Posts Tagged ‘Strawberry Alarm Clock’

Birth Of A Sports Fan

June 3, 2022

Originally posted November 11, 2009

I mentioned the other day my abiding love of sports. As strong as that affection is, it took a while to develop. While I’d enjoyed watching St. Cloud State football when I was quite young – nine or ten years old – I hadn’t had any great passion for sports at the time. We went as a family to St. Cloud State basketball games – the Huskies had a very good small college team for most of the 1960s – and went occasionally across town to see the local minor league baseball team, the St. Cloud Rox. (And given the history of granite quarrying in the St. Cloud area, that has to be one of the great team nicknames of all time!) I enjoyed all of it, but it wasn’t a focal point of my life.

I’ve never figured out why, but that changed in September 1967. One of the reflections of that change, of my new-found interest in sports and competition, was my request – granted rapidly – to subscribe to Sports Illustrated. The first edition I got showed Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals on the cover, as the Cardinals were facing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The writing was crisp and clear, the photos were remarkable, and the magazine covered a wide variety of sports, including some things that I’d never considered as sport: Dog shows, chess, yachting. I absorbed it all, and it fueled the metamorphosis in me from casual fan to informed fan.

Why write about that metamorphosis today? Because of a confluence of events and anniversaries.

A man named Earsell Mackbee died Monday in Vallejo, California, ten days after being transferred there on a medical plane from a hospital in Minneapolis. Vallejo was where Mackbee grew up, and gravely ill as he was, he wanted to die at home. He got his wish, through the help of friends and the help of his former colleagues in the National Football League.

Mackbee was a defensive back for the Minnesota Vikings for five years, from 1965 through 1969. As I was learning about pro football in the fall of 1967 – through Sports Illustrated and through the Minneapolis and St. Cloud evening papers – Mackbee’s name was one that I recognized. Most likely because it was a different name – I knew no kids named Earsell – and also, I would guess, because he played a position that occasionally put him in the spotlight, whether for a lapse that resulted in a big play for the opponent or for a good play that benefitted the Vikings. He wasn’t an anonymous lineman, and one heard his name relatively frequently while watching the Vikings on television.

So Mackbee’s name – he wore jersey No. 46, I think – was one that I knew on a chilly Sunday in November 1967 – forty-two years ago tomorrow – when my dad and I set out from St. Cloud to go see the Vikings play the Detroit Lions. The tickets were ridiculously cheap by today’s standard: Five dollars each. (It’s good to keep inflation in mind, though. An online calculator tells me that what cost five dollars in 1967 would now cost almost thirty-two dollars.) And Dad and I settled into our seats in the front row of the second deck.

The Vikings and the Lions tied that afternoon, 10-10. The Vikings’ only touchdown came when Earsell Mackbee picked up a fumble and returned it fifty-five yards. It was one of two touchdowns he scored during his NFL career.

That game against the Lions and Mackbee’s touchdown have crossed my mind occasionally over the past forty-two years, but the memories came back with a rush two weeks ago, when I saw in the Minneapolis newspaper the news story about Mackbee being flown to California to die. There was a twinge of sorrow, but even stronger – and I think Mackbee would have liked this – was a flash of memory, a vision of the purple-clad Earsell Mackbee carrying the ball into the end zone on a grey November day in 1967.

A Six-Pack from November 1967
“Incense and Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock
“Stag-O-Lee” by Wilson Pickett
“Tell Mama” by Etta James
“Lady Bird” by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood
“Like An Old Time Movie” by Scott McKenzie
“Desiree” by the Left Bank

“Incense & Peppermints,” as I’ve likely said here before, is one of those records that powerfully bring back a time and place: I’m in the gym at South Junior High in St. Cloud during the last few minutes of the lunch period, and the rest of the guys and I are watching the girls dance to the Strawberry Alarm Clock. I imagine I’ve posted the song before, too, but it’s such a good single, at least to these ears, that I can’t help myself. The record peaked at No. 1.

The Wilson Pickett record is one of multiple versions of a song that’s been sliding around America for more than a hundred years, titled as “Stagger Lee,” “Stag-O-Lee,” “Stacker Lee” and more. (The two earliest versions I have were recorded in 1927: “Billy Lyons & Stack O’Lee” by Furry Lewis and “Stackalee” by Frank Hutchinson.) Pickett’s version, which went to No. 22, is pretty good, but it’s difficult for any R&B performer to top the 1959 version by Lloyd Price. (There seems to be some confusion about the exact title of Pickett’s recording: the Billboard chart and All-Music Guide have the title as “Stagger Lee,” while Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits has it as “Stag-O-Lee.” I’ve gone with Whitburn.

Etta James’ “Tell Mama” came out of sessions that took place in Muscle Shoals in 1967 and 1968. Those sessions provided James with her last two Top 40 hits: “Tell Mama” went to No. 23, and the Otis Redding-penned “Security” went to No. 35 in the spring of 1968. “Tell Mama” is a hard-hitting piece of Southern soul, and the entire Tell Mama album is worth a listen or two. (The album was released a few years ago in a remastered version with ten additional tracks from the sessions.)

“Lady Bird” is one of those odd and evocative singles that Lee Hazelwood wrote and produced for Nancy Sinatra, sometimes – as in this case – singing on the record as well. Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear one of those Hazelwood-produced records, it’s like being for a few moments in a mildly alternate universe: Things are just a little off-kilter but they still seem to all somehow make sense. It’s an interesting place to be for a short time. The record went to No. 20.

When a singer’s previous record was “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair),” what the heck do you do for a follow-up? In the case of Scott McKenzie, you go back into the studio with John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and record another one of Phillips’ songs. “Like An Old Time Movie” was the result, and it’s not a bad single. It’s got a decent lyric although McKenzie oversings it at points. It got to No. 24, and, as McKenzie’s second hit, it’s the only thing keeping him from being a One-Hit Wonder, as he never got into the Top 40 again.

“Desiree” was another attempt by the Left Bank to replicate the success of the group’s 1966 hit, “Walk Away Renee.” It’s not bad, but the vocals sound thin at times, especially given the busy backing they have to contend with. The record was newly listed in the November 11, 1967, Billboard as one of the songs bubbling under the Hot 100. By the next week, it was gone.

(I think these are all the single versions and I’ve tagged them as such, but I’m frankly not sure: Some of these might be album tracks. Whichever they are, the single versions were all in the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending November 11, 1967.)

A Baker’s Dozen of Tomorrows

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 14, 2007

I remember reading a piece – likely in the newspaper – about a linguistics professor who had taken it upon himself to determine the most beautiful word in the English language. I don’t recall when I read that, nor do I remember which university was involved, but I do recall that the professor concluded that the most beautiful word in the language was “cellar door.”

First of all, that’s two words. (It could be that the professor was considering sets of words.) Second, although the two words together do have a nice sound, words are more than sounds. Maybe as a linguist, one can separate the sound of the word from the meaning of the word, but as a writer, I can’t. And “cellar door” isn’t going to make the cut.

So what are the most beautiful words in the language? After all, if I’m going to quibble about someone else’s judgment, I’d better have some idea of my own, right? Well, I don’t have a Top Ten list, but I do have a couple of words. I think “home” and “tomorrow” top the ranks of English words.

Home, as poet Robert Frost noted, is our last refuge: the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in. We all need such a place. In fact, I don’t think it’s at all far-fetched to say that, whatever else we do with our lives, our main business here is seeking and creating a better refuge, a better place, a better home. In terms of pure sound, it’s a rather plain word, but its meaning makes “home” the sound of belonging somewhere. When we don’t have that, we ache, and when we find it, we are healed. How much better can one word be?

“Tomorrow” comes close. For someone as attuned to the past and as intrigued by memoir and memory as I am, it’s odd in a way that I didn’t select “yesterday” as one of my top two words. But as much as any of us might ponder yesterday and its lessons, we know all about it. And “tomorrow” brings the promise that things can change, that we can use yesterday’s lessons to make things better as they come to us. (Writing that sentence made me realize that there are two other very nice words to consider: “promise” and “change.” Well, another day, I guess.) Thinking about tomorrow is an act of optimism, it seems, maybe even an act of courage, even if all one is doing is putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

I had planned to rip and post an album today, but the Texas Gal is taking a day off from work and we have holiday preparations to make, so I will invest my time there. In the meantime, I got a note from a reader who asked for a specific song with the word “tomorrow” in its title, and that got me thinking. I’ll get back to “home” and “hope” and “promise” down the road, but for now, we’ll start with the requested song and go randomly from there.

A Baker’s Dozen of Tomorrows

“Tomorrow Is A Long Time” by Glenn Yarbrough from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, 1967

“Tomorrow” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Uni single 55046, 1967

“Tomorrow and Me” by Mike Nesmith from And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’, 1972

“Till Tomorrow” by Don McLean from American Pie, 1971

“Tomorrow” by Fanny from the Fanny Hill sessions, 1972

“You’re My Tomorrow” by Richie Havens from Now, 1991

“All Our Tomorrows” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart, 1987

“Love Me Tomorrow” by Boz Scaggs from Silk Degrees, 1976

“Goin’ Home Tomorrow” by Dr. John from Goin’ Back to New Orleans, 1992

“Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles from Revolver, 1966

“Waiting For Tomorrow” by Bettye LaVette from the Child Of The Seventies sessions, 1973

“Beginning Tomorrow” by Joy of Cooking from Castles, 1972

“This Time Tomorrow” by Sisters Love, Manchild single 5001, 1968

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

The Glenn Yarbrough track is a Bob Dylan song, one that Dylan wrote in 1962 or so but left unreleased until his second greatest hits album came out in 1971. Yarbrough’s was the first version I heard, and I like it pretty well, but over the years, I’ve come to value the version Dylan released in 1971, which came from a 1963 concert in New York.

The Strawberry Alarm Clock track has its place in history. It reached No. 23 in early 1968 and thus kept the West Coast group from being a One-Hit Wonder. The group’s only other chart entry was, of course, “Incense & Peppermints,” which reached No 1 for one week in 1967.

Once his time in the Monkees ended, Michael Nesmith put together a string of generally very good and sometimes great country rock albums, starting in the late 1960s and continuing through much of the 1970s. His 1972 release, And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, is likely the best of those.

Not long ago, I shared Fanny’s version of the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog.” The track “Tomorrow” comes from the same sessions.

“Tomorrow Never Knows” was one of John Lennon’s first excursions into tape-loop and odd sound psychedelic experimentation, a track that startled first-time listeners to Revolver when it came on after the Motown-influenced horns of “Got To Get You Into My Life.”

As regular readers might know, Joy of Cooking is one of my favorite relatively obscure bands of the 1970s. “Maybe Tomorrow” is one of the best tracks from Castles, the Berkeley-based band’s third and final release.

I’ve written about Sisters Love before, when I posted their cover of “Blackbird.” “This Time Tomorrow” is a sweet piece of pop soul.