Saturday Single No. 430

January 24th, 2015

We’re gonna play some games with numbers and then dig around in my sweet spot again today, looking for a tune good for a Saturday morning. We’ll look at the Billboard Hot 100 that was in effect on January 24 during the years from 1969 through 1973, checking out which records were at No. 24. And from those five records, we’ll select one for today’s feature. (We’ll also – as we tend to do – check out which record was at No. 1, just for fun.)

As we start our little trip in a Hot 100 from 1969, we get some advice for the ladies from Tammy Wynette: “Stand By Your Man” sits at No. 24, heading up to No. 19 in the Hot 100, as well as to No. 11 on what is now called the Adult Contemporary chart and to a three-week stay at No. 1 on the country chart. I’ve referred to Wynette’s record only once before in eight years of blogging, when I told the tale of inadvertently stopping for a brew in what my friends and I quickly realized was a Viennese bordello where “Stand By Your Man” and Ricky Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou” were the only records in English on the jukebox. That experience doesn’t mean I won’t choose the record as today’s feature, but it doesn’t earn it any bonus points, either. Sitting at No. 1 at the time was “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye.

Heading to 1970, we find a Hot 100 released on January 24, forty-five years ago today, and sitting in spot No. 24 was “Ain’t It Funky Now (Part 1)” by James Brown. I doubt if I’ve ever heard the instrumental jam until this morning: The record never made it to KDWB’s “6+30 Survey” back in 1970, from what I can see at Oldiesloon this morning; it’s not in the digital files here; and it’s not one of the thirty tracks included on the James Brown anthology in the vinyl stacks. One can argue, I guess, that I have not paid James Brown enough attention, and that’s possible. In any case, “Ain’t It Funky Now (Part 1)” went no higher in the Hot 100 while peaking at No. 3 on the R&B chart. Sitting at No. 1 forty-five years ago today was “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” by B.J. Thomas.

As the final weeks of my last January in high school rolled by in 1971, the No. 24 record on the Hot 100 was the double-sided “I Really Don’t Want To Know/There Goes My Everything” by Elvis Presley. I don’t remember hearing either of the sides on the radio back then although I know the B-side now, and I know I’ve heard the A-side at least once before this morning. Both tracks are from the 1971 album Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old), which made its way to the vinyl stacks here in 1998 and has been pretty much ignored since. The single went to No. 21 on the Hot 100, to No. 2 on the AC chart and to No. 22 on the country chart. (Elvis was the fifth performer to chart with “I Really Don’t Want To Know.” The others were Tommy Edwards in 1960, Solomon Burke in 1962, Esther Phillips in 1963 and Ronnie Dove in 1966.) Sitting at No. 1 during the fourth week of January 1971 was Dawn’s “Knock Three Times.”

And we move from records that don’t matter much to one that makes me cringe. Parked at No. 24 during the fourth week of January 1972 was David Cassidy’s remake of the Association’s “Cherish.” Never mind the emotional importance of the original record in my life: On musical merits alone – performance and production – Cassidy’s version of the tune was weak, a judgment I reaffirm whenever the record pops up on the Seventies Channel of our cable TV system. But that didn’t matter to the listening and/or record buying public back in 1972: Cassidy’s “Cherish” went to No. 9 on the Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the AC chart. Sitting atop the chart that week for the second of an eventual four weeks was Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

Nor does the fourth week in January 1973 bring us much joy, as the No. 24 record that week was Albert Hammond’s “It Never Rains In Southern California,” which I’ve targeted here before for what I’ve always heard as an awkward second line: “Didn’t think before decided what to do.” Then again, I have to admit that I’ve not paid any attention to the record while hearing it on a decent set of speakers. The single is in the vinyl stacks on a K-Tel compilation to which I likely gave short shrift when I played it after buying it in the autumn of 1988, and giving it a closer listening this morning, I’m willing to think that Hammond is actually singing “before decidin’ what to do.” And with that little bit of disdain out of the way, I’m willing to say that Hammond’s record, which went to No. 5 (No. 2, AC), is a decent record. The No. 1 record during that week in 1973 was Carly Simon’s “He’s So Vain.”

So there we have five candidates, none of which utterly thrill me. But given my likely mishearing of the Albert Hammond lyric for more than forty years, I really have no choice but to make Hammond’s “It Never Rains In Southern California” this week’s Saturday Single.*

*The single label of the Hammond record as shown at Discogs has a running time of 3:12, but we all know how that can go. “It Never Rains” was also the title track for Hammond’s 1973 album, where it clocked 3:55, so the above video is likely the album track (with the correct lyric, I should note with a red face).

Three Revisions

January 22nd, 2015

While Andy the furnace guy tried to restore our heat last week, I was thrust viscerally back to January 1977: As I sat in my study while Andy worked and the temperature hovered somewhere around 55, I kept shifting things so that the space heater just inches away would warm first my left leg and then my right, and that brought on memories of that long-ago January in the house on the North Side of St. Cloud.

It was the place I lived for about eight months after moving away from Kilian Boulevard, and as I’ve noted here before, it had no central heat, relying instead on a large oil-burning stove in the living room and a smaller such heater in the kitchen. (In my bedroom upstairs, I supplemented whatever heat came up through vents in the floor with a space heater my folks had given me, probably as a Christmas gift).

And last week, as I alternately roasted my legs, I remembered spending a Sunday that January lying on the couch in the living room, my left side warm, my right side cold and my spirit desolate as I watched the Minnesota Vikings lose the Super Bowl for the fourth time, falling 32-14 to the Oakland Raiders. So last week’s chill morning with the space heater was kind of a remake from those days thirty-eight years ago. This year’s version was only two days long however, not the full three months of a Minnesota winter, and although my legs were once again chilled, my spirit was not dampened.

But all of that reminded me of January 1977, and the Billboard gods have smiled on me today, as the magazine released a Hot 100 on January 22, 1977, thirty-eight years ago today. Additionally, with the idea of remakes in my head, I found three records in the lower portion of that long-ago chart that fall into that category, more or less.

One of the frequent flyers of the disco era was to take a melody from another time and reset it in a disco arrangement. The 1976 version of “Baby Face” by the Wing and a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps, which went to No. 14, was one example, and there are many others, including the record that caught my ear this morning: “Disco Lucy” by the Wilton Place Street Band, a discofying of the theme to the long-running television show I Love Lucy. Thirty-eight years ago today, the record was at No. 91, heading to a peak of No. 24 (No. 9, Adult Contemporary).

Not far below “Disco Lucy” on that long-ago Hot 100 is an example of another type of remake: A member of a band re-records and releases on his own a song that his or her band recorded some years earlier. Sometimes it succeeds, as it would later in 1977 for Bob Welch, when his solo version of “Sentimental Lady” – originally recorded by Fleetwood Mac when Welch was a member of that group – would go to No. 8. Sometimes such a remake fails, as it would for David LaFlamme, whose remake of “White Bird” was sitting at No. 95 thirty-eight years ago. The record was an inferior (but not “more brief,” as I originally wrote) version of the song originally released as a single in 1969 by LaFlamme’s group It’s A Beautiful Day. That original version Bubbled Under the Hot 100 at No. 118; LaFlamme’s solo version did better, but only marginally, peaking at No. 89.

And then, there was the record that was bubbling under at No. 109 back on January 22, 1977: A disco version of Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue” from Mauriat himself, titled “Love Is Still Blue.” The original “Love Is Blue” was a 1968 treasure, sitting at No. 1 for five weeks (eleven weeks on the AC chart) and ranking at No. 3 for the entire year (behind the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine). Did we need a disco version of such a superb record? Not really. Did Mauriat need the money or the fame? I would think not. And the record tanked: After bubbling under at No. 109 for that one week, the record disappeared, as it deserved to do. Take a listen:

Error regarding the length of the 1977  “White Bird” corrected after first posting.

Missing The Midnight Special

January 20th, 2015

Rummaging around on Facebook over the weekend, I came across a link to a piece at the Rolling Stone website offering seventeen reasons to adulate Stevie Nicks. Now, I don’t adulate Nicks, nor do I need reasons to do so, but I do admire her and like a lot of her music, both with and without Fleetwood Mac.

So I didn’t need to click through for those seventeen reasons, but the video that was embedded in the piece tempted me. And I found myself watching the Mac’s performance of “Rhiannon” on the June 11, 1976, episode of The Midnight Special.

I loved pretty much everything about that clip and wished for maybe the thousandth time that I’d paid more attention to The Midnight Special. The late-night Friday show* ran from February 1973 into May 1981, and I’m not at all sure why I didn’t watch it even occasionally, much less regularly.

During most of the early years – up to the middle of the summer of ’76, not long after above Fleetwood Mac performance – I could easily have watched the show on the old black-and-white in my room (with the sound turned down some so as not to wake my folks in the adjacent bedroom). After that, at least in a couple of places, I might have had to persuade a couple of roommates (or for a few years, the Other Half) to watch with me. But I never even tried.

So I never got on board, and I wish I had. There are selected performances from the show’s nine seasons available commercially, but I’m not about to spring the cash that Time/Life is asking for discs of those assorted performances. Instead, I wander on occasion through the valley at YouTube, finding bits and pieces of things I missed half a lifetime (or more) ago, things like Linda Ronstadt (introduced by José Feliciano as a country performer) making her way through a December 1973 performance of “You’re No Good” and a May 1977 performance of “Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band.

It’s a seemingly bottomless trove of long-ago treasure, and I can easily get lost clicking from video to video (something that happens occasionally anyway, though with less of a focus). Well, there are worse things to get hooked on, I suppose. And for this morning, we’ll close with a performance by Redbone from February 1974, when they opened “Come And Get Your Love” with a Native American dance quite possibly pulled – though I’m not certain – from the Shoshone heritage of Pat and Lolly Vegas, the group’s founders.

*The show followed The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which meant that for most of its run, The Midnight Special actually started at midnight here in the Central Time Zone. When Carson trimmed his show to an hour in late 1980, The Midnight Special aired at 11:30 our time.

Saturday Singles Nos. 428 & 429

January 17th, 2015

Casting about for some music for a Saturday morning, I was looking at the Billboard Hot 100 from this date in 1976, thirty-nine years ago. I was living in the Twin Cities at the time, interning for the sports department of an independent television station and wrestling with at least two heavy questions: I was wondering if I’d be able to make a living in television sports, and I was wondering as well if I should pursue the stunning redhead who was interning in the station’s promotions department.

(The answer to the first of those was negative, and I ended up in newspapering, a direction that was far better for me. The answer to the second was likely positive. I should have pursued the gorgeous redhead, as in hindsight, she had made it very clear that she would welcome my attentions. But being both artless and clueless when it came to women, I missed her signals. I continued my flirtations, but I did no more, a lack of action that I used to regret, if only at low volume.)

As is often the case when looking at a Hot 100 from my high school or college years, the records in the upper portions of the chart are familiar (sometimes overly familiar, even after nearly forty years), and as my gaze moves down the chart, records are less and less so, to the point where there may be three or four or five records in a row that I either do not remember or have never heard.

And I maybe should have recognized the name of Houston Person. A jazz saxophonist, Person’s credits, as noted at both All-Music Guide and Wikipedia, are extensive. I’ve probably heard his horn in many of the tracks I have by various jazz organists, from Johnny “Hammond” Smith onward. (I note as I write that Person is credited by Wikipedia with accompanying organist Charles Earland on his 1969 album Black Talk!, a copy of which came to me from a friend recently; I will have to make sure to give it a close listen.)

But I did not recognize Person’s name as I saw it at No. 93 in the Hot 100 from January 17, 1976. It was the title of Person’s record that caught my eye: “Disco Sax/For The Love Of You.” As most readers know, I love the sound of a saxophone, and I do like early disco – from 1974 to 1976 – a fair amount. So I found and listened to Person’s record.

The two-sided single didn’t stay long on the Hot 100 or move too much. That listing thirty-nine years ago this week was its first in a four-week stay, and the record moved up only two more spots, to No. 91, before disappearing. (It went to No. 30 on the R&B chart.) But both “Disco Sax” and “For The Love Of You” sounded good enough this morning to be today’s Saturday Singles:

Here’s “Disco Sax,” the A-side:

And here’s “For The Love Of You,” the B-side:

‘So Sad . . .’

January 16th, 2015

I’m a regular at the St. Cloud Public Library, dropping in frequently to scan the new fiction and non-fiction alike and frequently to pick up CDs and the occasional DVD after I’ve reserved them. (The library in downtown St. Cloud is technically the main branch of the Great River Regional Library, a six-county system, but that gets awkward, so most folks around here just call it the St. Cloud Public Library.)

And I was there yesterday afternoon, picking up a few things: A songbook of music by Cris Williamson (having decided it was long past time for me to learn how to play “Like An Island Rising,” which was Saturday Single No. 1 almost eight years ago) and several CDs by folk artist Eliza Gilkyson. I also grabbed a series of five mystery/suspense novels by Sam Eastland set in the Soviet Union during Stalinist times, and as I sorted my stuff atop the cabinets that hold CDs, I happened to glance at a CD that looked vaguely familiar. So I took a look.

It was Still On The Road To Freedom, a 2012 release by the late Alvin Lee, who passed on in 2013, and its title and cover reference On The Road To Freedom, Lee’s 1973 release with Mylon LeFevre.

combined

That 1973 release has been a favorite of mine since I came across it in 1999 during my Minneapolis-based days of vinyl madness, and I was surprised to learn that, except for a couple of passing references, I’ve never written about it in this space.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Lee, of course, was the lead guitarist for Ten Years After, a successful British blues band that came to wide attention via its performance at Woodstock in 1969 and the inclusion of the band’s performance of “I’m Going Home” in the film Woodstock a year later. When Lee left Ten Years After and teamed up with gospel performer LeFevre for the 1973 release, it seemed like a statement of some type and possibly a career-changer. Given its title, the 2012 release I found in the library yesterday was obviously a statement. That conclusion was borne out by Lee’s liner notes:

In 1972 after Woodstock had catapulted Ten Years After into the Rock Arenas, I decided to take the road to freedom rather than the road to fame and fortune. It was the only decision for me as in my desperation to get away from the responsibility and the commerciality of the music industrialists, I was in danger of joining the dead before 30 club . . .

I was searching for and needing freedom.

It was freedom from long tour schedules playing every night in huge arenas where the sound echoed like a freight shed and the security was armed police with cotton wool in their ears.

Freedom from the managers, agents and lawyers who saw me as a money making commodity. “We only want what’s best for you, my boy.” Yeah sure.

Freedom from being responsible for satisfying other people’s greed.

But most of all – freedom to make music of my own choice without worrying about what other people thought or expected.

I don’t know yet how the music on Still On The Road To Freedom stacks up. I’ve listened to a bit of it, and what I’ve heard, I like. I’m going to take some time to dig into it and hope that it’s a set of tunes I’d like keep at hand. Titling the CD as he did, Lee was clearly drawing a connection between the 2012 set and the 1973 set, and that raises my expectations. I’ll likely report back on what I hear; if I don’t, readers can likely assume that I was underwhelmed by the 2012 album.

In the meantime, here’s a gem from Lee’s 1973 sessions with LeFevre, the single version of “So Sad (No Love Of His Own),” a George Harrison tune. LeFevre handles the lead vocal and harmonies; Lee provides guitar and background vocals; Ron Wood plays twelve-string guitar; Mick Fleetwood handles drums; and a fellow credited for contractual reasons as Hari Georgeson takes care of guitar, slide guitar, bass and harmony vocals.

The single did not chart, which I think is a shame.

In The Cool Of The Night

January 14th, 2015

Sometime Sunday afternoon, the furnace here became uncooperative.

During the winter, we generally keep the indoor temperature at about 68, adjusting the thermostat to account for the slight warming and frequent cooling trends outdoors. But around mid-afternoon Sunday, we realized the indoor temperature was dropping, and nudging the thermostat upward wasn’t having any effect.

Finally, in the early evening, when we pushed the red bar on the thermostat up to where it was (theoretically) calling for 80 degrees, the furnace kicked in and things got warmer. When the temperature got to about 70, we pulled the red bar down to that level. And the temperature started to drop.

We didn’t want to bother our landlord on a Sunday, so at about nine o’clock, we pushed the red bar up high again, let the place warm up, and then pulled the bar down, hoping it wouldn’t get too cool overnight.

When I got up Monday morning, it was 59 degrees in the house. I tinkered a moment with the furnace and the thermostat and got nowhere. So I put our space heater in the bathroom so the Texas Gal could take care of her morning routine in relative comfort, and after I got back from taking her to work – I do so on sub-zero mornings – I called our landlord and waited for a call back. As I waited, I managed to get the furnace going, and I did the red bar dance the rest of the morning.

It turns out that our landlord is out of the country. His wife called back around noon and said she’d called their furnace guy, and he’d be by around five. I let the temperature do the roller coaster through the afternoon, until Andy the furnace guy showed up. Andy quickly determined that a fan in the furnace needed replacing. He didn’t have a spare immediately at hand, but he said he’d find one by morning. He showed me how to get the furnace running manually if it ever quit responding to the red bar.

That evening, we got the temperature on the main floor to about 72 and then let it go for the night, relying on the space heater to warm the bathroom and the loft where we sleep. When we got up Tuesday, it was 50 degrees in the house, or perhaps colder; the thermometer on the thermostat only goes down to 50. I started the furnace manually, and it was maybe 60 degrees by the time Andy got here.

I pulled the space heater into the study, and as Andy worked on the furnace – replacing a circuit board as well as a fan – I put on a third shirt and shivered as I sat at the computer, periodically moving the space heater from one side of me to the other. Andy finished his work about noon, and I set the red bar at 75 and started the slow process of bringing the temperature back up to 68.

By the time we retired, we were comfortable. And we remained so through the night and on into the morning.

And though the tune that I dug out of the stacks would be more appropriate during summer than it is now, it’s hard to resist Ray Charles. So here Brother Ray’s 1967 theme from the movie In The Heat Of The Night. It went to No. 33 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 21 on the R&B chart.

Saturday Single No. 427

January 10th, 2015

So what do we know about January 10?

Well, easily enough to determine, it’s the tenth day of the year under the Julian calendar, with 355 more to come.

Wikipedia has lengthy lists of events that took place and of folks who were born on January 10, and I scanned the lists this morning without much enthusiasm until I saw in the birthdays: “1836 – Charles Ingalls, American father of author Laura Ingalls Wilder (d. 1902).”

A little bit more than a year ago, I wrote about the organization called “Pa’s Fiddle Project,” which aims to release on ten CDs modern recordings of all the music mentioned in the Little House series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, from Little House In The Big Woods onward. The CD I wrote about in December 2013, titled as well Pa’s Fiddle, was the third in the planned series.

Having been interested since first grade in the Little House series, and being interested more and more in vintage music – the music folks listened to in the years before it could be recorded – I thought that was a cool idea, and I put the three existing releases on my wish list and vowed to keep an eye open for the subsequent releases.

Then, last May, as I rummaged through the stacks of CDs at one of our local pawnshops, I came across a CD titled A Tribute To Charles “Pa” Ingalls by Bruce Hoffmann. The 2006 CD offers recordings of sixteen songs mentioned in Wilder’s book, which sounded very similar to the CDs being released by the Pa’s Fiddle Project.

The difference, though, was that Hoffman recorded the sixteen offerings on his CD in the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder in Mansfield, Missouri, and he played the tunes on Charles Ingalls’ fiddle. I grabbed the CD without delay and paid something like a dollar for it – the pawnshop was clearing its CD inventory – although I likely would have paid much more.

Joining Hoffman on the CD is a variety of other musicians – recorded elsewhere, I assume – adding banjo, mandolin, piano, tin whistle, recorder, guitar, and some vocals, including a rendition of “The Gypsy’s Warning” from country star Pam Tillis.

I’ve selected Hoffman’s performance of Stephen Foster’s “Oh Susannah” for this morning; joining him are Curt Ames on guitar and Greg Moody on banjo. So here, to mark the birth of Charles Ingalls 179 years ago today, is “Oh Susanna,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘It’s Good News Week . . .’

January 8th, 2015

All right, it’s January 8, 1966, a Saturday. I was twelve, my sister was fifteen, and who knows what we might have been doing that day. But it’s a good bet that sometime during the day – quite likely after lunch – my sister and I ended up with dishwashing duty.

When we took care of the dishes in those days, my sister would tune the kitchen radio to 630, KDWB, to hear what the world of Top 40 sounded like while she washed and I dried. I would have greeted the radio tuning with a shrug, not really caring about Top 40 yet but nevertheless hearing enough of it around me that I would know the major hits of the time.

So what might we have heard on KDWB as we did the dishes that Saturday forty-nine years gone? Well, certainly stuff from the top of the station’s Fabulous Forty Survey released that day. The top single was “We Can Work It Out” by the Beatles, followed by Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound Of Silence.” No surprises there.

Then, at No. 3, we find “The Little Girl I Once Knew” by the Beach Boys, which was clearly better regarded in the Twin Cities than it was nationally, as it got to only No. 20 in the Billboard Hot 100. I imagine I’ve heard it one time or another over the years, but it’s not a record I remember. But then, as I’ve likely said here before, I’ve never been much of a Beach Boys fan, so it’s not unthinkable that “The Little Girl I Once Knew” might have slipped past unnoticed. As I listen this morning, I mentally shrug and think, “Yeah, it’s the Beach Boys. What next?”

And that’s where things might have gotten interesting in the kitchen and definitely get interesting nearly fifty years later, now that comparing surveys and charts and similar listings takes up some of my time. Sitting at No. 4 in the Fabulous Forty was a record I do not recall by a group whose name I thought might have been a joke: “It’s Good News Week” by the Hedgehoppers Anonymous.

It’s good news week
Someone’s dropped a bomb somewhere
Contaminating atmosphere
And blackening the sky

It’s good news week
Someone’s found a way to give
The rotting dead a will to live
Go on and never die

Have you heard the news
What did it say?
Who’s won that race?
What’s the weather like today?

It’s good news week
Families shake the need for gold
By stimulating birth control
We’re wanting less to eat

Lots of blood in Asia now
They’ve butchered off the sacred cow
They’ve got a lot to eat.

It’s good news week
Doctors finding many ways
Of wrapping brains on metal trays
To keep us from the heat

Bleak, surreal and utterly cheerful in its presentation, the record didn’t do nearly as well nationally as it did on KDWB, peaking in the Hot 100 at No. 48. And it wasn’t just KDWB; the record was No. 3 that week on WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other main Top 40 station. (It had peaked at No. 3 a week earlier at KDWB.)

Nor was it just the Twin Cities. In Chicago, “It’s Good News Week” went to No. 3 on WLS and No. 5 on WCFL. It went to No. 4 on CJCA in Edmonton, Alberta, and there are surveys at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive from a smattering of stations that show the record in the top ten.

It’s likely worth noting that the highest ranking found for the Hedgehoppers Anonymous’ single in any of the surveys at ARSA is the No. 1 slot on Radio London, a ship-based renegade station broadcasting to the United Kingdom from international waters. The record also went to No. 2 on the similarly based Radio Caroline South. As the Hedgehoppers Anonymous were from England, that makes a little sense.

But the record’s reception in the Twin Cities (and Chicago) seems odd. Just one of those things that happen, I guess. And if we ever heard the record during that hypothetical (but very likely) dishwashing session, I’m sure I would never have remembered it.

Addendum: I suppose I should note here in passing that “It’s Good News Week” was written and produced for the Hedgehoppers Anonymous by Jonathan King, who had a hit with “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon” in 1965 and who was convicted in 2001 of sexually abusing teenage boys during the 1980s.

Thanks to regular reader and friend Yah Shure for reminding me that the lyrics in the video did not match the lyrics found on the Net. I simply forgot to change them. As to why the lyrics were different, see Yah Shure’s note below.

‘I Just Want To Hold You . . .’

January 6th, 2015

So what was spinning on the basement stereo forty years ago today, as winter quarter resumed at St. Cloud State?

Almost certainly, Graham Nash’s Songs For Beginners, released in 1971, was in heavy rotation. The LP log tells me that I’d picked up the album on January 4, 1975, adding one more piece to the collection of music that I’d heard nearly every day at the hostel in Denmark a year earlier.

The album had some flaws, and I think I knew that from the first few times I’d heard it on the tape player in our lounge in Denmark. Nash’s voice, I thought, didn’t feel strong enough to carry a whole album, and I thought the songwriting was erratic. Some of the songs were good, and others felt like filler put together to ensure enough material for an LP.

But I bought the album anyway, being more interested in how the record made me feel than in what my critical judgment might tell me. A quick check of a 1975 calendar tells me that I brought the record home on a Saturday, and I’m sure it was on the stereo in the basement rec room frequently that weekend.

Another quick look, this one at Pro Football Reference, tells me that there was no NFL football that weekend; I had another week to go before I watched my Minnesota Vikings fall 16-6 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. So I’m sure I listened to Nash on both Saturday and Sunday. And I no doubt reaffirmed my judgment that the best track on the record was “Simple Man.”

It is, as the lyric promises, a simple song, one that Nash wrote after he and Joni Mitchell parted ways (as is true of many of the other songs on the album). And, to me, the song’s simplicity is what makes it work. (That simplicity also made it easy to determine the chords so I could add the song to my piano repertoire of the time; I’ll likely renew my acquaintance with it soon.)

Later in 1975, I came across a cover of Nash’s tune that I liked maybe a little bit better than Nash’s original version. The cover came from Paul Williams, and it was on his 1971 album Just An Old Fashioned Love Song.

I haven’t listened to Songs For Beginners – as an album – for years. The same goes for Williams’ album. Tracks from the two records pop up on very rare occasion on the RealPlayer, and I don’t skip over them, but “Simple Man” remains the only track from Nash’s album that would really catch my ear these days. The Williams album pulls a bit more weight, with “Simple Man” being one of maybe four tracks that matter to me. (The most affecting track on Williams’ album, long-time readers with good memories might already surmise, is “Waking Up Alone,” which sends a twinge of not unpleasant melancholy through my heart whenever it shows up.)

There aren’t a lot of other covers out there, from what I can tell. After Williams’ cover, the website Second Hand Songs lists three more, and some digging at Amazon and iTunes brought no more. Middle-of-the-road vocalist Jack Jones included a version of the song on his 1973 album Together. It’s not posted at YouTube or available at either of the two retail sites, from what I can tell. (Jones’ cover of “Simple Man” likely wouldn’t be the most interesting track on that album; the closing track is a cover of Carly Simon’s “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.”)

Current day singer-songwriter Denison Witmer included “Simple Man” on Recovered, his 2003 collection of covers of mostly 1970s tunes, and Will Oldham, under the name Bonnie “Prince” Billy, recorded a Spanish version – “Simple Man (Hombre Sencillo)” – for his contribution to the 2010 release Be Yourself: A Tribute To Graham Nash’s Songs For Beginners. I like Oldham’s cover a bit more than I do Witmer’s, but both of them somehow seem a little off-kilter to me.

So I’ll stick with the two 1971 versions, and if forced to choose, I’d probably go with Williams’.

Saturday Single No. 426

January 3rd, 2015

We’re going to play some games with numbers and dig into some fifty-year old surveys this morning in search of a Saturday tune. The Airheads Radio Survey Archive offers seven surveys released on January 3, 1965, so we’re going to take a look at four of them. We’ll take today’s date – 1/3/15 – and turn that into No. 13 and No. 15, and see what we find.

We’ll also, as we customarily do, check out the No. 1 record on each survey simply for context.

We’ll start in the Midwest with the “Silver Dollar Music Survey” from Milwaukee’s WRIT. Sitting at No. 13 fifty years ago today was “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” by the Righteous Brothers, an epic record that would top the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks a month later. And parked at No. 15 in Milwaukee was “Let’s Lock The Door (And Throw Away The Key)” by Jay & The Americans, a single that, as far as I know, I’ve not heard until this morning. It did go to No. 11 in Billboard, but that only goes to show that making the Top 20 is no guarantee of oldies radio immortality.

The No. 1 record at WRIT fifty years ago was the Beatles’ two-sided “I Feel Fine/She’s A Woman.”

From Wisconsin, we’ll head east and make a stop in Columbus, Ohio, where we’ll check out the hot tunes on WCOL’s “Hit Line Survey” from the first week in January 1965. The No. 13 record there was “Give Him A Great Big Kiss” by the Shangri-Las, a lively bit of girl group joy with a bit of teenage theater between verses. It went to No. 18 nationally, which was kind of a bring-down after “Leader Of The Pack” went to No. 1 in late 1964. Sitting at No. 15 in Columbus was Gerry & The Pacemakers’ “I’ll Be There,” another record that I’ve never heard before this morning. A sweet pledge of loyalty to a departing lover, the record went to No. 14 in Billboard.

Sitting atop the “Hit Line Survey” at WCOL fifty years ago today was “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”

From Ohio we head to Newport News, Virginia, where WGH releases its “Original Official Top Thirty,” which includes at No. 13 Del Shannon’s “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun).” Blessed with a great organ break and Shannon’s unearthly wails at the end, the record would go to No. 9 in the Hot 100. Sitting at No. 15 in Newport News that week fifty years ago was the Animals’ “Boom Boom,” in which Eric Burdon and his pals take on John Lee Hooker and, almost inevitably, come up wanting. The record stalled at No. 43 in Billboard.

Perched at No. 1 in WGH’s “Original Official Top Thirty” fifty years ago was “Mr. Lonely” by Bobby Vinton.

From the East Coast we jump to the West Coast and the “Top Sixty Tune-Dex” offered by Los Angeles’ KRLA. At No. 13, we find “Willow Weep For Me” by Chad & Jeremy, a soft rock duo from England. Squishy by even Chad & Jeremy standards, “Willow” would peak at No. 15 in Billboard. And at No. 15, we find British MOR singers Matt Monro with “Walk Away,” a song telling a lover to move on for her own good. It went to No. 23 in Billboard.

The No. 1 record on the “Top Sixty Tune-Dex” fifty years ago today was, as it was in Columbus, the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”

Well, with the No. 13s and the No. 15s, we have a wide range of records to consider for our Saturday morning listening. Most of them are relatively unfamiliar to me, which only serves to show that there is a limit to how much back-filling can take place. As 1965 began, I was eleven, and I was still four to five years away from digging deeply into the Top 40 and a good twenty years away from beginning any serious effort to know and understand what came before 1969.

In any case, we have some intriguing choices for our Saturday morning listening, and I think we’ll go with a cool organ break followed by unearthly wails and make Del Shannon’s “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun)” today’s Saturday Single.