Saturday Single No. 560

October 14th, 2017

In the spring of 1964, when I was ten and in fifth grade, a kindly, older gentleman came to Lincoln Elementary School and asked if anyone wanted to learn to play a band instrument. I was interested, and when I met with that gentleman, he looked at my teeth – which would never need braces – and suggested that I might want to play a brass instrument. He suggested trumpet.

Not long after that, my folks took me on a Friday evening to Weber’s Jewelry & Music, a store on the further downtown reaches of St. Cloud’s St. Germain Street, and we looked at horns. My folks opted to buy me a cornet. It had the same fingering and same scale as a trumpet, but with a slightly different construction, which made it shorter but taller than a trumpet. It also may have made it slightly cheaper; I’m not sure.

My folks laid out $165 for my cornet, which – considering the things that it brought me over the years – was a small investment for a very large return. Actually, it wasn’t such a small investment. Although $165 might not seem like much now, an online inflation calculator tells me that spending $165 in 1964 was like spending a little more than $1,300 today. Nevertheless, the return over the years has been huge.

The kindly gentleman turned out to be Erwin Hertz, the band conductor at St. Cloud Tech High School, and during sixth grade, he stopped by Lincoln School once a week to give me (and the other Lincoln students who’d chosen to play band instruments) lessons, and once a week, as well, we all went over to Tech to be members of a district-wide sixth grade band.

I played my cornet – playing parts written for trumpet, which was in practical terms, the same thing – in band from sixth grade through my sophomore year of high school. I also played in the district’s orchestra program, starting with summer orchestra after eighth grade and continuing during the school year for all three years of high school. I was pretty good, with a good ear, but I didn’t practice near enough, so when I headed to college, I learned after one quarter in band that, like a minor league pitcher moved up to the bigs, I wasn’t good enough anymore.

But that was okay. Those seven years of playing in those large groups had been enough. And along the way, I’d gotten some gifts I’d not at all anticipated. One of them was the music of Al Hirt. His only Top Ten hit, “Java,” went to No. 4 in Billboard in early 1964 and was No. 1 for four weeks on the magazine’s easy listening chart. My appreciation for “Java” led my sister to give me Hirt’s Honey In The Horn for my eleventh birthday in September 1964, when my work on the cornet was only a few months old.

And that album is one of formative albums of my musical life. Among its tracks were the first tunes I remember hearing from what we now call the Great American Songbook: Gershwin & Duke’s “I Can’t Get Started” and Bart Howard’s “Fly Me To The Moon,” along with other tunes like Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On,” Ray Charles’ “Talkin’ Bout That River,” Boudleaux Bryant’s “Theme From A Dream” and more. The next Hirt album I got – That Honey Horn Sound from 1965 – brought me, among others, Rogers & Hart’s “You Took Advantage Of Me,” Chip Taylor’s “Long Walk Home,” Tchaikovsky’s “None But The Lonely Heart” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Star Dust.”

From there, I dug into the rest of that mythical songbook and then into film scores, learning songs that kept me largely out of step with what my peers were listening to during the mid- to late 1960s. I didn’t always like being out of step at the time, but now – looking back fifty years – I wouldn’t change it.

Playing my horn also brought me a sense of melody that I think informs my songwriting to this day, and it brought me something I didn’t quite understand at first, even as I embraced it: I realized as I listened to Hirt’s records (and others’), that as a melody played, I knew how to finger it on my horn. It wasn’t perfect pitch, but it was close, a gift of relative pitch that I also use to this day.

So all of that is what my 1964 Conn cornet brought me. Now it has the chance to bring its gifts to another student. I took my horn – unplayed for many years – over to St. Cloud Tech yesterday and gave it to the band conductor there, a man named Gary Zwack. He said – confirming something my sister told me last week – that Tech, like almost all high schools in the state, often has students who want to play but who cannot afford an instrument. One of those students will now have a cornet to play.

When I arrived at Tech, Gary took me on a tour of the building. Renovations and additions made portions of the campus unfamiliar, but some doorways and corridors were recognizable. I carried my horn with me through the hallways, as I had done hundreds of times so long ago, and then I left it in the band office, giving its case a final pat and thanking it silently for the gifts it brought me.

And here’s one of those tunes I first heard long ago from the horn of Al Hirt. It’s Tchaikovsky’s “None But The Lonely Heart” from Hirt’s 1965 album That Honey Horn Sound, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More’

October 12th, 2017

Okay, follow the bouncing ball and – if you wish – sing along with this cartoon from 1949:

I recall seeing short features like this – sing-a-longs with the bouncing ball – before movies during the late 1950s and early 1960s. I’d go – maybe with Rick and Rob or maybe with my sister – to kids’ matinees at the Paramount (or the Eastman or the Hays) here in St. Cloud, and there would be two or three animated features before the main event.

And I think I saw bouncing ball sing-a-longs on TV on Saturday mornings, watching and trying to keep the volume down on the old Zenith set while my parents slept in.

Anyway, what caught my ear about this particular sing-a-long was the song itself, “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More,” which I’ve heard here and there forever. But I never thought about the song’s origins until this morning. Why this morning?

Because a search through the 97,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer brought up Wendell Hall’s version of “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo’,” which he recorded for Victor in New York City on October 12, 1923, ninety-four years ago today. And Hall’s recording was a success: It was the No. 1 record in the U.S. in 1924, according to Josh Whitburn’s A Century of Pop Music.

The song itself, according to a brief entry at Wikipedia, had been around in various forms since some time during the 19th Century. Poet and folk musician Carl Sandburg included verses of the song in his 1927 volume American Songbook and suggested, Wikipedia says, that the song had been around since the 1870s. As with almost all folk songs, there are multiple variants, and the verses offered in the cartoon above are not all the same as those recorded by Wendell Hall in October 1923.

(I should note that the second line of the chorus also has variants. Hall sang, “How in the world can the old folks tell that it ain’t gonna rain no mo’?” The one I recall most clearly, perhaps from Boy Scout camp or Bible camp, went, “Now how in the heck can I wash my neck if it ain’t gonna rain no mo’?”)

Here are the verses as Hall recorded them:

Oh, the night was dark and dreary,
And the air was full of leaks.
Well the old man stood out in the storm,
And his shoes were full of feet.

Well the buttererfly flits on wings of gold,
The junebug wings of flame.
The bedbug has no wings at all,
But he gets there just the same.

Oh, mosquitee he fly high,
Oh, mosquitee he fly low.
If ol’ Mr. Skeeter light on me,
He ain’t a gonna fly no mo’.

Well, a bull frog sittin’ on a lily pad,
Looking up at the skies.
Oh, the lily pad broke and the frog fell in,
Got water all in his eyes.

Well, here’s a verse about a man and a trombone.
Well, the words to it are few.
He blew, he blew, he blew, he blew,
He blew, he blew, he blew.

Well, a man lay down by a sewer,
And by the sewer he died, he died.
And at the coroner’s request,
They called it sewer-cide.

A little black and white animal out in the woods.
I says, “Ain’t that little cat pretty?”
I went right over to pick it up,
But it wasn’t that kind of a kitty.

Oddly enough, Wendell Hall’s version of the song is the only one on the digital shelves here, even though a cursory search at YouTube turns up numerous versions of the song – old, modern and in between, including a take on the song by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Some of those versions may yet show up on the shelves here, but for today, we’ll content ourselves with Hall’s version, recorded ninety-four years ago today.

Saturday Single No. 559

October 7th, 2017

Autumn, that most melancholy and sweetest of the four seasons, is here in full. I should be appreciating the glint of sunshine on golden and red leaves as they fall. I should be watching great V’s of waterfowl as they make their ways across the skies heading south. I should be nodding in appreciation as a song of loss and growth and hope plays in the car or the study.

I should be enjoying autumn as I have almost always done.

But this has been a dismal season so far. We have had many more days of rain and cloud than of sunshine in the past four weeks, and most of the leaves that have fallen from the oaks and the basswood here lie sodden on the lawn. One cannot kick one’s way joyfully through wet leaves.

My physical ailments – my cramping and stiffening legs – make it difficult as well for me to find joy in the season. Neither physical therapy nor a wealth of advice drawn from numerous sources seem to be helping, and I am worried.

And this autumn is different in at least one other way. My sister and I both have September birthdays, and when I wished her well during a phone call the other day, she noted that this year’s birthdays were our first without either of our parents. She said our mom often called her about 7:30 in the morning on her birthday, as that was the time of day she was born. I said that Mom often called me at 7:50 in the evening on my birthday for the same reason. And then neither of us said much for a few moments.

Not all the leaves have fallen yet, and we may still get the sunny days that have always leavened autumn’s melancholy for me in years past. My ailments may subside; if they do not, I will find ways to live with them. My grief will never disappear, but it will fade to a level that I can both tolerate and embrace.

And if it still turns out that this autumn is not one I can celebrate or cherish, well, I have had similarly sad autumns before, and I may have them again. Likewise, I may still have one or more gloriously bittersweet autumns waiting for me in the years to come. And as I ponder those things, I remind myself that here in this human plane of joy and woe, we are granted those things we need at the times we need them.

And that tells me that I must embrace this season with all its disappointments and worries just as fully as I have embraced the seasons that were sweet and thus more easily embraced.

As for music this morning, here’s the wistful and lovely “Early Autumn” by Toots Thielemans. It’s from his 1958 album Time Out For Toots, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Some 1968 Easy Listening

October 6th, 2017

A little twitch in the universe reminded me this morning of an easy listening hit from 1968 and a moment during the autumn of 1973. If I can figure out a way to tell the tale gently, I will do so in the next few days (perhaps even tomorrow). In the meantime, I thought I’d look at 1968 from a new direction, a direction that I’ve surprisingly never considered.

Here are the thirteen records that reached No. 1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart in 1968:

“Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Harpers Bizarre
“In The Misty Moonlight” by Dean Martin
“Am I That Easy To Forget” by Engelbert Humperdinck
“The Lesson” by Vikki Carr
“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro
“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“Classical Gas” by Mason Williams
“The Fool On The Hill” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
“My Special Angel” by the Vogues
“Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin
“Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell

Right off the top, it looks a little odd for Harpers Bizarre to land in the Easy Listening chart, but then, the group was always in the soft pop-rock business, and their take on Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo” fits right in with that aesthetic. And you can probably add to that a nostalgia factor among the easy listening audience. I mean – and I was doing the arithmetic as I listened to the track this morning – in 1968, my dad turned 49 and my mom turned 47. Glenn Miller’s original was released in 1941, when my folks were young adults. Mom and Dad weren’t really record buyers, but a lot of folks their ages were, so I’m going to guess that a lot of the popularity of the Harpers Bizarre record came from middle-age nostalgia

(Perhaps worth noting is that the Harpers Bizarre record wasn’t a huge success on the pop chart: It went to No. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

I don’t recall hearing the Harpers Bizarre record, and that holds true for the next three of the Easy Listening chart-toppers in 1968. All three had some success in the Hot 100 – the Englebert Humperdinck record peaked at No. 18, the Vikki Carr at No. 34 and the Dean Martin at No. 46 – but given my listening preferences in 1968, I would have been more likely to hear them on a station that programmed Easy Listening, probably either WJON or KFAM in St. Cloud or the Twin Cities’ WCCO rather than on a Top 40 station. I suppose I might have heard any of them but evidently not often enough for them to be familiar this morning.

The rest of that list of 1968 easy listening, however, is more than familiar. With the exception of the treacle-laden Bobby Goldsboro single, that’s a great group of records. All of them hit the Top Ten over on the Top 40 chart, and three spent multiple weeks at No. 1: “Love Is Blue” and “Honey” topped the Top 40 chart for five weeks each, and “This Guy’s In Love With You” spent four weeks on top of the pop chart.

So, of the nine records in that list that I recall hearing that year – the Vogues’ “My Special Angel” was likely the least familiar of them back in 1968 – which did I like best? Well, it’s not the one I love the most today – and the tale from the autumn of 1973 I hope to tell here soon is tied in with the record that is now my eternal favorite from that list above – but back in 1968, I sure was pleased when I heard Hugo Montenegro’s “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” coming out of the radio speakers:

‘By Way Of Sorrow’

October 3rd, 2017

I cannot yet process those things that happened over the past two days: First, the carnage Sunday night in Las Vegas – a new but so familiar chapter in the book of mass shootings in this country – and then, the death of Tom Petty Monday evening, its sadness augmented by the confusion sown earlier that day by premature announcements of his death.

All my adult life, I have believed that out of sorrow comes hope and out of grief comes healing. On mornings like this, after days like yesterday, those fundamental beliefs offer the slightest of comfort, and yet, I hold to them.

And I have no more words. So I lean, as I nearly always do, on the music in my life. As it has done before, Julie Miller’s “By Way Of Sorrow” provides me some comfort today and – I hope – for the tomorrows to come:

You’ve been taken by the wind; you have known the kiss of sorrow
Doors that would not take you in, outcast and a stranger
You have come by way of sorrow; you have come by way of tears
But you’ll reach your destiny meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

You have drunk a bitter wine with none to be your comfort
You who once were left behind will be welcome at love’s tables
You have come by way of sorrow; you have come by way of tears
But you’ll reach your destiny meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

All the nights that joy has slept will awake to days of laughter
Gone the tears that you have wept; you’ll dance in freedom ever after
You have come by way of sorrow; you have come by way of tears
But you’ll reach your destiny meant to find you all these years
Meant to find you all these years

Here’s the version of Miller’s song as recorded by acclaimed folk performers Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell for their 1998 album Cry Cry Cry.

A ‘When’ Preview

September 29th, 2017

Between medical appointments, household errands and consultations about music for church, today’s hours are nearly filled. But I thought I’d toss out a preview for the next installment of Journalism 101.

A search for “when” turns up 1,009 tracks in the RealPlayer. As usual, some of those will have to be set aside, and we’ll list some of those when we take on the topic in full force next week. For today, we’re just going to cherry-pick a representative tune.

As I ran errands this week, I dropped some Brewer & Shipley into the car’s CD player, thinking it fit well with the mood I’ve been in after watching portions of The Vietnam War, the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary I mentioned yesterday. So after I sorted 96,000-some tracks this morning down to just more than a thousand, I looked first for something by Brewer & Shipley.

And there in the search results I found a track from the duo’s 1971 album Shake Off The Demon that fit that mood perfectly. Here’s “When Everybody Comes Home.”

We’ll bathe in the love that surrounds us
We’ll sip from the cup of the throne
And friends that remain will be boundless
Oh the planets will fly
When everybody comes home, comes home
Will you be coming home, coming home?
Will you be home?

We’ll share in the crystal communion
And rise on the hymns that we’ve known
We’ll cherish our ragged reunion
All the ships will be sailing
When everybody comes home, comes home
Will you be coming home, coming home?
Will you be home?

Comes home
Will you be coming home, coming home?
Will you be home?

Will you be coming home?
Will you be home?

Chart Digging: September 28, 1968

September 28th, 2017

Combing through the weekly files of the Billboard Hot 100 during the years that I consider my sweet spot – 1968 through 1975 – I find two charts released on today’s date: September 28. One is from 1968, when I wasn’t really listening to Top 40 but was nevertheless surrounded by it at friends’ homes and at my own home when my sister was listening; the other is from 1974, after my peak Top 40 years had ended but when I was still surrounded by the music at friends’ homes, in the student union at St. Cloud State, and in my car.

I noticed a third Hot 100 from September 28, this one from 1963, and that intrigued me for a moment as I wondered: What did the world sound like in the weeks before history took its left turn? Then I decided that’s a topic better dealt with during a week closer to November 22.

So we’ll look a little bit at either 1968 or 1974 today, and the choice is made easier by this week’s watching of the first few episodes of The Vietnam War, the ten-part documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. I have the series recorded, and I’m watching the episodes in between other shows that the Texas Gal and I watch. And although I haven’t quite gotten there in the film, 1968 feels right today.

Here’s the Top Ten from forty-nine years ago today:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“Hush!” by Deep Purple
“Fire” by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
“Fool On The Hill” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
“1, 2, 3, Red Light” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co.
“I’ve Got To Get A Message To You” by the Bee Gees
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions
“Slip Away” by Clarence Carter

That’s a decent half-hour of listening. I’m not a fan of the Arthur Brown record, but the rest of it would sound great coming out of my old RCA radio. A quick glance at the iPod shows finds four of those ten: “Hey Jude,” “The Fool On The Hill,” and “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You,” and “People Got To Be Free.” If I were to add another, it would likely be “Slip Away.”

(I’m pretty sure there are some Top Ten charts from the years 1969-71 that come close to having all ten records tucked into the iPod. But it seems to me that four out of ten from a time before I was listening closely is pretty good.)

So what was I doing when “Hey Jude” was in the first of its eventual nine weeks at No. 1? I was learning the ropes as a sophomore at St. Cloud Technical High School. I’d missed the first week of school for a family trip out east. My sister had spent the last six weeks of the summer on a study program in France. Her return flight came into Philadelphia on Labor Day, and that provided a reason for my folks and me to head east to visit relatives in Pennsylvania and do some touring as we picked up my sister.

That meant I was a little behind in learning the ins and outs of high school. (St. Cloud’s school district still had ninth-graders in junior high school at the time.) I wasn’t yet a sports manager; that would start at the beginning of November, and I’m not certain what I was doing with my space time except for practicing on my cornet.

So let’s move a little further down the Hot 100 from this week forty-nine years ago and see if we find anything that sparks a memory or two. And what I find is not a personal tale; none of the records I see in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section trigger anything like that. But I find an listing that turns out to be the last entry for a performer whose name summons another era.

Margaret Whiting was one of the top female vocalists in the 1940s. In Top Pop Singles, Joel Whitburn notes that Whiting had thirty-two charted records between 1942 and 1952, including two No. 1s (“A Tree In The Meadow” and “Slipping Around” [with Jimmy Wakely]) and two that peaked at No. 2 (“Far Away Places” and “Now Is The Hour”).

Top Pop Singles starts in 1955, so I’m not sure what Whiting might have done between 1952 and 1955, but she had a couple of records hit in the latter portion of the 1950s, with “The Money Tree” reaching No. 22. Then there’s a gap of a few years until 1966, when “The Wheel Of Hurt” went to No. 26 (and to No. 1 for four weeks on the Easy Listening chart). Top Pop Singles lists six more singles in the next two years; five of the six bubbled under the Hot 100, and the only one that actually reached the chart was a cover of Gene Pitney’s 1962 hit, “Only Love Can Break A Heart” that went to No. 96 (No. 4, Easy Listening).

Her last appearance anywhere near the Hot 100 is what I found today. Forty-nine years ago, Whiting’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” entered the chart bubbling under at No. 130. It would bubble under for two more weeks, peaking at No. 124 (and at No. 11, Easy Listening). She had a few more hits on the Easy Listening chart in 1969 and 1970, giving her a total of twelve records there. But “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind,” which is a pretty good record, closed her pop chart career.

Being a fan of 1960s easy listening, her work that charted in that world intrigues me, and we may re-visit Margaret Whiting’s career in days to come. But for now, we’ll mark her last appearance on the pop chart. Here’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind.”

Saturday Single No. 558

September 23rd, 2017

Looking for inspiration this morning, I took a glance at the top ten albums in the Billboard 200 from September 24, 1977, forty years ago this week:

Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
Star Wars soundtrack
Moody Blue by Elvis Presley
JT by James Taylor
Shaun Cassidy by Shaun Cassidy
Commodores by the Commodores
CSN by Crosby, Stills & Nash
Foreigner by Foreigner
Going For The One by Yes
The Floaters by the Floaters

We were slowly moving into a time when what was popular was no longer what I wanted to hear. Only three of those albums – the Fleetwood Mac, the James Taylor, and the Star Wars soundtrack – ever made it onto the vinyl stacks.

But there were no surprises as I scanned my way down the list this morning, at least until the very end. The Floaters? Who in the hell were the Floaters? As I limped to the shelf where I keep my reference books, I surmised that the Floaters were likely an R&B group, as it wasn’t rare for an R&B act do well nationally but get little exposure or airplay in the St. Cloud of the late 1970s. Or maybe there had been airplay, but I wasn’t paying attention.

And I was right. The Floaters – as maybe most of those who stop by here already know – were an R&B group, hailing from Detroit. The self-titled album that was No. 10 forty years ago was their first; they recorded three more albums in the next four years, according to Discogs, the last with, evidently, a female vocalist named Shu-Ga. Their single history goes back to 1965, when they released a record – “Down By The Seashore” – with Kenny Gamble before he was Kenny Gamble. It didn’t chart, and it wasn’t until 1976 that the Floaters were heard from again, with “I’m So Glad I Took My Time” released as a non-charting single ahead of its being included on The Floaters.

So there’s all of that (and more, if I wanted to go through every single the Floaters released), but our interest is that debut album, the one that peaked at No. 10, because it did sprout one massive single: “Float On.”

The single topped the Billboard R&B chart for six weeks during a seventeen-week run that started during the summer of 1977. Over on the Hot 100, “Float On” peaked with a two-week stay at No. 2, blocked from the top spot by first, Andy Gibb’s “I Just Want To Be Your Everything,” and then, the Emotions’ “Best Of My Love.”

The single is not quite my deal; having each member of the group introducing himself to some imaginary lady is, to me, lame. But the chorus hangs with me, and anyway, when I discover a smash hit forty years late, I sort of feel as if I need to acknowledge it. That means that the Floaters’ “Float On” is today’s Saturday Single.

A Reader Writes

September 21st, 2017

Poking through the mailbag over at the archives the other day, I saw a comment I’d intended to put in this space long ago in search of an answer. A reader named C wrote:

I had a weird experience this morning. I was in front of my house when a man stopped. He was in a truck. He asked if I lived in the house. I said that I did and he told me “Pain” by Michael’s Mystics was recorded in my garage. I asked how he knew that. He said he’d lived behind my house for 50 years. He didn’t identify himself as a current neighbor. So, truth or lie? How do I find this out?

Yah Shure? Are you out there?

Just so we all know what we’re talking about, here is “Pain” by the Mystics, a Minnesota band. In mid-August 1969, the record was No. 1 for two weeks on the Twin Cities’ KDWB and topped the survey at rival station WDGY for one week. Nationally, the record bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, peaking at No. 116.

‘Where’

September 20th, 2017

Today, we’re going to open our textbook and take on the third portion of a project we’re calling Journalism 101, looking for tracks that have the word “where” in their titles. And it has to be a stand-alone word; “nowhere,” “somewhere,” “anywhere” and all the other possible compound words won’t cut it.

The first run through the RealPlayer nets us 947 tracks. But we lose a number of entire albums (except, in some cases, the title tracks): Where It All Begins by the Allman Brothers Band, Come To Where I’m From by Joseph Arthur, Where Is Love by Bobby Caldwell, Eva Cassidy’s Somewhere, Judy Collins’ Who Knows Where The Time Goes, Somewhere My Love by Ray Conniff & The Singers, Bo Diddley’s Where It All Began, and that just gets us into the D’s with so much more of the alphabet to go until we run into Bobby Womack’s Home Is Where The Heart Is.

Lots of titles with those compound words are culled as well, including six versions of “Somewhere My Love.” (I also have ten versions of the tune under the title “Lara’s Theme.”) We also lose four versions of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” twelve versions of the Beatles’ “Here, There & Everywhere,” five versions of “Somewhere In The Night,” and more that I won’t list here.

But there are still plenty of titles to choose from, so let’s look at four:

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 100 and the magazine’s Easy Listening chart, and it reached No. 14 on the magazine’s R&B chart.

More than six years ago, I looked at Oscar Brown’s song “Brother Where Are You” and wrote:

The tune is familiar to me – and others of my vintage, I assume – because of its inclusion by Johnny Rivers in his 1968 masterpiece Realization. In those environs, the song became less a plaint about racial injustice and more a call for economic and political justice. (It was, of course, not uncommon in the late 1960s and early 1970s for young, socially aware white men to call each other “brother” with no irony and little self-consciousness.)

That post (you can read it here) gave a listen to the first version recorded of the song – Abbey Lincoln’s take from her 1959 album Abbey is Blue – and to a few other versions as well, including Rivers’ cover. Sorting through the eleven versions of the tune here on the digital shelves, I’ve decided to offer the one I found most recently: Marlena Shaw’s typically eccentric version, released in 1967 on the Cadet label. From what I can find, it made no chart noise at all.

Thinking, as we were, of records that define seasons, as soon as the list of “where” tunes got to “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, I was back in the summer of 1972, working half-time as a custodian at St. Cloud State, taking long bicycle rides on Saturday evening, driving idly around town in my 1961 Falcon with Rick as a passenger, and wondering when I was going to meet someone. I doubt if I heard the record as a cautionary tale, advising me that love was hard and not always permanent, but if that thought had ever crossed my mind, I likely would have thought in response, “But even lost love is better than no love.” (I learned years ago that such a thought is better left to songwriters and poets than to anyone in real life.) The record was everywhere that summer, going to No. 5 on the Hot 100 and topping both the R&B and Easy Listening charts.

And lastly we’ll turn to Cat Stevens’ brilliant 1970 album, Tea For The Tillerman. “But tell me,” Stevens sings in the first track, “where do the children play?” It’s a rhetorical question, of course, but it’s one that I think runs with resignation through the entire album, through “Sad Lisa,” “On The Road To Findout,” “Father & Son” and all the rest. At least that’s what I hear these days. Back in 1971, when I heard “Wild World” on the radio and caught up with the rest of the album over the next few years, the lost loves, the fragile women, the quests for place and knowledge all seemed so utterly romantic. Perhaps the resignation I hear is only the echo of being sixty-four, with eighteen so far in the past as to be unknowable. In any event, “Where Do The Children Play” is still lovely and forever haunting.