Posts Tagged ‘War’

A Quick Stop In 1972

June 28, 2013

Originally posted May 22, 2009

I said we’d visit 1972 today, and so we will. But it’s one of those days, so I’m going to toss up a mostly random selection and then move off to the easy chair or someplace else more comfy.

A Six-Pack from 1972
“I’m Stone In Love With You” by the Stylistics, Avco 4603
“Brand New Start” by Jackie DeShannon from Jackie
“City, Country, City” by War from The World Is A Ghetto
“Pieces of April” by Three Dog Night, Dunhill/ABC 4331
“Blue River” by Eric Andersen from Blue River
“Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, Atlantic 2897

I think that the entire Jackie album might show up here soon, as might Eric Andersen’s Blue River (depending on their availability elsewhere). Both are superb records, and “Blue River” might be the best thing Andersen has ever recorded. The War track is a long one that gives the guys a chance to stretch out. The other three tracks offered here all got plenty of airplay: The Stylistics’ record went to No. 10, the Three Dog Night record went to No. 19, and the Flack/Hathaway record went to No. 5. Beyond that, there are very few records that say “Summer of 1972” as clearly to me as does “Where Is The Love.”

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Savoring The Sunlight

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 16, 2009

As the sunlight came in the living room windows yesterday morning, I glanced at the date on the Minneapolis newspaper: February 15. And I thought of another February 15, thirty-five years distant now, when sunlight seemed like salvation.

I doubt that I’ve ever lived through a more dreary winter than the one I went through in Fredericia, Denmark in 1973-74. Living there was, of course, a joy and an adventure, but the winter was hard. It’s not that it was cold: The temperatures were generally around freezing, 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius), which for someone from Minnesota wasn’t chilly at all. There were a few days when the temperature dipped to -10 or so Fahrenheit (-23 Celsius), levels that our Danish friends said they’d not seen since World War II, but those stretches didn’t last long and weren’t all that cold by the standards of the Minnesota winters to which we were accustomed.

The difficult part was the lack of sunlight. From the middle of November on, for the next three months, it was cloudy and dreary. The sun showed its face from time to time, but only as a brief respite – an hour or two – before the clouds dimmed the light once more. And Denmark is far enough north that the winter sun rises much later and sets much earlier than in Minnesota: In the depth of December, daylight began about nine o’clock in the morning and ended around three o’clock in the afternoon, which – combined with the near constant cloud cover – left us in what seemed like permanent gloom.

And then came February 15. The sky was blue from horizon to horizon, and the air was brisk but not cold. We had no classes that day, and those of us living at the youth hostel headed out into the sunlight, many of us with cameras. I can’t speak for all, but the bunch of kids I wandered around with had no plans, no real destination. We were just wandering in the sunshine, liberated at least for a day.

The stripe of sunlight across our carpet and the date on the newspaper yesterday morning reminded me of that sunny walk through Fredericia, and as I recalled the sunshine, I wondered what our friends at home might have heard on the radio that day.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, February 16, 1974)

“Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” by Brownsville Station, Big Tree 16011 (No. 22)

“Me and Baby Brother” by War, United Artists 350 (No. 53)

“Lookin’ For A Love” by Bobby Womack, United Artists 375 (No. 70)

“Stop To Start” by Blue Magic, Atco 6949 (No. 81)

“Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” by New York City, Chelsea 0150 (No. 88)

“I’ll Be The Other Woman” by the Soul Children, Stax 0182 (No. 94)

Brownsville Station was one of the numerous blues-based boogie bands that arose in the early 1970s, coming out of Detroit to record a clutch of albums between 1970 and 1980 and then fading into obscurity. “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” was the group’s glorious moment, if that’s not too glowing a term for it. The high school references sparked memories for those already older than that and likely rang true for those still playing high school Parcheesi. The record peaked at No. 3. I was surprised to learn this morning that Brownsville Station had more than one hit: “Kings Of The Party” went to No. 31 in the fall of 1974. (The umlaut-obsessed Mötley Crüe covered “Smokin’” in 1985; that version went to No. 16.)

War’s funky and cool “Me and Baby Brother” was on its way down the chart, having peaked at No. 15. I tend to think that War is under-rated and often ignored when talk turns to great bands of the 1970s. In terms of popularity, the group had twelve Top 40 hits, and most of them were pretty good (“Why Can’t We Be Friends” is the exception), and that’s a better record than achieved by a lot of bands that are remembered more frequently. And the group’s albums were good, too, especially Deliver the Word (which was the source for “Me and Baby Brother”) and The World Is A Ghetto.

In two years, I’d not posted a single song by Bobby Womack, and now, in ten days, he’s come up twice. I’m not sure why that is. But “Lookin’ For A Love” is well worth a listen or even three. It was the third and last Top 40 hit for Womack, peaking at No. 10 at the end of April. (The record topped the R&B chart for three weeks.)

The singles by Blue Magic and New York City were nice bits of Philadelphia soul (despite the latter group’s name). “Stop To Start,” from Blue Magic’s first, self-titled album, sounds like something that came from Thom Bell, but it was produced by Steve Bernstein, Norman Harris and Alan Rubens, who – along with the group members – tapped the Philly sound perfectly. “Stop To Start” peaked at No. 74 during a six-week run in the Hot 100, but that summer, Blue Magic’s “Sideshow” went to No. 8 (No. 1 on the R&B chart). New York City had reached No. 17 with “I’m Doin’ Fine Now” – a Thom Bell production – in the spring of 1973, but the Bell-produced “Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” got no further up the chart than No. 79.

The Soul Children, a two-man, two-woman vocal group, recorded several albums for Stax in the late 1960s and early 1970s and had one blindingly good single, “Hearsay,” which went to No. 44 in May of 1972. “I’ll Be The Other Woman,” a slower and more reflective but still good piece of work, went to No. 36, the only Top 40 hit for the group.

Note:
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Edited slightly on archival posting.

Al Stewart, Country Joe & War

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 18, 2008

Thursday means YouTube, so here’s my first find: A live performance by Al Stewart of “Year of the Cat” from 1979. There’s a sign at the back of the venue off to the side of the stage that reads “Musikladen.” Does that give us any information about the venue? I’m guessing Germany or Holland, perhaps one of the Nordic countries. But does anyone know anything else?

Even if no more is known, it’s a pretty good performance. There’s a witty introduction by the pianist: Listen for the brief quote from “As Time Goes By” in that introduction, a winking reference to Casablanca, which is, of course, “a Bogart movie.”

Here’s a gem: A live performance from Country Joe and the Fish of “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine,” a track from Electric Music For The Mind And Body. The performance is from the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.

“Low Rider” by War was in a Six-Pack here the other day. I couldn’t find a good clip of War performing that track, but here’s a clip from 1970 of Eric Burdon and War performing “Spill The Wine.”

Tomorrow, I’ll be digging into Grab Bag No. 2, with one of the three 45s offering one of the more odd Christmas tunes I’ve ever heard, a single from sometime in the late 1960s that wonders if old St. Nick is counter-cultural.

Following The Train Of Thought

November 9, 2011

Orginally posted December 16, 2008

You know how your train of thought sometimes gets so switched that you spend a few moments wondering how in the heck your thoughts ended up where they did? I frequently find myself tracking back, trying to figure out, say, how a consideration of tax policy morphed into a memory of my eating Tater Tots at a long-closed restaurant with a guy named Gary and then into a recollection of my long-ago internship at a Twin Cities television station.

Actually, the links are all there: From wondering about what kinds of changes our current economic woes will bring to national and state tax policies, I thought about the first time I realized how much of a bite taxes took out of a paycheck, when I worked on the lawn-mowing crew at St. Cloud State in 1971. Then I pondered walking home that summer, always past the warming house in the park, which in summers was used as an outpost of the city’s recreation program for kids. Most days when I walked by, out from the warming house popped a cute young lady named Kathy who – I realized one day in utter shock – had a crush on me. She was far too young for me to dally with, being just about to start high school while I was about to enter college. Besides, I knew her brother, Gary. And the last time I saw Gary in those days was shortly after I came home from Denmark in 1974, when he and I ate Tater Tots and drank beer in a restaurant called the Chateau Villa (yeah, it means “House House’), a place that no longer exists. But then, lots of places that were my haunts back then no longer exist, among them the apartment where I lived for three months in the Twin Cities while I took my internship at the television station. And the TV station, for that matter, has changed – some years ago it became a network affiliate with a very slick news department, as opposed to the “wing it and see if it works” news and sports departments that the same station had as an independent when I started there in December of 1975.

I was in the sports department, which was made up of three guys who presented about a ten-minute segment on the 9:30 p.m. news show six days a week. (I’m positive there was no news show on Sunday, or I’d have been asked to work at least once on a Sunday, and I never was.) Two of those men – guys by the name of Joe Boyle and Roger Buxton – did play-by-play and commentary, respectively, for frequent live broadcasts of Minnesota North Stars hockey games and basketball and hockey games of the University of Minnesota Gophers.

The third member of the sports department that winter was a legend in sports broadcasting, certainly in the Upper Midwest and – I think – nationally. He was Ray Scott, and anyone who watched professional football in the 1960s knew his voice, if not his name. For years, he was the television voice that brought the Green Bay Packers and their championships – they won titles in the 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967 seasons – into the living rooms of folks nation-wide. As a Vikings fan, I hadn’t been all that pleased about the Packers being on television so much in the mid-1960s. But ten years later, I found myself working with one of the men whose own work had led me to sportscasting as something I thought I wanted to do.

Several times during the three months I was at WTCN, as it was then called, I got a chance to talk to Scott about his profession and experience. One of the better lessons I learned from him about televised sports is that there are times when less talk from the sportscaster is better, and sometimes no talk is best. The visuals, he said, can often carry the story that’s being told. I don’t recall the broadcast styles of other sportscasters of the era all that well, but to name two, I always thought that Lindsey Nelson talked too much and it seems to me, looking back, that Jim McKay could be pretty terse when he needed to be. But no one, it seemed to me both then and now, was as good at it as Ray Scott: “Starr. Dowler. Touchdown!” he’d say, and he’d let the images on the screen of quarterback Bart Starr, receiver Boyd Dowler and the fans in Green Bay’s Lambeau Field carry the narrative.

That’s not far from standard procedure these days (or at least not for the most part, although there are still television sportscasters who talk too much). And I think Ray Scott who was one of those who pioneered that, throwing away the old conventions of radio and finding a new approach suitable for the newer medium of television.

Anyway, I learned an immense amount from him and from the other two guys in the sports department. My writing got crisper. I learned how to tell a story quickly and how to keep my words from getting in the way of the picture, during both live events and the nightly sportscast. I got to meet a lot of Twin Cities sports and sports media figures, all but one of whom were gracious and friendly to the kid from St. Cloud who was trying to learn the business. (Readers would be correct to infer that I met one horse’s ass; I won’t name him, but his behavior was so boorish that it astounds me to this day.) It was a marvelous time, full of hard work and fascinating people.

I got pretty good at reporting, at writing for television and at the technical requirements of preparing a script for broadcast. Good enough, in fact, that several times during the second half of the quarter – on those nights when all three sports guys were out of town and a news reporter without much of a sports background delivered the evening sportscast – I prepared the entire sports package and was listed as a producer in the newscast credits. Heady stuff for a twenty-two year old kid!

Here’s a selection of tunes that were around during the first weeks of that heady time:

A Six-Pack From The Billboard Hot 100, December 13, 1975

“Low Rider” by War, United Artists 706 (No. 18)

“Convoy” by C. W. McCall, MGM 14839 (No. 29)

“Evil Woman” by the Electric Light Orchestra, United Artists 729 (No. 40)

“Baby Face” by The Wing and A Prayer Fife & Drum Corps, Wing And A Prayer 103 (No. 43)

“Play On Love” by Jefferson Starship, Grunt 10456 (No. 75)

“Golden Years” by David Bowie, RCA 10441 (No. 82)

A few notes:

War was a pretty funky group that had a good run of singles (as well as issuing some pretty good albums) in the early and mid-1970s, with twelve singles reaching the Top 40. The best of the singles was likely “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” which went to No. 16 in 1972 or “The World Is A Ghetto,” which reached No. 7 in early 1973. “Low Rider,” which went to No. 7 (and was No. 1 for a week on the R&B chart), came near the end of War’s run; the group would reach the Top 40 only twice more.

I know, I know. “Convoy” is one of those singles that people either love or hate, and a lot more seem to fall into the latter category. C. W. McCall was actually William Fries, an advertising guy who created the McCall character for the midwestern Metz Baking Company. (Oddly, Joel Whitburn, in his Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, lists the company as the “Mertz Bread Company,” which seems to be an uncharacteristic error.) “Convoy” was the second hit for Fries as C.W. McCall; “Wolf Creek Pass” was at No. 40 for one week in March 1975. For me, “Convoy” is a great period piece, up there with mood rings and pet rocks. But what caught my eye about the record today is that a week earlier, it had been at No. 82 and jumped fifty-three places in one week.

I never quite got the idea behind the Electric Light Orchestra, but the group’s twenty Top 40 hits in an eleven-year period tell me that I’m likely in the minority. I do like “Evil Woman,” and I also enjoy “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” (No. 9 in 1975), “Telephone Line” (No. 7 in 1977) and a couple of others. But the bulk of the group’s catalog leaves me pretty unmoved. “Evil Woman” peaked at No. 10.

“Baby Face” – like “Convoy” – is one of those hits that can make you shake your head and wonder about public taste, I suppose. Except that I like this one, too. Disco hadn’t yet worn out its welcome when “Baby Face” came along (Saturday Night Fever, which to me marks the real beginning of disco madness, was still a little more than a year from release), and it was fun to hear it coming out of the radio speaker as I drove home from the television station late at night. The single, I think, had a briefer edit on the A-side with a longer version, presented here, on the B-side. (Is that right, Yah Shure?) It peaked at No. 14.

“Play On Love” was the second single Jefferson Starship released from its Red Octopus album. The first was an edit of “Miracles,” which had gone to No. 3 earlier in the autumn of 1975. “Play On Love” didn’t make the Top 40, peaking at No. 49.

David Bowie’s “Golden Years” had just entered the Hot 100. The follow-up to Bowie’s No. 1 hit “Fame,” the new single would peak at No. 10 in early 1976. It would take Bowie almost five more years – until late 1981 – to reach the Top 40 again.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 2

May 11, 2011

Originally posted October 3, 2007

Ever try to move a house?

The phone rang early one evening during the summer of 1975, as I was reading in the rec room downstairs, with the Allman Brothers Band keeping me company from the stereo. It was Murl, a graduate student at St. Cloud State who was both a friend and a co-worker on a special crew at the college’s Department of Learning Resources (known in earlier, less pedagogical times as the library).

“I’m over here on the northeast side,” Murl said, giving me an address. “Get your butt over here.”

Not being sure what Murl had in mind, I shrugged and followed directions. A few moments later, I parked my ’61 Falcon – I called it Farley – in front of a small house up on blocks that had a portion of the roof torn off. As I walked toward the house, still puzzled, Murl poked his head up through the empty space where the roof had been. “C’mon up and put on a pair of gloves,” he said.

I went inside and up the narrow stairway, noting that there wasn’t much to the house: a living room, kitchen, bathroom and a small bedroom downstairs and a cramped attic, now about half of it open to the sky.

“We’re taking the top four feet off of it,” Murl said. I waited. He grinned.

“Why?” I finally asked, and he explained.

The house and its property had been purchased – if I remember correctly – by the city, and the house was set to be demolished. Murl and his brothers thought that the house – in pretty good shape and only about fifty years old – might be a good storage building out on their parents’ farm in the western part of the state

So Murl and his brothers bought the house and scouted a route from St. Cloud out to the farm near Chokio, not all that far from the South Dakota border. Murl said they’d worked out a route that used only county and township roads because using state or federal highways would require permit fees that they’d rather avoid. But, due to overhead wires along those county and township roads, the top four feet of the house had to come off. A few days earlier, Murl and his brothers had sawn through the main supports of the roof and taken part of the roof off, and now Murl was pulling the remainder of the roof down to that four-foot point. That left the chimney.

I spent that evening and the next working with Murl in that attic, pulling down the chimney and rigging a cable down the center of the open space that would guide low overhead wires across the house as it moved across the state. A day or so later, the house was jacked and placed on a truck bed.

And of course, having been involved in preparing the house for the move, there was no way I was going to miss the actual move. I got to Murl’s house about five o’clock that morning, and he and I drove to the house site and clambered into the truck cab. His brothers got into a pickup truck and pulled ahead of us, and we set out.

We drove at no more than thirty, maybe thirty-five miles an hour, weaving our way west through central Minnesota, sipping black coffee and eating an occasional sandwich from the lunch we’d packed. The brothers had a carefully mapped route and a list of locations of all the overhead wires that we’d have to lift to get the house under them. Using a T-shaped tool made of two-by-fours, we gingerly lifted power lines and telephone lines, easing the truck and its cargo all the way to Chokio.

We got to Murl’s folks’ farm about six that evening, and just as we got the house off the truck and onto blocks, the rains came, soaking us all as we scrambled across the barnyard to the house. An hour or so later, Murl and I got back into the truck and drove – at standard speed, this time – the 110 or so miles back to St. Cloud. We got home late, dirty, wet and tired, but we were young, and the next morning, we reported back to our summer tasks at the college.

Murl’s gone now. Cancer took him a little more than three years ago. During one of my last visits with him, about a month before he died, he mentioned with a laugh our moving the house that day. “We might have made it more work than it should have been,” he said.

Maybe, I said.

He grinned and said the last words I ever heard him speak. “It sure was a lot of fun, though, wasn’t it?”

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975

“Diamonds & Rust” by Joan Baez from Diamonds & Rust

“Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John” by the Allman Brothers Band from Win, Lose or Draw

“Now and Then” by Gordon Lightfoot from Cold on the Shoulder

“Wheels” by Emmylou Harris from Elite Hotel

“Between the Lines” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines

“Love Comes Through My Door” by Homestead & Wolfe from Our Times

“Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” by Steely Dan from Katy Lied

“Two More Bottles Of Wine” by Delbert McClinton from Victim of Life’s Circumstances

“Monday Morning” by Fleetwood Mac from Fleetwood Mac

“Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War, United Artists single 629

“Solitaire” by the Carpenters, A&M single 1721

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Bob Dylan from Blood on the Tracks

“December 1963 (Oh What A Night)” by the Four Seasons, Warner Bros. single 8168

A few notes on some of the songs:

The song “Diamonds and Rust” might be the best thing Joan Baez ever recorded. Its layered spooky and echoing sound mimics the way memories lay on top of each other and come to the surface one by one, as Baez coolly dissects her long relationship with Bob Dylan: “Yes, I loved you dearly, and if you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ve already paid.”

The Allman Brothers Band track is an okay piece, taken from an album that itself was just okay. “Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John” is pleasant listening, as is Win, Lose or Draw, but for a band with such a tremendous past, this was a disappointing present.

The Janis Ian track is a pretty good one. It’s the title track of her comeback album, which found her thrust into the spotlight for the first time since she was a prodigy back in 1967. The best song on the album, to my mind, is “At Seventeen,” which reached No. 3 during the summer of 1975.

Homestead & Wolfe’s Our Times was a remarkable one-shot, featuring good songs, great lead vocals and harmony and the backing work of some of the best studio players in the Los Angeles area. “Love Comes Through My Door” was pretty representative of the record, whose tale is told here.

I’ve long thought that “Why Can’t We Be Friends” was one of the silliest songs ever laid onto a record. War did some very good stuff around this time, but this song gives me a headache.

Conversely, I’ve thought since Blood on the Tracks came out that “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” was one of Bob Dylan’s best and most-ignored songs. From the sprightly harmonica introduction through the fadeout, Dylan accepts without distress or irony that the woman he’s addressing will entrance him and inevitably leave him. Bonus points to Bobby for rhyming “Honolula” and “Ashtabula.”

Note
After thinking about it for a few years, it’s likely that  our adventure moving the house took place during the summer of 1976 instead of  the summer of 1975. That year’s difference, however, would alter neither the friendship  Murl and I shared nor the fun we had moving the house, whenever we did it. And  the tunes from 1975, the year our friendship blossomed, are still great. Note added May 11, 2011.