Taking Some Time

September 18th, 2014

As autumn approaches – the equinox is next Monday, September 22 (at 8:29 p.m. Central Time, if I’ve done my calculations correctly) – we’re going to take a few days off here. We’ll visit some friends, play with the cats, drive a little and relax.

There’ll be no Saturday Single this week for one of the few times since this blog started in 2007, but I will be back Tuesday. In other words, I’ll see you next autumn.

But I’ll leave you with this, the title track from Jonas Fjeld’s 1983 album Living For The Weekend. See you Tuesday!

One Chart Dig: September 16, 1967

September 16th, 2014

Renowned drummer Bernard Purdie has been mentioned two times in this space over the years, and I know without needing any references that such a low number is all out of proportion to the number of times that we’ve featured or talked about recordings on which Purdie has played. (Nevertheless, a look at his credits as a sideman as gathered at Wikipedia is instructive.) But Purdie popped up this morning in a place that was unexpected: In the Billboard Hot 100 from September 16, 1967, when “Funky Donkey” by Pretty Purdie was bubbling under at No. 130.

The single – Purdie’s only appearance under his name in the Hot 100 – went to No. 87.

Even as I headed to YouTube to check out the record, I didn’t connect “Pretty Purdie” with the famed drummer, and when it became obvious that they were one and the same, well, I felt a little dumb. But then, as his mentions here indicate, I’ve never paid much attention to Purdie, and I would guess that something that’s going to change.

I might start with the rest of the tracks on the album Soul Drums. Jason Ankeny at AllMusic says Soul Drums is “[n]ot so much an album as it is a master class in the art of funk percussion,” and he adds that the record is “an unstoppable rhythm machine made all the more memorable by its fiercely idiosyncratic production.”

It turns out that Soul Drums is easily available at the usual outlets, with several bonus tracks added to the original 1968 release. So that’s another one to put on my ever-lengthening list.

Saturday Single No. 411

September 13th, 2014

I generally keep up with pop culture moderately well. With a few current events magazines coming in the house and the wealth (overkill) of pop culture news in the Internet, I’m usually aware of – if not actually deeply absorbed in – the fads and phenomena of the moment.

But one of late summer’s big deals passed me by without waving at me. Maybe it’s because I got involved in reading several books this summer and I fell far behind in reading both Rolling Stone and Time, but I don’t think that’s the case. For whatever (unimportant) reason, I completely missed until the past few days “All About That Bass” by Meaghan Trainor, a record that went this week to No. 1 in the Billboard Hot 100 and has been No. 1 on charts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Denmark as well.

It’s a witty song about positive body image: “You know how the bass guitar in a song is like its ‘thickness,’ the ‘bottom’? I kind of related a body to that,” Trainor told Billboard this week. The song – written by Trainor with producer Kevin Kadish – is pretty well-crafted, with clear girl-group and Brill building references. And the video is witty (and a slight bit naughty).

But I would have missed it if not for one of my new favorite things on YouTube. Every week, I make sure to check out what Scott Bradlee and the Postmodern Jukebox have posted. For a few years, Bradlee has been taking current pop songs and remaking them in vintage style. Along the way, he’s added to his keyboard word the work of other musicians, some of them regulars and some of them guests. Albums and tours have followed. (His YouTube page is here.)

And this week, I was introduced to Trainor’s song by Bradlee and the vocal and upright bass work of Kate Davis, which is why Postmodern Jukebox’s version of “All About That Bass” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘New Jersey’

September 12th, 2014

About England Dan & John Ford Coley . . .

The last time we saw the soft rock duo in these parts was a little more than a year ago with a brief mention in a rundown of records of the summer of 1976; there have been a couple of other mentions, too, since their “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” helped close our Ultimate Jukebox series almost four years ago. (As well as being a good record, “I’d Really Love . . .” was the biggest hit the pair had, reaching No. 2 in the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.)

The duo popped up again this week with what turned out to be a mystery. It started with a survey from forty-three years ago released by the Twin Cities station KDWB. Most of the records on the survey, dated September 13, 1971, are familiar; if I didn’t hear them on KDWB (and I might not have; the Twin Cities station was falling out of my listening rotation at the time), I heard them on WJON across the railroad tracks or else late at night on Chicago’s WLS.

But at No. 28 in that long-ago survey, wedged between the Stampeders’ “Sweet City Woman” and the Glass Bottle’s “Ain’t Got Time Anymore,” was a record I didn’t know: “New Jersey” by England Dan & John Ford Coley. It startled me to see their names listed during the summer of 1971, five years before they began their four-year run that put nine records into the Hot 100, four of them in the Top Ten. The first thing I did was check Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, which told me that “New Jersey” had bubbled under the Hot 100 for four weeks, peaking at No. 103. (It peaked at No. 22 on KDWB.)

Intrigued, I started to poke around a couple of discography sites. The listings at Discogs told me that “New Jersey” was released as a promo on A&M in 1971, but the catalog number was not the same as the A&M single listed by Whitburn, and the 45 pictured there had a small center hole with the doohickey that could be punched out to make a larger hole, as European 45s do. So that wasn’t the U.S. 45, which isn’t listed at Discogs for some reason. Discogs did tell me that the 1971 self-titled album by ED & JFC had been released in the U.K. on A&M and in Canada on the Pickwick label. Again, there was no listing for a U.S. release. We know via Whitburn (and the KDWB survey) that the single existed, but I began to wonder if A&M here in the States released a single first, wanting to know if listeners were interested in the group before releasing the album, and then did not release the album when the single tanked.

(I also learned at Discogs that ED & JFC had a second album, Fables, released on A&M in 1972 in both the U.S. and the U.K. and that a single from that album, “Simone,” had been a No. 1 hit in Japan and had also done well in France. It turns out that “Simone” is a decent record, but it was evidently never released as a single here in the U.S. [Actually, Discogs’ information is incomplete, which is not surprising: “Simone” was released twice as a single in the U.S., according to our pal Yah Shure – see his note below – but it failed to chart either time.] )

Still unsure if the duo’s first album, the self-titled 1971 effort, had been released here in the U.S., I headed to another of my favorite discography joints, Both Sides Now. The listings there in the A&M section showed England Dan & John Ford Coley with the catalog number of SP 4305, tucked between the Strawbs’ From The Witchwood and a live album by Free. There was, however, an asterisk next to the catalog number, and that lead to a comment that noted that the folks at BSN had never verified the running order of the tracks, so the track titles were listed alphabetically.

That tells me that they’ve never seen the record (or gotten a note from someone who had the correct track order and cared enough to send it in). And I began to wonder if perhaps A&M had assigned the catalog number and had perhaps sent out some promo copies but never officially released the LP. So I began to look for used copies for sale, and at Ebay, it took me five minutes to find two promo copies of SP 4305. But that’s all I found, so I still don’t know if there was a regular U.S. release of the album. I doubt I’ll buy either of the promo LPs. But I may scavenge around to see if I can get hold of the single “New Jersey.” Despite an opening seemingly lifted – with some minor modifications to tempo and rhythm – from Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends,” the ED & JFC single is, to my ears, pretty good. I think I would have liked it if I’d heard it. Maybe I should have listened to KDWB more often back then.

The Hill City Kid

September 10th, 2014

I’m not sure why it started, and – like many things in life – it’s way too late to ask now, but when I was about six or seven, my father for some reason started calling me the “Hill City Kid.”

Hill City is a little burg about 130 miles northeast of St. Cloud, on the south edge of the pine forests that blanket that corner of the state. There are a few lakes around, including Hill Lake right in town, and a skiing resort just southeast of town. About 630 folks live in Hill City these days. And when I was six or seven, there were a lot fewer than that. Tammy at Hill City’s City Hall couldn’t find the 1960 population this morning, but she did tell me that there were 357 people in Hill City in 1970. In 1960, she guessed, the town was likely a little smaller.

And Dad said that’s where I came from, that he and Mom got me from Hill City. I knew that wasn’t the case, or at least I was pretty sure, if not positive, that he was joking. So I didn’t mind Dad goofing around and calling me the Hill City Kid, which he did for a few years. Except for one thing.

When he talked about my Hill City origins, he often added that the day would come when we’d go to Hill City and he and Mom would leave me where I belonged. Again, I was pretty sure he was joking, but I was young, and I wasn’t entirely sure.

And on a summer day when I was maybe eight, we were coming home from a weekend trip to the Iron Range, in Minnesota’s northeastern corner. Our route to St. Cloud brought us along Highway 169, through Grand Rapids, where the pine forests begin to thin, and on to Hill City, where we stopped for lunch.

I did not enjoy my lunch. I don’t recall much about it except that I wondered all through the meal if Mom and Dad were really going to leave me there in Hill City. By the end of the meal, Dad had said nothing, so I figured things were okay. As Dad paid for our meals, I went to the rest room.

And when I came out and walked out the front door of the restaurant, our 1952 Ford was not there. It had been parked right in front, right where I was standing. And it was gone.

They’d left me in Hill City. And I started to cry.

And of course, in about five seconds, Dad brought the ’52 Ford around the corner from where he’d been waiting, and I scrambled into the back seat and dried my eyes as we headed down Highway 169 toward St. Cloud.

Maybe Dad expected me to laugh it off. If I’d been five years older, I might have been able to do so. But I was maybe eight and not very secure anyway. And for a few moments, I was terrified.

As far as I remember, Dad never called me the Hill City Kid again.

Here’s a self-explanatory tune: “Lonesome And A Long Way From Home.” It’s from Eric Clapton’s 1970 solo album.

‘I Hold My Tongue . . .’

September 9th, 2014

Trying to make sense of a couple of days that defy sense-making, I was wandering through the mp3 shelves looking at tracks with the “sad” in their titles. And I came across “Sad Eyes” by Bruce Springsteen, a track recorded in Los Angeles in 1990 and released in 1998 on the four-CD box set Tracks. And I looked a little closer and found two covers of the Springsteen tune sitting on the shelves. One is by Elliot Murphy & Iain Matthews from their 2000 album La Terre Commune, and we may get to that one someday.

The other cover is from Trisha Yearwood, who included the Springsteen tune on her 2000 album Real Live Woman. I don’t know that Yearwood’s version of the song can erase the days’ concerns (which will pass, I’m sure), but her take on “Sad Eyes” makes the day a little brighter.

Saturday Single No. 410

September 6th, 2014

I had a very pleasant birthday yesterday, marking sixty-one years on the planet with a couple of nice meals, lots of greetings on Facebook and a quiet evening at home. I lunched with my mom at Jimmy’s Pour House in Sauk Rapids, and after running a few errands with her, I headed home, and as I did, I recalled a long-ago birthday lunch.

During the years I was growing up, turning twenty-one was a big deal. It meant – as it does again now – that one can legally buy beer and liquor. As I approached twenty-one in September of 1974, that had changed. In the late spring of 1973, the legal drinking age in Minnesota changed to eighteen, leaving thousands of suddenly legal young folks who had anticipated their first drinks on their twenty-first birthdays vaguely dissatisfied (although they were allowed to legally mitigate their dissatisfactions with beer or margaritas or whatever). I was one of those vaguely dissatisfied folks, and my first legal drink – which I likely have mentioned before in this space – was a brandy and water recommended by my father one evening when we went for dinner. It’s a drink I shall never have again.

Thus, by the time my twenty-first birthday came along in 1974, I’d been drinking legally for something like fifteen months (with about half of that time spent happily quaffing European beers, mostly Danish, in their places of origin). But on that September 5 in 1974 – it was a Thursday – some of the folks at The Table in St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center decided that I needed to mark my twenty-first birthday with a celebration. So we squeezed into a couple of cars and headed to Little John’s Pub in the mall at the west end of town.

After some sandwiches and a couple of pitchers of Grain Belt Premium (a good, if basic, lager brewed in Minneapolis at the time), we wobbled back to campus and whatever else a Thursday afternoon would bring. It was a far more raucous lunch than my mom and I had yesterday at Jimmy’s, and far more raucous, too, than the dinner the Texas Gal and I had yesterday evening at the Ace Bar & Grill. But all three events were celebrating in their ways the same thing: the successful passage through another year on this blue planet and our wishes for similar success as the next stage of the voyage continues.

And it seems to me that the first full day of that next stage needs a September song. After considering Carole King’s “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” Frank Sinatra’s “The September Of My Years” and a few others, I’ve decided to go instrumental and minimal this morning. Here’s Chet Baker’s 1959 take on the classic and somewhat melancholy “September Song.” Even though I am not at all melancholy this morning, it’s nevertheless today’s Saturday Single.

Filling Gaps

September 4th, 2014

I keep kicking around in 1974 these days. The most interesting book currently on my reading shelf is Elizabeth Drew’s Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall. The bulk of the book comes from Drew’s reporting for the New Yorker magazine from September 1973 through August 9, 1974, the day President Nixon resigned and left Washington.

The first time I saw the book on the shelves of the local library, I was hesitant. “I lived through that,” I thought, adding to that thought the memory of reading maybe a half-dozen of the other books that arose from the vast swath of illegalities and misdeeds that were eventually clustered under the label of “Watergate.” “Is there more I should know?”

Actually, there is. I told myself that I’d lived through it, and that’s true, but I was out of the country from September 1973 into May 1974, and I didn’t experience Watergate the way folks did here at home. The big pieces came to me in Denmark, including the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, the Saturday Night Massacre and the gaps in the White House tapes, and those big things surprised me and worried me, but there were gaps as well in what I learned, as the flow of news in those days was delayed and diminished by my being overseas in a way that it would not be today. So I’m filling those gaps as I read, and I get the real sense from Drew’s account of how unsettling it was when each new week – at times, each new day – brought new and often multiple revelations and accusations; numerous times, Drew writes that she pretty much thought things were as bad as they could get, and the next day (or week) things got worse.

My reading has so far brought me into the spring of 1974, and soon, I’ll move into reports about things that happened after I got back to the U.S., and it will be interesting to see if my perception of those things is different in any way.

As is often the case, it’s hard to find a way from the reading table to the mp3 shelves. So we’ll just take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1974 – with St. Cloud State’s fall quarter either imminent or already begun – and see what treasure we might find in its lower levels. And we come across “America” by David Essex sitting at No. 109. Sonically, it’s nearly a twin to Essex’ “Rock On,” which went to No. 5 in early 1974, but I have no idea what the lyrics mean or if they mean anything at all. (And that’s appropriate, as that’s kind of how things felt in 1974.) “America” never hit the Hot 100, bubbling under at No. 101.

‘The First Day Of School . . .’

September 2nd, 2014

All across Minnesota this morning, the new school year began and kids headed off to school. The Texas Gal and I saw a few of them making their ways down Wilson Avenue – likely to nearby Lincoln Elementary – as I drove her to work. It brought back memories, of course, of the young whiteray heading up Fifth Avenue, wondering who would be his teacher and who would be his classmates.

I especially recall the first day of fifth grade. Three years earlier, my sister had been in Roger Lydeen’s class for fifth grade, and her respect and affection for Mr. Lydeen had been obvious that year, when I was in second grade. And as I headed to school, I was hoping that I would be placed in Mr. Lydeen’s class.

To my disappointment, I was not. I found myself in Mr. Johnson’s classroom down the other hall. Crestfallen, I examined my classmates, and was a bit baffled. A year earlier, there had been about thirty fifth-graders and thirty fourth-graders at Lincoln, and in an early attempt at tending to gifted students, the ten or so brightest fifth graders and the ten or so brightest fourth-graders – including me – had been placed in a combined classroom. And as I looked around at the kids in Mr. Johnson’s class, I saw that none of the other kids I’d been with a year earlier were present.

Had I been culled out of the smart kids for some reason? Maybe I’d been demoted because I’d had chronic difficulty getting my homework done. Maybe a smarter kid had moved into the neighborhood. Maybe I’d gotten dumber without noticing. Something had obviously gone wrong for me, but I had no idea what. As Mr. Johnson arranged an attendance book and a few other things on his desk, and as my classmates chattered around me, I tried very hard not to cry.

And then there was a knock on the door, and the school secretary came in and handed a note to Mr. Johnson. He opened it and read it, then thanked her as she left the room. Then he turned to me and said, “You’re supposed to be in Mr. Lydeen’s class.”

I needed no urging. I grabbed my notebooks and headed out the door and down the hall, still baffled but utterly relieved to be going where I belonged.

Here’s Joe Grushecky’s “The First Day Of School,” inspired by both his student days and his time as a special education teacher. It’s from his 2013 album Somewhere East Of Eden.

Saturday Single No. 409

August 30th, 2014

The days of vacation wind down here, and we’ve done nothing more exciting since Sunday than go out for groceries. We had our End of Summer Picnic Sunday, with about twenty folks showing up, among them jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and his Mrs., who made the trek from Madison, Wisconsin (bringing with them a fine selection of Wisconsin cheese and beer), and our mutual pal (and regular reader at both our blogs) from St. Paul, Yah Shure, who, with his fudgy bonbons, has become over the years our picnic’s dessert source.

Since then, however, we’ve done very little. The Texas Gal has closed down the gardens for the most part and did spend a morning cutting and freezing green beans. I did spend some time carting into the basement the surplus beverages from Sunday (and I need to move the two card tables from the garage to the basement today, a task that’s been delayed by rain the past two days).

We talked about spending a day at the Minnesota State Fair, but that was only talk. We would have gone Thursday, but when we woke that day, the air was damp and the sky was grey, and it drizzled on and off all day. “Just as well,” we thought.

And we’ll spend the last few days of the Texas Gal’s vacation getting a few things done: There are hot peppers to seed and dry along the way to making our own chili powder. She has to visit a friend whose husband is in the hospital. I have a meeting at church tomorrow morning. But those things will still leave time for us to sit back and read or watch some television or just ponder how rapidly time moves and leaves us on the verge of September when it seems like it was May only yesterday.

So it’s been a leisurely week here. And I found in the mp3 files a 1971 track by an obscure group called Dallas County that echoes that. Despite the group’s country-ish name, its sound is more Chicago than anything else. I don’t know much about the group. Its members names, as listed at discogs.com, are unfamiliar, but I do know that the group’s one self-titled album was recorded in Memphis and produced by Don Nix, a Memphis musician (and one-time member of the Mar-Keys) whose name has shown up in this space numerous times. Here is Dallas County’s “Small Vacation,” today’s Saturday Single.