Posts Tagged ‘Three Degrees’

Ten From The Seventies

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 27, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at some of the numbers surrounding the mp3 collection, so I thought I’d do that today. (Actually, I did a post of that sort in February, but it disappeared that day; those things do happen from time to time.)

As of this morning, the collection (I’d considered calling it a “library,” but that sounds a bit, well, pretentious) contains 37,849 mp3s. The earliest recorded is “Poor Mourner,” performed by the Dinwiddie Colored Quartet in Philadelphia on November 29, 1902. I have a number of things recorded (or at least released) this year, the most recent purchase being Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life, which I got early this month (and quite enjoy).

Most of the music comes from the 1960s and 1970s, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who stops by here. Here’s a breakdown by decade from the middle of the Twentieth Century onward:

1950s: 1,152
1960s: 8,820
1970s: 13,445
1980s: 3,327
1990s: 4,525
2000s: 5,319

As I expected – and said above – the 1960s and the 1970s dominate, because that’s where my musical heart and major interests lie. And I have demonstrably less interest in the 1980s than in the music that’s come along since, which is no surprise. Taking things a step further, I thought it might be instructive – or at least interesting – to pull the Seventies apart and see how each year is represented in the collection:

1970: 2,627
1971: 2,513
1972: 2,175
1973: 1,556
1974: 1,107
1975: 1,038
1976: 802
1977: 674
1978: 528
1979: 425

Well, that’s about how I thought it would curve. Maybe I’ll look at other decades in the future. But for now, here’s one recording from each year of the 1970s, selected more or less randomly.

Ten From The Seventies
1970: “Friend of the Devil” by the Grateful Dead from American Beauty
1971: “Finish Me Off” by the Soul Children from Best of Two Worlds
1972: “By Today” by Batdorf & Rodney from Batdorf & Rodney
1973: “Come Strollin’ Now” by Danny Kortchmar from Kootch
1974: “Ramona” by the Stampeders from New Day
1975: “Get Dancin’” by Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony from Disco Baby
1976: “I Got Mine” by Ry Cooder from Chicken Skin Music
1977: “People With Feeling” by the Three Degrees from Standing Up For Love
1978: “Rover” by Jethro Tull from Heavy Horses
1979: “One Way Or Another” by Blondie, Chrysalis 2336

The best known of those, likely, are the two that bookend the group: the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” and the Blondie single.

The Soul Children have popped up here from time to time. “Finish Me Off” is a great vocal workout by a group that I think was in the shadows as Memphis-based Stax began to fade in the early 1970s.

Batdorf & Rodney was a singer-songwriter duo that had a couple of good but not great albums during the years when there were similar duos on every record label and in every barroom. Batdorf & Rodney wasn’t among the best of them, but neither was the duo among the worst.

Danny Kortchmar was one of the more prolific session guitarists of the 1970s; his list of credits is impressive. For his 1973 solo album, he pulled together a number of the other top session musicians, including Craig Doerge on keyboards and horn player Jim Horn. (I think that’s Horn on the extended solo in “Come Strollin’ Now,” but it could be Doug Richardson.)

The Stampeders of “Ramona” are the same Stampeders who did “Sweet City Woman,” a No. 8 hit in 1971. The banjo is gone, and so is the quirky charm that it lent to the group’s sound. “Ramona” sounds like the work of any other mid-Seventies band. Oh, well.

Two of these are aimed at getting us out of our chairs and onto the dance floor. The Van McCoy track does a better job of that than does the track by the Three Degrees, maybe because McCoy has no other aim than to get us dancing. The Three Degrees, on the other hand, were trying to put across a serious message in the lyrics. By that era of the Seventies, though, it was pretty much about the boogie, not the words.

The Ry Cooder is your basic Ry Cooder track: rootsy and a little sardonic and fun. This one comes from one of his better – and most varied – albums. The Jethro Tull track comes from an album I tend to forget about when I consider the group. And every time I’m reminded of it, I remember that Heavy Horses has aged better, it seems, than most things in the Tull catalog, certainly better than Aqualung (which I love anyway).

‘Outside, The Rain Begins . . .’

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 28, 2009

Well, I just spent an hour combing through ten different versions of Boz Scaggs’ “We’re All Alone,” the gorgeous song that’s the closer to Scaggs’ 1976 album Silk Degrees.

Feeling a bit like Andy Rooney this morning, I’ll just note that Silk Degrees – though I’ve certainly become accustomed to it – is an odd name for an album. What does it mean? How many degrees are there in silk? I wonder if sometime, somewhere, Boz Scaggs told the story.

Anyway, looking for a cover version to share, I just listened to the original version of “We’re All Alone” and nine covers. And none of them really blew me away. One of the things that I did find interesting when I began to look for covers through All-Music Guide was the evident popularity of the song in the Pacific Rim. I found versions by Japanese singers, by singers from the Philippines and by a Hawaii-based duo named Cecilio & Kapono, and I saw listings at AMG for more versions of the tune from that area of the world.

Unhappily, none of those versions seemed to add anything to the song, and that’s too bad. The song is one of those that can get inside my head and whirl around for an hour or so, one of the most tolerable of earworms. I almost certainly heard the song for the first time not long after Silk Degrees was released in 1976, when I was living in the cold house on the North Side of St. Cloud, about two blocks from both the rail yards and a neighborhood beer joint called the Black Door Club.

(The owner of the bar said the name didn’t signify anything: “When I bought the place,” he told a few of us over a pitcher of Grain Belt one Saturday afternoon, “the door was painted black. I thought that was strange, but I wasn’t gonna repaint it. And then I was tryin’ to come up with a name for the place, and the best I could do was the Black Door Club.”)

Anyway, one of my three roommates in the autumn of 1976 brought home Silk Degrees and began playing it – a lot. At least daily for three weeks, he dropped it on the stereo in the living room or the stereo in his room. It didn’t take long before I knew the record very, very well. Kevin moved out at the end of fall quarter and headed off into adult life, taking the record with him. At that time, I didn’t have a list of music I wanted to collect. When I felt like getting something new, I headed to Musicland or Shopko and rifled through the bins, or else I headed to Axis downtown and looked through the used records, and I bought whatever I found. I imagine if I’d run across a copy of Silk Degrees, I would have bought it.

But my album log says that I didn’t bring Silk Degrees home until December 1, 1977. I remember buying the record as a celebration. That day had seen the publication of the first edition of the Monticello Times with my byline in it. And when I played the record in my small apartment that evening, I realized how much I had missed hearing it. Oh, I’d heard the singles, of course: “Lowdown” had spent fifteen weeks in the Top 40 in the late summer and fall of 1976, reaching No. 3, and “Lido Shuffle” had peaked at No. 11 during a nine-week stay in the Top 40 during the spring of 1977, and both continued to get some airplay. (The first chart single from the album, “It’s Over,” had gone to No. 38 in the spring before I moved to the north side; a fourth single, “What Can I Say,” failed to reach the Top 40.)

It was sweet that evening to hear my own copy of the album. And over the years, it’s an album I go back to time and again. In fact, in a post here in June 2007, I put Silk Degrees on a list of my thirteen favorite albums. Lists like that are often fluid, and if I did a similar list now without referring to the earlier list, there would likely be some changes. But Silk Degrees would stay there, I’m sure.

Is “We’re All Alone” the best track on the record? Maybe. Beyond the singles, which are almost too familiar to assess, I like “What Do You Want The Girl To Do?” and “Harbor Lights.” But I keep coming back to “We’re All Alone” as my favorite on the record.

Scaggs’ version of “We’re All Alone,”, even though it’s the original, likely isn’t the best known: Rita Coolidge’s cover of the song went to No. 7 in the latter months of 1977, but I’ve never cared much for Coolidge’s version. Others who have covered the song – according to All-Music Guide – include Joe Augustine, Acker Bilk, the Matt Catingub Orchestra of Hawaii, Linda Eder, Lesley Gore, Engelbert Humperdinck, Bob James, Steve Lawrence, Johnny Mathis, Reba McIntire, Natalia, Newton, the Romantic Strings, Lars Roos, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Frankie Valli, the Ventures, the Walker Brothers and the West Coast All-Stars.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard eight covers of the song, and none of them blew me away. But two of them, I thought, were pretty good. The Three Degrees, the Philadelphia R&B trio that showed up on MFSB’s “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia” (No. 1 in 1974) and had a good career on its own (“When Will I See You Again” went to No. 2 in 1974), covered the song for its 1977 album Standing Up For Love. And Pieces Of A Dream, a long-lived Philadelphia jazz/R&B group, covered “We’re All Alone” on its 1994 album Goodbye Manhattan.

“We’re All Alone” by Boz Scaggs from Silk Degrees [1976]

“We’re All Alone” by the Three Degrees from Standing Up For Love [1977]

“We’re All Alone” by Pieces Of A Dream from Goodbye Manhattan [1994]

Enjoying A Mystery Gift

November 16, 2011

Originally posted January 7, 2009

It’s not often that I can go to a music store and rummage around without having to think about a budget. But two days after Christmas I went to St. Cloud’s branch of the Electric Fetus, armed with the $100 gift card I’d received in the mail from someone who is both anonymous and generous.

I still have no idea who sent me the gift card. It arrived December 20, and I wrote about it a week later, having waited to see if someone would write or call to explain the gift or – and I wondered about this – to tell me it was all a mistake. By the time I wrote about the gift card, I was ready to shop, and I headed downtown that afternoon.

I first rummaged through the used CDs (habits of frugality are hard to break) and then headed to the new R&B. I found two of the three CDs I had in mind, both by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: Dap-Dippin’ With . . . and 100 Days, 100 Nights. I’d been introduced to the group via another music blog and immediately loved the music, which sounds to me as if it were recorded in Memphis in 1967. If you like classic R&B and you’ve not heard the group before, you really should. (If you’ve heard Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, you’ve heard some of the Dap-Kings; several of them were among the backing musicians for the 2006 album.)

And then I wandered for a while, seeing a lot of stuff that would be fine to have but not, somehow, grand enough for the opportunity to buy almost anything I wanted. So I started to look at the box sets. The first one I pulled down was called Love Is The Song We Sing, subtitled San Francisco Nuggets, 1965-1970. Four discs covering pre-Summer of Love music, recordings from the San Francisco-area suburbs, music from the summer of 1967 itself and then recordings from later years. The four CDs came packaged in a book, with several essays, lots of photographs and a track-by-track commentary.

I tucked it under my arm and went to the box sets displayed on the far wall.

And there, I spotted Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia, another four-CD set chronicling the incredibly successful (and incredibly good) cluster of musicians, producers and songwriters that worked in Philadelphia from the late 1960s into the 1980s. The music starts with the Soul Survivors’ “Expressway (To Your Heart)” from 1967 and ends with Patti LaBelle’s “If Only You Knew” from 1983.

I grabbed that one, too.

I didn’t budget perfectly. But when all was done, I ended up paying less than ten dollars out of my pocket for the two box sets and the two Sharon Jones CDs. Ten days later, I’m still listening my way through all of the music, track by track.

Of the two box sets, it’s hard to say which is the better: I tend to like the music on Love Train a little better, maybe because the time frame covers more years when I was listening to radio. But the Philadelphia set doesn’t offer nearly as much information about the music and the artists as does Love Is The Song We Sing. The San Francisco book has, as I indicated above, brief comments about every track to go along with the expected basic credits, recording and chart history and discography. The Love Train set offers that same basic data about each of its tracks, but there’s no other information specific to the recordings. The Love Train book does have some interesting essays: The best of them is an account by historian Gerald Early of what it was like to grow up in Philadelphia during the years when producers like Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, Thom Bell and all the others were making Philadelphia one of the central sources of the nation’s musical heart.

Here are three from Love Is The Song We Sing and three from Love Train. (I’ll likely offer a track or two by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings later this week.)

A Six-Pack From An Anonymous Friend
“Underdog” by Sly & the Family Stone from A Whole New Thing, 1967

“Rubiyat” by the Immediate Family, unreleased recording, 1967

“Why Did You Put Me On” by Notes From The Underground from Notes From The Underground, 1968

“You’re The Reason Why” by the Ebonys, Philadelphia International 3503, 1971

“T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees, Philadelphia International 3540, 1974

“I’m Not In Love” by Dee Dee Sharp, TSOP 4778, 1976

A few notes:

When I was rifling through the Love Is The Song We Sing book on the phone with Rick the other evening, he was startled to hear me mention Sylvester Stewart as the producer of some of the earlier singles included from areas east of San Francisco Bay. “Man, I always thought he was from Detroit or maybe someplace in the east,” Rick said. “The music isn’t the sound I think of when I think of San Francisco music!” I mentioned to him a comment by Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock and Soul: “After two hundred takes failed to get an acceptable ‘White Rabbit’ from a pre-Jefferson Airplane group featuring Grace Slick, disk jockey/record producer Sly Stewart vowed to forget that acid-rock shit. So he renamed himself Sly Stone and formed his own band to play ‘the first fusion of psychedelia and rhythm and blues.’” Maybe the main thing that a boxset like Love Is The Song We Sing underlines is that there were many sounds in San Francisco during those years, and we tend to focus on too few of them.

The Immediate Family came from the East Bay city of Concord, but Love Is The Song We Sing notes that the group practiced at the home of organist Kriss Kovacs, whose mother was a singing coach, with her clientele including names like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Johnny Mathis and other San Francisco luminaries. After gigging and sending out demos, the group was signed to record at Golden State Recorders in San Francisco. “Rubiyat” was one of the products of those sessions, taking verses from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and setting them in a “swirling, dreamy soundscape.”

Notes From The Underground was a Berkeley group. After recording an EP on the Changes label in 1968, the group was signed by blues scholar Sam Charters to a recording contract with Vanguard records. Notes From The Underground was asked to go to New York to record its first album; it did so, but the label – according to Love Is The Song We Sing – didn’t promote the album strongly enough, and the group fell apart. “Why Did You Put Me On,” says the book, is from that album but is “atypically edgy.”

The Ebonys, says All-Music Guide, were a mixed gender group that came out of New Jersey in 1968 and were discovered by producer Leon Huff. “You’re The Reason Why” made it to No. 10 on the R&B chart in 1971 (No. 51 on the pop chart). It should have done lots better than that, to my ears. After another hit – “It’s Forever” – in 1973, the Ebonys kept recording but with little success.

I know “T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)” is one of those tracks that everyone knows. But it’s so damned good, I had to post it. Dave Marsh wrote about the song: “[W]hen the Three Degrees show up, midway through, to chant ‘People all over the world!’ they did nothing more than state plain fact. In 1974, this is what the world sounded like. In another six months or so, they’d convert the beat and strings into a rigid formula called disco. ‘TSOP’ is what the ingredients sounded like in the test tube.”

Dee Dee Sharp had six Top 40 hits in the 1960s, with the most successful of them being “Mashed Potato Time,” which went to No. 2 for two weeks in 1962. (It was No. 1 for four weeks on the R&B chart.) In 1967, four years after her last hit, she married Kenny Gamble, whose music – as the Love Train set underlines – was a key ingredient (if that’s not understating it) in what we call the Philadelphia sound. Nine years later, in 1976, Sharp recorded her first album for Philadelphia International: Her cover of 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” was released as a single and went to No. 62 on the R&B chart. The 10cc version, with its air of emotional disguise and reserve, had gone to No. 2 in the summer of 1975. Sharp’s version should have done at least that well.

‘If I Was You, I’d Harvest . . .’

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 89, 2008

I got some good advice from my grandfather at least once.

I was twenty, and I’d recently returned from my time in Denmark. While I’d been gone, I’d grown my first beard and mustache, kind of by default. I’d been packing my backpack for a trip during a December quarter break, and I decided that I could save a little room by not packing my razor – a Schick injector, if I remember correctly – and the other things needed to shave. So I headed off into Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, looking scruffier by the day, at least until the growth progressed enough to be considered a beard and mustache.

As I said, I was twenty, and the resulting foliage wasn’t lush. The mustache was okay, but the beard stayed pretty much confined to my jaw line; my cheeks were barren. But it was a lot easier not having to shave every day, especially during those times when I was wandering, living out of a backpack.

I came home in May, and a few days afterward (just days before I entered the hospital, which I wrote about the other day), I saw my grandparents – my mom’s folks – for the first time in almost nine months. My grandfather was eighty-two and had been a farmer all his life. He came up to me, looked closely at the growth on my face. He tugged at it lightly.

Then he nodded and said, “If I was you, I’d harvest this crop, fertilize and hope for better next year.”

It was another year and a half before I took his advice. I shaved off that first beard in December 1975, when I was interning in the sports department of a Twin Cities television station; I thought that being clean-shaven might increase the chances of getting some airtime and perhaps even getting a job. I kept the mustache, though.

And for the next twelve years or so, the beard came and went. I grew one a few years into my time at the Monticello newspaper and shaved it off one hot July day a couple years later. I let it grow out again during graduate school in Missouri and shaved it off about the time I moved back to Minnesota. And when I was teaching in Minot, I quit shaving during the 1987 Thanksgiving break, and that beard has stayed with me for more than twenty years now. And throughout all that, the mustache has stayed; my upper lip last felt a razor on December 5, 1973.

One of the things that means, of course, is that the Texas Gal – whom I met in 2000 – has never seen me clean-shaven. She occasionally suggests that she’d like to. I think about it, and I might shave for her someday. But as I’m not at all interested in shaving every day ever again, so I’d only grow it back right away. And the mustache would stay, no matter what.

The beard did fill in during my twenties, covering my cheeks quite nicely. But it’s no longer brown. I could call it “salt and pepper,” but only if I were willing to admit that whoever seasoned it used a lot more salt than pepper. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good beard. I think Grandpa would be proud of the crop.

Here’s a Baker’s Dozen from 1975. We’ll start with the record that was No. 1 the week I first took my grandfather’s advice.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 3
“Let’s Do It Again” by the Staple Singers, Curtom single 0109

“I Dreamed Last Night” by Justin Hayward & John Lodge from Blue Jays

“Arkansas Line” by Elvin Bishop, Capricorn single 0237

“As Surely As I Stand Here” by Tower of Power from In The Slot

“Naked in the Rain” by David Crosby & Graham Nash from Wind On The Water

“All About Love” by Earth, Wind & Fire from That’s The Way Of The World

“Pick Up The Pieces” by Doris Duke from Woman

“Livin’ For The Weekend” by the O’Jays from Family Reunion

“End of the Line” by Roxy Music from Siren

“Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright, Warner Brothers single 8143

“Lonelier Are Fools” by the Three Degrees from With Love

“It Makes No Difference” by The Band from Northern Lights – Southern Cross

“Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers, T-Neck single 2256

A few notes:

“Let’s Do It Again” was the title song from a soundtrack written by Curtis Mayfield. After the success of Superfly in 1971, Mayfield composed a series of soundtracks that were generally pretty good, most of them much better than the films they backed. Let’s Do It Again, which I’ve never seen, starred Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, John Amos, Ossie Davis and Jimmie Walker. Oh, and that odd noise at the start of the song? It’s supposed to be that way. I pulled out the vinyl this morning and checked.

Blue Jays was one of several projects by members of the Moody Blues that surfaced in the mid-1970s. The group took a break after 1972’s Seventh Sojourn that lasted until 1978 and the release of Octave. Other albums came from Ray Thomas, the Graeme Edge Band and Mike Pinder. (There may be some I’m forgetting.) Of the various projects, I think Blue Jays turned out the best.

Doris Duke, a deep soul singer who’d been recording since the mid-1960s, released Woman on the Scepter label in the U.S. after it had been released on Contempo in Britain. While not up the quality of her 1969 album, I’m A Loser (recorded at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia, and released on the soon-to-fail Canyon label), Woman, according to Jason Ankeny of All-Music Guide, is a “much-acclaimed set.” His fellow AMG reviewer, Andrew Hamilton says, however, “If you play this LP once, there’s no need to play it again; you didn’t miss anything the first time, and it doesn’t get any better the second time around.” Who’s right? I lean toward Ankeny’s assessment; it’s a pretty good record.

If I’m in the right mood, I generally enjoy hearing Roxy Music’s work, at least one track at a time. If I listen to entire albums – with the exception of 1982’s Avalon – the group’s music sounds cold and fussy. Siren seems less that way than the rest of the group’s 1970s output, I guess. But it still feels as if I’m listening to the group through a closed window, a barrier that the musicians aren’t the least bit interested in getting past.

“It Makes No Difference” was one of the last great songs The Band recorded during its original incarnation – “Acadian Driftwood,” also on Northern Lights – Southern Cross, is one as well – and one of the last great songs that Robbie Robertson wrote (nothing in his solo career has come close to the songs he wrote for The Band). One of The Band’s strengths was the ability to match a song with the appropriate voice, and here, Rick Danko’s yearning tenor – echoed by Garth Hudson’s soprano saxophone solo – fits perfectly. This track can melt your heart.

The Three Degrees: ‘When Will I See You . . .’

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 17, 2008

While wandering around YouTube this morning, I came across a video of the Three Degrees performing “TSOP,” a song they were involved with in two different ways. First, the Three Degrees – if I have this correctly – recorded the version of the song that was actually used as the theme to the television show Soul Train with the ladies singing “Soul Train!” in the opening portion before going on to the stirring chant, “People All Over the World!” Then, the Three Degrees provided the vocal background – much less interesting – on the version of “TSOP” that was released by MFSB. The video, however, is backed by neither of those versions but by what seems to be an edit of the MFSB version.

Not satisfied with that, I clicked a few links and found a video of the Three Degrees performing – not lip-synching – their world-wide hit, “When Will I See You Again” (it reached No. 2 in the U.S.) for the Christmas 1974 episode of the British show, Top of the Pops. It’s a very nicely done performance.

It’s Time To Get A Little More Healthy

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 14, 2008

Our joining a gym last week was a last-gasp maneuver in the Battle of the Waist Line.

Neither of us – The Texas Gal or me – has ever been very active. I played some recreational softball, tennis and racquetball in my twenties and rode my bicycle on occasion during my late thirties and forties. But some chronic health problems – now under control – and the expected changes in lifestyle since I quit smoking about eight years ago have resulted in my gaining about fifty to sixty pounds.

I’m not pleased. And sitting on the couch, pondering how to lose weight while American Idol played out on the TV screen, didn’t seem to be solving the problem. So last week, the Texas Gal and I made our way to a new fitness center about six blocks away. It’s a pretty low-key place, and it has the things we need: treadmills for her, stationary bikes for me, and a reasonable collection of circuit training equipment. Our plan to is get to the center three times a week and see how it goes. While one of my goals is to lose some weight, my overall goal is simply to become more active and feel better doing it.

And so far, I’ve enjoyed our two visits. I like the stationary bicycle, and I’m learning about the circuit training. The fatigue I feel when we leave the center is a good feeling. But there are some things: The cardio machines – treadmills, bikes, and other training machines – face a wall on which there are four television monitors. Folks with mp3 players that have FM radios in them can listen to the televisions on specific frequencies. As I didn’t have one of those during last week’s two visits, I watched the monitors that showed closed-captioning, ESPN’s Sports Center on the first visit and That ’70s Show the second visit. The ESPN was okay, as it usually is, but it was a slow day. I was never impressed with That ’70s Show when I could hear it, and watching it with captions was no better. The Texas Gal – who was closer to the wall and had a good view only of one monitor playing some game show, agreed. We needed something to battle boredom.

So yesterday, we made another small step into the current world: I wandered out to one of our major electronics dealers and bought two portable mp3 players. They’re by Creative, a firm I’d never heard of before, and the model is called Zen V Plus; they seem perfectly adequate to our needs. Each has two gig of storage (actually, 1.89), and it was simple enough to install the software and have mine pull 384 songs at random from my computer. After figuring out the random function, the only way to celebrate this one small piece of my commitment to better health was to take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard:

“Sweet Cocaine” (live) by Fred Neil from Other Side of This Life, 1971

“Love Song” by Elton John from Tumbleweed Connection, 1970

“Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon, 1989

“Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac from Then Play On, 1969

“My Home Is A Prison” by Lonesome Sundown, Excello single 2012, 1960

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees from TSOP, 1974

“White Dove” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Sweet Sixteen” by B.B. King from Live in the Cook County Jail, 1971

“Comin’ Back To Me” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

“Sign on the Window” by Melanie from Good Book, 1971

“Old Brown Dog” by Ralph McTell from You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here, 1971

“Overall Junction” by Albert King from King of the Blues Guitar, 1969

“Devil Got My Woman” by Bob Brozman from Golden Slide, 1997

“Adam’s Toon” by Trees from On The Shore, 1970

“Just Like A Woman” by Bob Dylan from Before The Flood, 1974

A few notes:

Fred Neil’s Other Side of This Life was the last record released by the reclusive singer/songwriter during his lifetime. Cobbled together from a live performance and from bits and pieces that seemed to be studio outtakes, it didn’t draw much attention. But some of the live performances were among the best versions Neil had ever done of some of his songs. “Sweet Cocaine” falls into that category, as does Neil’s performance of his most famous song, “Everybody’s Talkin’” Considering the slenderness of Neil’s discography, Other Side of This Life is a pretty good record.

The Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon was the first album the New Orleans-based group released on A&M, and it was a pretty good effort, with some updated sounds being blended into the Neville’s traditional R&B/funk mix. The Nevilles even try something that sounds like hip-hop dragged through the swamp on “Sister Rosa.” The version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” does pretty well, too, in a far more traditional vein.

The Fleetwood Mac of Then Play On is made up of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and guitarists Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green and Danny Kirwin. The group was no longer a blues band, per se, although blues still informed a lot of the material. But longer pieces like the nine-minute “Oh Well” showed that the group was clearly listening to other music being recorded around them in England circa 1969. It’s a fascinating piece off a pretty good album.

I know nothing more about Lonesome Sundown than what All-Music Guide can tell me: Born Cornelius Green in 1928, the singer recorded numerous swampy blues like “My Home Is A Prison” between 1956 and 1965, when he retired from blues to devote his energies to the church (coming out of that retirement for one album in 1977). Green died in his home state of Louisiana in 1995 at age sixty-six.

“TSOP” was in fact the sound of Philadelphia and – in a very short time – the sound of all America. The brainchild of Philly producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song – originally produced as the theme for the television show Soul Train­­ – went to No. 1 in March 1974 and helped set the stage for the disco explosion to come. The version here is the album track, which was 2:15 longer than the single edit. Still makes you wanna dance, doesn’t it?

The Richie Havens track is an excellent version of one of the better songs Jefferson Airplane ever recorded. “Comin’ Back To Me,” a Marty Balin composition, was one of the best things on 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane’s second album and first with Grace Slick. I remember, during high school, reading the words to “Comin’ Back To Me” in a book of rock lyrics assessed as poetry and being blown away by them. More than thirty years later, their effect is the same. And Havens pretty much steals the song with his performance.

The three blues performances here – by B.B. King, Albert King and Bob Brozman – are pretty good. Brozman is certainly the least known, and I’m not going to say he rises to the level of the two Kings, who need no words from me about their brilliance. But Brozman’s pretty good. I’m not sure where I stumbled across his album, Golden Slide, but Brozman’s name went pretty quickly onto my list of performers I want to hear a lot more often.