Trees Again

May 22nd, 2018

Rob’s wife, Barb, was correct: The tree at the corner of our condo is in fact a flowering crab. But unlike the one in their yard in St. Francis, which has pink flowers, ours offers white flowers to the world. Here it is about a week ago:

Flowering Crab 2

That was its peak. Overnight, the wind came up, and morning found the ground littered with white flowers. And over the next few days the flowers flew off like large snowflakes. If we get even a third as many crab apples as there were flowers, we’re in for a crabby autumn.

(We still don’t know what type of tree stands between the flowering crab and the maple. We’ve talked about taking pictures of its general appearance and close-ups of its leaves and posting them on Facebook for our friends to take a look at, but we have not yet done so. It’s in full leaf, however, and it looks quite nice, and whatever it is, it’s providing noon-time shade.)

And I thought, since trees have been a frequent topic of conversation around our place, I’d take a look at the digital shelves and see if I could find a few tunes with types of trees in their titles.

The first one is easy: “Tall Pine Trees” by Peter Yarrow. It’s beautiful, a song of farewell, but I think what captures my imagination is the tune’s Russian overtones. It’s from Peter, Yarrow’s first solo album, which was released in 1972 in conjunction with solo albums from Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, Yarrow’s partners in Peter, Paul & Mary. When the Texas Gal and I took my mom to see Yarrow in concert six years ago, the second half of his show was made up almost entirely of requests; I asked for “Tall Pine Trees,” and he told us that it was the first time the song had ever been requested. Sadly, he didn’t perform it.

We move to the first hit by Dorsey Burnette. “(There Was A) Tall Oak Tree” starts with a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden and then shifts for its second verse to a theme echoed by many songwriters: How humans have despoiled nature for their own ends. (Think, among many others, of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”) The record peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first week of March 1960, the first of six records that Burnette – the older brother of Johnny Burnette and the uncle of Rocky Burnette – would place in or near the Hot 100 but his only Top 40 hit. (He placed five records in the magazine’s country Top 40 in the 1970s.)

And for the second time this month, we come across the name of Gram Parsons, this time as the writer of a song recorded by Johnny Rivers. “Apple Tree” is the second track on Side Two of River’s 1972 album Slim Slo Slider. It’s a tale of love found and love lost, framed as a seasonal saga:

I used to sit in a big apple tree
Welcome the sun as he shone down on me
Watch the fruit ripen, smell the land grow
Felt the fall rains get colder and turn into snow

And then in the summer, I’d walk through the trees
Roll up my trousers way over my knees
Waded a stream ’til the rocks hurt my feet
The water was cool, and the summer was sweet

Autumn got lonely when harvest came ’round
Green leaves turned golden and fell to the ground
Clear nights got colder, with the stars bright above
And in the winter, I first fell in love

She loved me truly ’til winter passed by
Left without warning and never said why
Maybe she’s lonely, needs me somewhere
Maybe by summer, I won’t even care

And then Rivers lets us think about that as James Burton takes us home with a lovely guitar solo.

We’ll close our brief excursion through the trees with the Indigo Girls’ lovely but cryptic “Cedar Tree” from their 1992 album, Rites Of Passage, an album I love:

You dug a well, you dug it deep
For every wife you buried, you planted a cedar tree
The best, the best you ever had

I stand where you stood
I stand for bad or good
And I am green, and you are wood
The best, the best he ever had

I dig a well, I dig it deep
And for my only love, I plant a cedar tree
The best, the best we ever had

Saturday Single No. 591

May 19th, 2018

We’re off to the eye doctor!

Both the Texas Gal and I have noticed in the past couple of weeks that things are getting a bit blurry, especially when we’re driving and most especially when we’re driving after dark. So we checked our records, and for both of us, it’s been a few years since we had our eyes checked.

So later this morning, we’re off to the regional big box store on the East Side, where we’ve had our eyes checked since we moved to St. Cloud almost sixteen years ago. We’ll also likely look for a hose attachment we can use to clean the winter gunk from the garage floor and for a couple other necessities as well. And lunch at one of our former East Side haunts might be on the agenda, too.

But it’s our eyes that are the main part of the agenda. So here’s a tune that’s never shown up here before: “Meagan’s Gypsy Eyes.” It’s from Child Is Father To The Man, the 1968 debut album for Blood, Sweat & Tears, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘We Have Lost The Time . . .’

May 18th, 2018

Well, it worked pretty well on Wednesday, so we’re going to glance this morning at a Billboard Hot 100 from May 18, selecting this time the one from 1974 that was released just as I was planning my return to Minnesota after almost nine months in Denmark. That’s forty-four years ago now, and it feels like, well, not quite like yesterday but certainly a lot more recent than forty-four years.

Anyway, playing Games With Numbers with that Hot 100 turns today’s date – 5/18/18 – to forty-one, so let’s take a look at the record that was sitting at No. 41 in that long-ago chart. It turns out to be Anne Murray’s take on the Beatles’ “You Won’t See Me,” heading toward a peak at No. 8 (and at No. 2 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart).

I recall the single well, and I recall as well than I didn’t think much of it then. And I still don’t. The production has always sounded heavy-handed to me, with, well, a thickness to it that didn’t suit Murray’s voice well.

The fact is, very little of Murray’s work has ever appealed to me, so when her cover of “You Won’t See Me” hit the speakers back then, I either changed the radio station or ignored the jukebox for four minutes. And not a single track of hers is among the 72,000 files on the digital shelves here. Her stuff is not awful; it’s just not my deal.

But that’s the way it goes with Games With Numbers. Sometimes you hit a great one; sometimes you get something very foul; and sometimes, like today, it doesn’t really matter. But anyway, here’s Murray’s record:

‘Raise The Candles High . . .’

May 16th, 2018

Glancing at the Billboard Hot 100 from May 16, 1970 – an astounding forty-eight years ago today – I played a quick Games With Numbers and converted today’s date – 5/16/18 – to thirty-nine. And sitting at No. 39 forty-eight years ago today was Melanie’s “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain),” the anthem she composed after the experience of performing at Woodstock the previous August.

Recorded with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, the single had jumped twenty-three spots in the previous week and was on its way to a peak position of No. 6. It got there during the second week of July, about the time that the state trapshoot took place at a gun club just outside the St. Cloud city limits. I heard the record often as I sat in a trap for four long days, loading clay targets on a scary humming machine and trying not to get my fingers broken.

And since I’ve never featured the single here (and because long ago I characterized Melanie Safka in this space as the quintessential hippie chick), here’s “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain).”

(I think this is the single version, but there are so many versions offered at YouTube that I’m really not sure.)

Saturday Single No. 590

May 12th, 2018

It started as one of those Facebook queries/challenges. A friend asked me to take ten days and display the jackets of ten favorite albums. I bit. And most of those ten would be familiar to anyone who’s read this blog regularly:

Honey In The Horn by Al Hirt (1963)
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her by Glenn Yarbrough (1967)
Abbey Road by the Beatles (1969)
The Band by The Band (1969)
Second Contribution by Shawn Phillips (1970)
Den Store Flugt by Sebastian (1972)
Comes A Time by Neil Young (1978)
Tunnel Of Love by Bruce Springsteen (1987)
Evidence by Boo Hewerdine & Darden Smith (1989)
Riding On The Blinds by Danko/Fjeld/Andersen (1994)

Now, that’s not necessarily my list of the best ten albums; those are favorites, and I made sure that the list of ten included albums from the Eighties and Nineties. And then, just for fun, I kept going, up to twenty, then thirty, and then beyond. This morning, I put up a posting of a favorite album for the forty-eighth time: Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970).

Is it my forty-eighth favorite album? Probably not. I think it likely would rank higher if I were actually trying to rank them. But all I’m doing is trying to share with my friends at Facebook albums that I love, offered in no particular order. So once in a while I throw in a curveball, just to remind folks that my musical universe is vast and strange. That’s how The Best of the Red Army Choir (2002) came to be listed on Day 31. (None of my 316 Facebook friends gave it a “like.”)

And I took a look this morning at the growing list – forty-eight albums long now – and wondered if I’d written about all of them. Most of them, I could say “yes” without digging into the blog’s archives. But I wondered about one of them: Mississippi Fred McDowell’s 1969 album, I Do No Play No Rock ’n’ Roll. It turns out I’ve mentioned McDowell and the album three or four times, but pretty much always in passing (though I have featured a track or two).

McDowell was found and first recorded in 1959 by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins. He was living and working as a farmer near Como, Mississippi (though he still called Rossville, Tennessee, his home). He’s been styled as a Delta blues musician, but Wikipedia notes that “McDowell may be considered the first north hill country blues artist to achieve widespread recognition for his work. Musicians from the hill country – an area parallel to and east of the Delta region – produced a version of the blues somewhat closer in structure to its African roots. It often eschews chord change for the hypnotic effect of the droning single-chord vamp. McDowell’s records offer glimpses of the style’s origins.”

McDowell began recording commercially (though he continued farming), and in 1969, recorded I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll for the Capitol label, using electric guitar on a record for the first time. (Wikipedia notes that along the way, McDowell gave tips on slide guitar to Bonnie Raitt and notes as well that McDowell was pretty pleased with what the Rolling Stones did with his song “You Got To Move” on their Sticky Fingers album.)

My introduction to Mississippi Fred McDowell probably came in the studios of KVSC-FM at St. Cloud State sometime during my freshman year, almost certainly early in 1972. I seem to remember being in the tiny room that served as our lounge with music coming in from Studio B, but I suppose could have been at home, whiling time away in my room with my new clock radio tuned to KVSC. Wherever it was, the first sounds of the first track on I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll caught my attention: a few plucks on a guitar string and then a weathered voice saying, “My name is Fred McDowell. They call me Mississippi Fred McDowell . . .”

And after a little bit of talk, which includes the line that became the title of the album, McDowell moves into Big Joe Williams’ “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” I’d never heard anything like it before. And it would be nice if I could say I immediately became a blues fan, buying and listening to McDowell’s records and those of his contemporaries and predecessors and followers.

I didn’t, of course. I was still learning about rock and its various branches and styles. I began to catch up to the blues during the late 1980s and 1990s. Mississippi Fred McDowell popped up on a few anthologies, and in 2002, as I was creating my LP database, I noticed his name again and remembered that moment in early 1972. The Texas Gal and I were living in the Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth, with no easy day-to-day access to a decent record shop, so I went online, and in a few days the mail carrier brought me my vinyl copy of I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll.

I don’t listen to it often, but it is a favorite (if that makes sense), and when I was pondering the other morning which album cover to post at Facebook, McDowell’s album came to mind, and I thought I should follow up here. So here’s some talk from Mississippi Fred McDowell and his take on “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” all of it the first track of I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Trees & Comfort

May 11th, 2018

There are three trees in front of our new digs, one kind of protecting the condo’s southeast corner and the other two pretty much in our front yard. Because the trees were bare of leaves when we moved in, we’ve been wondering since February what types of trees they are.

All I could say from my experience is that they did not appear to be oaks, elms, ash, catalpa, or basswood. I knew this because we had four oak trees in the yard at Kilian Boulevard when I grew up, as well as two elms, two catalpas and one ash tree. And, as I’ve noted here before, at our East Side place we had thirty-four oaks and a basswood as well as numerous evergreens. Our three trees at the new place were none of those.

So as the buds began to show and turn into leaves, we made guesses and deductions. I surmised, from several maple leaves that showed up on the ground as the snow melted, that one of the three was a maple. The Texas Gal was skeptical, noting that the maple leaves I saw could have blown into the front yard from any of trees in the neighborhood. True enough, but I was hopeful.

The tree on the corner was the first to show buds, and they turned into leaves and small berry-like pods. I took a picture the other day:

flowering crabI posted the pic on Facebook and asked if anyone knew what it was. I got an answer from Barb, my pal Rob’s wife, who said it was a flowering crab, and she posted some pics of what it would look like in bloom. This morning, pink blossoms are beginning to show. It’s going to be beautiful.

That left the identification of the other two trees. The one nearest the front door has been showing leaves and seeds for a couple of days, so yesterday I went out and took a close look at the green seeds hanging down. When they dry and fall, they will spiral down sort of like little helicopters. It’s a maple tree. I hope it’s one of those that blazes red-orange in the autumn.

That leaves the one in the middle, which has barely started to bud. We’ll have to wait a week or so, I’d guess, before we can identify it.

But there’s more to identifying the flowering crab and the maple than just knowledge. There’s comfort, too. Now, I love our new place. The upper level is pretty much the way we want it. (The acquisition of a couch and a loveseat and a coffee table lie somewhere not too far past the horizon.) The lower level still has boxes – of books, pictures, fabric and some other stuff – that are yet to be dealt with. But unfinished or not, this place is now home (as I knew it would be). Still, as winter faded and spring began, I missed a few things about our old place on the East Side.

I thought about the lilacs, those growing wild in the grove and the one we planted in our brick garden, the one that blossomed for the first time last spring. And I thought about the vines that creep a little further each year from the chimney along the south wall of the house, turning from dark green in the summer to a brilliant red in the autumn. I will miss the lilacs and the vines, I told my sister in an email.

But here, on the North Side, we’ll have the subtle pink of the flowering crab in the springtime, and if we’re fortunate, we’ll have the bold red-orange of the maple tree when autumn comes, giving us a delicate welcoming of the warmth and a few months later, a fiery farewell. I’m fine with that.

‘How’

May 9th, 2018

So, today we finish our project titled Journalism 101, combing the digital stacks for tunes that have in their titles the various one-word questions that make up the foundation of reporting: Who, what, where, when, why, and how.

It’s finally time to look at ‘how,” and when we sort the 72,000 or so tracks currently in the RealPlayer for that word, we have 1,164 of those tracks remaining. Many, of course, must be discarded.

That includes more than 160 tracks by Howlin’ Wolf, more than 100 tracks from the Old Crow Medicine Show, the soundtracks by Howard Shore from all three films in The Lord of the Rings series, two full albums – Howlin’ and Howlin’ at the Southern Moon – by a group called Delta Moon, the 2005 album titled How To Save A Life by the Fray (except for the title track), full albums by Howdy Moon, Jan Howard, Howie Day, Catherine Howe and Steve Howe, and the wonderful album Showdown! by bluesmen Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland.

And that’s maybe half of the chaff we have to discard. Still, there’s plenty of grain, and we’re going to let the RealPlayer decide, ordering the tracks by time, setting the cursor in the middle and going random four times.

We start with a track from one of the two acclaimed country rock albums Gram Parson recorded in the early 1970s. (He called his stuff “Cosmic American Music”). “How Much I’ve Lied” come from the 1973 release GP, and it’s a weeper, with Parsons telling the object of his affections that he’s an unworthy and dishonest rascal:

A thief can only steal from you, he cannot break your heart
He’ll never touch the precious things inside
So one like you should surely be miles and miles away from me
Then you’d never care how much I’ve lied

I’ve never liked a lot of Parsons’ stuff. With the Byrds, with the Flying Burrito Brothers and on his own, he got all the notes right, but seemed to miss the feel of the music more often than not. Maybe if I’d heard his work back when it came out, if the music Parsons made with those two groups and on his own had been my introduction to the genre, I’d feel differently. But from where I listen, the music of the short-lived and admittedly tragic Parsons falls short of country glory.

We leap ahead to the 1990s and a far different aesthetic: “How Will You Go” by Crowded House, with the close harmonies and musical production values that meant that nearly every review of the group’s work during the late 1980s and early 1990s included the word “Beatlesque.” The track comes from the group’s 1991 album Woodface, one that I had on cassette about the time it came out. I don’t know it as well as the group’s self-titled 1986 debut album, but I recall liking Woodface on those 1990s evenings on Pleasant Avenue when I turned to the stack of cassettes on my bookshelf instead of the bins of LPs on the floor. I can’t say I noticed “How Will You Go” back then, but it’s pleasant enough listening, though the lyrics seem a bit uncertain in direction. The track includes a surprise tack-on of about a minute of “I’m Still Here,” not noted on early track listings.

And courtesy of the massive Lost Jukebox project we get a nifty, poppy 1970 tune called “Teach Me How” by the Harmony Grass. The record, according to the notes at a site that catalogs all 170 volumes of the LJ (each with, I would guess, more than twenty-five tracks), was a United Kingdom release on RCA Victor. It’s got a nice backing track, it’s got tastefully stacked vocals with some Four Seasons flourishes, and its tale is one of a young man imploring his loved one to teach him how to survive when she leaves him: “You are my shoulder to lean on. What will I do when you’re gone?” Written by Neil Sedaka and Carol Bayer (before she appended the Sager), the record is a gender-flipped cover of a Chiffons B-side from 1968. Today, we’d call the tale one of dysfunction and co-dependence, I suppose, but I would have liked it if I’d heard it come from the speakers of my old RCA radio in 1970.

Our last stop is a familiar one: “You Don’t Know How It Feels” by Tom Petty. Pulled from the 1994 album Wildflowers, a single release went to No. 13 in the Billboard Hot 100 and won a Grammy for Rock Male Vocal. I’ve never written much about the late Mr. Petty, though I like a lot of his work, including this one. So let’s just listen:

Saturday Single No. 589

May 5th, 2018

A search through the RealPlayer for tracks with the word “down” in their titles yields a result of 1,827 titles. That’s a lot of “down,” and that’s fitting, as a cold has settled in my head overnight and I’m going to be settling down for a good portion of the day.

I’ll be saving my energy, as we have a dinner with a friend this evening and then will attend a dance performance at the College of St. Benedict in the nearby burg of St. Joseph. So I’m going to sift through the “down” tracks and offer one of them for a tune this morning.

And I find one of my favorite tracks from Stephen Stills’ 1970 self-titled solo album, and a search tells me that somehow in more than eleven years of writing about the music I love, I’ve never once mentioned the track. I find that astounding, especially since I have at times written about the album, long one of my favorites.

So here is Stephen Stills’ “Sit Yourself Down,” today’s Saturday Single:

Forty-Eight Years

May 4th, 2018

May 4, 1970: Four Dead In Ohio

Allison Krause
Jeffrey Miller
Sandra Scheuer
William Schroeder

Here’s the original Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young single of “Ohio” from 1970, written by Neil Young.

First Wednesday: May 1968

May 2nd, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

When one looks back at the major events of 1968 – or of any year, for that matter – there is generally a kind of storybook quality about them: They happened, they got attention, but they didn’t really affect us or the people around us.

What I mean is: No matter how awful – or in rare cases, beneficial – an event might be that is large enough to attract the attention of the world, simply because of sheer numbers, it rarely affects us or someone we know. To put it in the perspective of an event I mentioned in my look at March 1968, very few of us in the U.S. knew someone involved with the massacre at My Lai. As horrible as it was, when the tale of the massacre became public, very few of us had our revulsion augmented by the fact that we knew someone who had pulled a trigger or knew someone who was murdered or had a loved one murdered. And as powerful and terrible as the events of 1968 had so far been as we entered May, most of us were still spectators, gaping at the display.

But in May, as obliquely as it might have been, a major news story touched down at our home in St. Cloud. It wasn’t tragic, it could have had a far greater impact than it did, but it was there.

What became known as mai 68 in France began, says Wikipedia, as a series of student strikes that broke out in May at universities and schools in Paris, “following confrontations with university administrators and the police.” The French government, led by President Charles de Gaulle, attempted to end the strikes with more police action, but that only made matters worse.

There were street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter of Paris, followed by “a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by ten million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached such a point that de Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for June 23.”

Wikipedia further notes: “May ’68 was a political failure for the protesters, but it had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment that saw the replacement of conservative morality (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) with the liberal morality (equality, sexual liberation, human rights) that dominates French society today. Although this replacement did not take place solely in this one month, the term mai 68 is used to refer to the shift in values, especially when referring to its most idealistic aspects.”

In St. Cloud, at my home, we watched the events of about four thousand miles away with great interest. I remember seeing students at the barricades in the streets of Paris, both on television and in photos in newspapers and magazines. Why did it matter? Because my sister, three years older than I and about to graduate from high school, was scheduled to spend six weeks in France that summer – near Paris, I believe – studying French language and culture.

Her six weeks would begin in July, but as the events of May wore on, I seem to remember my sister and my parents being kept informed by the sponsoring agency. There was some concern that the program might have to be canceled. Now, a Midwestern girl not getting her chance to go to France pales, I know, when compared with many of the wounds that the year of 1968 was inflicting. But it would have saddened her greatly, and grief is grief. As it happened, the furor in France died down as the summer came, and the sponsoring agency found a place to host the program in the city of Narbonne, just off the Mediterranean Sea. My sister got her time in France.

The uncertainty, though, had a point, as I look back at it. It was a lesson, as if the universe were pointing out that large events are more than tales on a storyboard: They touch people’s lives.

Beyond the upheaval in France, May of 1968 was a relatively tranquil month, according to the list of events at Wikipedia, almost as if the world were catching its breath for what was to come. Still, relatively tranquil is not tranquil.

There were increasing protests in the United States against the war in Vietnam. In Catonsville, Maryland, a group that came to be called the Catonsville Nine went to the local draft board on May 17. Two brothers who were Catholic priests, Fr. Daniel Berrigan and Fr. Philip Berrigan, headed the group. At the draft board office, Wikipedia says, the nine protestors “took 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured homemade napalm over them, and set them on fire.” They were tried in federal court in October and found guilty of “destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967.”

The breakaway Nigerian province of Biafra was surrounded by the Nigerian army. This contributed, Wikipedia notes, “to a humanitarian disaster as the surrounded population was already suffering with hunger and starvation.” Efforts to relive the privation were launched around the developed word. Wikipedia once more: “It has been argued that by prolonging the war the Biafran relief effort (characterized by Canadian development consultant Ian Smillie as ‘an act of unfortunate and profound folly’), contributed to the deaths of as many as 180,000 civilians.”

The images we saw from Biafra in the news were truly horrible. If the name of the province/nation is unfamiliar to you, Google it and click on the image search.

There’s no way to write a paragraph of transition from starving Biafrans to the Top 40 without seeming utterly callous. So let’s just acknowledge, I guess, that some folks could play while some starved. It’s always been so, and – unhappily – it will likely always be so.

Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for the week of May 4, 1968:

“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap Featuring Gary Puckett
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells
“I Got The Feelin’” by James Brown & The Famous Flames
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra and Chorus
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers
“If You Can Wait” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
“Dance to the Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Take Time To Know Her” by Percy Sledge
“Summertime Blues” by Blue Cheer
“The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde” by Georgie Fame

Not a bad batch, with the exception of Bobby Goldsboro and the Irish Rovers. “Young Girl” might be a little creepy, given today’s point of view, but I’m not sure we thought about it like that back then. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the Intruders’ record. I might recognize it, but I’m not sure.

Here are the Top 10 albums in Billboard from that first week of May 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly soundtrack
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With by Bill Cosby
The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

A couple things jump out. First, it was a very good spring for Simon & Garfunkel. In its second week on the charts, Bookends had jumped from No. 71 to No. 4, and it would stay on the album chart for another thirty-eight weeks. The soundtrack to The Graduate was in its fifth week at No. 1 with four weeks to go during a forty-seven week stay on the chart. And Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme ,which came out in 1966, had re-entered the Top Ten in early April and would stay until late June, eventually cataloging sixty weeks in the Top 40.

The other thing I noticed is that Are You Experienced had popped back into the Top Ten after falling out. The last week in April, the first album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience had been at No. 13. The first week in May, it was at No. 10, in its thirty-eighth week in the Top 40. The record had done the same thing in February, popped into the Top Ten and then out again, as well as twice in 1967, in October and December. (Its peak position had been No. 5, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums and it would be in the Top 40 for a total of seventy-seven weeks.)

And from the vantage point of fifty years later, I wince as I see one of Bill Cosby’s comedy albums on the chart. I had one of them, Wonderfulness, which I bought in 1967. Does that also make me wince? Only a little. I was fourteen. My copy of Wonderfulness, which I would guess hadn’t been played since the late 1960s, went out the door during the Great Vinyl Selloff a little more than a year ago. Did I sell it because of the allegations of criminal sexual behavior (now, in one case, found to be true) or because I no longer wanted it? A little of both, I’d guess.

The album I’m sharing today would enter the Top 40 during the second week of May. It would be a short stay – just six weeks – and the album would peak at No. 29, but in terms of quality and in terms of influence, Jerry Butler’s The Ice Man Cometh would shine as brightly as anything released in 1968.

Butler came out of Chicago and joined the Impressions in the late 1950s, hitting with, among others, “For Your Precious Love,” which, in 1958, went to No. 11 on two of the Billboard pop charts of the day and to No. 3 on the magazine’s rhythm and blues chart. He then left the group and moved to the Chicago-based Vee-Jay label in 1960. Six Top 40 hits followed through 1963, the biggest of them being “He Will Break Your Heart,” which went to No. 7 on the pop chart and spent seven weeks on top of the R&B chart in 1960.

In 1967, Butler signed with Mercury, and after one Top 40 hit – “Mr. Dream Merchant” went to No. 38 (No. 23, R&B) – went into the studio with two producers being allowed to helm an album on their own for the first time: Leon Gamble and Kenneth Huff. The resulting record threw off four Top 40 hits and started Gamble and Huff along the way to their near-domination of the charts in the 1970s with their Philadelphia International label, which had a roster that included Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, the O’Jays, the Three Degrees, MFSB and more.

That’s not to say The Ice Man Cometh serves only as an appetizer, as a preview of coming attractions. It’s a great album on its own, as Butler’s combination of smooth and gritty is echoed by Gamble and Huff’s setting the blues-based rhythm section to work against pop-based strings and background vocals. The four singles that came from the record were “Never Give You Up” (which went to No. 20 pop, No. 4 R&B), “Hey, Western Union Man,” (No. 16 pop, No. 1, R&B), “Are You Happy” (No. 39 pop, No. 9 R&B) and the record’s single best track, “Only the Strong Survive,” which topped out at No. 4 on the pop chart and at No. 1 for two weeks on the R&B chart.

(Lovers of Elvis Presley will recall that the King covered “Only the Strong Survive” during his sessions in Memphis in early 1969. When they listen to Butler’s version, they’ll see where Elvis got his ideas. Don’t get me wrong: Elvis’ version of “Only the Strong Survive” is a great record. It’s just not as good as the original.)

Track list:
Hey Western Union Man
Can’t Forget About You, Baby
Only The Strong Survive
How Can I Get In Touch With You
Just Because I Really Love You
Lost
Never Give You Up
Are You Happy?
(Strange) I Still Love You
Go Away – Find Yourself
I Stop By Heaven

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