Posts Tagged ‘Traffic’

Play Ball!

June 3, 2022

Originally posted November 13, 2009

It’s a busy day today, but it’s for a good reason.

Tomorrow, my long-time pals Rick, Rob and Dan come into St. Cloud for our fourth annual Strat-O-Matic baseball tournament. From mid-morning to early evening, we’ll laugh, tell stories, listen to a wide variety of tunes and play a little tabletop baseball along the way.

Once again, Rob is the defending champion. In last year’s tournament, his two-time champ, the 1922 St. Louis Browns, were knocked off in the first round. But he took his second team – the 1995 Colorado Rockies – to the title with a remarkable combination of lots of offense, some good bullpen management and lots of luck. (Even he acknowledges that last part.)

So Rick, Dan and I will try to keep Rob from winning a fourth straight title. For those who are interested, here are the teams that are in this year’s tournament. (For those uninterested, you can skip to the next paragraph.)

Rob: The defending champion 1995 Rockies and the 1922 New York Giants
Rick: The 1976 Phillies and the 1990 Athletics
Dan: The 1934 St. Louis Cardinals and the 1927 New York Yankees
Me: The 1948 Indians and the 1961 Cincinnati Reds

Whatever happens, the day of the annual tournament is one of the best days of the year for me, a chance to share my home and some very good times with my long-time friends. The Texas Gal puts up with the noise and the disruption with an amazing amount of grace. I imagine that our two annual tournaments (baseball in the autumn and hockey in spring) leave her feeling as if she’s the housemother in a fraternity house for graying sophomores.

Each spring and fall, as we plan our menu and the required grocery and liquor store trips, she’ll remind me of something and say, “That’s for the Saturday the boys are here, so make sure we have enough.”

We’ll have plenty of everything we need tomorrow, when the boys are back in town.

A Six-Pack of Boys
“The Boys Are Back In Town” by Thin Lizzy from Jailbreak [1976]
“Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” by Brownsville Station from Yeah! [1973]
“Boys in the Band” by Mountain from Climbing! [1970]
“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley from Building the Perfect Beast [1984]
“One of the Boys” by Mott the Hoople from All The Young Dudes [1972]
“The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic from The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys [1971

The most anthemic of these is the Thin Lizzy track (though Don Henley comes close). With its almost relentless guitar riffs, “The Boys Are Back In Town” dares you not to tap your feet or bob your head or pound out a rhythm on the steering wheel. And if you’re in the car, there’s no way you’re not going to turn the radio up all the way. The single was Thin Lizzy’s only hit, peaking at No. 12 during the summer of 1976. Oh, and that line about “drivin’ all the old men crazy”? It’s a little disquieting to realize that if I were anyone in the song these days, I’d be one of those old men.

I always thought Brownsville Station’s “Smoking in the Boys’ Room” was kind of a silly song, but then, it came along a little bit after I left high school and before there were hardly any anti-smoking regulations came to our college campus: Smoking was definitely allowed in school. But it moves along nicely, boogies a little bit, and it does have a hell of a hook. The single went to No. 3 during the winter of 1973-74.

Mountain’s “Boys in the Band” is a subtle track, almost delicate at moments, that seems to belie the band’s reputation for guitar excess. But the elegiac tone fits perfectly for a song that has its protagonist saying goodbye to his band and life on the road:

We play tunes today
Leaving memory of yesterday.
All the circles widen getting in the sun,
All the seasons spinning all the days one by one

The title of Don Henley’s album, Building the Perfect Beast, fits, because Henley darn near built the perfect pop song in “The Boys of Summer.” Backed on that track by a stellar quartet – Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers, Steve Porcaro of Toto, studio pro Danny Kortchmar and bassist Larry Klein – Henley melds haunting music and literate and thoughtful lyrics into a cohesive whole. And you can tap your feet to it, too. (Or pound on the steering wheel, if you’re driving behind that Cadillac with the Grateful Dead sticker on it.) The single went to No. 5 during its fourteen weeks on in the Top 40 as 1984 turned into 1985.

Hey kids! Hear that odd sound at the beginning of Mott the Hoople’s “One of the Boys”? When we old farts talk about dialing a telephone, that’s what it sounded like. That’s an honest-to-god dial telephone. There are other positives to the song, too, of course: It’s a crunchy piece of rock, with its chords shimmering in the glam persona of Ian Hunter and his band, and it’s another opportunity to bruise your hands on the steering wheel.

On a Saturday sometime around 1975, I was sitting in the basement rec room, reading and listening to Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. I’d borrowed the album from someone – maybe Rick – and was trying to decide if I should shell out some of my own coin for my own copy. I liked what I heard and was thinking about heading downtown later in the day to buy the record. As the languid title track played, I heard the door at the top of the basement stairs open and I recognized my dad’s tread. Steve Winwood sang:

If you had just a minute to breath
And they granted you one final wish . . .

My dad, coming into the room, sang, “Would you wish for fish?”

And from that moment on, every time I’ve heard the song, I remember my dad being silly. I miss him.

And At No. 95 . . .

September 5, 2013

So what do we know about September 5?

Well, two things I know right off the top of my head: Baseball Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie was born on September 5, 1874, in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. And I was born on September 5, 1953, here in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Yep, I’m sixty years old today. That’s a lot of candles.

Or maybe not. When I was a kid, our family made a mathematical game out of candles on birthday cakes. Let’s say it was Dad’s birthday, and he was fifty-seven. Mom might put four big candles and one small candle on Dad’s cake and then let me figure it out: The big candles counted for thirteen years each, and the little one was five years.

So my cake today might have three big candles, or five big candles and one small one, or maybe four big candles and four small ones. Or maybe just one honking big candle. The one thing I’m pretty sure of is that, with apologies to the Crests, it probably wouldn’t be sixteen candles, at least not sixteen identical candles, because we never went in for fractions or percentages. (Sixteen identical candles would come out to 3.75 years per candle, but on the other hand, sixteen candles would work if you went with six big candles at five years each and ten small candles at three years each. There are many ways to skin a birthday candle equation.)

Candles and Nap Lajoie aside, there are a few other notable events that have happened on September 5, according to Wikipedia: In 1666, the Great Fire of London ended, after destroying 10,000 buildings including St. Paul’s Cathedral but killing only six people. In 1774, the first Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia. In 1836, Sam Houston was elected the first president of the Republic of Texas. In 1906, Brabury Robinson of St. Louis University threw the first legal forward pass in college football to Jack Schneider as the Billikens-to-be (the university adopted the lovable and unique mascot sometime around 1911) defeated Carroll College of Wisconsin 22-0. Wikipedia lists many more September 5 events, but I’ll stop there.

But what about – as is our focus here – music? Maybe the Billboard charts and some records found at No. 95? (For 9/5, of course.) Odd and Pop – my imaginary tunehead companions – urge caution. “If you dig that deep in the charts for today’s music, you might get something weird,” says Pop.

“Well, that would be good,” says Odd. “After all, who wants to hear something that was so popular that we can sing it in our sleep?”

Tossing their cautions into the September breeze, I head to the files to check out the Billboard Hot 100s between 1954 and, oh, 1990 that were released on September 5. There were six of them.

The first of those September 5 charts came out in 1956, when Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” was sitting at No. 1. We could choose from among four records, as there was a four-way tie at No. 93, listed alphabetically by title. We’ll go with the third of those four, which leaves us with “Lola’s Theme” by Steve Allen. Unfortunately, I can find no trace of the recording online (though some 45s and 78s of it are for sale). The record – a version of a theme from the movie Trapeze starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis – went to No. 75. It was one of six records Allen put into or near the Hot 100 between 1955 and 1964, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Hits. Allen’s recording of “Lola’s Theme” was one of two to reach the chart; Muir Mathieson’s version of the tune went to No. 67, also in 1956. I did manage to find a non-charting version of the tune at YouTube, so here’s “Lola’s Theme” as released that same year by Ralph Marterie & His Orchestra.

We jump ahead to 1960 and find a record that my little pal Odd is going to love. Sitting at No. 95 on the day I turned seven years old was “Rocking Goose” by Johnny & The Hurricanes, a group better known for “Red River Rock,” their No. 5 hit from 1959. “Rocking Goose” went to No. 60 and was one of ten Hot 100 hits or near-hits for the group. It’s just silly enough that the seven-year-old whiteray might have liked it if he’d ever heard it. It’s doubtful that he did, though. And he likely wasn’t aware, either, that Elvis had another No. 1 hit that week, “It’s Now Or Never.”

Oddly enough, the No. 95 record from the Hot 100 released on September 5, 1964, was from an artist whose passing last month was noted by major media and numerous blogs: Eydie Gormé. “Can’t Get Over (The Bossa Nova)” was on a very short climb to No. 87 and was a follow-up to Gormé’s No. 7 hit from 1963, “Blame It On The Bossa Nova.” The follow-up is a decent record but, as with most sequels, tends to pale in comparison to the original. I imagine I might have heard it on a television variety show or maybe even on the radio at home: “Can’t Get Over (The Bossa Nova)” went to No. 20 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Sitting at No. 1 on the day I turned eleven was a record I vaguely remember hearing as my sister listened to KDWB: “House Of The Rising Sun” by the Animals.

Our next stop is right in the middle of what I call my “sweet spot,” the years when music and Top 40 radio mattered the most to me back then. The No. 95 record on September 5, 1970, just a few days before I started my senior year of high school, was “Empty Pages” by Traffic. I don’t know that I heard the song then; the title doesn’t show up in any of the KDWB surveys collected at the Oldiesloon website, and the record peaked in the Hot 100 at only No. 74. (The single might have been shorter or otherwise different from the album version in the linked video; I don’t know.) I was, however, familiar with the No. 1 record that week, Edwin Starr’s “War,” which was in the second of three weeks on top of the chart.

By 1981, I was rarely listening to hit radio, as the Other Half and I tended to tune into one of the Twin Cities AC stations on the clock radio and on those frequent evenings when we sat reading with the radio on in the background. So it’s a pleasant surprise to find that I know well the record that was sitting at No. 95 on my twenty-eighth birthday: “All Those Years Ago,” George Harrison’s tribute to the murdered John Lennon. “All Those Years Ago” had been No. 2 for two weeks and had gone to No. 1 on the AC chart, one of eighteen records that Harrison placed in the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1988. The No. 1 record that week was the abysmal Diana Ross/Lionel Richie duet, “Endless Love,” in the fourth week of a nine-week stint on top of the Hot 100.

Our last stop of the day is 1987, when I celebrated my birthday in Minot, N.D., having moved there just a few weeks earlier. The No. 95 record on September 5, 1987, is one that I know I’ve  heard many times, but today marks the first time I’ve ever sought it out: “Girls, Girls, Girls” by the bearers of unnecessary umlauts, Mötley Crüe. The record went to No. 12, one of fourteen hits and near-hits Whitburn lists for the group through 2008. I doubt that I’ve ever sought out the No. 1 record for that week, either, though I’ve heard it many times: “La Bamba” by Los Lobos, in the first of three weeks atop the chart.