What’s At No. 100? (12-13-69)

December 13th, 2018

It’s not often I can look at a Billboard Top Ten and see twelve singles instead of ten. And it’s no doubt even more rare that I can look at twelve singles in a Top Ten and pretty much love every one of them. Here’s the Top Ten from December 13, 1969:

“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
“Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Someday We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross & The Supremes
“Come Together/Something” by the Beatles
“Down On The Corner/Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Take A Letter Maria” by R.B. Greaves
“Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder
“And When I Die” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“Backfield In Motion” by Mel & Tim

So. If I love all these records, how much of that love is for the records? And how much of that love is for the time, my first December as a Top 40 listener and my only December as a sixteen-year-old, with all the tumult, grace and unrequited love that come along with being sixteen? As always, it’s hard to divide that all up.

But a quick check finds ten of the twelve records in the iPod as I began this piece, meaning I still like hearing them. As far as the other two go, well, I recall thinking about “Down On The Corner” as I restocked the iPod last year, deciding I’d go back and add it if I had room. I never did. And I whiffed on “Raindrops.” Still, 10-2 would get you into a good bowl game most years (and sometimes into the playoffs).

I’ll note a few more things and then move on: First, I’ve heard “Leaving On A Jet Plane” performed live by two of the individuals closely connected to it. The song’s writer, John Denver, performed at St. Cloud State during the winter of my senior year of high school, probably early in 1971, and introduced “Leaving On A Jet Plane” by saying, “I’d like now to do a medley of my hit.” And six years ago, Peter Yarrow sang the song during his intimate show at St. Cloud’s Pioneer Place.

Second, this would have been one of the earliest Top Tens that included more than one record I could already listen to at will. By this time, I had cassettes of Abbbey Road and Blood, Sweat & Tears. It wasn’t quite the first such Top Ten: In early November, not long after I’d acquired the 5th Dimension’s LP The Age of Aquarius, “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Come Together” were in the Top Ten together.

(For most of November, those four records, with “Come Together/Something” sometimes listed as two individual entries and sometimes as a two-sided single, were all in the Top Ten. In the Top Ten from November 15, the top four records in the Hot 100 were: “Wedding Bell Blues,” “Come Together,” “Something” and “And When I Die.” I was evidently selecting my music wisely.)

What, though, lies further down? What do we find at No. 100?

Well, we find a record I know I’ve never heard before: “Big In Vegas” by Buck Owens & The Buckaroos. Listening this morning, I heard thematic links to a couple of other singles: Glenn Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Lodi” by Creedence.

And just like the singer in the record, “Big In Vegas” didn’t make it, at least not on the pop chart: It spent exactly one week in the Hot 100, sitting right at the bottom of the chart. As one would expect, though, it did much better on the Billboard country chart, getting up to No. 5.

Saturday Single No. 619

December 8th, 2018

It’s hard to believe it’s been thirty-eight years since John Lennon was murdered. Here, edited slightly, is a piece I offered in this space in 2007 and in 2015.

It was a Monday, December 8, 1980, was. It was the second Monday of the month, which meant that I spent the bulk of the evening at Monticello City Hall, listening to the city council debate whatever issues were on its agenda. It sounds deadly dull, but I actually enjoyed covering city government; the ebb and flow of politics and policies over a nearly six-year period gave me insight as to how a city grows.

I don’t recall any of the topics on the agenda, but the meeting was over fairly early. I’d guess it was around 9:30 when the gavel fell and I walked out of the building into the chilly night, headed for my car and my home about two miles out of town. The Other Half was there, probably involved in some craft project, and there was a football game on television, Miami and New England.

And so I was seated in my easy chair, probably dipping into a bowl of popcorn, when Howard Cosell interrupted the game.

“This, we have to say it, is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses,” Cosell said. “An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all the Beatles, shot five times in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead . . . on . . . arrival.”

I stared at the screen, football forgotten. I recall trying to wrap my head around the weight Cosell’s words carried, not quite grasping it, the news too stunning and too fresh for comprehension or sorrow. Not long after the game ended, the result unnoticed, we retired for the night, and I lay there, still shocked. “Do you think it will be on Nightline?” she asked me.

“I can’t imagine they’d cover anything else.”

“Then go watch it. He was yours.”

I went to the living room. In a short marriage in which both of us so often got so many things so wrong about each other, that was one that she got right about me, and I am still grateful. I watched as Ted Koppel and his reporters and guests sorted through what was known and what was supposed. Then they began the first of thousands of assessments of what John Lennon and the Beatles had meant to us.

That’s a topic worthy of several volumes – what John Lennon and the Beatles had meant to us – and not all of the answers can be put into words. The next day was a busy one at work; Tuesday was the day we wrote the bulk of the copy for our newspaper’s weekly edition. But I managed to get home for thirty minutes for lunch. One of the Twin Cities classic rock stations, KQRS, was playing the Beatles’ catalog alphabetically, and as I ate my sandwich, I heard “In My Life.”

As I listened, I finally understood how those folks a few years older than I had felt during the summer of 1977 when they got the news that Elvis had died. Bent over my dining room table, I wept for John; for Yoko, Sean and Julian; for John’s three bandmates; and I wept for all of us who’d loved the man through his music.

In 1998, famed Beatles producer George Martin marked his retirement by producing In My Life, an album of favorite performers paired with his favorites Beatles tunes. For the title track, he selected one of the voices I consider among the greatest in the English-speaking world. Here’s Sean Connery and his recitation of “In My Life,” the song that finally touched what I felt about John Lennon that long-ago day. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

One Survey Dig: 12-7-67

December 7th, 2018

My plans for playing “What’s At No. 100?” fell through today, as both December 7 charts I looked at came from years that we’ve recently examined: 1968 (earlier this week) and 1974 (a week ago). So I regrouped and asked the search function at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive to give me surveys from December 7, 1967, from which I’d choose one to examine.

I got surveys from Los Angeles, Peterborough (Ontario), New York City, Boston, Orlando, Detroit/Dearborn, St. Louis, Chicago, and Phoenix. So . . . let’s see what shows up among the forty records in the Super Hits at WHOO in Orlando. The top five were:

“(The Lights Went Out In) Massachusetts” by the Bee Gees
“Hello, Goodbye” by the Beatles
“Daydream Believer” by the Monkees
“Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen
“Woman, Woman” by Union Gap feat. Gary Puckett

Not bad, except for the novelty of “Snoopy’s Christmas.” I enjoyed the earlier “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron,” and in fact had a copy of it that I got from Leo Rau, the jukebox jobber who lived across the alley (and the record itself might be in the various boxes where I keep about a hundred 45s). But on an artistic level, I always thought (even from the age of fourteen) that the Royal Guardsmen should have let the matter lie there. But the Royal Guardsmen, along with the writers – George David Weiss and Hugo & Luigi – and the producers at Gernhard Enterprises were, of course, thinking commercially. And they did well with the sequel, spending – if I’m reading the data in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles correctly – five weeks atop the Christmas singles chart.

(Yah Shure, if I’ve got that wrong, please enlighten me.)

Anyway, back to Orlando: The first thing of interest that I note is a record titled “Paper Man” by a group called Noah’s Ark. There’s no information about the group in the Whitburn book. The notes at YouTube tell us that Noah’s Ark hailed from Tampa, Florida, and had three singles released. At Discogs.com, we learn that the first two were on Decca and the final one was on Liberty. “Paper Man” isn’t bad, but its Beatlesque sound is something that thousands of other bands were doing at the time.

One notch down from “Paper Man” we find Wilson Pickett’s two-sided single, “Stag-O-Lee/I’m In Love.” The A-side rocks a little and the B-side sways on the dance floor, but they’re just okay. Unlike the Noah’s Ark single, Pickett’s B-side did make the Billboard charts: “Stag-O-Lee” went to No. 22 (and to No. 13 on the magazine’s R&B chart) and “I’m In Love” reached No. 45 (and No. 4 R&B).

Heading further down on the WHOO Super Hits, we find Ray Charles’ cover of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” at No. 21. It’s good (and I’m tempted to add “of course” to that assessment; I mean, we’re talking ’bout Ray Charles here). Charles’ cover went to No. 25 in the Hot 100 and to No. 9 on the R&B chart.

I’m not sure how often we’ve talked about Dean Martin during these eleven-plus years, but it’s not been often. But there, at No. 36 on the Super Hits survey is Deano with “In The Misty Moonlight.” It sways nicely and gently, rhyming “moonlight” with “firelight,” and Martin’s smooth tones make it work. I likely have heard “In The Misty Moonlight” before, because it went to No. 2 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart (No. 46 on the Hot 100), and easy listening sounds were what I gravitated to back in 1967.

One final thing I’ll note from the WHOO Super Hits from fifty-one years ago today: The Super Hit Album of the Week was listed at “Ravi Shankar at Monterey.” The album’s full title was actually Ravi Shankar At The Monterey International Pop Festival; it went to No. 43 on the Billboard 200. Here’s a clip showing some of Shankar’s performance at the festival, starting with a few scenes away from the stage. I do not know if this performance is on the album.

First Wednesday: December 1968

December 5th, 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 also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary 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 

It’s not like nothing happened in December of 1968.

Harsh new governing measures were adopted December 13 by the military government in Brazil, measures that were in place for ten years. California’s Zodiac Killer is said to have shot his first two of at least seven confirmed victims – David Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16 – on December 20 in the city of Benicia, California. In an event that still echoes for us every time we sit at our desks, inventor Douglas Engelbart publicly demonstrated on December 9 his pioneering computer hyperlink system. And most certainly, other events of the month damaged or influenced people’s lives around the world in ways that still reverberate today.

But December 1968, at least from where a current events-savvy Midwestern boy of fifteen watched, was a fairly uneventful month. Coming at the end of a year that saw an escalating war, two assassinations, riots and a bitter national election, the quiet month made it feel like the nation, having drawn so many anxious breaths in the eleven months just past, could finally release its breath in a sigh of relief. Not that there hadn’t been damage; there had been, much of it grievous. But all the madness seemed to be ending.

And maybe that’s why the most historically significant event of the month seemed to be almost like a benediction:

On December 24, Christmas Eve, the U.S. spacecraft Apollo 8 became the first vehicle to enter orbit around the moon. The three-man crew – Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders – became the first humans to see the far side of the moon. The crew also became the first humans to see the Earth rise above the moon and captured the moment in a remarkable photo. And in a memorable live broadcast from lunar orbit that evening, Borman read to the world the account of creation from the book of Genesis, the first book of the Christian Bible. Borman closed the broadcast – at the time, the most-watched television broadcast in history – with: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, and a Merry Christmas to all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

As appropriate as that Christmas Eve message was (if a good deal less than multi-cultural), and as historic as that first orbit of the moon was, I think the most important thing that Apollo 8 did was show us the Earth rising over the moon’s horizon.

apollo08_earthrise

Later Apollo flights gave us pictures of the Earth alone. I included in my December 1968 post something I’d written more than a year earlier about those later photos: 

“Such images have become so commonplace – in advertising and elsewhere – in the thirty-nine years since that it’s hard for those who did not experience it to understand just how electrifying and humbling it was to see for the first time all of the earth at one moment. That image – of the blue earth hanging alone in the black of space – underlined to me, and, I think, to many, how alone we are and how this small earth is all we have, a lesson that I think we need to relearn.”

Of course, it’s been forty fifty years now, but the lesson, I think, remains.

Even in a month that provided us a new perspective on our dwelling place and, one hopes, ourselves, there were Earth-bound pursuits and pleasures. On December 3, Elvis Presley starred in Elvis, a special NBC television broadcast now frequently referred to as Elvis’ “Comeback Special.” The broadcast featured the performer sometimes with a large orchestra and sometimes in a more intimate setting with a small group, performing in a way that music fans hadn’t really seen in nearly ten years. In a music world that had changed immeasurably from the time Presley went into the U.S. Army in the late 1950s and emerged to – mostly – star in mediocre movies, Presley was, after his special, relevant again. As Wikipedia notes: “The live segments of the ’68 Comeback Special in particular gave the audience more than a glimpse of Presley’s charismatic and emotionally charged performing style that won him his first fans in the 1950s.”

So what was it we were listening to at the end of the week that Elvis took to the stage again? Here’s the top fifteen from the Billboard Hot 100 of December 7, 1968:

“Love Child” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
“Who’s Making Love” by Johnnie Taylor
“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf
“Abraham, Martin & John” by Dion
“Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell
“Stormy” by the Classics IV featuring Dennis Yost
“Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin
“I Love How You Love Me” by Bobby Vinton
“Hold Me Tight” by Johnny Nash
“Both Sides Now” by Judy Collins
“White Room” by Cream
“Cloud Nine” by the Temptations

That’s an almost-perfect Top Fifteen: I could get along without the Bobby Vinton, and I still have never heard – that I know of – the Johnny Nash single. [I have since heard it, and it’s all right.] The Mary Hopkin single is a little frothy, but it works, and that’s probably a good description of Judy Collins’ take on “Both Sides Now.” But boy, with those caveats, that’s an hour of radio bliss.

What did the album chart look like? Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from December 7, 1968:

Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & the Holding Company
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Second by Steppenwolf
Time Peace/The Rascals’ Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Wheels of Fire by Cream
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
The Time Has Come by the Chambers Brothers
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell

That’s not a lot different than the chart had been a month earlier: albums by Jefferson Airplane and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown had dropped out of the top ten, replaced by the Steppenwolf album and Electric Ladyland. It’s once more a pretty good chart with a lot of different styles. As I may have said before, I don’t think the Iron Butterfly album has aged well (a fact that I think extends to the group’s entire catalog). All-Music Guide regards Steppenwolf’s The Second as a great album, but I’m a little skeptical. Other than those quibbles, this is a great chart.

The album I’m sharing today managed to climb almost halfway into the Billboard Top 40, peaking at No. 24 during an eleven-week period that began in October of 1968. Not bad for a soundtrack album made up of classical music, some of it very adventurous.

The album was the soundtrack to the MGM film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that still sits atop my personal list of the greatest films I’ve seen. It was not well regarded by critics at the time. (Nor did it have the respect of my contemporaries: During a bus trip to the Twin Cities by the St. Cloud Tech concert band in early 1969, we band members were asked to vote on which movie we wanted to see as the final portion of our excursion to the big city. I cast the only vote for 2001: A Space Odyssey. We went and saw Oliver! instead.) Most critics acknowledged the technical achievements demonstrated in the Stanley Kubrick-directed film, but the film’s content – or perceived lack thereof – was dismissed by many writers

Now, of course, Stanley Kubrick’s film is regarded by many critics and viewers as an eloquent allegory about the human race and its tentative steps toward greater accomplishments throughout history. And its technical achievements, amazing in 1968, remain just that.

One of Kubrick’s innovations was the use of classical music for the film’s soundtrack. A conventional soundtrack had been commissioned for the film, and I believe it was well-regarded composer Alex North who wrote that score. There are CD copies of it floating around the ’Net; I’ve heard bits of it, and it’s not bad, but it’s predictable.

Kubrick’s decision to use classical music for his film provided us with two unforgettable moments when music and image were blended into an icon: The pairing of Richard Strauss’ anthemic “Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra)” – propelled by its solo trumpet, swelling orchestra and solo tympani – with the image of the enigmatic monolith was the first iconic pairing, and the linking of the silent and subtle movements of space flight with Johann Strauss’ waltz, “The Blue Danube” was the other.

The soundtrack has its share of selections that were avant-garde in 1968 and remain less than easy to access forty years later. But it’s a fascinating collection, and if not all of the tracks remind one of the film, I think that’s the passing years. Having listened to the soundtrack a couple of times since I found it online [and many more times since I got my own copy], I plan to take a look at the film very soon, for the first time in years.

Music from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey Overture: “Atmospheres” (excerpt) by György Ligeti
Main Title: “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss
“Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs & Orchestra” by György Ligeti
“The Blue Danube” (excerpt) by Johann Strauss
“Lux Aeterna” (excerpt) by György Ligeti
“Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio) by Aram Khachaturian
“Jupiter and Beyond” (“Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs & Orchestra,” “Atmospheres,” and “Adventures [altered for film]”) by György Ligeti
“Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss
“The Blue Danube” (reprise) by Johann Strauss

Supplemental tracks: “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss (This version was included on the original MGM soundtrack album in 1968 but was not used in the film.)
“Lux Aeterna” by György Ligeti (This full-length version was included on the original MGM soundtrack album in 1968 in place of the excerpt used in the film.)
“Adventures” (unaltered, full-length version) by György Ligeti
HAL 9000 (A dialogue montage featuring the HAL 9000 computer, one of the film’s central characters.)

Saturday Single No. 618

December 1st, 2018

I did some work early this morning on taming the music of the George Gershwin classic “It Ain’t Necessarily So” for our small group of musicians at our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship. (Mr. Gershwin’s original arrangement – and various later interpretations – were more complicated than we could master in a few rehearsals.)

As I did so, I moved back and for the between the two keyboards – the one that plays music and the one at the computer. I was trying things, assessing, writing, and listening to versions of the tune at YouTube. And I think after some effort, I’ve come up with an arrangement that will serve our needs without offending the spirit of Mr. Gershwin.

Some of the versions of the tune I listened to were startlingly good. I suppose today’s post might be the first in a series looking at various takes on the tune. There are plenty out there. If we go that route, then the series begins with a piece from a catalogue that a lot of people – including me – mention occasionally but listen to rarely: Aretha Franklin’s time at Columbia, before she went to Atlantic and became the Queen of Soul.

Here’s her take on “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from Porgy & Bess. It’s from her very first album for Columbia, Aretha, released in 1960. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

What’s At No. 100? (11/30/74)

November 30th, 2018

Okay, so it’s the last day of November, and our time-waster today is to take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from this date in 1974, looking at the Top Ten and then taking a chance on whatever might be sitting at No. 100.

Here’s the Top Ten from that chart forty-four years ago today:

“I Can Help” by Billy Swan
“Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas
“When Will I See You Again” by the Three Degrees
“Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied” by B.T. Express
“Longfellow Serenade” by Neil Diamond
“Everlasting Love” by Carl Carlton
“My Melody Of Love” by Bobby Vinton
“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet/Freewheelin’” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive
“Cat’s In The Cradle” by Harry Chapin
“Angie Baby” by Helen Reddy

Boy, there are some clinkers in there: The records by Carl Douglas, Bobby Vinton and Harry Chapin are pretty much guaranteed to make me wince (and if I’m in the car, punch a button for another station). I’m not all that fond of “I Can Help,” either, having heard it too many times on the Atwood Center jukebox at St. Cloud State forty-four years ago. (Someone who hung out in the snack bar must have really liked the record because it felt back then as if I heard it every day at The Table.) And after forty-four years, I still go back and forth on “Longfellow Serenade.”

Of the others, the records by the Three Degrees and Helen Reddy and the A-side of the Bachman-Turner Overdrive are on my iPod, and the Carl Carlton record should be (and will be within minutes). I took a few minutes this morning to listen to the B-side of the Bachman-Turner Overdrive record – Joel Whitburn notes in Top Pop Singles that the track, an instrumental, is dedicated to Duane Allman – and was not impressed.

What about B.T. Express? Well, maybe I should pop it into the iPod; it might be good for a kitchen dance or two.

As usual these days, though, we have business at the lowest end of the chart. We’re going to see what’s at No. 100.

And we find a classic track that I heard almost daily in September and October of 1974 while I sipped coffee at The Table: “Then Came You” by Dionne Warwick and the Spinners. By the end of November, the record was in its last of its nineteen weeks in the Hot 100. A little more than a month earlier, it had been at No. 1. It’s a gem polished by a lot of good memories.

‘I Want All The Time . . .’

November 28th, 2018

I write a fair amount about Bruce Springsteen, I know. And even when I don’t write about him, I often mention him in reference to something I’m writing, or I post some of his music when it fits something I write about. (And of course I ponder his work as I listen to the iPod or the RealPlayer.) As it happens, it’s actually been almost a year since I posted any of his music, but anyway, I’ve posted more of his music than I have anyone else’s in the nearly twelve years I’ve been throwing stuff at the wall here.

And I’ve often wondered as I’ve written about Springsteen which of his hundreds of songs he considered his best. I found the answer last evening near the end of a long piece Michael Hainey wrote for Eqsuire. Hainey writes:

I tell him I’m thinking about “Born to Run,” which contains four words in one line that are the sum of him: sadness, love, madness, and soul. “Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness / I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.”

And Springsteen responds:

“Those are my lines. ‘Born to Run.’ That’s my epitaph, if you wanna know my epitaph. There it is. It still is, probably—I use the song at the end of the show every night as a summary. The idea is that it can contain all that has come before. And I believe that it does.”

Hainey: Sadness, love, madness, soul. I tell him: Those are your four elements.

Springsteen: “The last verse of my greatest song. And that’s where it ought to end every night.” Springsteen pauses. “Twenty-four when I wrote it. Wow. It’s a . . . holds up pretty well. But I . . . that was what I was aiming for in those days—that’s what I was shooting for.”

Who am I to contradict the creator? But I wonder this morning if “Born to Run” is in fact Springsteen’s greatest. His most anthemic, yes. The one that made him a star, yes. Maybe even the one that told us out here most clearly who he was in those uncertain years before 1975.

But his greatest?

If you asked a hundred Springsteen fans . . . well, I don’t think you’d get a hundred different answers, but I think you’d get at least twenty. And I think that those twenty would reflect more than anything how each listener’s life was going at the time he or she first heard the Springsteen song each of them judges the greatest. And the choices might also reflect the times all of those fans really listened to Springsteen’s work for the first time.

It’s that way for me. As I’ve said here before, I resisted digging into Springsteen’s work for a long time, finally deciding to start with Tunnel of Love when it came out while I was living in Minot, North Dakota, in early 1988 and when, not coincidentally, I was inside a relationship that I could see transforming in a way that I adamantly did not want. So when I found among the songs on Tunnel of Love a song about a lasting pairing that also had a clever lyric . . . Well, as have millions before and since, I heard my story – or at least the story I wanted to have – in one of Bruce’s songs:

I got a dollar in my pocket
There ain’t a cloud up above
I got a picture in a locket
That says baby I love you
Well if you didn’t look then boys
Then fellas don’t go lookin’ now
Well here she comes a-walkin’
All that heaven will allow

Say hey there mister bouncer
Now all I want to do is dance
But I swear I left my wallet
Back home in my workin’ pants
C’mon Slim slip me in man
I’ll make it up to you somehow
I can’t be late I got a date
With all that heaven will allow

Rain and storm and dark skies
Well now they don’t mean a thing
If you got a girl that loves you
And who wants to wear your ring
So c’mon mister trouble
We’ll make it through you somehow
We’ll fill this house with all the love
All that heaven will allow

Now some may want to die young man
Young and gloriously
Get it straight now mister
Hey buddy that ain’t me
’Cause I got something on my mind
That sets me straight and walkin’ proud
And I want all the time
All that heaven will allow

So what’s the difference between the greatest something and the most important something? I don’t know, right off-hand. Maybe there is none. Springsteen says his greatest is “Born to Run,” and I acknowledge that I still get a thrill from his anthems, from “Badlands” and “The Promised Land” and “Thunder Road” and especially “Born to Run.” And I do appreciate that subtext in “Born to Run” that he mentions in the interview. (And other subtexts besides.)

But the tale of “All That Heaven Will Allow” (minus, of course, the working class details; I have never had to work with my hands for a living) mirrored what I was hoping to have the first time I heard it. That matters to me (and I think it would matter to Springsteen, too, for if the main purpose of art is to create what one needs to create, then I think the next most important purpose of art is to be relevant to one’s audience).

But what do I know? Well, I do know that it took years of listening to “All That Heaven Will Allow” for me to find the place where the song’s narrator lives. And I also know that “All That Heaven Will Allow” is to me the most important of all of Springsteen’s songs.

Saturday Single No. 617

November 24th, 2018

When we look for tracks recorded over the years on November 24, the RealPlayer brings us a few results, ranging through the years from 1924 to 1978.

The recordings from 1924 come from the Charleston Seven, a group recording for Thomas Edison’s National Phonograph Company, long defunct and historically significant. The record was likely one of the advanced Diamond Discs, made of Bakelite rather than shellac. According to Joel Whitburn’s Pop Memories, that manufacturing advance gave Edison’s records greater durability, longer running times, and better sound quality than those of rival companies. Those advantages were pretty much canceled by the fact that Edison discs could only be played on phonographs manufactured by Thomas Edison’s company (making Edison’s records the early 20th Century equivalent, I’d guess, of Betamax video).

Anyway, the Charleston Seven were in New York ninety-four years ago today, laying down “Nashville Nightingale” and “Toodles.” Neither of them made the charts of the time, a result – I would guess – of the record’s limited playability. The fact that both of them are still available – and I have no memory of how they ended up on the digital shelves here – is, I think, pretty remarkable.

Chronologically, the next tracks we can look at come from a busy day in New York City for Bessie Smith in 1933. There were likely more tracks recorded that long-ago November 24, but the four that show up in our files from that session are “Do Your Duty,” b/w “I’m Down In The Dumps” and “Gimme A Pigfoot” b/w “Take Me For A Buggy Ride.” The tracks were released on both the Okeh and Columbia labels in 1934, and a note a Discogs.com says that the four sides were the last Smith recorded before her death in an auto accident in 1937. None of the four sides charted, according to Pop Memories.

The next November 24 track on the digital shelves did chart, and in a big way: The Andrews’ Sisters’ “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (Means That You’re Grand)” was No. 1 for five weeks in early 1938. Released on Decca, it was the first charting hit for the sisters from Minneapolis. They’d have about twenty more hits on the more condensed charts of their times, but none were ever bigger.

Then, on this day in 1941, just thirteen days before the United States was pulled into World War II by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Glenn Miller & His Orchestra recorded their version of one of the most romantic songs of the war, “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover.” Probably better known through Vera Lynn’s 1942 recording, the song offers a vision of life after the war, using England’s iconic white cliffs and the prospect of bluebirds (a bird which lyricist Nat Burton mistakenly thought was indigenous to Britain).

Miller’s version of the tune went, I think, to No. 2 in 1942. At least, that’s the impression I get from the website playback.fm. (My reference library has a historical gap in it; Pop Memories gets me to 1940, and Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles picks things up in 1955. For the fifteen years in between, I’m on my own.)

From 1941, we jump ahead six years for a 1947 session in New York, as Sister Rosetta Tharpe laid down one of her signature tunes, “Up Above My Head I Hear Music in the Air.” The record was released on Decca late in 1948 and went to No. 6 on the Billboard Best Seller chart and to No. 9 on the magazine’s Jukebox chart. (Oddly enough, considering that the tune is relatively obscure, I have five covers of it in the digital stacks, including one by Sister Rosetta herself on a television show in 1964 or 1965.)

Our last stop this morning is in Glasgow, Scotland, where on this day in 1978, Eric Clapton offered a concert at the Glasgow Apollo. Two of the tunes performed there wound up on the live disc of the two-disc compilation Blues, released in 1999. One could quibble that “Wonderful Tonight” isn’t strictly a blues, but it’s mournful enough, I guess. (I’m reminded of a long-ago colleague in the music department at Minot State University who expressed skepticism when I offered Derek & The Dominos’ “Layla” for a desert island tape and categorized it as a type of blues. I got by with that one, so I’ll give Slowhand a break, too.)

The other tune from the November 24 Glasgow show that wound up on Blues certainly fit: A cover of Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman.” As the video below shows, the performance also ended up on the compilation Crossroads 2: Live In The Seventies.

And despite the attraction of the Glenn Miller and Rosetta Tharpe recordings (and even the lesser attraction of Bessie Smith’s “Gimme A Pigfoot”), I’m going to stay in the modern era and make Eric Clapton’s November 24, 1978, performance of “Kind Hearted Woman” today’s Saturday Single.

‘Oh, The Good Life . . .’

November 21st, 2018

I ran an errand the other day for the Texas Gal, something so routine that I’ve forgotten what the errand was, but it brought me near the new home of Uff Da Records, St. Cloud’s only real record store. So I spent some time leaning over the CD tables.

Much of what I saw fell into two categories: Stuff I already had and stuff that didn’t interest me. But I persevered, looking for stuff that will fill small gaps. And I filled a couple. I scored What Is Hip, a two-disc Tower of Power anthology, and I found a greatest hits disc by Tony Bennett.

During the Great Vinyl Selloff a couple of years ago, I kept all ten my Tower of Power LPs, and I think I have all of the group’s 1970s work on the digital shelves. On the other side of the equation, I only ever had two Tony Bennett LPs, and they’re no longer here. Nor have I gathered much of his early work for the digital shelves (although I have his 1994 MTV Unplugged and his 2002 Playin’ With My Friends CDs). So the Bennett CD from Uff Da truly filled a gap, bringing me most of his hits from 1951 to 1972.

And I’ve realized over the past week that the sound of Bennett’s voice is one of the sounds of my childhood. Whether it was my interest in the easy listening sounds of the time or whether it was hearing the music in the background from adults’ radios and record players, Bennett’s 1960s work pulls me back; I hear “I Wanna Be Around” or “Who Can I Turn To,” and I feel the tug of years handing me memories and feelings that seem so distant and yet so immediate.

Oddly enough, Bennett’s most famous tune, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” doesn’t trigger that nostalgia. I guess I’ve heard it too many times in too many places for it to have the kind of weight that many of his other tracks do.

One of those heavier tracks was, for some reason, not on the CD I picked up the other day. The CD, released in 1997, is simply a repackaging of his 1972 two-LP hits album, with the tracks rearranged in chronological order. And it did not include “The Good Life,” which, for whatever reasons, is for me one of the most evocative of Bennett’s singles, as well as one of the more successful: During the summer of 1963, it went to No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 7 on the chart now called Adult Contemporary. I must have heard it a lot, because it takes me back to the early 1960s, not to a specific moment but to a sense of the times.

And I never really realized until this week, when I saw “The Good Life” was absent from the CD and I found a copy and then listened to the words, how melancholy a song “The Good Life” really is:

Oh, the good life, full of fun seems to be the ideal
Mm, the good life lets you hide all the sadness you feel
You won’t really fall in love for you can’t take the chance
So please be honest with yourself, don’t try to fake romance

It’s the good life to be free and explore the unknown
Like the heartaches when you learn you must face them alone
Please remember I still want you, and in case you wonder why
Well, just wake up, kiss the good life goodbye

It’s bittersweet, like so much else that’s attracted me over the years. Either I internalized the words without really knowing it, or else life just hands me these things because I need them. Anyway, here it is:

Saturday Single No. 616

November 17th, 2018

The other week, I was going to discuss a few tracks pulled at random from 1969, so I started clicking. And along came “Something’s Coming On,” one of two bonus tracks appended in 1999 when A&M released a remastered version of Joe Cocker’s debut album, With A Little Help From My Friends. The other extra track was “The New Age Of Lily,”

The two were 1968 B-sides, with “The New Age Of Lily” backing “Marjorine,” which did not chart, and “Something’s Coming On” being the B-side of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” which went to No. 68 in Billboard in the middle of December.

And that immediately messed up my plans. Why, if we’re digging into randoms from 1969, do we land on a B-side that came out in 1968? Well, that’s because I tag albums with their years of release, and Cocker’s debut album was released in 1969. In the era of bonus tracks, one needs to look at the fine print in the booklet. Had I done so, I would have tagged the two bonus tracks as B-sides from 1968.

Yeah, I know. It sounds compulsive, and it is, a little. I like accuracy. And it’s easily corrected. But that morning, I was going to run around in 1969, and the track came out in 1968, and I didn’t want to start the random procession all over. So I did something else and set the idea of “Something’s Coming On” aside. Until today.

“Something’s Coming On” is a decent if not stellar piece of work and would have been at home on the album in place of “Marjorine” or maybe “Change In Louise,” neither of which I care for. It was written by Cocker along with Chris Stainton, who handles bass and piano. Clem Cattini is on drums, and Albert Lee and Jimmy Page handle the guitar work. I’m not at all sure, but I’d guess it’s Page who offers the solo at the end of the track.

And the Texas Gal is frying bacon and potatoes as I write this, so the only other thing I’m going to say is that “Something’s Coming On” is today’s Saturday Single.