Saturday Single No. 700

August 8th, 2020

I’ve been doing this for a while. That’s the only logical conclusion that comes when anyone who counts things – in any endeavor – finds the total number of things counted reaching 700.

And it has been a while. It’s taken me thirteen years and six months to reach that Ruthian number one Saturday Single at a time. (Well, there were a few weeks when I had two featured singles; call those doubleheaders.) And in the last year, as that large round number got closer and closer, I began thinking of what kind of post should accompany it.

And after dithering for a while, I decided to repeat the post that accompanied Saturday Single No. 300 in July 2012. It’s still all true, and I recall that one of my readers called it “charming.” On top of that, it’s one of my favorites among the more than 2,600 or so posts I’ve offered since 2007 – not quite 1,600 of them here and about 1,000 of them at this blog’s two previous locations. With a bit of editing, here it is:

The moments, probably from several consecutive years in the early 1960s, remain clear: I’m kneeling on the back seat of our old 1952 Ford, looking out the back window. In the distance, as we drive away on Snelling Avenue, I can see the fireworks exploding in the sky over the State Fairgrounds.

I loved the State Fair, loved its hucksters and mini-doughnuts, its farm animals and tractors, its wandering, sunburned crowds of folks doing nothing more than having fun. And when our visit to the fair was ended and we were heading back to St. Cloud, I’d look back at the blazes of red, blue and green decorating the sky over the grandstand.

And I’d sigh and then murmur, “This has been the best day of my life.”

That was probably true for the seven-year-old whiteray as summer faded in those years. A day at the State Fair was about as good as life could get. As I look back, though, I’m struck by the youthful certainty of the statement and by what seems to me a precocious desire to rank and order the events of one’s life. Did other seven-year-olds think like that? Maybe. I don’t know.

Whether they did or not, I did. And, of course, I still rank things: Favorite singles, favorite movies, best pizza, best vacation, and on and on. But as I think about those lists, the content of those rankings – the best single, the best pizza or what have you – seems to matter less than the actual act of sorting. Putting things, even if those things often seem trivial, into some kind of order allows me to frame and structure my world, I guess, so I can deal with its inconsistencies and ambiguities.

And thinking about the certainty of that seven-year-old, I ponder the seemingly impossible task – nearly sixty years later – of identifying the best day of my life. There are about 24,000 to choose from now.

Some of the best ones, both early and later on, ended with fireworks. One of them ended as I lay in a youth hostel in London, listening to Big Ben toll midnight. Some weren’t so obvious, like a day in mid-February 2000: I was online and checking out a chatroom for social issues, and I struck up a conversation with a chatter going by the name of “rainbow42.” She eventually became the Texas Gal.

There have been many other good days, as well, and if I were foolish enough to try to create a list of twenty or fifty or a thousand of the best days of my life, I know very well that the list would be incomplete. Not because I would forget some good days, although I would.

But that list will always be incomplete because as good as some of my days have been, I have come to a point in my life where I truly believe that each day that comes to me now is the best day of my life. And that holds true whether the day brings fireworks or bells or just the quiet day-to-day moments that make up the greater portion of a life being lived.

I suppose that all of that sounds like some kind of New Age hogwash or mottos from pretty posters sold down at the bookstore. That’s really not so. I am aware that life can be hard. I’ve had more days than I care to count when I awoke to sorrow, and I know that days of grief inevitably lie ahead, as they are part of life.

But grief and sorrow are absent today. I have my small pleasures at hand (coffee chief among them early this morning), and the joy of my life – my Texas Gal – is still sleeping. The cats are scattered and dozing, and my morning newspaper waits for me in the driveway. And I get to write and hope that others read these words and don’t either snicker or roll their eyes. All of that makes this day, once more, the best day of my life.

And music, of course, always makes a good day better. Here’s a tune from Paul Williams that I loved the first time I heard it in 1975, hoping that someday its lyrics would describe my life. It took some time, but thanks to my Texas Gal, that’s been true now for more than twenty years. From Williams’ 1971 album, Just An Old Fashioned Love Song, here’s “I Never Had It So Good,” Saturday Single No. 700.

No. 40 Forty Years Ago

August 7th, 2020

We’ll dabble in 1980 today, a year we don’t often visit. (The search function at the right side of the page tells me we’ve featured the year just twenty-eight time since we set up our own site on the ’Net nearly 1,600 posts ago.)

Why so few? Well, it was about that time, as I’ve noted here before, that Top 40 music began to speak less and less to me, and I certainly had less time to listen, anyway, being busy with reporting and husbanding.

So, let’s take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from August 9, 1980. I’m relatively sure most of the records in its Top Ten will be familiar, but I’m not at all certain how favorably they will be remembered. Then we’ll play Symmetry and see what was sitting at No. 40 forty years ago this week.

Here’s the Top Ten from August 9, 1980:

“Magic” by Olivia Newton-John
“It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me” by Billy Joel
“Little Jeannie” by Elton John
“Take Your Time (Do It Right) (Part 1)” by the S.O.S. Band
“Sailing” by Christopher Cross
“Shining Star” by the Manhattans
“Emotional Rescue” by the Rolling Stones
“Cupid/I’ve Loved You For A Long Time (Medley)” by the Spinners
“Coming Up (Live At Glasgow)” by Paul McCartney
“Upside Down” by Diana Ross

Well, they’re all familiar, though I had to head to YouTube for a reminder of the S.O.S. Band’s single and, oddly, the Stones’ record.

Did I like any of those records forty years ago? The Elton John single was all right, as was the Christopher Cross, and I kind of like the Newton-John and Manhattans records, too. I thought “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me” was wooden and silly, and the Spinners’ medley was a long distance from their greatness only a half-decade before. The McCartney/Wings record didn’t matter, and although I wasn’t fond of “Upside Down,” it turns out today to be an earworm of great power.

Do any of them matter today? Only one. “Sailing” is the only one of those ten records among the 2,700-some in the iPod. Having been reminded of “Little Jeannie” and “Magic,” I might drop them into the device.

Now, on to our other task, checking out the record that was at No. 40 forty years ago.

Well, it’s a record that I recall hearing back then, though I haven’t thought about it for years: “Someone That I Used To Love” by Natalie Cole. The record was in its eighth week on the chart, and would hang around for another thirteen weeks, peaking at No. 21. That was also where it peaked on the magazine’s R&B chart. It did much better on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart, peaking at No. 3.

‘When The Rains Came . . .’

August 5th, 2020

Of all the gifts that Levon Helm left this world in his seventy-one years, one of the greatest has to be his daughter Amy. Born in Woodstock, N.Y., to the drummer of The Band and singer Libby Titus in 1970, Amy Helm has fashioned a musical career that follows nicely – without any real missteps that I can hear – the work of her father in The Band and as a solo artist.

(It’s a little less clear, but I think I can also hear – understandably – echoes of Titus’ work in Amy Helm’s voice.)

The younger Helm’s work in the group Ollabelle – three albums between 2004 and 2011 – falls, according to Wikipedia, into the alt-country genre. I’m not at all sure how that genre differs from Americana, the genre that I think was developed by The Band and a few other groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s

Listening to Ollabelle and then to Amy Helm’s two solo albums – Didn’t It Rain (2015) and This Too Shall Light (2018) – one hears the strains, sometimes faintly and sometimes more clearly, of the music her father and his mates made between 1968 and 1976 in the first edition of The Band and then in the 1990s in what we might call The Band 2.0. Americana or alt-country, the label doesn’t really matter.

(Amy Helm also does a fair amount of session work and performs and produces concerts at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock.)

I’ve had This Too Shall Light on the shelves only since February, so I’m still digesting it, letting it sift into me as its tracks shuffle by on iTunes or the iPod. One of them popped up today on the computer as I opened the day, and I thought I’d toss it out into the world with a few notes.

Here’s Amy Helm’s take on Rod Stewart’s “Mandolin Wind,” from 2018’s This Too Shall Light.

Saturday Single No. 699

August 1st, 2020

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from forty-five years ago this week, the first week of August 1975:

“One Of These Nights” by the Eagles
“I’m Not In Love” by 10cc
“Jive Talkin’” by the Bee Gees
“Please Mister Please” by Olivia Newton-John
“The Hustle” by Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” by Elton John
“Midnight Blue” by Melissa Manchester
“Listen To What The Man Said” by Paul McCartney & Wings
“Rockin’ Chair” by Gwen McCrae
“Dynomite – Part 1” by Tony Camillo’s Bazuka

I can live without “Dynomite,” although it’s better today that I thought it would be. I remember not being impressed by the TV show Good Times (which makes sense as I was not a member of its target audience), and I found Jimmie Walker’s exclamations of “Dynomite!” tiring as they echoed in the popular culture canyons that season.

The rest of that top ten has worn well, for the most part. If I were to rank those nine, there would be a first tier occupied by the Eagles, the Bee Gees, McCartney & Wings, and Manchester. Any of those are welcome in my ear buds at any time. The other five? Well, I don’t mind hearing them now and then, except for the Newton-John single.

Not all of the eight that I like are in my current listening in the iPod, at least not as I begin writing. I’m still reconstructing the device’s contents after clearing it earlier this summer. But by the time this piece is finished, the only two singles from that top ten not in my current playlist with be “Dynomite” and “Please Mister Please.”

We’re not going to look at No. 100 today. I glanced ahead, and it’s a single by the Mystic Moods (having dropped “Orchestra” from its name) that’s been featured here twice in the life of this blog. Instead, we’ll play Games With Numbers, using today’s date as a guide, and look at No. 81 from that Hot 100 of forty-five years ago.

And we fall onto the next-to-last Hot 100 hit from the long career of Frank Sinatra, “I Believe I’m Gonna Love You.” It was in the first of seven weeks in the chart; it would peak at No. 47. I’ve not heard it before, and as I listen, I note that its lyric is studded with clichés, but hey, it’s Sinatra, And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

A Lost Week

July 31st, 2020

Sinus infections. Summer allergies. Sleep difficulties. Gardening tasks.

You can add to that list some health care concerns as the local clinic where we’ve been patients for nearly twenty years is closing at the end of the month. So it’s been a lost week around here, both of us dragging through the days and spending more time than we want during the nighttime hours reading or playing video games.

And the world continues to go mad, which I think is getting to all of us: me, the Texas Gal and all over my readers out in blogworld.

So all I’m going to do today is offer a little hopefulness. Here’s Jorma Kaukonen – the one-time member of the Jefferson Airplane – with a cover of Rev. Gary Davis’ “There’s A Bright Side Somewhere.” The track come from Kaukonen’s 2009 album River Of Time.

See you tomorrow.

Saturday Single No. 698

July 25th, 2020

We’re going to stay right with Crabby Appleton this morning because I’m tired and my sinus infection – a standard summer companion – is hanging around like a visitor who’s exhausted the supply of guest towels.

Crabby

A reminder of where the California group got its name: As seen on the right, Crabby Appleton was the arch-villain on the Tom Terrific cartoon segments that were part of the Captain Kangaroo show, bedeviling Tom, whom Wikipedia describes as a “gee-whiz boy hero.” Simplistically drawn, the cartoons were offered in five-minute segments during the 1957-58 and 1958-59 seasons (and re-run frequently in years to follow).

As to the band and its music, I thought the simplest thing to do today would be to listen to the B-side of its one Hot 100 hit. Here’s “Try,” which also showed up in a longer (and possibly different) version on the group’s self-titled 1970 album. (The second album, released in 1971, was titled Rotten To The Core.)

Here’s what I think is the B-side version of “Try”. (The label is of the Canadian release, but I think it’s the same recording.) It’s pretty good, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘You Don’t Hold Me So Well . . .’

July 24th, 2020

We’ve spent some time during the past fortnight in the Billboard easy listening and album charts from July 1970, and I thought it might be interesting this morning to look at the KDWB survey from late July of that year to see what it was I was really listening to as I made my way through my last high school summer.

Here’s the Top Ten from KDWB’s 6+30 survey from July 27, 1970:

“Band Of Gold” by Freda Payne
“(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters
“Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” by Three Dog Night
“Go Back” by Crabby Appleton
“Tighter, Tighter” by Alive & Kicking
“Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
“Song Of Joy” by Miguel Rios
“Question” by the Moody Blues
“Make It With You” by Bread
“O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps

I wasn’t doing much during the summer of ’70. I worked the four days of the state trap shoot for $60, probably tried to pass my driver’s license test a couple of times – it took me five tries, the fifth one coming in October of 1970 – and otherwise hung around in various places with Rick and in the basement rec room with him or by myself, listening to my slender but growing LP collection.

August would bring two-a-day football practices (I would be the head manager), but that was still at least a week away fifty years ago this week.

But each of those ten records was part of the soundtrack of that summer, and they remain vivid. (All of them save “Teach Your Children” are in my day-to-day listening in the iPod.) Some of them I heard frequently in the years to follow, others less so. I’d guess the one I heard least was the Crabby Appleton; when I got my first ’Net-worthy computer in 2000 and started collecting mp3s and scavenging for music, finding “Go Back” was one of those moments of “Good lord, I haven’t heard that for years!”

“Go Back” wasn’t a huge hit nationally for the California band, peaking only at No. 36 in the Billboard Hot 100, but it did much better in the Twin Cities, peaking at No. 4 on KDWB and at No. 5 on WDGY.

Having found it sometime between 2000 and 2007, I included it eleven years ago in my Ultimate Jukebox. And here it is again.

What’s At No. 100? (Album Edition)

July 22nd, 2020

We spent some time last week looking at the Billboard Easy Listening chart from the third week of 1970. It’s time, I thought, to look at the top ten albums from the Billboard 200 from fifty years ago, by now the fourth week of that long-ago month and then to play an album version of “What’s At No. 100?”

Here’s that Top Ten, published July 25, 1970:

Woodstock soundtrack
Let It Be by the Beatles
McCartney by Paul McCartney
Self Portrait by Bob Dylan
Blood, Sweat &  Tears 3
ABC by the Jackson 5
Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Closer to Home by Grand Funk Railroad
Live At Leeds by the Who
Chicago II

At the time that Top Ten came out, two of those albums were already in my box of LPs in the basement rec room: Let It Be and the silver-jacketed album Billboard calls Chicago II. (The 1970 LP edition and the 2002 CD reissue, both on my shelves, call the album simply Chicago.) In October 1970, Déjà Vu would join them.

Eventually, five of the remaining seven would make their ways during the years 1987 to 2000 onto the LP shelves. The two that have never been here are the Jackson 5 and Grand Funk Railroad albums (although two tracks from the Jackson 5 album and the title track from the Grand Funk Railroad album are in the digital stacks.)

And tracks from seven of those albums are among the 2,700 tracks currently in the iPod (with Déjà Vu, Chicago, and Let It Be most represented). It’s easier to list the three that don’t have any tracks among my day-to-day listening: The albums by the Who, the Jackson 5 and BST.

Now on to our putative main business, checking out the album at No. 100. Turns out to be album I’ve never owned nor been much interested in, but it was home to one of my favorite singles of 1970, “Reflections Of My Life,” a No. 10 record that gave the album its title (at least in the U.S.A.): Reflections Of My Life by the Marmalade.

The album version of the track runs longer than the single I recall hearing from my RCA radio (and there may be more differences than length), and – as usually happens – I do not see any videos of the single version at YouTube. Nor do I have the single, so we’ll listen to the album track as offered by the Marmalade’s account at the website:

And since we’re dabbling with the Billboard 200 today, I thought we might as well drop all the way to the bottom and see what was lurking at No. 200. There, we find an album that I occasionally saw during my record digging days in the 1990s but that I always passed by for something else: Struttin’ by the Meters.

A single from the album, “Chicken Strut,” showed up a couple of months ago when we were playing “What’s At No. 50?” so we’re just going to give a listen to the flip side, “Hey! Last Minute.”

Saturday Single No. 697

July 18th, 2020

We’ve already hit the Farmers’ Market this morning, picking up a half-bushel of pickling cucumbers; the Texas Gal is cleaning and sorting them, and she’ll be pickling either this afternoon or tomorrow, depending on energy reserves.

And we made a stop at her plot in our church’s community garden. She was alerted by a fellow gardener yesterday that her cupcake squash plant was infested with squash bugs; the other gardener then spayed the plant with an organic treatment, but when we arrived this morning, the bugs had not been deterred. The Texas Gal pulled up the plant and double bagged it, and we left it in a wastebasket at a nearby gas station.

(The memory of those hundreds of little crawlers swarming across the squash leaves makes me pretty edgy.)

All of that means that I’m much later than usual sitting here at the keyboard, and my own energy reserves are fairly well depleted.

So here, for the second day in a row, is Bobbie Gentry, this time with the appropriately titled track “Bugs.” It’s from her 1967 album Ode To Billie Joe, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘In Apartment 21 . . .’

July 17th, 2020

Looking once more at the Billboard Easy Listening chart from fifty years ago this week – published July 18, 1970 – we move below the Top Ten and see several familiar titles:

No. 12: “Silver Bird” by Mark Lindsay
No. 21: “Snowbird” by Anne Murray
No. 23: “United We Stand” by the Brotherhood of Man
No. 30: “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
No. 32: “Apartment 21” by Bobbie Gentry
No. 35: “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond

Having noted those, it’s clear that there are far more singles in that chart that are unfamiliar or only vaguely familiar (though some members of my audience, far better versed than I in chart lore, likely would recognize more of those titles than do I). Anyway, five thoughts jump out at me as I look at that list of six singles:

First, I really liked Mark Lindsay’s work in 1969 and 1970. “Silver Bird” was the second single from Lindsay I recall hearing on my radio, either from the Twin Cities’ KDWB or from WJON across the railroad tracks in St. Cloud. The other was “Arizona,” which was released and hit the charts in late 1969. When I hear either one of those singles now, fifty years later, I’m immediately pulled back to my room or the front porch on Kilian Boulevard.

To be honest, “Arizona” is the more potent of the two; I wanted to find my way into radioland and go rescue that seemingly bewildered flower child, but “Silver Bird” also tugged at me. It would eventually peak at No. 7 on the Easy Listening chart and at No. 25 on the Hot 100. (During the winter of 1969-70, “Arizona” got to Nos. 16 and 10, respectively.

Of course, Lindsay – lead singer for Paul Revere & The Raiders – had a few other solo hits, but “Silver Bird” and “Arizona” are the two that stay with me.

An Anne Murray hit came through the television speakers the other day as part of a commercial, prompting me to say to the Texas Gal, “You know, I have no idea why, but I have never really liked Anne Murray’s music.” She concurred. Now, there’s nothing specifically wrong with “Snowbird,” which was No. 1 for six weeks on the Easy Listening chart and peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100. And there’s nothing specifically wrong with “Love Song,” “Danny’s Song,” “You Won’t See Me,” “I Needed You” or any of the rest of Murray’s broad catalog.

It’s just that all of her work has left me pretty much untouched. I had one of her LP’s – 1980’s Somebody’s Waiting – at one time, but I’m pretty sure it went in the Great Sell-Off before we moved to the condo, and the only Murray track on the digital shelves is “Danny’s Song.” And I’m not sure why.

The titles of “United We Stand” and “Solitary Man” produce a similar reaction in my head. Seeing the first immediately brings me a cascade of strings followed by the female vocal: “There’s nowhere in the world that I would rather be than with you, my love . . .” And just seeing the title “Solitary Man” brings me Diamond’s bleak “Melinda was mine till the time that I found her . . . holding Jim, loving him.”

Some records do that. With most, I see the title and can summon up in my head the sound of the record, but there are some that are on a kind of autoplay: I see the title and I hear the song. And it has little to do with how much I like the records. These two aren’t particular favorites, though there’s nothing wrong with them.

I should note that “United We Stand” peaked at No. 15 on the Easy Listening chart and No. 13 on the Hot 100, while “Solitary Man” peaked at Nos. 6 and 21, respectively on its reissue. The Diamond record had gone to No. 55 on the Hot 100 on its earlier release in 1966.

“Teach Your Children” brings back an odd memory. In 1988, a teaching colleague at Minot State University asked me to take part in a desert island-type program he ran on the university’s public radio station. The concept is familiar: What ten tracks would I want to have on a desert island? I don’t recall all ten of my selections, although I have a tape of the show somewhere. I do remember “Layla” was one, as was Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them.” And so was “Teach Your Children.” The odd thing is that when I got around to creating my Ultimate Jukebox in 2009, “Teach Your Children” was nowhere to be found, meaning it went in just more than twenty years from my Top Ten to nowhere in the top 240. Odd.

Just for the record, the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young single peaked at No. 28 on the Easy Listening chart and at No. 16 on the Hot 100.

Reading Bobbie Gentry’s name and the title of her “Apartment 21” reminds me that I’ve never written anything about the box set The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters, which sits on a shelf just a few feet from where I write. There are two reasons for that. First, when I got the set, the ink was so fresh on the pages that just opening the book – much less reading it – gave me severe headaches. Second, I think I’ll be disappointed: From very brief explorations of the book, it seemed that detailed discographic information about Gentry’s work was absent: No session information, no catalog numbers, none of the things I’ve come to expect from an elaborate box set. Now that the ink will be less of a problem, I should dig into the set and see if those first impressions were correct.

As to “Apartment 21,” it’s a decent single from the Fancy album, and it peaked at No. 19 on the Easy Listening chart and at No. 81 on the Hot 100. Like the album itself, it’s got smoother edges than the early work that made Gentry a star as it tells the tale of a musician watching the days go past on the road and in the haven of her apartment.

Rain on my Sunday shoes
Pick up the daily news
Looks like tomorrow’s blues
But it’s better than none

Call on the telephone
Knowin’ that he’s not home
I’ll put on the Rollin’ Stones
And I can have me some fun

Start up a flight of stairs
Stand up and comb your hair
Try not to change things
More than you can withstand

Get into something new
That’s made for a year or two
Pick up the pieces
Where you think they might land

Every day goes, another day’s gone
Hate to say so but I’m getting older
Day by day

Take off all your clothes
Stand up and wipe your nose
Cry for your daddy
You lost so long ago

Jump on another plane
Today it’s all the same
You can catch me in Boston
’Cause that’s how it goes

I’m here in apartment 21
Stop by and have some fun
Say “How you doin’,
You old son-of-a-gun?”

Look at a photograph
Lord, don’t it make you laugh
For all those changes
What have you done?

And I say,
La la la, la la la, la la la la
La la la la, la la la, la la la la
La la la, la la la, la la la la
La la la la, la la la, la la la la

Sit down and write a song
Wait till the days grow long
And wait for the autumn wind
To blow me away