Preparation Time

April 18th, 2019

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve become more active, I’ve been running more and more errands, resuming one of my roles that was transferred to the Texas Gal in the weeks after my January surgery, And as has long been my habit, as I drive around town, I listen to full CDs by favorite performers. And the focus for the past couple weeks has been the music of the Freddy Jones Band.

A note here: Those duties have been temporarily interrupted by an early Wednesday morning visit to the Emergency Room. What I feared was a serious problem turned out to be a much-less-major concern, but the medical tests to determine that have left me fatigued and in some pain (compounded by the ongoing recovery from January’s back surgery). Still, I feel much better today than I did yesterday, and I assume that by the beginning of next week, I’ll be back on the errand trail with the Freddy Jones Band keeping me company.

As I noted once before here, I am likely one of the few people with a complete set of albums by the Freddy Jones Band. (Eight CDs from 1993 through 2015, one of them a compilation. There may be a stand-alone single or two that I do not have.) Why? Well, for a couple simple reasons: I like the band’s rootsy and generally happy sound. And that sound takes me back to the 1990s, the bulk of which I spent on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis.

My main radio station during those years was Minneapolis’ Cities 97, playing an eclectic mix of mainstream rock, and several early tracks by the Freddy Jones Band came through my stereo speakers on quiet evenings: “Hold On To Midnight,” “In A Daydream,” “One World” and likely a few more.

Some of the music that pulls me back to those years from 1992 into 1999, tunes from other performers, is a little moody and reminds me of the less happy times I spent there. But the tunes of the Freddy Jones band remind me of the good things, the joys I found living in an urban environment: The butcher shop and barbershop I frequented on Thirty-Sixth Street and the nearby Vietnamese restaurant; Mojo’s coffeehouse on Grand Avenue, just a block away; and five blocks north (for the first few of those seven years, then a little bit farther away), Cheapo’s, the used record store where I spent inordinate amounts of time and money during those seven years.

And since one of the purposes of music in my life is to cement my memories in place, it’s been a little reaffirming to be reminded that the years I spent on Pleasant Avenue were not all lost time. I sometimes look back at those years and grieve for what I see as time spent trying – with only a little success – to figure out where I fit into the world. And then I think about a line I wrote in a song for a friend in the past year or so: “Time away is not time lost, and seasons always turn.”

So when I hear the Freddy Jones Band as I go about my errands, I realize that those years were better than I sometimes remember, and, if nothing else, they were preparation for the sweet years I’ve lived since. And that makes the Freddy Jones Band even more important to me.

Here’s “One World” from the band’s 1993 album Waiting For The Night, written by the group’s Marty Lloyd.

On the gypsies avenue tonight
Hundred lairs seem like a thousand candle lights
I do not read what the signs they have to say
In my soul there are riches locked away

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away

If you lost all of your obsessions
Could you part or would you cling to be your possessions?
I do believe in a sweet imagination
An open road paved by inspiration

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away

So many thorns wrapped around your ankles
Pretty gold that is taken by the banker
But I believe in a sweeter than sensation
An open path that’s not choking with temptation

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away
One world within, afraid of the gold
Unlock the doors in anger with the keys you hold

One world within, afraid to be sold

And the thorns around your ankle
Makes you bleed and bleed and bleed in gold

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away

Saturday Single No. 637

April 13th, 2019

Last evening we attended a local production of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the first production written years ago by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It was lively, fun, well-done, and a good time. And it got us home relatively early as these things go, about 10. That gave us time enough to stay up late.

So after settling in, we watched a couple episodes of Season Six of Game of Thrones in advance of the premiere of Season Eight tomorrow evening. We watched a couple more this morning before beginning our Saturday chores. We might finish Season Six before tomorrow evening, but we won’t have time for Season Seven. That’s okay, as it’s still relatively fresh in our memories, I think.

Anyway, along with frittering away our time on fantasy, we’ve been keeping the household running. I’m doing more these days than I have since early January, although there are some tasks I cannot yet resume. I keep trying to remind myself as I sit at the computer or sit on the couch that healing of any kind – physical or emotional – takes time. I’d kind of forgotten that.

So, three paragraphs, all mentioning time. That’s a cue. The RealPlayer has more than 2,800-tracks that come up in a search for “time.” As usual, some go by the wayside, like all of Ronnie Aldrich’s All-Time Piano Hits and Big Maybelle’s Saga of the Good Life & Hard Times as well as everything but the title track from Anne Briggs’ The Time Has Come and many more.

Still, as one might expect, there’s a lot to work with. And I run across an easy listening version of “It’s Going To Take Some Time” by the Button-Down Brass (featuring the “funky trumpet” of Ray Davies). The song, written by Carole King and Toni Stern and first released in 1971 on King’s album Music, showed up here eight years ago when I waded through King’s work in the wake of my Ultimate Jukebox. Other than that, it’s been ignored.

Along with those two versions, the RealPlayer also offers the Carpenters’ cover of the tune, which went to No. 12 in 1972, the only version of the song ever to reach the Billboard Hot 100. (The Carpenters’ record also went to No. 2 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.)

Now, I once referred to the Carpenters as sitting on the softest end of the pop-rock couch or something similar, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like their work, or at least some of it. And Karen Carpenter’s voice was a thing of beauty. So for all of the above reasons, here’s “It’s Going To Take Some Time,” today’s Saturday Single.

X’s & O’s

April 10th, 2019

Watching the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four this past weekend reminded me of the one time in my life I was a basketball scout. (The Final Four took place in Minneapolis, seventy miles away, but I watched from my study, not tempted one minute to be in the midst of the activity. Had I been thirty years younger, things might have been different.)

The weekend’s games brought to mind a weekend in early 1979: The Other Half and I were heading northwest from Monticello about 125 miles to visit her family, who lived between the two small towns of Eagle Bend and Parkers Prairie, going up Saturday morning and coming back Sunday afternoon.

On my newspaper rounds that Friday, I mentioned our plans to the boys’ basketball coach at Big Lake High School. “Really?” he said. “I noticed that Swanville is playing at Eagle Bend Saturday night. They’re supposed to be good, but nobody I know has had a chance to look at them.”

That wasn’t surprising. The basketball district included about twelve schools – smaller ones tagged as Class A by the state high school league – all within about forty-five miles of St. Cloud. Big Lake was at the southeastern corner of the district, and Swanville, a burg of about 300, was in the northwestern corner of the district.

The coach looked at me, and I knew what was coming: “What are you doing Saturday night?”

I had no plans other than being in the farmhouse halfway between Eagle Bend and Parkers Prairie with the Other Half, her parents and her nine siblings. Based on previous visits, it wasn’t like we all did things together around the huge kitchen table. The Other Half would be catching up with her mom and her sisters, and I’d likely be on my own.

“I’ll see if I can get into town,” I told the coach. “But you know that I’m not an X’s and O’s guy. I’m not that good.” After all, I’d only been covering basketball for a little more than a year.

He dismissed that concern with a wave of his hand. “You’ve learned more than you think,” he said. “You can tell zone from man-to-man, you can tell when a team likes to press or to run fast off rebounds. You can see a team’s tendencies in the half-court game.”

He shrugged. “And even if you couldn’t see all of that, you might see one thing that gives us some insight if we end up playing them in the tournament.”

So after dinner Saturday evening, I drove our Toyota from the farm to Eagle Bend High School to watch the Eagles host the Swans. As it happened, my father-in-law was on duty that evening as a custodian at the high school, so I stopped in at his workroom for a few minutes, then headed into the gym with my notebook.

I don’t recall if the Swans played man or zone. I don’t remember if they won the game although I think so, as they had a far better record coming in than did the Eagles. I do remember one thing about their half-court offense: From the top of the key, the Swans would pass the ball to the side about halfway between mid-court and the baseline. From there would come a pass to a player in the corner, and he would attempt to drive along the baseline and shoot. If the shot wasn’t there, he’d retreat to the corner, passing the ball back to the top of the key for a shot or more rarely, a pass to the halfway point on the other side of the court, followed by another attempt at baseline penetration.

I’d watched a lot of high school basketball games in the previous year and a half, and I’d never seen anything like what the Swans were doing. It looked odd and inefficient.

At halftime, the fellow I’d noticed doing radio play-by-play of the game approached me. If I recall this correctly, a decal on his equipment or a patch on his jacket told me he was from a station in Wadena, a larger town a little bit north of Eagle Bend. He asked if I was a reporter, and I said I was but that I was playing the role of scout for the Big Lake coach. He invited me to join him on the air to talk about the teams in the southern portion of the district, and I shared what I knew and what I thought for a few minutes.

He asked me who I thought might reach the district title game, and I said that based on what I’d read and seen, it would be the teams from Big Lake and from Albany, which is just a little northwest of St. Cloud. (I was right: In the title game, Albany’s tough defense shut down Big Lake’s running game and outside shooting, ending the Hornets’ season for the second year in a row; a year earlier, the loss had come in the quarterfinals.)

The Swans beat the Eagles, and I headed via country roads to the farmhouse and – a day later – back to Monticello. On Monday, when I made my regular stop at Big Lake High School, I handed in my scouting report. When tournament time came, the bracket put Swanville up against the Bulldogs from Becker, eight miles northwest of Big Lake, and – without my knowing it – the Big Lake coach passed my notes onto the coach from Becker, a close friend.

And on another Monday, the Big Lake coach told me he’d talked to the Becker coach over the weekend, following Becker’s victory over Swanville. “He said that Swanville did exactly what you said they’d do,” the Big Lake coach told me. “From the key to the side, down to the baseline and back to the key with a few outside shots added. Becker shut down the baseline, challenged the outside shooters and frustrated ’em all night long.”

I’ve never been called on to scout another game. Why should I? I’m 1-0.

I have one track on the digital shelves that has the word “basketball” in its title. (I expected at least two, but I tend to forget that I lost my copy of “Basketball Jones” in the hard drive crash a couple of years back and haven’t replaced it.) Here’s “I Never Play Basketball Now” by Prefab Sprout. It’s from the English band’s 1984 debut album Swoon.

Saturday Single No. 636

April 6th, 2019

So I wandered around the digital shelves this morning as I waited for my over-the-counter meds to kick in, and I idly searched the 77,000 tracks in the RealPlayer for the word “ache.” (Yeah, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.) And I got back 230-some results.

As usual with those searches, a lot of stuff had to be trimmed out, including a 1966 album titled I Can’t Grow Peaches On A Cherry Tree by someone called Just Us. Based on the notes attached to the mps3, I scavenged it from a blog called raremp3 about the time I started blogging and never paid much attention to it.

So as I listened to the tune “Listen To The Drummer,” I began to dig. It turns out that Just Us was a duo made up of studio musician Al Gorgoni and Chip Taylor, who is perhaps best known as the writer of “Wild Thing” and “Angel Of The Morning.” (He’s also known, less interestingly to me, for being the brother of actor John Voight and thus the uncle of Angelina Jolie.)

The album’s an assortment of mid-1960s close-harmony folk with a few familiar covers (and generally spare instrumentation). It’s a little bit bland at times but decent. It threw off one minor hit on the Colpix label, as the title track went to No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 3 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart in the spring of 1966. Discogs tells me that Kapp Records, which released the album, sent out three more singles in the next year or so, two of them pulled from the Cherry Tree album and another with A and B sides pulled from a 1967 EP titled What Are We Gonna Do. None charted.

Just Us was the second group to record “I Can’t Grow Peaches on a Cherry Tree,” which was written by Camille Monte and Estelle Levitt. Second Hand Songs says that The Browns (with the addendum, “Featuring Jim Edward Brown”) were the first in June 1965. Their version bubbled under at No. 120. Just Us recorded the tune in December of 1965, followed by Nancy Sinatra in August 1966, a group called the Defenders in December 1966, and Teddy Bear & The Playboys sometime in 1967. Second Hand Songs also lists one instrumental version by Art Blakey in September 1966 and a version in Portuguese by Jerry Adriani in October 1965.

And that’s likely more than we need to know about “I Can’t Grow Peaches on a Cherry Tree.” I’ll likely check out Nancy Sinatra’s version, but probably not any of the others. For today, we’ll go with the hit. So here’s “I Can’t Grow Peaches on a Cherry Tree” by Just Us, today’s Saturday Single.

No. 54, Fifty-Four Years Ago

April 4th, 2019

It’s time for another game of Symmetry, today checking out the No. 54 record in the Billboard Hot 100 fifty-four years ago, during the first days of April 1965.

That chart, actually released on April 3, fifty-four years ago yesterday, had as its top three records “Stop In The Name Of Love” by the Supremes, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” by Herman’s Hermits, and “I’m Telling You Now” by Freddie & The Dreamers.

Back then, I doubt whether I knew two of the three. I’m sure I knew the Supremes’ record; it was all around. But as the last months of sixth grade were going past, I doubt that I heard either of the other two often enough to recognize them. Later in the year – in September or December – I would get to know the Herman’s Hermits record, as it was the first track on Herman’s Hermits On Tour, which my sister gave me for either Christmas or my birthday that year. (Whichever it was, the other occasion was marked by her giving me Sonny & Cher’s Look At Us, thus providing me my introduction to the musicians of the Wrecking Crew.)

Fifty-four years later, the Supremes’ record still sounds good, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” is pleasant nostalgia, and “I’m Telling You Now” just brings up memories of Freddie Garrity and his mates losing their way (along with any credibility they might have had in the view of a twelve-year-old boy) by doing the Freddie.

So what do we find further down, fourteen places below the Top 40? Well, we find one of the classic middle-of-the-road pop singers of the 1950s and 1960s, Jerry Vale, and his single ‘For Mama.” The Bronx- born Vale first hit the Billboard chart in 1954 with “Two Purple Shadows,” which peaked at No. 20. His take on “You Don’t Know Me” brought him his greatest success on the pop chart when it went to No. 14 in 1956.

And the record that was at No. 54 during the early days of April 1965 was, well, a melodrama in a minor key, kind of a mish-mash that I doubt that I would have liked even in 1965, when traditional pop was my jam. It went no higher in the Hot 100, although it went to No. 13 on the Billboard chart that was then called “Middle-Road Singles.”

Maybe it’s just me, but the tale of Mama’s last request wanders all over the place.

Saturday Single No. 635

March 30th, 2019

I didn’t sleep well, unaided by cats who demanded breakfast at 7 a.m., and my back hurts this morning, more than it has for some time.

I’m in a cranky mood. None of the 77,000-some tracks in the RealPlayer have the word “cranky” either in their titles, their album titles or their notes. This increases the cranky quotient.

The word “back,” however, brings up more than 1,400 results. Some of them – as is usual with a RealPlayer search – must be discarded, as they contain the word “backing” in their listing or they link to an album, like the Bible’s Walking The Ghost Back Home (1986). Stuff like that.

In addition, many of the titles in the search results refer to “go back” or “come back” or similar usages, not to “back” as a body part. But there are a few tracks I can pull to offer something back-related to listen to this morning.

And we find a track from an album I discovered in 1998, during my last year on Pleasant Avenue in South Minneapolis. “Get Off My Back” is on the self-titled 1975 album by a group called High Cotton. The information at discogs.com categorizes the band as Southern Rock and seems to indicate that the band never released another album. (A single, “Going Up To Get Down,” was pulled from the album; it was the group’s only released single.)

I recall having high hopes for the album and being vaguely disappointed with it, but twenty-plus years later, “Get Off My Back” sounds pretty good. Not world-beating, but good enough for a Saturday morning.

That’s why “Get Off My Back” from High Cotton’s 1975 self-titled album is today’s Saturday Single.

‘I’ll Try Something New . . .’

March 29th, 2019

As I’ve noted before, my teenage Top 40 listening came by way of three radio stations: KDWB in the Twin Cities, WLS in Chicago (almost entirely as I was falling asleep) and St. Cloud’s WJON. The Twin Cities’ other major Top 40 station, WDGY was pretty much unknown to those of us in St. Cloud because of its signal direction, except when we wandered past its mobile studio during a trip to the state fair.

I’m sure there wasn’t a lot of difference in their playlists, but every once in a while, I like to go to the WDGY page at Oldiesloon and check out one of the WDGY surveys. And it happens that the station released one fifty years ago today, on March 29, 1969. Here’s the Top Ten from that week’s Star Survey:

“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” by the 5th Dimension
“Dizzy” by Tommy Roe
“Time Of The Season” by the Zombies
“Indian Giver” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“Hot Smoke & Sasafrass” by Bubble Puppy
“Galveston” by Glen Campbell
“Only The Strong Survive” by Jerry Butler
“Rock Me” by Steppenwolf
“Baby, Baby, Don’t Cry” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Almost all of that is stuff that I would have known by osmosis, by having the sounds around me even if I didn’t pay them much attention. I don’t recall “Baby, Baby Don’t Cry,” and I’m not sure about the Jerry Butler record; I may have heard it then, but I know it better now from Elvis Presley’s cover from the 1969 Memphis sessions.

I like pretty much everything in that forty or so minutes of listening, and “Galveston,” “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In,” “Time Of The Seasons” and the BS&T single are still favorites. I remain unmoved by Tommy Roe, though “Dizzy” is the best of his hits.

We’ll cap off this brief excursion by dropping down to No. 30 at the bottom of that long-ago WDGY survey, where we find “I’ll Try Something New” by Diana Ross & The Supremes and the Temptations. The single was the second pulled from the album the two groups had recorded in 1968 in connection with a television special, and it did all right, reaching No. 25 in the Billboard Hot 100 (and going to No. 8 on the magazine’s R&B chart).

I don’t recall it from fifty years ago, and in fact, I don’t recall it all, despite its presence on the Supremes hits CD on the shelves here. It’s good, but it’s not “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.”

‘Kisses And A Tootsie Roll . . .’

March 28th, 2019

The Beach Boys’ “Disney Girls (1957)” was the topic Saturday, and after talking about versions by the Beach Boys, Art Garfunkel and Cass Elliot, I noted that there were fifteen versions listed at Second Hand Songs. I actually meant to throw the word “additional” in there, as SHS lists eighteen takes of the Bruce Johnston tune. That’s been corrected now, and it’s a good time, I guess, to look at some of the covers of that purposefully nostalgic tune.

The first to take a stab at the tune after the Beach Boys (1971) and Cass Elliot (1972) were the Captain & Tennille, still a few years away from the huge success of “Love Will Keep Us Together.” They released “Disney Girls (1957)” as a B-Side to “The Way I Want To Touch You” three times, first on Butterscotch Castle 001, then on Joyce 101, then on A&M 1624. The latter two were released in 1974, based on what I see at discogs.com; I think the Butterscotch Castle release was in 1974, as well.

“The Way I Want To Touch You” was finally a hit on its fourth release, but by then its B-side was “Boddy Bounce,” and “Disney Girls” ended up as an album track on the duo’s first album Love Will Keep Us Together in 1975. Even for an exercise in nostalgia, it’s a little syrupy.

After that, Garfunkel covered the song, and covers came in the next few years from: Papa Doo Run Run, an L.A.-based band that specialized in covers of tunes by the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean; English singer Michael Crawford; the song’s writer himself, Bruce Johnston; MOR singer Jack Jones; and a number of artists whose names I do not recognize through the rest of the century and beyond, with Doris Day’s 2011 release and Mari Wilson’s cover a year later ending the train.

Day’s take is okay, a little breathy, and was recorded some years before the death of Day’s son (and producer) Terry Melcher in 2004. I don’t care for Wilson’s voice, at least not for “Disney Girls.” There’s a husky undertone that doesn’t seem to fit the song.

Johnston’s 1977 solo take is a stripped-down piano-backed version that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, and Jones’ version brings nothing special either.

So for something to listen to this morning, we’ll go back to the first version I heard: Garfunkel’s cover of the song on his 1975 album Breakaway, the version that started this minor exploration when it came out of the player here in the kitchen last week.

Saturday Single No. 634

March 23rd, 2019

It’s been an earworm week. I was in the living room the other day, likely reading the paper, with the iPod running through the CD player in the kitchen. And then came Art Garfunkel’s clear tenor:

Clearing skies and drying eyes
Now I see your smile
Darkness goes and softness shows
A changing style . . .

I lay the paper on the couch and sat back as Garfunkel made his way through “Disney Girls (1957),” the sweet paean to nostalgia written by Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys and first released on the Boys’ 1971 album Surf’s Up.

And for the past three or four days, bits and pieces of the song’s lyrics have popped in and out of my head at odd times:

Patti Page and summer days on old Cape Cod . . .

I’m in love with a girl I found . . .

She likes church, bingo chances, and old time dances . . .

A forever wife and a kid someday . . .

Fantasy world and Disney girls, I’m coming back . . .

The record didn’t chart back in 1971; from what I can tell at discogs.com, it was released as a single only in Holland. Nor did Garfunkel’s 1975 version, which showed up on his Watermark album and was the B-side of his “Break Away” single. Nor, from a quick check of Joel Whitburn’s books, has any other version. The best known of those other versions may be the 1971 cover by Cass Elliot, which was the B-side to her single, “(If You’re Gonna) Break Another Heart.”

I’ve seen commentary – where, I cannot recall – that “Disney Girls (1957)” was a societal harbinger of the Fifties nostalgia that took hold of a lot of American pop culture in the early 1970s, a nostalgia reflected by movies like American Graffiti, television shows like Happy Days and its spin-off, Laverne & Shirley, and records like “Did You Boogie (With Your Baby)” by Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids, to name just a few. Those things came along a little later, though, starting – if I have things right – in 1973. So what do I know? Fifties nostalgia never was a big deal to me, anyway.

It’s a nice song, though, and – as I said – it’s been running through my head at odd times this week. The site Second Hand Songs lists about fifteen additional versions of it, from the Beach Boys’ 1971 original through a cover by Mari Wilson in 2012. Maybe we’ll dig into some of those someday, but for now, here’s the original “Disney Girls (1957)” by the Beach Boys. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

No. 53, Fifty-Three Years Ago

March 21st, 2019

With my time self-limited this morning – I have two or three errands that I want to complete before watching the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team take on Louisville in the NCAA tournament – I’m jumping into another game of Symmetry this morning, this time taking a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from fifty-three years ago.

During the third week of March 1966 – as represented by the Hot 100 released on March 19 – the top three records in the Hot 100 were “The Ballad Of The Green Berets” by S/Sgt. Barry Sadler, “19th Nervous Breakdown” by the Rolling Stones, and “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra.

I heard all three regularly, somewhere. (Most likely, as I think about it, in Mrs. Villalta’s art classroom, where she allowed us to play the radio at low volume while we drew or inked or clayed.) And I was pretty much okay with all of them, as I am with two of them these days: Both the Stones’ record and “Boots” are among the 3,900-some tracks in the iPod.

About Sadler’s record: As awful as the war in Vietnam was, thoughtfulness about it had not yet percolated to the level of seventh grade; that – along with opposition to the war – would take a couple more years, so Sadler’s record, which was No. 1 for five weeks, did not bother me or my peers. We thought the Green Berets were heroes. But when it popped up on one of the Sixties radio channels maybe a month or so ago, I winced.

And now, we’ll drop a few slots past the mid-point of the Hot 100 and check out No. 53 from fifty-three years ago this week. There we find one of Edwin Starr’s first hits: Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.),” which would peak at No. 48 a week later (and would go to No. 9 on the Billboard R&B chart).

The record was on the Ric-Tic label, but in his 1989 book The Heart Of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh notes that Starr’s first hits “may have been released on this minor-league Motor City label, but their every inflection established that Motown was embedded in the grooves of his destiny,” adding that the record was “one of the greatest non-Motown Motown discs ever cut, with the same booting backbeat, the same thunderous baritone sax riffs and a vocal as tough and assured as any of the early Marvin Gaye’s.” (Marsh ranks the single at No. 210.)