Posts Tagged ‘Stevie Wonder’

I Wish I’d Chosen Differently

May 11, 2011

Originally posted September 26, 2007

I’m a story-teller, a writer, and my best gigs over the years – the ones that brought me the most satisfaction – are those that allowed me to focus on the writing, the story-telling that to me is the foundation of reporting.

It took me a long time to come to that realization, and along the way, I spent time teaching and time working as an editor and administrator. I also spent some time doing research in the banking and collections industries before health concerns pulled me from the workforce. I did most of those things well – I was not that good an administrator – but I never got from any of them the satisfaction I got from being a reporter, a story-teller.

When I was a kid, I used to go out to the golf course with my dad, walk around with him as he played nine holes. Every once in a while, his tee shot on the first hole would be a fair amount less than perfect, and if there was no one waiting behind us, he’d tee up another ball and take what he called a “mulligan.” I’m not sure where the term comes from – Wikipedia, as one might expect, offers several theories – but I do know that it’s not really consonant with the rules of golf. But every once in a while, Dad – and other golfers, too, of course – would give themselves a do-over, another chance.

If there were one decision in my life for which I wish I could take a mulligan, it would be one I made in early 1985. I’d finished my graduate school coursework and passed my comprehensive exams [at the University of Missouri], and I was a general assignment reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune, one of the better small daily newspapers in the country (being located in the same city as one of the best journalism schools in the country provided the newspaper with a steady stream of good talent). And even though my editors worked hard to persuade me to do otherwise, I left Columbia to go back to Minnesota, planning on working on my master’s thesis from there and hoping to get a teaching job at St. Cloud State.

From the advantage of hindsight, I’d make a different decision. I never did finish my thesis; when I completed work for my master’s degree during another sojourn in Columbia six years later, I did so by way of a reporting project. In the interim, for not quite two years, I taught one course a quarter at St. Cloud State but never came close to a permanent faculty position there.

And knowing now that I always got more satisfaction out of reporting than I did out of teaching or anything else, I realize that I should have stayed in Missouri. My professional life would have been a lot smoother had I done so. My personal life? Well, I believe – and have done so for years – that we find those things we are meant to find, no matter how crooked the path might be. So, had I stayed in Missouri, perhaps the Texas Gal and I would have found each other sooner and would now be living in Columbia, or Dallas, or somewhere in Mississippi, or maybe even in St. Cloud. Who knows? But we would have been together eventually, no matter where our separate paths and preparatory lessons took us in the time before we met.

I don’t brood on that misstep from 1985. It does cross my mind on occasion, and it came to mind today because that was the year that I chose for this week’s Baker’s Dozen:

A Baker’s Dozen From 1985
“Trust Yourself” by Bob Dylan from Empire Burlesque

“Cover Me” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, L.A. Coliseum, Sept. 30

“Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, A&M single 2703

“Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister, RCA single 14136

“She’s Into Something” by Albert Collins, Robert Cray & Johnny Copeland from Showdown!

“St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)” by John Parr from St. Elmo’s Fire soundtrack

“Rumbleseat” by John Mellencamp from Scarecrow

“Talking Like A Man” by Linda Thompson, Warner Bros. single 28996

“She’s Waiting” by Eric Clapton, Warner Bros. single 28986

“Don’t Come Around Here No More” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, MCA single 52496

“Caislean Oir” by Clannad from Macalla

“You’re A Friend Of Mine” by Clarence Clemons with Jackson Browne, Columbia single 05660

“Overjoyed” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla single 1832

A few notes on some of the songs:

The Springsteen track is one of those collected on Live/1975-85, the massive album that came out in 1986.

The Showdown! Album released on Alligator Records by Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland was one of the better blues albums released in the years just before the blues boom that started just a few years later. Cray handles the vocal on “She’s Into Something,” and the first solo is his, while Collins provides the second solo.

There seem to be more singles in this batch of thirteen songs than usually pop up. Some of them – the Simple Minds and Mr. Mister tracks, especially – seem more to me like period pieces than things that stand very well on their own twenty-some years later. The Clapton, Petty and Clemons/Browne tracks have aged a little bit better than that but maybe only a little. The Stevie Wonder track, even as familiar as it is, still sounds fresh.

This was one of those years when I wasn’t listening too closely and have had to learn about in retrospect, but my sense is that it wasn’t all that great a year for music.

Afternote:
One of the things I noted as I was writing about my search through the files for a one-hit wonder last weekend was that I need to update my reference library. I got most of my reference books during the period 1988-1990. Now, most of the music I write about was issued before then, so there are not a lot of times when the lack of current information trips me up.

Saturday was one of them, as I failed to qualify my comment about the Bangles’ chart success and thus shorted them of five Top 40 records. I’m sure a number of people noticed; my friend Sean took the time to drop a note, which I appreciated. If I don’t soon get updated editions of my references, at least I’ll be a bit more careful to qualify my statements.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1973

April 21, 2011

Originally posted May 23, 2007

Well, with today’s Baker’s Dozen, we plug a hole in the trail of years that’s been sitting there for a while. We’ve been back as far as 1967 and forward as far as 1979. (We’ll head further yet in either direction, and I imagine we’ll also begin repeating some years; there are plenty of tunes yet to hear.) The entire time, however, I was aware that I hadn’t touched on one of my favorite years: 1973.

Looking back, some years just stand out, poking their heads high above the others in the field of memory. For me, one of the tallest years in that field is 1973. It started during my second year of college, an academic year in which I began to find myself academically, to understand how to study and how to learn in college, skills that, quite honestly, I’d not needed to be able to succeed in high school. Along about the same time, I began to find friends, kindred spirits gathered around a long table at the student union. And I began to prepare myself for an academic year overseas, my junior year in Fredericia, Denmark, beginning that autumn.

My going to Denmark was almost an accident. A friend had seen an announcement in the college newspaper about an informational meeting concerning the planned year in Denmark. She had a commitment that evening and asked me to go and take notes. I went to the meeting and went to Denmark; she didn’t. I say “almost an accident” because there really are no accidents in our lives. We end up where we are supposed to end up, no matter how crooked the path may have been.

I’d never been away from home before, and I spent many nighttime hours that spring and summer sitting at the window of my room, looking out at the empty intersection below, wondering what I would find. And I was still wondering on the eve of my twentieth birthday as I walked away from Rick and my family and boarded a Finnair jet for Copenhagen with more than a hundred others from St. Cloud State.

So what did I find? Well, that’s a book in itself. In fact, one of the projects that captivates me these days is based on my journal of that academic year. I’m transcribing the daily entries and then writing anything else I recall about the day, and much more happened than I wrote down, both small events and large. (I have many of the letters that I wrote home to my family, and those, too, will become part of the project.) As clichéd as it sounds, I began to find myself, began to figure out how I fit into my skin and how I fit into the universe. And as I learned those things, I changed.

We’re all in the process of changing, in tiny increments from day to day. It’s not often any of us get a chance to assess in one moment the change that has accumulated over a longer period of time. So it turned out that one of the most fascinating moments of the entire eight-and-a-half months I was gone took place at the very end, in May 1974, the day I came home. Back in St. Cloud, looking forward to a home-cooked steak dinner (I don’t believe I’d had a beef steak during the entire time I was gone; horse, yes, I think, but no beef), I lugged my two suitcases upstairs, heading to my room.

I stopped in the doorway. There, on the door and the closet door, were my NFL pennants. The walls were decorated with Sports Illustrated covers featuring the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota North Stars and with sports logos of my own design, for teams that existed only in my imagination. And above the bulletin board, in a place of honor, was a large picture of Secretariat blowing the field away in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

I stared at the room, mine for seventeen years. And the thought that came to mind as I set the suitcases down in the doorway, looking at the things that had been so dear to me less than a year earlier, was “That kid didn’t come home.”

And here are some songs from the year that kid left:

“Prairie Lullaby” by Michael Nesmith from Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash

“All The Way From Memphis” by Mott the Hoople from Mott

“Your Turn To Cry” by Bettye LaVette from Child of the Seventies

“Six O’Clock” by Ringo Starr from Ringo

“Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney & Wings from Band on the Run

“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” by Stevie Wonder from Innervisions

“California On My Mind” by Tony Joe White from Home Made Ice Cream

“We Are People” by Oasis from Oasis

“The Wall Song” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby

“Better Find Jesus” by Mason Proffit from Rockfish Crossing

“Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road, Kama Sutra single 569

“Junkman” by Danny O’Keefe from Breezy Stories

“The Hard Way Every Time” by Jim Croce from I Got A Name

Some notes about some of the songs:

“Prairie Lullaby” was the closer to Mike Nesmith’s Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash, a stellar country-rock album that’s largely forgotten these days. Nesmith, of course, was one of the Monkees, no doubt the most talented of the four, and the country-rock tone of this 1973 record fits in nicely with most of the work he did after leaving the TV-inspired group.

“All The Way From Memphis” was the crunchy and soaring opener to Mott, Mott the Hoople’s follow-up to All The Young Dudes the year before. As All-Music Guide notes, glam never sounded as much like rock as it did on Mott.

The juxtaposition of two songs by ex-Beatles amused me. The albums they came from, arguably two of the three or four best post-breakup albums by any of the Beatles, were released in December. “Six O’Clock,” from Ringo’s best solo album, was written by McCartney, who plays piano and synthesizer on the song – and adds backing vocals with his wife, Linda – while long-time Beatle pal Klaus Voorman plays bass.

The Oasis of “We Are People” is a one-shot project by Detroit-area musicians Joel Siegel and Sherry Fox, who – along with Richard Hovey – went to San Francisco and managed to talk their ways into the studio where David Crosby was recording his first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name. Stunned and intrigued by the trio’s music, the amused Crosby helped the trio land a contract with Atlantic, but the resulting album never got released. Siegel and Fox recorded Oasis in 1973, but that went nowhere, if it even was released. I’m not certain, as one has to read between the lines in the various accounts of the trio’s experiences. (The trio’s entire output – the Atlantic album, Oasis and various other projects, were finally released in 1993 on Retrospective Dreams, a two-CD set that was, for some reason, limited to only a thousand copies.)

Danny O’Keefe is better known for his 1972 hit “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” but his Breezy Stories album benefited from assistance from such luminaries as Dr. John, Donny Hathaway, David Bromberg and Cissy Houston, to name the best-known. It was a pretty good piece of pop rock/singer-songwriter work, pretty representative of its time.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1974

April 18, 2011

Originally posted May 7, 2007

Well, we’re back from a long road trip, some 3,200 miles from Minnesota to Texas and back (with a side trip into the Ozarks along the way home).

The Texas Gal and I both love to travel, but it can get exhausting. For health reasons, I have to supply my own towels and bedding when I travel, so we have to carry more luggage than most folks would. And we’re both in our fifties and are slowing down just a little, so it takes a little longer to settle down for the nights and to pack up in the mornings than it used to. We got home exhausted on Saturday and spent most of Sunday doing laundry and putting things away.

But it was a good trip, and the Texas Gal is a good traveling partner. Our senses of humor are pretty congruent, so we find the same things funny. On the way to Texas, we took an ill-advised alternate route that likely added a hundred miles to our trek to Garland, the suburb outside Dallas where the Texas Gal’s family lives. That lengthened the second day of the trip, which was an annoyance, but it also brought us through Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

As we headed south on the town’s main drag, I glanced to the side and saw the marvelously named breakfast place: “Wonder Waffles.” We were laughing about that as I jotted it into our travel journal, and we passed the “Bel-Air Motel,” which looked like it hadn’t been upgraded since, oh, 1972. We wondered who would go to meet whom at the Bel-Air?

And then a car zipped by on our right with the vanity plate KIMMISU. We puzzled over it for a moment. Kimm is u? We shook our heads. Then the Texas Gal said “Kimmi Su! It’s her name!”

We never got a look at her. She stayed a car length or two ahead of us for a mile or so, and then turned off into a Wal-Mart parking lot. But we created Kimmi Su’s story as we followed.

We could see her in our minds: short, lithe and blonde, heading across town after a long syrupy shift at Wonder Waffles. Maybe there’s a husband, maybe there’s a boyfriend, but neither of them is the fellow she’s planning to meet at the Bel-Air Motel. His name is Billy Joe or Jimmy Bob or something that sounds just right for Okmulgee, Oklahoma. He has plans to leave town, and she needs to persuade him to take her with. And as she turns off the highway, Kimmi Su sighs and shakes her head, wishing for about the hundredth time that Okmulgee had a Victoria’s Secret instead of a Wal-Mart to make easier her task of persuading Billy Joe/Jimmy Bob to take her with him when he goes.

I swear there’s a country song in there.

There’s no country song in today’s Baker’s Dozen, but the first song could easily be one that Kimmi Su and Billy Joe/Jimmy Bob sing to each other during their good times. It’s also the one that Kimmi Su would no doubt hum quietly on rare occasions after Billy Joe/Jimmy Bob is gone, with a distant look and just the hint of a tear and a smile at the same time.

“A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knockin’ Every Day)” by Nilsson & Cher, Warner-Spector single 0402

“Midnight At The Oasis” by Maria Muldaur from Maria Muldaur

“Light Shine” by Jesse Colin Young from Light Shine

“Boogie On, Reggae Woman” by Stevie Wonder from Fulfillingness’ First Finale

“(It’s All Da-Da-Down To) Goodnight Vienna” by Ringo Starr from Goodnight Vienna

“I’ve Been Searching” by O. V. Wright, Back Beat single 631

“Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)” by Tower of Power from Back to Oakland

“East St. Louis Toodle-oo” by Steely Dan from Pretzel Logic

“Please Be With Me” by Eric Clapton from 461 Ocean Boulevard

“Bad Loser” by Fleetwood Mac from Heroes Are Hard To Find

“Song For All Seasons” by Just Others from Amalgam

“What Comes Around (Goes Around)” by Dr. John from Desitively Bonnaroo

“Rock & Roll Heaven” by the Righteous Brothers, Haven single 7002

A few notes about today’s Baker’s Dozen:

The first song was a happy surprise to me when I came across it a month or so ago. Despite his perpetual weirdness, Spector’s genius produced classic record after classic record. But I was unaware of this collaboration between Nilsson and Cher, never having seen it on a compilation. The Back to Mono box set has Ike and Tina Turner performing the same song. But Nilsson and Cher do the song justice, too.

“Light Shine” from Jesse Colin Young is a delicious piece of California sugar. Young, the founder of the Youngbloods, seemed to view life in the mid- to late-1970s from a groovy hilltop just outside San Francisco (or maybe from a hot tub in Marin County), and his albums became a little repetitious. But taken piece by piece, his salutes to post-hippie bliss are quite enjoyable, and this may be the best of them.

The source of O.V. Wright’s “I’ve Been Searching” is clear from the first note: the studios of Hi Records in Memphis. With the same sweaty groove and popping horns as the best work of Al Green, the listener hears Willie Mitchell’s fingerprints all over this song. And if Wright never became as famous as his label-mate, well, that won’t keep us from hearing the pain in Wright’s tale and feeling the groove as he and the choir mourn his isolation.

“Please Be With Me,” off Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard is a sweet tune, nicely done with a backing vocal by Yvonne Elliman. It’s more notable, I think, for its source: A group called Cowboy recorded the song – its composer, Scott Boyer, was a member of Cowboy – in August 1971 at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios with Duane Allman playing dobro.

Just Others’ album, Amalgam, was a delightful piece of British folk that had a very limited release in 1974. From what I’ve read, it’s possible that only one copy of the original 250 has ever turned up, but one was enough to be a source for a limited CD release.  It’s a fascinating story and a lovely piece of work.

As always, bit rates will vary. Enjoy!

(I’ve inverted my normal week’s postings by putting the Baker’s Dozen at the start of the week. Being just back from vacation, I didn’t have an album ripped for today and have too many post-vacation tasks on my agenda today. I hope to have a newly ripped album for Wednesday.)