Default Mode

January 23rd, 2020

I’m hardly here this morning. The head cold I managed to pick up at Urgent Care Saturday is settling in nicely, and I wore myself out with several essential chores yesterday. So I’m going to default to seeking out today’s date – January 23 – in the RealPlayer. We’ll see what we get. (A reminder: I likely have recording dates for maybe five percent of the tracks in the program.)

And our search brings us fourteen tracks. The tunes range temporally from “It’s Moving Day,” recorded by Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers on January 23, 1930, to the Temptations’ “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” which was laid down on January 23, 1964.

The other names in the brief list include Lead Belly, Artie Shaw, Howlin’ Wolf, Louis Jordan, Muddy Waters, Nat King Cole, Claude King, Ann Cole, Tony Bennett, and a few that are not as recognizable.

And it comes to mind that we don’t often listen to Nat King Cole around here. Nothing wrong with the music; it just tends to get pushed to the back of the shelf by other stuff. So we’ll pull him forward today. Here’s “Can’t I?” with Cole accompanied by Billy May & His Orchestra. It was recorded on this date in 1953, peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard airplay chart (going nearly as high on the sales and juke box charts), and went to No. 7 on the magazine’s R&B jukebox chart (if I’m reading the data correctly).

It’s a nice piece.

‘Doctor, Doctor . . .’

January 21st, 2020

You know how it is with plans.

Saturday’s post plans disappeared when I woke up that morning with a case of gout. The word conjures up visions of a bewigged upper-class Englishman seated near a fire with his ailing foot elevated. The reality, I learned when I tried to walk on my left foot that morning, is exceedingly painful.

We spent about four hours at the Urgent Care clinic that day, learning about the ailment and sitting in a waiting room half-filled with parents and children who were no doubt sharing their viral miseries with everyone. I was advised to use steroids and ibuprofen to ease my pain and to consult about further treatment with my regular doctor, Dr. Julie, whom I will see Friday.

I’ve learned a lot already – won’t list the details here – and will learn more later this week, but since late Saturday afternoon, there has been no pain.

But I have picked up another case of plugged head and sniffles, no doubt courtesy of one or more of Saturday morning’s ailing urchins. And this morning, I head out to my clinic so the lab can draw blood ahead of my appointment Friday. It’s a doctor week.

And here’s the garage “Doctor Doctor” by Gary Walker & The Rain. It’s from 1968’s Album No. 1. I’ll be back later this week.

‘How Can I Go On Living . . .’

January 17th, 2020

Since we dabbled around the other day in the Billboard 200 album chart from mid-January 1972, I thought we’d stay in that same time period and check out the magazine’s easy listening chart, the chart now called Adult Contemporary. Here are the top fifteen records from that chart as of January 15, 1972:

“American Pie” by Don McLean
“Cherish” by David Cassidy
“It’s One Of Those Nights (Yes Love)” by the Partridge Family
“Anticipation” by Carly Simon
“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” by the Hillside Singers
“Without You” by Nilsson
“The Harder I Try (The Bluer I Get)” by the Free Movement
“Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards
“An Old Fashioned Love Song” by Three Dog Night
“All I Ever Need Is You” by Sonny & Cher
“Joy” by Apollo 100
“500 Miles” by Heaven Bound with Tony Scott
“My Boy” by Richard Harris
“Friends With You” by John Denver
“Brand New Key” by Melanie

Well, at least three of those ring no bells for me by title, which is a little odd, considering that 1972 falls smack in the middle of what I call my sweet spot. I don’t recall the singles by the Partridge Family, the Free Movement, or John Denver. The Heaven Bound single is ringing faint bells; I have a hunch it’s shown up in this space before. And a quick bit of research shows that I spent a couple of posts in 2012 digging into the single and other versions of the Hedy West song “500 Miles.”

As to the other three, after a quick trip to YouTube, I find I do not recall the Partridge Family or Free Movement records at all, though they’re pretty good singles. And after a reminder, I do recall the John Denver record without pleasure.

And of the other eleven, how many of them matter today? I don’t really dislike any of them; I suppose I have the least affection for the Sonny & Cher record, but it doesn’t make me ill. So let’s take a look at the iPod and see how many of those eleven records are among the 3,900-some that make up my day-to-day listening.

Well, in the device we find the singles by McLean, Simon, Nilsson, Edwards, Three Dog Night and Apollo 100. And none of those really surprise me. After all, as I noted above, 1972 falls right in the middle of my sweet spot. Since I got my own corner of the ’Net in 2010, I’ve written about 1972 and its music 150 times (including today). The only years that have shown up here more frequently are 1972’s immediate predecessors: 1969 (178 times), 1970 (196 times) and 1971 (167 times). (The total number of posts, for what it’s worth, is 1,508, including today.)

All of that tells me something that is likely self-evident: I am a product of those years when my tastes were formed. So, I think, are we all. Our listening (and viewing and reading) habits may expand and modify, but they all build on the foundations of our youths.

As an example, I know a fair amount about the blues, its history and its variants, but I got there by going backwards from (among others) Eric Clapton and the early Rolling Stones. It’s probably not a stretch to say that my interest in the blues was seeded in large part by hearing the Stones’ “Love In Vain” and “You Gotta Move” and Cream’s “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” in 1971 and 1972 (though those seeds took years to sprout).

Well, I ramble. To get back to the fifteen records above, of those that are in my iPod, only two speak to me on a deeper level: the Nilsson and Carly Simon records, the first because a friend of mine used to sing it as I played piano and the second because of a day that came fifteen years later. So I thought I’d look at the remaining twenty-five records in that long-ago easy listening chart and see if any of those spoke to me.

And I find at No. 24 Beverly Bremers’ “Don’t Say You Don’t Remember,” a record I’ve mentioned only a few times over the years, which is a little odd, as it’s a lovely exercise in sorrow, sentiment and nostalgia (all among my major weaknesses) with a killer hook. The record peaked on the easy listening chart at No. 5 and went to No. 15 on the Hot 100.

No. 48, Forty-Eight Years Ago

January 15th, 2020

It’s time for another game of Symmetry, and today, we’re wandering back to January of 1972, a time when I was kind of figuring out college life. I was learning how to study, how to enjoy coffee, and how to put together a late-night, five-minute, top-of-the-hour newsbreak for St. Cloud State’s KVSC-FM that wouldn’t sound stupid being bracketed by Mason Proffit and Long John Baldry.

We’re going to change the game a little bit today, calling it Album Symmetry and instead of looking at the top singles, we’ll look at the album chart. The top ten albums in the Billboard 200 forty-eight years ago today were:

Music by Carole King
American Pie by Don McLean
Chicago at Carnegie Hall
The Concert for Bangla Desh
Led Zeppelin IV
Teaser & The Firecat by Cat Stevens
Tapestry by Carole King
All In The Family soundtrack
There’s A Riot Goin’ On by Sly & The Family Stone
Black Moses by Isaac Hayes

Eight of those eventually ended up on the vinyl stacks here. At the time this chart was released, two, maybe three, of those albums were in the cardboard box in the basement rec room: The Concert For Bangla Desh and Tapestry were for sure, but I’m not certain about the Cat Stevens album.

Tapestry and Teaser . . . were my sister’s LPs, and she’d take them with her when she got married and left Kilian Boulevard during the coming summer. I’d eventually get my own copies of those two records and copies of five more of the ten albums listed there. The only two that didn’t ever show up were the All In The Family soundtrack and the Isaac Hayes album. (The Isaac Hayes album is on the digital shelves, but oddly, the Sly & The Family Stone album is not; all of the others except the All In The Family soundtrack are there.)

So of those, how many matter today? Well, most of Tapestry is in the iPod, as well as selected tracks from Music, American Pie, The Concert For Bangla Desh, and the albums by Led Zeppelin and Cat Stevens. It’s the stuff that – if you’ve been reading this blog even semi-regularly – you’d expect to be there. So no surprises there.

But what about our ostensible purpose for being here today? What album sits at No. 48 on that chart released forty-eight years ago today?

Well, it’s an album that never had a chance of getting onto my shelves: Cheech & Chong. I heard the 1971 debut album by Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong often at friends’ places, and I laughed along with everyone else. But comedy albums have never been a big deal to me. In fact, the only comedy album I ever sought out for myself was Bill Cosby’s Wonderfulness, which my folks bought for me, most likely in 1967. (A few other comedy records have come and gone in box buys at flea markets and garage sales.)

Enough people elsewhere loved Cheech & Chong for it to get to No. 26 during a sixty-four week run on the chart. And here’s the opening bit from the album, a bit that lives on in a lot of people’s heads when they meet someone named Dave.

Saturday Single No. 673

January 11th, 2020

I’ve got a bunch of music stored on my phone, stuff that I put there a year ago so the phone could be my mp3 player while I was in the hospital, and every once in a while, as I take a rest, I lay the phone near the pillow and let the music lull me to sleep.

Except not all of the tunes on the phone are lulling. The other day I was roused when Long John Baldry began graveling his way through “Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield,” the Randy Newman tune Baldry covered on his 1971 album It Ain’t Easy.

I wrote briefly about the song in 2008, quoting the assessment of Newman’s original recording of the song found at All-Music Guide:

A sinewy ballad built around a fine bottleneck guitar riff, “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” is a love song, basically, but the slightly demented lyric content is what gives it the edge.

Slightly demented? Well, yeah. Take a read:

Let’s burn down the cornfield,
Let’s burn down the cornfield,
And we can listen to it burn.

You hide behind the oak tree,
You hide behind the oak tree,
Stay out of danger ’till I return.

Oh, it’s so good on a cold night
To have a fire burnin’ warm and bright.

You hide behind the oak tree,
You hide behind the oak tree,
Stay out of danger ’till I return.

Let’s burn down the cornfield,
Let’s burn down the cornfield,
And I’ll make love to you while it’s burning.

At the time, more than eleven years ago, I had access to two covers of the song, those by Baldry and by Alex Taylor, and I noted that I planned to soon rip to mp3s Etta James’ version of the tune from her 1974 album Come A Little Closer.

Well, I must have done that, because James’ version of the song is now in the RealPlayer stacks, as are additional versions by Lou Rawls, Sam Samudio and the Walkabouts. There are others out there, but we’re not going to look any further afield this morning. Instead, we’re just going to make Etta James’ take on “Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield” today’s Saturday Single.

Back Business, One Year Later

January 10th, 2020

It was a year ago today that I had my back surgery, with Dr. McIver doing some clean-up and installing various pieces of hardware to stabilize things in my lumbar spine and to rid me of the horrendous pain I’d been feeling in my hamstrings for about two years.

Well, it all worked. The pain was gone as soon as I woke from surgery, and the pain from the surgery is greatly diminished, Still, there is some pain in my lower back. Two reasons for that:

First of all, I’m sixty-six. As Dr. McIver said during one of my post-op visits, “We can’t make you twenty again.”

And then, I don’t always get to the exercise room at the Senior Center as often as I should. And when I don’t, things stiffen up back there.

That’s what’s been happening during the past ten days, as the Texas Gal and I have been dealing with some kind of cold/body-ache bug. One day I feel fine and she’s down, the next day, she’s better and I’m not. I can tell early this morning that this is one of my “not” days, so I’m going to have to take it easy. I’ll read, practice some piano in preparation for church this coming Sunday, and putter with some mp3s I need to catalog.

As I started this, I told the RealPlayer to sort the 79,000-some mp3s on the organized shelves for files that have the word “back” in them, whether showing up in the title, the performer, the album title or maybe some appended notes. That brought us 1,442 files. And I’m going to sort those for running time and then click on random as many times as needed to land on something from my 1967-75 sweet spot with “back” in its title

And we find a track from Allen Toussaint’s 1975 album Southern Nights, “Back In Baby’s Arms.” I don’t see a single release listed at my normal reference spots, but the album bubbled under the Billboard 200 at No. 204.

And it’s a sweet bit of mellow New Orleans R&B with a couple of nice sax solos.

‘Underneath The Harlem Moon . . .’

January 8th, 2020

I was parked at my computer, idly clicking from one track to another in iTunes, as I sometimes do, just seeing what there was among the 3,900-some tracks, when up popped one I’d not really noticed before: Rhiannon Giddens’ take on the 1930s tune “Underneath the Harlem Moon” from her 2015 EP Factory Girl.

Creole babies walk along with rhythm in their thighs
Rhythm in their hips and in their lips and in their eyes
Where do high-browns find the kind of love that satisfies?
Underneath the Harlem moon

We don’t pick no cotton; picking cotton is taboo
We don’t live in cabins like the old folks used to do
Our cabin is a penthouse up on St. Nicholas Avenue
Underneath that Harlem moon

We just live for dancing
We’re never blue or forlorn
Ain’t no sin to laugh and grin
That’s why we schwarzes were born

We shout, “Hallelujah!” every time we’re feeling low
And every sheik is dressed up like a Georgia gigolo
White folks call it madness but I call it hi-de-ho
Underneath that Harlem moon

Once we wore bandanas, now we wear Parisian hats
Once we were barefoot, now we’re sporting shoes and spats
Once we were Republicans but now we’re Democrats
Underneath the Harlem moon

We don’t pick no cotton; picking cotton is taboo
All we pick is numbers and that includes you white folks too
’Cause if we hit, we pay our rent on any avenue
Underneath the Harlem moon

We just thrive on dancing
Why be blue and forlorn?
We just laugh and grin. Ha! Let the landlord in
That’s why house rent parties were born

We also drink our gin, smoke our reefer, when we’re feeling low
Then we’re ready to step out and take charge of any so-and-so
Don’t stop for law, no traffic, when we’re raring to go
Underneath the Harlem moon
Underneath the Harlem moon

I wondered for a bit about Giddens’ purpose in recording the song, written in the 1930s by Harry Revel and Mack Gordon and first recorded in 1932 by Howard Joyner. And I’m still wondering.

The most prominent version of the song may be the truncated version Randy Newman included on his 1972 album 12 Songs. It’s been released a few other times as well – mostly in the 1930s and a couple of times in the 1980s before Giddens came along with her version, according to Second Hand Songs. Not listed there is a performance by Ethel Waters in a 1933 film titled Rufus Jones For President (starring a young Sammy Davis Jr. as the presidential candidate).

Was Giddens – who is one of my favorite musical discoveries in the years since I began blogging in 2007 – reclaiming heritage, as she is wont to do? Maybe so. It seems to me that Giddens, with her clear interest in bringing the musical past into the present – from her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops to her current solo work – is one of the few performers who could get away with performing “Under The Harlem Moon.”

Questions? Comments?

Saturday Single No. 672

January 4th, 2020

Having started and discarded in extreme dissatisfaction two posts this morning (my sinus infection and needy cats have been no help at all), I’m just going to punt and do right from the top the same thing we did here two days ago as we noted that 1970 is now fifty years distant:

I’m going to sort the releases in the RealPlayer from 1970 by running time, drop the cursor in the middle, and click on random ten times.

And we fall upon “Rosy Shy,” a track from Jesse Winchester’s self-titled debut album, a work produced by Robbie Robertson of The Band. And it’s today’s Saturday Single. (I hope to have more to say come next week.)

Looking Ahead To 1970

January 2nd, 2020

Well, not that it’s a trenchant insight or anything, but the past keeps getting further away from us. For example, stuff that happened in 1990 – a year that still seems recent – now took place thirty years ago. My students from that year at Stephens College, a women’s college in Missouri, are now mostly in their early fifties, many of them likely grandparents. And yet, they remain in their early twenties in my memory.

Then there’s the year of 1970, long a benchmark for me – for both music and life – which suddenly (or so it seems) lies a half-century in the past. But its music – and the music of the years on either side of it, from about 1965 to 1975 – still seems vital to me (and to millions of others, too, based on the things I see and hear in the groves of popular culture).

So I guess we’ll keep digging here – Odd and Pop and I – into the music and times of my youth. And what better way to continue doing that than to look at what the year of 1970 would eventually bring as, we tuned our radios fifty years ago this week.

Here are the top ten records of 1970, as offered by Joel Whitburn in A Century Of Pop Music:

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters
“My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison
“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross
“War” by Edwin Starr
“American Woman” by the Guess Who
“Let It Be” by the Beatles

No surprises there.

But the list reminds me of lying on the sofa at home on January 1, 1971, listening and taking notes as the Twin Cities’ KDWB was counting down its own top hits of 1970. At Nos. 1 and 3 were “Bridge” and “Let It Be.” (And I’m not sure of the order of those two, as the piece of paper on which I took my notes has years ago gone its own way.) But at No. 2, I remember for certain, was the Partridge Family record, and I remember as well rolling my eyes in consternation.

Fifty years later, I’d be unconsterned, if that’s a word. “I Think I Love You” is, as I’ve realized over the years, a great record, so it was no surprise to see it the top ten in Whitburn’s book. (And it’s a record that’s provided me with a more vivid memory than have either “Bridge” or “Let It Be,” a memory I’ve related here before.)

So what do we listen to today? Usually, I’d find the No. 50 record from a year that’s now fifty years in the past, but Whitburn’s book only lists the top forty records of the year. So I think we’ll sort out by time the 4,183 records from 1970 in the RealPlayer, set the cursor in the middle and click ten times.

And we get José Feliciano covering the Beatles, taking on “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” It’s from his 1970 album Fireworks, which I used to hear across the street at Rick’s.

Tenth record added after first posting.

Saturday Single No. 671

December 28th, 2019

So if I had taken the time during the last weekend of 1969 – smack in the middle of a two-week break from school – to turn on my old RCA radio, what would I have heard?

Well, here’s the top fifteen from the survey that the Twin Cities’ KDWB would release on December 29, 1969, the last Monday of the year, a date that come tomorrow morning will be fifty years in the past:

“Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“Someday We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross & The Supremes
“Fortunate Son/Down On The Corner” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
“Cherry Hill Park” by Billy Joe Royal
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond
“Heaven Knows” by the Grass Roots
“La La La (If I Had You)” by Bobby Sherman
“Eli’s Coming” by Three Dog Night
“Take A Letter Maria” by R. B. Greaves
“Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder
“Come Together/Something” by the Beatles
“Evil Woman Don’t Play Your Games With Me” by Crow
“Jam Up Jelly Tight” by Tommy Roe

That’s actually seventeen, of course, given the two double-sided singles, and man, what a great way to end the year! Well, that’s with the exception of the Tommy Roe single, which I never much cared for (although it does have a place on the digital shelves here while the Bobby Sherman single is the only one of those seventeen records that is absent).

Seeing the Supremes’ record in the list reminds me of a moment now thirty years in the past, when 1989 was turning into 1990. I was living in Anoka, Minnesota, just northwest of Minneapolis. A ladyfriend and I had gone through a series of rapid changes in 1989 – a “now we’re good, now we’re not” kind of thing – and sometime around New Year’s Day, after another exasperating conversation, I got into my car to run an errand just across the Mississippi River in the city of Champlin. As I started my car, I played with the idea that the first record I heard on the oldies station would give me a guide to that relationship and 1990.

The next record was, of course, “Someday We’ll Be Together.” That amused and pleased me. Twelve months, three moves and some adventures with pesticide later, I was living alone in Columbia, Missouri, and I concluded that radiomancy was inaccurate. But at least it was hopeful. The first record on the oldies station could have been “Timothy” by the Buoys.

Beyond that, KDWB’s top seventeen at the end of the year when I discovered Top 40 radio brings back the sense of that long-ago time. None of those records spoke to my main personal concern at the time, which was how to turn the friendly attentions of a violin player in the high school orchestra into something more than friendship, but reading that list of titles and performers still reminds me viscerally how my life felt as 1969 was heading rapidly toward 1970.

And, of course, as a nearly life-long practitioner of nostalgia and curator of memories, most of those records are still part of my life today. How much so?

Well, fourteen of those seventeen are among the 3,900-some tracks in the iPod, meaning they’re part of my day-to-day listening. The ones that are absent are those by Bobby Sherman and Tommy Roe (which does not surprise me) and by B.J. Thomas, which kind of does.

And I wonder, as I often do, how much of me still lives in that long-ago time, a time when I was gawky, awkward, pretty much clueless about a lot of things, and artless about many as well. Maybe more than is healthy, though I am far more present in my life these days than I was, say, twenty years ago. But I’m still fairly clueless about a lot of things, sometimes still artless, and sometimes still awkward. I am, however, likely too rotund to be very gawky.

As Paul Simon wrote in one of his versions of “The Boxer,” after “changes upon changes, we are more or less the same.” And I’m never sure if that should be depressing or reassuring.

So what do we listen to from among those records on the last Saturday of the year? Well, a quick search through the archives here tells me – almost unbelievably – that we’ve never featured “Someday We’ll Be Together” in this space.

I recall a discussion of the record, but that came in the comments on a post that featured a record by Johnny Bristol, with a commenter noting that it’s Bristol who supplies the male portion of the call-and-response interplay at the end of the record.

So the record – which probably should have been in my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox but wasn’t – has never been featured here. That neglect ends today, as “Someday We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross & The Supremes* becomes what I would guess will be the last entry in my Jukebox Regrets and becomes as well the final Saturday Single for 2019.

*Yes, I know that the other female voices on the record may not actually have been members of the Supremes, but we’re going to let that concern go this morning.