Saturday Single No. 424

December 20th, 2014

Wanting to dig around in some radio surveys this morning, I fired up the search engine at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive and checked out the site’s holdings for December 20, 1974, forty years ago today. Sometimes when I lay a bet on a single date, the results overwhelm me, and I’m forced to figure out which four or five out of twenty or so surveys I want to examine.

Sometimes, however, there are so few surveys for a specific date – two or three, maybe – that I’m forced to improvise. And sometimes, I hit the Goldilocks zone, where things are just right. So it is today, with five surveys available from that date forty years ago, and they’re nicely spaced across the U.S., too.

So we’ll check them out, looking at – since today is 12/20 – the No. 12 and No. 20 records in search of a single for the day. We’ll also, as we generally do, note the No. 1 record at each of the five stations. We’ll start with the two East Coast stations and then head west.

Sitting at No. 20 in the “Big Hit Survey” at WHYN in Springfield, Massachusetts, was one of those records that either makes folks get misty-eyed or makes them head off somewhere to puke in privacy: Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.” As most readers here might imagine, I’m one of the misty-eyed bunch. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m just a softy in general or whether it’s because hearing the record during that late autumn forty years ago reminded me of my first real college girlfriend just months gone at the time. Just to keep track of these things, the record peaked at No. 1 in the Billboard Hot 100 (and at No. 1 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart).

The No. 12 record at WHYN forty years ago was the much funkier “Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied),” by B.T. Express, one of those records that I don’t recall hearing at the time but have gotten to know in the years since. Every time I do, it reminds me of the Isley Brothers. The record, which peaked at No. 2 in Billboard (and at No. 1 on the R&B chart), was the first hit for the group from Brooklyn; five more made the Hot 100 in the next couple of years.

The No. 1 record at WHYN forty years ago this week was Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle,” a record that wore out its welcome in these parts long, long ago.

From Springfield, we head pretty much straight south to Hartford, Connecticut, where WDRN issued its “Big D Sound Survey.” Parked at No. 20 in Hartford forty years ago this week was “I’ve Got The Music In Me” by the Kiki Dee Band. This one, which went to No. 12 in the Hot 100, popped up this week when the Texas Gal and I had the cable system’s Seventies Channel playing. She was less than thrilled. I was pleased. It also popped up this week in a post by my pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. His reaction? “Imagine not-yet-famous Ann and Nancy Wilson sitting by the radio in Seattle in 1974 going ‘damn, THAT’S the stuff.’”

The No. 12 record in Springfield was Neil Diamond’s “Longfellow Serenade,” a record that I’ve never liked all that much. But like many such records from the years 1968 through 1975, I know every twist, turn and flip of the melody and the production, which just goes to show how much I heard even when I wasn’t listening. The record went to No. 5 in Billboard (No. 1, AC).

The No. 1 record on the “Big D Sound Survey” that long-ago week was “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas.

West we go, to WYSL in Buffalo, New York, and its “Singular Singles” survey. Sitting at No. 20 was Al Green’s “Sha La La (Make Me Happy),” a Hi Records confection that, like all of Green’s great work, rides a Willie Mitchell production for nearly three exquisite minutes. It went to No. 7 on the Hot 100, No. 28 on the AC chart and No. 2 on the R&B chart.

Sitting at No. 12 among the “Singular Singles” was “I Feel A Song In My Heart” by Gladys Knight & The Pips, a record that’s not nearly as familiar to me as the others we’ve run into so far. It went to No. 21 in the Hot 100 (No. 1, R&B), and its lack of familiarity here might mean only that it didn’t make it to the Atwood Center jukebox at St. Cloud State, which is where a lot of my Top 40 listening went on in those days. Familiar or not, I like the record a lot.

No. 1 at WYSL that week was “Kung Fu Fighting.”

We head next to the Midwest for a stop at WHB in Kansas City, Missouri, and its “40 Star Super Hit Survey.” The No. 20 slot was occupied forty years ago this week by Elvis Presley’s “Promised Land,” a pretty good cover of Chuck Berry’s 1964 single. Berry’s single went to No. 21 in the Hot 100 (No. 16, R&B), and Elvis’ cover went to No. 14 (No. 8, AC).

Taking up the No. 12 spot at WHB was Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” Wonder’s groove took the record to No. 3 on the Hot 100 (No. 2, R&B), and the mere sound of the record – one of my favorites on the Atwood jukebox during that time – puts my soul back into 1974 in a way that many of the other records listed here do not.

No. 1 at WHB forty years ago today was, as it was in Hartford and Buffalo, was “Kung Fu Fighting.”

Our fifth and last stop this morning is KYA on the West Coast, where we dig into the station’s “San Francisco Hits.” The No. 20 record all those years ago, speaking of records I don’t particularly like but know well enough to play them in my head, was “One Man Woman/One Woman Man” by Paul Anka with Odia Coates. The record went to No. 7 in the Hot 100 (No. 5, AC). As I think about it this morning, my disdain for the record must come from the fact that its theme and message just seemed so square and out of touch with the social realities of college students back in 1974, because today, those aspects of the record are much more reasonable. Musically, though, it’s still L-7.

Taking up the No. 12 spot at in the “San Francisco Hits” forty years ago was Rufus’ “You Got The Love,” a great bit of funk and chunk that went to No. 11 in the Hot 100 (No. 1, unsurprisingly, on the R&B chart). I must have heard it back then – I’m not sure I did – but I sure do love it now.

And finally, sitting at No. 1 at KYA was Neil Sedaka’s sweet “Laughter In The Rain.”

Well, we’ve got some good candidates (and a clunker or two). I’m tempted by the Gladys Knight record, but it feels like an Elvis day here this morning, so Elvis Presley’s cover of “Promised Land” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Baby, Please Come Home . . .’

December 19th, 2014

One of my favorite Christmas traditions – and I have very few – comes to an end tonight on the Late Show with David Letterman: Darlene Love’s annual performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

Love has performed the song on Letterman’s shows on NBC and CBS since 1986, and with Letterman retiring in the spring, Love said that this year’s performance will be her last of the song on any talk show, according to a piece in this morning’s New York Times.

The Times reports: “People say, ‘He can’t demand that’,” Ms. Love explained, sweeping back her curly platinum hair. “I say, ‘He’s not demanding.’ I made a point myself, and I want to do it just for David.” (The Times piece is here.)

I imagine I’ve seen Love’s last twenty or so annual performances of the song she first recorded in 1963 for the Phil Spector album A Christmas Gift For You, most of them when the show was aired and some of them afterward. It seems to me that my first viewing of one of Love’s performances came in the late 1990s, when I was flipping among the six channels on my TV late one December evening. I came across Letterman – whose show I generally ignored – promising viewers that Darlene Love would perform after the commercial break.

When the break was over and Love took the stage, I was overjoyed. And I’ve been so every year since. (I should note that in 2007, when Love was unable to perform on the show because of a writers strike, a recording of her 2006 performance was aired instead. I loved it anyway.)

And tonight, I’ll watch the last time as Love, 73, and a large cluster of musicians recreate – as closely as a live performance can, I think – Spector’s Wall of Sound. And I imagine, me being me, I’ll be a little misty-eyed as the performance comes to close. That’s okay. I’ll make sure I have some tissues at hand.

Here’s Love’s performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” from last year:

One Chart Dig: December 17, 1966

December 17th, 2014

Every once in a while, digging around in music that’s unfamiliar brings you right into the lives of the folks who’ve loved that same music.

Bubbling deep under the Billboard Hot 100 forty-eight years ago today – December 17, 1966 – was a slender record titled “I’m Glad I Waited” from a Chicago R&B vocal group called the Players. It sat at No. 130 in the second of its two weeks under the Hot 100 (it went to No. 32 on the R&B chart), with the lyric carrying the story of a soldier come back from Vietnam and talking to his girlfriend, who’s waited for him to return. (The song’s title is from the girlfriend’s perspective, but the tale is told from that of the returning soldier – “I’m so glad you waited” – which I find kind of odd, but never mind.)

It’s actually kind of an answer record, as the Players had released “He’ll Be Back” a few months earlier in 1966. That one bubbled under for three weeks, peaking at No. 107 (No. 24, R&B). Both records are sweet R&B, and being from 1966, a couple years before popular opposition to the Vietnam War began to grow, reflect nothing more than the heartache of separation and the sweet relief of return. And as such, neither record was more to me than a pretty record.

Then I started looking at the comments underneath “I’m Glad I Waited” at YouTube and found pieces of other folks’ lives left there. (I’ve done a minor amount of editing on these.)

A commenter called scottybroker wrote: “This song reflects how it was for me. I returned from Phang Rang, Vietnam. Unfortunately, my girl Yvonne had found someone else. In hindsight, she did me a favor. I found a faithful, godly woman. After 36 years, seven kids, my eighteen hospitalizations and extended hospitalization with amputation of right leg due to Agent Orange and subsequent return to work . . . We go strong, up and down but together.”

MsClassof1969 replied: “What a wonderful story. You guys were truly blessed. Sadly, the story doesn’t always end up happy. He came home from Nam in 1969. I had waited, but things didn’t work out for us. He married four times, none of them me, yet I stood by him and picked up the pieces every time one of them broke his heart. I needed him when my dad was terminal. He wasn’t there for me. He married wife No. 4. He became ill and died. I found out too late, and he never knew how much I still loved him.”

Iris Ramos then replied: “I know what you mean, but I was never there to pick up the pieces, unfortunately. He is still alive, and I did get a chance to talk to him for a minute. He was going to call me back, and [I] still have not heard from him. I want at least to let him know I’ve always loved him. I think he is married or living with someone. I don’t know how to go about this.”

And MegaGoldenleaf, who served at the 29th Evacuation Hospital in 1968-69, wrote: “At times, I thought I’d never return. Damn, we lost a lot of brothers.” And he added in another comment, “I’m an old school original gangster. Went to the war memorial. Eyes watered, knees buckled, and I broke down!”

So the record unlocks the tales, and there are more tales out there than I think we can ever imagine.

‘Better Tomorrow’

December 16th, 2014

I am, as the cliché goes, a creature of habit. I suppose I get some comfort – and some relief from the difficulties of Attention Deficit Disorder – by having the days of each week neatly sorted by activities and tasks. Monday is for laundry, mainly. Tuesday is blogging and other writing, and so on through the week.

I had a lengthy appointment yesterday, which meant the laundry was left unfinished, and my unease at trying to fit both Monday’s and Tuesday’s tasks and activities into a Tuesday is, at least from the inside, kind of interesting, but it is also disconcerting. When my schedule gets out of alignment, so do I.

So I’m going to drop a tune in here and hope that by tomorrow, my week will be less out of whack. And I find a little resonance this morning in the closing words of “Better Tomorrow” by the Freddy Jones Band:

All we live for has been cluttered
By distractions today
And I look to make it whole again

The track is from the band’s 1997 album Lucid.

Saturday Single No. 423

December 13th, 2014

One of the bigger events of the year at St. Cloud’s Salem Lutheran Church, the church where my family went when I was growing up (and to which my mom still belongs), is the Santa Lucia service and breakfast, which takes place on December 13. Rooted in the church’s long-standing Swedish tradition, the event marks the beginning of the Christmas season and mirrors similar events on Santa Lucia Day in Sweden (and the other Scandinavian countries).

As Wikipedia notes, “In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, [St. Lucia] is venerated on December 13 in a ceremony where a girl is elected to portray Lucia. Wearing a white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head, she walks at the head of a procession of women, each holding a candle. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Lucy’s life when she was sentenced to be burned. The women sing a Lucia song while entering the room, to the melody of the traditional Neapolitan song “Santa Lucia” . . . [T]he various Scandinavian lyrics are fashioned for the occasion, describing the light with which Lucia overcomes the darkness.”

When I was in high school and a member of the Luther League youth group, we teens were responsible for the annual Lucia Day breakfast (with the help of the women of the church, who provided the cookies, cakes and coffee). We decided which girl from the junior class was going to be Santa Lucia. She would walk through the Fellowship Hall in the basement with a crown of burning candles on her head, the rest of the Luther League trailing behind her, and she would read to the crowd the story of Santa Lucia. A boy from the senior class would read the corresponding story of St. Knut, we’d sing some Christmas carols in badly pronounced Swedish, and everyone would have cookies and coffee cake.

It was a decidedly low-key, though well-attended, event.

Sometime in the last forty-four years – during the 1980s, I think – the adults took over. There’s now a service in the church followed by a breakfast. The program is far more organized (and Lucia’s crown now sports battery-powered candles, not real flame, which is a good thing).* As far as I know, the young folks still elect Lucia, and – in a nod to inclusion – began somewhere along the way to bestow upon a boy the title of St. Knut.

During the mid-1990s, when I attended a Lucia service and breakfast with my folks, I noticed in the program that the event’s organizers had gone back through the years to make a list of all the young women who’d been chosen as Santa Lucia. They’d also made a list of the young men who’d read the story of St. Knut over the years and, ex post facto, decided that they’d all been chosen as St. Knut. So there I was, listed as St. Knut for 1970, my senior year in high school. And I was also listed as St. Knut for 1969, when I read the saint’s story by default, as there were no boys from that year’s senior class in Luther League.

So not only had I been named St. Knut long after the fact, I was a two-time St. Knut.

I wouldn’t have thought more than a moment about any of it as this December 13 rolled around, except that the organizers of this year’s event decided to find and invite all the previous Lucias and Knuts. So one evening last week, I got a call from my sister (Santa Lucia, 1966), who told me that a woman from Salem had called and invited her and would be in touch with me. My sister said the woman had also wondered why I was St. Knut twice.

I laughed and explained that, as far as I’d known at the time, I’d not been St. Knut at all, that it was an honor granted long after the fact. And that’s what I told the woman from Salem the next day. She said she’d not known at all about the after-the-fact honors, and said she hoped I’d come. “After all,” she said, “we need to have our two-timer there.”

I’m not sure that’s the description I’d have used, but I was glad to get the invitation, and early this morning, I’ll be feted at the breakfast with all the Santa Lucias and the other St. Knuts.

And all of that means that the Neapolitan song “Santa Lucia,” sung in Swedish by a choir whose name I do not know (the website where I found the song did not identify the choir) is today’s Saturday Single.

*Having returned from the event, I should report that Santa Lucia does have flaming candles in her crown. For some years, the candles  were electric, but the use of the real thing resumed a while ago.

‘I Got Lost On The River . . .’

December 11th, 2014

High on my want list these days is a CD titled Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes. I spent a couple pleasant hours the other week watching a Showtime documentary about the creation of the album, and here’s how it came to be:

Sometime in the past few years, someone associated with Bob Dylan – his publisher, I would imagine – came across some lyrics that Dylan had written in 1967, during the time he spent in Woodstock, New York, playing frequently with the musicians who became The Band and recording the music that became known as the Basement Tapes.

(Dylan has recently released a collection of the Basement Tapes that supplants or complements – I’m not sure which verb to use – the 1975 collection curated by Robbie Robertson of The Band. The newly released collection comes in two versions: a six-CD marathon of everything the musicians recorded during those days in Woodstock, and a two-CD distillation. I have yet to hear either, but I’m thinking that when I do my shopping, I’ll settle for the two-CD set.)

Dylan’s publisher got in touch with producer T-Bone Burnett and asked if the producer could find folks who could turn the lyrics into songs. Burnett made certain Dylan approved of the project, according to Wikipedia, and then recruited musicians to create and record songs for the lyrics: Elvis Costello, Jim James from My Morning Jacket, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes, and Rhiannon Giddens from the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

The Showtime film – titled Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued – shows the process of writing and recording the new/old songs. There were multiple melodies for some of the lyrics, and the documentary gives some insight through observation and interviews into the creative process of each of the five musicians.

I enjoy music by all five of the folks recruited (though I’m less acquainted with Goldsmith and Dawes than I am with the others), but my favorite among them is likely Giddens and her string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops. And it was Giddens who, to me, was most interesting in the film as she opened up about her writing process and about the pressure of working with the high-level talent that was in the studio during the project.

I’ve heard a few things from the album beyond what was in the documentary – there are some videos (some official, some not) at YouTube – and I’m looking forward to hearing more. (I’m currently No. 10 on the local library’s waiting list.) I’m pretty sure, though, that even after absorbing all the new/old tunes, my favorite is going to be Giddens’ ethereal take on the title tune, “Lost On The River.”

In Late 1972

December 9th, 2014

I wrote the other week about the autumn of 1972 and the feeling of being rootless as I neared the end of the fall quarter of my second year of college. In that post, I used Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” as a touchstone, noting that whenever I heard it, I figuratively winced as it reminded me of a married student’s not-so-subtle interest in me.

But where did I hear it? I wasn’t listening much to Top 40 radio anymore, tuning the radio in my room to either KVSC-FM, the St. Cloud State station (for which I was still doing some odd jobs and sports reports) or WCCO in the Twin Cities for the games of the Minnesota North Stars. I was spending some of my down time between classes in the snack bar at Atwood, but not in the area where the jukebox was located, so that wasn’t the source.

But I heard it somewhere, often enough in my car or in the background of daily student life that it stuck with me as it made its way to No. 1. And it’s one of two records from the Billboard Top Ten from forty-two years ago today that has any kind of resonance for me:

“I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy
“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by the Temptations
“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
“I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash
“You Ought To Be With Me” by Al Green
“Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul
“It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond
“Ventura Highway” by America
“Clair” by Gilbert O’Sullivan
“I’m Stone In Love With You” by the Stylistics

The other record in that Top Ten that has any kind of echoes for me is “I Am Woman,” which I do recall hearing from behind numerous closed dorm room doors on my very occasional visits to young women that autumn and winter. Still, if I were making a playlist, I’d drop it, and I’d also trim “Clair” and the Albert Hammond record. The other seven records are good ones, for the most part, but they’re just records; they don’t mean much to me.

So, if I wasn’t listening to much Top 40 that autumn, what was I listening to, and where? Well, as I said, KVSC was on the top of my radio list. But what I recall most often about music from that season is listening to albums in the basement rec room.

It’s actually kind of a lonely memory. I see myself sitting at the table in the rec room, playing a table-top football game developed by Sports Illustrated with three or four LPs stacked on the stereo across the room. I wasn’t spending as much time with Rick, who was a senior in high school that year, and Rob was off in Colorado. After having a pretty vibrant social life during my freshman year, I found myself on my own as autumn was ending and winter stood just off-stage.

So what were the records on the stereo? Well, having completed my collection of the Beatles’ albums that summer, I was  trying to catch up on everything else, and as part of a brief membership in a record club, I’d picked up some earlier releases – the Moody Blues’ In Search Of The Lost Chord, Buffalo Springfield’s Retrospective and the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers – and Mountain’s 1972 release, The Road Goes Ever On: Mountain Live. Those were in frequent rotation that autumn (along with the Beatles collection and albums by Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton that I’d added earlier that year).

I liked all four of the new albums, the Moody Blues’ LP a little less than the others. My favorite was likely Sticky Fingers. I loved “Brown Sugar” (which, of course, I knew from its climb to No. 1 in the spring of 1971) and “Wild Horses,” and I loved the groove in “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” with its sinuous saxophone solo by the recently departed Bobby Keys (R.I.P.). I enjoyed the Buffalo Springfield collection, especially the luminous “On The Way Home.”

But the track I recall most of all from those evenings in the rec room was the first long track in which I ever lost myself: the side-long “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain. Later on, I would learn to love other long jams – “Mountain Jam” by the Allman Brothers Band comes to mind – but Mountain’s seventeen-minute stretching of the title tune from the group’s 1971 album was the first, and that gives it a special place for me.

Saturday Single No. 422

December 6th, 2014

Well, here’s an experiment that came out with an oddly satisfying result. Strapped for an idea this morning and not feeling much like scraping my brain until it hurt, I took today’s date – 12/6 – and wandered off to Page 126 in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles. I then turned 12/6 into 18 and counted down the page to the eighteenth listed single.

We went past Johnny Bristol and the British Lions, past the British Walkers and Britny Fox, past Tina Britt and a group called Broadway, and past Chad Brock and then B–Rock & The Bizz, and we found ourselves checking out the entry for David Bromberg.

I don’t know Bromberg’s work well although I probably should. His style, his era and the people he recorded with – from what I know of all of those – should make him fall right into the center of the music I love. And I have no idea why I’ve never paid much attention at all to the man, whom Whitburn describes as a “folk-rock singer/songwriter/guitarist.”

There are a few Bromberg tunes on the digital shelves: I’ve heard his covers of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” and “Sweet Home Chicago” from his 1976 album How Late’ll Ya Play ‘Til? And I’ve heard and seen his performance of “Don’t Do It” (with Joan Osborne) from the Love for Levon concert that I mentioned here a while back. Beyond that, however, I’ve not heard much of the man’s work, and this morning’s little excursion reminds me that I need to do so.

So what did we find? Well, Bromberg has had just one record come close to the Hot 100, and it’s a pretty odd one at that. In February and March of 1973, “Sharon” spent three weeks bubbling under, and it peaked at No. 117. It’s strange, it’s fun, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.*

*I wondered as I wrote and listened if there had been a shorter edit for the single. As it happens, reader Yah Shure left a comment and has the answer: Yes, there was a DJ edit.


December 4th, 2014

I’m in a Seekers mood this morning. As I wander through the catalogs of the original Seekers and the related New Seekers and remember how much I liked what I heard of the two groups in the mid- to late 1960s and into the 1970s, I wonder why I’ve not mentioned them very often here. From what I can tell, their music has showed up in this space less than five times, often when exploring cover versions of tunes made famous by other folks. (I could be more accurate if I were to get down to business and finish the last seven months or so of posts on the archives site.)

Anyway, I was looking at the few tunes I have by the Seekers and their successor group on the digital shelves and thinking that I need to gather more of it and likely write about it here in the weeks to come. In the meantime, YouTube will provide plenty of tracks to get things started, and as I wandered today, I found a New Seekers B-side that intrigued me, with a sound much more full than I recall from the group or its predecessor.

Here’s “Cincinnati” from the flip side of “Nickel Song,” a 1971 release (on Elektra in the U.S.) that, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, was credited to the New Seekers featuring Eve Graham (although Eve doesn’t seem to be in the forefront of “Cincinnati”). The record spent five weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, stalling at No. 81.

‘Are All Three Of You Looties?’

December 2nd, 2014

We headed out last evening to celebrate my mother’s birthday. She turned 93 yesterday, and we took her to the Ace Bar & Grill here on the East Side, where she and I often have lunch (though we haven’t been there recently, as the cold weather has kept Mom inside in the past few weeks).

As we entered, Mom leading the way with her walker and the Texas Gal and I trailing in her wake, the hostess smiled. I waved three fingers in the air, and she said, “Three tonight! Are all three of you looties?”

None of us answered, and in the silence, I tried to figure out what she had said. “Are we what?” I finally asked.

“Looties! Here for the lutefisk dinner!”

We’d not known that Monday was the date for the Ace’s lutefisk buffet. Mom and I glanced at each other, knowing that we’d love to have lutefisk for dinner.

The Scandinavian dish has become a American joke over the years, the punch line often wielded in self-deprecation by descendants of the Swedes, Norwegians and Finns who brought the dish with them during the great migration from their homelands to the United States in – mostly – the mid- to late 1800s.

It is an odd dish. Here’s how it’s prepared, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Lutefisk is made from dried whitefish (normally cod in Norway, but ling is also used) prepared with lye in a sequence of particular treatments. The watering steps of these treatments differ slightly for salted/dried whitefish because of its high salt content.

The first treatment is to soak the stockfish in cold water for five to six days (with the water changed daily). The saturated stockfish is then soaked in an unchanged solution of cold water and lye for an additional two days. The fish swells during this soaking, and its protein content decreases by more than 50 percent, producing a jelly-like consistency. When this treatment is finished, the fish (saturated with lye) is caustic, with a pH value of 11–12. To make the fish edible, a final treatment of yet another four to six days of soaking in cold water (also changed daily) is needed. Eventually, the lutefisk is ready to be cooked.

It sounds dreadful, I know. When lutefisk is baking, the aroma is pungent (though the taste is much more bland than the aroma would lead one to believe). The memory of that aroma makes me think of December evenings on Kilian Boulevard long ago, where we had lutefisk at least once every year, and makes me think as well of my grandfather’s farm outside Lamberton, where we had lutefisk every Christmas Eve. In the early 1970s, that tradition moved to my parents’ home, and it lasted there until 2002, the Christmas before my dad died.

At the Ace last night, when Mom and I learned that lutefisk was on the menu, we looked at each other and shrugged. A lutefisk dinner for her birthday would have been a wonderful surprise, but the white sauce was almost certainly made with wheat flour, something she must avoid completely and that I can only have if it’s whole grain. (The Texas Gal, for her part, shuddered at the thought of lutefisk, which she’s tried once, and began thinking immediately of prime rib.) Just to make certain, I had our young waitress check with the kitchen on the ingredients in the sauce.

She confirmed our suspicions about the flour, and we regretfully said we’d have to pass on the lutefisk. “Well,” she said, “we do have lutefisk in butter.”

“Yeah,” I said, nodding, “but we’re firmly in the Swedish tradition with the white sauce. The other stuff? That’s for the Norwegians.”

The waitress laughed along with us and then said, “So that’s the difference! I’ve always wondered.” And she went off and got us our beverages as we all settled on the prime rib. As we waited, Mom and I discussed the possibility of making a lutefisk meal using a flour we both can have, probably brown rice flour. “It wouldn’t look very good,” I said.

“And that’s a lot of work for just the two of us,” she added. I nodded in agreement. And we pretty much decided that, like other things and people still cherished but now gone, lutefisk is a memory.

And here’s one version of the most common lutefisk joke among we Scandinavians: The song “Oh, Lutefisk,” offered here in barbershop harmonies by four sharply dressed fellows in 1979: