My Eyes

September 21st, 2021

This – like so many other posts recently – will be brief for a very practical reason. I can no longer see very well. Even the white of the word processing program’s page has smudges on it that I cannot see through very well, the product of cataracts in both eyes, and that makes writing very much a headache-producing struggle.

That should change this week and the next. Tomorrow I will have the lens in my right eye replaced, and a week later, the same will happen with my left eye. I know the surgeries are now very common: My mom and the Texas Gal both had their lenses replaced during the life of this blog, and there were no complications.

Still, I have some anxieties about the surgeries, which I think is understandable. I’ve been trying in the past weeks simply to acknowledge them and then let them go. That’s not easy, but I think I’m doing all right.

This has been coming for a while, maybe three years for the cataract in my left eye and two for the one in my right eye, but the growth of the two has accelerated greatly in the last year, causing the vision experts to say that it’s time. And in just the month or so that the surgeries have been contemplated and scheduled, I’ve noticed an even more rapid degradation of my vision.

I assume things will go well tomorrow and the following Wednesday. I’m not sure how awkward things will be during the week between the two surgeries, with one eye corrected and the other still impaired. So, I do not know how often I will be posting here. A one-week absence is possible. So I’ll (metaphorically) see you – more clearly, I assume – on the far side.

Anyway, here’s one of my favorite tunes with “eyes” in the title: “Dark Eyes” by Bob Dylan. It’s from his 1985 album Empire Burlesque. The notes to the recently released Bootleg Series No. 16 – titled Springtime in New York, 1980-85 – say that the album’s co-producer, Arthur Baker, one day suggested adding an acoustic song to the album, and the next day, Dylan brought in “Dark Eyes,” written the night before:

Oh, the gentlemen are talking, and the midnight moon is on the riverside,
They’re drinking up and walking and it is time for me to slide.
I live in another world where life and death are memorized,
Where the earth is strung with lovers’ pearls and all I see are dark eyes.

A cock is crowing far away and another soldier’s deep in prayer,
Some mother’s child has gone astray, she can’t find him anywhere.
But I can hear another drum beating for the dead that rise,
Whom nature’s beast fears as they come and all I see are dark eyes.

They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes,
They tell me revenge is sweet and from where they stand, I’m sure it is.
But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized,
All I feel is heat and flame and all I see are dark eyes.

Oh, the French girl, she’s in paradise and a drunken man is at the wheel,
Hunger pays a heavy price to the falling gods of speed and steel.
Oh, time is short, and the days are sweet, and passion rules the arrow that flies,
A million faces at my feet but all I see are dark eyes.

Saturday Single No. 753

September 18th, 2021

Having looked yesterday at the Top Ten from the Billboard Hot 100 from fifty years ago this week, we may as well take a look at the Top Ten from that week’s album chart:

Tapestry by Carole King
Every Picture Tells A Story by Rod Stewart
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by the Moody Blues
Who’s Next
Ram
by Paul & Linda McCartney
Carpenters
Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon
by James Taylor
Shaft (Soundtrack) by Isaac Hayes
Master Of Reality by Black Sabbath
What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

That’s a great Top Ten. There are at least five in there that I’d call essential Seventies albums, those by King, Stewart, the Who, Hayes and Gaye. And four of the others aren’t that far behind. (I’m not certain about the Black Sabbath album simply because it’s in a genre in which I have no expertise at all. Anyone who wants can leave a comment assessing it.)

The earliest any of those came into my life was Ram, which I got as a high school graduation present. And I’ve owned eight of those ten as LPs, everything except the Black Sabbath and James Taylor albums. Then, between CDs and digital files, I have everything on that list except Master Of Reality.

It’s interesting that Rod Stewart shows up here today. Earlier this week, the Texas Gal and I were driving home from some errand when Stewart’s “Gasoline Alley” came on the radio. I’m not as familiar with the track, or with the 1970 album that’s its namesake, as I am with other portions of Stewart’s early solo work, but I recognized it immediately and I was struck by what seemed its sloppiness: guitars going every which way, the bass and percussion seemingly working off a different sheet. I should go back and listen to the entire album, I guess, but I think I’d hear the same thing.

And that contrasts with what I hear when I listen to Every Picture Tells A Story from 1971. Stewart produced both albums, but it seems that during the time between them, he learned some restraint. I’m not saying that every track on the later album was painstakingly precise, but the rowdiness that gives Gasoline Alley its somewhat ramshackle air is gone.

I dunno, maybe I’m hearing things that aren’t there. But anyway, here’s “Seems Like A Long Time” from Every Picture Tells A Story, a cover of a tune that was originally recorded by Brewer & Shipley. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Another Night, Another Day . . .’

September 17th, 2021

We’re playing “Symmetry” this morning, checking out the No. 50 record in the Billboard Hot 100 from fifty years ago this week.

As usual, we’ll start the game with a look at that week’s Top Ten. There are no surprises.

“Go Away, Little Girl” by Donny Osmond
“Spanish Harlem” by Aretha Franklin
“Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
“Maggie May/Reason To Believe” by Rod Stewart
“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” by Paul & Linda McCartney
“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth
“I Just Want To Celebrate” by Rare Earth
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by Joan Baez
“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees
“Whatcha See Is What Cha Get” by the Dramatics

Well, except for the records by Osmond and Baez, that’s some decent listening. “Go Away, Little Girl” is at least a little icky these days no matter who sings it (and no matter how noble the intentions of the character the singer is channeling) but having a thirteen-year-old boy sing it is just weird. But that’s today’s mores, and I guess few people were thinking that way fifty years ago.

As to the Baez, my frustration with the record starts with – as I think I’ve noted before – her mis-singing the lyrics. I’ve heard or read somewhere that Baez’ people got the lyrics over the phone from Robbie Robertson’s people or publisher and mis-heard some of them, thus turning “Stoneman’s cavalry” into “so much cavalry” and Robert E. Lee into the steamboat-to-be.

But I’ve realized that the main reason I dislike Baez’ version of the song is that she pulls all the emotional weight out of it. She treats it as she did many old folk songs during the beginning of her career, as if it were a fragile flower needing her protection. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is a song of grief, and the singer needs to offer it as if the events it chronicles matter to him or her, as does Levon Helm of The Band.

(As I mentioned almost in passing in a post from a year ago, I’m still sorting out how I feel about “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and other cultural pieces that would undoubtedly offend some folks.)

Other than that, the nine records remaining of the eleven listed above range from inspired to pleasantly remembered. The best one there is either “Spanish Harlem” or “Maggie May,” and I won’t argue with anyone who chooses one over the other.

Oddly, only about half of the records I like from that list are in the iPod and thus in my day-to-day listening. I’ll have to add the records by the Undisputed Truth, the McCartneys, the Bee Gees and the Dramatics. It’s strange that I missed so many of those.

And now to our main business, the No. 50 record in that Hot 100 released fifty years ago yesterday. It turns out to be a ballad by Engelbert Humperdinck, some of whose stuff I’ve liked over the years and some of whose stuff I have little time for. I’d never heard “Another Time, Another Place” before:

Her candles flicker in the fading light
I sit alone and watch that lonely night
I see you everywhere and I try desperately to hide

Another time, another place, I see that old familiar face
And I try hard to catch your eye
Another road, another mile, I see that old familiar smile
But you’ll be with somebody new
Another night, another day, I’ll see you standing in my way
I’ll stop and say “Hello, my friend”
Another place, another time, you’ll tell me you’ve been doing fine
And walk away from me once more.


I try to run away from sad regrets
The bitter wine won’t help me to forget
That I locked up my heart and threw away the precious key

Another time, another place, I see that old familiar face
And I try hard to catch your eye
Another road, another mile, I see that old familiar smile
But you’ll be with somebody new
Another night, another day, I’ll see you standing in my way
I’ll stop and say “Hello, my friend”
Another place, another time, you’ll tell me you’ve been doing fine
And walk away from me once more.

Another night, another day, I’ll see you standing in my way
I’ll stop and say “Hello, my friend”
Another place, another time, you’ll tell me you’ve been doing fine
And walk away from me once more.

A couple of years earlier, still in my easy listening and soundtrack days, I probably would have liked that one a lot. Maybe I would have, anyway. But the brassy backing and Humperdinck’s over-singing were a long distance from what I was listening to during my first days of college.

The record peaked at No. 43 on the Hot 100 and got to No. 5 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.

Depression, Take 2

September 15th, 2021

I’ve written before about the deep ditch of depression I sometimes fall into, finding myself there for no particular reason except my own biochemistry (and sometimes – but only sometimes – my having neglected to take my meds).

I’m there again, and I have been for a few days. I’m not looking for sympathy, just letting those of you who still do show up here why this place might look a little ragged around the edges, needing a little attention.

I’ll be back Friday, and we’ll see how things are then. In the meantime, I sorted among 83,000-some mp3s for things related to “September,” and I found Richie Havens’ cover of David Blue’s song “23 Days in September. (Blue actually titled it “These 23 Days in September; for some reason, the word “The” was trimmed from the title when Havens released it.)

Havens’ version of the song is on his 1973 album Portfolio.

Saturday Single No. 752

September 11th, 2021

It’s been a challenging week around here. Neither of us has felt very well.

There’s been 9/11 almost 24/7, leaving a residue of remembered emotion behind.

And last evening was the first of two reunion events celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Class of 1971 at St. Cloud Tech. So, I’m dealing with memories, thoughts and feelings that last night’s gathering brought up, and I know tonight will do the same. It’s not all bad; some of the memories and feelings are very good. But if you know me, you know that I have to let that stuff settle when it will.

So I’m taking the easy was out this morning. Here’s Reunion with “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me),” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

On The Nines

September 9th, 2021

Well, it’s September 9, or 9/9, and the part of me that loves Games With Numbers can’t possibly ignore that. So we’re going to look at three near bottom-dwellers in three Billboard Hot 100s released on or near today’s date, each separated by nine years.

We’ll start in my lodestone year of 1970, the one year of my life when I listened, delighted and dutifully, to Top 40 music all year long, and then go back to 1961, when I had no idea that anything as cool at the Hot 100 existed. And we’ll complete our excursion with a look at 1979, a year when the Hot 100’s coolness quotient was – in my life, anyway – rapidly fading.

Along the way, as we customarily do with these follies, we’ll check out each chart’s top two records.

First, to 1970. Sitting at No. 99 in the Hot 100 released on September 12, 1970, is a record regarded by many as a classic and one that I’m sure has left many a listener baffled, perhaps, with its cryptic message and stunned with its beauty: “Alone Again Or” by the psychedelic group Love.

The version we find there – and it went no higher – is one we’ve tangled with a few times before. It’s longer than the single version that was released in 1968 after the album Forever Changes came out in 1967. (Both versions are shorter than the version on the album.) Yah Shure, my friend and patient guide to all things chart-related, wrote to me a few years ago, saying, “In my [Joel] Whitburn Pop Annual, the time listed for the 1970 re-do is 2:50. Under the ’68 single’s entry in my Whitburn Bubbling Under chart book, Joel refers to the 1970 #99 release as ‘an enhanced version,’ and that’s what it really is: embellished with additional instrumentation to pack more of a wallop over the airwaves. The difference between it and the original mix is quite apparent.”

Here is a version of the tune that has been labeled “mono single remix” with a seemingly appropriate running time. At discogs, the 1967 original release is said to have a running time of 2:49, while the 1970 rerelease – as Yah Shure noted – runs 2:50. (The 1967 album track runs 3:15.) Is this the right one? I dunno.

Sitting at Nos. 1 and 2 during the second week of September 1970 were, respectively, “War” by Edwin Starr and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross.

Hoping to leave bafflement behind, we head to 1961 and the Hot 100 that was released on September 11 of that year, There, parked at No. 99, we find “Signed, Sealed And Delivered” by Rusty Draper, a countryish waltz that has utterly nothing to do with Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” from 1970.

Draper was a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Kirksville, Missouri (a burg where I’d often stop for a burger or gas during the 1980s as I made my way between Columbia, Missouri, and Monticello or St. Cloud in Minnesota). He had one country hit – “Gambler’s Guitar” went to No. 6 in 1953 – and eleven records that reached the Hot 100 (with another bubbling under). Best-performing of the bunch was “The Shifting, Whispering Sands,” which went to No. 3 in 1955.

The maudlin “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” went to No. 91 and was his next to last entry on the chart.

The records at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, during the second week of September 1961 were “Michael” by the Highwaymen and “Take Good Care Of My Baby” by Bobby Vee.

And now to 1979, and the No. 99 record from the chart released on September 15 of that year: “Baby I Want You,” a piece of light R&B that was the only chart entry from the Funky Communication Committee, a short-lived group that managed to release two albums and three singles in 1979 and 1980.

“Baby I Want You” climbed the chart to No. 47 and did not get into the R&B Top 40. And that’s all I know.

Sitting at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, during the third week of September 1979, were “My Sharona” by the Knack and “After The Love Has Gone” by Earth, Wind & Fire.

Saturday Single No. 751

September 4th, 2021

I’m going to turn 68 tomorrow. And today is September 4, which means that forty-eight years ago this evening, I boarded a Finnair jet and headed off to Denmark for a college year that I can only describe – after years of thought – as the single greatest formative experience of my life.

The confluence of those things can put me in a pensive, nostalgic mood, one that can prod me to fill this space with ideas I’ve offered here before (perhaps too many times), a mood that can nudge me into messy binges of memories.

And to add to the perils a writer with an occasional lack of discipline must face, it’s beginning to feel a little bit like autumn around here: a little bit cooler, a little less humid, with high school and college football underway.

So, I’ll just mention the best meal I’ve had in some time, courtesy of my sister and brother-in-law yesterday at Krewe, a Cajun restaurant in the nearby burg of St. Joseph. The tradition of my sister taking me out for lunch around the time of my birthday arose in the early 1990s, when I’d quit my Midwest wanderings and was living in South Minneapolis. I don’t think we’ve missed a year since then.

Now, of course, the lunches include the Texas Gal and – when he’s not working at the golf course – my brother-in-law.

We’ve eaten at basic burger joints, an upscale steak place or two, an Ethiopian place in south Minneapolis, and other places I cannot recall. My sister said friends of her had recommended Krewe.

The food was good: muffuletta for my sister and the Texas Gal, a chicken sandwich with spicy coleslaw on the side for my brother-in-law, a bowl of gumbo without rice for me – too much white rice can give me unpleasant after-effects – and a plate of maque choux – a creole-seasoned corn dish that we augmented with some andouille – for all of us to share.

And, because the waiter noticed my sister handing me a birthday card, I got the free dessert that goes to birthday folks: I chose the bourbon caramel bread pudding. It’s waiting for me in the refrigerator, and I’ll have to eat it over the course of a few days, as white flour has the same effect on me as white rice. But I’ll bet it’s going to be tasty.

Anyway, I got through a September 4 post without being maudlin, which is good. And here’s an appropriately titled swampy tune: “Hippy Gumbo” by Marsha Hunt. It was written by Marc Bolan in his pre-T. Rex days; his version was released as a single in the U.K. in December 1966. It did not chart.

Hunt’s version was recorded in late 1969 after she and Bolan began a relationship; it came out as the B-side to her “Desdemona” single in the U.K. and a few other places. It doesn’t seem to have charted either (though I cannot be sure). It’s a little strange, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Turn, Turn Any Corner . . .’

September 3rd, 2021

Thirty-some years ago, as part of a summer I spent in St. Cloud in between things and places and people, my ladyfriend and I decided to put on a Sixties party. Our friends filled the place I was renting – the lower level of a house, usually home to probably ten to twelve students – as we laughed, drew pictures on the tagboard designated a graffiti wall, and took part in a Sixties trivia contest.

There was music, of course. My lady and I spent hours the week before the party creating mix tapes. I borrowed records from the St. Cloud State radio station’s library to supplement my own pretty good collection. (This was in the late 1980s; I had about 250 albums, nothing near what I would eventually have filling the shelves.)

She insisted that the first track of the first tape played be the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In.” Okay. And then, she said, should come Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Woodstock.” 

Well. I told her – and fifty-seven years after the Summer of Love, I don’t know who would argue – that along with the shininess of Sixties’ utopianism, there was always a shadow side, and if we were setting up a sense of the decade for our guests, that shadow had to be reflected in the first parts of the music.

I persuaded her, so the second track on our first mixtape for that evening was “Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills & Nash. Written, it is said, by Crosby upon the death of Robert F. Kennedy, it’s a song of portent, and the first time I heard it – not long after the trio’s first album was released in May of 1969, it spooked me out (and it did so again the other day when it popped up on the radio in the car).

And today, as I sat down to check email and so on first thing this morning (after a series of unsettling early morning dreams), it popped up in iTunes, this time in the cover version recorded and released by Ruthie Foster in 2012, accompanied by the Blind Boys of Alabama.

With nothing else to say this morning, here’s that cover:

‘My Sweet Lord’ vs. ‘He’s So Fine’

August 31st, 2021

As I sometimes do, I was browsing through the old posts here yesterday when I came across one that wandered from the Beatles’ last years as a group into George Harrison’s massive 1970 album All Things Must Pass,

The post mentioned Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and the resulting suit brought by the copyright owners of “He’s So Fine,” a hit for the Chiffons in 1963. And when iTunes offered me “He’s So Fine” this morning as I pondered the empty space here, I wondered two things: First, how did things in that lawsuit actually resolve? And second, was I right in thinking that the Chiffons did a cover version of “My Sweet Lord”?

I dug into the tale of the U.S. suit at Wikipedia and read, as I recalled, that Harrison was in fact found, in 1976, to have plagiarized the melody of “He’s So Fine,” written by one Ronnie Mack, who had died in 1963. The financial verdict against Harrison, says Wikipedia, was startlingly large: He was to pay Bright Tunes Music – holder of the “He’s So Fine” copyright – $1.6 million, which amounted to three quarters of the sales of the single in the U.S. and a significant amount of the proceeds from the sales of All Things Must Pass.

And then, Wikipedia tells us, we find the dirty hands of Allen Klein, one-time manager of the Beatles (over the protests of Paul McCartney). After Harrison, John Lennon and Ringo Starr severed their business relationship with Klein in 1973 – a move that led to protracted litigation itself – Klein began providing inside information to Bright about, if I read things rightly, Harrison’s legal strategy. Eventually, Klein’s ABCKO Industries purchased from Bright the rights to “He’s So Fine” and the rights to any settlement; that cost Klein $587,000, and he then proceeded to open negotiations with Harrison for the rights to the song.

In February 1981 – more than ten years after the release of the single “My Sweet Lord” and All Things Must Pass – the New York court ruled that because of Klein’s duplicity and interference, Harrison would pay Klein $587,000 for the rights to “He’s So Fine” and would retain the rights to “My Sweet Lord.”

Okay, that’s how that turned out. But what about the Chiffons covering “My Sweet Lord”? Well, that happened, too. In 1975, the Chiffons released their version of the song with the aim, Wikipedia says, of drawing attention to the languishing court proceedings. I suppose that sounded like a good idea, but I think the result is a little tepid. Here it is:

Saturday Single No. 750

August 28th, 2021

A few days ago, I examined the top fifteen albums offered in a survey fifty years ago this week by KSHE-FM, a progressive station in St. Louis. I thought today, we’d drop in on a survey from fifty years ago from a Top 40 station in St. Louis.

Here’s the Top 15 from the KXOK Bookmark from August 28, 1971.

“Sweet Hitch-Hiker” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth
“Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye
“Spanish Harlem” by Aretha Franklin
“Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
“Beginnings” by Chicago
“Liar” by Three Dog Night
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” by the Who
“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” by Paul & Linda McCartney
“Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band
“Dragging The Line” by Tommy James
“Go Down Gamblin’” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“Go Away Little Girl” by Donny Osmond
“Rain Dance” by the Guess Who
“Bangla Desh” by George Harrison

Well, except for the Donny Osmond record (and maybe the Guess Who record, which I honestly do not recall), that would be a real fine hour of listening, no matter what station you were tuned to. There are three others among those fifteen that I think tend to get lost or somewhat forgotten, at least around here. Those are the records by CCR, BS&T and George Harrison. And that’s somewhat understandable. The catalogs of those three are stuffed with goodies that probably make better listening.

As to “Rain Dance.” I pulled it up on the RealPlayer to be reminded what it sounded like, and I have no memory of ever hearing come out the radio speakers.

Then, as far as “Bangla Desh” goes, that’s one of those records that I don’t often run into when I dig into old surveys. And that’s just chance, I guess. The surveys gathered at Airheads Radio Survey Archive show the record reaching the top ten, by my count, at fourteen stations, including KDWB in the Twin Cities.

And the cities where the record reached the top ten are an interesting bunch. Beyond the Twin Cities you find Gadsden, Alabama; Erie, Pennsylvania; Vincennes, Indiana; Amarillo, Texas; Terre Haute, Indiana; Rochester, New York; Hemingway, South Carolina; Denver, Colorado; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Lincoln, Nebraska; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Montreal and Vancouver in Canada.

Hmmm. Four major metro areas – Denver, Montreal, Vancouver and the Twin Cities – and a lot of mid-range and smaller cities. Does that mean anything? I dunno.

I doubt we’ve ever featured the record here. The times I did hear the single release during the late summer and autumn of 1971, I thought the production was kind of thin. The song sounded a lot better live, as performed in the Concert for Bangla Desh. (Why wouldn’t it, with Billy Preston and Eric Clapton doing the fills and Leon Russell leading the way?)

So, here’s the live version from August 1971 of “Bangla Desh” as shown in the film of the concert. It’s today’s Saturday Single.