything from Shelagh McDonald, whose story is one of the most fascinating in rock history. The owner of an achingly lovely voice, McDonald, a Scottish folk singer, songwriter and guitarist, had released two albums and was on the edge of stardom in Britain when she simply disappeared in 1971. When her music was released on CD in 2005, piquing interest in her tale, she showed up one day in the offices of the Scottish Daily Mail and told her story. That story and her music – collected on Sanctuary Music’s 2005 complilation, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme – are both well worth checking out.*

Al Green and Willie Mitchell in the 1970s: One sound, millions of hearts moved.

Chic’s “Good Times” was one of two things: It could have been a call to party now and forever because the world is going to hell and we’re all gonna die. Or it might have been irony, because the times – when it came out – were lots less than good. I don’t know. I likely could dig through some research and make a judgment, but that would be work. So what the hell, let’s dance as the lights fade!

*As it turns out, I had previously posted a track from Shelagh McDonald, but no more than that. I had not previously written about her fascinating story. Note added November 9, 2011.

A Random Twenty-Five

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 15, 2007

Just for fun, and for those who might be interested in what ninety minutes of my listening might be like, I thought I’d post a list of twenty-five songs that come up with the RealPlayer set on random:

“Maggie” by Redbone from Potlatch, 1970

“Turn It Over” by the Youngbloods from Elephant Mountain, 1969

“Hamm’s Beer Jingle” from television commercial, ca. 1953

“A Candle In The Window” by Linda Eder from Civil War: The Complete Work, 1999

“Kansas” by Melanie from Gather Me, 1971

“Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You” by the Bee Gees from Bee Gees’ First, 1967

“Hootchie Kootchie Woman” by Tim Hardin, previously unreleased from 1964

“Full Force Gale” by Van Morrison from Into The Music, 1979

“Manic Monday” by the Bangles from Different Light, 1986

“Water Colors” by Janis Ian from Between The Lines, 1975

“Turn Around” by the Everly Brothers from Roots, 1968

“Ophelia” by the Animal Liberation Orchestra from Endless Highway: The Music Of The Band, 2007

“You Know You Can’t Lose” by Shelagh McDonald from The Shelagh McDonald Album, 1970

“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1032, 1962

“Little Maggie” by Bob Dylan from Good As I Been To You, 1992

“Into The Fire” by Bruce Springsteen from The Rising, 2002

“Rock Me” by Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim, Chess recording session, 1961

“Texarkana” by R.E.M. from Out of Time, 1991

“Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I’m Gone?” by Muddy Waters from The London Muddy Waters Sessions, 1971

“From The Morning” by Nick Drake from Pink Moon, 1972

“In the Land of Make Believe” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty In Memphis, 1969

“You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell from Coming Back For More, 1977

“You Must Be Laughing Somewhere” by Jimmie Spheeris from You Must Be Laughing Somewhere, 1984

“Pink Elephant” by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies from Rapid City Muscle Car, 1994

“Bierdna” by Hedningarna (Swedish neo-folk group) from Hippjokk, 1997

Well, it’s a little surprising that there’s no music from before 1960. A fair number of the 17,558 mp3s on the RealPlayer come from the 1950s or earlier. It’s also a little light on R&B. I’m not sure what this proves, if anything. But I was interested to see how it came out, and I hope you out there might be, too.

Look for another piece of resurrected vinyl tomorrow!