Posts Tagged ‘Tony Joe White’

‘Hoverin’ By My Suitcase . . .’

August 21, 2020

Brook Benton’s cover of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” popped up on iTunes the other day, but the volume of the song was low compared to the tracks that had come before. I did some checking, and the mp3 of the tune (the source of the iTunes file) also had a lower volume than most of the other mp3s on the digital shelves.

Blame the source, which I think was a borrowed CD.

So I found another source for another mp3 and replaced all the files. Now, when the track pops up on random, the opening guitar figure can grab my attention the way it did back in the early months of 1970, when I heard the record on KDWB, where it peaked at No. 17; WLS, where it peaked at No. 4; and WJON, which, as far as I know, did not offer surveys. (Am I right, Yah Shure?)

Nationally, the record peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also went to No. 2 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart and spent a week at No. 1 on the R&B chart.

I’ve got a few other versions of the song, but Benton’s take on it remains my favorite, partly because it’s the first version I heard but mostly because its hushed sound and that opening guitar riff remind me of evenings in my room with my old RCA radio during my first Top 40 winter.

There are quite a few covers of the song out there; Second Hand Songs lists eighty-five versions, including White’s and Benton’s, and there are likely others not listed. I see versions listed there by Tennessee Ernie Ford, B.J. Thomas, Johnny Rivers, Chuck Jackson, Boz Scaggs, and Ray Charles, a duet by Sam Moore and Conway Twitty (from a 1994 album titled Rhythm Country and Blues), and instrumental takes by Al Hirt, Cornell Dupree, Boots Randolph, and more.

But we’ll close today with the original version of the song by Tony Joe White. It’s from his 1969 album . . . Continued.

‘Hard To Handle’

July 27, 2016

When the Texas Gal went to the car – our Nissan Versa – after a business appointment two days ago, she pulled the door handle like she and I have done thousands of times in the nine years we’ve had the car. And the handle came off in her hand.

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what it looked like. I know, though, what I would have looked like had it happened to me: I would have stood there for a second, looking dumbly from the black handle in my hand to the empty space on the car door. “Huh,” I would have thought, processing.

And then I, like she did, would have thought, “Well, it was going to happen sometime.”

As is the case with many cars these days – with key fobs that carry electronic openers – the driver’s door on the Versa is the only one with a lock that can be opened with the key. And about four to five months ago, the little plastic cowling around the keyhole started to break; it would come out of alignment a little, and we’d push it back in. And the handle was a little loose. We knew we were going to have to deal with it eventually, and we put it our agendas, but it was a littler lower on our lists than maybe it should have been.

This week, however, with the Texas Gal standing in the street in front of a client’s home holding a door handle that was no longer doing its job, it became a whole lot more important to get repairs done. As it happened, our other car, a Chevy Cavalier, was at the nearby tire place that day for an oil change and some minor other work, so when the Texas Gal – who got into the Versa via the passenger door, of course – came home, she and I headed down the street, picked up the Cavalier and dropped off the Versa to wait for parts.

I should hear sometime today that the Versa’s door is fixed, and I’ll walk the half- mile down to the tire place and pick it up. And we can hope that any more automotive ailments will wait a while longer.

A total of thirty-six tracks show up in the RealPlayer when I search for “handle.” Nine of them come from Gene Chandler, with the most famous of those, of course, being 1962’s “Duke of Earl.” There are also tracks from four lesser-known Chandlers: Dillard (“Rain and Snow,” a 1975 track from a 2002 Smithsonian Folkways collection), Howard (“Wampus Cat,” an originally unreleased track from a 1957 Sun session), Len (“Touch Talk,” a Columbia single from 1967) and Wayland (“Little Lover/Playboy” on the 4 Star label from 1958).

That leaves twenty-two tracks with “handle” in their titles, ranging along the time line from 1941’s “Panhandle Shuffle” by the Sons Of The West to Leon Russell’s 2013 version of “Too Hot To Handle.” We’ll stop somewhere near the middle for Tony Joe White’s 1970 cover of “Hard To Handle.”

The song was written by Allen Jones, Alvertis Isbell and Otis Redding and was first recorded by Redding. One of numerous releases that came after Redding’s death in December 1967, “Hard To Handle” was the B-side to “Amen” and, on its own, went to No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 38 on the magazine’s R&B chart during the summer of 1968. (“Amen” went Nos. 36 and 15, respectively.)

The song’s been covered numerous time – Second Hand Songs lists thirty-five covers – and two other versions charted along the way (at least through 2008, which is the last year in my copy of Top Pop Singles): Patti Drew’s 1968 cover went to No. 93 on the Hot 100 and to No. 40 on the R&B chart, and the Black Crowes released their cover twice, once in the autumn of 1990, when it went to No. 45 and then again during the summer of 1991, when it got to No. 26.

Some of the other covers of the tune have come from Tom Jones, the Grateful Dead, Brenda Lee, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Toots Hibbert, Gov’t Mule and – always one of my oddball favorites – the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

Here’s Tony Joe’s version, which was an album track on 1970’s Tony Joe:

Wandering Randomly

September 26, 2013

It’s time for a random walk through the more than 70,000 mp3s that have somehow gathered on the digital shelves in the past thirteen years. We’ll set the RealPlayer’s cursor in the middle of the pack, hit the forward button and check out the next six tracks.

First up is Howling Wolf’s single of “Wang Dang Doodle” from 1960:

Tell Automatic Slim, tell razor-totin’ Jim,
Tell butcher knife-totin’ Annie, tell fast-talkin’ Fanny,
We gonna pitch a ball down to that union hall.
We gonna romp and tromp till midnight,
We gonna fuss and fight till daylight.
We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long.
All night long, all night long, all night long.

The song, written by Willie Dixon, might be better known from Koko Taylor’s 1966 version, which went to No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the R&B chart, but the Wolf’s version is the original. According to Wikipedia, neither Dixon nor the Wolf thought much of the song, with the Wolf quoted there as calling it a “levee camp” song. “Wang Dang Doodle” hit the charts again in 1974, when the Pointer Sisters’ cover went to No. 61 on the Hot 100 and to No. 24 on the R&B chart.

Eternity’s Children was a four-person pop group that evolved out of a group first formed in 1965 in Cleveland, Mississippi. The group’s self-titled debut album from 1968 has achieved some prominence over the years due to the co-production from sunshine pop gurus Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen, although All Music Guide notes that the album “does not rank among the Boettcher/Olsen duo’s crowning achievements – both producers were distracted by other concurrent projects.” “Sunshine Among Us” is the album’s closing track; released as a single, it bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 117.

In her lengthy career in the Hot 100 – from 1962 into 1980 – Jackie DeShannon hit the Top 40 three times, and all three records had the word “love” in their titles: “What The World Needs Now Is Love” went to No. 7 in 1965, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” went to No. 4 (No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary chart) in 1969, and “Love Will Find A Way” went to No. 40 (No. 11 AC) later that same year. Given the ubiquity of love as a topic for song, that might not be unique, but I thought it was interesting. The record we chance on this morning is the third one of those. “Love Will Find A Way” isn’t overwhelmingly good, and I don’t know that I heard it back in 1969, but it would have sounded nice coming out the radio between, say, the Beatles and Three Dog Night.

Chris Rea’s Blue Guitars is a 2005 release that consisted of eleven CDs, a DVD and a book that included liner notes, lyrics and Rea’s own paintings. “The album,” notes Wikipedia, “is an ambitious project with the 137 songs recorded over the course of 1½ years with a work schedule – according to Chris Rea himself – of twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Initially the project was inspired by Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey and can be called an ‘odyssey’ in its own right, for depicting a journey through the various epochs of Blues Music, starting at its African origins and finishing with modern-time Blues from the 60s and 70s.” We land this morning on “Ticket For Chicago,” a track from the Country Blues disc of the massive album. Complete with the crackle and hiss of an old 78 at its start, the track is a pleasant stop along the way and a reminder that I need to dig far deeper into Blue Guitars than I have so far.

Our fifth stop is a cryptic B-side to a Top 20 hit on the Apple label: Mary Hopkin’s “Sparrow” seems to be a tale of melancholy confinement and the hope of escape, with that famed Apple producer Paul McCartney framing Hopkin’s crystal voice with bells and choirs and – at the end – a meandering saxophone. The track – written by Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle in their roles as songwriters for Apple – was the flip side to Hopkin’s “Goodbye,” which went to No. 13 (No. 6 AC) in 1969. While it’s doubtful that “Sparrow” could have been a hit as the A-side, I like it much better than I do “Goodbye” or Hopkin’s two other Top 40 hits, “Those Were The Days” (No. 2 pop and No. 1 AC in 1968) and “Temma Harbour” (No. 39 pop and No. 4 AC in 1970).

And we end our brief journey this morning on a front porch somewhere in the Louisiana bayous with Tony Joe White’s “Lazy” telling us that he’s just not going to get much done today:

Lazy,
Today you know I feel so dog gone lazy.
I believe my get-up-and-go has done gotta be gone.
Today I just can’t get it on.

The mellow and bluesy track comes from White’s 1973 album Home Made Ice Cream, which is a decent enough piece of work. It’s an album with a nice, generally laid back groove, very much like, say, something from J. J. Cale. But only occasionally does it approach the swampiness of “Polk Salad Annie,” White’s No. 8 hit from 1969.

Still Mastering New Skills

November 9, 2011

Originally posted January 5, 2009

Another new skill! We hung curtains in the bedroom yesterday. Actually, I hung the curtains while the Texas Gal oversaw the operation, making certain that I got the curtain rod as high on the wall as it needed to be.

We’d had the curtains – washed, ironed and hanging in the closet – since mid-December, and had planned to hang them in the days before Christmas. But we kept putting the chore off. Okay, I kept putting it off, being worried about mis-measuring and drilling errant holes in the wall. But that part went okay. One of the three sets of holes is, I think, just a little higher than the other two, maybe by an eighth of an inch, meaning that to my critical eye, the curtain rod is slightly aslant.

But still, the curtains – striped in blues and beiges – look very good in the bedroom. They match the royal blue on the walls (a color we inherited from the house’s previous tenant but one we like, thankfully) and the blue and beige backing of the new quilt that the Texas Gal made for the room. (The front of the quilt is panels of blue, maroon and gold, some of which show logos of railroads, many of them long gone. It’s quite likely that we’ll be looking for other art based on railroads for the room.)

The Texas Gal says that besides looking nice, the curtains will also cut down drafts in the room. They seemed to do so last night, which was a good thing. The outside temperature dropped to –21 F (-29 C) during the night.

So I’m pleased. I’ll no doubt have more curtain rods to hang in the future and will likely do so capably. I have a sense, though, that whenever I think about it, I’ll wonder about that eight of an inch. The Texas Gal says no one will know if I don’t mention it. Well, it’s too late for that, so if you ever see our blue curtains, pretend you don’t notice that the rod slants just a tiny bit.

(I checked for songs about curtains and found only two, so here’s an acceptable substitute.)

A Six-Pack of Windows
“Rain on the Window” by the Hollies from Evolution, 1967

“Come To My Window” by Melissa Etheridge from Yes I Am, 1993

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

“Steamy Windows” by Tony Joe White from Closer to the Truth, 1991

“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker!, 1969

“Cars Hiss By My Window” by the Doors from L.A. Woman, 1971

A few notes:

Evolution was likely the Hollies’ most adventurous album, a blend of pop and psychedelia that fit neatly into the year of 1967. ”Rain on my Window” was typical of the record in that it tells a tale more complex than the Hollies’ music had dealt with up to that time, and it does so with some adventurous instrumentation, especially the horn interludes. “Carrie-Anne,” supposedly written for Marianne Faithful, was the hit off the album (No. 9). The rest of the album was a bit more challenging.

“Come To My Window” was one of several striking songs from Melissa Etheridge’s Yes I Am, an album about which All-Music Guide says: “Melissa Etheridge wasn’t out of the closet when she released Yes I Am in 1993, yet it’s hard not to notice the defiant acclamation in the album’s title. This barely concealed sense of sexual identity seeps out from the lyrics, and it informs the music as well, which is perhaps the most confident she has ever been. It’s also the most professional she’s ever been (perhaps not a coincidence) . . .” “Come To My Window” went to No. 25 in the spring of 1994; “I’m The Only One,” also from Yes I Am, reached No. 8 that autumn.

“Sign On The Window” has showed up here in two other versions: Bob Dylan’s original from New Morning and Jennifer Warnes’ cover version from 1979. Melanie’s version takes off at times in a hoedown, maybe finding in the fiddle a different center to the song than did Dylan and Warnes. It’s always seemed to me as if both Dylan and Warnes, as they sing wearily about finding a cabin in Utah and all the rest, were singing about things that they should have done in a distant past. Melanie’s country-style exuberance brings the song into the present.

Tony Joe White’s “Steamy Windows” fits right into the swamp groove that brought White some renown as a songwriter (“Rainy Night In Georgia”) and one hit (“Polk Salad Annie,” No. 8 in 1969). Actually, the entire Closer to the Truth album sits pretty much in the middle of the swamp, which in this case is a good place to be. Nevertheless, like most everything White has done since the early 1970s, it was ignored by most folks. I imagine White just shrugged. He’s released a cluster of worthwhile albums since then, a good share of them from live performances.

It continues to amaze me that Joe Cocker found as much of a song as he did in “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” a Paul McCartney tune that was first paired with John Lennon’s “Polythene Pam” on the Beatles’ Abbey Road. As much as I like the song and its place in the mini-suite on Abbey Road, when I first got the Cocker album, I had doubts that the song could stand on its own. But Cocker – with the help, no doubt, of producer Denny Cordell – made it work. (Leon Russell is also credited as a producer on Joe Cocker!, but I’m assuming that “Bathroom Window” came from Cordell; it doesn’t sound like a Leon Russell track. I could be wrong.) In his book Beatlesongs, William J. Dowlding notes that McCartney originally wanted Cocker to record the song before the Beatles did. I love the zig-zaggy ascending introduction.

The Doors’ track is a grim and spooky blues number done well. I’d say that the gloomy mien of the song might have presaged Morrison’s exit from the world in just a couple of months, but I think gloom, dread and weariness had been the Doors’ watchwords for quite some time beforehand.

Being Thrown Back In Time

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 25, 2008

As many times as it happens, I continue to be amazed at the power of some songs from one season of my youth to yank me out of my cozy midlife home and plop me back in my bedroom on Kilian Boulevard, with a history textbook open on the table and a host of teenage dilemmas bubbling underneath the surface of the high school junior I was.

I’ve written a little bit before about that first year when I discovered Top 40, the 1969-70 school year. Many of the songs I heard on the radio during those nine months are old friends, records that I nod and smile at when I hear them on the oldies station in the car or when they pop up on the RealPlayer here in the house. But there are a few from those months that don’t just trigger the pleasure of recognizing an old friend; those few records throw me back nearly forty years and remind me not only of what I heard in those days but how it felt to hear it and how it felt to be in my skin at the time. That’s powerful stuff, and it can be a little disorienting.

Regular readers know that I have a fascination with memory and memoir, and I frequently – I realize after the fact – wrestle with the question of how our memories color our present and how sometimes the memories that tint our current lives are events that we’d have judged to be insignificant and totally unmemorable at the time they happened. And when there’s an external trigger – and music is, I am certain, one of our most powerful triggers – we’re back where all those things happened that helped to make us who we are now.

Sometimes, of course, it’s not events that come back. Rather, one encounters a wave of pure emotion. I have no idea what I was doing the first time I heard Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia.” It was no doubt during the early weeks of 1970; the record entered the Top 40 in late January and peaked at No. 4 in mid-March. All I know is that the times must have been difficult for me. Because whenever I heard that record’s opening guitar riff over a gentle organ wash, the jolt of recognition is accompanied by a horribly sad sense of “Damn, I wish things were different.”

And I do remember that for a chunk of that season, that was how I felt. The events behind the feelings aren’t really important here, although I do have a good idea of what they were. The fascinating thing in 2008 is that those few seconds of that record – like several others from that season – still has the ability to replicate how I felt when I heard it so long ago.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned “Rainy Night in Georgia” when I made a brief comment about its creator, Tony Joe White. And when Benton’s version of the song popped up on the RealPlayer this week, I realized that I’ve never posted White’s original version, which he released on his 1969 album Tony Joe White . . . Continued. So here it is:

Tony Joe White – “Rainy Night in Georgia” [1969]

Written While The Newspaper Dries

September 26, 2011

Originally posted November 13, 2008

I never had a paper route when I was a kid. I knew a few kids who did, but I was never really attracted by the idea, especially the thought of slogging through the snow in the drifts of a Minnesota winter to deliver the papers or else to collect subscription money.

As I think of it, that must have been a tough part of the job: A kid maybe eleven or twelve years old working his (or sometimes her) way through the neighborhood, collecting money. I imagine there was a lot of “I’ll pay you next time,” and all that. And who among us would these days allow our child to wander through the neighborhood in the evening carrying cash? Maybe mom and dad drove the carriers around when I was a kid, but I kind of doubt it.

Ah well. There is, I guess, a bit of romantic nostalgia in the idea of a bike-riding paperboy, flipping newspapers onto front steps. But these days, it seems, paper routes are the province of adults. I suppose there might be young folk who deliver papers in the neighborhoods; I don’t know. On the edge of the city where we live – a strip of apartments and two houses hemmed in by the railroad tracks, a mobile home park and some commercial establishments – newspaper delivery is auto-based. A vehicle pulls up, the carrier pops out and goes far enough up the sidewalk toward the residence to flip the newspaper onto the front step.

We subscribe to the Minneapolis-based Star-Tribune, and I usually scan the headlines while my coffee is brewing and the Texas Gal is preparing to leave for the day. Up until today, on wet days, the newspaper was in at least one plastic bag, sometimes two, so it’s always been dry. There must have been a substitute carrier today, one who didn’t think too clearly at the moment of delivery: It would seem to be pretty easy to figure out that if one throws a newspaper onto a wet step as a mist is falling, the newspaper is going to get wet.

Again, ah well. The newspaper wasn’t destroyed, although the front section was pretty wet. It’s currently spread out on the dining room table, and I imagine by the time I complete this post, it will be dry enough to read.

A Six-Pack of News
“Good News” by the Waterboys from Dream Harder [1993]

“No News Is Good News” by Tony Joe White from Homemade Ice Cream [1973]

 “Headline News” by Edwin Starr, Ric-Tic 114 [1966]

“Bad News Ain’t No News at All” by Redbone from Potlatch [1970]

“Herbert Harper’s Free Press News” by Muddy Waters from Electric Mud [1968]

“Bad News”  by Stoneground from Stoneground [1971]

A few notes:

I’ve shared a few things from the Waterboys before. No matter what sound the group presents – and its core sound shifted over the years – there was always a bit (sometimes a good bit) of Celtic poetry and mysticism in its music. The group is always worth a listen, from 1983 self-titled debut to 2007’s live-in-the-studio Book of Lightning.

Tony Joe White is best-known, perhaps, for his 1969 single “Polk Salad Annie,” which went to No. 8, or maybe as the writer of the luminous “Rainy Night in Georgia.” On his own, he released a string of albums based securely in the swamps of Louisiana. Homemade Ice Cream isn’t the best of them – that would probably be The Train I’m On from 1972 – but it’s a good one.

The Muddy Waters track is from the odd psychedelic album that Chess Records forced on the blues giant in the late 1960s. (The label did the same thing to Water’s label-mate and rival, Howlin’ Wolf). While the experiment was ultimately judged a failure (for its lack of sales, I imagine), there is something fascinating about the clash of cultures in the tracks on Electric Mud.

Stoneground came out of San Francisco with a large roster of musicians, which – according to All-Music Guide – made its albums varied and fascinating. I only have the first, self-titled effort from 1971, and it’s an album I enjoy a lot. The band, evidently reformed, has a website.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1970, Vol. 3

June 18, 2011

Originally posted March 19, 2008

As books go, they weren’t very impressive. The first, A Sea of Space, was an anthology of fourteen science fiction stories. The authors whose works were included ranged from Ray Bradbury – whom I knew at the time – to William F. Nolan – about whom I learned a little bit later – to Kris Neville, about whom I still know nothing. I bought it some time during 1970 for sixty cents. That was the cover price.

The other book, 13 Great Stories of Science Fiction, was one I got during my first summer in the work force. I wrote here once about spending a portion of the summer of 1971 as a janitor at St. Cloud State. During that time, I spent about two weeks working in the building called Riverview, where the English department had its offices. One day, one of the literature professors put a box of paperback books in the hallway; professors, as I learned later, get free books from publishers all the time. I dug in. And somewhere in the middle of the box I found 13 Great Stories, which turned out to be a reprint of a book originally published in 1960.

I’d been reading science fiction for a little more than a year. And some of the names on the cover of 13 Great Stories were familiar to me: Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Damon Knight, Poul Anderson and Algis Budrys.

As I said, as books go, they weren’t very impressive: A recent anthology of mostly lesser-known writers and an older anthology of more impressive authors’ possibly lesser works. (I’d read much of Arthur C. Clarke’s work by then, and considered the Clarke story included in 13 Great Stories – “Silence, Please!” – to be one of his minor pieces.

But those may have been the most important books I’ve ever owned.

When I was in school – late elementary and junior high – teachers and my parents despaired at my ever learning to write. Oh, I had the vocabulary and knew the English language. It was the mechanics that got to me. Handwriting baffled and frustrated me. I tried and tried to make my letters come out looking like the examples posted above the bulletin boards, but I could never get the shapes right. Add to that the fact that – for some reason – from fourth grade on, we used fountain pens in school, meaning that any hesitation with the pen touching the paper resulted in a blot. My work often resembled a piece of abstract art titled “Study in Black Ink on White.”

And even when using a ballpoint pen, the demands of forming the letter-shapes defeated me before I could even begin to think about content. How could I think about what I was writing when I was unable to master the mechanics of the craft? (My fifth-grade teacher, Roger Lydeen – about whom I will write more on another day – saw the problem and tried to teach me to type, but I was unable to master that at the age of ten.)

So through maybe my sophomore year of high school, I dreaded any assignment that included writing, simply because I could not write cursive script. When I made notes at home – for any purpose, from telling my folks I was over at Rick’s to writing out a hockey schedule for the winter – I printed. And when I was a junior, I believe, I went to my teachers and asked for permission use printing for my work instead of cursive. All of them – having no doubt struggled with reading my work – agreed.

That summer, I bought A Sea of Space, and reading it, I began for the first time to think about writing as something I might want to do. During the first half of my senior year – 1970-71, I began to seriously explore the world of science fiction, reading for content but also looking at least a little bit at technique: How did Clarke structure his stories? What were the constants in the works of Robert Heinlein? How does a writer like Isaac Asimov plan and structure a multi-volume series like his Foundation works? I don’t know if I truly formulated those questions, but those are the things I began to think about at least a little as I read my way through the major works of science fiction from the 1950s and 1960s.

Also that year, I took a class in mass media, and one of our assignments was to write something for the media. Most students wrote stories for newspapers or magazines. As I thought about the assignment, I realized that for the first time in my life, I wanted to write. And I took one of the stories from A Sea of Space, a romantic tale by Robert F. Young titled “One Love Have I,” and I wrote a screenplay.

It wasn’t very good, as I look back, but for a first try, it was okay. I think I got an A. More importantly, I learned I could write. It took me years afterward to figure out that the barrier had been the mechanics and not my brain, but for the first time, I’d thought about writing something and had done it! Poems and lyrics and a few short stories followed over the next few years, and in college, I began to learn to write for a living.

In that summer before I began college, however, I came across 13 Great Stories and learned something else. As soon as I got home that day, after finding the book in the box, I sat down and dug in, reading the first story, “The War Is Over” by Algis Budrys. It was okay, and I moved on to the second story, “The Light” by Poul Anderson. It’s not long, about twelve pages.

And I got to the end of the story and put the book down. I sat there, on the couch in the basement rec room, stunned. I looked back through the story, looking for clues that Anderson had laid down to support his magnificent surprise ending. They were there. I re-read the story, and still I marveled at the ending, which even years later I think is one of the greatest endings to a short story ever.

I’m not going to relate the ending here. I don’t know if the story is still in print or not. If I learn that it’s not, I may open a separate blog and post the entire story there. I will say that I’ve read a lot of fiction since then – this was almost thirty-seven years ago – and I have yet to read another work of fiction that left me so stunned and amazed, or so eager to try to make my own way through the thickets of writing and lay a strong ending into the hands of another reader. And the slender volume, 13 Great Stories went onto my shelf in my early science fiction collection, next to A Sea of Space.

When I moved from my parents’ home to the cold house on the North Side, my father asked me if I was certain I wanted to move all my books. “Your books are your friends,” he said to me. “You care for them and keep them safe. But not everyone feels that way about books. It’s something you need to think about.”

As it turned out, I took most of my books with me, and no harm came to them. My library – science fiction, history, film studies and more – grew and moved with me for years. Then, in the mid- to late 1990s, things got tough. I had some bad luck and I made some poor decisions, and I spent a few years scuffling to get by. And one Saturday, I took several boxes of books – including all of my science fiction collection – to a shop I knew, and I sold them in order to get enough money to pay rent. I didn’t weep as I sold my old friends, but I came close.

I’ve made no attempt to rebuild the collection in the years since, though I likely could. Most of the works are readily available, and I think occasionally about finding them. But about a year ago, I guess, those two volumes of short stories came to mind, and I began to dig online. It took a while to find them, but now they sit here on my table, A Sea of Space and 13 Great Stories of Science Fiction, friends come home at last.

And here’s some music from the year I met the first of those friends.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 3
“Power to Love” by Jimi Hendrix from Band of Gypsys

“Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” by the Allman Brothers Band from Idlewild South

“Poor Elijah/Tribute to Robert Johnson” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from On Tour With Eric Clapton

“25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago, Columbia single 45194

“All Things Must Pass” by George Harrison from All Things Must Pass

“Groupy Girl” by Tony Joe White from Tony Joe

“For Yasgur’s Farm” by Mountain from Climbing!

“I Looked Away” by Derek & the Dominoes from Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

“Ship of Fools” by the Doors from Morrison Hotel

“Spindrifter” by Quicksilver Messenger Service from What About Me?

“Sittin’ On Top of the World” by Howlin’ Wolf from The London Sessions

“Go Back Home” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills

“Sign on the Window” by Bob Dylan from New Morning

A few notes:

The Band of Gypsys album is one I mentioned the other day when writing about Buddy Miles. It was recorded, as I said then, “at the Fillmore East in New York on the night 1969 turned into 1970.” Jimi Hendrix’ catalog of projects completed during his lifetime is so slender – given that he died young – that all of it might be considered essential. But if I were limited to one record, Band of Gypsys is the one I’d choose.

The Delaney & Bonnie & Friends album from which “Poor Elijah/Tribute to Robert Johnson” comes is a great record. Without actually making a list, I’d guess that it would rank as one of the ten greatest live albums in rock. The “Friends” for that tour, along with Eric Clapton, were Dave Mason, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, percussionist Tex Johnson and Rita Coolidge.

I never listened to a lot of Mountain back then, through I liked the long version of “Nantucket Sleighride” on the live album. I pulled “For Yasgur’s Farm” from a best-of CD, and it’s a pretty good tune. (Not to insult anyone, but I suppose some readers might not know that Max Yasgur’s farm near Bethel, N.Y., was the site of the Woodstock festival.)

I go back and forth on the Doors. Some of their singles still sound good, but others sound, well, dismal. And the same holds true for their albums, both track-by-track and record-by-record. Of all their albums, I think Morrison Hotel holds up best these days. And if “Ship of Fools” isn’t the best track on the record – I think “Roadhouse Blues” or “Indian Summer” gets that nod – it’s at least a good one.

“Spindrifter” a sweet piece, is basically the work of the late Nicky Hopkins, a highly regarded keyboard player who joined Quicksilver in the studio for a good portion of What About Me? As All-Music Guide notes: “For almost two decades, [Hopkins] was the most in-demand session pianist in rock,” working for, among many others, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, the Jeff Beck Group, the Jefferson Airplane and the Steve Miller Band.

It’s Time For A New Barbershop

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 11, 2009

I need a haircut this morning. Generally, the Texas Gal takes care of that over the weekends, but for some reason – simple inattention comes to mind – we didn’t get it done. So this morning, after I finish posting I’ll head out to the barbershop.

The barbershop won’t – it appears – be the one I used to go to when I was a kid. Last time I went past the old bank building across the street from the Lutheran church, the sign was still hanging there: “Laumeyer’s Barber Shop.” That was maybe a month ago, so I assume the shop was still operating. But when I called the number I found online this morning, the phone was disconnected. I checked the phone book and got the same number, and then called directory assistance. There’s no current listing.

It’s been a little more than thirty years since I last got my hair cut at Laumeyer’s, just before I left St. Cloud for Monticello. And Laumeyer’s was the location for my first professional haircut, when I was thirteen, just before entering ninth grade.

Up to then, my dad had cut my hair. I’d sit on a metal stool in the back porch/sewing room, and he’d use the black electric clippers that he’d had since before my memories began. He’d try gamely not to dig the clippers’ corners into my scalp, but it would happen. As years went on and boys’ hair became longer, he tried to adapt. I no longer wore my hair trimmed down to a basic-training-worthy quarter-inch. It was a bit longer, especially in the front, where my natural widow’s peak resulted in a three-inch long wave of hair poking its way forward, like the prow of a ship sailing through my forehead, or else, when my hair got longer, like a brown wave breaking over the prow of that very same ship.

That wasn’t very stylish, a fact that even Dad realized as the summer of 1967, the one between eighth and ninth grades, approached its end. One Saturday he pulled me aside shortly after I got up and told me I had an appointment for a haircut at Laumeyer’s that afternoon. He gave me, oh, maybe $1 or $1.50 to cover the cost. That afternoon, I rode my 1965 Schwinn Typhoon – the very same one that still resides in my garage – down Wilson Avenue and across East St. Germain to a small building not far from the railroad tracks. With my bike locked to a sign in front of the building, I walked into a barbershop for the first time.

I walked out an hour later with my hair trimmed almost all around, except in front where Duane had managed to fashion the summer’s growth into what looked like Beatle bangs across my forehead. Never mind that the Beatles by this time had moved on to far more hirsute appearances; it was better than my hair being a living sculpture of “The Voyage of the S.S. Dork.”

My hair’s style continued to evolve over the next ten years, as I made Laumeyer’s a regular stop. My hair got longer, and as it did, Jim and Duane and Ron – I didn’t see the need to cleave to just one barber – trimmed it and advised me on where to part it and how to take care of it.

As I sat in the barber’s chair for brief times through high school and into college, I heard conversations with other customers that implied years of acquaintance, an awareness that all of the three barbers had about their clients that included not just preferred hairstyle but also a small town knowledge of other preferences and of their lives:

“How’s your boy like the Army?”

“You still drivin’ that Chevy, then?”

“That first year of college, that first year away, yeah, that can be tough for them.”

“My wife’s aunt had that last year, but the docs say they got all of it.”

“He had Budweiser and Old Style on ice, an’ I walk up to him and says, ‘Where’s the Cold Spring?’ An’ he laughed and laughed.”

“I heard from one of the guys over there that they may cut back to two shifts. That’s gonna be tough for a lotta fellas.”

The guys cutting my hair asked about school, and what my college plans were, but no matter how important those things were to me, they didn’t seem to fit into the adult universe of conversation. I was sitting in the big barber chair, but it still felt as if I were dining at the kids’ table.

I was gone the one year during college and came back with hair longer than ever and with a beard and mustache as well, and they laughed at my stories as I laughed at theirs. As myth tells us and as most men learn, there is more to a barbershop than haircuts. They are home to, among other things, tales of other places, whether those other places be offices, factory floors, far-off jungles of war, or similarly distant taverns and museums. I’d had a glimpse of that before I left, and now that I had tales to tell of life elsewhere, I felt more a part of the brotherhood of the barbershop than I ever had before.

I remained in that brotherhood for the remaining few years I had left in St. Cloud. While I was gone, from 1977 into 2002, I had numerous barbers care for my hair, shaved and regrew the beard several times (not the mustache; that’s been a permanent part of my look since December 1973). At times my hair was fairly short, and other times, it wasn’t: For about four years, I had a ponytail that reached to the middle of my back. And I was never really in one place long enough to find that barbershop camaraderie again.

These days, I have my hair trimmed to the scalp, but I still have a beard and mustache that need trimming. After I finish here, I guess I’ll drive by Laumeyer’s just to make sure it’s closed, and then drive around the corner to Tom’s, a barbershop on Wilson that’s been there since I was a little stomper. Tom doesn’t take appointments; He said I’d get in pretty quick “as long as there isn’t six guys waitin’.”

Going to a new barbershop at the age of fifty-four feels oddly like going to a new school at the age of fourteen. So we’ll start with an appropriate tune and take a walk through the junkyard from there.

A Monday Walk Through The Junkyard
“Hair” by the Cowsills, MGM single 14026, 1969

“Let Me In” by Bonnie Raitt from Takin’ My Time, 1973

“Wait A Million Years” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill single 4198, 1969

“Someday Baby” by Muddy Waters with the Rolling Stones, Checkerboard, Chicago, November 1981

“Trains Don’t Run From Nashville” by Kate Campbell from Songs from the Levee, 1995

“Miracle” by the Moody Blues from Sur La Mer, 1988

“Country Pie” by Bob Dylan from Nashville Skyline, 1969

“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White, Monument single 1104, 1969

“The Assassination” by the Dixie Nightingales, Chalice single 102, 1965

“Monument” by Gene Parsons from Kindling, 1973

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Jeff Healey from Hell To Pay, 1990

“Candy Man Blues” by Ten Wheel Drive with Genya Ravan from Construction No. 1, 1969

“Not Another Night” by the Sapphire Thinkers from From Within, 1969

“Fragile” by Nanci Griffith from Flyer, 1994

“Cloud 9” by George Harrison from Cloud Nine, 1988

A few notes:

“Hair” is of course the title song from the musical that so scandalized folks starting with its premiere in 1967 and then its move to Broadway a year later. Drugs, sex, profanity, irreverence and naked people on stage! Nevertheless, the composers and writers – James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot – came up with numerous songs that became anthems for the age (as well as hits for various performers). “Hair” is the most humorous and even perhaps vaudevillian; other songs that became hits, all in 1969, were “Easy To Be Hard” (Three Dog Night), “Good Morning, Starshine” (Oliver), and most notably, I guess, “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” (5th Dimension).

The Bonnie Raitt track comes from the album of hers that is likely my favorite. With notables like Lowell George of Litte Feat, Taj Mahal, Milt Holland, Earl Palmer and others taking part, the record continues to be a great listen and was likely the high point of Raitt’s career until Nick of Time in 1989.

I’m not sure where I got the soundboard recording of Muddy Waters with the Stones. The sound is a little thick at times, but it’s a pretty good performance, especially considering that Muddy was ailing at the time; he would be dead in less than two years.

“Polk Salad Annie” was no doubt among the first deep southern numbers I ever heard coming out of my radio speaker in 1969. I loved it then and I love it today: “Chomp, chomp-chomp!”

“The Assassination” is a harrowing and pretty take on the killing of President John Kennedy in Dallas in November 1963. As it played, I wondered – as I did the first time I heard it – who had the guts to create it and who would listen to it more than once, anyway? The Dixie Nightingales were a long-time Southern Gospel group that in the early 1960s signed with Memphis’ Stax Records. Chalice was evidently a Stax subsidiary label.

Sapphire Thinkers was a California band that recorded the one album, From Within. Chocoreve, where I evidently found the rip, is a blog that’s a great source for late 1960s obscurities, among other things. The writer there noted that the album is “likable and strong enough to hold your attention for repeat plays. Elements from disparate sources are brought in – Curt Boettcher sunshine pop, Bay Area teen [T]op 40 psych like Neighb’rhood Childr’n, Sunset Strip organ/fuzz/flute a la Strawberry Alarm Clock – yet the end result is consistent and convincing, with plenty of strength in the songwriting and arrangements, and no major weaknesses.” Thanks, Chocoreve.

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.

‘. . . And The Red Light Was My Mind’

September 8, 2010

The first bit of a Robert Johnson song I ever heard, I once theorized, was the short excerpt of “Come On In My Kitchen” that started off “49 Bye-Byes” on the album Crosby, Stills & Nash. I can’t put a specific date on when I heard it, but I know I got the album in early May of 1971.

Nor, it turns out, can I put a precise date to the first time I heard one of Johnson’s song performed in its entirety. I do, however, remember the circumstances. It was a Friday in the spring of 1972, almost certainly April. I headed out for some record shopping that evening, no doubt beginning at Axis, the store on St. Germain – St. Cloud’s main street – that stocked a good selection of new and used LPs as well as leather coats, hats and other goods. I went pretty quickly to the used records.

It should be remembered that in the spring of 1972, I was still catching up on about eight years of pop and rock history. I’d listened pretty consistently to Top 40 music during my last two years of high school, and had caught up then on some things I’d missed. I’d spent a good deal of my first year of college hanging around the campus radio station, and now I was digging into albums, trying again to catch up at least a little, this time with my radio station colleagues and my buddies in the dorms.

And in the bins at Axis, I found a record with a strange cover: It showed a flat landscape, and in the foreground there was a leaping, grinning man dressed in white, a guitar in each hand and an absurd Uncle Sam hat topping things off. To his right was a donkey laden with a drum set and another guitar. The record was, of course, ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out’, subtitled The Rolling Stones in concert.

Well. I knew of the Rolling Stones, of course. Like the Beatles, the Supremes and a few other performers and groups, they’d been an inescapable portion of the musical landscape through the years when my peers listened to Top 40 and I had my ears still tuned elsewhere. I might not have known the names of all the Stones’ hits from the years before I began listening, but I knew the records. And I knew “Honky Tonk Women,” the single that had been No. 1 for the first four weeks of my tenure as a football manager during my junior year of high school.

Intrigued, I turned the record over and scanned the titles. There was “Honky Tonk Women” on the second side. Other than that, I sheepishly admit, I recognized only one title: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” But I didn’t know the Stones’ version well. My best knowledge of the song came through Leon Russell’s performance of it during the Concert for Bangladesh; I’d gotten that box set for Christmas. Given those two bits of familiarity – and my knowledge that the Rolling Stones were important and thus it was important for me to know more about them – I took the record to the counter. The price tag is still on the front of the record, some thirty-eight years later. I paid $1.99 for it.

Anxious to show off my find to a buddy or two, I stopped at St. Cloud State’s Stearns Hall on my way home. I found my pal Dave and his girlfriend hanging around in his room, and they chuckled when they saw “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” listed on the back; I’d made no secret of my admiration for Leon Russell’s performance. Dave cued up the record, and we listened to that track, the first on the record. After that, as it was obvious I’d interrupted something that Dave and his girl wanted to resume, I took my record and headed home.

And in the basement rec room, I cued up the record once again and listened to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Chuck Berry’s “Carol” and “Stray Cat Blues.” I was pleased but puzzled. This wasn’t the Rolling Stones that I remembered from the radio. Keep in mind, first, that I only vaguely recalled the Stones’ studio version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and that I’d not heard the album tracks from Beggar’s Banquet. Secondly, since no singles from it had reached the Top 40, I’d likely never heard anything from Let It Bleed. And there was no way that “Honky Tonk Women” – the only Stones’ song I knew at all well – could have prepared me for this earthy and bluesy music.

Then came the introduction to “Love In Vain.” And I heard an entire Robert Johnson song for the first time. I stared at the floor as Mick Jagger bit off the desolate words and I stared at the stereo across the room as Mick Taylor took his slide solo, and then I heard Jagger sing about the blue light and the red light, all of it pulling me along into the blues.

I didn’t stay there long that time; I was eighteen. In later years, of course, I’d delve deeply into the blues and wander through all the genres, including blues rock. Much of that later exploration opened another world to me – especially the larger-than-life work of Howlin’ Wolf – but I’m not sure I’ve ever been pulled into a song as deeply as I was that evening when I heard “Love In Vain” for the first time.

(I should note that when I first heard the Stones’ live version of “Love In Vain,” it wasn’t listed as a Robert Johnson composition; the album credits said the song was “Traditional arr. Jagger/Richard.” I’m not sure when the songwriting credit was changed – I’d guess the early 1990s – but the 2002 reissue of the CD credits the song to Johnson.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 33
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White from Black and White [1969]
“Love in Vain” by the Rolling Stones from ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out’ [1970]
“Love Train” by the O’Jays, Philadelphia International 3524 [1972]
“December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the 4 Seasons, Warner/Curb 8168 [1976]
“Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen from Darkness on the Edge of Town [1978]
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House from Crowded House [1986]

Talk about another world! The swamp rock of Tony Joe White was unlike pretty much anything else in the Top 40 during the last weeks of August 1969, when “Polk Salad Annie” went to No. 8. (Creedence Clearwater Revival had two songs in the Top 40, but I think Tony Joe came from a little deeper in the swamp.) The bluesy tale of the gal whose mama was workin’ on a chain gang intrigued me whenever I heard it coming out of the radio speakers, especially White’s growled introduction and his spoken interjections. Of course, I didn’t do anything about it: I never bought the single, and I didn’t get the album that was home to the single – Black and White – until sometime in the 1990s. But I still love the record. “Polk Salad Annie” brought White his only hit, although he continues to perform and record; his most recent album, The Shine, came out earlier this year.

When the O’Jays called us out to the station in 1972, I’m not sure that anyone who heard the infectious “Love Train” didn’t want to get on board. As I detailed the other day when I wrote about “Back Stabbers,” the group had seen singles move into the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B chart for years before Top 40 success arrived. And arrive it did: “Love Train” went to No. 1, and was No. 1 for four weeks on the R&B chart as well. The group would hit the Top 40 seven more times before the string of hits ended in 1980. (The hits on the R&B and related charts continued, and as recently as 2004, the O’Jays had a track – “Make Up” – get to No. 74 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.)

I was sitting at The Table at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center in early 1976 when the 4 Season’s “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” came on the jukebox. My friend Stu shook his head. “Man,” he said, “what a great bass line. One of the best ever.” I took that judgment under advisement, and over the years, I’ve polished it to the point where I credit the 4 Seasons’ hit – it was No. 1 for three weeks – with having the best pop music bass line ever. And it is the bass line that moves the song along as it tells its tale of a one-night stand. The 4 Seasons had thirty Top 40 hits between 1962 and 1976 (with a dance remix of “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” going to No. 14 in 1994 for a thirty-first hit). But “December 1963” is the only one that does anything at all for me.

“Badlands” was the first Bruce Springsteen song I recall hearing. As I’ve noted before, I was aware of the hoopla surrounding Born To Run when it came out in 1975, but I don’t recall ever hearing the title track on the radio (which is odd, as it went to No. 23). I suppose I heard it but didn’t pay much attention. But I do remember hearing “Badlands” one day when I was working for the Monticello newspaper. My boss had a new Suburban, which we used to bring the 3,000 or so copies of each weekly edition back from the printer in a town ten miles away. One Wednesday during the summer of 1978, it was my job to drive to Buffalo, put the final touches on the newspaper and then bring back the finished product. One of the benefits of driving the Suburban was the FM radio, something my vehicle did not have. So after I started the Suburban, I tuned it to KQRS, an album-rock station in the Twin Cities, and the first thing I heard was Max Weinberg’s brief drum riff and then – I had the volume turned up high – the crash of “Badlands,” with its stinging, octave-jumping guitar riff and Clarence Clemons’ own defiant solo. Over the years, because of that moment and because of its musical and lyrical toughness, “Badlands” has remained one of my favorite Springsteen songs. It just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 42 in the Billboard Hot 100, but it deserved better, if for no other reason than the line: “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”

We’d had a spat one day, the Texas Gal and I. It was the summer of 2000: She was still living and working in the Dallas area, and I was living in my apartment on Minneapolis’ Bossen Terrace, a half-block from the international airport. I don’t recall what the argument was about, but troubled, I tried to think of a way to apologize without interrupting her during a busy afternoon. I wasn’t quite certain she wanted to talk to me at the moment, anyway. As I sat at my computer, my RealPlayer settled on a Crowded House tune, one that I liked a fair amount. It had been a No. 2 hit in early 1987, but I recalled it from my second year in Minot; one of the young women who edited the Minot State yearbook brought mixtapes in for the yearbook production sessions, and the sounds of those mixtapes came unavoidably through my door into my office. Happily, I’d liked most of the tunes I’d thus heard, including the Crowded House record that was now playing. As the song went on and I worried about how the Texas Gal felt after our argument, I opened my Yahoo! messenger and changed my status to: “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” I knew that the program – which she also had on her computer at work – would alert her to my change of status. A few moments later, I got an alert that her status had also changed. I don’t recall the exact wording – and neither does she – but her message was reassuring. And since that day, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” – a beautifully written, performed and produced piece of pop music – has been one of our favorite songs.