No. 55, Fifty-Five Years Ago (June 1966)

June 15th, 2021

It’s been a couple of years since we looked at a chart from 1966 for any reason, so we’re going to head that direction this morning and then play a game of Symmetry. Here are the top ten records from the Billboard Hot 100 from the third week in June 1966, fifty-five years ago:

“Paint It, Black” by the Rolling Stones
“Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” by the Lovin’ Spoonful
“I Am A Rock” by Simon & Garfunkel
“When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge
“Strangers In The Night” by Frank Sinatra
“A Groovy Kind Of Love” by the Mindbenders
“Barefootin’” by Robert Parker
“Green Grass” by Gary Lewis & The Playboys
“Cool Jerk” by the Capitols
“Red Rubber Ball” by the Cyrkle

As I typed that list, I knew nine of those ten, and a trip to YouTube refreshed my memory of “Green Grass.” How many of those would I have known fifty-five years ago, though?

I was twelve, between seventh and eighth grades, and that might have been the summer that I took summer school courses in cooking and World War II history, or it might have been chemistry and Spanish. And I wasn’t yet very interested in pop music, so any of those records I remember, I remember only because I heard then when I was with my peers and the radio was on, not because I was listening.

I have vague memories of hearing the records by the Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, the Lovin’s Spoonful, Percy Sledge and the Cyrkle. And I know I heard the Frank Sinatra single: I was still an easy listening kid, and “Strangers In The Night” topped the Easy Listening chart for seven weeks. I no doubt heard it on WCCO from the Twin Cities and on the two St. Cloud stations, WJON and KFAM. And I liked it, too.

I also liked “I Am A Rock” and “Red Rubber Ball,” as well as “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind,” although the dilemma facing the singer in that tune bemused me. I could not imagine myself in a position of having to make a choice between two willing girls. (I marked that one off on my bucket list not quite ten years later.) On the other hand, even though I knew it fifty-five years ago, I have never really liked “When A Man Loves A Woman,” and I don’t have any idea why that is.

How about now? Do any of those records fit into my day-to-day listening? Let’s look at the iPod. Four of them are there: The records by Sinatra, the Stones, the Cyrkle and the Capitols. That last is a surprise, almost as much of a surprise as the absence of “I Am A Rock.”

Now, to our other business today: Checking out the record that sat at No. 55 in the middle of June 1966. Not unsurprisingly, it’s a record I don’t think I’ve ever heard of, much less heard: “Come Running Back” by Dean Martin. Back then, I knew “Everybody Loves Somebody,” Martin’s No. 1 hit from 1964, and I think I’d heard “Houston” on one of the 45s that I got from Leo Rau, the jukebox jobber who lived across the alley.

But that was the limit of my Dean Martin lore then. In the past few years, I’ve added a hits package to the digital shelves, but I don’t know much of it well except “Volare” and “That’s Amore.” Add “Mambo Italiano” from my cabaret adventures with Lucille and Heather a few years ago, and that’s the extent of my Dean Martin awareness.

“Come Running Back” is an okay record – it’s a mid-Sixties swingin’ and brassy Pack Rat joint – except for the shrillness of the background singers, and since they pretty much start things off, well, that takes off some points right there. Lyrically, it’s pretty simple: She’s gone and he’s saying that if things don’t work out, come on home. Yeah, we’ve found better records on our dives into the charts, but we’ve also found much, much worse.

“Come Running Back” peaked at No. 35 on the Hot 100 and at No. 4 on the Easy Listening chart.

Saturday Single No. 740

June 12th, 2021

According to the book Billboard #1s, a Joel Whitburn publication, here were the records at the top of the various charts published in the June 12, 1971 edition, fifty years ago today:

Hot 100: “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones
R&B singles: “Want Ads” by the Honey Cone
Country singles: “You’re My Man” by Lynn Anderson
AC singles: “Rainy Days & Mondays” by the Carpenters
Pop albums: Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
R&B albums: Maybe Tomorrow by the Jackson 5
Country albums: Hag by Merle Haggard

I know three of the four singles well, but only one of the three albums. My knowledge of the artists from that list whose works I do not know well forms a pyramid: I know the Jackson 5’s hits but none of their albums; I know Anderson’s biggest hit, “Rose Garden,” but no more than that; and I know only a sliver of Haggard’s mountain of work: “Mama Tried,” “Okie From Muskogee” and “Pancho & Lefty” are what came to mind.

And I imagine that kind of differential would be the norm no matter what week’s listings I pulled from the Whitburn book.

I got the LP of Sticky Fingers in late 1972, among a batch of albums ordered from a record club, and it went into heavy rotation in the basement rec room that autumn and winter. Along with the singles, “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” my favorites were “Moonlight Mile” and “You Gotta Move.” That last song was credited on the LP in 1971 to Mississippi Fred McDowell, which is what I expected, but the credits on the Sticky Fingers CD release add Rev. Gary Davis, which I did not expect.

Davis recorded his version of the tune in 1953, according to Second Hand Songs, and McDowell’s version was not recorded until 1965 (though he no doubt had been performing the song for years before that). But given that recorded versions of the song date to at least 1944, according to SHS, the credit even to McDowell seems questionable. SHS calls the song traditional.

Wherever it came from, it’s a good song. Here it is as the Stones released it on the No. 1 album from fifty years ago. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Every Time I Look At You . . .’

June 11th, 2021

It was about this time fifty years ago, in June 1971, that I entered the world of work, toiling for the summer for the maintenance department at St. Cloud State. I was assigned to the lawn-mowing crew, spending my days either riding a huge machine that trimmed the massive lawns of the college (eventually a university) or following behind with a push mower to trim the edges at places the big rigs could not go.

As I think I’ve noted before, I did not do well with the big machines; they scared me, and a timid mower does not move fast enough. After seven or eight weeks, I was transferred to the janitorial crew and soon enough joined Mike the Janitor scrubbing and waxing floors all over the campus.

But as I wrote more than twelve years ago, finding something to occupy one’s time while riding in the deafening roar of the big mowers was a challenge. (These days, I assume we’d be issued protective goggles and headphones. Fifty years ago? Not a chance.) In a post in 2009, I wrote:

We weren’t allowed to bring our transistor radios and earphones to work with us, for safety reasons, I assume. So there we were, those five or six of us on the mowing crew, spending our days on riding mowers or following behind the riding mowers with push mowers to trim around buildings.

The roar of the mowers made conversation impossible. I’m not sure what the other guys did to occupy their minds while riding in the roar, but I “listened” to albums. I’d mentally drop the needle at the start of a record and run through the album in my head, a side at a time.

Among the records I “listened” to as I rode the lawnmower were the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Hey Jude; Blood, Sweat & Tears’ second, self-titled album; Janis Joplin’s Pearl; the second side of Chicago’s second album, the side with the long suite titled “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon” and Jesus Christ Superstar. As long as I kept the mower moving and didn’t run into any trees or buildings, my supervisors didn’t seem to care that I was riding along in my own musical world.

As I read that post this morning, I thought of a few other albums that I’d run through my head as I rode during those lawnmower days fifty years ago: Crosby, Stills & Nash, and with Neil Young added, Déjà Vu, The Band’s second-self-titled album, Ram by Paul and Linda McCartney, and several more Beatles’ albums: Let It Be, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as well as the U.S. version of Revolver and the cobbled-together “Yesterday” . . . And Today. I imagine I also took stabs at the first and fourth movements of Antonín Dvořák’s “New World” symphony and Bedřich Smetana’s tone-poem Vltava, all of which I’d played in high school orchestra.

And here’s the first track from any of those albums that popped up during a random click-fest in iTunes this morning: the title track to 1970’s Jesus Christ Superstar, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice and performed by Murray Head with the Trinidad Singers:

‘Give Up Your Guns . . .’

June 8th, 2021

Scanning the 6+30 survey that the Twin Cities’ KDWB released on June 7, 1971 – fifty years ago yesterday – I struggled to find something fresh. Until I got to the very bottom line, No. 36, where I saw “Give Up Your Guns” by the Buoys.

I remembered the Buoys and their hit from the previous spring, “Timothy,” about the aftermath of a mining cave-in that might have included cannibalism (unless Timothy was a pack mule, which I’ve heard bandied about). “Timothy” was No. 1 for two weeks at KDWB as March turned into April (and went to No. 17 nationally on the Billboard Hot 100), so I heard the record plenty, learning years later that it was written by Rupert Holmes of “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” fame.

But “Give Up Your Guns”? I have no memory of that one. I did a quick search in the RealPlayer, and there it was, though when I gathered it, I have no idea. It turns out to be a “boy on the lam from the cops” song with a nicely done melody in a minor key:

When I woke up this morning
I found myself alone
I turned to touch her hair, but she was gone
She was gone
And there beside my pillow
Were her tears from the night before
She said, give up your guns and face the law

I robbed a bank in Tampa
And I thought I had it made
But the hounds picked up my trail within the glades
So I ran
And I stumbled on this cabin
And she came to me once more
She said, give up your guns and face the law

I don’t wanna leave her
I don’t wanna die
Deep within a cold, cold grave
With no one ’round to cry
But I have got my pistol
Now it’s time to choose
Shooting here or hanging there
And either way I lose

And now, I’m in this cabin
Where my own true love should be
Instead, there lies a note she wrote to me
And it says
No, you can’t live by the bullet
But you sure as death can die
My love, give up your guns or say goodbye, goodbye

And the sheriff now is calling
With his shotgun at my door
Son, give up your guns and face the law

That’s all told nicely in 2:34 or so, but then the strange thing happens: An instrumental passage – nice but repetitive – starts and runs for another 1:30 or so. It’s pleasant, but I can’t imagine a radio station letting it go for the entire length, so I wondered if the copy of the track I had was some kind of oddity. But the folks at discogs say the 45 runs 4:14. My track’s a second shorter, which is no big deal.

So that long instrumental at the end is kind of odd. (An album track evidently ran about two minutes longer yet.)

The record stiffed. It stayed on the KDWB survey for another three weeks and peaked at No. 24, and nationally, it stalled at No. 84 on the Hot 100. And the Buoys never saw the charts again.

Saturday Single No. 739

June 5th, 2021

Earlier this spring, in a piece about the passing of musician/producer Jim Steinman, I wrote:

I was in Missouri and I was the arts editor for the Columbia Missourian, published by the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. And one week, there were more new movies in town than my small staff could review, so I needed to jump in and review one of them. That happened occasionally, maybe four times during the year I filled the post. Out of the five or so movies opening that week, I selected Streets of Fire, more because I recognized the name of the female lead, Diane Lane, than for any other reason.

I loved it, especially the music. I cadged a bit on the grade I gave it, maybe awarding a B+. (I cannot put my hands on the review this morning although I know it exists in the filing drawers of unorganized clips from about fifteen years of reporting and editing.) Director Walter Hill called the movie a “rock and roll fable,” but even so, it’s over-the-top storytelling put me off just a bit.

But the music! There was stuff from the Blasters, Ry Cooder, the Fixx, Maria McKee, and a few others. And the Steinman-penned songs that opened and closed the movie blew me away: “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” with – as I learned later – Laurie Sargent providing the vocals for Lane on the former and Holly Sherwood doing the same on the latter, both backed by a group of musicians that the filmmakers called Fire Inc.

Within a few days, I had the soundtrack, knew the writers and producers and anything else I could glean from the jacket. And in the thirty-some years since, any time I hear either of those two tracks from the soundtrack, I remember the thrill of finding something utterly new, a feeling that can stay with you for years.

The LP database tells me that it was thirty-seven years ago today that I picked up the soundtrack to Streets of Fire and took it home to the south end of Columbia. And today, sorting out the third-best track on the album, I dithered between Maria McKee’s “Never Be You” and Marilyn Martin’s take on the Stevie Nicks-penned “Sorceror.”

I came down on the side of “Sorceror.” Martin was the first to record it; Nick’s version came out only in 2001 on her album Trouble in Shangri-La. And Martin’s version from 1984 is today’s Saturday Single.

No. 50 Fifty Years Ago

June 4th, 2021

It’s time for another game of Symmetry, checking out the No. 50 record in the Billboard Hot 100 from the first week of 1971, fifty years ago. Along the way, we’ll check out the Top Ten from that week and see how they stacked up then and whether they matter now.

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten released on June 5 of that year, fifty years ago tomorrow:

“Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones
“Joy To The World” by Three Dog Night
“Want Ads” by the Honey Cone
“It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr
“Rainy Days and Mondays” by the Carpenters
“Bridge Over Troubled Water/Brand New Me” by Aretha Franklin
“Sweet and Innocent” by Donny Osmond
“Never Can Say Goodbye” by the Jackson 5
“It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move” by Carole King
“Me and You and A Dog Named Boo” by Lobo

Back then, having just graduated from high school and about to start a summer of lawn-mowing, janitoring and floor-cleaning at St. Cloud State, I liked most of those. The Donny Osmond single left me pretty blah, and something about Lobo’s single bothered me. (Maybe it was “the wheatfields of St. Paul” and the farmer from whom the narrator stole eggs. Not the St. Paul I knew.)

And I do not at all recall hearing Aretha’s cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at the time, even though it went to No. 24 on the Twin Cities’ KDWB. (I don’t think I heard that meditative take on Paul Simon’s masterpiece until I sought it out after reading a Dave Marsh piece about it during the early 1990s.) The flipside went unheard until the Nineties as well.

The others, though, would make up a more than pleasant stretch of listening. My favorites among them? The Stones, Ringo, the Carole King A-side and the Carpenters. And not much has changed today. Those four are in my current day-to-day listening in the iPod, along with “Want Ads” and “Joy To The World.” (I maybe should add “I Feel The Earth Move.” We’ll see.)

Now to our other business, checking out the No. 50 record from fifty years ago. And we find a slow and sad piece of soul from an artist who doesn’t show up here very often: “I Cried” by James Brown. There are several videos of the tune at YouTube, and under one of them, a commenter said, “This is how you sing a soul song.” I agree. (The record went no higher in the Hot 100, but it did go to No. 15 on the magazine’s R&B chart.)

What’s At No. 100? (June 1976)

June 2nd, 2021

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten records for the first week of June 1976. We’re going to talk about them a little bit and then drop to the bottom of the chart and see what was at No. 100 that week.

“Love Hangover” by Diana Ross
“Silly Love Songs” by Wings
“Get Up And Boogie (That’s Right)” by Silver Convention
“Misty Blue” by Dorothy Moore
“Happy Days” by Pratt & McLain
“Shannon” by Henry Gross
“Welcome Back” by John Sebastian
“Sara Smile” by Daryl Hall & John Oates
“Shop Around” by the Captain & Tennille
“Fool To Cry/Hot Stuff” by the Rolling Stones

Boy, forty-five years later, I really like only one of those: Moore’s heart-breaking, lovelorn “Misty Blue.”  As I wrote not quite three years ago:

From the opening piano cascades and Moore’s first “Ooooooooh” through the last “My whole world turns misty blue” three-and-a-half minutes later, this record reminds anyone who hears it exactly how it was, at least once, maybe twice, maybe three times in a lifetime. Anyone who’s truly lived has been in that misty blue world. And it’s a good thing to be reminded of that once in a while.

As for the rest, there are some virtues: “Silly Love Songs” has a world-class bass line, but is really just another McCartney trifle (this time about writing trifles). “Sara Smile” is sweet. “Fool To Cry” has a great Jagger vocal, but I can take or leave the flip side. The Captain & Tennille manage not to offend the Miracles with their cover of “Shop Around.” And silly as it is, “Get Up And Boogie (That’s Right)” was fun as the disco era was dawning.

I didn’t care about “Love Hangover” one way or another (and still don’t), but “Happy Days,” “Shannon,” and “Welcome Back” were all records that make me push the button for another station. (Actually, “Shannon” popped up the other day when I was taking a nap with the cable company’s Seventies channel on in the background. I heard the opening, groaned, rolled over and went back to sleep.)

And these days? I was stunned to find that none of those eleven records was in the iPod, the source of my day-to-day listening. I quickly added “Misty Blue,” and my work there was done. “Silly Love Songs” and “Fool To Cry” might be added later today.

Digging deeper into the Hot 100 from forty-five years ago this week, we’ll stop at No. 100, where we find a record I’ve never heard before: “Touch & Go” by the group Ecstasy, Passion & Pain, featuring Barbara Roy. It’s a dance outing with a decent instrumental backing, but boy, Roy’s vocals are lacking, being by turns strained and uncertain of pitch.

The R&B/dance group came out of New York City, and before adding “featuring Barbara Roy” to the credits, it had one record bubble under and then three entries reach the Hot 100, with “One Beautiful Day” hitting No. 48 in the spring of 1975. “Touch & Go,” the group’s last charting record, moved up to No. 98 the next week and then was gone.

Saturday Single No. 738

May 29th, 2021

Short of ideas this morning, I asked the RealPlayer to find tracks that were recorded on May 29 over the years, and we ended up with a few. (A reminder: I have that level of detail for perhaps ten percent of the 82,000 tracks available in the player.)

The oldest of the tracks listed for today’s date is from 1930, when bluesman and songster Blind Blake recorded “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2” in Grafton, Wisconsin, for the Paramount label. As is true of many tracks I’ve heard on the early Paramount label, the copy I have is hard to listen to. Until relatively recent advances in sound restoration, the poor quality of the early Paramount recordings along with, I would guess, their rarity, made it a challenge to listen to them through the hiss and crackle. And the version I have of “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2” is no different. The first verse goes (I think):

A gangster shot his pal today
As they carried him away
He say “Diddie wa diddie”
He say “Diddie wa diddie”
I just found out what “diddie wa diddie” means . . .

The last line of that verse refers to the original “Diddie Wa Diddie,” in which Blake sings “There’s a great big mystery” and goes on to tell us that the mystery is the meaning of the words “diddie wa diddie.”

The lyrics to “Diddie Wa Diddie” are widely available online, but oddly enough, in an era when it seems like everything and its puppy dog has been transcribed and uploaded to the ’Net, the lyrics to “Diddie Wah Diddie No. 2” seem to be absent.

A little bit of digging tells me that “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2” was the B-side of Paramount 12994, which featured “Hard Pushing Papa” on the A-side. From what discogs tells me, the best current source for the song is the 2000 release from Yazoo titled The Best of Blind Blake.

I’m pretty sure my copy didn’t come from there, as the sound quality of the videos showing that album’s cover at YouTube – including videos of “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2” – is much better than the sound of the clip in my collection (though still a bit challenging). So where did my digital copy come from? I have no idea, but it must have been in my early days of scavenging music online, as its bit rate is poor.

All of that is of no matter, I guess, except that if I want a better copy of “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2,” I now know where to find it. Will I? I doubt it. (I am a bit surprised that the track hasn’t shown up on the numerous anthologies of vintage music that already take up space on my shelves.) All that matters this morning is that ninety-one years ago today, Blind Blake recorded “Diddie Wa Diddie No. 2” in Grafton, Wisconsin. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘A Small Vacation . . .’

May 27th, 2021

This wasn’t planned, but this has turned out to be vacation week here. I’m weary and uninspired.

So here’s Dallas County with “Small Vacation” from the group’s self-titled 1971 album. The song was written by Don Nix and Jay Pruitt. Nix produced the album.

I’ll be back Saturday.

Saturday Single No. 737

May 22nd, 2021

The last three posts here, we’ve looked back at music bought on that date in the years 2000 and 2014. I thought I’d try the trick again today, and what I found brought back a memory from around 2014, maybe a bit later.

During the last four or five years of Mom’s life – from about 2012 into June 2017 – she quit going to Sunday services at Salem Lutheran Church, the East Side congregation that she and Dad had joined quite probably as soon as they set up housekeeping on Riverside Drive during the summer of 1948.

For about five years before that, after she sold her last car, she’d been riding with a fellow parishioner – also aging – who lived not far from her in Sauk Rapids. But he, too, became unable to drive, which left Mom to listen to the weekly services from Salem on a local radio station. I know she missed seeing Salem’s other members, but she also enjoyed, I think, being able to sit back in her favorite chair and sip a cup of coffee as the service went on, especially during bad weather.

(Could I have driven her to and from Salem? Well, not without major difficulty. That was about the time that the Texas Gal and I became involved in the activities of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in St. Cloud, and the schedule would have been difficult to navigate even at first, and then impossible after I became involved in the music activities at the UUF. I offered once to check with the local bus service’s custom ride program, but Mom demurred. I do think she enjoyed having church come to her.)

Having church come to her, however, did not curtail one of her favorite bits of involvement in Salem’s parish life: As every new year dawned during those last years, when it was difficult for her to be out and about, she’d have me go over to Salem for her and check out the calendars hanging on the corridor wall near the church office. Those calendars showed which members were sponsoring what portion of the service on which Sundays.

There was a calendar for those who wanted to provide flowers for the altar. There was one for those who wished to defray the cost of the radio broadcast of the service. There was another one, too, perhaps for something to do with the cost of communion – I’m not certain. My task, for those years, was to find one Sunday to sponsor the broadcast that was close to the date of Dad’s death in early June or their wedding anniversary in July, as well as sign up to cover the cost of altar flowers on Sundays close to each of those dates.

I don’t remember the cost of doing that. Somewhere around $200, I think. And having signed up on the calendars, I brought a check into the office, and handed it to Viv, the secretary and knower-of-all-things-essential that no organization can survive without. Viv’s younger brother was a high school classmate of my sister, who is three years older than I, so Viv and I were pretty much contemporaries.

I saw Viv maybe ten to twelve times a year during Mom’s last years. Not only was there the January trip to sponsor flowers and the radio broadcast, but there was also the near-monthly stop to pick up the newest edition of the booklet of daily devotions. And pretty much every time I stopped in, Viv had time to chat.

We had shared interest in pets and in pop-rock music, especially on LP. She and her daughter would make frequent trips to the Twin Cities on record-digging expeditions, and she was always pleased to share her successes and failures with me. The size of my LP collection – then at about 3,100 – fascinated her. And one of the constants of our conversations became her attempt to get a good collection of Pink Floyd LPs.

They were, she said, hard to find in any kind of decent condition. So, at one point, I told her that I had a wide collection of Floyd’s tunes in digital form, and if she wanted to give me some blank CDs, I’d burn my Floyd collection on them. I did note that the fidelity would be a little compromised, with the music having been first reduced from CD to mp3 and then stretched back. She didn’t care.

Then came the day I took Mom to Salem for a funeral of a friend. Viv was busy in the office, so I decided I’d get the blank CDs from her when I came back to pick up Mom, and I went home for a couple of hours. Once there, I sat in my study and thought about Pink Floyd. In not too many months, I knew, I was going to sell off two-thirds of my LPs. I had Dark Side Of The Moon and a few other Floyd albums on CD, and – as I mentioned above – most of the group’s entire catalog in digital form.

And when the time came for me to head to Salem again that morning, I pulled all the Pink Floyd LPs from the shelf, put them in a bag and took them with me to Salem. With Mom still at the post-funeral reception in the church’s Great Hall, I headed to the office. As I entered, Viv grabbed a stack of blank CDs and offered them to me. I shook my head and handed her the bag. “No,” I said, “this is yours.”

She looked through the bag and raised her head, staring at me. “How much?”

I shook my head again. “Nothing. You’ve been so good to Mom.”

Expressions of thanks went back and forth, and I left to find my mother, leaving in Viv’s possession five Pink Floyd LPs in very good condition, including my second copy of Dark Side Of The Moon, a record I bought in Minneapolis on May 22, 1993, replacing my first copy, one my Mom had bought for me as a gift in 1975.

And here, from 1973’s Dark Side Of The Moon, is “Time,” today’s Saturday Single.