Saturday Single No. 483

February 6th, 2016

A couple of strands come together today that are, I guess, worth marking. It was during this week in 2007 that – after a couple weeks of sharing albums without much comment and a couple more weeks of doing so with halting commentary – I settled things here into a mix of memoir, commentary, occasional whimsy and whatever else you want to call it, and actually started blogging. And when that happened, I figure, this place became a blog instead of a music salad.

That happened nine years ago this week. So that’s one strand in today’s cord.

The other strand finds a milestone since Odd and Pop and I set up housekeeping here under our own domain name (after a little more than three years on Blogger and WordPress, both of which evicted us for giving away music). The little counter on the dashboard tells me that in the six year since we’ve had our own space – the first post here was on January 30, 2010 – we’ve put up 999 posts. And that means that this piece is post number 1,000 since we set up our own domain.

So how do we mark such an occasion? Well, one of the things I do need to do is thank the readers who have followed me through these nine years, however many there are (and not having a counter, I have no idea). Some of those readers have become friends, which is a goodness I could not have predicted when I offered my first halting post nine years ago. I’m grateful for those friends. And I’m also grateful for the simple pleasure I get three times a week or so from sharing tales from my life and my love of music. And as I do that sharing, I learn things about myself that I didn’t know. All of which makes the creation of Echoes In The Wind a source of joy.

So I sifted through titles with the word “joy” in them. And I came across Little Richard being Little Richard, testifying and taking the lid off with a performance of a song that’s not been fresh for me for a long time. It’s plenty fresh this morning. Here, from his 1971 album, King of Rock and Roll, is Little Richard’s take on Hoyt Axton’s “Joy To The World,” a perfect choice for post No. 1,000 and today’s Saturday Single.

‘Five Nails In The Door’

February 4th, 2016

I don’t have a copy of everything I’ve ever written. That would be ridiculous for someone who’s spent more than twenty-five years employed as a writer of some sort and more than forty years scribbling words on paper (or typing them on a screen) on his own account.

I tried to come close. For about ten years after I left the Monticello Times, I hauled around nearly six year’s worth of weekly editions in twine-tied bundles, so each time I moved, I hefted every word that had been published in the paper during my years there. I also had file folders with copies of the most significant pieces and editions of the paper, so there finally came a day when I began to go through the twined bundles edition by edition, saving tearsheets of the pieces I wanted and letting go of the rest of it.

After all, a reporter at a small town paper writes everything from obituaries to crime stories to the annual announcement of the sale of Girl Scout cookies. (One year, a headline for a column I wrote about my political concerns got lost during weekly paste-up, and the annual cookie story ended up with a headline that read: “Fears and Worries, Scouts Sell Cookies.”) Obits and the small stories about meetings and reunions and spaghetti dinners – the stuff we used to call “pots and pans” at the Monticello paper – went by the wayside, and I kept the stuff that had personal connections – various columns – or that stretched my skills or brought me some recognition.

The same is true of my professional efforts from every other stop along the way, whether in newspapering or in public relations: I have over the years kept only those pieces that were significant in one way or another. As to my personal writing – lyrics, fiction, a few longer bits of non-fiction – I have almost all of it. There is, as far as I know, only one piece missing.

I was reminded of it last evening as the Texas Gal and I watched an episode of American Idol. A seventeen-year-old fellow, facing the judges as the crowd of contestants was being winnowed from seventy-five to about fifty, sang one of his own songs. It was pretty good, and there was one line in it – I should have jotted it down, but it’s flown away – that made me say, “Wow! I wish I’d written a line like that when I was seventeen.”

And I added, “When I was his age, I was writing silly songs with Rick.”

“Rick wrote songs?” the Texas Gal asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “For a while, he and I would trade lyrics back and forth.”

That came as we were finishing high school and I was starting college (he was a couple of years behind me), and I was just beginning to write my own stuff. Despite my comment to the Texas Gal, we rarely co-wrote. When we did, the result was sometimes silly, sometimes not.

He rarely handed me his stuff. He mailed it. Just for fun, he’d undone a simple envelope and made a template; when he found a page-size visual in a magazine that caught his interest, he’d pull it out, trace around his template, cut and carefully fold and paste, and he’d have a custom envelope. A small label on the front completed the process, and he’d put his new lyric – or sometimes just a quick note – inside, and a day or two later, I’d come home from school to a brightly colored envelope in the mail.

I imagine I have some of those envelopes and their contents in a box somewhere. I might even have the one that I thought about last night while watching American Idol. One evening, probably during the spring of 1972 as I was finishing my first year of college, we were whiling away time at Tomlyano’s, a long-gone pizza joint. (Tomlyano’s has shown up here once before: That was where, in 1975, my date and I fled John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” so abruptly that we left half a pizza on the table.) And we were talking about writing.

“You know what we should do?” Rick said. “We should find a title and both write lyrics for that title.”

“Sure,” I said. “What title?”

He looked over my shoulder. “How about ‘Five Nails In The Door’?” I turned and followed his gaze toward the swinging half-door between the kitchen and the dining area, which in fact did have five large metal circles – nail heads or decorative pieces, I’m not sure – visible. I nodded.

And a few days later, I copied out my version of “Five Nails In The Door” and either dropped it off across the street or put it in a plain white envelope and mailed it. At about the same time, I got a brightly colored envelope in the mail with Rick’s take on the title.

He’d written something that owed at least a little bit to “Wooden Ships,” the post-apocalyptic song by David Crosby, Paul Kantner, and Stephen Stills that we knew from the 1969 album Crosby, Stills & Nash. (It showed up as well on Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers that same year; Rick might have known that version, but I did not.) But it also held tinges of an empire falling in traditional fashion to outsiders, as Rome did to the Visigoths.

Rick’s lyric noted that the dying society’s hopes of survival depended on the preservation of a treasure. But that treasure was lost because “there were only five nails in the door.”

What did my version say? I don’t entirely know. As I noted above, I have copies of almost everything I’ve ever written on my own (as opposed to work product). The one lyric – among a couple hundred, maybe – that I do not have is “Five Nails In The Door.” I do vaguely remember its ending. As was my wont at the time – the spring of 1972, I’m guessing – I created a love song, and it ended something like this:

If they stand for love, and I think they do,
Then first there was one, and later came two.
So as you go, I’m adding more,
And now there are five nails in the door.
Five nails in the door for you . . .

Confusing? A little bit. Evocative? I thought so. Overwrought? Yep.

Here’s a tune that does better with the topic of nails. Here’s “Rock Salt & Nails” by Earl Scruggs, with help from Tracy Nelson and Linda Ronstadt. It’s from Scruggs’ album I Saw The Light With Some Help From My Friends, which coincidentally came out in 1972, the same year I was trying to figure out how to write a decent lyric.

‘Sanctuary’

February 2nd, 2016

(This is a different type of post. Rummaging through my files the other day, I found a piece of fiction I wrote while living in Columbia, Missouri, in 1991. I’ve never done anything with it, so I’ve revised it just a bit to offer it here. It’s called “Sanctuary.” I hope you like it.)

The road circled a hill, turning abruptly, and Aaron barely prevented the car from heading down a rough slope into a wooded valley. He wasn’t driving fast, but he has no idea where he was, and it was difficult to see through the mist of tears.

Halfway into the turn, the car emerged from a tunnel of leafy oak and ash into a clearing below the hill.

On the top of the hill stood a church.

Sanctuary.

The word whispered itself from the back row of his brain, sending a ripple through him of something not entirely comforting. Sanctuary? Aaron braked and looked up at the church. It was old and long unused, white paint graying and flaking from too many Iowa seasons. The small bell tower was leaning to the northeast. Was that right? He glanced up and checked the position of the sun behind the clouds, then looked at his watch, calculating directions from shadows. Yes, northeast.

Sanctuary, whispered the voice.

He hesitated, then drove until he found a place to park about a hundred yards away, down another decline and out of sight of the church. He locked the car before walking back along the road and then up the hill.

The doors, as weathered and aching as the rest of the building, were ajar, frozen in place by time. Aaron squeezed through. Dim light came through the paneless windows but illuminated little: A few pews and some litter, the stump of a lectern and a bench.

Weary and disappointed – and aware of the folly of disappointment – he sat at the end of a pew, as far as possible from the empty place where the altar had once stood. Vision blurred again, and his head dropped. If this was sanctuary, it was odd indeed. But sanctuary was what he needed, a retreat from the last four days. Yesterday, Wednesday, had been the worst, waking alone in the house and being left alone by well-meaning friends and relatives. The day before was the funeral. Before that, Monday, he’d welcomed with embraces and tears those same friends and relatives who had now faded out of sight. And Sunday. The day it started . . . or ended. The morning he’d waked to find Linda lying still beside him. The doctor thought it might have been a stroke, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that she was gone.

Four horrible days. And today, the fifth, was the worst. He had found sorrow enough being in the house with the comfort of others. It was unbearable alone. So he’d fled the house and Keokuk, losing himself in the roads through the hills. And he was still alone. He put his face in his hands and wept, then turned to the right, resting against the end of the pew. In time, the tears stopped, and Aaron slept.

He woke slowly, confused, to a muted chorus of voices. “And also with you,” they said. Without moving, he opened his eyes and saw clear glass in the window. He stared at it for a moment, then raised his head and sat up.

The church was full. Pews that hadn’t been there when he came in were filled with men, women and children. Their clothes were wrong, old-fashioned. He glanced to his left. A man in a high-collared brown suit looked at a gold watch through round wire spectacles, then stroked his trimmed mustache and put the watch back in his vest pocket. Aaron turned to the front. A plain altar stood below a wooden cross high on the wall. A man in a black frock coat – the minister, Aaron thought – sat down on the bench by the lectern. As Aaron watched, the minister looked toward the first pew and nodded briefly. “Rachel,” he said.

A young woman rose from the pew and went to the center aisle, followed by a boy carrying what looked like a dulcimer, who sat in a chair to the side. Aaron stared at the young woman as she took her place. She was wearing a plain blue dress that reached to her ankles, gathered somehow at the waist and flaring out from there to the floor. She had light brown hair pulled together loosely at the nape of her neck. It framed her face and flowed down her back.

Her face was extraordinary. Not pretty, Aaron thought as he she looked at the gathered congregation, but truly beautiful, with a serenity that was so vivid that the only word he could think of was “ethereal.” She smiled, and Aaron saw something familiar in the smile, but the simple wonder of seeing it kept him from even trying to identify what it was he recognized. Then she spoke.

“Reverend Westphal has asked me to close the service with a hymn,” she said simply. “We have heard this week of the great battle at Gettysburg, and I know we all fear for our young men who have gone to war to preserve the Union. I hope this song will bring comfort as we wait.”

The boy played a series of simple chords, and Rachel began to sing:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found.
Was blind, but now I see.

As she started the second verse, the congregation joined her tentatively, first one voice and then another.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace that fear relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

When the third verse started, all in the church but Aaron were singing, and the simple melody and gentle words became a moving and increasingly louder statement of faith and hope that penetrated his despair. He joined them.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
’Tis grace has brought us safe thus far,
And grace will lead us home.

As the final verse started, the rest of the congregation fell silent, leaving Aaron’s and Rachel’s voices to carry the song. He almost stopped as well, but as the first syllable left his lips, Rachel looked directly at him, smiling around the words as she sang, encouraging him to continue.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright, shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

The dulcimer repeated the chords of the song after the fourth verse, and Aaron closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them, Rachel was smiling gently at him, and Aaron felt something flow between them that he could not name, something that made the two of them somehow inseparable yet still separate. The dulcimer completed the chords, and Rachel sang alone:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found.
Was blind, but now I see.

Aaron stared at her as she moved back to her place in the first pew. Reverend Westphal stood. “Go with God,” he said, and the congregation began to move from the pews, Aaron with them. The man next to him turned and extended his hand.

“It was good to have you worship with us, Aaron,” he said. “We hope to see you here again.”

Aaron shook the man’s hand numbly, hardly noticing that the man knew his name. His eyes were on Rachel, who was now in a small knot of people in the aisle. Those in Aaron’s pew, including the man who had spoken to him, slowly made their ways into the aisle, and when Aaron got there, he found himself standing next to Rachel.

She looked at him gravely. She wore like a cloak the aura of serenity that Aaron had noticed just moments before. “God rest you,” she said quietly. “We will sing again.” Then she turned and slipped through a gap in the crowd of people near the door. Aaron watched as she left the church.

He woke in the car, cramped and dazed. A pale pink line on the horizon below the hills promised daybreak. He moved his head to relieve his aching neck, then looked at his watch. It was 5:20. How long had he been sleeping? He stretched, and then he remembered the church and the congregation. He remembered Rachel.

Aaron threw the door open and ran up the road and then to the top of the small hill. The church was as he had first seen it. Its windows had no glass. The doors were weathered and slightly ajar. He went inside, and even in the vague light of early morning, he could see it was nearly empty. He walked to where Rachel had stood as she sang. The floor was warped, long unwalked.

It must have been a dream, Aaron thought. I must have fallen asleep in the church, then walked back to the car half-sleeping. He walked out of the church and watched the sun light the low clouds. It was a dream, he was certain. He walked down the hill and was halfway to the car when he stopped.

Maybe it was all a dream. Not just the church on this country road, but Linda as well. Maybe he’d dreamed or imagined it all. It was possible, he thought. And the more he thought, the more possible, the more likely, the more certain it became. Linda was home, waiting for him, wondering where he’d been all this time, worrying about him.

He ran to the car, started it and drove down the winding road, knowing that he’d find a road that would lead him to another and eventually to one he’d recognize. And he would go home to Linda.

An hour later, he parked the car in his driveway and hurried into the house. “Linda?” He walked through the kitchen into the hallway. “Linda?” She must be in the living room. “Linda?”

He stopped in the doorway of the empty living room. Cards of condolence and sympathy lay on the table near the front door, in front of a framed portrait of Linda. An arrangement of wilting flowers stood next to the portrait.

Aaron exhaled heavily as he stepped to the couch and sat, staring at the tableau on the table. Again he wept.

Late that afternoon, he drove once more into the hills, parked the car, then took his wallet out of his pocket and left it on the seat next to the keys. He turned and walked up the curving road. As he came to the small hill, he could hear Rachel’s voice coming from the church:

I once was lost, but now am found . . .

The voice in his head whispered: Sanctuary.

Aaron walked quickly up the hill and went to join the congregation.

Saturday Single No. 482

January 30th, 2016

It’s time for a random four-track jaunt through the 1970s. About a quarter of the 86,000-some mp3s stacked into the RealPlayer come from that decade, so it does take a while to search them out and then sort them by running time. But it’s a Saturday in January: There’s no football on television and it’s far too cold to laze outside with a beer, so what else have we got to do with our time?

So once the sorting is done, we’ll place the cursor in about the midpoint of the long list and go through four clicks to find a set of tracks from which to choose a single for the day.

We start with an example of one of my musical quirks: A cover of Paul Simon’s “A Hazy Shade Of Winter” as offered by easy listening master Hugo Montenegro on his 1971 album People . . . One to One. Only a few of Montenegro’s twenty-plus albums made it to the Billboard Hot 200, and only five singles made it to the magazine’s singles charts, either the Hot 100 or the Adult Contemporary chart. The best performing of those singles was “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” from 1968, which went to No. 2 on the Hot 100 and spent three weeks on top of the AC chart. Montenegro’s take on “A Hazy Shade Of Winter” showed up on none of the charts, but it’s got some quirky percussion and sound effects, and I can easily hear it coming out of the speakers on a Saturday morning in 1971 with the radio tuned to the Minneapolis powerhouse WCCO.

Along with writing some of the great records of the 1960s with Jeff Barry and a few others – “Be My Baby,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “River Deep, Mountain High,” “Kentucky Woman” and many more – Ellie Greenwich went the performance route in both 1968 and 1973 and released two albums of some of her most famous songs. She’d released her first album, Ellie Greenwich Composes, Produces and Sings, in 1968, and “I Want You To Be My Baby” went to No. 83 on the pop chart. “Maybe I Know,” a single from the 1973 album Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung, bubbled under at No. 122. In our travels this morning, we come across “Chapel Of Love” from the 1973 album. Greenwich is a good singer, her production is fine, and there’s a nice interlude midway, but the track pales in comparison to the Dixie Cups’ No. 1 hit from 1964.

In the early part of the 1970s, when my pal Rick and I first began to dig into the identities of the musicians who made our favorite acts sound like our favorite acts, we were intrigued any time any of those musicians stepped to the forefront. One of those was Nicky Hopkins, who played piano for the Rolling Stones and many, many other musicians from the late 1960s onward (including sitting in on electric piano for the Beatles’ “Revolution” single, a nugget I came across this morning that answers a question I’d often considered but never bothered to try to resolve). In 1973, Hopkins released an album, The Tin Man Was A Dreamer, something Rick and I talked about getting, though at the time it never went further than talk. The album came my way as mp3s sometime in the past ten years, and this morning, the track “Dolly” popped up for our consideration. It’s a sweet track: Hopkins’ vocals are light (by intention and not from limitations) and the backing is piano- and string-heavy. And midway through, we hear a sweet call and response between the strings and the guitar of Mick Taylor, according to All-Music Guide. The track, AMG notes, was “the closest thing to a potential hit” on the album. And taking that into consideration, we move on.

One of the sounds that drives the Texas Gal up the wall is Minnie Riperton flying into her upper register on her 1975 hit “Lovin’ You,” so when the RealPlayer fell this morning on “Only When I’m Dreaming” from Riperton’s 1970 album Come To My Garden, I wondered if I would have to turn the volume down so Riperton’s higher excursions wouldn’t shatter the peace of a quiet Saturday morning. I needn’t have worried; Riperton flies high in her range only once during the track and does so with subtlety and control, two qualities not evident in her 1975 hit. But that’s making the case for “Only When I’m Dreaming” in negative terms. It’s a decent track from an album that I don’t know particularly well but that I keep thinking I’ll dig into some day instead of letting the bits and pieces come to me randomly. Yeah, you see how that’s working.

So we have four candidates this morning, and it’s an easy choice: Nicky Hopkins has been mentioned in this space only a handful of times over the course of about 1,800 posts, and I’ve never featured his solo work. Even without that, “Dolly” is a lovely track, well worthy of being today’s Saturday Single.

One Chart Dig: January 1971

January 29th, 2016

There’s a nasty flu/cold bug going around these parts, and at various times over the past few weeks, the Texas Gal and I have felt its effects. This week, it’s my turn, which is why things have been sparse this week (not only in this space but anywhere that I have responsibilities).

But I took a look this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1971, forty-five years ago. As my senior year of high school turned the corner toward graduation (and a summer of lawn-mowing and floor-scrubbing), buried deep in the chart – bubbling under at No. 105 – was a record I would have liked very much if I ever had heard it.

I doubt, though, that I ever heard the Assembled Multitude’s “Medley from ‘Superstar’ (A Rock Opera)” coming out of my radio speakers. I might have already heard Murray Head’s take on “Superstar,” essentially the title track of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. At the end of January 1971, that release was at No. 78 in a slow climb to No. 14 during its second stint in the Hot 100. (It had been released in early 1970 and stalled at No. 74.) Whenever it might have been that I heard Head’s single, I liked it enough to pick up the album during the coming summer.

And though I didn’t really know who the Assembled Multitude was – a group of studio musicians from Philadelphia, as it happened – I’d liked “Overture From Tommy” when it went to No. 16 during the summer of 1970. A second single release from 1970, a cover of “Woodstock,” went to No. 79 but escaped my attention at the time.

So, too, in its brief time in the chart, did the Multitude’s “Medley from ‘Superstar’ (A Rock Opera).” It bubbled under the chart for a few weeks, crawled up to No. 95, and then faded away.

One Chart Dig: January 1966

January 27th, 2016

Fifty years ago this week, six guys from Allen Park High School in Michigan – Allen Park is a suburb southwest of Detroit – saw their record sitting on the lowest rung of the Billboard Hot 100. “Wait A Minute” by Tim Tam & The Turn-Ons was bubbling under at No. 130 in the chart released on January 29, 1966.

Tim Tam & The Turn-Ons

Tim Tam & The Turn-Ons

Still, that was an improvement over the previous week, when the Bubbling Under section of the chart had listed thirty-five records, and “Wait A Minute” entered the chart at No. 131. The record would spend five weeks in the chart, peaking at No. 76. It was the only record the group ever placed in the Billboard charts.

The record was written by Rick (Tim-Tam) Wiesend and Tom DeAngelo, and I assume DeAngelo was a house writer/producer for Detroit-based Palmer records. It’s a not a bad record, kind of a mix of doo-wop and garage rock, and I do like the drum fills.

“Wait A Minute” would have fit right in with the records I vaguely recall from that winter’s seventh grade dance at South Junior High in St. Cloud. I do have some more vivid memories from that dance, and I may share them sometime, but for now, let’s just listen to Tim Tam & The Turn-Ons:

Saturday Single No. 481

January 23rd, 2016

It’s time to go digging in the Billboard pop charts in search of a single for a Saturday morning. Six times during the years that generally interest us here, the magazine has put out its weekly pop chart on January 23. So we’re going to look at those charts, check out which single was at No. 23, and then choose one of those for our weekly treat.

Along the way, as we generally do, we’ll check out the No. 1 single for each week.

We’ll start back before the Space Age began, in January 1957. “I Dreamed” by Betty Johnson sat at No. 23, on its way to No. 9. It’s a peppy love song in which the singer has fantastic dreams and realizes that they all lead back to her guy. It was Johnson’s biggest hit in a chart career that lasted from 1956 into 1960. Three of her other titles hit the Top 40: “Little White Lies” went to No. 25 in the spring of 1957; “The Little Blue Man,” a novelty record, went to No. 17 in early 1958; and “Dream” went to No. 19 later that year. Sitting at No. 1 fifty-nine years ago today, in the ninth week of an eventual ten weeks at the top, was “Singing The Blues” by Guy Mitchell.

Sitting at No. 23 on this date in 1961 was Dion’s “Lonely Teenager,” heading down the chart after peaking at No. 12. With the Belmonts and on his own, Dion racked up thirty-nine singles in or near the Hot 100 (well, it was still called the “Top 100” when the first single hit) between 1958 and 1989. And he’s still working: I saw on his Facebook page that his new album, New York Is My Home, will come out next month. (The video for the title track, which he recorded with Paul Simon, is here.) And during this week in 1961, Bert Kaempfert’s “Wonderland By Night” was in the last of its three weeks at No. 1.

When we get to 1965, we find the Shangri-Las at No. 23 with “Give Him A Great Big Kiss.” The follow-up to the No. 1 hit from late 1964, “Leader Of The Pack,” “Great Big Kiss” was on its way to No. 18. The quartet from Queens would end up with thirteen records in or near the Hot 100 between 1964 and 1967, three of them in the Top Ten: “Leader Of The Pack,” “Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)” (No. 5 in 1964), and “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” (No. 6 in 1965). Perched at No. 1 fifty-one years ago today, in the first week of a two-week stay, was Petula Clark’s “Downtown.”

Rare Earth was sitting at No. 23 in the Hot 100 from January 23, 1971, with “Born To Wander” making its way to No. 17. The record was the fourth of an eventual dozen in or near the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1978 for the Detroit group. Three of the group’s records made the Top Ten: In 1970, a live version of “Get Ready” went to No. 4 and “(I Know) I’m Losing You” went to No. 7; in 1971, “I Just Want To Celebrate” also peaked at No. 7. The No. 1 record as my senior year of high school hit the halfway point was Dawn’s “Knock Three Times,” in the first of three weeks in the top spot.

It took another eleven years before a Billboard chart came out on January 23, and, as this blog has often noted, my life and music had changed a fair amount by 1982. Parked at No. 23 on this date in that year was Billy Joel’s “She’s Got A Way,” which would go no further up the chart. Plenty of Joel’s work did go higher, of course, as he collected twenty-three Top Twenty singles among his forty-two records in or near the Hot 100 between 1974 and 1997. The No. 1 record thirty-four years ago today was Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” in the last of its ten weeks atop the chart.

We don’t often venture into the late 1980s here, and it was nice to find an old friend sitting at No. 23 on this date in 1988: “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac, was heading up to a peak at No. 14, just one of twenty-eight singles the Mac placed in or near the chart between 1969 and 2003. It was the sixteenth and final Top 20 hit (so far) for the group. The No. 1 record twenty-eight years ago today was Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”

So we have six to choose from, five of which I know well. If Betty Johnson’s “I Dreamed” had been a little less frothy, I might have gone that direction. I’ve never like the Shangri-Las all that much, and the Dion single is not among my favorites from him. Nor do I care much for Joel’s “She’s Got A Way.” That leaves Fleetwood Mac and Rare Earth as choices. Well, I like both singles, but the Mac has shown up in this blog about twenty-five times and Rare Earth less than five. (I have to estimate because the archival site, sadly, is still not finished.) So we’ll go with the group less featured.

That means that Rare Earth’s “Born To Wander” – a record I like plenty enough – is today’s Saturday Single:

Cherished Words

January 22nd, 2016

There’s no music in this piece today. Instead, there’s a plastic tub that I brought up from the basement shelves yesterday.

The tub was labeled clearly: At the bottom were my long-saved copies of newspapers from the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 and similarly saved newspapers from the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in July 1969.

Those I left at the bottom of the tub, not certain what I’ll do with them. They’re in decent shape, having been handled rarely and always with care during the decades since I tucked them away in my closet on Kilian Boulevard. What I did pull out of the tub yesterday was a series of manila envelopes stuffed with original clippings and photocopies of pieces I wrote for various newspapers over the years, newspapers in Monticello, Eden Prairie and Osseo, Minnesota; Columbia, Missouri; and Cheney and Goddard, Kansas. (There are very few pieces from the newspapers based in those last two small towns; I lived in Kansas for only three months.)

These aren’t clippings that I tucked away. These are the pieces that my folks thought worthy of saving or sharing with their friends during my newspapering days. And they make the job of clearing things out of the house just a little bit harder. I’ve already set aside for ruthless sorting and eventual recycling a large box of entire papers and tearsheets from my Eden Prairie days, and a similar box of work from my Monticello days is on the shelves in the basement, waiting its turn on the table upstairs.

It’s hard to be ruthless, though, with the stuff my folks thought important. They subscribed to the Eden Prairie and Monticello papers during my years in those two cities, and I occasionally mailed them copies of the other papers where I worked when I thought something I wrote might interest them. And it matters a lot to me that they set some of my work aside over the years and kept it long enough that it eventually came to me when Mom moved out of the house on Kilian.

Having wondered many times when I was young – as I imagine most of us did as we grew up – whether I could ever do anything well enough to please my parents, I find it touching and gratifying twenty or more years after the fact to fully realize that they enjoyed and respected my reporting work enough to share it and to keep it.

I’m sure that during my newspapering years, we talked briefly about some of my pieces in conversations long lost to time. I do, however, remember one of those brief conversations with my dad.

In early 1995, I got to thinking about the approach of the year 2000, with its impressive array of zeros, and the year 2001, the first year of the twenty-first century. I knew that as those two years approached, we’d see many, many pieces in every medium thinkable about the meaning of those years. And I wanted to do it first. Maybe I was a bit early, but I wanted to do a piece about the approaching millennium shift before it became a cliché, which I was pretty sure it would (and I think I was right about that).

So I talked to a professor of history at a nearby community college and I talked to three ministers in Eden Prairie, with their theologies ranging from mainstream Protestantism to hard Fundamentalism, and I wove together a piece that looked at the coming calendar changes through those four lenses.

Toward the end of the piece, I offered some comments from the history professor that the last time there had been three consecutive nines on the Western calendar – in the year 999 – few people in Europe were educated enough to be aware of it. Among those who were, the professor said, there were many who thought that the world would end as we hit 1000. It didn’t of course, and I was left with the task in my piece of bridging the gap with some kind of transition from the year 1000 to the year 1995, to set up my closing bits.

I decided on a brief history, and this was the paragraph that my dad mentioned later. I wrote:

The 11th Century dawned. The thousand years since have brought the Crusades, Genghis Khan, Notre Dame cathedral, Joan of Arc, Leonardo and Michelangelo, the Spanish Inquisition, the destruction of America’s native cultures, Mozart and Beethoven, political and industrial revolutions, the U.S. Bill of Rights, Karl Marx, Harpo Marx, pasteurized milk, Susan B. Anthony, the assembly line, Emma Goldman, Gandhi, the Holocaust and Hiroshima, Mao Zedong and footprints on the moon.

Dad called me from St. Cloud after he read the piece and said he’d liked my brief history of the second millennium. (He also said he’d had to look up Emma Goldman.)

I won some writing awards over the years, getting plaques and certificates from various organizations and associations. I used to display all of them in a hallway, but somewhere along the line, I trimmed that down to one plaque on display and the rest in a box stuck in one of the closets. That box will come to light during our winnowing process, and I imagine I’ll keep all the awards.

But I honestly – and if this itself is a cliché, so be it – cherish Dad’s brief sentence of praise more than all of those awards.

A Bad January

January 19th, 2016

I am deeply bummed.

January, not even two-thirds over, has been a hard month for music fans. David Bowie, gone January 10. Dale Griffin, founding member and drummer for Mott The Hoople, gone January 17. And Glenn Frey of the Eagles, gone January 18.

Now, none of the three – Bowie, Mott The Hoople or the Eagles – were central to my musical life. But I know the music. All three of those acts are well represented on the vinyl shelves and in the digital files as well. All three of them – Bowie and the Eagles a little more prominently – were part of the background music of my college years.

And as the deaths of all three came into the news over the last week, and the tributes rolled past (especially on Facebook – the modern equivalent, as I’ve noted before, of other eras’ public square), it felt like three body blows, each of them more potent than I ever would have expected. And I wondered why.

I am not certain. I have some ideas, centering on the fact that when the folks who provided the music of our formative years leave us, part of the background of our lives is taken away, too. And we begin to feel like an actor on a stage would likely feel if the scenery, the props and the furniture began to disappear one item at a time: confused, unmoored and maybe a little bit alone.

All I know is that I listened last week to more David Bowie than I have in a long time. I’ll likely listen to some Mott the Hoople and its successor band, Mott, this week. And I’m certain that I’ll drop an Eagles CD into the player either in the car or on my nightstand late at night as well.

And here’s the track that came to mind yesterday afternoon when I got the news about Glenn Frey. I shared it here not that long ago, but that’s okay. It’s the song he contributed in 1991 to the soundtrack to Thelma & Louise, and its message applies to anyone – lovers, family, friends and yes, favored performers – that we lose: “Part Of Me, Part Of You.”

Saturday Single No. 480

January 16th, 2016

Some days, it’s just not there. Today is one of those. I’ll be fine tomorrow, but today, I got nothing. So . . .

There are about 200 tracks in the RealPlayer with “nothing” in their titles. (The search finds 269, but we have to account for five albums with “nothing” in their titles.) The earliest “nothing” track is Georgia White’s “Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Woman Cryin’ For Her Man” from 1938, and the most recent titles are a pair of tracks from Keith Richards’ 2015 album, Crosseyed Heart: “Nothing On Me” and “Something For Nothing.”

The shortest track with “nothing” is a line of dialogue from the Game Of Thrones television series: Ygritte’s classic “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” The shortest “nothing” piece of music is “Five Percent For Nothing,” thirty-eight seconds of beeps and sweeps from Yes’ 1972 album Fragile.The longest track that turned up is Chris Rea’s “Nothing To Fear,” a piece from his 1992 album, God’s Great Banana Skin, that runs 9:12.

Alphabetically, the “nothing” tracks run from “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number,” a 1971 effort by 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), to Brooks & Dunn’s “Your Love Don’t Take A Backseat To Nothing” from 1998.

When we go back to sorting the “nothing” songs by year, we find a treat right in the middle: Koko Taylor’s 1993 cover of Toussaint McCall’s 1967 hit “Nothing Takes The Place Of You.” It’s from Taylor’s album Force Of Nature, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.