Locked Inside

May 27th, 2016

One of the best things I could hear on a weekend day during the summers of my childhood was my dad saying “Let’s go for a ride.” That usually came on a Sunday, after church and dinner, and we’d all clamber into the Ford – either the 1952 two-door or, after the spring of 1964, the four-door Custom – and head on out to wherever Dad’s whims took us.

We’d frequently head in the direction of Cambridge, fifty miles east, and visit some of Dad’s relatives. He had a sister and brother living in town there and a few aunts and uncles living nearby. I remember his aunts Ella and Minnie, both widowed and living together in a small rural house, with their brother Joe living in an even smaller home about fifty yards distant.

Ella and Minnie seemed – from what I noticed when I was a child and recall from more than fifty years ago – mentally sharp and talkative into their late seventies and eighties. Joe was quiet, and everything seemed a bit slower with him, and he seemed – again from the perspective of the child I was – not altogether present.

Age can do that, of course. I’ve seen it happen with Mom and Dad’s friends over the past twenty years, and I see it several times a week with some of the residents at Mom’s assisted living center. But with Joe, it wasn’t just age: Dad told me once that Joe was severely afflicted during World War I with what was called “shell shock.” (Now we call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

Of course, I knew next to nothing about World War I in, say, 1965. I probably knew that the war had happened, and I imagine I’d seen a television documentary about it at one time or another. (Even at eleven, I was a news junkie and loved documentaries.) But even if I knew anything about Sarajevo, about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, about Kaiser Wilhelm, or even about trenches and mustard gas, I really knew nothing about war or what it does to those caught up in it. And I surely didn’t understand what shell shock was.

When we’d go to Ella and Minnie’s, I’d wander down the fifty-yard path to Joe’s house and sit with him. Sometimes – and again, these memories are filtered through more than fifty years gone – he’d talk; sometimes not. I’d greet Uncle Joe, see if he was talking that day, and make some brief conversation if he was. Then I’d make my way back down the path to Ella and Minnie’s little house, to where the old folks were at least present, to where my family was, to where things were mostly the way they were supposed to be.

Looking back this morning, I think I knew somehow that Dad’s Uncle Joe was locked inside. And I guess I knew that there was no key at hand. I guess I also knew that whatever it was that had made Uncle Joe the way he was, it had happened a long time ago and that Dad had never known Uncle Joe to be any other way. And I knew it was sad.

Over the years since, I’ve read histories and memoirs about World War I and many other wars, and I’ve learned from them more about war and what it does. (And I’m thankful that I’ve never had to learn those things from personal experience.) But knowing and understanding are, of course, two different things. And as I write this morning (having followed my thoughts and words into a topic not at all anticipated), I wonder if the only thing I ever needed to know about war was the sad fact that it had forever locked my dad’s Uncle Joe inside himself.

And I have no music for that this morning.

‘Look Out For My Love . . .’

May 25th, 2016

Among the first things on my agenda this morning was clearing the sink of dishes, generally a task I leave for the afternoons. Why this morning? Not sure, but it was something to do while the coffee brewed and the Texas Gal got her day started.

As usual, I got the iPod rolling and kept track of the tunes it offered as I cleaned, rinsed and placed items in the dishwasher. I heard some nice stuff: “The Ballad of Casey Deiss” by Shawn Phillips (1970), “Never Ending Song Of Love” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends (1971), and a Neil Young triple play: “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970), “On The Way Home” by Buffalo Springfield (1968) and, by Young on his own, “Look Out For My Love” from his 1978 album, Comes A Time.

Tunes from that album have shown up here frequently through the years, and in recent months, it’s been one of the albums that I keep on my nightstand for late-night listening. That alone tells me without thinking too much about it that it’s one of my favorite albums. As I wrote eight years ago:

If I had to go through my 1978 collection and rank the albums, I think that every time, I’d come up with Neil Young’s Comes A Time in the top spot. Far more country-ish than most of his other albums, it’s also the one that Young seems most relaxed with. It sounds like he had fun making the record, and I rarely get that sense about his music.

Even after eight more years of collecting, listening and assessing, I think that judgment holds. There are other albums from 1978 that I like a great deal – the self-titled effort by the duo of Craig Fuller & Eric Kaz, Willie Nelson’s Stardust, Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Van Morrison’s Wavelength are among them – but I think, without chewing on the topic too firmly this morning, that Comes A Time would still be my favorite from that year. (And this slight discussion might well be the source of another series of posts.)

Anyway, here’s the tune that sparked this slight post and helped me get the dishes into the dishwasher to start the day: Neil Young’s “Look Out For My Love” from Comes A Time.

Saturday Single No. 497

May 21st, 2016

We’re taking kind of a day off here today, as I’m heading out fairly early to play Strat-O-Matic baseball at Rob’s in St. Francis.* We’ve moved the annual event to his place this year (and probably for the future as well).

But May 21 is a date that sticks in my mind, as it was on that date in 1974 that I came home from my school year in Denmark. Here’s a photo my dad took that day; he caught me just as I saw him and my family (and Rick) for the first time in almost nine months.

First look, 5-21-74

As to music, well, one tune rang true to go with that picture. That’s why Delaney & Bonnie’s “Coming Home” – from their 1972 album D&B Together – is today’s Saturday Single.

*For those who are interested, I’m bringing the 2001 Diamondbacks and the 2004 Red Sox into the tournament. Rob’s selected the 1936 Yankees and the 1998 Astros; Dan has the 1924 Senators and the 1998 Braves; and Rick has chosen the 1968 Tigers and 2014 Dodgers.

Hail, Princess Ælfthryth!

May 20th, 2016

Well, checking out the history of May 20 at Wikipedia, I learned something. Or rather, I learned a number of things, most of which don’t have any application here today. Those can wait.

My useful bit of learning is that it was on this date in 794 that King Æthelberht II of East Anglia visited the royal Mercian court at Sutton Walls, hoping to marry Princess Ælfthryth. The reception he got was less than cordial. He was taken captive and beheaded, though sources differ as to whether King Offa’s decision to execute the visitor was his alone or was influenced by – as Wikipedia characterizes her – “Offa’s evil queen Cynethryth.”

Wikipedia notes that the tale of Ælfthryth’s betrothal to Æthelberht II is “a late and not very trustworthy legend,” though the tale of his death at the Mercian court seems to be true. And I imagine one has to question as well, then, the tale that after Æthelberht’s death, Ælfthryth – as Wikipedia tells it – “retired to the marshes of Crowland Abbey,” where she was built into a cell about 793 and lived as a recluse to the end of her days.

Why does that matter? It really doesn’t, except that I love old English names with their odd vowels and odd consonantal combinations. And I remain thankful that none of the parents of the women I courted when I was young – or in later years, for that matter – decided that I’d be more useful without my head.

And then, learning of the tale of Princess Ælfthryth gives me a chance to offer here another of my favorite long-form pieces of pop rock: “Tie-Dye Princess” by the Ides of March. The long track, running 11:31, was the closer to Common Bond, the 1971 follow-up to Vehicle, the group’s 1970 debut, the title track of which had been released as a single and had gone to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album itself went to No. 55.

Common Bond didn’t fare nearly as well. The singles “Superman” and “L.A. Goodbye” went to No. 64 and No. 73, respectively, and a single edit of “Tie-Dye Princess” bubbled under at No. 113. (Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows “Tie-Dye Princess” as the A-side of Warner Bros. 7507, while the site Discogs.com shows it as the B-side. I’m inclined to agree with Whitburn.) And Common Bond bubbled under the Billboard 200 at No. 207.

I’m pretty sure that a princess at the court of Mercia wouldn’t have worn tie-dye in 794, but I don’t care. Here, in honor of Princess Ælfthryth and in honor of the possibly true tale of the ending of her courtship 1,222 years ago today, is “Tie-Dye Princess” by the Ides of March.

Joplin By Coincidence

May 18th, 2016

Scott Joplin’s been taking up a small corner of my mind lately. The ragtime composer whose career spanned the late 1800s and early 1900s has popped up a couple of times lately in my wanderings and musings.

A member of one of my Facebook music groups offers tournaments by survey, winnowing the top one hundred records of a particular year down to one champion. He’s on 1974 right now, and the match the other day was between John Denver’s “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” seeded at No. 25, and the No. 40 seed, Marvin Hamlisch’s take on Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” which was used in the movie The Sting.

(I’m not sure where the fellow is getting his seedings. In Joel Whitburn’s A Century of Pop Music, the Denver record ranks No. 21 for 1974, and “The Entertainer” isn’t in the Top 40 at all. The Cashbox lists, maybe? But never mind . . .)

On the day of the Denver-Hamlisch match, another group member left a comment to the effect that it was an easy choice between (and I paraphrase here) a sweet piece of singer-songwriter work and something real old fashioned.

I left a note to the effect that yes, it was an easy choice between – and I paraphrase again – one of the most sickly-sweet things Denver ever wrote and a classic piece written by a genius in the early 20th Century. Someone else made a similar comment, and the first note-poster said that he got it; the lesson was not to dis Marvin Hamlisch.

No, I answered, the lesson is to not dis Scott Joplin.

(For those who care, Denver’s record won the match by an 80-42 score and will meet “TSOP [The Sound of Philadelphia]” by MFSB in an upcoming match in the Round of 32.)

And Sunday, after our weekly service at the St. Cloud Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, I had a conversation with another member whose muses are also music and writing but whose specific sources are classical, both in words and music. The breadth of his knowledge far outpaces mine, although I know enough in both areas to keep up for at least a little while (and then I just nod – wisely, I hope – and store names and ideas in my head for later exploration).

I shared with him the quick colloquy regarding Denver, Hamlisch and Joplin. He chuckled appreciatively, and then he mentioned that he has a collection of sheet music of Joplin’s rags, much of it very old, and he mentioned as well the fruitless search for the original orchestral score for Joplin’s opera, Treemonisha. He mentioned two stagings of the musical, one in Atlanta, the other in Houston, I think.

I nodded many more times and wondered aloud if the cast of either of the performances of the opera he mentioned had recorded an album and whether that album were now available on CD. He was doubtful but hopeful. And we parted with me aware once more that as much as I might know, there is still so much to learn.

Following up, I did some digging over the past few days and got my hands on a collection of Joplin’s rags. And I learned that there are several cast recordings of Treemonisha available, one of them from a Houston staging. I will explore those soon.

And this morning, I glanced at the Billboard Hot 100 from May 18, 1974, a list from forty-two years ago today, and peaking at No. 3 was Hamlisch’s “The Entertainer.” (It would get to No. 1 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.)

So much coincidental Joplin needs to be heeded. So I dug into the week’s harvest, and offer here, from the 1991 album The Complete Rags of Scott Joplin, William Albright’s solo piano version of Scott Joplin’s 1902 composition “The Entertainer.”

Saturday Single No. 496

May 14th, 2016

Here, edited slightly, is one of this blog’s earliest posts, originally offered here on February 5, 2007:

When I was a kid, the man across the alley – Leo Rau—was a jobber. That’s what my dad said he was. I didn’t know what a jobber was, but from what I could see of Mr. Rau’s work life, it was probably a lot of fun: In the Raus’ garage were boxes of candy and cases of cigarettes, and boxes and boxes of 45 rpm records.

What being a jobber meant, of course, was that Leo Rau had a chain of vending machines that he kept filled with the good stuff of life: Snickers, Nut Rolls and Juicy Fruit gum among the candy; Camels, Winstons and Herbert Tareytons among the cigarettes, and performers such as Sandy Posey, Petula Clark and Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass on the records destined for juke boxes in the St. Cloud area.

As I headed into my teens, being across the alley from the Raus seemed like a pretty good deal. Steve Rau, who was a few years older than I was, decided one day to get rid of his comic book collection, and gave it to me: Lots of Jughead and Archie, some war comics (stories of World War II, which was just more than twenty years past), and comics based on television shows of the mid-1950s, which I didn’t recall at all. It was a treasure trove.

And on several occasions, Mr. Rau passed on to me a box of 45 rpm records. I don’t recall everything he gave to me; I know one of them was Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” because I still have it. Another was the subject of this little piece, ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” by Bob Dylan and The Band, released as the B-side to Dylan’s” I Want You” (Columbia 43683). There are a few others that Mr. Rau gave me that have survived the forty years since I was thirteen.

And it’s remarkable that any of them survived. You see, at thirteen, I was distinctly unhip. I did not listen to Top 40 radio. I had only a few LPs and no singles to speak of in my record collection. And I didn’t listen to the records Mr. Rau gave me – I used them for target practice with my BB gun.

I cringe. I have no idea how many 45s I aimed and shot at, punching neat little holes in the grooves. Maybe a hundred. A lot of the records Mr. Rau gave me were country & western, a genre that was far less cool (and far more real and gritty) than country music is today. I remember a lot of Sandy Posey, Sonny James and Buck Owens, records that it would be nice to have today. But I know a good share of the records that met my BBs were pop and rock, simply because of the two for sure that I know survived: the Procol Harum and the Dylan. And it’s knowing how close I came to destroying the Dylan record that makes me shake my head in something near disbelief.

Here’s what Dave Marsh said about the record in his “Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made,” where he ranked the B-side at No. 243.

“If you liked the jingly folk-rock of ‘I Want You’ enough to run out and buy the single without waiting for the album (which only turned out to be Blonde on Blonde), you got the surprise of your life: A B side taken from Dylan’s recent European tour on which and a rock band (which only turned out to be The Band) did things to ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,’ a song from Highway 61 Revisited, that it’s still risky to talk about in broad daylight.”

Marsh continues: “Rock critics like to make a big deal about B sides but there are only maybe a dozen great ones in the whole history of singles. This one’s rank is indisputable, though, because it offers something that wasn’t legally available until the early Seventies: a recorded glimpse of Dylan’s onstage prowess. ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ came out before anybody ever thought of bootlegging rock shows, before anybody this side of Jimi Hendrix quite understood Dylan as a great rock and roll stage performer. And so this vicious, majestic music, hidden away in the most obscure place he could think of putting it, struck with amazing force.”

The group behind Dylan wasn’t exactly The Band: The drummer for the European tour was Mickey Jones. Levon Helm had become fed up with performing in front of angry and jeering crowds who wanted to hear Bob Dylan the folksinger and were being presented with Bob Dylan the rock and roll performer. He’d gone back to Arkansas and wouldn’t reunite with the other four members of what became The Band until after the tour, when he joined them and Dylan in Woodstock (where the six of them began recording the music later released as The Basement Tapes and where The Band began work on its debut, Music From Big Pink.)

The version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” that so entrances Marsh was recorded in Liverpool, England, on May 14, 1966, just three days before the so-called “Albert Hall” concert, which actually took place at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester (and was released in 1998 as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966).

I look at the fragile 45 that survived my BB gun and shake my head. It’s undeniably a treasure, but it didn’t survive because I knew that. It didn’t survive when so many other records were splintered by BBs because it was by Bob Dylan. As unhip as I was at the ages of twelve and thirteen, I had no real good idea who Bob Dylan was; that awareness would take at least another four to five years. It was an accident, pure and simple, that I never looked past the sights of my BB rifle at the Dylan record – a happy accident, to be sure. Historically, the sounds on the record are priceless; musically, they’re astounding.

Dave Marsh sums up his comments about the record: “Today it sounds like the reapings of a whirwind, Dylan’s voice as draggy, druggy and droogy as the surreal Mexican beatnik escapade he’s recounting, Robbie Robertson carving dense mathematical figures on guitar, Garth Hudson working pure hoodoo on organ. Slurred and obtuse as Little Richard reading Ezra Pound, there’s a magnificence here so great that, if you had to, you could make the case for rock and roll as a species of art using this record and nothing else.”

The riddle I find is this: The label on the 45 from 1966 says clearly “Recorded in Liverpool, England,” and the date of that show was May 14, 1966. And the Live 1966 “official bootleg” set released in 1998, says just as clearly that everything in the set was recorded in Manchester three days later. But the video below from the Live 1966 set sounds the same as my B-side.

So is it Liverpool or Manchester? I don’t know, but because the first recording date that I saw for that singular B-side was fifty years ago today, the supposed Liverpool performance of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Bob Dylan (and most of The Band), is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Going Back To Memphis . . .’

May 13th, 2016

It’s Friday the 13th, and what could be more appropriate than a record titled “Black Cat Moan”? Here’s Don Nix:

As the video indicates, the track was on Nix’s 1973 album Hobos, Heroes and Street Corner Clowns, and the sound – especially with the piping harmonica – calls to mind the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., which around here is a very good thing.

Neither “Black Cat Moan” nor the rest of Nix’s work ever got much attention: There was a single release of “Black Cat Moan” that didn’t make the charts in either Billboard or Cashbox. A couple years earlier, Nix did have one single make both charts; “Olena” got to No. 94 in the Billboard Hot 100 and went to No. 96 in Cashbox in 1971, and two of his albums – In God We Trust and Living By The Days – made the lowest portions of the Billboard 200 that same year. (We wrote about Living By The Days long ago; that post is here.)

I imagine that Nix’s “Black Cat Moan” might be more familiar to folks from the cover included by Jeff Beck, Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice on their self-titled 1973 album:

Of the two, I prefer Nix’s original, but that’s not surprising; it’s got more of the South in it, while the BBA version sounds more like second rate Led Zeppelin. And I need to go back to Hobos, Heroes and Street Corner Clowns, which I’ve not heard for a while, and see what else I’ve forgotten about or missed entirely.

A Bit Of ‘South’

May 11th, 2016

We’re still planning here to resume our Follow The Directions whim, checking out tracks with directions in their titles. But we’ve been waylaid by the simple busyness of life and by checking out some previously unknown tracks and artists.

One of those artists is Marcia Waldorf, whose one album, Memoranda, came out in 1975 on the Capricorn label. I ran into her music on a couple of the loss leaders I wrote about a few months ago. Her track, “You Don’t Have To Beg For What You’re Man Enough To Steal” was on Peaches, Vol. 2, a collection of Capricorn tracks, and “The Rhythm Of The South” was on a 1975 Warner Bros. collection, I Didn’t Know They Still Made Records Like This. And, to get to the point, that last track popped up while looking for tracks with the direction “south” in their titles.

I listened to the track and, being easily diverted, started looking for more information about Waldorf. There’s not a lot out there. I found a post at the blog Ill Folks, and that post put Waldorf into a class with Patti Dahlstrom, as women vocalists whose southern-tinged work was unjustly ignored. (And it was at Ill Folks that I first learned about Dahlstrom and her work – which I’ve explored widely; links are here and here – some nine years ago.) I found a post at Skydog’s Elysium that got me a little more of Waldorf’s music to listen to and noted at the same time some of the musicians who supported Waldorf in Memoranda. And that was about it.

When I listen, I hear some Carole King, which makes some sense, and I hear a little of the feel of Jesse Winchester’s early 1970s work, which also seems reasonable. See what you think of this small taste of Marcia Waldorf’s music as I head off and gather more tracks and info for “South.”

Saturday Single No. 495

May 7th, 2016

So we’ll cast our glance at the Billboard Hot 100 from May 7, 1966, exactly fifty years ago today, and see what we can find. And yes, we’ll play some games with numbers, taking today’s date – 5/7/16 – and turning it into No. 12, No. 23 and No. 28 to find a single for a Saturday.

But we’ll start with a quick look at the No. 1 record of the week, which turns out to be “Monday, Monday,” by The Mamas & The Papas, the second charting record for the quartet (“California Dreamin’” had gone to No. 4 in early 1966). They’d have seven more Top 40 hits and a bunch more in and near the Hot 100 before the magic ran out. They were, it seems to me, one of those groups – like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the best of the Motown groups – than even an unhip kid could not miss in the mid-1960s. I remember hearing their stuff and liking it long before I was a dedicated Top 40 listener.

Sitting at its peak of No. 12 fifty years ago today was a record I do not remember ever hearing until this morning, “Try Too Hard” by the Dave Clark Five. I imagine I did hear it somewhere, but it clearly made no impression. Nor did anything by the Dave Clark Five. I have none of the group’s LPs although I imagine some of their singles are on some of the various anthologies, but those tracks certainly weren’t the reasons for buying the collections. And I find only two mp3s by the group on the digital shelves, and both of those came my way in the portions of the massive Lost Jukebox collection I found somewhere in the wild. I clearly never cared for or about the Dave Clark Five, and I doubt that will change now.

The record parked at No. 23 fifty years ago today is one that I did hear back then and still like today: “A Sign Of The Times” by Petula Clark, coming down the chart after peaking at No. 11 (and at No. 2 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart). I remember hearing – probably because of her presence on the AC chart – and liking everything Petula from 1964’s “Downtown” through her last Top Ten hit, “Don’t Sleep In The Subway,” in mid-1967. I guess you could call her one of my faves: I’ve got maybe five of her LPs on the shelves and about fifty mp3s tucked away in the chips, including a 1975 cover of Mocedades’ “Eres Tu,” which is one of those songs I collect in as many versions as possible.

And at No. 28 in the Hot 100 from fifty years ago today, we find an Elvis Presley track from one of the many movies Elvis starred in that are pretty lightly regarded these days (and likely were similarly regarded when they came out): the title track from Frankie and Johnny. It’s another record I don’t recall ever hearing, interesting to me for two reasons: The record features a faux Dixieland arrangement, and Elvis sings the old song about a cheating lover in the first person, taking the role Johnny as he does Frankie wrong. It’s a little odd, but it’s not awful. It didn’t do all that well, either, as it had already peaked at No. 25.

So, three records to choose from, two of which I’d never heard before. Well, there are days like that. I do like the Petula Clark record, but it’s very familiar. And choosing between the other two, I find that I really don’t like the Dave Clark Five. So here’s Elvis Presley’s take on “Frankie and Johnny,” today’s Saturday Single.

Up Late

May 6th, 2016

I stayed up late last night, at first plunging and then dragging myself to the end of the novel Time and Time Again by Ben Elton. As regular readers might gather from the title and knowing my tastes, it’s a time travel yarn, and it’s got some good points. It also has some twists that I’m going to have to sort out, as well as a few major flaws. I think we’ll be returning to Elton’s book in this space next week, after I’ve untangled those twists and cataloged the flaws.

But staying up long past my generally late bedtime has, of course, some associated costs. I end up sleeping later than normal, and that gives me a late start on the day with my most productive time – the early morning – already gone.

Wanting to fill the white space here and get to the rest of the day, I went looking for a track with the word “up late” in the title. The RealPlayer returned eight tracks. Most startling among them were three tracks from the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. I had to look closely, and then I realized that the player had found the “late” in Pilate and the “up” in “Superstar” as it searched. So those three aren’t what we’re looking for this morning.

Among the other five, I found no titles that corresponded with staying up on an evening past one’s normal bedtime, which I found a bit odd. A topic not covered among the 88,000 mp3s that clog the player? Maybe I’ll put on my songwriting hat one of these days and fill that seeming gap.

But that’s for another day as well. And I did find “up late” in the title of a decent track, though the topic isn’t what I was hoping for. Still, we take what we find on mornings like this, so here’s “Turned Up Too Late,” a Graham Parker tune, as offered by the Pointer Sisters on their 1979 album Priority.