Posts Tagged ‘U2’

In The Valley Of The Unplayed

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 24, 2009

We are in the valley of the unplayed (and to some degree, unloved as well) today.

Last evening, before we sat down to dinner, I asked the Texas Gal to survey three of the four crates on top of the bookcases and pull out six LPs. She did so, handing them to me without looking at them. She had a plan, at least after the first LP: The first one had a gray spine, but all the other jackets after that had an orange spine. So this is music with orange backbones.

(There was one change from the Texas Gal’s selections: The LP of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor was too hacked for me to be happy sharing anything from it. So I called the Texas Gal at work and asked her which orange-spined LP I should select to replace it. The sixteenth, she said. Since there were only six or so LPs left with even partly orange spines, I counted around and around until I came to sixteen. And I pulled the LP out and slid it into Bernstein’s spot. I think Lenny would have liked the song that replaced the fourth movement of the Brahms.)

A reminder: These are records that have been travelling with me for years, gained in bulk buys, odd gifts, garage sale pickings. In any case, these are records that generally haven’t interested me for one reason or another. Often, I’ll poke my way through one of the crates and see a particular record and think, “I need to listen to that soon.” And then I forget about it. Will I listen to the remainder of these records now that I’ve gotten at least one track down? Maybe.

First out of the crates is an LP that’s actually a replacement for a very poor copy I had earlier. I picked up the first copy in 1990 and replaced it in 1999, when I was bringing home albums at a rate of two a day, according to my LP log. And U2’s War got shuffled into the crates until today.

I’m of several minds about U2. I like most of the early stuff, up to and including Rattle and Hum. The group’s experiments in the 1990s were interesting but not very likeable; their work since then is likeable but not very interesting. Well, the song the group recently performed at the Grammy awards, “Get On Your Boots,” was interesting in a train-wreck sort of way. For a number of years, U2 was called the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world, and for some of that time, that label might actually have been accurate. But accolades like that generally bring along unfortunate consequences: Back in the 1960s, when faced with that label, the Beatles became self-conscious. A few years later, the Rolling Stones became (even more) self-indulgent.

And U2 – especially Bono – became self-important. (My blogging colleague Any Major Dude examined Bono and the band last month and found U2 – and Bono especially – wanting. It’s a good read.)

Anyway, the first LP out of the crates was War, and here – using the selection system offered by Casey at The College Crowd Digs Me in honor of his dad’s long-ago system – is Track Four:

“Like A Song…” by U2 from War, 1983

I like several recordings by Seals and Crofts. The soft-rock duo had an intriguing sound from the time “Summer Breeze” hit the charts in 1972 until sometime in, maybe, 1974. And, along with “Summer Breeze,” there are two Seals and Crofts songs that pull me away to another time: “Diamond Girl” and “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” remain among my favorite records from my college days.

But by 1978, when the duo released Takin’ It Easy (talk about truth in titling!), there was little to separate Seals and Crofts from any other band making softish pop rock, from Pablo Cruise through Firefall to the Little River Band. Their music had turned into audio wallpaper. Track Four on Takin’ It Easy, “You’re The Love,” still spent seven weeks in the Top 40 during the spring and summer of 1978, peaking at No. 18.

“You’re The Love” by Seals and Crofts from Takin’ It Easy, 1978 (Warner Bros. 8551)

The first time I saw Devo was on Saturday Night Live in 1978 or so. The woman of the house and I stared at the television set in amazed bafflement as the band performed “Jocko Homo,” with its chorus that echoed the title of the group’s debut album: “Are we not men? We are Devo.” Not sure if the whole thing was a put-on, we laughed, shaking our heads. And then forgot about it.

Of course, I’ve heard more Devo over the years, though I’ve never dug deeply into the group’s discography. But then New Wave – and Devo was, I think, a milepost for that genre – was never a style I looked into too deeply. (I think there is a copy of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! somewhere around here, but I’m not at all sure.) The third LP the Texas Gal pulled out of the crates last evening was Freedom of Choice, Devo’s third album, from 1980. And coming right after “Whip It” is Track Four, “Snowball.”

“Snowball” by Devo from Freedom of Choice, 1980

This is where the Bernstein should go, with the finale of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor. But, as I noted above, the record looked too battered to provide a clean rip. (A few pops and crackles are not unexpected, but this record was gouged; I may discard it.) And the LP I pulled from the crates to replace it one of those that I know I should have listened to long ago: Heartbeat City by the Cars.

The Cars were called a New Wave band, and maybe that’s accurate, but from where I listen now, the group’s work had a depth in songwriting and musicianship that wasn’t always found in the work of other bands in the genre. Maybe the other leading New Wave bands had those things and I just didn’t hear them. All I know is that I enjoyed what I heard from the Cars over the years enough that I bought the group’s greatest hits album long ago. (And along with my copy of Heartbeat City, I think there’s a copy of Candy-O in the unplayed stacks that I should pull out.) So when I cued up Track Four of Heartbeat City this morning, I was pleased to hear the beautiful and shimmering “Drive.” Sung by the late Benjamin Orr, the single went to No. 3 in the late summer of 1984.*

“Drive” by the Cars from Heartbeat City, 1984 (Elektra 69706)

My LP collection long ago ceased to be a reflection of my likes and dislikes. Somewhere in the 1990s, it became something more like an archive. It’s certainly not comprehensive; there are entire genres that are represented barely if at all. But among the nearly 3,000 LPs there are some, that I don’t care for very much, both on the shelves and in the crates where the unplayed LPs wait.

Whitney Houston can sing better than the vast majority of people who have ever tried. The lady has great pipes. She has a shining family legacy of gospel, soul and R&B. And she has sold an incredible number of records. From where I listen, however, she’s spent her career wasting her voice on soulless piffle. (I might exempt “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” from that, but I’ll have to think about it.) Here’s Track Four of her self-titled debut. The single went to No. 1 in 1984.

“Saving All My Love For You” by Whitney Houston from Whitney Houston, 1985 (Arista 9381)

The last of the six orange-spined LPs was a 1980 reissue of a 1963 double-record set collecting the greatest performances of the late Patsy Cline. Released shortly after her death in a plane crash in March 1963, the twenty-four song package probably does a good a job of summing up her career for the casual fan. That pretty well describes me: I know a bit about Cline, and I understand her place in the popularization of country music in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

That popularization, which included the smoothing of the rough edges on country music of the time – the development of the so-called “countrypolitan” sound – put into motion trends in country music that have continued unabated to this day. The result is that, to note one egregious example, the music of Taylor Swift is marketed as country, when it seems to have no real connection at all to that historic genre.

Well, that wasn’t Patsy Cline’s fault. (It’s probably not Taylor Swift’s fault, for that matter.) No matter what the arrangement behind her was, when Patsy Cline began to sing, you knew she was a country artist. Here’s Track Four from The Patsy Cline Story.

“Strange” by Patsy Cline, recorded August 25, 1961 (Decca ED 2719)

I promised the Kiddie Corner Kid that I’d post something from the Willmar Boys’ Chorus album, a self-titled collection of the group’s work that I got in a box of records at a garage sale. (Willmar, as I’ve noted a couple of times, is a city of about 18,000 [according to Wikipedia] that sits about sixty miles southwest of St. Cloud.) Looking at the record jacket and at the photos of the two accompanists and the director, using clothing and hair styles to gauge the year, I’m going to guess it’s from the period from 1965 to 1968.

And there was a little bit of a shock when I was looking at those three photos. You see, I knew the woman who was the group’s director. She and her husband – who worked at St. Cloud State – went to our church when I was in high school and college and I think she sang in the choir at the time, as I did. As I glanced over the photos the first time, I thought, “Gee, that looks like Mrs. O——-!” My eyes dropped to the identification beneath the photo, and that’s exactly who it was, identified – as was the custom of the time – as “Mrs. Robert O——-.”

I didn’t know her well: She was an adult and I was not. I don’t recall her first name, though I’m sure I’d recognize it if saw it or heard it. But I recognized her immediately. And I think it’s odd how little bits of our past fly up to touch us, sometimes from the strangest places.**

Anyway, the Willmar Boys’ Chorus put together a two-record set sometime during the 1960s, most likely as a souvenir for the kids and their families. (I have a few similar records sitting on the shelves recorded by groups in which I played.) And here’s Track Four:

“Doctor Foster” (after Handel) from Willmar Boys’ Chorus, about 1965.

*I am clearly not certain about the Cars. Several times during more than five years of blogging, I have called the Cars’ music “brittle and fussy.” (That’s a description I also frequently lay on Roxy Music.) In this piece, however, I note that I “I enjoyed what I heard from the Cars over the years enough that I bought the group’s greatest hits album long ago.” I suppose that all those two widely separated opinions mean is that there are times – and I think they are rare – when I enjoy the Cars’ music. (“Drive” is an exception, being a track I enjoy anytime it comes my way.) Note added June 20, 2012.

**In the way these things go, I recalled the lady’s first name very soon after this post went up. It was Ruth. Note added June 20, 2012.

‘Pretty Lights On The Tree . . .’

December 22, 2011

Our very minimal celebration of the Christmas season continues here today with a look at covers of the song that in recent years has become my favorite Christmas tune: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

Written by Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, the song’s first appearance was in a performance by Darlene Love on the 1963 album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. It’s become better known in recent years for Love’s annual Christmas week performance of the song on The Late Show With David Letterman. (This year’s performance is scheduled for Friday evening.)

Over the past few years, we’ve decorated our tree sparely here at Echoes In The Wind with Love’s live versions of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and with John Lennon’s original version of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” as well as some covers of the latter tune. This year, I thought, we’d find a cover of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” to hang on our tree.

As thorough as All-Music Guide might be in its listings (and I sometimes wonder about that), it’s hard to know exactly how many cover versions there might be of any song. In the case of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” AMG notes that there are just more than a hundred CDs that offer a version of the song. There are also listings with other punctuations, about twenty-five of them. Many of those listings will be duplicates, of course. Just at a guess, I’d say one can find references to maybe forty different versions of the song in the AMG listings. (I also looked at Amazon, and found a list there of about a hundred mp3s of the tune, many of those duplicating each other.)

Maybe half of those listings at AMG are of the original Darlene Love version. In the other half, we find covers of the tune by Mariah Carey, the New Bomb Turks, Leighton Meester, Brenda K. Starr, Flash Cadillac, the Desires, Death Cab For Cutie, Joey Ramone, Sha Na Na, and many other performers, including some whose names I don’t recognize. I passed those by.

I did take a listen to quite a few covers of the song in the past few days, including versions by Hanson, Michael Bublé, Melissa Etheridge, Cher and Dion. Of those, I’d recommend the Dion version.

The cover I liked most, however, was one I would have guessed I wouldn’t like at all when I began to dig. In 1989, the album A Very Special Christmas was released as a benefit for the Special Olympics. Among the acts who appeared on the album were the Pointer Sisters, the Eurhythmics, Run DMC, Sting, John Mellencamp, Bon Jovi and Stevie Nicks.

Also on the album was U2, which put together its own version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” one that I like quite a lot (though I can do without the spoken introduction):

A Baker’s Dozen from 1987

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 24, 2007

In 1987, I began what I now call the nomadic phase of my life. During the nearly five-year period from May 1987 through March 1992, I moved eight times, wandering from Minnesota to North Dakota back to Minnesota to Kansas to Missouri and back to Minnesota.

It was, clearly, an unsettled time in my life. I taught at two universities, a college and a community college, lost one cat, wrote for four newspapers, wrote a novel and lots of lyrics, fell in love three times and watched it fade three times, bought more than six hundred records, made friends and lost friends, survived the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 (a total of twenty-eight inches of snow fell in the Twin Cities from October 31 through November 3), and wound up on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, where I lived for the next seven years, waiting (though I did not know it) for the Texas Gal’s path to intersect mine.

And, as always, I listened to a lot of music. Being on college campuses at various times during those years kept me more in touch with new music than I had been when I was working as a free-lance writer. That was especially true in Minot, where I advised the college newspaper for two academic years, from the autumn of 1987 through the spring of 1989. My office was adjacent to the paper’s newsroom/workroom and the sound of the radio in the next room was inescapable. Luckily, I liked most of what I heard.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1987

“There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret)” by Nanci Griffith from Lone Star State of Mind

“Hooked On Your Love” by Lynn White, Waylo single 3022

“Runaway Train” by Rosanne Cash from King’s Record Shop

“Someplace Else” by George Harrison from Cloud Nine

“Touch of Grey” by the Grateful Dead from In The Dark

“Paper In Fire” by John Mellencamp from The Lonesome Jubilee

“Yes” by Merry Clayton from the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing

“Tougher Than The Rest” by Bruce Springsteen from Tunnel of Love

“Tango In The Night” by Fleetwood Mac from Tango In The Night

“The Mystery” by Van Morrison from Poetic Champions Compose

“With You Or Without You” by U2 from The Joshua Tree

“Hazy Shade of Winter” by the Bangles, Def Jam single 07630

“Unchain My Heart” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart

A few notes on some of the songs:

Lynn White came from Alabama and had her first success in 1982 when Sho Me Records released her single “I Don’t Wanna Ever See Your Face Again.” Among those who heard it was Memphis producer Willie Mitchell, who released the single on his own label, Waylo, and brought White into his Memphis studio. Her records did well, and in 1987, “Hooked On Your Love” was released as the B-side to “He’ll Leave You For Her.” The single is a good indication of how Mitchell’s sound had evolved since the days of Al Green, Otis Clay and Ann Peebles. (Thanks to Red Kelly at The “B” Side for the tune and the information.)

Rosanne Cash’s “Runaway Train” is about as clear-headed an assessment of love flying off the rails on a curve as you can find in song. Written by John Stewart (of “Gold” and “Midnight Wind” from 1979) and produced by Rodney Crowell, Cash’s husband at the time, it’s a disquieting song. Dave Marsh, who ranked it at No. 590 in The Heart Of Rock & Soul, his listing of the 1001 greatest singles of all time, notes that the “husk of Rosanne’s singing and the thrash of those drums . . . evoke without flinching a million exhausted midnight fights between lovers too familiar with each other’s moves to be taken by surprise or learn anything new, too wrapped up in each other’s lives to know how to quit.”

It took the Grateful Dead more than twenty years to have a Top 40 single. The infectious “Touch of Grey” spent sixteen weeks on the Cash Box Top 100 chart in the autumn of 1987, peaking at No. 17.

Merry Clayton’s “Yes” was included on the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing when it was released in the fall of 1987. The song was released as a single in 1988 and spent twelve weeks on the Cash Box chart but didn’t quite make the Top 40, peaking at No. 42.

Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night is a sweet album and remains one of my favorites by the group. It was Lindsey Buckingham’s last work with the band until Say You Will in 2003, and he took his leave with an album that grows on me more and more every time I hear it. The title tune, which came up during a random play for this list, is all right, but I would have preferred “Caroline” or “Seven Wonders.”

“Unchain My Heart” is the opener and the title track to Joe Cocker’s lively and accomplished album of late 1987. I’m not sure how many times Cocker had mounted a comeback by 1987, but the album was one of his better comeback efforts and this track is one of the best on the record. That’s Clarence Clemons taking the saxophone solo.

As always, bit rates may vary.

Thanks 100,000 times!
Back in late 1989, I had a Toyota station wagon that was approaching the 100,000-mile mark. As I drove home one November evening, I could tell that the car would be at 99,999.8 miles when I put it in the garage for the evening. So I drove an extra time around my block, watching the odometer move to 100,000 and beyond. It’s one of those things you don’t often see (although as automobiles last longer these days, I imagine it’s more common).

I felt a little bit then like I did yesterday afternoon when I refreshed the page here at Echoes In The Wind and saw that the number of visitors had changed from 99,999 to 100,000. Someone in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, was the 100,000th visitor here since February 1. It’s a number that boggles my mind, and I just want to thank that Dutch visitor, and everyone else who stops by, for visiting my little corner of the ’Net.

‘I Go Out Walkin’ . . .’

February 16, 2010

As I’ve mentioned several times over the past three years – and yeah, the third birthday of Echoes In The Wind went by without comment sometime around February 1, the date of the first post here – for many years country music and I were strangers.

My dad listened to country music on the radio by his basement workbench and in his old ’52 Ford, but he wasn’t a music fan, as such. I doubt that he knew the names of many of the artists he heard as the music on WVAL took him through an afternoon of tinkering in the basement. And I never really knew anyone whom I can recall from childhood whose family listened to country music at home.

I learned a very little bit about classic country from the soundtrack to The Last Picture Show, which I saw one evening during the mid-1970s at the student union at St. Cloud State, but I never followed up. Country music was the choice for about half of my first set of in-laws – during the late 1970s and the early 1980s – but none of what I heard during visits really stuck.

It wasn’t until 1990, during my brief stay on the Kansas prairie, that I began to dig much into country music. As brief as it was, the music finally reached me, and during my years of record collecting overkill during the mid- to late 1990s, country music – especially in those areas where it intersected with folk and rock, as it frequently does – was one of the genres I dug into at least a little. (That digging intensified with the arrival of the Texas Gal in my life; as much as she loves rock and pop, she’s also a country fan, and I now listen to – and know more about – more country music than I ever have.)

All that said, I was reminded this week that I learned about one of the classic songs of country music from a television commercial:

The tune used in the 1997 spot for AT&T – featuring a young Larisa Oleynik – was, of course, Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.” (The spot is interesting for its depiction of what was cutting edge technology thirteen years ago.) I didn’t know that I’d ever heard the song before I saw the commercial. I imagine I must have, but whenever that might have been, it certainly didn’t make an impression. But once I heard it, I wanted to hear it again, so I did a little bit of crate-digging at Cheapo’s and a few other places, eventually finding a 1973 LP titled Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits, which had “Walkin’ After Midnight” as its leadoff. I think I used the tune on a few mixtapes I made for friends in the last years of the 1990s.

With the advent of CDs and then mp3s into my musical life, I soon learned that there are several – I really have no idea how many – versions of “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Many of them are resettings of Cline’s vocal into new arrangements that probably date from the years after her death in a 1963 plane crash. When I set out to create the Ultimate Jukebox, I knew that I wanted “Walkin’ After Midnight” in it. I wasn’t certain which version I wanted, but after a moment’s thought, I decided to use the original, the tune that was a huge country hit  in1957 and went to No. 12 on one of the four main pop charts of the the time (reaching Nos. 17, 21 and 22 on the other three).

But which was the original? After doing some digging, I learned that the version I first heard in the 1997 commercial – with the vocal “bompa-bompa” backing – was a re-recording that Cline did for her 1961 album Patsy Cline Showcase. I checked the other Patsy Cline anthology I have on vinyl and found an ill-advised revision in which the 1961 vocal is backed with an arrangement that pulls out the vocal parts and adds some horns. Then, deep in the files of stuff I had yet to listen to, I found what I think is an mp3 of the original 1957 recording, a record with a classic country feel to it.

So do I hold to my original thought and use the 1957 version? Or do I go with the first version I heard?  I like the 1961 version – the one used in the commercial – a great deal. But I also enjoy the original with its twang. And it was the original that spent eleven weeks in the pop chart, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. So it’s the 1957 version of “Walkin’ After Midnight” that starts this fourth selection of tunes from the Ultimate Jukebox.

(A note: I’ve seen the song’s title presented as both “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Walking After Midnight.” The two LPs I dug out of my stacks use the latter, but I’ve gone with the title as listed by Joel Whitburn in the Billboard book.)

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 4
“Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline from Patsy Cline [1957]
“You’re All I Need To Get By” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Tamla 54169 [1968]
“Temptation Eyes” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4263 [1970]
“Night Moves” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4369 [1976]
“Kiss This Thing Goodbye” by Del Amitri, A&M 1485 [1990]
“Mysterious Ways” by U2, Island 866188 [1991]

“You’re All I Need To Get By” was the fifth of seven Top 40 hits for the pairing of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell before her death at age twenty-four in 1970. It wasn’t their biggest hit in the pop chart – “Your Precious Love” went to No. 5 – but “You’re All I Need To Get By,” still went to No. 7 and spent five weeks on top of the R&B chart. And to my ears, it’s the most enduring of their chart hits. I’m not sure why, but there really doesn’t have to be a reason. I just know that the two singers’ version of the song written Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson never gets old for me.  (Ignore, if you can, the silliness of the Mulder/Scully video; just listen to the tune.) Key line: “I know you can make a man out of a soul that didn’t have a goal.”

As has been noted here before, the Grass Roots were actually several different groups of musicians over the years, but whoever they were, for a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they provided a steady offering of tasty radio fare, with fourteen Top 40 hits between 1966 and 1972.  Why “Temptation Eyes” instead of “Midnight Confessions” or maybe “Sooner or Later”? Because the first time I heard it coming out of the radio back in early 1971, the intro to “Temptation Eyes” grabbed my collar and didn’t let go until the record was over. Did it speak to circumstances in my life? Not really. But I still liked the record enough that I enjoyed hearing it whenever it came onto the radio as it headed toward No. 15. Key lines: “But she lets me down every time. Can’t make her mine. She’s no one’s lover.”

Bob Seger was looking back to 1962 when he sang about high school lust in 1976. The distance between us and the record is now more than twice the distance Seger was looking at then. But the song still resonates here and in lots of places, mostly because the tendency to look back, if only for an instant, is one that’s almost universal. Those of us fascinated with memory and memoir – and I obviously am one – no doubt let our rearward gazes linger on those long-ago teenage games longer than do others. And those backward glances might be tinted by tenderness, regret, satisfaction, bewilderment or simply affection. Does any of that help us make any more sense out of it all? I dunno. Making sense out of memory isn’t the point, I don’t think. Stuff happened, and then more stuff happened, and some will always remain, in Seger’s words, “mysteries without any clues.” The single went to No. 4 in 1976, the first of seven Top Ten hits for Seger. Key lines: “Ain’t it funny how the night moves when you just don’t seem to have as much to lose. Strange how the night moves . . . with autumn closing in.”

There’s a disconnect between the jaunty music and the resigned lyric of Del Amitri’s “Kiss This Thing Goodbye.” But then I guess that knowing when to quit is a good thing, if matters have gotten as bad as the song’s lyrics indicate, and if one knows when to quit, one might as well be upbeat about it. Back in the days when I was learning the relationship dance, I never knew when to quit. Hearing this record – which went to No. 35 in 1990, the first of three Top 40 hits for the Scottish band – might have helped. But probably not. Key lines: “Now I’m watching the fumes foul up the sunrise. I’m watching the light fade away.”

There are times when I truly enjoy U2, and there are times when I find myself wearied by the group’s efforts. I liked The Joshua Tree for a while, and as frustrating as the group’s experimental phase of the early 1990s sometimes was, at least the band’s output in those years was distinctive and didn’t all blend together, as the more recent releases do for me. And if the lyrics to “Mysterious Ways” are self-consciously cryptic, at least they’re not as pretentious as a lot of the band’s songs have been over the years. The record went to No. 9 after entering the Top 40 midway through December 1991. Key line: “You’ve been running away from what you don’t understand.”

– whiteray