Posts Tagged ‘Thelma Houston’

A Baker’s Dozen from 1977, Vol. 2

June 28, 2011

Originally posted May 14, 2008

There’s a framed photo on the wall above my computer that shows my dad and his 1952 Ford. He’s standing in front of the cocoa-brown car, one foot raised onto the bumper; behind him, one can see Centennial Hall, the building at St. Cloud State where he had his office.

The trees in the photo look like they’re starting to turn, so it’s autumn. My dad is nattily dressed in his leisure suit, so it was either 1976 or 1977. (For those who don’t know what a leisure suit looked like, here’s a picture; Dad’s was steel blue; mine was cobalt blue.) I’m going to guess the picture was taken in 1977, not long before one of the saddest days of Dad’s life, the day he finally junked his old Ford.

He paid cash for it in 1952. He told me once how much it had been, but I don’t recall what he said, although the total of $450 keeps tickling at my memory. (Fifteen minutes of ’Net digging brought no answers as to what the price might have been.) And for twelve years, that two-door ’52 Customline – Ford’s mid-range model – was our family car. It took us down to Grandpa’s farm four or five times a year, to the Twin Cities for special shopping trips maybe twice a year and on the occasional summer vacation. It was during one of those vacation trips, somewhere in northern Minnesota, when the car’s odometer turned over. Dad slowed the car to a crawl on a country road, and I recall leaning forward from the back seat, watching as 99,999.9 slowly rolled out of sight, replaced by 00,000.0.

There was nothing all that special about the car, except that I think it was the first new car Dad had ever owned. And as it began to get older, I think it was tough for Dad. In 1964, we got another new car, this time the Ford Custom 500 in a color called Chantilly Beige. And Dad’s ’52 was relegated to lesser duties. He still drove it to work each day and used it for weekend trips to the golf course and the city dump. (We had four large oak trees in our yard, and every autumn, we’d rake up bushels of acorns, which we’d get rid of at the dump. We’d burn the leaves in piles back near the alley, as did everybody else. To this day, when I smell burning leaves, I smell autumn on Kilian Boulevard.)

Eventually, the old Ford began to deteriorate, as all of us and all our possessions are fated to do. Rust ate away at the fenders and the headlight casings. The heater worked intermittently. My sister and I both recall riding in wintertime to St. Cloud State with Dad during our first years of college. “Don’t breathe!” he’d joke as we sat in the cold car, heading down Riverside Drive. “Two people breathing in here fogs up the windshield!”

Both my sister and I, within a year or so after we started college, got our own cars and left Dad to drive the ’52 with an unfogged windshield. But more than the heater began to fail. The radio tuner broke; when it did, the AM radio was tuned to WVAL, the country station in nearby Sauk Rapids, so that was okay. Then, the door latch on the passenger side failed. For a time – I’m not sure how long – Dad continued to drive the car to work, holding the passenger door shut by means of a rope tied to the door handle and pulled across the car to the handle on the driver’s side. I’d left home by the time that process started, and when I rode with Dad to the grocery store one day, I just shook my head and held on to the rope, holding the door next to me closed with all my strength. I never rode in the car again.

Sometime in 1977, Dad accepted the inevitable. He went down to the Ford dealership and got a newer used car, then found a salvage yard to junk the old car. He never talked about it, but I know it had to hurt. And on the wall of the basement rec room, until the day he died, hung the photo of him in his leisure suit and his ’52 Ford in all its rusted glory.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1977, Vol. 2
“Home” by Karla Bonoff from Karla Bonoff
“Keep On Playin’ That Funky Music” by the Muscle Shoals Horns from Doin’ It To The Bone
“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac from Rumours
“The Loneliest of Creatures” by Klaatu from Hope
“Right Time of the Night” by Jennifer Warnes, Arista 0223
“Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancing)” by Johnny Rivers, Big Tree 16094
“Cup of Wonder” by Jethro Tull from Songs From The Wood
“Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan from Aja
“Something Better” by Chilliwack from Dreams, Dreams, Dreams
“No More Sad Refrains” by Sandy Denny from Rendezvous
“Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston, Tamla 54278
“Hard Times” by Boz Scaggs from Down Two Then Left
“Night Fever” by the Bee Gees, RSO 889

A few notes:

Karla Bonoff released a series of very good singer-songwriter albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but she’s perhaps better known as a songwriter. Linda Ronstadt recorded three of Bonoff’s songs – “Lose Again,” “If He’s Ever Near” and “Some to Lay Down Beside Me” – on her 1976 album, Hasten Down the Wind and others over the years. Bonoff’s albums were made with the help of many of the same musicians who worked on Ronstadt’s records and, indeed, on many of the prominent albums recorded in Los Angeles at the time. All of Bonoff’s work is worth checking out.

If 1977 was anyone’s year, it was Fleetwood Mac’s. The new-look Mac – with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on board – saw its second album, Rumours, enter the Top 40 album chart in late February and make its way to No. 1 by the beginning of April. The album would be No. 1 for thirty-one weeks and in the Top 40 for fifty-nine, throwing off four Top Ten singles: “Go Your Own Way” went to No. 10, “Don’t Stop” reached No. 3, “You Make Loving Fun” went to No. 9, and the song listed here, “Dreams,” went to No. 1. Along with being a quick ticket back to 1977, “Dreams” has the added attraction of being a great single, probably the best of the four.

I’d forgotten about Klaatu until Casey, over at The College Crowd Digs Me featured a song by the Canadian group this week. The release of the group’s self-titled album in 1976 spawned rumors that Klaatu was in fact the Beatles reunited. The record and its jacket were examined closely for clues, and Capitol did nothing to tamp down the rumors. When Klaatu turned out to be just Klaatu, the resulting backlash killed any chance the group had. The track here comes from the group’s second album, which wasn’t quite up to the standards of the first but wasn’t bad, either. After three more albums, the group disbanded in 1981.

I’m not all that fond of Jennifer Warnes’ “Right Time of the Night,” but I have to admit it’s got one of the better lines one can find in a song from this era: “Quarter-moon walkin’ through the Milky Way.” My respects to songwriter Pete McCann.

The album Rendezvous was the last work British singer Sandy Denny released before her death in 1978. A little over-produced, the album is not her best work. Even inappropriately framed, however, Denny’s voice and songwriting skills are still evident in “No More Sad Refrains” and other songs from that last album. Those interested are advised to find The North Star Grassman and the Ravens from 1971 or 1973’s Like an Old Fashioned Waltz. For those who want more than that, a good bet is the double CD overview of Denny’s career – including her time with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay – issued in 2000, which took the title of this track for its own title: No More Sad Refrains.

A Baker’s Dozen (Plus) From 1977

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 25, 2007

Today’s Baker’s Dozen actually numbers twenty songs. I decided to add some bonus material because I won’t be posting again for a little more than a week. The Texas Gal and I are heading south tomorrow to visit her family in the Dallas area and do some touring in San Antonio and around Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

So I thought I’d give you some extra tunes today. Don’t listen to them all at once! (I couldn’t help it: My dad used to give me similar warnings about my allowance, back when a quarter really could buy something.)

A note about how I compile the Baker’s Dozens: I generally sort the year’s songs by running time and set the RealPlayer on random. If I don’t have a selected starting song – I did not this week – them I start with the shortest song I have for that year (usually a television theme or something negligible) and then go from there. The only rules I have are not to post something I’ve posted since I began the blog in January, and only one song per artist.

But I screwed up midway through this batch. I have a lot of odd stuff in the collection – fight songs, commercials, television themes and other stuff – and at about No. 10, the RealPlayer landed on a 1977 recording of the national anthem of the Soviet Union. I found it recently at a site that offers hundreds of mp3s of songs from that nation’s 74-year existence. When the anthem popped up, I thought, “That’s just a little too odd for my audience,” and I hit the advance button, got a repeat performer, got another repeat and another repeat and got lost.

So I started over again, somewhere around the entry from Chicago, and when I got to the end of eighteen songs, I thought, well, I should put the Soviet anthem in anyway, so I made it a twenty-song selection, adding the Thelma Houston tune through a random jump.

And I got to thinking about the Soviet anthem. About forty years ago – which is not that many years ago, as these things go – acknowledging some affection for that particular piece of music could have left one open to criticism. Anything that had even a slight whiff of respect or affection for the USSR was suspicious. I recall a presentation to one of the local civic organizations – Elks, Moose, Lions, Eagles, Rotary, I don’t remember which one – sometime in 1969, I think, when the speaker pointed out that the Beatles, by opening their 1968 self-titled album (the “White Album”) with “Back In The USSR,” were proclaiming their intent to indoctrinate their listeners with their Communist views. While the kids in the audience snorted and rolled their eyes, our parents nodded and made mental notes to see what we were listening to.

(For the record, my parents were far more upset by “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” than they were by “Back In The USSR,” which was a Chuck Berry/Beach Boys pastiche/tribute, anyway!)

But I do acknowledge a fondness for the Soviet anthem, partly because it is a stirring piece of music, to my ears, and partly because hearing it reminds me of watching the Olympics during my younger years and seeing red-clad athlete after athlete standing atop the awards platform with a gold medal as the anthem echoed through the arena. (I especially recall the Soviet gymnasts and my admiration for the dark elegance of Ludmilla Tourischeva.)

Anyway, here’s today’s augmented Baker’s Dozen, from the year of 1977.

“Native New Yorker” by Odyssey, RCA single 11129

“Wings” by Rick Nelson from Intakes

“The Trumpet Vine” by Kate Wolf from Lines On The Paper

“Velvet Green” by Jethro Tull from Songs From The Wood

“Jammin’” by Bob Marley & the Wailers from Exodus

“Kitty Come Home” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Dancer With Bruised Knees

“Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancing)” by Johnny Rivers, Big Tree single 16094

“I Got The News” by Steely Dan from Aja

“Moolah Moo Mazuma (Sin City Wahh-oo)” by the Sanford-Townsend Band from Smoke From A Distant
Fire

“Morning Man” by Toni Brown & Terry Garthwaite from The Joy

“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters from Hard Again

“Mississippi Delta City Blues” by Chicago from Chicago XI

“Sunshine Day” by Osibisa from Welcome Home

“Hog Of The Forsaken” by Michael Hurley from Long Journey

“Running On Empty” by Jackson Browne from Running On Empty

“Fantasy” by Earth, Wind & Fire from All ‘N All

“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees from Saturday Night Fever soundtrack

“Something So Right” by Phoebe Snow from Never Letting Go

“Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston, Tamla single 54278

National Anthem of the Soviet Union by the Red Army Choir.*

A few notes:

“Wings” is pretty indicative of the country-rock direction Rick Nelson was taking during the 1970s. He didn’t have a lot of chart success, but he was still recording music well worth hearing, and did so until his untimely death in 1985.

Speaking of musicians and untimely deaths, Kate Wolf is not nearly as well known as most of the musicians here, and that’s a shame. “The Trumpet Vine” is from her second album, Lines On The Paper, and – like much of her work – is a quiet celebration of domestic harmony and simplicity. Her folk-influenced work – which ended with her death from leukemia in 1986 – is well worth seeking out.

“Moolah Moo Mazuma (Sin City Wahh-oo)” is, I think, the Sanford-Townsend Band’s attempt at cataloguing and criticizing the excesses of L.A. It’s not a bad recording, but the guys seem to have their tongues thrust pretty firmly in their cheeks, which doesn’t work. You either preach against the decadence or you celebrate it, I think. And the S-T Band doesn’t pull it off nearly as well as the Eagles did a few years earlier with “Life In The Fast Lane” or as well as David & David did in 1986 with “Welcome To The Boomtown.” Still, it’s a fun cut.

I’ve posted some work by Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite here before and talked about their work with Joy of Cooking. “Morning Man,” from what I think was their final piece of work together, has some of the ambience of their Joy of Cooking recordings.

Muddy Waters’ performance on this version of “I Can’t Be Satisfied” is a delight. Produced by Johnny Winter – who also plays guitar – the album Hard Again marked a late-in-life comeback for Waters, one of the five or six largest figures in Twentieth Century American music.

I did not know about Michael Hurley until a few years ago, when the producers of HBO’s Deadwood used “The Hog Of The Forsaken” in one of the show’s first-season episodes. It’s odd, all right, and I plan to explore Hurley’s music further.

I wondered, as I let the RealPlayer run, which – if any – of the hits from Saturday Night Fever would pop up. That it was “Stayin’ Alive” seems appropriate. Although many of the songs from the movie’s soundtrack are fun to hear, “Stayin’ Alive” has an iconic power that sums up the movie – and the era the movie celebrated and created – in a way that nothing else from the soundtrack could (with the possible exception, I guess, of the Trammps’’).

*After a few years of digging and listening, I’m almost certain that the performance of the Soviet National Anthem is by the Red Army Choir, so I’ve changed the listing and the tag  from  “unknown choir.” Note added June 12, 2011.