Back In ’73

July 18th, 2019

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been looking at my radio listening and then my LP listening from first 1972 and then 1971, then ending the week with a Saturday Single from that year. It occurred to me sometime in the dreamy hours last night that some weeks ago, I addressed my radio listening during the summer of 1973 but I didn’t think to look at the LPs I’d added to the cardboard box in the basement in the year prior.

Never one to let an easy idea go unused, here’s a look at how my LP collection had grown between midsummer 1972 and the same time of year in 1973, and an assessment of how much those LPs matter to me now:

As the summer of 1973 passed by, I bought no new music. Even though my ideas of what I would find when I went to Denmark in September were very unclear, I was certain that saving five dollars to spend on a beer or three in Denmark in the autumn was a better choice than picking up something by Steely Dan at Axis on St. Germain Street downtown.

So once the calendar hit February 1973 and I knew I’d be going away in September, I spent almost no money on music. The two late winter exceptions, according to the LP database, were a used copy of J.J. Cale’s Naturally that I actually bought at Axis, and a double album of Fats Domino’s 1950s and early 1960s hits that I bought used from a co-worker at St. Cloud State Learning Resources. I think I paid a buck for the Cale and fifty cents for the Domino.

Here are the albums I added to the cardboard box in the rec room from mid-1972 to September 1973:

Beatles VI
A Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles
Live: The Road Goes Ever On by Mountain
In Search Of The Lost Chord by the Moody Blues
Stage Fright by The Band
Retrospective by Buffalo Springfield
Imagine by John Lennon
Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
To Bonnie From Delaney by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
Seventh Sojourn by the Moody Blues
Naturally by J.J. Cale
Legendary Masters Series by Fats Domino
Exile on Main St. by the Rolling Stones
John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic

The last two were gifts from a friend at The Table at St. Cloud State. He’d found them underwhelming and handed them to me one evening in June. And that was the last new music I got until May of the following year, 1974, when I spent about fifty Danish kroner – garnered from ten bucks Rick had sent me from home – to buy Sebastian’s Den Store Flugt, the first of what is now a substantial collection of Danish folk-rock and pop on my various shelves.

But back to the 1972-73 acquisitions: The first two entries completed my Beatles collection, giving me all eighteen of the American releases on Capitol/Apple and United Artists. I finished it, as I’d told Rick I would, just weeks before he began his senior year of high school. In the rankings of Beatles’ albums, A Hard Day’s Night was pretty good, but Beatles VI was a little blah. Some of the tracks from the first of those two are in the iPod, but few, if any, from the second are among my day to day listening; the CD shelves do hold everything from those two albums in the British configurations.

Again, I’m struck by how much of this music seems to be formative. Aside from the Beatles’ albums, eight of the twelve LPs listed there are on the CD shelves today, and I have two differently titled Fats Domino collections. The only albums listed there that are not replicated on the CD stacks are those by Mountain, Buffalo Springfield and John Lennon.

So how many tracks from those albums show up in the iPod?

There’s just one – the long version of “Nantucket Sleighride” – from the Mountain album, and none from In Search Of The Lost Chord, which to me has always been the least interesting of the Moody Blues’ 1960s and 1970s albums (though perhaps I should find room for “Legend Of A Mind” with its lilting chorus of “Timothy Leary’s dead . . .”).

The iPod offers eleven of the twelve tracks from the Buffalo Springfield compilation (excluding “Rock & Roll Woman” for some reason). Conversely, only the title track from Imagine is in my day-to-day listening, and that seems to be enough.

Elsewhere in the iPod, we find five tracks each from Sticky Fingers and Seventh Sojourn, four from To Bonnie From Delaney, all twelve tracks from Naturally, nine from Exile On Main St., four from John Barleycorn Must Die, and three from Stage Fright.

So, as I’ve concluded from earlier posts looking at the music acquired in 1970-71 and 1971-72, this stuff still matters greatly to me. Interspersed among the 3,900-some total tracks in the iPod, the tunes from those first three years of serious listening and collecting don’t pop up often, but when they do, they remind me of the foundations of my listening habits.

Here’s one of those foundational tracks: “Living On The Open Road” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from 1970. (One of those friends is Duane Allman, who adds slide guitar here.)

Saturday Single No. 649

July 13th, 2019

We’re still in 1971 today, pulling four tracks from that year at random out of the RealPlayer. As noted earlier this week, those tracks number about 3,900. We’ll sort them by running time, then we’ll drop the cursor in the middle and go.

And our first stop is a brief – 2:15 – piece of easy listening titled “Portrait Of Nancy” from an album titled The Rhythms, Sounds and Melodies of Jean Bouchéty. According to discogs, Bouchéty, a French composer and bass player, released ten or so albums of easy listening music between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s and worked on several soundtracks. It was one of those soundtracks – 1967’s The Game Is Over, written with fellow Frenchman Jean-Pierre Bourtayre – that brought me indirectly to his music. John Denver took the music from one track of the soundtrack, added English words, and offered the resulting tune, “The Game Is Over,” on his 1970 album Whose Garden Was This. Denver’s track led me to the soundtrack, which led me to more of Bouchéty’s work. “Portrait Of Nancy” is a sweet tune with, as one might imagine, a slight Gallic flair.

We move on to “Show Me The Way” from the album One Fine Morning by the Canadian band Lighthouse. The album’s title track was, of course, a hit, reaching No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Show Me The Way” is a mid-tempo ballad, with the singer asking for direction in being a better man: “Take my hand. Gotta show me the way.” It’s not at all clear if the singer is talking to a lover or to God. It could easily have been the latter, given that the record came out in the era of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s not a bad track, and it has some tasty horns in the background. But it’s not “One Fine Morning.”

It’s our day for instrumentals, as we fall on “Madelin,” a gentle plucked tune by the British folk group Tudor Lodge, found on the group’s self-titled debut album (rereleased in recent years on an Italian label). The group’s music, notes Jo-Ann Greene of AllMusic, is nothing but pastoral:

[T]heir music is the sound of a summer’s day in centuries past, where “grey-backed squirrels run to safety,” (“Forest”), ladies “disappear into the sunset, shrouded in organdie and wine” (“Willow Tree”), and even bloody battlefields become a place for quiet contemplation (“Help Me Find Myself”). And, all the while, clarinets twinkle, violins sigh, and cellos call to one another across the verdant fields.

And since British folk music scratches one of my major itches, I’m quite content to let the intricate string work carry me away to Merrie Olde England.

Returning to 1971, we find another example of religion in pop music with Noel Paul Stookey’s cover of Arlo Guthrie’s “Gabriel’s Mother’s Hiway Ballad #16 Blues.” Stookey was, of course, the Paul in Peter, Paul & Mary, and the track can be found on his solo album Paul and. The rather lengthy tune is simple, made up of four-line verses, with the musical backing going from relatively simple piano chording and guitar plucking to a more complex (and somewhat intrusive) backing as the end of the track approaches.

Mellow is the mood today, with four understated tracks found along the way. And we’re going with the last of them. Here’s “Gabriel’s Mother’s Hiway Ballad #16 Blues” by Noel Paul Stookey. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Back In ’71, Part 2

July 12th, 2019

So what was I listening to at home during my summer of lawn-mowing and floor cleaning? Well, the radio, some of the time. But most of my free hours at home found me in the basement rec room, lazing (or reading) on the green couch and listening to albums on the RCA portable stereo.

And here are the albums I’d added to the cardboard box between May 1970, the last month of my junior year of high school, and July 1971:

Let It Be by the Beatles
Chicago (the silver album)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Best Of Bee Gees
Hey Jude by the Beatles
Revolver by the Beatles
Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
The Band
The Beatles (White Album)
Symphony No. 5 in E Minor by Dvořák/The Moldau by Smetana
Crosby, Stills & Nash
St. Cloud Tech High Choirs 1971
“Yesterday” . . . and Today by the Beatles
Pearl by Janis Joplin
Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney

Getting the least play, certainly, would have been the choir album. I imagine I listened to it once and then tucked it away. I still have it. And I had to be in the right mood for the Dvořák/Smetana LP, which offered me pieces I’d played in the high school orchestra.

The most played? Well, probably Pearl and Ram, the most recent additions. I know that the first LP of the Chicago album got a lot of play, usually the second side, with the long “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon,” but I also liked the first side. Sides three and four didn’t interest me all that much (and still don’t).

Obviously, the Beatles got a lot of play, and so did the self-titled album by The Band. The Bee Gees collection probably came in last among the pop-rock albums.

So, almost fifty years down the pike, which of those albums matter now? As always, we’ll measure that by seeing how many tracks show up among the 3,900-some on the iPod, which provides my day-to-day listening.

It’s hard to sort the Beatles’ tracks out, as the listings in the iPod show the album titles as they came out in Britain (or U.S. single catalog numbers), not the sliced and diced albums that came out in the U.S. A quick glance shows that all those Beatles albums are represented about equally in the iPod. Their music still matters to me a great deal.

The same is true of The Band, as ten of its twelve tracks are in the iPod. But I’ve trimmed the Chicago album down to “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon,” “25 or 6 to 4” and the single edit of “Make Me Smile.”

About two-thirds of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Déjà Vu are in the device; interestingly, among those absent from the first of those two albums are “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and the two Graham Nash compositions, “Marrakesh Express” and “Lady Of The Island,” and among the absent from the second are the two Nash compositions, “Teach Your Children” and “Our House.” I must not like Nash’s work as much as I like that of the others in that bunch. (And I make a mental note to see if I can find room in the iPod for “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”)

About two-thirds of the Bee Gees’ collection shows up, too. And most of Ram is present, as is about a third of Pearl.

And all of that leaves me wondering: Are these albums over-represented in my day-to-day listening because they were among the first LPs I got when I became vitally interested in pop and rock? Or are they that good? I don’t know the answers to those questions.

So what do I feature from these albums that still matter to me almost fifty years after they came into my life? Well, here’s one of the strangest tracks from among those albums, the Bee Gees’ “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You.” It came originally from the 1967 album The Bee Gees 1st.

Back In ’71

July 11th, 2019

Having messed around in 1972 last week and finding not many ideas percolating in my brain this week, we’re going to basically do the same thing this week with 1971: A post looking at radio listening followed by one looking at LP listening, capped by a Saturday random post from the 1971 tracks on the digital shelves. (There are about 3,900 such tracks.)

So we’ll start with a stop at Oldiesloon and the KDWB 6+30 from July 12, 1971, forty-eight years ago tomorrow. Here’s the top ten at the Twin Cities station:

“Don’t Pull Your Love” by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds
“It’s Too Late” by Carole King
“You’ve Got A Friend” by James Taylor
“Never Ending Song Of Love” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
“That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be” by Carly Simon
“Sooner Or Later” by the Grass Roots
“Get It On” by Chase
“When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” by Jerry Reed
“Rainy Days & Mondays” by the Carpenters
“Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” by the Fortunes

That’s a great stretch of music right there. I’d even be happy hearing the Jerry Reed single again. (It was not one of my faves back in ’71.) And I’m reminded of a comment that came from my pal jb some years ago when I wrote about “It’s Too Late” and its opening piano figure. That intro, he said was “the sound of the summer of ’71 distilled to a few seconds.”

Along with “It’s Too Late,” I’d note a few other records from those ten as major pleasures: The records by Chase, Carly Simon, the Grass Roots, and Delaney & Bonnie & Friends.

I was likely not listening to KDWB as much that summer as I had been other summers. This was the summer I spent working maintenance at St. Cloud State, mowing lawn for about six weeks and then working as a custodian for another six (with the last four of those spent roaming the campus with my new pal Mike as a two-man floor cleaning crew). A couple of days during the first six weeks, inclement weather kept the mowers inside doing odd jobs, and we could have a radio then, and I think Mike and I had a radio we moved from room to room as we scrubbed, waxed and polished floors. So there was music during working hours maybe a third of the time.

And in the evenings at home, I listened to WJON across the tracks, and my bedtime listening came courtesy of WLS in Chicago.

Still, most of the 6+30 from this week in 1971 is familiar. I had to look up “Double Barrel” by Dave & Ansel Collins, which was sitting at No. 15. It’s a decent reggae record that got to No. 7 at KDWB and to No. 22 in the Billboard Hot 100.

And at No. 33 on KDWB was Tom Clay’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love/Abraham, Martin And John.” It’s an audio collage that opens and closes with conversations with children and includes sounds associated with the upheavals of the 1960s, especially the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. It’s all backed with music from the two songs in the title (with vocals by the Blackberries, according to Joel Whitburn).

Clay was a disc jockey at KGBS in Los Angeles when he put the record together. It spent the first two weeks of August at the top of KDWB’s 6+30; it peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100.An album featuring the single went to No. 92 on the Billboard 200.

It’s an interesting artifact of the times, and it makes me a little melancholy.

Saturday Single No. 648

July 6th, 2019

Well, since we’ve been in kind of a 1972 groove this week, I thought we’d stay there today and let the gods of randomness have a moment. There are about 3,300-some tracks from 1972 in the RealPlayer, and we’re going to sort those by length, drop the cursor into the midpoint and go random four times. We’ll skip past stuff we’ve listened to here before.

The Trammps were still six years away from the glory of “Disco Inferno” when “Scrub Board” came out as a B-side of “Sixty Minute Man” on the Buddah label. As B-sides go, well, it’s a B-side – 3:11 of orchestral riffs that might have been a decent backing track for some vocals. The A-side, “Sixty Minute Man,” was more energetic and interesting, but still a little limp. It bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, getting to No. 108, and I’m sure that any music director that gave the flip a chance didn’t listen too long. Since we’re locked into the B-side, these are not the riffs we’re looking for.

One of my recent dishwashing music sequences for Facebook brought me around to “Propinquity,” a track from Earl Scruggs’ 1972 album I Saw The Light With Some Help From My Friends. The brief tune – it runs only 2:21 – is a tale of finally seeing clearly, and with love, someone who’s been close for a long time. It came from the pen of Mike Nesmith (one of the Monkees, of course, but a very good country-rock musician and writer on his own), and on Scruggs’ album, it features the vocals of Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I came upon the album only two years ago – there is so much music still to learn about – and have been enjoying it greatly.

And next we get “It’s Only A Dream” by Mama Lion, your basic early ’70s rock joint, with some intrusive driving guitar and catchy drum work, a decent piano riff and some vocals over-sung by lead singer Lynn Carey. As I’ve noted before, Mama Lion released two albums of competent but hardly ground-breaking rock; Preserve Wildlife, the source of “It’s Only A Dream,” was its first. I’ve sometimes thought that Carey’s post-Lion work might be worth seeking out, but I’ve never made it a priority.

Finally, we fall on the title track of an album I’ve surprisingly mentioned only once here: “Toulouse Street” by the Doobie Brothers. The album is home to the group’s first hits – “Listen To The Music,” “Jesus Is Just Alright” and “Rockin’ Down The Highway” – but the title track has always seemed to me one of the most atmospheric of the group’s recordings. With its chorus of “I just might pass this way again,” the track – the B-side to “Listen To The Music” – seems like an eerie progenitor of – and possibly the inspiration for – Seals & Crofts’ 1973 hit “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)”

So the gods of randomness have batted .500, and that’s good enough. I was ready to feature “Propinquity,” but a nighttime walk through the Crescent City altered that idea. Here’s the Doobie Brothers’ “Toulouse Street.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Back In ’72, Part 2

July 5th, 2019

Having examined the other day what I was listening to on the radio as the summer of ’72 rolled on, I thought I’d take a look at the LP log and see what new tunes had found their way into the cardboard box in the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard.

New acquisitions in the past year had been:

Stephen Stills
Jesus Christ Superstar
Abbey Road by the Beatles
Something New by the Beatles
13 by the Doors
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Meet the Beatles
Naturally by Three Dog Night
The Concert For Bangla Desh
Rubber Soul by the Beatles
Greatest Hits, Vol. II, by Bob Dylan
Portrait of the Young Artist by Mark Turnbull
Joe Cocker!
‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!’ by the Rolling Stones
Early Beatles
Yellow Submarine by the Beatles
Clapton At His Best by Eric Clapton
The Beatles Second Album
A Special Path by Becky Severson

Obviously, I was still pulling together my complete collection of the Beatles original albums (which I would finish by the end of August 1972), and those albums got lots of play in the rec room, especially Abbey Road and Rubber Soul. Others that got frequent play were Stephen Stills, Aqualung, Joe Cocker!, Clapton At His Best, and the albums by Dylan, the Doors and the Rolling Stones. (Some records brought home earlier than the summer of 1971 were also in heavy rotation.)

As I noted the other day, Becky Severson’s album was one I likely played only once until I ripped it into mp3s in 2007. Similarly, the Mark Turnbull album most likely got played only once until I ripped one track about ten years ago. Becky’s album is still here; Turnbull’s is not.

So, which of those albums still speak to me?

Well, Abbey Road for certain; I pop it into the car CD player on occasion and most of it is in the iPod. The four early Beatle albums were the American mishmashes pulled from the British albums and stand-alone single releases, all of which I have on CD in differing configurations, so I don’t listen to the American releases as albums anymore. A good number of the tracks from those CDs are in the iPod, as is one from Yellow Submarine.

Stephen Stills remains one of my favorite albums of all time, likely Top Ten, certainly Top 20, and all ten of its tracks are on the iPod.

What else shows up on the iPod? (That’s as good a measure as any of what music matters to me in my day-to-day life.)

Two tracks from Jesus Christ Superstar. Ten of thirteen from the Doors album (and only two other Doors tracks are on the iPod, underlining my contention that the Doors were a great singles band that made mediocre albums). Five tracks from Joe Cocker! None from Aqualung. Seven tracks from The Concert For Bangla Desh. Pretty much everything from the Clapton and Dylan anthologies, which were two of the most influential album acquisitions of my life. Two from the live Stones album. And one from the Three Dog Night album.

That’s about what I would have guessed, though I’m a little surprised by the absence of anything from Aqualung.

Anyway, here’s a track from those 1972-era acquisitions that popped up on the iPod the other day. It’s been mentioned here a couple of times over the past twelve-plus years but never featured. And it’s pretty damned good. Here’s the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog,” recorded at Abbey Road in February 1968 and released on Yellow Submarine in 1969.

Back In ’72

July 3rd, 2019

I shared here the other day a repost from 2007, a piece about my high school friend Becky and how I found a track from her 1972 album, A Special Path, on an anthology titled Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies From the Canyon. I admit that I likely never listened more than once to Becky’s album – Christian folk was never my genre – but I made sure that I kept it the other year when I sold about two-thirds of the LPs on my shelf.

And thinking about July 1972 – when Becky delivered her album to my door – I got to wondering what I was listening to at the time. Part of that was easy. I was working half-time as a janitor at St. Cloud State’s Campus Lab School that summer, and a radio tuned to the Twin Cities’ KDWB was never far away (though never turned up very loud).

Neither Oldiesloon nor the Airheads Radio Survey Archive has a KDWB survey from July 1972, but Oldiesloon has the July 7 Star Survey from WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other Top 40 station of the time. The Top Ten at ’DGY was:

“Lean On Me” by Bill Withers
“Too Late To Turn Back Now” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
“Layla” by Derek & The Dominos
“Rocket Man” by Elton John
“Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast” by Wayne Newton
“Brandy” by Looking Glass
“Day By Day” by the cast of “Godspell”
“Conquistador” by Procol Harum & The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
“Song Sung Blue” by Neil Diamond
“Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan

A few of those underline the summer for me. The first, the O’Sullivan single was omnipresent; I recall hearing it at work, in the car, around me as I wandered around with friends, just everywhere. I got tired of it rapidly and dismissed it when it showed up again over the years (until a recent hearing of it on one of our cable channels reminded me how tightly crafted a pop song it is).

The other two that hang in the air of my summer of ’72 memories are “Brandy” and “Layla.” The Looking Glass single was a large part of the soundtrack to the trip that I took with Rick and our pal Gary to Winnipeg in August. No matter what Top 40 station we found on the radio of my 1961 Falcon, “Brandy” was sure to pop up very soon. As to “Layla,” well, I’d heard the first half of the classic track two years earlier when Atco released an edited version that ended before Jim Gordon’s lyrical piano coda. The 1972 single from Polydor included that portion, which I’d never heard before, being clueless about Derek & The Dominos to that point in my life.

(Beyond being a beautiful piece of work, Gordon’s piano part – which, given things I’ve read over the years, should also have been credited to Rita Coolidge [not Bonnie Bramlett, as reader David helpfully pointed out] – was the first piece of pop music that I was able to play on piano simply by listening to it on the radio. My two recently completed quarters of music theory along with lots of piano practice had given me new tools that I was thrilled to use.)

There are a few other records a bit lower on that WDGY survey that immediately say 1972: “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway is one that I singled out a few years ago as the record of the summer, and the Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman,” America’s “I Need You,” and Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” also bring back that time pretty vividly.

Wandering afield from what I was listening to that summer, there are a couple of records listed on the WDGY survey from July 7, 1972, whose titles I do not recognize: “We’re Free” by Beverly Bremers at No. 15 and “We’re On Our Way” by Chris Hodge, at No. 18. So I head to YouTube.

Bremers’ record, a paean to being lovers without being married – a topic at least slightly controversial for a record in 1972– is utterly unfamiliar to me. According to ARSA, it went to No. 2 or No. 3 in a number of markets: in Anchorage, Alaska, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in Honolulu, Hawaii, and – surprisingly –in Nashville, Tennessee, and Lynchburg, Virginia. And it went Top Ten in about ten more markets across the country. Overall, though, its performance was just so-so, as the record peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 40.

A quick listen to Hodge’s record – a release on the Beatles’ Apple label – reminds me that I sought it out once and dismissed it. It’s a mid-tempo rocker about UFOs, a woman riding on moonbeams, and bringing the “truth to planet Earth,” all of which, one would think, would have played well in 1972. The surveys gathered at ARSA show the record making the Top Ten in Syracuse, New York, and Saginaw, Michigan. It went to No. 44 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Of the two, Bremers’ record is more interesting, and it made the Top 40, if only barely. So here it is:

Saturday Single No. 647

June 29th, 2019

The last days of June and the first days of July often put me in mind of the state trap shoot, the event that used to take place at the gun club just southeast of St. Cloud every year, the place where I first earned what felt like real money during the summers of 1968, 1969 and 1970. Here, slightly edited, is a piece I wrote in the spring of 2007:

There weren’t a lot of ways for a kid to make money in St. Cloud when the 1960s were turning into the 1970s. Supposedly, you could work when you turned sixteen, but with a state college in the city and two small private colleges within twelve miles, there were plenty of college-age kids available for employers; younger kids didn’t get many of the jobs.

I suppose there were paper routes, and one always saw ads in the back of comic books for stuff that could be sold door-to-door, but I never tried any of those. My first crack at any kind of employment was a hot, dirty, somewhat dangerous job that I got through my pal Rick.

There was – still is, for that matter – a gun club southeast of the city that hosted the state trap shooting championships every year in early to mid-July. Rick went to school with one of the club owner’s sons and worked at the gun club for various events. By the summer of 1968, he managed to get me a job at the gun club for the four days of the state trap shoot. I was what they called a “setter.”

Trap shooting, as you might know, involves contestants with shotguns trying to shoot clay targets that fly through the air, propelled there by a machine located in a small structure dug into the earth. It was my job to sit in one of those little structures for about ten to twelve hours a day. After the whirring machine threw each target out into the open for the contestants to aim at, I took another clay target – called a “bird” – from the stack in front of me and placed it on the machine’s arm, which oscillated slightly from right to left to provide differing angles for the bird’s trajectory.

The small pit was filled with boxes full of birds, and along with making sure to place a new bird on the machine every fifteen seconds or so, I had to open the cardboard boxes and make certain I had access to more birds when the stack from which I was currently working ran out.

Every once in a while, I’d be a little slow getting the bird onto the machine, and the throwing arm would hit the bird as I was lowering it in place, shattering it and leaving me worrying about the safety of my hand. If that happened too many times, the gun club manager would mention it, not out of concern for my hand but out of concern for the convenience of the shooters, who were annoyed when their call for a target brought no target. It was even worse during the doubles competition, when a setter had to get two birds onto the machine, first with one hand, then with the other.

A sonic digression: The traditional call for a target is for the shooter to shout out the word “pull,” probably from the time when targets – live birds at one time – were released by the pull of a rope. Shooters tend to develop their own versions of that traditional call, much in the same way umpires develop their own calls for strikes and balls. It’s hard to guess how to spell some of the sounds I heard shooters use as they called for a target, but this is what some of them sounded like: “Wheeeeeeeeeent!” “Poooooooooooowell!” “Hrant!” “Houp!” “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” And so on. Some of them, of course, just said, “Pull!”

I only got to hear the shooters for a limited time, during my three or four breaks a day. The vast majority of the time, I was down in the pit, unpacking boxes of birds and setting them on the machine arm. I did that for, as I said, ten to twelve hours a day for the four-day run of the trap shoot. It was boring, and it was dirty, as the targets were made out of what I would guess was some kind of petrochemical mix that resulted in a substance very much like hard tar. I’d come out of the pit at night with my face and hands covered with the thick black dust the birds gave off. There was something toxic in the dust, so that about a week after the trap shoot, the skin on my face would turn dark and brittle and then peel off in wide strips. I doubt if it did much good for my long-term health.

So why do it? Well, as I said, there weren’t a lot of ways for kids to make money back then. And I got $40 for my first state shoot in 1968, $50 in 1969 and $60 in 1970, pretty good money for four days back then, when the minimum wage was less than $1.50 an hour. I don’t recall what I did with the cash from the other two years, but in 1969, I used my money to buy a cassette tape recorder.

So why am I writing about the state trap shoot and toxic clay birds? Because one of the ways in which we setters – those of us consigned to the pits with their oscillating machines – kept our sanity was by bringing radios. Tuned for the most part to KBWB, one of the two Top 40 stations in the Twin Cities, our radios gave us at least something to listen to above the whirr of the machine and the sound of shotguns going of along the line all day long.

As a result, there are songs that I call “trap shoot songs.” Those are songs that I either heard for the first time or else heard so frequently during a trap shoot, that when I hear them now, fifty years later, I am for an instant back down in that dusty pit, keeping a stack of birds in front of me, taking advantage of a lull to open a new box of birds and doing my best to make sure that the whirling arm of the trap machine does not have a chance to whack at my fingers as I place another bird.

Some of those songs are: “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams, “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors, “People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & the Shondells, “Make It With You” by Bread, “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War, and “Are You Ready?” by Pacific Gas & Electric.

And with that, I posted a rip of the Pacific Gas & Electric album Are You Ready. But the list of trap shoot songs could have gone on longer. A quick look at the Billboard Hot 100s and some KDWB surveys from the first weeks of July in 1968, 1969 and 1970 yield a quick list of some of the other records that remind me of my time in the pits.

From 1968:
“Sky Pilot (Part 1)” by Eric Burdon & The Animals
“Indian Lake” by the Cowsills
“Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
“Angel Of The Morning” by Merilee Rush & The Turnabouts

From 1969:
“In The Year 2525” by Zager & Evans
“Israelites” by Desmond Dekker & The Aces
“Grazing In The Grass” by the Friends Of Distinction
“Love (Can Make You Happy)” by Mercy

From 1970:
“Ride, Captain, Ride” by Blues Image
“Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Three Dog Night
“Hitchin’ A Ride” by Vanity Fare
“Go Back” by Crabby Appleton

Well, if we consider all the singles listed here as candidates for today’s listening, we have riches. After a little bit of research, I’ve figured out that the Merilee Rush single has been mentioned in this space four times and offered here once, back in early 2007. It deserves better.

So here’s “Angel Of The Morning” by Merilee Rush & The Turnabouts from 1968. It peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100 and went to No. 37 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

The Sound Of Sorrow

June 28th, 2019

The forlorn melody of “None But The Lonely Heart,” Wikipedia tells us, was written in late 1869 when Piotr Tchaikovsky created a set of six romances for voice and piano. The lyrics came, the website says, from “Lev Mei’s poem ‘The Harpist’s Song,’ which in turn was translated from Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.”

Here’s the English translation that gives the piece its familiar title:

None but the lonely heart
Can know my sadness
Alone and parted
Far from joy and gladness
Heaven’s boundless arch I see
Spread out above me
O what a distance drear to one
Who loves me
None but the lonely heart
Can know my sadness
Alone and parted far
From joy and gladness
Alone and parted far
From joy and gladness
My senses fail
A burning fire
Devours me
None but the lonely heart
Can know my sadness

I first came across the song, as was the case with so many tunes, through Al Hirt, who included it on his 1965 album That Honey Horn Sound:

Hirt’s take is evocative enough, though I think his improvisations take away from the sadness that the title and the lyrics imply. And I think the background vocals of the Anita Kerr Singers make the final moments of the track sound almost triumphant with what a long-ago teaching colleague of mine called an “MGM ending.” (I certainly didn’t verbalize those thoughts back in 1965 when I heard the track for the first time, but I do recall that the second half of the track didn’t pull me in like the opening portions did, and I wondered why.)

The song has popped up over the years, and I’ve always liked it. But even though I’ve known for more than fifty years that the melody came from Tchaikovsky, I’d never thought much about the piece. Even with all my gathering of music over the past twenty years, only three other versions showed up on the digital shelves: Instrumental versions by violinist Isaac Stern and easy listening maestro Franck Pourcel and a turgid vocal version by Frank Sinatra (from his 1959 album No One Cares, which is a hard listen).

Then, just more than a year ago – and I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to write about this – the Texas Gal and I watched the finale of the FX series The Americans, the tale – set in the 1980s – of two married Russian KGB agents sent to live in the United States as Americans, working covertly for the Soviet Union. In that finale, the two agents face arrest by U.S. authorities and flee. The last portion of their trip home is by car through Eastern Europe and the western portions of the Soviet Union, much of it shot from above.

The music backing that sequence is an orchestral version of “None But The Lonely Heart.” I recognized it from the first notes. (And if I recall things correctly, I gasped as those first notes aired, prompting a “What?” from the Texas Gal. I just shook my head, choosing not to explain at the moment.) As the journey and the episode and the series ended that evening, I thought the use of Tchaikovsky’s piece was a brilliant touch.

Afterward, I spent some time searching for the version of the tune used in the show. It turned out to be a performance by violinist Takako Nishizaki with Australia’s Queensland Symphony Orchestra; it was included on a 2001 album – conducted by Slovak director Peter Breiner – titled Tchaikovsky: None But The Lonely Heart with the subtitle “Favourite Songs for Violin and Orchestra.” And, as it should be, it’s the sound of sorrow:

No. 55, Fifty-Five Years Ago

June 26th, 2019

We’ll play a game of Symmetry today, moving one year further into the past than we have before. We’re going to take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from fifty-five years ago tomorrow – June 27, 1964 – and see what was sitting at No. 55.

As we customarily do, though, we’ll start at the top of that long-ago chart. Here were the top three records as June was about to turn into July during the summer I was ten years old:

“A World Without Love” by Peter & Gordon
“I Get Around” by the Beach Boys
“Chapel Of Love” by the Dixie Cups

Every once in a while this happens: A selection from the top of a chart fails to move me. There’s nothing wrong with these records, really. But they’re not records that I want to hear on a regular basis, and none of them are among the 3,900 in the iPod, which reflects my regular listening. And none of those three will be added to the playlist after I finish this post.

So what’s lower down? What do we find when we drop down the chart to No. 55?

Well, we get a sweet, broken-hearted single from Brook Benton: “It’s Too Late To Turn Back Now.” And it’s one that I’m certain I haven’t heard before this morning (although being an easy listening kid back then, I think I would have liked it).

I don’t think I need to go into detail about Benton (whom I first heard, I’m sure, in early 1970 when “Rainy Night In Georgia” went to No. 4). The raw numbers are fifty-eight records in or near the Hot 100, with eight of them making the Top Ten. And he placed thirty-seven records on the Billboard R&B Top 40, with twenty-one of them reaching the Top Ten.

As to “It’s Too Late To Turn Back Now,” it didn’t do much more on the Hot 100, peaking at No. 43, but it went to No. 8 on the R&B chart.