Saturday Single No. 409

August 30th, 2014

The days of vacation wind down here, and we’ve done nothing more exciting since Sunday than go out for groceries. We had our End of Summer Picnic Sunday, with about twenty folks showing up, among them jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and his Mrs., who made the trek from Madison, Wisconsin (bringing with them a fine selection of Wisconsin cheese and beer), and our mutual pal (and regular reader at both our blogs) from St. Paul, Yah Shure, who, with his fudgy bonbons, has become over the years our picnic’s dessert source.

Since then, however, we’ve done very little. The Texas Gal has closed down the gardens for the most part and did spend a morning cutting and freezing green beans. I did spend some time carting into the basement the surplus beverages from Sunday (and I need to move the two card tables from the garage to the basement today, a task that’s been delayed by rain the past two days).

We talked about spending a day at the Minnesota State Fair, but that was only talk. We would have gone Thursday, but when we woke that day, the air was damp and the sky was grey, and it drizzled on and off all day. “Just as well,” we thought.

And we’ll spend the last few days of the Texas Gal’s vacation getting a few things done: There are hot peppers to seed and dry along the way to making our own chili powder. She has to visit a friend whose husband is in the hospital. I have a meeting at church tomorrow morning. But those things will still leave time for us to sit back and read or watch some television or just ponder how rapidly time moves and leaves us on the verge of September when it seems like it was May only yesterday.

So it’s been a leisurely week here. And I found in the mp3 files a 1971 track by an obscure group called Dallas County that echoes that. Despite the group’s country-ish name, its sound is more Chicago than anything else. I don’t know much about the group. Its members names, as listed at discogs.com, are unfamiliar, but I do know that the group’s one self-titled album was recorded in Memphis and produced by Don Nix, a Memphis musician (and one-time member of the Mar-Keys) whose name has shown up in this space numerous times. Here is Dallas County’s “Small Vacation,” today’s Saturday Single.

‘Details’

August 28th, 2014

When I wrote Tuesday about Vanity Fare’s 1970 record “(I Remember) Summer Morning,” I said:

It’s possible, however, that even as he liked the record back in 1970, the young whiteray might have noticed even back then that the tale of romance is strong on generalities and very light on details of what the two innocents did during their summer: Did they ride the roller coaster at Beckman Park, or swim to the raft in the sunshine at Lake Anna, or walk along Crescent Street in the rain? The record doesn’t say.

It’s possible I noticed, but today I’d guess that during the summer of 1970, when the Vanity Fare record sat for two weeks at No. 98 in the Billboard Hot 100, I wouldn’t have noticed that absence of details.

Why do I guess that? Because I remember a gentle and kind English teacher from my senior year at St. Cloud Tech High School, a time that was just a week or two away when the Vanity Fare single failed to do much in the charts. It was during that senior year that I began to write my own lyrics, most likely inspired by both my immersion in Top 40 listening and my quest to win the affections of a blonde sophomore girl. Not all of those early lyrics were love songs, but a lot of them were. And one day, probably early in 1971, I summoned up the courage to show a few of my efforts to my English teacher, Mrs. Spanier, and ask her what she thought of them.

I recall particularly well her comments about one of those lyrics, a brief entry titled “If You Need Me.” I’ll spare you most of it, but the final verse was:

I know you never will
But I wish you felt the same.
For you know I won’t forget you.
I’ll always know your name.

“That’s nice,” said Mrs. Spanier, “but is that all you’re going to remember about her? Her name? I don’t think so.”

She circled that verse and wrote in the margin of the paper “Details.”

“I don’t know who this is written for,” she said, “but I’m sure you’ll remember more than that. You’ll remember the way she held her head when she laughed, the way the sun shone on her hair, maybe just the way she ate a candy bar. Those are the details that can make a poem or a song memorable.”

In other words, details like the roller coaster at Beckman Park, the raft at Lake Anna and the rain on Crescent Street – all of them fictional, as far as I know – that showed up in Tuesday’s post. When I thought about it later on Tuesday, I realized that I’d used Mrs. Spanier’s advice as I wrote.

Her critique of my early and awkward work was one of the more important and memorable lessons of my life. It’s helped me tell other people’s stories during my reporting years, and it’s helped me tell my own story in my lyrics, in my fiction, and at this blog.

And here’s a track with a story-related title that was sitting at No. 41 in the Hot 100 on August 28, 1971, forty-three years ago today, when I was likely pondering my upcoming freshman year of college and perhaps even writing a lyric and trying to use Mrs. Spanier’s advice while doing so. Here’s “The Story In Your Eyes” by the Moody Blues.

‘Summer Morning In The Sun . . .’

August 26th, 2014

The Texas Gal is on vacation, and consequently, I’m not planning to spend a lot of time in the EITW studios this week. But I will dig into a couple of Billboard Hot 100s and find a single record to ponder a couple times over the next few days. Today, I went back to the year that pops up more often here than any other – 1970 – and checked out the lower levels of the chart from August 29. And I found a record that I don’t believe I heard back then, but it’s one I think I would have liked: “(I Remember) Summer Morning” by the English pop group Vanity Fare:

It’s a little slight and saccharine for me now – at least it is this morning – but I’m pretty sure that the sixteen-year-old whiteray would have nodded his head as the record came out of the radio on a late August evening. He wouldn’t have been remembering a summer romance as the single played; that was an experience waiting for him some years down the road. But being the romantic that he was (and still is, more than forty years later), he would have thought to himself that what Vanity Fare offered in its record is the way one should feel about a summer romance.

(It’s possible, however, that even as he liked the record back in 1970, the young whiteray might have noticed even back then that the tale of romance is strong on generalities and very light on details of what the two innocents did during their summer: Did they ride the roller coaster at Beckman Park, or swim to the raft in the sunshine at Lake Anna, or walk along Crescent Street in the rain? The record doesn’t say.)

As far as I recall, “(I Remember) Summer Morning” never came out of the RCA radio in my room as summer dwindled and autumn approached in 1970. Forty years ago this week, the record sat at No. 98; it stayed there one week and then disappeared. Vanity Fare is, of course, better remembered for two other 1970 records: “Early In The Morning” went to No. 12 in April and “Hitchin’ A Ride” went to No. 5 in June. And it was probably just as well for that adolescent whiteray that “Summer Morning” wasn’t a hit; there were enough romantic notions coming out of the speakers of that old RCA as it was.

See you later this week.

Saturday Single No. 408

August 23rd, 2014

Well, preparations continue. I have trash to haul, barbecue buns and potato chips to buy, a cooler and a washtub to rinse, carpets to vacuum and on and on.

One thing I don’t have to do is clean up the back yard, because the yard behind the house is pretty small and we spend little time there, so when our guests arrive tomorrow, they’ll gather in the large front yard.

Elvis Presley had a different kind of cleaning in mind, anyway, when he released “Clean Up Your Own Back Yard” in 1969. It was from the soundtrack to the movie The Trouble With Girls, and went to No. 35. Given its sound, and given that its release falls in the timeline between “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds,” I’d assume that it was among the tracks recorded in Memphis that year at Chips Moman’s American Sound Studio. But it wasn’t included in the 1999 double-CD package The Memphis 1969 Anthology, so I’m a little puzzled.

But no matter where it came from, it’s a great recording of a song written by Billy Strange and Mac Davis, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Another Friday Song

August 22nd, 2014

I frequently note in this space that we’re busy here under the oaks. This week, we’re busier than normal as we prepare for our End of Summer Picnic this coming Sunday. It had been an annual event, but we skipped it last year for a number of reasons, and we’re glad that we’re able to renew the festivities this year.

But that means lots of preparation, and although much has been done, much remains. And I’ll spend much of the day focused on that. So here, to get through the day and allow me to get on with my tasks, is a nifty shuffle by J.J. Cale, “Friday” from his 1979 album 5.

More Chart Digging, August 1969

August 20th, 2014

Yesterday, as we dug in the Bubbling Under section of the Billboard Hot 100 released August 23, 1969, we pulled out Henry Mancini’s truncated version of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” At the same time, we ran across five other records in that Bubbling Under section that seemed worth notice, if not exactly deserving of more attention than they got forty-five years ago.

The New Colony Six kind of baffles me. They had two medium-sized hits – “I Will Always Think About You” (No. 22) and “Things I’d Like To Say” (No. 16) – in 1968, but I have no recollection from the time of having ever heard the records or having even heard of the group. Admittedly, I wasn’t listening to Top 40 very avidly in 1968, but it was all around me, and most records of the time were familiar to me in later years when I finally was catching up. So I was a little taken aback in the early 1970s when a couple of college friends sang the praises of the group and I had no clue what they were talking about. Ah, well, I’ve been clueless plenty of other times in this life, too, so we’ll just note that the New Colony Six’s “I Want You To Know” was parked at No. 105 during this week in August 1969; it would eventually climb to No. 65.

Just below that, at No. 106, the Isley Brothers were offering the world the notion that “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” The thundering, almost lumbering “Black Berries – Pt. 1” was ostensibly about life in the berry patch as the Isleys grew up in Cincinnati, but the just-naughty-enough tagline was perfect for an era during which racial attitudes and sexual mores were changing rapidly and becoming suitable topics for (slyly coded) pieces of pop culture. The record made it to No. 79, one of more than fifty records the Isleys – in various combinations – put in or near the Hot 100 between 1959 and 2004.

As I noted a couple of years ago, Marva Whitney was a soul/R&B singer from Kansas City, Kansas, who toured between 1967 and 1970 as a featured performer in the James Brown Review. She recorded a fair number of singles during that time and on into the 1970s, with most of them released on the King label. Earlier in 1969, the Brown-produced “It’s My Thing (You Can’t Tell Me Who To Sock It To),” an answer record to the Isleys’ “It’s Your Thing,” went to No. 82 (No. 19, R&B). In late August, “Things Got To Get Better (Get Together)” – also a Brown production – was sitting at No. 112; it would move up only two more spots, but it would get to No. 22 on the R&B chart.

By August 1969, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass had not had a Top 40 hit since “A Banda” went to No. 35 in September 1967. (“This Guy’s In Love With You,” which went to No. 1 in the spring of 1968, was credited to Alpert alone.) And a summer 1969 cover of the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” didn’t do it for Alpert and his men. The record, which was sitting at No. 118 forty-five years ago this week, isn’t all that great and actually seems kind of joyless, which to me is the antithesis of the best TJB records. It would spend one more week at No. 118 and then go away for good.

In the spring of 1969, long-time band leader and arranger Dick Hyman had a mild hit (No. 38) with “The Minotaur,” a synthesizer piece credited to “Dick Hyman & His Electric Eclectics.” The record was three minutes of the kind of noodling that ends Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s 1970 single, “Lucky Man.” Hyman stayed with the synthesizer as the summer came on, releasing the album The Age Of Electronicus, from which he offered “Aquarius” as a single, which was okay, if you like a healthy dose of R2-D2 with your music. Forty-five years ago this week, Hyman’s “Aquarius” was at No. 126. It got no higher.

One Chart Dig, August 1969

August 19th, 2014

I’ve told the tale before: It was about this time of year in 1969 when I pulled the RCA radio that had been my grandfather’s from a shelf in the basement, took it up to my room and tuned it, most likely, to KDWB, the only Twin Cities Top 40 station that we could get in St. Cloud. After several years of ignoring pop music – though I heard it all around me – it was time to listen, and to learn.

Why then? I’ve addressed that question here at least once and thought about it many more times, and I’m still uncertain. Part of it was hearing the radio in the football locker room and wanting to fit in there. But part of it was just that the time was right, and I can’t explain that except to say that I was at a point where I needed something musically that I wasn’t getting from Al Hirt and John Barry and the rest of my regular listening.

So what did I hear that day or maybe that evening, when I would have tuned the radio to WJON just across the tracks or to Chicago’s WLS? Well, here’s the Billboard Top Ten from this week in 1969, forty-five years ago:

“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
“In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods
“Laughing” by the Guess Who

That’s a hell of a Top Ten although I know many folks might want to edit out the Zager & Evans single. And as I scan the Billboard Hot 100 for August 23, 1969, I know nearly all of the Top 40 and most of the Hot 100. It’s when we drop below No. 100 and get into the Bubbling Under section of the chart that things become much less familiar. There were twenty-eight records listed in that week’s Bubbling Under section, and only one of them made it into the Top 40: “Sugar On Sunday” by the Clique, which went to No. 22. So what else was down there?

Well, I’m going to throw one onto the table today and probably deal out four more bubblers tomorrow.

Earlier in 1969, Henry Mancini had topped the Hot 100 for two weeks (and the Adult Contemporary chart for eight weeks) with the “Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet,” his sixth Top 40 hit. The follow-up was Mancini’s abridged version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata:

The record made it only to No. 87, which I think is too bad. I like it a lot, as it scratches my itch for easy listening while at the same time reminding me of the many times I tried to play the Moonlight Sonata (and I may try the piece again; my book of Beethoven sonatas is on the shelf on the other side of the room). Mancini would get back to the Top 40 in early 1971, when “Theme From Love Story” would go to No. 13.

Saturday Single No. 407

August 16th, 2014

There’s been kind of a slow-motion Levon Helm festival going on here for the past few months. A while back, I picked up a CD/DVD combination pack titled Love for Levon: A Benefit to Save the Barn, documenting an October 2012 concert aimed at raising funds to preserve the Woodstock recording studio and performance venue of the late musician, who passed on earlier that year.

The line-up for the show was pretty impressive. Along with the Levon Helm band, which counts as one of its members Levon’s daughter, Amy Helm, those who performed included Roger Waters, Mavis Staples, Garth Hudson, Marc Cohn, Gregg Allman, John Mayer, Ray LaMontagne, Dierks Bentley, John Hiatt, Jakob Dylan, Jorma Kaukonen, Grace Potter and quite a few more.

It took me a couple days to get through the concert, as I generally do my DVD watching for an hour or so late in the evening after the Texas Gal has retired for the night. And of course, tracks from the CDs of the show occasionally popped up randomly before, during and since the time I finished the film. My favorite performances? Three of them stand out: Marc Cohn’s “Listening to Levon,” which comes from his 2007 album Join The Parade; Mavis Staples’ take on “Move Along Train,” a 1966 Staple Singers’ track covered by Levon on his final album, 2009’s Electric Dirt; and Grace Potter’s rendition of “I Shall Be Released,” which The Band recorded for its 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink.

Another DVD I’ve been taking in even more slowly is the 2011 release titled Ramble At The Ryman, chronicling a 2008 performance by Levon and his band – with a few guests – at the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, the one-time home of the Grand Old Opry. As does Love For Levon, the Ramble At The Ryman draws significantly on the catalog of The Band as well as wide swaths of American folk and country music. I’m not sure why I’m going more slowly on viewing Ramble At The Ryman; perhaps it’s because I had the CD of the performance long before I got the DVD, and there are no real surprises. (Conversely, I got Love For Levon as a CD/DVD package, so most performances on the DVD were new as I watched.)

But there was a third portion to the Levonfest this week. Digging in the catalog of the local Great River Regional Library, I found the DVD Ain’t In It For My Health, a film by Jacob Hatley that shows Levon at home in Woodstock and on the road in early 2008 as Levon is recording Electric Dirt. During the film’s shooting, Levon learns that The Band will be given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and that his 2007 album Dirt Farmer was nominated for (and won) a Grammy for best traditional folk album. He dismisses the lifetime achievement award as – I think I have the quote correct – “something for the folks in the suits,” but he’s clearly delighted near the end of the film to hear the news about the Grammy for Dirt Farmer.

Beyond those bits, two portions of Ain’t In It For My Health stick with me: There is a sequence showing Levon with some of his farming neighbors, and at one point, Levon drives one of their tractors around a field with a huge grin on his face. And several times during the shooting, we see Levon and Larry Campbell of the Levon Helm Band working on an unfinished Hank Williams song called “You’ll Never Again Be Mine.”

The unfinished lyrics were among those found by a janitor for Sony/ATV Music Publishing in 2006. After some legal wrangling, Sony sent the lyrics to Bob Dylan, asking him to complete the songs. Levon was one of those invited to take part in the project, along with Alan Jackson, Norah Jones, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell and others. Ain’t In It For My Health shows several brief scenes of Levon and Campbell crafting a melody and filling in lyrics for the song’s bridge.

And in the last portions of the film, we see other members of Levon’s band laying down their parts for the track. Near the end of the film, Levon, with his voice diminished by age and ravaged by illness but still vital, adds the lead vocal.

Here’s how “You’ll Never Again Be Mine” turned out on the 2011 album The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Gotta Get Down On Friday . . .’

August 15th, 2014

Somehow here at the EITW studios, we have lapsed recently into a Wednesday/Friday/Saturday schedule instead of the preferred Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday package. And then a Friday like today makes its entrance, one of those days when I stumble to the kitchen at my normal hour of 7 a.m., feed the cats and then decide that more rest is necessary for the back muscles I evidently strained yesterday climbing up and down the kitchen stepstool and dusting shelves.

So I went back upstairs, told the Texas Gal as she rose that she would have to get by without me, and I went back to sleep. I did not think to tell her that the cats had been fed. She told me a few moments ago that as she collected their bowls and opened a can of “Cod, Sole & Shrimp Feast,” they gathered at her feet and, like hobbits, happily accepted second breakfast.

Obviously, I did not stay in bed all day. I have some things to do, but I shall do them slowly. Before I get to those things, though, I wanted to put something here, so I dug into my small assortment of Friday songs. And I came across something I found at YouTube three years ago, when Rebecca Black’s video of her recording “Friday” went viral and was vilified as perhaps the worst pop song ever. (It was bad, but “worst ever” is a difficult hurdle to slide under. I suppose we could begin taking nominations . . .)

Shortly after Black’s video went viral, a YouTube user named HeyMikeBauer uploaded a performance of the song and said in his notes, “The source of Rebecca Black’s hit single ‘Friday’ is revealed in this lost recording from Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes.”

So here’s Bob Dylan’s “Friday” (put together, obviously, by someone with a great sense of humor, a good deal of affection for Bob Dylan and a great Dylan imitation). Do yourself a favor: Click through to YouTube and read the comments; some folks get the joke (and expand on it), others don’t get it at all.

Hash Browns & All-Nighters

August 13th, 2014

The Texas Gal and I headed out early this morning, grabbing breakfast at a Perkins restaurant just down the block from her office in downtown St. Cloud. She and her co-workers pop in frequently for muffins and such, so she knows many of the folks who work there.

“There’s one hostess who’s been working in this restaurant for forty years,” she told me as we ate. “I can’t imagine working in one place that long.”

I nodded and took another bite of hash browns, and as I did, two things crossed my mind. First, working in the same place for forty years (or more) used to be common in the U.S. Second, the hostess the Texas Gal knows likely started working at that downtown Perkins when it opened its doors. I’m not exactly sure when the place was built, but it was sometime in the early 1970s. I vaguely remember stopping there for snacks after movies during my college years (not often, though; I was a regular at the Country Kitchen on the East Side).

I remember more clearly having breakfast at that Perkins very early on several Monday and Thursday mornings during the spring and summer of 1977, when I was the arts editor for St. Cloud State’s University Chronicle. Our Sunday and Wednesday evening paste-up sessions often ran into early Monday and Thursday. The long hours weren’t because there was so much to do to get the paper ready for the press run but because were so disorganized and frankly, not yet very good at newspapering.

We did have the occasional late-written story, like the time I assigned a reporter to review a Wednesday night Cheap Trick concert on campus. I evidently wasn’t clear that I wanted the review the night of the show, because after the reporter did not show up, I called her at home. She apologized and came in and wrote the review, leaving behind – based on the voice I heard in the background on the telephone – a disgruntled boyfriend.

Most of the time, though, our stories were finished by the time paste-up started at 5 p.m. or so, and then we struggled to assemble the twelve tabloid pages, most of the time finishing about midnight a task that should have taken no more than three to four hours. On those evenings, we all headed home. But on the nights that stretched into the early morning, say 3 or 4 o’clock, we’d head downtown and crowd into a corner booth at Perkins.

That corner booth is still there, empty this morning but filled in memory with the laughter of exhaustion and the exhilaration of once more completing a task as a team. As I glanced at that corner booth this morning, I heard a snippet of music coming from the speakers in the ceiling: Jim Horn’s saxophone solo on Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter In The Rain.” And I wondered for a moment what music would have been coming from those speakers during the summer of 1977. Probably something middle-of-the-road, very unlike the stuff we’d been listening to as we did our paste-up.

And Perkins’ music in 1977 was no doubt very different from a minor gem I found this morning below the Billboard Hot 100 that was released on this date in that long-ago year of 1977. Thirty-seven years ago today, “Funky Music” by the Ju-Par Universal Orchestra was bubbling under at No. 109.

Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles tells us that the Ju-Par Universal Orchestra was “a funk group assembled by Juney Garrett and Richard Parker,” and that tells us where the Ju-Par came from. (As you can see in the video below, “Ju-Par” was also the name of the label on which the record was released.) The record, which is indeed pretty funky, would bubble up to No. 101 the next week and then disappear (though it went to No. 32 on the R&B chart).