No. 51 Fifty-One Years Ago

February 15th, 2019

It’s time for another dig into the symmetry of years gone and a record’s ranking in the Billboard Hot 100. This time, we’re going to see which record was poised at No. 51 fifty-one years ago this week. If we don’t hit the exact date, we’ll move ahead to the date when the next chart was released. We’ll also note the Nos. 1 and 2 records as we pass by.

And for today’s brief excursion, we’re looking at the chart released on February 17, 1968. The No. 1 record was “Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra, and right behind it was “Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers, both of which are favorites here.

Let’s hope we’re as lucky with our target. And we are, as today’s record turns out to be “Cab Driver” by the Mills Brothers. It’s a record that’s popped up here once before, eight years ago, and one that I recall fondly from early 1968.

The record, catchy and a little poignant to my fourteen-year-old ears, was one of the last charting records for the Mills Brothers, a black family group from Piqua, Ohio. Between 1931 and 1968, the smooth vocal group placed ninety-three records on the various charts tracked by chart historian Joel Whitburn, eight of them No. 1 hits. “Cab Driver,” which peaked at No. 23, was the last Mills Brothers record to hit the Top 40. Two more settled in the lower portions of the Hot 100 before the end of 1968, closing the Mills Brothers’ career.

As I wrote here a little more than nine years ago, “Cab Driver” also “went to No. 3 on the chart that is now called Adult Contemporary, and that explains why I know the record as well as I do: I’m absolutely certain I heard it more than once from Dad’s bedside transistor radio – tuned as always to St. Cloud’s middle of the road station, KFAM – as we all prepared to retire.”

Here’s “Cab Driver” by the Mills Brothers, the No. 51 record fifty-one years ago today:

What’s At No. 100? (2-13-1965)

February 13th, 2019

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from this date in 1965, fifty-four years ago today:

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” by the Righteous Brothers
“Downtown” by Petula Clark
“This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & The Playboys
“The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis
“My Girl” by the Temptations
“Hold What You’ve Got” by Joe Tex
“All Day And All Of The Night” by the Kinks
“Shake” by Sam Cooke
“The Jolly Green Giant” by the Kingsmen
“I Go To Pieces” by Peter & Gordon

That’s a very mixed bag. First of all, I have to admit that the only way I remember ever hearing Sam Cooke’s “Shake” is because of the absurdism of “Shake it like a bowl of soup.” And until that line came through the speaker today, I didn’t recognize the record. To give another measure of how unfamiliar I have been with “Shake,” it’s not among the 77,000-some tracks on the digital shelves here.

The same holds true for some others in that Top Ten, too. I never liked “The Name Game,” so it’s not here. I’m not sure why “I Fall To Pieces” is absent, as I’ve generally liked the work of Peter & Gordon, and it’s a decent folk-rock single. And I guess I’ve just ignored the silliness of the Kingsmen, even though Minnesota is the home of the Jolly Green Giant. (A fifty-five foot tall statue of the giant stands along U.S. Highway 169 in the city of Blue Earth, Minnesota.)

That’s four records from that Top Ten that are absent from the digital shelves here. That seems like a lot. I’m not going to take the time to find out, but I wonder how many other Top Ten records from the years 1964-1975 are absent from my shelves. I know of one for certain: Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-A-Ling.” But it’s purposely absent – like “The Name Game” – for reasons of taste, not of lack of thought.

So, will I go find the records by Cooke, Peter & Gordon and the Kingsmen? Probably, but they’re not high priority.

What about the other six in that long-ago Top Ten? Well, I like four of them very much. One has a specific memory: “Downtown” takes me across the street to Rick’s house, hanging around on what was likely a Saturday as his older sister and her friends down the hall played the record over and over. And then, the records by the Righteous Brothers, the Temptations and Gary Lewis & The Playboys are just good records.

What about the records by the Kinks and Joe Tex? Those I can take or leave.

That’s pretty well summed up by what’s in the iPod these days. “Downtown,” “This Diamond Ring,” and “My Girl” are among the 3,900 tracks there. I’ll maybe add “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” one of these days.

Having finished with the Top Ten from fifty-four years ago, we can drop to the bottom of the Hot 100 and see what lies there. And we find “Did You Ever,” one of two records by the Hullaballoos to make the Hot 100.

The Hullaballoos, says Wikipedia, “were created in August 1964, but had been working in the UK for over three years under the name of Ricky Knight and The Crusaders.” They were named, according to Wikipedia, for the English city of Hull, not for the American television program. (At least one of the four members of the group was born in Kingston Upon Hull, a port city whose name is generally shortened to Hull.)

Their rechristening as the Hullaballoos was, it seems, a cynical move. Here’s what Richie Unterberger of AllMusic had to say about the group:

[T]he Hullaballoos were arguably the most exploitative act of the first wave of the British Invasion. With their wig-like helmets of bleach-blond hair that vied with the Pretty Things and the Stones in length, they had an immediately striking visual presence. Musically it was another matter, for the Hullaballoos were actually not even stars in their homeland, but packaged for U.S. consumption by Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, notorious vice presidents and A&R directors of Roulette Records. Most of their music was written by hack Brill Building songwriters, who were apparently intent on making the band sound as much like Buddy Holly as possible. Indeed, one of their small U.S. hits was a cover of Holly’s “I’m Gonna Love You Too” (the other, “Did You Ever,” was Holly-esque down to the hiccuping vocal). New York hacks may have devised their Buddy Holly-cum-Merseybeat sound – dominated by driving simple guitar chords and drums – in a superficial manner, but it’s catchy and considerably forceful. The Hullaballoos faded almost immediately after a tiny splash in 1965, but that was probably built into the plan from the beginning.

“I’m Gonna Love You Too” had peaked at No. 56 in early January of 1965, and “Did You Ever” stalled at No. 74 in mid-March. The group had one more single show up in Billboard: “Learning the Game” bubbled under for two weeks in May, peaking at No. 121.

Here’s “Did You Ever,” Hollyesque hiccup and all (including little riffs from what sounds like a recorder or an ocarina):

Saturday Single No. 628

February 9th, 2019

Since we’ve been in a Games With Numbers groove lately, I thought we’d continue that and do a random thing with a Billboard Hot 100 that was released on a February 9. The first one we came across in our folder here was from 1959, sixty years ago today.

The No. 1 record from that chart was Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee,” a good one without a doubt. But in keeping with the games we’ve been playing lately, we’re going to see what was at No. 60 sixty years ago today.

And we find, as we did a few weeks ago, Conway Twitty, this time with “The Story Of My Love.” The record, the third that Twitty would place in the Hot 100, was on its way up and would eventually peak at No. 28. As we noted in our post a few weeks ago, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Twitty was a regular presence on the pop charts and shifted to a focus on country music around 1962 (although he had a few records cross over after that date).

The record’s all right, but not much more than that. I don’t care for the introduction, and after that it’s just kind of okay. But for good or ill, “The Story Of My Love” by Conway Twitty is today’s Saturday Single.

No. 49 Forty-Nine Years Ago

February 7th, 2019

Having found another way to dig into old charts the other day, I thought I’d take the same idea and move it forward a year, taking a look at whatever was sitting at No. 49 in the Billboard Hot 100 forty-nine years ago today. (And we’ll no doubt keep moving forward a place and a year at a time at least through the early Eighties and perhaps backward through the Sixties into the late Fifties.)

Today we come across one of the heavyweights of my junior year of high school (actually one of the heavyweights of all time), a record that doesn’t need a whole lot said about it: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel.

I will note that this was the record’s first week on the chart, and it took only another three weeks for “Bridge . . .” to get to No. 1, a spot that it occupied for six weeks. Here it is:

‘Sometimes In Winter’

February 5th, 2019

Here’s a piece from the past that came to mind this morning. It ran here in a slightly different form almost ten years ago, in late February 2009.

I spent eight winters living in Minneapolis, three of them working downtown amid the unsurprising mix of a few modern skyscrapers, some other glass and steel buildings, and the older brick and stone edifices that had to that point survived the city’s occasional efforts at urban renewal.

While the canyons of downtown Minneapolis are slight shadows of those in the major cities – I think of Chicago and New York, obviously – there still was a wintertime melancholy there that one doesn’t find in smaller cities. Even away from downtown – maybe in the blocks around the trendy Uptown area not far away, or in the far southern reaches of the city, where I lived during my last urban seasons – the city can be a dreary place in the later afternoon of a winter day.

It was downtown Minneapolis on a wet winter day that popped into my head this morning. The RealPlayer was on random as I read the newspaper. One song ended and the next began: a familiar woodwind riff over a bed of muted brass and then some subdued percussion. It was Steve Katz’ evocative song, “Sometimes In Winter,” from Blood, Sweat & Tears’ second, self-titled album. And I sang along softly:

Sometimes in winter,
I gaze into the streets
And walk through snow and city sleet
Behind your room.

Sometimes in winter,
Forgotten memories
Remember you behind the trees
With leaves that cried.

By the window once I waited for you;
Laughing slightly you would run.
Trees alone would shield us in the meadow,
Makin’ love in the evening sun.

Now you’re gone, girl,
And the lamp posts call your name.
I can hear them
In the spring of frozen rain.

Now you’re gone, girl,
And the time’s slowed down till dawn.
It’s a cold room, and the walls ask
Where you’ve gone.

Sometimes in winter,
I love you when the good times
Seem like mem’ries in the spring
That never came.

Sometimes in winter,
I wish the empty streets
Would fill with laughter from the tears
That ease my pain.

As I sang, I could see the cold afternoon streets, the lights of the stores and the bars reflecting off the damp pavement. I could see the downtown workers huddled and hunched against the wind and snow, seeking the shelter of those stores and bars or maybe the havens of busses to take them home, away from the gray. And some of those who fled, just like some of those who stayed behind, would know well about Katz’ cold room with its questioning walls.

I first heard the song in 1969, when Blood, Sweat & Tears was the first cassette I got for my new tape player, and the song’s gentle grief has always felt right to me. For years, I envisioned Katz or his alter ego wandering the chill streets of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Today’s vision of Minneapolis doesn’t negate that; it adds to it. For I think all of us – even those in warmer climes – carry our own winter cities with us.

Saturday Single No. 627

February 2nd, 2019

It was twelve years ago tomorrow, a Saturday, when I wrote:

As I was wandering through my music files, I came upon a single that was – for a few weeks, at least – omnipresent in Denmark during the nine months I spent there many years ago. No matter where my girlfriend of the time and I went that autumn, we heard – sometimes just off in the distance – Lecia & Lucienne singing “Rør Ved Mig” (which translates roughly, I think, into “Stay With Me”).

I now think it’s more likely that “Rør Ved Mig” means “Touch Me” or possibly “Make Love To Me.”

When I got back to the U.S. in the spring of 1974, I was startled to hear coming from my radio the same tune and nearly the same arrangement, but this time with the words in Spanish. I’ve never been able to determine whether Mocedades’ “Eres Tu,” was the original song and “Rør Ved Mig” was the second-language copycat, or the other way around. And it could be, I suppose, that there are other versions of the song out there in other languages, although in the more-than-thirty-years since I spent my time in Denmark, I’ve heard none.

In the eleven years since I wrote that, I’ve come across versions in English, Swedish and Norwegian, and the website Second Hand Songs tells me that there are also versions in Finnish, Dutch and Czech. As to which came first, the website shows it was Mocedades’ Spanish version.

A couple years after I came back to the U.S., my Danish brother visited, and during his visit, I mentioned “Rør Ved Mig” to him. After he got home, he mailed me a copy of the single. I don’t suppose I’ve played it often, but I did every once in a while. And then I got online about seven years ago and found an mp3 of the tune on the web. (When I got my USB turntable, I made a file from my own copy.) It pops up on the RealPlayer now and then.

And whenever I hear “Rør Ved Mig,” it has the same effect: For just a few moments, it is the fall of 1973, and I am walking somewhere inside the old portion of the city of Fredericia, maybe heading to have a beer with a buddy, maybe walking with that long-ago girlfriend, or maybe just walking. It’s a golden day in October, and somewhere, not too far away, Lecia & Lucienne are singing “Rør ved mig. Så jeg føler at jeg lever . . .”

And with that Saturday post in 2007 – after a month or so of false starts – I figured out what I wanted to do with this blog: Share the music that has shaped my life and share the tales that brought that music to me. I didn’t title the post “Saturday Single No. 1” – that came a week later – but I should have. In the years since, I’ve shared Lecia & Lucienne’s “Rør Ved Mig” numerous times. This time, as it marks the twelfth anniversary of Echoes In The Wind, it’s today’s Saturday Single.

No. 50 Fifty Years Ago

February 1st, 2019

I’m moving slowly today, just an achy sense of general unwellness. But at least I’m moving.

I thought I’d at least show up here and take a look at whatever was sitting at No. 50 in the Billboard Hot 100 fifty years ago today. And it’s a decent tune, “Things I’d Like To Say” by the New Colony Six.

The record, which would peak at No. 16 in mid-March, was one of two the Chicago band got into the Top 40; the other, “I Will Always Think About You,” had peaked at No. 22 in the spring of 1968.

I don’t remember hearing either of the two records, but then I wasn’t really listening at the time. I do recall a college friend from the Chicago area touting the group during our time in Denmark, something I recalled during the first few years of my online life. I checked the two records out and kind of shrugged. They were okay.

But maybe “Things I’d Like To Say” would be more than just okay if I’d heard it while dealing with an unrequited love . . .

Anyway, here’s “Things I’d Like To Say.”

What’s At No. 100? (1-30-1961)

January 30th, 2019

We’ve been using this particular tool – “What’s At No. 100?” – a fair amount lately for practical reasons: It’s an easy topic to research, generally requiring only one trip to the bookcase across the room, which aids in my convalescence. (I wish there had been a way to configure my portion of the lower level of the condo so that my reference books were near the computer, but it didn’t work out that way.)

Anyway, today, we’re going to stretch our game back to the early days of 1961, a time when I had no idea there was such a thing as the Top 40. Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from January 30, 1961, fifty-eight years ago today:

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles
“Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk & His Orchestra
“Exodus” by Ferrante & Teicher
“Wonderland By Night” by Bert Kaempfert
“Shop Around” by the Miracles
“Angel Baby” by Rosie & The Originals
“Calendar Girl” by Neil Sedaka
“Emotions” by Brenda Lee
“Rubber Ball” by Bobby Vee
“Are You Lonesome To-night?” by Elvis Presley

Having decided to venture back to this date in 1961, I wondered how many of the week’s Top Ten I would know. After some thought, I defined “know” as being able to identify the song’s title and the artists in, say, ten seconds. And I’d do better than I expected, being able to meet that benchmark on seven of the above ten.

I’d recognize “Calcutta,” but I’m not sure I’d be able to sort out its title in the required time. (If I got the title, I’d know it was Welk’s work.) I’d have no clue on “Angel Baby.” And I’d recognize Brenda Lee’s voice and be able to make a guess at the title simply from the lyric, but that would be pure luck, as I have no memory of ever hearing the record.

But how many of these would I have heard back in 1961, when I was seven and making my way through second grade? Maybe “Exodus,” as my family had seen the 1960 movie, and I was very aware of the film’s theme. And the Ferrante & Teicher single had gone to No. 2, so – even though it did not reach the Easy Listening chart – I think I could easily have heard it somewhere, perhaps even at home on WCCO. The other nine? I have no idea if I heard them back then.

The second thing we consider when we do these posts, of course, is whether I like these records now, measuring that by their inclusion among the 3,900 or so tracks in the iPod. And a search through the iPod turns up three of those records, the ones by the Shirelles, Ferrante & Teicher, and Bert Kaempfert. Out of the absent seven, I might go find “Calcutta” and “Shop Around.” The other five? Nah.

Now we turn to our other bit of business this morning: What’s at No. 100? And when we drop to the bottom of that long-ago Hot 100, we find one of the historically great R&B groups, the Coasters, with “Wait A Minute.”

The Coasters, of course, had been a reliable presence on both the Top 40 and the R&B chart during the second half of the 1950s. They’d continue to do well on the R&B chart, but as the decade shifted, their records generally peaked in the lower half of the Hot 100. “Wait A Minute” was an exception, peaking at No. 37. (In the spring and summer of 1961, “Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)” would go to No. 23, the last Coasters record to reach the Top 40.)

As to “Wait A Minute,” it’s a pretty good record, and that’s not surprising, given the talent that worked on it: The song was written by Bobby Darin and Don Kirshner, and the record was produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

Saturday Single No. 626

January 26th, 2019

Wondering about January 26, I did a search on the RealPlayer and came up with eight tracks recorded on today’s date over the years. (As always, I should note that I have recording date information on maybe ten percent of the tracks in the player.) And I thought we’d run down a little bit of what we know about those tracks.

The earliest of the bunch comes from Alcide “Blind Uncle” Gaspard, a guitarist and singer with Cajun roots from Louisiana. He was in Chicago on this date in 1929, laying down some tracks for the Vocalion label. Two of them are in the digital stacks here: “Assi Dans La Fenetre De Ma Chambre” on his own and “La Danseuse” with the help of Irish fiddler Delma Lachney.

The first of those two tunes came my way via the soundtrack to the 2002 movie Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and the second found its way onto the shelves here on my copy of Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music, a three-volume anthology first released in 1952.

Moving ahead five years, we find two tracks laid down in New York City by Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra on January 26, 1934: According to discogs.com, “Jazznocracy” was released on the Victor and Bluebird labels, while “Swingin’ Uptown” came out on His Master’s Voice. Lunceford and his band don’t come immediately to mind when one thinks of the Big Band music of the 1930s and 1940s, but whenever I’ve come across his stuff, I’ve been pleased. His stuff swings.

“Jazznocracy” most likely came to the digital shelves here during the early days of this blog, when music of all eras and genres was widely offered at blogs and forums. Which blog or forum? I have no idea. I found “Swingin’ Uptown” on The Fabulous Swing Collection, a 1998 anthology that I came across last May.

Harry Smith’s name pops up again when we get to the year 1938. On January 26 of that year in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Arthur Smith Trio recorded “Adieu, False Heart” for the Bluebird label. In 2000, it was included in Volume Four of Smith’s Anthology, a set assembled based on notes Smith made before his death in 1992 and released on the Revenant label by the Harry Smith Archives. The album notes call “Adieu, False Heart” a “darkly sentimental piece” that was collected by a folklorist in south central Virginia in 1931. Its language, the notes say, “suggests that it comes from the 1860s or 1870s.”

Moving ahead quite a few years, we come to 1956, when Buddy Holly recorded “Midnight Shift,” a track that went unreleased for a couple of years before landing on the 1958 album That’ll Be The Day. “Midnight Shift” was recorded in Nashville, most likely one of the tracks from sessions that the Decca label found unpromising. Holly evidently took the track with him when he headed to Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico.

Two tracks in the RealPlayer were recorded on January 26, 1962. One of them I know nearly nothing about and the other is very well known. The first is Edith Piaf’s “Fallait-il?” I can say nothing more about the track except that it was recorded in Paris. The second track from this date in 1962 is Claude King’s “Wolverton Mountain,” about which I know much more: The track was No. 1 for nine weeks on the Billboard country chart and went to No. 6 on the magazine’s Hot 100.

The Piaf track came here via the 2000 collection Éternelle, and I found “Wolverton Mountain” in the five-CD set Columbia Country Classics.

So, we have a fair number of tracks to choose from for a feature this morning. But my mind was pretty well made up from the start of this post. Buddy Holly doesn’t show up here very often, probably because – as important as he is to the history of rock and pop – he’s an icon of the Fifties, which is not my era, and then, not a lot of his music ever really grabbed me. (“Rave On” is the one exception; it was included in my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox.)

But listening to “Midnight Shift” this morning (almost certainly for the first time), I found myself startled by the topic of the song, written by Jeff Daniels and Jimmie Rogers:

If you see old Annie better give her a lift
Cause Annie’s been a-working on a midnight shift

If Annie puts her hair up on her head
Paints them lips up bright, bright red
Wears that dress that fits real tight
Starts staying out ’til the middle of the night
Says that a friend gave her a lift
Well, Annie’s been working on a midnight shift

If she acts a little funny, seems a little strange
Starts spending your money for brand new things
Tells you that she wants to use the car
Never explains what she wants it for
Brother, there just ain’t no “ifs”
Cause Annie’s been working on a midnight shift

Early in the morning when the sun comes up
You look at old Annie and she looks kinda rough
You tell her “Honey, get out of that bed”
She says “Leave me alone, I’m just about dead”
Brother, there just ain’t no “ifs”
Cause Annie’s been working on a midnight shift

If you got a good mama that’s staying at home
You’d better enjoy it, ’cause it won’t last long
When you think everything’s all right
She starts slipping round in the middle of the night
Brother, there just ain’t no “ifs”
Cause Annie’s been working on a midnight shift

So with that, here’s Buddy Holly’s “Midnight Shift,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single:

What’s At No. 100? (1-23-1971)

January 23rd, 2019

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from January 23, 1971, forty-eight years ago today:

“Knock Three Times” by Dawn
“My Sweet Lord/Isn’t It A Pity” by George Harrison
“One Less Bell To Answer” by the 5th Dimension
“Lonely Days” by the Bee Gees
“Black Magic Woman” by Santana
“Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand
“Groove Me” by King Floyd
“Your Song” by Elton John
“Rose Garden” by Lynn Anderson
“It’s Impossible” by Perry Como

Back then, as a high school senior, I liked almost all of these, some more than others. My faves among them were those by George Harrison, the Bee Gees, Elton John and the 5th Dimension. Those all merited an increase in volume when they came on the radio (although I don’t recall hearing “Isn’t It A Pity” on the air very often if at all).

I also liked the Santana and the Streisand singles, and I liked “Groove Me,” even though I thought it was a little weird, what with the grunting and all. And then there was “Knock Three Times.” I wrote some years ago about the decision that the St. Cloud Tech administration made as school resumed in September 1970 to relabel the cold lunch room as the Multi-Purpose Room and to install a jukebox. As I noted:

That was a move that I think the authorities eventually regretted, certainly by the second time Dawn’s No. 1 hit “Knock Three Times” drew the attention of some student’s quarter . . . When Tony Orlando and his crew told us to “knock three times,” feet stomped on the floor and books slammed on the table. “Twice on the pipe” drew the same reaction.

So, I liked the anarchy the record spawned, and I knew it had a great hook (even before I knew the term “hook”), but for some reason, it was still a little off-putting, kind of like Tony Orlando’s mustache.

What about “Rose Garden”? Well, the record was okay, but I was confused by the fact that about the same time the record began getting airplay, my sister was reading a book titled I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Was there a connection? Almost fifty years later, I don’t know. I have a vague memory of reading a piece in which songwriter Joe South refers to the book – a 1964 semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman’s struggle with mental illness – in connection with his song.

In that interview, did South acknowledge the book’s title as inspiration for a hook? Or maybe he said that the book’s existence is why the song title was changed. It was first recorded in 1967 by Billy Joe Royal as “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” but most subsequent recordings, including South’s and Lynn Anderson’s – were released as simply “Rose Garden.” I don’t know.

That leaves “It’s Impossible,” a record that was just too sappy, even for a kid who loved easy listening.

So that was then. How about now? Well, ten of those eleven are in the iPod. The only one that’s not there is the Perry Como single, which means that off-putting or not, “Knock Three Times” still has a place at the table (more by reason of nostalgia than quality, I guess).

And, as usual, we’re going to drop to the very bottom of that long-ago Hot 100 and see what we find.

When we play this game, most of the time we get a single that’s just okay. We’ve gotten some dreck. And now and then, we find a gem. Today, happily, is one of the gem days as we come across the first single by the Allman Brothers Band to reach the Hot 100: the Dickey Betts-penned “Revival (Love Is Everywhere).” The record was in its third week in the Hot 100, having peaked at No. 92. It would be gone a week later.