No. 41, Forty-One Years Ago

October 15th, 2019

We’re playing Symmetry again today, looking back forty-one years to the autumn of 1978 and seeing what record was at No. 41 at October’s mid-point.

A quick glance at the top five in the Billboard Hot 100 released on October 14, 1978 – forty-one years ago yesterday – shows five records that are familiar but not loved:

“Kiss You All Over” by Exile
“Hot Child In The City” by Nick Gilder
“Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste Of Honey
“Don’t Look Back” by Boston
“Reminiscing” by the Little River Band

I know all of those – though I’m oddly a little fuzzy on the Boston record – but none of them matter much to me. That, I think, is a function of age and busyness. I was twenty-five and working long hours at a job I loved during my first autumn at the Monticello Times. I listened to the radio during some evenings at home and in the car as I drove to and from interviews. But it was background, not foreground. No one at work was saying anything like, “Hey, did you hear the new record by Boston?”

So, none of those five rate very high on any list I might make. All of them are on the digital shelves here, which means I don’t detest any of them. None of them were included in the 228-record Ultimate Jukebox I offered here long ago (and only five records from 1978 were included). Two of them – “Reminiscing” and, oddly, “Boogie Oogie Oogie” – are in the iPod.

So though I didn’t notice it at the time, by the autumn of 1978, music had become far less central to my life than it had been (and far less central than it would, happily, become again).

So let’s get to what was supposed to be our main business today: Checking out the record at No. 41 on that Hot 100 from mid-October 1978. And we fall into instrumental disco weirdness: Parked at No. 41 is “Themes From The Wizard Of Oz” by Meco.

The record was the third by Pennsylvania-born Domenico Monardo to hit the Hot 100: “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” had spent two weeks at No. 1 during October 1977, and “Theme From Close Encounters” had peaked at No. 25 in early 1978.

After “Themes From The Wizard Of Oz” peaked at No. 35, Meco would see “Empire Strikes Back (Medley)” go to No. 18 in 1980, and – amid a series of similar but less successful releases (including a couple records tabbed as novelties by Joel Whitburn) – “Pop Goes The Movies (Part One)” would go to No. 35 in 1982.

But hey, it’s fun, it’s got a good beat, it’s easy to dance to . . . and it was 1978.

Saturday Single No. 662

October 12th, 2019

All right, it’s time for some Games With Numbers. We’re going to take today’s date – 10-12-19 – and turn that into 41, and then we’re going to check out the records at No. 41 on few Billboard Hot 100s from this week over the years to find a tune to feature this morning. Since we’re fifty years out from 1969 – a year favored greatly here – we’ll head to October of that year and then move five years away in both directions for a couple of other years as targets: 1964 and 1974.

As we generally do when we play these games, we’ll check out the No. 1 and No. 2 records from those weeks along the way.

We’ll start in 1964. The record sitting at No. 41 in a chart released fifty-five years ago this week was “I Like It,” the fourth charting record for the Merseyside group of Gerry & The Pacemakers.

Two of the group’s singles had reached the Billboard Top Ten earlier in the year: “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” had gone to No. 4 during the first weeks of summer, and “How Do You Do It” had reached No. 9 during the first week of September. Oddly, the same week that “How Do You Do It” (b/w “You’ll Never Walk Alone”) entered the Hot 100, so did the group’s “I’m The One,” which had “How Do You Do It” as its B-side.

That seems strange, and I’ll need someone wiser than I in the ways of record companies to explain. In any case, “I’m The One” stiffed at No. 82, leaving “I Like It” as the follow-up to that odd set of releases. Actually a re-release of a 1963 single that did not chart, “I Like It” went to No. 17.

It’s an okay record, but then, the only thing I ever loved by Gerry & The Pacemakers was “Ferry Cross The Mersey,” which I heard a fair amount at home in early 1965 because my sister bought the record. So “I Like It” seems a little pale to me.

Sitting at No. 1 and No. 2 in the Hot 100 released October 10, 1964 were, respectively, “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison and “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” by Manfred Mann.

Five years later, the record at No. 41 was one that I’ve written about before: “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” by Joe South. In a meditation on how music reflects the desire to return to a better time and/or place, I wrote:

Joe South’s 1969 lament, “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” mourned the changes brought to his home place – and by extension, the entire south – by the so-called progress of that decade, which replaced orchards with offices and meadows with malls (and the orchards and meadows continue to disappear to this day, of course, not just in the south but all across the country).

The era during which Joe South sang – those volatile years from, say, 1965 to 1975 – was one of displacement for a lot of folks. Many of those who were displaced, of course, had not one bit of use for rock or soul or any of their relatives; they instead found their solace in gospel music or in the country stylings of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and their contemporaries. But the sense of longing wasn’t limited by genre. It’s not an accident that one of the better singles of the Beatles, the best group of the time – or any time, for that matter – told us all to get back to where we once belonged. We all wanted to go home.

Oddly enough, for a record of such subtle power during a time of confusing change, “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” did not make the Top 40. It peaked right where it sat fifty years ago yesterday, at No. 41.

Parked at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, during that week were “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies and “Jean” by Oliver.

Five years after that, at October 1974 hit the one-third point, the record at No. 41 was a profession of faith and a prayer for endurance that crossed over from the country chart and provided its singer with her only pop hit. Marilyn Sellars (who turns out to have been born in the college town of Northfield, Minnesota) put a couple of records into the Country Top 40 in the mid-1970s.

The one we’re concerned with today is “One Day At A Time,” which, forty-five years ago today, was a week past its pop peak at No. 37. Written by Marijohn Wilkin and Kris Kristofferson, “One Day At A Time” peaked on the country chart at No. 19. For the record, Sellars’ other country hit, a plaint of lost love titled “He’s Everywhere,” went to No. 39 in early 1975.

Sitting at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, during this week in 1974 were “I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John and “Nothing From Nothing” by Billy Preston.

So, given those three to consider, there’s not much question about which direction we’ll go this morning. Almost by default, Joe South’s “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘In Search Of . . .’

October 11th, 2019

During the autumn of 1972, having completed my Beatles LP set, I turned to explore other music, selecting four albums in a record-club buying binge: Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones, Retrospective by the Buffalo Springfield, a live album by Mountain and In Search Of The Lost Chord by the Moody Blues.

In the forty-some years since, the least-played album of those four is that last, the Moody Blues’ first foray into mysticism backed by the Mellotron (which gave them sounds orchestral and more with which to work). Released in 1968, it was also – to my ears – the worst of the group’s albums until the 1990s. I recall the first time I played it, lazing on the green couch in the basement rec room, hearing the spoken word track “Departure” as it led off Side One:

Be it sight, sound, the smell, the touch.
There’s something inside that we need so much
The sight of a touch, or the scent of a sound
Or the strength of an oak with roots deep in the ground.
The wonder of flowers, to be covered, and then
To burst up through tarmac to the sun again
Or to fly to the sun without burning a wing
To lie in the meadow and hear the grass sing
To have all these things in our memories’ hoard
And to use them
To help us
To find . . .

And then came laughter taking the place, I’ve assumed, of the words “the lost chord.” One of the lyric sites I use offered “God” as the laughter-covered word. Maybe. All I know is that as “Departure” played on my stereo for the first time, I was baffled and not at all entranced. The rest of the album – picking up right after “Departure” with “Ride My See-Saw” – was just okay. “Legend Of A Mind” with its “Timothy Leary’s dead . . .” was a bit silly, and the creaking doors in “House OF Four Doors” were overkill. I was not blown away as I had been a year or so earlier when I’d heard the group’s Question Of Balance across the street at Rick and Rob’s house.

There were some nice moments: “Ride My See-Saw” does rock, and “Voices In The Sky” and “The Actor” are lovely and elegant. And on my listening this week, the closer, “Om,” is not so odd as it seemed that autumn evening in 1972.

But my interest in exploring the rest of the Moody Blues’ catalog stopped when I heard In Search Of The Lost Chord. It engaged again a few months later at Christmastime, when Rick gave me the group’s most recent album, Seventh Sojourn, which was much more accessible to the nineteen-year-old me.

So I ducked back a year and listened with friends to bits and pieces of the 1971 album Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and eventually bought that album – along with Days Of Future Passed – in the late 1970s, just about the time the group came back from its hiatus with Octave, which I bought immediately.

So In Search Of The Lost Chord was a rocky start. How did it do on the charts? According to Joel Whitburn, the album went to No. 23 on the Billboard 200, and one single – “Ride My See-Saw” – went to No. 61 on the Hot 100. It’s my least favorite of the group’s early albums (those released before the group’s 1970s hiatus). I’ll give it at best a C-minus.

Here’s “Ride My See Saw” (led off by the last cackling laughter of “Departure”).

‘The Room Was Humming Harder . . .’

October 8th, 2019

Sometime recently – and I cannot provide anything more specific – a television show I was watching with the Texas Gal used for its background music Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale.” Hearing it reminded me of this piece; it ran here twelve years ago this week. It’s been condensed and revised a little bit.

It was the summer of 1967, and I was doing my normal eight-week stint in summer school, an enrichment program designed to provide kids a chance to learn things they wouldn’t be exposed to during the school year. So, just as I had for the nine months preceding, I spent another two months hauling myself every day to the bus stop a block north of our house and riding the two miles to South Junior High for mornings of enrichment.

On one of my rides home during that summer, someone had a radio on the bus tuned to one of the two Twin Cities’ Top 40 stations, almost certainly KDWB. This might have been a regular thing, music in the back of the bus, but I’m not sure. What I am certain of is that I listened with the other kids that day as the radio played the strangest-sounding song any of us had maybe ever heard.

It began with a ponderous and spooky organ solo, with drums and cymbals providing punctuation. And then a reedy voice entered: “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels ’cross the floor . . .” It was, of course, Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

We looked at each other, then back at the radio as the voice went on to tell a surreal tale in a setting that combined the ancient world with the medieval, although I doubt that any of us could place it that accurately back then; we just knew it wasn’t in our time, what with vestal virgins and the miller’s tale.

What did it mean? We had no idea, but it sure was strange . . . and cool. We liked it a lot, even I, who was still a couple of years away from digging very deeply into pop and the Top 40. Over the years, the meaning of the words – written by Keith Reid – has been assessed maybe way too many times. At its website, Procol Harum provides a link to a discussion of the lyrics, where listeners and fans – who seem to call themselves “Palers” – indulge themselves in deep and far-fetched theorizing.

The last word on the lyrics, it would seem, comes from the top of that page of theories, where one finds organist Matthew Fisher’s comment from an interview with the BBC:

“I don’t know what they mean. It’s never bothered me that I don’t know what they mean. This is what I find rather hard, that, especially in America, people are terribly hung up about lyrics and they’ve got to know what they mean, and they say, ‘I know, I’ve figured out what these lyrics mean.’ I don’t give a damn what they mean. You know, they sound great . . . that’s all they have to do.”

The song was so odd, so different from anything on radio at the time, that beyond its lyrics, it spawned another discussion: Where did the music come from? Was it a lift from a classical piece? If so, which one? (Something by Bach was always considered most likely.)

I recall reading a piece about the song that included a quotation from a fellow who at the time was a classical music critic for a London newspaper. He said that he and a colleague spent an entire morning whistling the melody from “A Whiter Shade of Pale” back and forth to each other before deciding that it probably wasn’t Bach but a theme that sounded very much like his work.

And that’s pretty much the case. At the Procol Harum website, there’s an excerpt from a radio interview with Fisher in which he notes that the song certainly refers to two Bach pieces but is nevertheless an original work. Those pieces are “Air for the G String” and the choral piece titled in English “Sleepers, Awake!” (For those so inclined, the Procol Harum website also provides a link to Bach expert Bernard S. Greenberg’s formal analysis of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and its links to the two Bach pieces.)

Of course, the other bus riders and I didn’t know all that as we listened for the first time to “A Whiter Shade of Pale” on that bus carrying us home from summer school. It was just a cool song. And it still is. It’s also a popular song for cover versions: The website Second Hand Songs lists more than 170 covers by folks ranging from Noel Harrison, Flash Cadillac and R.B. Greaves to Annie Lennox, Bonnie Tyler and the Canadian Brass. (There are also several versions with the lyrics in French, Finnish, German and Swedish that I know I’m going to check out.)

Here’s Greaves’ version. It was released as an Atco single in late 1970 and spent two weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 82. I like it.

Saturday Single No. 661

October 5th, 2019

We’re going to get back to the Moody Blues today, taking a listen to a record that stiffed the first time it was released as a single in the U.S., bubbling under the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 103, and then went to No. 2 after a re-release in 1972: “Nights In White Satin.” That success followed the relative success of three singles in the previous two-plus years: “Question” (No. 21), “The Story In Your Eyes” (No. 23), and “Isn’t Life Strange” (No. 29).

“Nights,” of course, was the closing song on the Moody’s 1967 album with the London Festival Orchestra, Days Of Future Passed. The song was followed by one of the poetic passages that studded the album, some of which worked and some of which did not. The closer was pretty effective.

And I guess it was “Nights In White Satin” that made me a Moody Blues fan back in the late summer and autumn of 1972. I’d liked the three singles mentioned above, and I’d liked the album Question Of Balance when I’d heard it across the street at Rick and Rob’s. I got a couple of their albums in the late months of 1972, with mixed results. But I didn’t hear the full Days Of Future Passed album for some time. (The LP database shows me picking the album up in December 1977, just after I moved from St. Cloud to Monticello.)

Days is perhaps where the Moody Blues become the Moody Blues as we think of them, with orchestral backing and the (sometimes silly) spoken word bits. They’d get a lot more mystical on their next albums, especially 1968’s In Search Of The Lost Chord, but the musical pattern was mostly set in 1967.

“Nights” is a great single (one that somehow managed to not get included in my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox), one that summons back my world as it existed in late 1972 and early 1973. That makes it difficult to assess with any objectivity, of course. I also liked “Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon),” which was released in 1968 (in a horribly truncated single that discogs tells me ran only 2:16) and went to No. 24.

So I was primed to like the Moody Blues when I began to dig into their albums in late 1972. What happened then will begin the major portion of our look at the Moody Blues in the next week, I hope. In the meantime, “Nights In White Satin” is today’s Saturday Single.

Gloves

October 4th, 2019

Walking through the garage as I returned from an errand this morning, I noticed a pair of battered leather gloves on one of the shelves. Gray and dark blue, they have small holes on a couple of fingers, and they fold neatly along creases left by about ten years of yard work.

They’re the gloves I bought not long after we moved into the house on the East Side in September 2008, gloves that I wore for outdoor chores there: raking, clearing snow from the sidewalk, putting in and taking down garden fences, cleaning the gutters, and changing two storm windows for screens during ten springs and reversing the process during ten autumns.

The gloves came along with us when we moved from the house to the condo a little more than a year-and-a-half ago, but I’ve had little need to use them. They went over my everyday gloves a few times in our first few months here when I cleared snow from the front steps, and did so again in the early portions of last winter for the same reason.

After my back surgery in January, the Texas Gal took over the shoveling duties for the rest of the winter, and my blue and gray gloves sat unused on the shelf. When I saw them this morning, the part of my brain that occasionally mixes up time thought, “Oh, yes, I need to change out the windows.”

And then I realized that we’re no longer at the East Side house. We have all-season windows here, and I no longer need to switch one kitchen window and one dining room window as I did for our decade-plus there. (We had central air in the house, but on temperate days, we liked to be able to open the windows for the comfort of natural breezes.)

It’s just as well that I don’t have to mess with any of the windows, as all of them save one – the one nearest my desk in the lower level of the condo – are on the second floor and would require riskier ladder work than the half-story extension required on the East Side. But there was an odd sense that came along with the realization, a recognition that I kind of miss doing the outside work required at the house, a recognition combined with relief that – being eleven years older now than I was when we moved into the house – I no longer have to mess with most of that stuff.

They’re just gloves, tattered and probably due for disposal. But sometimes things are more than just things. Sometimes they are also reminders of the work they’ve done as well as the times during which that work was accomplished. So it is with the blue and gray gloves on the shelf in the garage. When the snow falls in the coming months, I may buy a new pair, but I doubt I’ll truly be able to replace them.

Here’s a song with an apt title: “Workin’,” by Junior Parker and Jimmy McGriff. It’s from their 1971 album Good Things Don’t Happen Every Day.

Finding Granny’s Intentions

October 2nd, 2019

I’m trying this week to finish up three projects: Scanning old photos and burning them to disc for my sister and our cousins, writing a song for our church, and catching up on stats for my tabletop baseball league.

That sadly leaves this space in fourth place this week.

And the weather’s not helping: The second week of autumn is cloudy and damp. The leaves are still generally green, though those on our flowering crab and linden have begun turning yellow. But it’s gray outside.

But back to fourth place: A search for “fourth” on the digital shelves brought up a a track titled “Fourthskin Blues” by a group with the intriguing name of Granny’s Intentions. The band came out of Limerick, Ireland, in the mid-1960s and in a few years was making a good living in the club scene in Dublin.

The band’s only album, according to discogs, was Honest Injun, released on Deram in 1970. “Fourthskin Blues” was one of that album’s tracks.

Saturday Single No. 660

September 28th, 2019

Rummaging about in the archives this morning, I came across this piece from December 2007. It’s a meditation on words that I thought I’d resurrect – edited slightly – this Saturday morning:

I remember reading a piece – likely in the newspaper – about a linguistics professor who had taken it upon himself to determine the most beautiful word in the English language. I don’t recall when I read that, nor do I remember which university was involved, but I do recall that the professor concluded that the most beautiful word in the language was “cellar door.

First of all, that’s two words. (It could be that the professor was considering sets of words.) Second, although the two words together do have a nice sound, words are more than sounds. Maybe as a linguist, one can separate the sound of the word from the meaning of the word, but as a writer, I can’t. And “cellar door” isn’t going to make the cut.

So what are the most beautiful words in the language? After all, if I’m going to quibble about someone else’s judgment, I’d better have some idea of my own, right? Well, I don’t have a Top Ten list, but I do have a couple of words. I think “home” and “tomorrow” top the ranks of English words.

Home, as poet Robert Frost noted, is our last refuge: the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in. We all need such a place. In fact, I don’t think it’s at all far-fetched to say that, whatever else we do with our lives, our main business here is seeking and creating a better refuge, a better place, a better home. In terms of pure sound, it’s a rather plain word, but its meaning makes “home” the sound of belonging somewhere. When we don’t have that, we ache, and when we find it, we are healed. How much better can one word be?

“Tomorrow” comes close. For someone as attuned to the past and as intrigued by memoir and memory as I am, it’s odd in a way that I didn’t select “yesterday” as one of my top two words. But as much as any of us might ponder yesterday and its lessons, we know all about it. And “tomorrow” brings the promise that things can change, that we can use yesterday’s lessons to make things better as they come to us.

Thinking about tomorrow is an act of optimism, it seems, maybe even an act of courage, even if all one is doing is putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

To accompany that, I sorted the 70,000-some tracks in the RealPlayer and looked for those with “tomorrow” in their titles. And a tune from my old favorites Brewer & Shipley caught my ear. “Too Soon Tomorrow” is more plaintive than hopeful, perhaps, but I think it still fits here today. It’s from the duo’s 1969 album, Weeds, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Adventure Fridays’

September 27th, 2019

Since the Texas Gal retired at the end of August, we’ve decided to designate the fifth day of the former work week “Adventure Friday.” Our first adventure took us pretty much straight east from St. Cloud to St. Croix Falls, the little town just on the other side of the Wisconsin line. We had lunch, checked some historic sites, found a painted rock left by a member of the Facebook group called “Painted Rocks – Minnesota” (see their page here), and wandered north in Wisconsin to the little town of Grantsburg before heading for home.

Something last week kept us from adventuring – I don’t recall what it was – and it looks as if our adventure for today may be postponed: We had planned to head northwest a little ways to the small town of Freeport and the Hemker Zoo. We’ve seen television commercials for the zoo recently, and if the weather was nice, we thought, we could check it out and maybe even feed the otters. (We both are fond of the sleek and furry aquatic mammals.)

But it’s damp outside with puddles of water along the alley, and the forecast calls for light rain into the afternoon, long past otter-feeding time. So if we want to have an adventure today, it will need to be something we can do indoors. We’ll talk about that in a bit. But in the meantime, here’s a (perhaps predictable) tune for our zoo adventure that we’ll have to postpone. It’s Simon & Garfunkel’s “At The Zoo.” It’s from their 1968 album Bookends.

‘Work It Out”

September 25th, 2019

The Texas Gal and I are now card-carrying senior citizens.

The other day, we joined the Whitney Senior Center about six blocks away from our place, got our cards and learned a bit about the center’s extensive programming. Some of it we’ve already begun using, some will wait until we figure out exactly what it is we want to do over there.

What drew us (besides the fact that we are, of course, on the far side of sixty)?

The exercise room, actually. For the past eight weeks or so, I’ve been heading to the medical building where our doctor has her practice, working with a couple of physical therapists to improve the functions of my back muscles, the ones disrupted in January by my spinal fusion. And as I’ve worked on that, my therapists have been adding to my routine various simple bits of a workout.

It’s been good for me, I can tell. Not only is my back feeling better, but I’ve found that I enjoy the activity (and that coming from someone who has rarely sought physical activity), and I feel better. So the Texas Gal and I began to wonder how to continue the workouts at what we hoped would be a lower cost. We knew the Whitney Recreation Center adjacent to the senior center had a workout room as well as a walking track (which intrigued the Texas Gal), so we checked that out and pondered its cost, which was something like $150 yearly for me to access the workout room and for her to access the track.

And then, as we signed up to join the senior center, the volunteer at the counter noted that the senior center had its own exercise room and that some Medicare supplementals would cover the entire cost. And it turns out that my supplemental is one of those. So we filled out applications, paid the Texas Gal’s fee, and yesterday, one of my physical therapists met me there to check out the senior center’s exercise room and put me through a workout.

(The Texas Gal walked on a treadmill and kept an eye on what I was doing, hoping to use some of my routines in her own workouts.)

This isn’t our first attempt as getting in better shape. Some years ago, we tried to become more active, joining in turn two commercial gyms. The first had limited facilities for changing clothes, and the second, well, I just never felt comfortable there, being a portly older man among younger and sleeker folks. Neither of those should be a problem now.

Here’s an aptly titled tune from sax player Jim Horn. “Work It Out” is the title track to an album he released in 1990.