Fifty-One Years

May 4th, 2021

Four Dead In Ohio:

Allison Krause
Jeffrey Miller
Sandra Scheuer
William Schroeder

Recording by Darcie Miner from Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity (2008).

Saturday Single No. 734

May 1st, 2021

We’re going to skip talking about May Day today – we once celebrated the day on the wrong date once, and invested two years of the holiday – 2009 and 2019 – into singing in German Tanz In Den Mai. That’s likely enough. So, all we’re going to say is that may your May Baskets be full, and then we can get on with talking only a little bit about Steve Winwood’s song “Can’t Find My Way Home.”

Once the song was released on Blind Faith in 1969, covers began to pop up. A Brazilian psychedelic/progressive group called Sound Factory took a run at the song in 1970, leaving behind a track with a reedy vocal not always certain about pitch. A year later, another Brazilian artist, Gilberto Gill, offered up on a self-titled album a cover of the song tinged with jazzy Latin influence.

And that’s where we’ll stop today: Gilberto Gill’s 1971 version of “Can’t Find My Way Home” is today’s Saturday Single.

I should note that I am aware that folks who have tried to leave comments here have been unable to do so. The folks at GoDaddy are trying to take care of that.

‘Somebody Holds The Key . . .’

April 29th, 2021

I was puttering at my computer the other week, probably reading the news, while across the room, the Texas Gal was working on a quilt. My computer’s iTunes provided the soundtrack.

There came a familiar acoustic introduction and then Steve Winwood’s unmistakable voice:

Come down off your throne and leave your body alone
Somebody must change
You are the reason I’ve been waiting all these years
Somebody holds the key

Well, I’m near the end and I just ain’t got the time
And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home . . .

It was, of course, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” a track from the only album ever released by the British supergroup Blind Faith and a staple of progressive stations when the album came out in 1969.

The moment came back to me yesterday as I was wandering around YouTube digging into the oeuvre of Yvonne Elliman, the Hawaiian-born singer who first came to prominence in 1970 when she sang the role of Mary Magdalene for original release of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. The album spent three non-consecutive weeks in early 1971 on top of the Billboard 200, and was in the magazine’s Top Ten for more than forty weeks.

And it brough Elliman her first two hits. In 1971, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” went to No. 28 (and to No. 15 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart), and “Everything’s Alright” went to No. 92 (No. 25, Easy Listening). As fine as those records were, yesterday, I was looking into other portions of Elliman’s career.

Why? Because the fine blog And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – run by my friend jb – pointed me to Elliman’s single “I Can’t Get You Outa My Mind” from 1977. And once at YouTube, I began to dig around in the Hawaiian singer’s other later work, as collected on The Best Of Yvonne Elliman, a sixteen-track CD released in 1997. It’s got the two 1971 hits, of course, and 1978’s “If I Can’t Have You” a No. 1 hit from the movie Saturday Night Fever, as well as “Hello Stranger,” a No. 15 hit from 1977.

But it’s also got a lot of other stuff I’ve never heard, some of it from Elliman’s 1978 album Night Flight and a fair amount from elsewhere. One of those – and here things tie together – is Windwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Elliman’s version was released as a Decca single in 1971 and then showed up on her first album, a self-titled effort released in 1972.

Neither the record nor the single hit the Billboard charts. The single was listed as “hitbound” on an April 10, 1972, survey released by WILI in Willimantic, Connecticut, and was listed two days later as one of more than forty unranked singles on a survey released by WRKR-FM in Racine, Wisconsin.

There are a few other versions of Winwood’s song on the digital shelves here – and many more beyond that, based on the information at Second Hand Songs – but we’ll listen to Elliman’s today and perhaps dig into more covers in the weeks to come.

What’s at No. 100? (April 1976)

April 27th, 2021

We’ve been mired in a wet and cool April here, and even though the trees are budding and the perennials are beginning to poke their heads out of the ground (the bleeding heart in the front is way past that stage), it’s been difficult to enjoy being out at all.

I don’t recall at all what the weather was like in April 1976, but it certainly had to have been better than this year’s version. Let’s hope the music was, too. Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from the fourth week in April 1976:

“Disco Lady” by Johnnie Taylor
“Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers
“Right Back Where We Started From” by Maxine Nightingale
“Boogie Fever” by the Sylvers
“Sweet Love” by the Commodores
“Only Sixteen” by Dr. Hook
“Welcome Back” by John Sebastian
“Show Me The Way” by Peter Frampton
“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
“Fooled Around And Fell In Love” by Elvin Bishop

After a reminder about “Disco Lady” – which seems pretty lethargic – I remember nine of those ten. The Commodores’ single remains a mystery even after listening to it. And it’s an okay thirty minutes of listening, but just okay.

At the time, the only one that would have had me hit the button to change the radio station was the John Sebastian record, which was the theme to television’s Welcome Back, Kotter, which I didn’t like, either.

Did I really like any of those forty-five years ago? Well, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was still new-ish and kind of fun, but not really. Nothing grabbed me by the ears, but as I said above, it was an okay set.

Today, though, only two of those ten show up on my iPod and thus, in my day-to-day listening: the records by Maxine Nightingale and Peter Frampton.

But what of our other business today. What treasure or disaster lay at the lowest level of the Hot 100 forty-five years ago this week?

What we find is the first of two Hot 100 singles by Melba Moore, a decent dance tune titled “This Is It.” It peaked in the Hot 100 at No. 91. On the R&B chart, however, the record went to No. 18 and was the first of twenty-three records Moore placed in the R&B Top 40 through 1990. (Her biggest hits were “A Little Bit More,” with Freddie Jackson and “Falling,” both of which topped the R&B chart in the late 1980s.

Saturday Single No. 733

April 24th, 2021

We’re almost back to full operations here. GoDaddy continues its work on a backup database of my work since February 2010, and there are other updates that need to be done. So I hesitate to lay too much out here in fears that those operations will wipe away my efforts.

So, here – from 1965 – are the Kinks with “Tired Of Waiting For You.” (We might talk about the Kinks next week, maybe.) It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Thanks, Jim Steinman

April 21st, 2021

Looking at the listing of works by Jim Steinman, who died two days ago, leaves me feeling as if I missed out. I truly know so little of what the man did as a writer, musician and producer. He remains one of the large blank spots in my musical awareness.

There’s a reason. My memory tells me – and bits and pieces of what I’ve read over the past few days confirm – that Steinman came to mass awareness with his writing and production of Meat Loaf’s 1977 album Bat Out Of Hell and the resulting 1978 single “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.”

By the time the single came out, I was in the working world, and I crammed my radio listening into what I could catch in the car as I drove from one reporting assignments to another and whatever I could catch at home on an aging stereo system my folks had found for me in a second-hand store. Still, I heard “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” occasionally, and I liked it, even if I found it a bit bombastic.

(A lot of other folks liked it, too: It went to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 31 on the magazine’s easy listening chart.)

But “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” and “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth” – the follow-up singles – didn’t grab me. And as I listened less and less to pop music in the late 1970s and early 1980, I missed whatever came next for Steinman.

Then, in 1984, I was in Missouri and I was the arts editor for the Columbia Missourian, published by the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. And one week, there were more new movies in town than my small staff could review, so I needed to jump in and review one of them. That happened occasionally, maybe four times during the year I filled the post. Out of the five or so movies opening that week, I selected Streets of Fire, more because I recognized the name of the female lead, Diane Lane, than for any other reason.

I loved it, especially the music. I cadged a bit on the grade I gave it, maybe awarding a B+. (I cannot put my hands on the review this morning although I know it exists in the filing drawers of unorganized clips from about fifteen years of reporting and editing.) Director Walter Hill called the movie a “rock and roll fable,” but even so, it’s over-the-top storytelling put me off just a bit.

But the music! There was stuff from the Blasters, Ry Cooder, the Fixx, Maria McKee, and a few others. And the Steinman-penned songs that opened and closed the movie blew me away: “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” with – as I learned later – Laurie Sargent providing the vocals for Lane on the former and Holly Sherwood doing the same on the latter, both backed by a group of musicians that the filmmakers called Fire Inc.

Within a few days, I had the soundtrack, knew the writers and producers and anything else I could glean from the jacket. And in the thirty-some years since, any time I hear either of those two tracks from the soundtrack, I remember the thrill of finding something utterly new, a feeling that can stay with you for years.

I missed a lot of Steinman’s stuff, and maybe I should go back and dig into it, but I at least found two pieces from the man’s work that will always be a part of my life, and for that, I thank Jim Steinman.

Here’s the official video for “Nowhere Fast” and a clip with the last minutes of the film that includes “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” both credited to Fire Inc.

‘You Just Can’t Win . . .’

April 15th, 2021

This will be brief because the upcoming work by GoDaddy may mean that this post gets left behind, but I feel a need to post something.

I was poking through the Billboard 200 from mid-April 1971, looking at which albums eventually showed up on the shelves here, when I noticed the album parked at No. 144: One & One by Gene & Jerry, who only turn out to be Gene Chandler and Jerry Butler.

The album, released in 1970, was in its fourth week on the chart, down one spot from its peak at No. 143 the previous week. After another week, the album would fall off the chart.

I found the album in July 1998, most likely at a neighborhood garage sale in south Minneapolis. And it turned out to be the first LP I ripped to mp3s when we moved to the condo three years ago. It’s decent R&B/soul.

Here’s the opening track, “You Just Can’t Win (By Making The Same Mistake).” Released as a single, the track spent three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1971, peaking at No. 94.

Saturday Single No. 732

April 10th, 2021

The other week, writing about B.B. King’s “Ask Me No Questions,” I said:

It’s an interesting record, in that it’s got more piano in it than I tend to expect of a King record, but a quick look at the credits at both AllMusic and discogs tells me that Carole King was around for the album sessions. I wish I had track-by-track information, but I don’t.

Well, I do now. Shortly after I wrote about the track, I was noodling around Amazon in search of Rhiannon Giddens’ forthcoming album (it arrived yesterday, and so far, I’m pleased), and I noticed we had some bonus points or something from the site. So I added to my order King’s 1970 album Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

As I suspected, the session notes I found at the two websites mentioned above were incomplete. And I’m a bit chagrined, because with a little more effort on that Saturday a few weeks ago, I might have recognized that the piano part on that particular track was supplied by Leon Russell. I was listening for Carole King, however, and the idea slipped past me.

Carole King does play on four of the album’s nine tracks, while Russell plays on three, including on his own composition “Hummingbird.” On that one, the background vocals are provided by four women whose names have popped up many times on this blog: Sherlie Matthews, Clydie King, Venetta Fields, and Mary Clayton.

Eight of the nine tracks on the album were recorded at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, and on those, Russ Kunkel handles the drums and Bryan Garofalo provides bass. Guitarist Joe Walsh shows up for a couple of tracks.

(The ninth track was laid down at the Hit Factory in New York. Players there were Hugh McCrackin on rhythm guitar, Paul Harris on piano, Gerald Jemmott on bass and Herb Lovelle on drums.)

The CD fills nicely a gap on the shelves, as the only other B.B. King CDs I have are an a career-spanning anthology and three other CDs with King performing with others: Blues Summit and Deuces Wild feature King with a wide range of other performers (from Ruth Brown to Robert Cray on the first and from Van Morrison to Marty Stuart on the second), and Riding With The King is an album recorded with Eric Clapton.

(If I want more B.B. King, I can turn to the LP shelves, where there are eleven of his albums, mostly from the 1960s and 1970s.)

And here’s another track from Indianola Mississippi Seeds, this one with Carole King playing piano and electric piano: “Ain’t Gonna Worry My Life Anymore.” The track starts with an informal jam over strings and horns, then moves into the song itself. And in the latter portions of the track, Carole King gets a chance to show off her chops on the electric piano. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Two Headaches

April 8th, 2021

I have two concurrent headaches. One of them is literal, the product of a sinus infection.

The other is metaphorical, the product of waiting for the GoDaddy folks to finish “migrating” this blog to a new server. The process, when it starts, will take some time, and anything I post here might or might not be migrated. When will that process start? They can’t seem to tell me.

Additionally, until that process is finished, folks aren’t able to leave comments here.

It’s a headache. So, here’s “Willies’ Headache” from Cymande. Here’s what discogs has to say about the band:

Formed [in] 1971 in London, England featuring musicians from Guyana, Jamaica and Saint Vincent. The name Cymande is based on a calypso word for dove, symbolising peace and love. They play a style of music that they call Nyah-Rock: a mixture of funk, soul, reggae and African rhythms. The band achieved their greatest initial success in America and were actively recording and performing until 1975.

“Willies’ Headache” is on the band’s second album, Second Time Around, released in 1973.

Saturday Single No. 731

April 3rd, 2021

Shining stars. Falling stars. Shooting stars. Silver stars. It’s too big a list.

I was going to select a few favorite tracks that have “star” in their titles and blather on about each of them this morning before choosing one for today’s featured single. But a search for “star” in the RealPlayer has discouraged me, coming back with 1,239 tracks.

Many of those, of course, would not qualify. A wonderful album by various artists from 2003 titled All Night All Stars (including tracks by Gregg Allman, Amy Helm, and the duo of Bobby Whitlock and Kim Carmel) goes by the wayside, as does an odd album titled Gulag Orkestar by a group called Beirut. Gone are two albums by the group Big Star. And so on, and I do not have the intestinal fortitude to sort through all 11,239 tracks this morning.

So I’ll just go back to the record that brought me the idea earlier this week without my even hearing it. Something, somewhere, sparked the 1970 memory of hearing Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everybody Is A Star.” And that got me to thinking about records with “star” in their titles. So here we are.

Here’s Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everybody Is A Star.” As the B-side of a two-sided single – “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” was the A-side – it spent two weeks at No. 1 in February 1970, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.