Posts Tagged ‘Temptations’

Idle Hands & A Green Mini-bat

May 17, 2022

Originally posted August 28, 2009

As I’ve noted before, we have numerous oak trees on our lot. Which means, come this time of the summer, we have acorns. Lots of acorns. Almost every time the Texas Gal and I are outside for more than a moment – tending the garden, lugging in groceries or even sitting in the lawn chairs – we’re likely these days to be clonked on the head by a falling acorn. The lawn is covered with the nuts. If we’d intended to raise acorns, we’d have a bumper crop.

We had four oak trees in the backyard at Kilian Boulevard when I was a kid, and acorns were frequently thick on the lawn there. They’d start falling in mid-August, and we’d wait until late September before we spent a Saturday raking and bagging them. So they were thick on the ground during one August that I recall.

Sometime earlier that month – I think it was 1970, when I was sixteen – Dad had seen a green stick at the base of the driveway one evening. After parking, he investigated and found one of those foot-long baseball bats given away as souvenirs: A miniature Louisville Slugger. For some reason, it was green.

He figured a kid lost it somehow, perhaps having it fall out of a bicycle basket.  But which kid? No way to know. So he dropped it on the small table in our back porch and thought no more of it.

During one of the next few early evenings, I found myself with an empty hour or two. I sat on the lawn near one of the oaks, watching whatever traffic there was on Eighth Street or Kilian. Bored, I picked up a stick that had fallen from one of the oaks and swung it like a bat. Then I picked up an acorn, tossed it into the air and flailed at it with the stick. The acorn flew into the street. I thought for a moment, then went inside and grabbed the green Louisville Slugger. Back at my place on the lawn, I began flipping acorns in the air and whacking them with the bat.

As with anything, practice improved my performance: I fouled off a few, hit some grounders and easy pop-ups, and then began reaching the street regularly. Then, using an uppercut, I began to launch acorns across the street and into the yard of August and Rose, an older couple. (It was Rose who had started me collecting coins a few years earlier.) I sat there for an hour or so, happily whacking acorns, and did the same during a couple of other slow evenings during the rest of that summer. It filled some time, and it also got some acorns off the lawn, meaning there would be – by a small degree, to be sure – fewer acorns to rake when the time for that chore arrived.

September came, and school started. We spent a couple of Saturdays raking and bagging acorns and leaves. Sometime during that winter, the green minibat was tossed into a box in the closet and forgotten.

One afternoon during the following spring, August was out watering his garden when Dad drove up and parked. Dad walked across the street and spent a few minutes chatting with August, as neighbors do. Sometime during dinner, Dad mentioned August and his garden and lawn. It was all good, Dad said, “but he said, ‘You know, I don’t have any oak trees in my yard, and I can’t figure out how come I have so many oak seedlings over by the street.’” Looking at me, my dad added, “I just told him that seeds can travel in a lot of different ways.”

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, Aug. 29, 1970)
“Hand Me Down World” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0367 [No. 19]
“Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” by the Temptations, Gordy 7099 [No. 30]
“The Sly, Slick, and the Wicked” by the Lost Generation, Brunswick 55436 [No. 37]
“Long Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt, Capitol 4826 (The mp3 is from the CD rerelease of Silk Purse.) [No. 61]
“Funk #49” by the James Gang, ABC11272 [No. 79]
“As the Years Go By” by Mashmakan, Epic10634 [No. 97]

“Hand Me Down World” was the Guess Who’s first chart hit after Randy Bachman left the group, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, and to my ears, Bachman’s departure marked the end of the classic Guess Who era. From April of 1969 through April 1970, the group had five records in the Top 40, with four of those reaching the Top Ten and one spending three weeks at No. 1. Those five were “These Eyes,” “Laughing,” “Undun,” “No Time” and “American Woman/No Sugar Tonight.” (“American Woman” is listed as having reached No. 1, while “No Sugar Tonight” is not given an individual rank. It is, however, listed as having been in the Top 40 for thirteen weeks. Confusing.) Then Bachman left and – although the band had seven more Top 40 hits, with “Share the Land” and “Clap for the Wolfman” reaching the Top Ten – the stew just wasn’t as tasty. Still, “Hand Me Down World” is a pretty good single if not up to the quality of the string that came during that one year. It peaked at No. 17, but given the richness of the band’s catalog, it seems to be a bit forgotten by the programmers of the oldies stations.

About “Ball of Confusion,” All-Music Guide says: “Another excellent track in a brilliant run of Norman Whitfield-produced and -written, Sly Stone-inspired Temptations records from the late ’60s/early ’70s, ‘Ball of Confusion’ was one of the only Motown ‘protest’ records. The beguiling lyrics illustrate a tense America at the dawn of the 1970s, and include attacks on the Vietnam War, a corrupt government, drug addiction, and spirituality. It hit the nail on the head, much like P.F. Sloan’s excellent ‘Eve of Destruction’ in 1965. Musically, it’s an excellent funk record of the period, with some fabulous bass playing and a blaring horn arrangement. Of course, the Temptations’ gospel-inspired vocal trade-offs make the overall record even more powerful, and it has dated extremely well.” The record spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 3.

I don’t recall hearing the Lost Generation’s “The Sly, Slick And The Wicked” during the summer of 1970, but it might have been one of those records that did very well in other places – I would guess that Chicago, the Lost Generation’s hometown, would have been one of those – and not so well in the Minnesota market. Or maybe I just missed it. The record sounds very much like the Chi-Lites (with the exception of a few production tricks, like the echo), and that’s not at all surprising, considering that both groups recorded for Brunswick. “The Sly, Slick And The Wicked” was the Lost Generation’s only appearance in the Top 40. The record peaked at No. 30.

The first three chords of “Long Long Time” still, after thirty-nine years, make me draw a sharp breath of hurt. They always have, since long before I knew the sad tale told by the song’s words. Once I knew the words, I suppose I might have assigned their meaning to a young woman of my acquaintance. Whoever she was, she’s long gone from my life, but the emotional wallop of the song – especially those first three chords – has stayed with me. Meaning that Ronstadt’s performance of Gary White’s song is about as good as it gets. The record spent seven weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 25.

I have a suspicion that the James Gang’s “Funk #49” found airplay in 1970 based on some other chart than the Hot 100, because it remains one of the most identifiable tunes of that time with some unforgettable riffs. The single spent ten weeks in the Hot 100, peaking at No. 59.

I know very little about Mashmakan, a group from Quebec, Canada, except for this record. Even that knowledge is lately found: When I saw the group’s name in a Hot 100 chart a while back, I noted my lack of knowledge about the record and the group, and one of my blogging friends sent me the mp3. It’s an odd, clunky record with an over-earnest lyric, and I am pretty sure I never heard it back when it was on the charts. It was in the Top 40 for four weeks and peaked at No. 31.

Afternote:
Despite my efforts, these may not be the versions of these records that went out on 45s. Take “Long Long Time” as an example. I don’t have the 45, but I’ve seen a fuzzy picture of the label and know that the record lasted just less than three minutes. The version on the album Silk Purse, as listed at AMG, runs 4:18. The version on the Silk Purse portion of the two-CD set The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years, runs 4:22, and my only vinyl version, from Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits [1976], runs 4:21. That’s also the length – 4:21 – of the track as included on Different Drum, a 1974 anthology of previously released work. I know that the version of “Long Long Time” here is from the Capitol Years CD, and not knowing what else to do, I’ve tagged it as coming from Silk Purse, as it’s included in the version of Silk Purse in that two-CD package.

On Summers Gone

May 13, 2022

Originally posted July 31, 2009

I’ve been trying for an hour now to write something meaningful about how it felt to be a kid in summertime. And I’m not sure that what I remember is really how it felt. There is a tendency, a temptation, to put a nostalgic and meaningful glaze on all the memories and perceptions of childhood and youth (a temptation I frequently find difficult to resist), as if the only purpose of being a child in the 1960s was to provide memories for us in later life.

That’s not how it was, of course. We didn’t run through our summer days constantly thinking how fine our memories of those days would someday be. Oh, there were times, special days, when the thought came: I hope I remember this forever. And I do remember thinking that at times, but sadly and ironically, I don’t recall in any of those cases what it was that I hoped to remember.

I do remember games: We boys – with a few girls, now and then – would play workup baseball in the street during the day and into the late afternoon. After dinner, as the evening approached, all of us – boys and girls alike – would play games like “Kick the Can,” a hide-and-seek type game. We played across a territory that ranged widely around the neighborhood, with some yards in play and others – generally those of folks who had no kids – not in play. That would go on until the very last light of the day was fading and the streetlights came on. Then, in ones and twos, kids would make their ways home.

At other times, we – generally Rick and I – might make our way to the grocery store half a block away on Fifth Avenue. We’d dither over the best investment for our pennies and nickels, maybe buy some Dubble Bubble or Sour Grapes bubble gum. Or maybe we’d buy one of those balsa wood gliders that – with luck – flew loops in the backyard air without getting stuck in the trees.

We were unconcerned, for the most part, with the events and realities of life beyond Kilian Boulevard and the southeast side. I, being who I’ve always been, followed the news at least a little, but the accounts I read of the civil rights movement, and of war and unrest in a place called Vietnam, didn’t touch us. Not then, in the first half of the 1960s.

We got older, and one by one, the older kids quit playing the summer games we’d always played. And one summer, sometime in the latter half of the 1960s, Rick and I were the older kids, and the younger kids were playing their own games. With a figurative shrug, we went off and did something else.

Many things about those summertimes are hazy, with specific memories replaced by generalities. But one thing I know: As I made my way from being one of the little kids to being one of the older kids, I was aware of summertime music. I remember how it seemed like the volume was turned up during those three months. Even in the very early years, I heard music during summer that I evidently chose to ignore the rest of the year.

Some Summertime Hits From Motown
 “Heat Wave” by Martha & The Vandellas, Gordy 7022 (No. 4, 1963)
“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth, Gordy 7108 (No. 3, 1971)
“Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by the Temptations, Gordy 7054 (No. 13, 1966)
“I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla 54151 (No. 2, 1967)
“It’s the Same Old Song” by the Four Tops, Motown 1081 (No. 5, 1965)
 “I’ll Keep Holding On” by the Marvelettes, Tamla 54116 (No. 34, 1965)
“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown 1032 (No. 9, 1962)
“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5, Motown 116 (No. 1, 1970)
“Where Did Our Love Go” by the Supremes, Motown 1051 (No. 1, 1964)
“The Tracks Of My Tears” by the Miracles, Tamla 54118 (No. 16, 1965)

When selecting from the massive Motown/Gordy/Tamla catalog, it’s comforting to have a few rules in place. Given my framework here of choosing only songs that entered the Top 40 in June, July or August, as well as choosing one song per performer/group, I thought I did pretty well.

Many of these, of course, came out in the years before I paid much attention to rock, pop or R&B, but Motown’s best work – like a lot of the great music of the time – was part of the environment. Wherever we went, there were radios, and wherever radios were, you heard the tunes of the time. I’m not saying I heard all of these when they were on the radio regularly, but I know I heard most of them, and for today, that’s close enough.

I Wore My Tiger Every Day

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 30, 2009

The Texas Gal and I watch Friday Night Lights and enjoy it immensely. Based around the lives of the members of the fictional Dillon Panthers in West Texas, the show is about much more than high school football. It’s truly one of those rare television shows that finds its drama in the small workings of day-to-day life. That’s not to say that it’s entirely subtle, but it’s character-driven, and the folks who live in Dillon are generally finely drawn, not caricatures. They are folks who are changing – many of them young people who do so as they take on the hard work of growing up, of course – and sometimes the changes are surprising, just as they are in real life.

The episodes currently playing on NBC on Friday evenings were shown last fall on a satellite service, and during this season, as in the previous two, the producers do pretty well in fitting their characters’ stories into the subfolders of high school life, high school football and life in West Texas. There aren’t a lot of obvious mistakes. But I think I spotted one in the episode that ran last Friday.

The week’s climactic scene dealt with a confrontation between J. D. McCoy, a ninth-grade quarterback new to town, and his father. Nothing wrong with the drama, but in the scene – which followed a football game – J.D. was shown wearing a letter jacket with a “D” on the front and a football patch on the sleeve. Now, maybe they do things differently in Texas, but I’ve never heard of a high school where you could wear a varsity letter on a letter jacket before you’ve earned it. And being new to town, J.D. couldn’t yet have done so. (Maybe I’m wrong and there are places like that. Anyone know?)

It’s not a big deal, but for a show that generally gets the details right, it stood out. And it reminded me of my letter jacket.

I was a manager, not an athlete. I spent three seasons going to wrestling practices and keeping the scorebook; two seasons at football practices, hauling balls, pads and other stuff around; and one season tending to the training room for track. And among the rewards for doing all that stuff were three varsity letters and the right to wear a letter jacket.

It was March 1970 when I finished my second season as a wrestling manager. Near the end of the month, I got a letter in the mail from the high school’s athletic director. The letter granted me permission to go to Fitzharris Athletic downtown and buy a St. Cloud Tech letter jacket. So the following Friday evening, my folks and I went into Fitzharris and I presented the letter to the clerk. Shortly after that, I walked out wearing an orange and black jacket. The next day, my mom sewed a tiger head on the front, my name on the pocket and the year “71” on the sleeve. I remember how smooth the leather (or maybe simulated leather) sleeves were, a condition I wanted gone as soon as possible, as it identified me as a newbie.

(I got my actual letter, my “T,” at the athletic banquet that spring. I put it away in a box, as the tradition at Tech at the time was to wear the tiger head on the jacket instead of the letter. I never knew anyone who put his letter – and it was an exclusively male group in the early 1970s – on his jacket.)

Looking back, it’s amazing how much that jacket mattered to me: It made me feel as if I belonged somewhere. And I think I wore that jacket to school every day from then on, even as the weather turned warmer in the spring and then – during my senior year – even though there were days when the temperature dropped below zero. The other guys did the same, I think: If you’d earned the right to wear a letter jacket, you wore it.

I continued to wear the jacket around town during my first year of college. (For those interested, the etiquette for wearing your high school jacket during your college days was to remove your high school letter [or tiger, in my case], your graduation year and any patches other than your name.) Most likely, it was sometime during the spring of 1972, as my freshman year at St. Cloud State was ending, when I took the jacket off for the last time. By the time I got home from Denmark two years later, my mom had packed it away. And there it stayed until I took it with me when we closed the place on Kilian a few years ago.

It’s in a closet again, near the back, its usefulness gone. I certainly won’t wear it again. I have no one to leave it to, and I doubt that anyone else would want it. But I also doubt that I’ll ever get rid of it.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 28, 1970)
“Give Me Just A Little More Time” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus 9074 (No. 9)
“Psychedelic Shack” by the Temptations, Gordy 7096 (No. 24)
“Reflections of My Life” by the Marmalade, London 20058 (No. 51)
“Rag Mama Rag” by The Band, Capitol 2705 (No. 58)
“Run Sally Run” by the Cuff Links, Decca 32639 (No. 77)
“Miss America” by Mark Lindsay, Columbia 45125 (No. 117)

A couple of weeks ago, I called “Give Me Just A Little More Time” by the Chairmen of the Board “chirping and warbling and absolutely wonderful.” It’s all that and more, one of the really great singles that I think tends to be a little overlooked. At the time of this particular chart, the record had just dropped from its peak position at No. 3; it would slide to No. 30 by April 25, its fifteenth week in the Hot 100, and then tumble completely out of sight by the next week’s chart.

‘Psychedelic Shack” seemed utterly weird at the time, especially for the Temptations, a group with records like “My Girl,” “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” in its pedigree. But “Shack” is what happened when producers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong were handed the reins. With “Psychedelic Shack,” the Whitfield and Strong pushed the boundaries they’d stretched with the No. 6 single “Cloud Nine” in late 1968, and “Shack” went to No. 7. The follow-up, “Ball of Confusion,” went to No. 3. (This is the album track and has the same running time as the single, but I don’t remember ever hearing the knocks on the door when the record played on the radio; maybe they were there, or maybe there was a radio edit without them. I don’t know.)

When it was on the charts, “Reflections Of My Life” seemed musically adventurous and lyrically important. I’m not sure how well “Reflections Of My Life” holds up as a piece of philosophy these days. I mean, “The world is a bad place, a bad place, a terrible place to live” isn’t Nietzsche; it isn’t even Lennon, for that matter. But the music, on the other hand, does owe something to Nietzsche (Jack, who worked with Phil Spector, not that German dude), with its horns and Wall of Sound-ish references. Maybe I’m still hearing this one with the ears of a high school junior, but man, I still love this record! At the end of March, it was still on its way up the chart, heading for a peak of No. 10.

I heard the second half of “Rag Mama Rag” on the radio – probably late at night on WLS from Chicago – sometime during the early months of 1970 and was frozen, staring at the radio as the song played out with its fiddle and honky-tonk piano. I didn’t catch the title or the name of the group, and I wondered for a long time what the hell it was I’d heard. I mentioned it to a few people I knew, and from my description, they said it sounded like country and they were sure I couldn’t have heard it on a Top 40 station. I quit asking people about it, and it wasn’t until the following Christmas when Rick gave me The Band that I learned what it was I’d heard. Utterly unlike anything being played at the time (probably well-defined as Americana before anybody thought about such a label), “Rag Mama Rag” never really had a chance of making the Top 40. It peaked at No. 57 the week of March 21; three weeks later, after eight weeks in the Hot 100, the record had dropped out.

“Run Sally Run,” the Cuff Links’ follow-up to their No. 9 hit “Tracy,” lasted six weeks in the Hot 100, with the March 28 position of No. 77 being its peak. There really were no Cuff Links, of course. What you got on the record was bubble-gum master Ron Dante and a bunch of studio musicians. Still, it wasn’t awful: It was fun, it had a good beat and you could chew it!

As I’ve noted here before, I do have a difficult time being at all objective about the Top 40 music of the second half of 1969 and all of 1970. Although I’d heard Top 40 before that – it would have been hard for any American kid to escape it – I’d not really listened until the late summer and autumn of 1969. So, as I’ve also said here before, when I think about and write about the music I heard during that period, I’m thinking and writing about old friends. Two of those friends are Mark Lindsay’s singles, “Arizona” (No. 10 in early 1970) and “Silver Bird” (No. 25 in the late summer of 1970). The single posted here is one that came in between the two, and to my mind, it’s a better single. Credited only to J. Kelly at All-Music Guide, the song is an allegory casting America as a young girl, with a nifty, if somewhat predictable, lyrical twist: “Do you miss America? I know I do.” The record, which peaked at No. 44, is pure pop with nothing of rock about it, and – not recalling it at all from 1970 – I wonder if the implicit political commentary kept programmers from playing it.

RIP, Rick Wright & Norman Whitfield

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 18, 2008

Pillars continue to fall.

Monday saw the death from cancer of Rick Wright, keyboard player and one of the founding members of Pink Floyd. He crossed over at his home in England at the age of sixty-five.

Wright appeared on every Pink Floyd but one from 1967’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn onward. (The single exception was The Final Cut in 1983.) Along the way, he wrote some of the most cherished songs in the group’s long history, including two songs – “Us and Them” and “The Great Gig in the Sky” – for the group’s 1973 masterpiece, Dark Side of the Moon.

Also leaving us this week was Norman Whitfield, soul and R&B songwriter and producer, most notably for Motown in the 1960s and 1970s. Whitfield, who was sixty-seven, died from complications of diabetes. He was one of the most prolific songwriters and producers in any genre; the list of recordings of songs he wrote – generally with Barrett Strong – stretches for thirty pages at All-Music Guide covering soul, R&B, funk and many other genres and subgenres of music.

While it’s always risky to distill such a broad-based career down to two or three songs, there were three records I thought of immediately when I heard the news: Marvin Gaye’s version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” and the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

Given the news of the two deaths, I went digging at YouTube, as I generally do on Thursdays, and found some interesting things.

Here’s Pink Floyd on its 1994 Pulse tour performing Wright’s “Us and Them,” with some good close-ups of Wright singing and playing keys.

From the same tour, here’s Wright’s “Great Gig in the Sky,” again with a few good looks at Wright.

As for Whitfield, his writing and productions were his performances, so first, here’s the late Marvin Gaye singing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” during a television performance that’s dated 1968.

Then, here’s a live performance by the Temptations – from Soul Train, I think – of the Whitfield and Strong’s “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

And here’s the late Edwin Starr with a performance of Whitfield & Strong’s “War,” evidently from a New Year’s celebration – if I’m wrong, someone please say so – hosted by British musician Jools Holland, who hosts Later . . . With Jools Holland.

Finally, stop by Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas for a moving meditation on the passing of folks whose art matters to us.

Afternote
The Temptations’ performance on Soul Train took place in 1972. The Starr performance was in fact from a show hosted by Holland on December 31, 2001, and was titled Jools Holland’s 9th New Year’s Eve Hootenanny. Four of the five videos – all except the Pink Floyd performance of “The Great Gig In The Sky” – have been re-embedded during posting in the archive although I believe they are the same videos as were originally embedded in 2008. Note added August 15, 2011.