Saturday Single No. 726

February 27th, 2021

There are a very few tracks in the digital collection here that have been recorded on February 27, maybe ten. (Of the 82,000 mp3s pulled into the RealPlayer, I have that depth of information on maybe ten percent.)

And a quick look at the February 27 tracks offers one that came to me via the series called When The Sun Goes Down, a set of eleven CDs issued between 2002 and 2004 featuring vintage music from the Victor and Bluebird labels.

The Hall Brothers recorded the song “Constant Sorrow” in Charlotte, North Carolina, on this date in 1938. The song, of course, is better known these days as “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow” after being featured in the 2000 movie O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, but there had been somewhere around forty versions of the song recorded and released before that. And since the movie came out, according to Second Hand Songs, at least another thirty-five versions of the song have been recorded and released.

The Hall Brothers’ version – Roy Hall took the vocal and played guitar while his brother Jay Hugh added guitar and Steve Ledford added fiddle – was among the earliest recorded. The first version, again according to Second Hand Songs, came from Emry Arthur, whose take on the song was released on the Vocalion label in May 1928. The next version listed was recorded by the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys in 1951.

As to the Hall Brothers’ version. for whatever reason, neither the Victor nor Bluebird label released the 1938 track, leaving it dormant for sixty-six years. And since I’m dabbling in vintage music these days, the Hall Brothers’ 1938 take on “Constant Sorrow” is today’s Saturday Single.

Digging In The Long-Gone Past

February 26th, 2021

One of the things I got for Christmas from the Texas Girl in December was a newly released collection of vintage music titled The Harry Smith B-Sides. Harry Smith, as most readers likely known, was the eccentric music collector who in the early 1950s. assembled from his collection of 78s an eighty-four-track mélange of music from the 1920s and 1930s.

That collection was released in 1952  on the Folkways label as The Anthology of American Folk Music, and it became a seminal artifact in the development of the folk scene of the 1950s and early 1960s.

There was an obscure logic to the way Smith arranged the collection, grouping the eighty-four songs in three categories, but listeners and musicians, or so said news pieces I saw last autumn, have often wondered what kind of collection would one find if one listened to the flip sides of the records Smith included in his anthology.

Well, that’s exactly what the folks at the Dust to Digital label did in the collection The Harry Smith B-Sides. And that’s some of the music I’ve been absorbing over the last two months. The whole thing is made more interesting because as the release date for the collection came near, Dust to Digital’s project found itself smack in the middle of last summer’s discussions of racial and social justice.

And not to be a tease, but I’m still working out the ideas for a longer piece on the new set and the issues it touched. That should show up here next week, I hope. In the meantime, here’s one of the funnier songs – but one that’s still imbued with some violent imagery – from Smith’s original 1952 anthology.

Here’s “King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O” by Chubby Parker & His Old-Time Banjo, a retelling of the old tune “Froggie Went A-Courtin’.” The track was recorded in New York City on August 13, 1928, and was released on the Columbia label.

What’s At No. 100? (February 1971)

February 24th, 2021

Well, the Billboard Top Ten from the last week in February 1971 – fifty years ago – doesn’t hold many surprises:

“One Bad Apple” by the Osmonds
“Mama’s Pearl” by the Jackson 5
“Knock Three Times” by Dawn
“Rose Garden” by Lynn Anderson
“If You Could Read My Mind” by Gordon Lightfoot
“I Hear You Knocking” by Dave Edmunds
“Sweet Mary” by Wadsworth Mansion
“Amos Moses” by Jerry Reed
“Mr. Bojangles” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
“Me & Bobbie McGee” by Janis Joplin

Man, there are a bunch of short titles in there. That list might set a record for the Top Ten with the fewest words in its ten titles: Thirty, making for an average of three words per title.

That, of course, says nothing about the quality of the records, which is pretty good, as I sort it out. (As always, I’m confronted by the quandary: Do I assess these records as I would have when the chart was new, or do I look at them from today’s perch? I end up doing a little bit of both, I imagine.)

What did I like back then? I liked the records by Anderson and Lightfoot. I liked “Sweet Mary,” “Mr. Bojangles” and “Bobbie McGee.” And fifty years later, only “Rose Garden” isn’t as good as it used to be.

I liked “I Hear You Knocking,” but I didn’t understand why the vocal sounded as if it were pinched somehow, and I really didn’t get why Edmunds hollered out what seemed like random names during the instrumental. I recognized only one of the names – Chuck Berry – and that one only vaguely. I could have used the record as a road map to learn more about music if I’d only paid attention or had someone to ask, I guess. I like it a lot more today, knowing what Edmunds was up to, than I did then.

“One Bad Apple” and “Amos Moses” didn’t do it for me when I was seventeen. I’ve changed my mind about the Jerry Reed single but not about the Osmonds’. The Dawn record was a hoot in 1971; when it played on the jukebox in St. Cloud Tech High’s multi-purpose room, kids would use their fists on the lunch tables to knock three times themselves. It’s a nice memory today. I don’t recall hearing “Mama’s Pearl” back then at all. And from 2021, it’s just okay.

What, then, do we find when we drop to the bottom of that Hot 100, which came out on February 27, 1971?

We find “Super Highway” by Ballin’ Jack, a record that kind of fits into the “back to the land” ethos that permeated a lot of tunes at the time, or if not “back to the land” at least offered a critique of society’s tendency to trade land for asphalt.

The chorus, specifically, tugs at me:

Super highway tearing through my city
Super highway tearing through my town
Super highway tearing through my country
Super highway, got to tear it down

We seem in the United States these days to at least be starting to reckon with how our culture has treated the cultures of people of color. Whether that turns into a long-term effort is, of course, an open question. But among the topics I’ve seen raised lately in news coverage and in online gathering spots is how the routing of the Interstate Highway system literally tore apart inner-city communities of color.

Here in Minnesota, St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood – the center of Black culture in the city – was shredded when I-94 was routed through the city in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I think a similar thing happened, though not to the same degree, when the western segment of I-35 was routed through South Minneapolis. And Ballin’ Jack was singing about it – or something very much like it – fifty years ago.

Ballin’ Jack was, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, an interracial jazz-rock group from San Francisco. “Super Highway” was the group’s only single to hit the Hot 100, topping out during a four-week run at No. 93. The single was a very tight edit of a longer track on the group’s first album, a self-titled effort that hit No. 180 on the Billboard 200.

The album track starts with a slow introduction that kills the track before it begins to rock, while the single kicks from the start, sort of like what happened not quite a year earlier with the punchy radio single of Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready” and the slowly starting album track.

Here’s the single of “Super Highway,” which would have been a fine piece of horn band rock if the writers had developed the lyric – which is way too repetitive – a lot more.

Saturday Single No. 725

February 20th, 2021

During a conversation about concerts over the Texas Gal’s birthday dinner yesterday, I came to realize that I’d made an error in yesterday’s post about the concert meme running around Facebook.

She mentioned that sometime in the early 1970s, she’d seen both the Partridge Family and the Cowsills , and that triggered my memory. It turns out that the first pop/rock concert I ever attended that was not at St. Cloud State was a performance in 1970 by the Cowsills at the Minnesota State Fair. All of us – Dad, Mom, my sister and I – were there.

I vaguely remember the family band coming onto the stage in spangly costumes, and I imagine they performed their hits: “Hair,” “Indian Lake,” and “The Rain, The Park, & Other Things,” but I don’t recall that part of the evening. Nor do I recall the opening act, which was Bobby Vinton. So, if I don’t remember it, does it count? I dunno.

(I could rely on the same scoring system I encourage the Texas Gal to use: Her older sister brought her along when she was very young – maybe seven or eight – to see the Beatles. She doesn’t remember anything of the show, just that there were a lot of people screaming. Does she get to say her first concert was the Beatles? I say yes. But should I count the Cowsills? I guess so.)

Another candidate for first pop/rock concert not at St. Cloud State also took place at the State Fair, a year after the (evidently) forgettable performance by the Cowsills. This one I remember: Neil Diamond. We’d been at the fair most of the day, and when showtime – likely 6 p.m. – rolled around, my folks wandered around the fairgrounds while Rick and I took in the first of two shows that Diamond did that night.

It was the day before my eighteenth birthday, and I recall bits and pieces of the concert: “Sweet Caroline,” “Done Too Soon,” and my favorite of the time, “Holly Holy” all come to mind.

And since the conversation over our meal yesterday, I’ve been wondering how many concerts I’ve been to that I’ve utterly forgotten about, as I did the Cowsills’ performance as I was writing yesterday. Not many, I don’t imagine. I didn’t go to that many to begin with, probably between twenty and thirty pop/rock (and related) shows. There are a few others that are dim in memory, though. As I’ve noted here before, I sometimes have to remind myself that I saw It’s A Beautiful Day when I was in college and that I saw the Rascals a year before that when I was a senior in high school.

Ah, well. No big deal. Here’s Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie,” which I’m sure we heard that evening in September 1971, as it was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the time. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

The Concert Meme

February 19th, 2021

Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I? Here’s the concert meme that’s made its way around Facebook, except that I can turn it into a post here and have an easy day.

First concert: The first concert I remember with a well-known performer was Doc Severinsen performing with the St. Cloud State concert band, decked out in a classy tuxedo. Being a faculty brat, I got backstage afterward and got his autograph on the program. DocThat was 1965. In 1972, he played St. Cloud State again, but he’d turned into the Doc we know from “The Tonight Show,” flashy clothes and covers of rock classics. I was a college freshman, and my music theory professor asked the class if anyone wanted to go along with the greeting party down to the Twin Cities airport, so I got to meet him again. I told him I’d met him in 1965 when I was in sixth grade. He gave me the arch look he so often gave Johnny Carson and said, “So you must be in seventh grade by now!”

(Doc came first, but in January 1966, I saw – again at St. Cloud State – Louis Armstrong, and I met him afterward, too. Autographs from both concerts are now in the St. Cloud State Archives collection.)

Last concert: A local act, Justin Ploof and the Throwbacks, did an open-air deal in September, a show of country covers in the parking lot of a local restaurant. We’re friends with Justin and his brother Jason, but there weren’t enough masks among the crowd, so we were a bit uneasy as we sat and listened. We’ll wait until the other side of this shit until we go to another show.

First pop/rock concert: The 5th Dimension, 1969, again at St. Cloud State.

First pop/rock concert not at St. Cloud State: Joe Cocker, April 1972, Bloomington, Minnesota.

Best concert: In 1989, I saw Ringo in St. Paul on his first All Starr Band tour, with Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Joe Walsh, Nils Lofgren, Dr. John, Billy Preston, Clarence Clemons, and Jim Keltner.

Three shows are tied for second place: Paul McCartney in Minneapolis in 2002 was superb, as was Richie Havens in a small theater in St. Cloud in 2011. Peter Yarrow in an even smaller St. Cloud venue in 2012 was spectacular, too.

Worst concert: The first half of the Joe Cocker concert, 1972. He was under the influence and it showed. As the show got into the second half, he sobered up, and for 90 minutes or so, he was the Joe Cocker we came to see.

Loudest concert: Bruce Springsteen, 2009, St. Paul. My ears rang for a day and a half. Still a great show, though.

Most seen: Bob Dylan and Leo Kottke, three times; Don McLean and Jackson Browne, twice each. In different groupings, I’ve seen Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Billy Preston three times each.

Bucket list: Eric Clapton, Boz Scaggs, Indigo Girls, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sebastian (Danish singer).

Speaking of bucket lists, here’s how it sounded when I heard “Born To Run” live in St. Paul in May 2009. The audio (not mine) is rough, so don’t turn it up too high. And yeah, one of those voices singing along is mine.

‘Faith Has Been Broken . . .’

February 17th, 2021

Sometime during the summer of 1971, in the car or hanging out on the front porch or even while cleaning floors at St. Cloud State with Janitor Mike, I must have heard the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” on the radio.

It was on the Billboard Hot 100 for only eight weeks, and it only went to No. 28, yeah, but given that I surrounded myself with music during my non-work and non-sleep hours (and even during work at times as Mike and I waited for floors to dry so we could wax them), I think I had to have heard it. But it must not have made much of an impression, as I recall the first time I played the album Sticky Fingers about a year and a half later, when I got the album through a record club.

“I need to learn to play that on piano,” I recall thinking, listening to the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards composition as it came out of the speakers in the basement rec room. Hearing the song as part of the album – a hodgepodge of outtakes and finely constructed pieces the Stones had clumped together in the spring of 1971 – was like hearing the song for the first time, I guess. Or maybe I just paid attention to it for the first time.

There was no way that I knew that the song existed elsewhere. But it did. “Wild Horses” had showed up in April 1970 on Burrito Deluxe, the second album by the Flying Burrito Brothers:

Here’s the “Wild Horses” timeline, as pieced together from AllMusic Guide, Second Hand Songs, and Wikipedia.

December 2-4, 1969: Rolling Stones record “Wild Horses.”
December 7, 1969: Keith Richards gives Gram Parsons a demo of “Wild Horses.”
April 1970: Flying Burrito Brothers release “Wild Horses” on Burrito Deluxe.
April 1971: Rolling Stones release “Wild Horses” on Sticky Fingers.

My question, admittedly an inside baseball kind of thing, is: Which recording is the original and which is the first cover? Is the original version of a song the first one recorded or the first one released?

My thought is that the first recorded version is the original and anything else – even if it comes to light ahead of that first recorded version – is a cover.

But to close things out, here’s one of my favorite covers of the song, the version that Leon Russell included on his 1974 album Stop All That Jazz.

Saturday Single No. 724

February 13th, 2021

Sometimes I think my pal Yah Shure knows more about this blog than I do.

Earlier this week, I wrote about finding a February 1976 survey at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive. Yah Shure read the post, dug a little bit at ARSA, and then he left a note here:

Well, this is either an amazing coincidence, or the “Lee Tucker” who contributed this survey to ARSA copied it directly from your blog, whiteray. It’s the very same WJON survey I scanned in 2017 and sent you, which you then subsequently posted and wrote about.

I’d also sent those scans to my fellow WJON alum, J.J., who was working at the station in 1976. Your “meh” assessment matched what we’d both thought about that lineup of songs.

So I went and dug into my Documents folder, and yep, the survey scans were in a folder in the blog files.

And this isn’t the only time in recent months that Yah Shure has reminded me of essentially a duplicate post that ran here connected to something he provided me. I wrote in October about not recalling at all the 1971 record “New Jersey” by the duo of England Dan & John Ford Coley. At that time, Yah Shure reminded me that I’d written pretty much the same post back in 2016, about a year after he’d provided me with a collection of ED & JFC’s early work, including “New Jersey.”

Well, all I can say is that it’s hard to keep track of the content of 2,500-some posts and 1,500-some CDs. And even though the unplanned repetitions are kind of “oops” moments., I’m glad to know about them.

So I went looking this morning for tunes that have the word “again” in their titles. The RealPlayer offered 733 tracks, but some of them find the word in their album titles or have words like “against” in their titles, which trims the usable number of tracks down to something like 650. No matter.

I let the player roll on random while I wrote and researched, and it eventually fell onto a track that I recall from my vinyl madness days on Minneapolis’ Pleasant Avenue: “Come Back Into My Life Again” from Cold Blood’s 1974 album Lydia, titled for the group’s lead singer, Lydia Pense.

My search function tells me that I’ve offered the track once before, in 2009, but since this post is essentially about doing things again, that’s okay. The song was written by Billy Ray Charles, and the website discogs lists Lydia as the only record – album or single – on which it’s appeared. I find that hard to believe, but AllMusic seems to say the same, and the record is not listed at Second Hand Songs.

Anyway, here’s “Come Back Into My Life Again” from Cold Blood’s 1974 album Lydia. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘This Old World . . .’

February 11th, 2021

I woke from a dream this morning with the chorus from the Fred Neil song “Dolphins” running through my head:

I’ve been searchin’ for the dolphins in the sea
And sometimes I wonder, do you ever think of me . . .

It’s a haunting, lovely song that was first recorded and released in 1967 on Neil’s first third* album, a self-titled work that also included his most famous song, “Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me,” used as part of the soundtrack of the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy. Here’s Neil’s version of “Dolphins.”

Covers – many of them titled “The Dolphins” – popped up quickly, of course, and several of them are here on the digital shelves: Gale Garnett & the Gentle Reign (1968) and It’s A Beautiful Day (1970) did covers that seem from here to be a little odd, as did a country-ish group called West (1968).

The two most standard of the early covers – through, say, the mid-Seventies – were those by Dion and Al Wilson (both 1968). I think I like Wilson’s better. Richie Havens released a nice live version in 1972.

We might come back another day and look at some other early covers as well as those from the mid-Seventies onward. (There were very few in the 1980s, but the 1990s onwards saw the song covered more frequently.) But we’ll close today with one of the covers that I always think I should like but have a little trouble embracing: Linda Ronstadt’s 1969 version that was part of her Hand Sown . . . Home Grown album. I think maybe she over-sings it a little.

*Neil’s self-titled 1967 album was his first for Capitol but his third overall. He and Vince Neil recorded Tear Down The Walls in 1964, and Fred Neil released Bleeker & McDougal in 1965; both were on Elektra.

A Survey From St. Cloud!

February 9th, 2021

I have no idea how many times in the past fourteen years I’ve written about WJON, the AM radio station that brought me a lot of my Top 40 fixes during my teenage years. More than I want to count, I’m sure.

Settled on Lincoln Avenue just down the street and across the railroad tracks from our house on Kilian Boulevard, WJON and its disk jockeys eased my way, starting in the summer of 1969, from being a soundtrack and trumpet nerd into knowing a little bit more about the music my peers had been listening to for a long time.

(And that continues today, as I often get a note of enlightenment here from my friend Yah Shure, whose career in radio includes a late 1970s stint at WJON; our paths did not cross, however, as he arrived in St. Cloud about the time I decamped to Monticello, thirty miles away, for a newspapering gig.)

Similarly, I have no idea how many times I’ve stopped by the Airheads Radio Survey Archive for fodder for a post here. But until recently, I’d not found one survey from St. Cloud from the years I lived there and listened to Top 40. There were a few from KFAM, another AM station now called KNSI, from the 1940s and 1950s, and there were some from the early 1980s from KCLD, an FM sister station of KFAM/KNSI.

The other week, though, I found one survey at the site from WJON, a survey issued February 9, 1976, forty-five years ago today. Now, I guess I wasn’t really living in St. Cloud at the time, as I was taking my internship in the Twin Cities, but I was in St. Cloud every other weekend or so, so I would have heard whatever it was WJON was offering at the time. Here’s the top ten:

“Convoy” by C.W. McCall
“I Write The Songs” by Barry Manilow
“Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers
“50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon
“Evil Woman” by the Electric Light Orchestra
“Squeeze Box” by the Who
“All By Myself” by Eric Carmen
“Fox On The Run” by Sweet
“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” by Neil Sedaka
“Winners & Losers” by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds

That’s a “meh” from here. I liked “Convoy,” but like all novelty records, it’s got a limited shelf life. I liked the Manilow then, but now, not so much. I still like the Simon and the ELO records, and the Carmen is good from time to time.

Lower down, however, there are some records I liked better: “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)” by the Bee Gees at No. 17, “Break Away” by Art Garfunkel at No. 25, “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” by the 4 Seasons at No. 27, “Somewhere In The Night,” by Helen Reddy at No. 37, and a few more.

But the record at No. 18 in that forty-five-year-old survey popped up on my iPod the other day, and reminded me of something I wrote here about three years ago:

There are a few records that bring back viscerally the last months of 1975 and the first of 1976, and Diana Ross’ “Theme From Mahogany (‘Do You Know Where You’re Going To’)” is one of them. Those months were my last as an undergrad; I was an intern in sports at a Twin Cities television station, with graduation quickly approaching (and no job prospects in sight). I was also in a relationship that seemed promising, but I was nevertheless very aware of the not-so-subtle hints being laid down by the lovely redhead who was interning in the station’s promotions department. So, to answer the record’s question, no, I had no idea where I was going to. But it wasn’t the lyrics that pulled me into the song; it was the twisting, yearning melody that caught me then and still does today (with current hearings all the more potent for the memories they stir). Whether for the melody or the words, the record caught many people as 1975 turned into 1976: It went to No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the magazine’s Easy Listening chart, and it reached No. 14 on the magazine’s R&B chart.

Saturday Single No. 723

February 6th, 2021

As I’ve likely mentioned at one time or another, I use a sleep aid at night, a pill. About fifteen years ago, I fell into a pattern of sleeping well for five weeks or so and then having a five-or six-day stretch when, no matter what time I went to bed, I got about two, maybe three hours of sleep.

And the pill – a generic of one of those you see ads for on TV – solved that and has done so for these fifteen or so years. Most of the time. About once every four or five months, I have a difficult night. Last night was one of those nights:

I took my pill and retired about one o’clock last night, then lay there with the music from my iPod, turned down low, playing in my ears. For about an hour, I waited for the pill to kick in, occasionally getting drowsy but never more than that.

So, I got up and did stuff: Played a game on the computer, read some news, petted the cats. Then I went back to bed, this time without music. No diff. So I got up and finished a recent (and badly written) novel from the Tom Clancy franchise. By that time, it was four o’clock.

Then I curled up on the couch, my customary afternoon nap spot, and yes, I fell asleep. When the cats began to annoy me, I fed them, then shifted to the bedroom and slept the morning away.

Here’s the so-called Esher Demo of the Beatles’ “I’m So Tired,” a 1968 recording released a few years ago with an expanded edition of The Beatles. It’s today’s Saturday Single.