Posts Tagged ‘Steppenwolf’

A Baker’s Dozen from 1968

April 18, 2011

Originally posted March 21, 2007

While I was puttering around last evening, visiting blogs and boards and seeing what music some of my on-line friends had decided to share, I was pondering what type of Baker’s Dozen I would post today.

I’ve had it in my head for a while to post a collection of the 13 love songs/love laments that touch me the most deeply, with some of them, honestly, moving me to tears in almost any context. But that would be a remarkable concentration of firepower in one place, pretty much a case of overkill. And I do like doing something random with the Baker’s Dozen.

So I thought I would combine the two ideas, in a way. I’d take one of the songs from that list of love songs and use it as the starting point for a random Baker’s Dozen from the year of its release. Let’s start with some songs from 1968.

We’ll open the list with the Vogues and “Turn Around, Look At Me,” which reached No. 7 that summer. Now, about half of the songs on the list of love songs aren’t related in my mind with any one person; they’re just songs that moved me. The rest are indelibly linked with various girls and women who were important to me along the way. And “Turn Around, Look At Me” will always bring memories to mind of a certain long-ago young lady. I’m sure she never knew.

“Turn Around, Look at Me” by the Vogues, Reprise 686 .

“Goodnight Nelba Grebe, The Telephone Company Has Cut Us Off” by Mother Earth from Living With The

“Unlock My Door” by Fever Tree from Fever Tree.

“This Wheel’s On Fire” by The Band from Music From Big Pink.

“I’ve Lost My Baby” by Fleetwood Mac from Mr. Wonderful.

“Me And My Uncle” by Dino Valente from Dino Valente.

“Memphis Train” by Rufus Thomas, Stax single 250.

‘The Christian Life” by the Byrds from Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

“Brother Where Are You?” by Johnny Rivers from Realization.

“Over You” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Columbia single 44644.

“Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf, Dunhill single 4138.

“Jump Sturdy” by Dr. John from Gris-Gris.

“Flower Town” by Rose Garden from The Rose Garden.

Saturday Single No. 4

April 17, 2011

Originally posted March 3, 2007

In the absence of some deeper theme today, I thought I’d put forward a Saturday Single that relates somehow to our recent happenings: snow.

Turns out that songs about snow aren’t all that common, if one accepts that the 17,000 mp3s in my collection are a good cross-section of the musical universe. Rain, now, that’s a different story. A search through the collection brings up at least 200 songs with the word “rain” in their title, and perhaps another fifty or so more with the word “rain” in the album title I can’t be more specific because RealPlayer’s search engine brought up anything with the cluster of letters “rain,” including every song with “train” in its title and everything from George Harrison’s Brainwashed album. So I scrolled through the 442 results from “rain” and guessed.

Let’s say my guess is off by a hundred and that there are only 100 songs about rain in the collection. Well, that’s still a far cry from the fourteen songs I found with “snow” in their title or album title. (I had to eliminate, of course, the songs the search engine found performed by Phoebe Snow.) And that ratio of at least 100 songs to fourteen seems about right, I think. Rain is a far more evocative subject for a song, and far more universal. Snow isn’t nearly as romantic or as widely experienced.

And it turns out that one of the better songs about snow wasn’t about snow at all, or at least not the type of snow that falls from the sky. It’s Steppenwolf’s 1970 release, “Snowblind Friend,” a message song about the perils of cocaine. It was written by Hoyt Axton, an incredibly prolific composer – the earlier Steppenwolf anthem “The Pusher” and Three Dog Night’s hits “Joy to the World” and “Never Been To Spain” are just three of the hits credited to his pen – and occasional performer.

As preachy as he might have been, Axton was right. And although lead singer John Kay’s delivery remains a bit overblown – as it was to good effect on many of Steppenwolf’s recordings – the song remains a nice period piece. Released as a single on ABC-Dunhill, the song failed to make the Top 40, which might mean that Steppenwolf’s preaching was something its audience didn’t want to hear, or it might simply have meant that Steppenwolf’s time was ending.

I tend to think it was a combination of the two: The group had reached the Top 40 six times previously, starting with 1968’s “Born To Be Wild.” There would be one more Top 40 single, “Straight Shootin’ Woman,” a 1974 single I don’t think I’ve ever heard. Seven hit singles and seven albums is a pretty good run for a group in those days. And as All-Music Guide notes, an anthem about the toll of cocaine was not likely to boost the sales of Steppenwolf 7 in 1970, which was certainly a time when the costs of personal behaviors weren’t always taken seriously.

I would guess that the subject matter of “Snowblind Friend” simply made it easier for listeners to begin to ignore Steppenwolf. There would be one more album for ABC-Dunhill (1971’s For Ladies Only), but Steppenwolf’s moment was ending at about the time “Snowblind Friend” was released.

Of course, as I said earlier, Steppenwolf and writer Axton were right about the toll of cocaine (and, by extension, other recreational pharmaceuticals). And, of course, the snow flurries of 1970 turned into a blizzard of recreational use by the late 1970s, with the advent of disco and clubbing and the “lines on the mirror,” as Don Henley sang. Perhaps Steppenwolf’s problem wasn’t that the song was too preachy. Maybe it was just too early.

“Snowblind Friend”  by Steppenwolf [From Seven; single was Dunhill/ABC 4269, 1970]