What’s At No. 100? (1-15-1972)

January 15th, 2019

Here’s the Billboard Hot 100 for January 15, 1972, forty-seven years ago today:

“American Pie (Parts 1 & 2)” by Don McLean
“Brand New Key” by Melanie
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
“Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards
“Family Affair” by Sly & The Family Stone
“Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey & The Detroit Guitar Band
“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” by the New Seekers
“Got To Be There” by Michael Jackson
“Hey Girl/I Knew You When” by Donny Osmond
“Clean Up Woman” by Betty Wright

So what did I think about those eleven records back then, when I was just into my second quarter of college? Well, I liked “American Pie,” but generally heard the album track, not the bifurcated version on 45, which – if I remember things rightly – didn’t cover the entire track anyway. (I think our pal Yah Shure once detailed for us the history of the single vs. the album track, but I’m too lazy this early afternoon to go find that comment.)

I also liked “Let’s Stay Together,” even before hearing it during a sweet afternoon with a young lady a few weeks after this chart came out. And I kind of liked the Melanie single – with its winking naughtiness – and the Jonathan Edwards record. I was okay with the New Seekers record, too, although these days, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” is Don Draper.

I don’t recall ever hearing either of the Donny Osmond sides. If so, I would have cringed. Nor am I sure if – in 1972 – I’d ever heard Freddie Scott’s original version of “Hey Girl” or Billy Joe Royal’s version of “I Knew You When,” which charted in 1963 and 1965, respectively. (Royal’s record was a cover of Wade Flemons’ 1964 original.)

As to the other records in that Top Ten, I didn’t care about them then. I’ve changed my mind on a couple: “Family Affair” and “Clean Up Woman” are in my iPod along with the records by Don McLean, Al Green, Jonathan Edwards and the New Seekers. I know that “Scorpio” scratches an itch for some of my friends, but it doesn’t do anything for me. And the Melanie single no longer appeals (although thinking about it as I write, I can hear it clearly in my head).

With that done, let’s dive to the bottom of that 1972 Hot 100, and there we find the last charting single for Freda Payne, best remembered for “Band Of Gold” (No. 3 in 1970) and for “Bring The Boys Home” (No. 12 in 1971). “The Road We Didn’t Take” is a decent soul ballad, produced by the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland for their Invictus label. But it pretty much went nowhere, spending two weeks at No. 100 and then disappearing.

Saturday Single No. 624

January 12th, 2019

I am home after one night in the hospital. Sore and tired, yes, but home.

And for the first time in almost two years, my hamstrings do not ache. The doctor said that the surgery went perfectly – his actual word – and the nurses who took care of me from Thursday afternoon into Friday afternoon said they’d never seen someone recover from a fusion so rapidly, in the minimal terms of getting out of bed, walking to the bathroom and taking a walk though the hallways.

But now comes the hard part: Letting the Texas Gal take care of me and the house while I recuperate. I am not a good patient. But I will do my best.

And it’s a Saturday morning. I’ve had my bacon sandwich. I doubt we’ll have a fish fry here tonight, but to cover our bases, here’s Louis Jordan & His Tympani Five with “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” It’s from 1949, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Under The Knife

January 9th, 2019

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook or my email correspondents already know what I’m going to say this morning, but I imagine – I hope, anyway – that the reach of this blog is greater than that.

I’m having surgery tomorrow morning at the St. Cloud Hospital to repair my back.

The surgeon, Dr. McIver, will do several things in my lower back: remove a bulging disc and replace it with a titanium one, realign with some small rods the vertebrae below the bulging disc, and clear out some more room in the spinal canal so the nerves there can function properly. Dr. McIver said Monday that the work he does will relieve pretty much immediately the hamstring pain I’ve been dealing with for nearly two years.

And yes, his name sounds like the television character, and he said he’s heard every MacGyver joke there is. The most frequent, he said, is when patients ask what he can do with duct tape, and he tells them “I can put it over your mouth!”

He said he expects me to be able to go home either Friday or Saturday, but I will be very restricted in what I can do. When I go out, I will have to wear a bulky brace – I got it Monday – but if I am careful at home, I can go without it there. I have to avoid things that cause twisting core motions – snow shoveling and vacuuming were two he mentioned – for some time, and for twelve weeks, I cannot pick up anything heavier than fifteen pounds.

That weight limit is going to make things hard on Little Gus, the youngest (and heaviest) or our three cats. Cubbie Cooper, our middle cat, is very good at jumping on laps. Oscar Charleston is a lap cat on occasion, but he’s happier getting his affection while lying on the floor. (The doctor said that if I am careful, playing with the cat on the floor is approved.) But when Gus wants laptime from me, he paws at my leg, and when I reach for him, he collapses into a twenty-two pound dead weight, way beyond my approved weight limit. He will be unhappy as I recuperate.

There is a possibility that I may have to spend some time in an after-care facility for healing and physical therapy, but Dr. McIver said that’s unlikely. He said that for this surgery, that’s generally for folks who are reliant on walkers and who are older than I am. That’s good news.

Whenever I come home, the Texas Gal will take the next week off from work. She may have to go in to deal with some administrative tasks unique to her position, but if so, she will make certain I am settled in one spot or else bring a friend in to keep me company.

While I am apprehensive, I will be relieved to have the procedure. The pain in my hamstrings has gotten to the point where even simple tasks have become very difficult to accomplish.

Things can happen, of course. While I am nearly certain that I will be back to post here sometime soon – perhaps next week – there is that small bit of uncertainty that goes with any surgical procedure. So, if things go wrong and this is my last post here, thanks for stopping by for these last eleven years. Thanks for reading my tales and listening to the music that moves me. Thanks for the corrections, clarifications and contrary opinions. Thanks for everything. I’ll see you on the other side.

Saturday Single No. 623

January 5th, 2019

We continue our increasingly frequent wandering through the EITW archives in search of posts that might have some interest. Today’s it a meandering look at the song I first heard from the Beatles about a city where you can hang around Twelfth Street and Vine. The piece first ran here in October 2008. I’ve made some minor changes.

For a time around 1969-70, the evening deejay at WJON, the radio station just down the street and across the railroad tracks from our house, was a fellow who used the name Ron P. Michaels (his initials were then RPM, you see). And one evening during the summer of 1970, he put on a special show.

From seven o’clock to (I think) midnight one weekday evening, Michaels played nothing but the Beatles. From the hits like “Hey Jude,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to tracks from deep in the group’s catalog, WJON was all-Beatles for one five-hour stretch that summer night.

I was a fledgling Beatles fan, just beginning to learn about the Fab Four’s music. I had – and knew well – the Let It Be and Abbey Road albums. I owned – with my sister – Beatles ’65, one of the albums of bits and pieces that Capitol had created in the early days of the group’s American success. Later that summer, I would buy Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Hey Jude, a package of hits and B-sides (also known as The Beatles Again).

There was still plenty I did not know about the Beatles’ music. I was determined to learn, however. So I stationed myself in my bedroom with my Panasonic cassette recorder and carefully stopped and started the tape to edit out commercial breaks. My recording technique was brutal: The radio was on the bed, with the microphone set down nearby, but the sound quality was good enough. I ended up with three-and-a-half hours of music, which was nothing near the group’s entire output on Capitol/Apple (During their active recording years, from Please Please Me through Let It Be, I estimated ten years ago that the Beatles released about eleven hours of music), but it was certainly a place to start learning about the deeper places in the group’s catalog.

I recall that some of the songs I heard for the first time that evening weren’t, to be honest, high points in the Beatles’ career: “Devil In Her Heart,” “Yes It Is,” “Act Naturally” and “Blue Jay Way” come to mind. On the other hand, that was the evening I was introduced to “In My Life,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” the last of which remains one of my favorite recordings by anyone, ever.

Another song that I heard for the first time that evening was titled at the time “Kansas City.” It started, “I’m goin’ to Kansas City, bringing my baby back home.”

Released on Beatles For Sale in 1964, the song was the Beatles’ cover of Little Richard’s version of the tune written in the early 1950s by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Little Richard’s indelible contribution to the song – beyond his lethal performance of “Kansas City” itself – was the “Hey, hey, hey hey” coda, which was his own creation. From what I’ve read, the Beatles were unaware of Little Richard’s addition; they called the song simply “Kansas City” and listed only Leiber and Stoller as the writers. (Eventually, the title of the Beatles’ recording was changed; it’s now called a medley of “Kansas City” and “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey” with Little Richard given a writing credit [as Richard Penniman].)

Looking a little bit deeper, there was no way the Beatles really could have known. After all, when Little Richard’s recording was released as Specialty 664 after it was recorded in 1955, its title was simply “Kansas City,” with only Leiber and Stoller listed as writers. As was the case with the Beatles’ omission, that error has since been corrected. The 1991 CD The Georgia Peach, a Little Richard hits package, lists the song as “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” and lists Penniman as a writer along with the team of Leiber and Stoller.

Anyway, that night was the first time I’d heard “Kansas City” with or without the Penniman addition. I thought it was a pretty good song, but I didn’t bother in those days to dig too deeply into the history of the music I was listening to. I was having a difficult enough time keeping track of current groups and their catalogs. So I didn’t know for years that “Kansas City” – sometimes listed as “K.C. Lovin’” – had been around since before I was born.

As noted above, the song came from the duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, a duo credited with writing hit after hit during the Fifties and early Sixties, including “Hound Dog,” “Young Blood,” “Yakety Yak,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Stand By Me” (with Ben E. King), “Ruby Baby” and many more, including the very odd No. 11 hit for Peggy Lee in 1969, “Is That All There Is?”

Originally recorded in 1952 by Little Willie Littlefield, “Kansas City” is without doubt one of the most-covered R&B songs of all time. The listings at Second Hand Songs show more than 160 versions of “Kansas City” and fourteen additional versions of “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey.” The most famous cover of “Kansas City” is most likely Wilbert Harrison’s 1959 version, which was No. 1 for two weeks. (As good as Little Richard’s version on Specialty was, it did not reach the Top 40.)

Other covers of the song that I have in my collection are from Joe Williams, Muddy Waters, Paul McCartney (on his 1988 album Снова в СССР, originally released only in the Soviet Union) and Albert King. It’s not a song in which I’ve invested a lot of time.

I’ve since added more versions by artists including bluesman David “Honeyboy” Edwards, guitarist Billy Strange, Big Bill Broonzy, and Jan & Dean.

But there is one fascinating version I do have. In 1977, Libby Titus – who I think is generally forgotten today – recorded a version of the song that she titled “Kansas City (K.C. Lovin’)” and released it on her self-titled album. The album is pretty good, but is, I think, of additional interest because Titus was once in a relationship with Levon Helm of The Band (and is the mother of musician Amy Helm, who’s been mentioned here a few times). Helm’s former bandmate Garth Hudson shows up on one track, and Robbie Robertson produced two tracks and plays on one. (Producing the remaining tracks were, in various combinations, the intriguing trio of Paul Simon, Carly Simon and Phil Ramone.)

Among the other highlights of the album – which used to be pricey on both CD and vinyl but has since been re-released on CD and is now available in both formats for reasonable prices – are Titus’ work on the classic song “Love Has No Pride,” which she co-wrote with Eric Kaz, and the slightly odd “The Night You Took Me to Barbados in My Dreams.” But “Kansas City (K.C. Lovin’),” with its own odd moment in the introduction, is likely the best thing on the album and one of the slinkier covers of the song I’ve ever heard.

And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

What’s At No. 100? (January 1967)

January 3rd, 2019

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from the first week of 1967, released on January 7 of that year:

“I’m A Believer” by the Monkees
“Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen
“Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville
“Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band
“Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra
“That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra
“Good Thing” by Paul Revere & The Raiders
“Words of Love” by The Mamas & The Papas
“Standing In The Shadows Of Love” by the Four Tops
“Mellow Yellow” by Donovan

That’s an okay thirty minutes or so of listening, sort of, but some of it would not stand up under the frequent repetition of Top 40 radio. The novelty of the Snoopy record would wear off real quickly, I think. And the novelty of “Winchester Cathedral,” did wear off rapidly on New Year’s Eve 1966, when one of Rick’s sisters and her friends played the record over and over and over as the girls celebrated the New Year just down the hall from Rick and me.

Back then, being an MOR kid, I liked the Frank Sinatra record more than the others, although the angst in the Four Tops’ record – carried by not only the vocal but by the foreboding backing provided by the Funk Brothers – got through to me even at the age of thirteen. I don’t think any of the others really mattered to me back then.

Now? Well, let’s look at the iPod. The records by the Monkees, the New Vaudeville Band, Nancy Sinatra, Paul Revere & The Raiders (with the addendum “featuring Mark Lindsay”), the Four Tops, and Donovan are among the 3,900 or so that make up my current favorite listening.

The most surprising inclusion there is “Mellow Yellow.” During my college days, I spent a quarter working two hours a day in the old library, where the art department would move in a few years. The weavers had set up temporary quarters there, and my job was to sweep yarn from the floors once a day and clean the bathrooms once a week. One of the weavers had brought a record player, and her favorite album was Donovan’s Mellow Yellow. By the end of spring quarter 1972, when that assignment ended, I was very weary of the song. But I guess that after more than forty years, if it only comes around once every 3,900 tracks, I’m okay with it.

Should any of the other four from that Top Ten be added to my current listening? Well, I’m thinking about “That’s Life.” (And since the iPod is charging, I added the track as I wrote.) As to the other three, the Snoopy record can be ignored, there are better versions of “Words Of Love” out there, and the Neville record was never one of my favorites.

And now to our other business of the day: diving to the bottom of that long-ago Hot 100. And at No. 100 we find one of the huge country hits of 1967, perhaps the biggest. Jack Greene’s “There Goes My Everything” got to No. 1 on the Billboard country chart on December 24, 1966, and stayed there through January 1967. On the pop side, it entered the Hot 100 during the week we’re examining and stayed in the chart for six weeks, peaking at No. 65.

Greene wasn’t the first to record the song; Ferlin Husky had recorded it in 1965 and released it as a track on his 1966 album I Could Sing All Night Long. Greene came next, and according to Second Hand Songs, more than one hundred versions have followed (including at least one in Estonian). The most memorable of those is likely Engelbert Humperdinck’s, which went to No. 20 on the Hot 100 during the summer of 1967. And looking at the country charts, Elvis Presley’s cover went to No. 9 in 1971. But Greene’s cover was the first to hit either of the charts, and here it is:

Saturday Single No. 622

December 29th, 2018

While wandering through the archives this morning, I came across this meditation on Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” from December 2007. I think it still holds some interest, and while I may have heard additional versions of the song in the intervening years, my conclusion remains the same as it was eleven years ago. I’ve made a few modest changes.

The first time I heard Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” it was in an interesting setting. Not in terms of physical place: The basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard was a pleasant place to spend some hours, but its decor was pretty standard for the early 1970s. I was thinking about its musical setting, as I heard the song, one of Dylan’s earliest recorded tracks, dropped in between two of his later tracks on his Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, a 1971 release.

The album opener was Dylan’s recent single, “Watching The River Flow,” produced by Leon Russell, and the third track on Side One of the new hits album was “Lay, Lady, Lay,” Dylan’s 1969 hit from his countryish Nashville Skyline. Nestled between the two tracks was “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” released in 1963 on Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. It was, as I wrote above, an interesting place to find one of the longest surviving songs of Dylan’s career – a career just less than ten years old at the time but already lengthy give the standards of the era, a time when the idea of creating a career out of being a pop/rock musician was just being invented.

(It’s worth recalling that Elvis Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, maneuvered Elvis into his long string of mediocre movies because he could not envision any performer creating a lengthy career in rock ’n’ roll or its antecedents. Simplifying a good deal, until the Beatles and Dylan, no mainstream pop/rock performer had really done that.)

I’ve always found “Don’t Think Twice” to be one of Dylan’s prettiest songs and one of the gentlest among his songs that chronicle and catalog the myriad ways we treat and deal with the ones we love. In Dylan’s written universe, the subject and object of love can be savaged, can be adored with reservations, can be worshipped and can be dismissed without hesitation. I’m sure there are other instances that one can find in the Dylan oeuvre, but “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is one of the few lyrics in which the loved one is forgiven with gentleness and (perhaps sardonic) grace as the singer heads down the road:

I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You coulda done better, but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time,
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

The only other Dylan love lyric that comes immediately to mind with that level of grace expressed is “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. In that case, however, the singer is the one who will be left behind, while the singer of “Don’t Think Twice” is the one who is leaving. There’s a difference there, subtle though it may be.

Hearing the song for the first time bracketed by two recent hits for Dylan – “Watching The River Flow” barely missed the Billboard Top 40, peaking at No. 41 during the summer of 1971, and “Lay, Lady, Lay” reached No. 7 during the summer of 1969 – instead of in its original setting on Freewheelin’, gave the song a different sensibility that I might otherwise not have found in it. I didn’t fully appreciate Dylan’s folkie origins at the time, but the context in which I heard “Don’t Think Twice” placed it squarely into the singer/songwriter milieu of the early 1970s. And it became one of my favorite tracks on the two-disc Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, both for its wordplay and for Dylan’s gentle performance.

It’s a song that’s been covered many times. Second Hand Songs lists more than two hundred covers in English and a few more in other languages. Among those who have covered the song are Joan Baez, Bobby Bare, Brook Benton, Johnny Cash, Bobby Darin, Nick Drake, José Feliciano, Bryan Ferry, the Indigo Girls, Waylon Jennings, Melanie, Elvis, Billy Paul, Jerry Reed, the Seekers and the Four Seasons. I’ve heard some of those versions, but not nearly all of them.

Still, I doubt that any performance of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” will grab me as much as does the version that Eric Clapton provided in 1992 during the celebration of Dylan’s thirty years in the recording industry. With a house band made up of the surviving members of Booker T & the MG’s, guitarist G.E. Smith and drummers Jim Keltner and Anton Figg, Clapton pulls the song apart and puts it back together as the blues. All Music Guide rightly calls it “one of the most electrifying performances of his life.”

That performance is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Breathless’

December 27th, 2018

A little more than a month ago, while digging into tracks recorded on November 24, I noted a difficulty in tracking the performance of “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover” as recorded on November 24, 1941, by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra. I wrote, “My reference library has a historical gap in it; Pop Memories gets me to 1940, and [Joel] Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles picks things up in 1955. For the fifteen years in between, I’m on my own.”

Pop HitsWell, I am on my own no longer. One of the Christmas gift the Texas Gal gave me this week was Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Pop Hits, subtitled Singles & Albums 1940-1954. That means I now have the tools necessary to make mistakes about music throughout the Twentieth Century.

I’ve not yet spent a lot of time digging into the book. The holiday and household chores it delayed have kept me busy. But I plan to spend some time paging through and browsing later today. For now, I think I’m going to play some Games With Numbers. I’ll take today’s date – 12/27/18 – and go to Page 57 in the book. I’ll find the twelfth listed record, and we’ll see if we get lucky. (If the twelfth listed record is not available at YouTube, we’ll move to the eighteenth and see how that goes.)

We land on a 1942 record credited to Shep Fields & His New Music: “Breathless.” The record was the first with that credits. Until then, Fields’ reed-heavy music had been credited to Shep Fields & His Rippling Rhythm Orchestra.

Fields, who was born in 1910 in Brooklyn, formed his own band in 1929, and starting in 1936, was a fixture in the charts for the next four years, charting thirty-six records between 1936 and 1943. Seven of those records went to No. 1, with the most successful being 1939’s “South Of The Border (Down Mexico Way),” which stayed on top of the chart for five weeks.

“Breathless,” the tune we landed on today, came near the end of Fields’ run on the charts. It wasn’t a national hit; the information in Billboard Pop Hits says that “Breathless” spent one week at No. 17 on the magazine’s Midwestern Best Sellers chart. Beyond that, perhaps the most interesting thing about “Breathless” is that – as Whitburn notes – the vocal was performed by Ken Curtis, who twenty-some years later would achieve fame by portraying the character Festus on the television show Gunsmoke.

Here’s “Breathless.”

‘And So Happy Christmas . . .’

December 24th, 2018

As Christmas Eve day heads toward twilight and evening here on the North Side, we – the Texas Gal, my imaginary tuneheads Odd and Pop, and me – hope all of our friends in both the virtual and real worlds find peace. It’s a rare commodity these days, I know, with the events of the world buffeting our souls day after day.

I remind myself day after wearying day that – as the ancient Greeks told it – after Pandora had inadvertently released all the ills of the world by opening the infamous box, there was one thing left in that box: Hope. Sometimes it feels like hope is all we have left. Hope for ourselves and our friends in our immediate lives; hope for the lost and the wounded near us and around the world; hope that somehow in this increasingly mad world that sanity and truth will prevail; hope that Dr. King was right when he told us that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.

May all of us carry that hope with us as we celebrate tonight and tomorrow. May we all share it with our families and friends as we hold them near. May we spread it as best we can in our communities, in our corners of the world. If all we have these days is hope, let us embrace it, and may it bring us peace.

And now to music. I wrote the other day: “I am not a fan of holiday music unless it was produced by Phil Spector, sung by Darlene Love, written/adapted from folk songs by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, or has a big honking saxophone solo by Clarence Clemons.”

Here’s one that hits two out of four. It’s Darlene Love’s cover of John and Yoko’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over.)” It’s from Love’s 2007 album It’s Christmas, Of Course.

Merry Christmas to all of us!

Saturday Single No. 621

December 22nd, 2018

It’s time for Games With Numbers!

We’re going to take today’s date – 12/22/18 – and add those numbers together in four ways to get 30, 34, 40 and 52, and then armed with those integers, take a look at a Billboard Hot 100 that was released on a December 22. We’ll check out the records at those positions and choose ourselves a Saturday Single. (As is our wont when we do these things, we’ll note the No. 1 record of the week.)

During the spread of years we’re generally interested in, we have four Hot 100s to choose from, released in 1958, 1962, 1973 and 1979. Although we’ve visited them occasionally, the two on the ends of that list don’t interest me this morning. And we do a lot of playing in the early Seventies. So we’re going to take a look at 1962, starting from the lowest ranked record and moving up.

Right off, we come to a name that’s been rare around here: Bobby Rydell, whose record “The Cha-Cha-Cha” is sitting at No. 52. A quick search shows that there have been only four posts where his name has popped up and only one post where his music has been shared; that was a look at the Twist craze in the spring of 1962, and the record we listened to then was a duet by Rydell and Twistmaster Chubby Checker (placed together because their labels, Cameo and Parkway, were sister firms). Rydell is an exemplar of a type of artist I don’t much care for, the teen idol. I lump him with Fabian, Bobby Vee and a bunch of others that labels found in the years between Clear Lake and Liverpool. (Other eras had their teen idols, to be sure. Leif Garrett, anyone?) He wasn’t the worst of them; nor was he the best. In our December 22 chart, “The Cha-Cha-Cha” was on its way down from No. 10, and it’s a pretty feeble piece of work.

So we move up twelve places to No. 40 and find ourselves listening to “Monsters’ Holiday” by Bobby (Boris) Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers, a Christmas-themed sequel to “Monster Mash,” which had spent two weeks at No. 1 in October. “Holiday” went to No. 30, and we’ll leave it sit there.

A trifle distressed, we move up six steps and find more Christmas joy, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” by the 4 Seasons, heading up the chart to an eventual peak at No. 23. Admission: I am not a fan of holiday music unless it was produced by Phil Spector, sung by Darlene Love, written/adapted from folk songs by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, or has a big honking saxophone solo by Clarence Clemons. And there are some tunes that don’t survive Frankie Valli’s falsetto. So the 4 Seasons record leaves me colder than December in Moscow. At least it’s less than two minuntes long.

So as we ascend to the last of our numbers in play, I am despondent. And we find redemption at No. 30 in “He’s A Rebel,” one of the little symphonies for kids constructed with regularity in the early 1960s by Phil Spector, an admittedly evil genius. Sung by the Blossoms (with Darlene Love taking the lead) but credited by Spector to the Crystals, “He’s A Rebel” is one of Spector’s greatest records, with the Wrecking Crew – including Steve Douglas, who contributed the sax solo – and the Blossoms at the tops of their games. The record was on its way down the chart after spending two weeks at No. 1, and is probably the best thing we could have heard anywhere this morning.

As always, we note the No. 1 record, and fifty-six years ago today, that was the Tornadoes’ “Telstar.” We approve.

Given the four to choose from, we have an easy choice. Actually, out of the thousands and thousands of possibilities that float through here, we’d almost always have an easy choice; there aren’t many records I would choose over “He’s A Rebel.” (No, it didn’t make my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox, but it is among the 3,900 or so on the iPod.) So let’s just listen again (and again) to “He’s A Rebel by the Crystals (Blossoms!), today’s Saturday Single.

Turning The Corner

December 21st, 2018

This piece first appeared here ten years ago tomorrow, and I think it’s been reposted at least once before. But it’s here today because it’s one of my favorite pieces from nearly twelve years of blogging. It’s been revised slightly.

We’re about to turn the corner.

Late this afternoon – at 4:23 p.m. – the sun will venture as far south in the sky as it goes, and it will begin to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good news for those of us who find the lack of sunlight during this season grim and gloomy. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that I think is a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic and Germanic forebears. The science of our modern life tells us that the days of longer light will return, bringing us to springtime. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, however, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen. The sun will reverse its course this afternoon, and after tonight’s full moon sets, tomorrow will bring slightly more daylight than we’ll get today. And the day after that will bring more than will tomorrow. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’re about to turn the corner toward the light.

The solstice also marks the formal start of winter, of course, and I have many “winter” songs on the digital shelves. Here’s one that I sometimes like and sometimes don’t. It’s Sarah McLachlan’s take on Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter’s Night.” It’s on McLachlan’s 2006 album Wintersong.