‘I Was Alone, I Took A Ride . . .’

December 2nd, 2020

As I noted last week, some dates resonate and unlock memories. I typed today’s date at the top of this post and was immediately pulled back fifty years to St. Cloud Tech and a day of high school crisis during my senior year.

What was the crisis? I’d spent a portion of the previous evening visiting a young lady – the blonde sophomore girl I’ve mentioned here over the years, calling her Dulcinea in honor of my quixotic pursuit of her affections, a pursuit that lasted the bulk of my senior year of high school.

She had a boyfriend, and he’d made it clear to me and some mutual friends that he was not pleased with me and my goals. What he told her, I’ve never known. And fifty years ago last evening – on December 1, 1970 – I visited the young lady at her home, bringing along the Beatles’ Revolver album to make a point.

We sat at her kitchen table, talking of everything and nothing as the record played. Then came the fourth track on Side Two, “Got To Get You Into My Life.” She nodded and smiled at me as Paul McCartney’s words filled the space between us, words I’d written out and tucked into her locker at school only a few weeks earlier.

I left not long after the album ended. She accompanied me to my car, and we stood talking in the cold for a few moments before I drove off. As I did, I wondered if I should have kissed her.

And the next day, fifty years ago today, whispers and urgent conversations filled my day and those of my friends. In a quiet corner of the band room, I told my Dulcinea how I felt about her and left her to make a choice. It took her some time to do so, but by the end of the school year, she did, and as I graduated and headed off to college, my load of regrets was just a bit heavier.

There are more than 130 covers of “Got To Get You Into My Life” listed at Second Hand Songs, ranging from one by Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers in August 1966, shortly after the Beatles released the song, to a cover by a singer named Fay Classen released last March.

Here’s one from 2009 by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, from the soundtrack to the movie Imagine That.

Saturday Single No. 713

November 28th, 2020

I’ve mentioned before how some dates resonate with me, how I’ll look to the calendar and see, for example, January 25 and remember in vivid detail a long-ago (and unhappy) January 25. I doubt if I’m alone in that; I assume the same thing happens to other folks.

Today, November 28, is one of those days. It was forty-three years ago today that I – twenty-four years old and not at all sure of myself – walked into the offices of the Monticello Times and took up desk space as a reporter. My beats, to start, would be sports at Monticello High School and at the high school in the nearby city of Big Lake; school news from the high schools, junior high schools and elementary schools in the two cities, and features.

In a very short time, I’d add to my plate coverage of the Wright County Sheriff’s Department (which provided police service to the city of Monticello), and of the Big Lake Police Department and of the sheriff’s department in Sherburne County.

The following spring, I’d add coverage of city government to my duties, attending meetings of the city councils in both Monticello and Big Lake, and covering through phone interviews the board meetings in Monticello and Big Lake townships. I’d do fewer features.

My first day at the Times included an interview with the owners of the new Milky Whey cheese shop in the hamlet of Hasty, introductions and lunch at Monticello High School, and – if I recall things rightly – coverage of a girls basketball game that evening. Sometime during the day, I posed at the typewriter at my boss’ desk so readers could get a look at the new guy who’d end up hanging around for almost six years. (My desk was backlit, said the photographer.)

GPE, 11-28-77I think back to that slender young man as he entered the world of professional journalism. His earliest plan – no more than a vague idea, to be honest – had been to become a television sports reporter and play-by-play guy. Then he spent more time writing in college than he did learning how to shoot film, and after some initial resistance, he embraced print reporting. (He realized he liked to write long pieces, and the byword of broadcast reporting is brevity, so . . .)

As I walked into the Times office that morning in November 1977, I was still unformed (although I would have been horribly insulted had anyone told me that). I had an immense amount to learn about journalism, about small-town living, about life in general. A lot of those lessons came my way during the nearly six years I spent at the Times, lessons for which I am – more than forty years later – grateful.

After those nearly six years, I moved on to grad school, to teaching, to reporting at other papers. I took with me a box full of plaques, a clutch of skills, and a cluster of friendships that remain strong to this day. That’s a pretty good haul for a first job.

There’s nothing that speaks to me in the two Billboard Hot 100s that bracket that long-ago November 28, so I’m going to turn to one of the three LPs I bought later that week. Thursdays – the day after we went to press – were light days at the newspaper, so I drove the thirty miles to St. Cloud that afternoon, did some shopping and had dinner with my folks, handing them as I arrived copies of that week’s newspaper, including – I’m pretty sure – a piece with my byline on the front page.

That evening, back in my rented mobile home just outside of Monticello, I no doubt played the records I’d bought in St. Cloud that day, and it’s pretty likely that I went to sleep with the Moody Blues’ Days Of Future Passed on the turntable. So here’s what was probably the last thing I heard on that long-ago Thursday, my first day as a published journalist: It’s “Nights In White Satin” from 1967, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Jerusalem’?

November 24th, 2020

Here’s what topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart in the November 28, 1970, edition, fifty years ago this week:

“You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” by Elvis Presley
“It’s Impossible” by Perry Como
“We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters
“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by Neil Diamond
“Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand
“Jerusalem” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
“One Less Bell To Answer” by the 5th Dimension
“Fire & Rain” by James Taylor
“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family
“And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind” by Mark Lindsay

I knew seven of these well at the time, and I like six of those seven. (The Presley record never worked for me.) But three records stand out. We’ll start at No. 10, “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind,” on its way down the chart after peaking at No. 5.

I don’t recall hearing the record fifty years ago, which makes sense, as it only went to No. 44 on the Hot 100. If I did hear it, it wasn’t often enough for it to sink into my memory, which it likely would have with repeated hearings, as it’s my kind of record. After all, I liked Lindsay’s more popular records of the time, “Arizona” (No. 10 on the Hot 100 and No. 16, Easy Listening) and “Silver Bird” (Nos. 25 and 7, respectively).

Then, there’s Diamond’s cover of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” pulled from his album Tap Root Manuscript. When I first heard it across the street at Rick’s, I wasn’t impressed, probably because I thought it was kind of limp when compared to the Hollies’ version from the previous winter. Did I hear it on the radio? I might have, as it went to No. 20 on the Hot 100 (as well as to No. 4 on the Easy Listening chart, right where we found it). But compared to “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “I Am . . . I Said,” Diamond’s singles that both went to No. 2 on the Easy Listening chart (and to Nos. 1 and 4 on the Hot 100) around the same time, it’s kind of lame.

Finally, until this morning, I’d never heard of “Jerusalem” by Herb Alpert and his gang, much less heard it, as far as I know. All I can say is that it’s pleasant and vaguely familiar. And, I guess, that being the owner of the record company – as Alpert was – allows you to release whatever you want; the record doesn’t sound like single material to me. But it worked, at least on the Easy Listening chart, where we found it at its peak at No. 6. On the Hot 100, “Jerusalem” stalled at No. 74. (By that time, Alpert was having much more success on the Easy Listening chart than on the pop chart. We might take a look at that another time.)

Anyway, here’s “Jerusalem.”

No. 50 Fifty Years Ago

November 20th, 2020

We’re playing Symmetry today, checking out the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1970. We’ll look at the top five and then see what was hanging on the hook at No. 50 fifty years ago.

Here’s the top five from the Hot 100 as of November 21, 1970:

“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family
“We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters
“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5
“The Tears Of A Clown” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
“Fire & Rain” by James Taylor

I don’t think I was particularly thrilled by that set of five records fifty years ago, as my senior year of high school was sliding by. I noted earlier this week that at the time I thought “I Think I Love You” was a little too poppy but that I admire its craft now.

One of the best things about the records we love is that they connect with us emotionally, tie in somehow to what we’re feeling at the time they come along. Over the fifty years that I’ve been seriously listening to and thinking about music, there are no doubt hundreds of records with which I’ve connected emotionally.

None of these five are among those hundreds of records.

They’re fine records all, but not one of them has ever meant anything to me. (There is that one fleeting memory of hearing the Partridge Family record during a long-ago date, but that’s it.) Even James Taylor’s classic, ushering in (kind of, sort of, maybe) the era of the singer-songwriter (a genre I loved then and still love) has no emotional resonance for me.

I would guess it’s one of the few times that would happen during the years of my so-called sweet spot, running from the late summer of 1969 to the late autumn of 1975. Four of the five – all except “I’ll Be There” – are in the iPod and thus are a part of my day-to-day listening, but the prospect of deleting them would bring no distress (except, and this make sense, a slight bit of regret at losing “I Think I Love You”).

But what do we find when we get to our other business this morning? What was at No. 50 during the third week of November 1970?

We find the record that in a very few weeks would become Neil Young’s first Top 40 hit: “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” Pulled from the stellar album After The Gold Rush, the record had been No. 60 a week earlier and would rise to No. 33. It’s a good record. (For what it matters, it’s not in the iPod either, though maybe it should be.)

‘From Nowhere Through A Caravan . . .’

November 18th, 2020

I took a glance this morning at what I was likely hearing on the radio fifty years ago, checking out the “6+30” from the Twin Cities’ KDWB from November 23, 1970, and found no real surprises.

The No. 1 record was “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family, a record I suspected of having bubblegum tendencies at the time but which I now admire as being a great piece of craft (as well as being the trigger for several memories that have become far less bitter and far more sweet with the passage of half a century.)

Sitting at No. 2 was Brian Hyland’s “Gypsy Woman,” a record I remember well without putting any real heft on it, which means that no young lady danced around a campfire for me during that long ago November (or any other time, to be honest). It was an okay record:

Hyland’s record would go no higher at KDWB. In the Billboard Hot 100, it would get to No. 3. What I didn’t know at the time, of course, was that it was a cover of the Impressions’ 1961 original, a record that went to No. 20 on the Hot 100 and to No. 2 on the magazine’s R&B chart. It was, also, a better version of the song:

The website Second Hand Songs lists thirty-four other versions of the song, ranging from a cover by Major Lance in 1964 to a 2017 version by the Isley Brothers and Santana on an album titled Power Of Peace. In between came versions by a lot of folks whose names I recognize as well as by folks unknown to me. I checked out versions by Ry Cooder, Bobby Womack, Santana, Bruce Springsteen and more and was unmoved.

The only cover I heard that I really liked was the version by Santana and the Isleys, an atmospheric take on the song:

Saturday Single No. 712

November 14th, 2020

Trying to keep things picked up around here, about once a week, I head into posts from years past and replace – if I can – videos that have been deleted. Doing so also has the benefit of reminding me of topics I planned to follow up, ideas that have been swept away by my inattention and simple time.

That brought me yesterday to a 2015 post about the song “He Did Me Wrong But He Did It Right,” written by Patti Dahlstrom and Al Staehly and recorded by Patti for her 1975 album Your Place Or Mine. In 1978, Bobbie Gentry covered the song as the B-side to a promo release of the Jimmy Hughes song “Steal Away.”

The promo turned out to be, from what I can tell, the last new recording Gentry ever released, which was interesting enough, so in that 2015 post, I offered videos of Gentry’s cover and Patti’s original. (It seems odd to use Bobbie Gentry’s last name and Patti Dahlstrom’s first name, but Patti and I are friends because of this blog and exchange emails occasionally. Gentry, as you might imagine, has never contacted me.) It was the video for Patti’s version of the song I replaced yesterday; the fan-made video I’d originally used was deleted, so I dropped in Patti’s official version.

And I saw that I’d written at the end of that post five years ago that I’d noticed one other cover of the song available on YouTube and promised to share it later that week. Later that week, however, I wrote that the video – by a soul trio called Hodges, James & Smith – had disappeared. And that was that, at least five years ago. But I did a quick search yesterday and found not one, but two other videos of “He Did Me Wrong . . .”

The first was from Evelyn Rubio, a Mexican-born singer and sax player who recorded the song for her album Crossing Borders, released in May 2020. I didn’t care at all for her vocal style, so I left before the sax break I assumed would be there, and moved on to the version from Hodges, James & Smith.

The website Discogs tells me that the trio of Pat Hodges, Denita James and Jessica Smith was the idea of producer William Stevenson. They released four albums, the first two – 1973’s Incredible and 1975’s Power In Your Love – on 20th Century and the others – 1977’s What’s On Your Mind? and 1978’s What Have You Done For Love? – on London. The only chart action I can find for the trio came from a 1977 disco medley of “Since I Fell For You” (a No. 4 hit for Lenny Welch in 1964) and “I’m Falling In Love” (written by Stevenson), which went to No. 96 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 24 on the magazine’s R&B chart. (You can find the medley as both an album track and an extended disco mix at YouTube.)

The trio’s version of “He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right” was an album track on Power In Your Love, and it sounds just like 1975, as it should. Is it a great record? Probably not, but it’s a decent take on the song. And, just like I promised five years ago, here it is, as today’s Saturday Single. (Whoever made the video got the title wrong.)

The Bookshelf

November 13th, 2020

I was recently invited to be the once-weekly music blogger at the blog Consortium Of Seven. Here’s a piece I posted there this week:

I used to be just a record buyer. Every once in a while. I’d find myself at a record store, a flea market, or a garage sale, and come home with an LP or two. And I’d get them as presents for birthdays or Christmas.

By the time I was thirty-three, at which point I made a major life change, I had about two-hundred LPs, just a couple of boxes’ worth. Sixteen years later, at the cusp of another major life change, I had 3,000 LPs, a massive collection grown far beyond reason.

We’ll talk about the records and how the collection grew another time, probably several other times. Today, I want to talk about the books. As I got more and more records over the years, I not only wanted to listen to the music, I wanted to know where it fit historically, so I began buying books: Books that listed the records that hit the Billboard charts, books of album reviews, encyclopedias of rock music and the various other genres that surround it, and more.

And as I shifted to CDs in the 2000s (with about 1,500 of them on the shelves now) and then began to write about music, I needed – or at least wanted – more books. More books about the various Billboard charts. More encyclopedias. More books of reviews, of lists, of any possibly useful (and some entirely useless) pieces of data about American recorded music (and the music we listened to before recording began in earnest in the early Twentieth Century).

BooksI’m not going to list all the books (and special editions of Rolling Stone) I have on the shelf in the picture. But I thought I’d offer a nugget of information from seven of those books grabbed not entirely at random to give readers an idea of the kind of information I find interesting.

The first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide (released in 1979; there have been at least three more since) gives the Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road five out of five stars: “One remembers snatches of melody, the great guitar fills and solos (which spawned a whole school of guitar accompaniment in the Seventies), the harmonic swells. The second side of Abbey Road is perhaps the most purely musical work the Beatles ever created, and in its own way, it stands with their best.”

Joel Whitburn is the great collector and publisher of chart data from Billboard and other music periodicals, and at least ten of his volumes are on my shelves. From Top Adult Songs, 1961-2006, we learn that the Carpenters were the top Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary artists of the 1970s, with twenty-three singles reaching that chart, fourteen of them going to No. 1. (For what it matters, my favorite Carpenters’ single of that decade is “Goodbye To Love,” which unaccountably went only to No. 2 on the Easy Listening chart and to No. 7 on the magazine’s main pop chart, the Hot 100).

From the 2001 volume Folk & Blues: The Encyclopedia, we learn that in 1978, Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary summed up the trio’s work by saying “We are the children of Pete Seeger, We come from the folk tradition in a contemporary form where there was a concern that idealism be a part of your music and the music a part of your life.”

In a 1999 reissue of his 1989 volume The Heart Of Rock & Soul; The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, critic and historian Dave Marsh ranks “Anarchy In The U.K.” by the Sex Pistols at No. 100. He writes: “What’s this doing here? You could say that it represents the tip of an iceberg: the sum total of punk and post-punk music that “Anarchy” and the Sex Pistols inspired. But it might be more accurate to call it the entrance to a tunnel in a cave, leading to a buried universe.”

The Whitburn book titled #1s tells us that on September 6, 1969 (the day after I turned sixteen and just weeks after I became very interested in the Top 40), the No. 1 records in Billboard were “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones on the Hot 100, “Share Your Love With Me” by Aretha Franklin on the R&B chart, “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash on both the country and the Adult Contemporary charts, Johnny Cash At San Quentin on both the pop and country album charts, and Hot Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes on the R&B album chart.

Another Whitburn book, A Century Of Pop Music, tells us that the No. 1 record for 1915, the year my maternal grandparents were married, was “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” by John McCormack. It was one of twenty-five records McCormack placed on the charts in the early years of the Twentieth Century.

In his 1989 book Beatlesongs, William J. Dowlding gathers information about the writing and recording of every track the Beatles released during their years together, every song written by the group’s members and recorded by other musicians, and many of the Beatles’ recordings that were unreleased at the time. He notes that “You Never Give Me Your Money,” the first part of the long set of suites on Side Two of the LP of Abbey Road, was written by Paul McCartney alone. Dowlding quotes George Harrison as saying of the track, “It does two verses of one tune, and then the bridge is almost like a different song altogether, so it’s very melodic.”

And here’s an appropriately titled tune for this piece: Dion’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Book Of Dreams.” It’s from Dion’s 2000 album Déjà Nu.

‘I’m Not S’posin’ . . .’

November 12th, 2020

My sister’s record collection, the stuff she took with her in 1972 when she departed Kilian Boulevard and St. Cloud for marriage and a life in the Twin Cities, has been the topic of a few posts here over the years. And I’ve also explored my attempts to find, over the years, the twenty or so LPs that made up that collection.

One of those records, one she bought from the Record Club of America around 1965, was, I think, the acquisition that moved me twenty-some years later to recreate on my own shelves the collection she took with her. And it was also, I think, at least one of the reasons I continue to collect both the music of Ray Conniff and of the wider universe of mid-Sixties easy listening.

I never thought to ask my sister why she chose Conniff’s 1964 album Invisible Tears as one of her selections from the record club, (for about three years, we chose records from the club in alternate months), just as I never thought to ask her why she once chose the album Traditional Jewish Memories. But once the stereo found a permanent home in the basement rec room in 1967, both albums became part of my own regular listening, along with Al Hirt and the soundtracks of John Barry.

The tracks on Invisible Tears were covers of country and pop-folk songs: The title track was a No. 13 hit for Ned Miller on the Billboard country chart in 1964 (Conniff’s version went to No. 57 on the Hot 100 that year). Other tracks included “Honeycomb,” “Oh, Lonesome Me,” “Singing The Blues,” “I Walk The Line,” “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” That’s stuff, of course, that was made famous by other artists, folks I did not know about then.

And among the other tracks on the album was one titled “S’posin’,” which went:

S’posin’ I should fall in love with you
Do you think that you could love me too?
S’posin’ I should hold you and caress you
Would it impress you or distress you?


S’posin’ I should say “For you I yearn”
Would you think I’m speaking out of turn?
And s’posin’ I declare it
Would you take my love and share it?
I’m not s’posin’,I’m in love with you

S’posin’ I declare it
Would you take my love and share it?
I’m not s’posin,’ I’m in love with you

I’m not s’posin,’ I’m in love with you
I’m not s’posin,’ I’m in love with you

For some reason, the song fascinated the twelve-year-old I was, and I found myself humming or singing it as I went about my tweenage business around the house (which I’m sure was at least a little annoying to the other three occupants). I don’t remember if I had anyone in mind as I sang the song, anyone to whom I wanted to declare my ardor, but I imagine I did.

Then, a few years later, I fell into the Beatles, Chicago, Top 40 radio, underground progressive radio, and all the other musical stuff that’s followed me around for years. And until August 1989, for the most part, I forgot about Ray Conniff and Invisible Tears and “S’posin’.” That was when the album turned up in a box of stuff I picked up at a garage sale, tucked next to records by Peter, Paul & Mary, Roy Hamilton, Percy Faith, James Taylor, Joan Baez, and the Climax Blues Band. (An interesting mix, to be sure.)

The record wasn’t, as I recall it, in very good shape, but through the hiss and the crackle came the sounds from the basement rec room. I still liked most of it, although the continued use of the contraction in “S’posin’” now seemed a silly construct. (And it’s been silly for a long time, as the song, written by Andy Razaf and Paul Denniker, was first recorded in 1929 by Bob Haring & His Orchestra and was most recently recorded by Lesley Lambert in 2017.)

That was about the time, 1989 was, when my record buying became a little manic, and that was about the time – probably inspired by finding Invisible Tears – when I began to replicate my sister’s collection as well as to look for Conniff’s work and the work of other easy listening artists from the mid-1960s. (All of my sister’s collection, Invisible Tears included, is replicated on my digital shelves, as is a lot of the easy listening stuff.)

And I still don’t know why my sister chose the record more than fifty years ago, why it mattered to her then and why it still does. About ten years ago, when she and her husband passed on to me a box of LPs they’d decided were no longer essential, Invisible Tears was not among them.

Here’s “S’posin’.”

And here’s a playlist of the album:

Saturday Single No. 711

November 7th, 2020

Now nursing a cold than came in overnight, and wearied by the week of presidential election anxiety, I am of course relieved at the outcome. (Anyone who’s read this blog for even a brief time can certainly assess my political affiliations.) And I think of the places I’ve cast my presidential ballots over the years.

They range from a Lutheran church about a mile from our home on Kilian Boulevard in 1972 to the Senior Center no more than a mile from our condo last Tuesday. Churches, public schools, park rec centers, the St. Cloud Public Works building, Monticello Township Hall. So many places over almost fifty years where I’ve made my small investment in the republic.

And I’m tired. Though if I had to vote again today, I’d be in that distanced line at the Senior Center, waiting for my turn.

Anyway, as I said. I’m tired, and I’m going to spend the day doing very, very little.

Here’s “Lazy Day” by the Moody Blues (which mentions Sunday and not Saturday, but I don’t care). It’s from the 1969 album On The Threshold Of A Dream, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

A Friday Tune

November 6th, 2020

It’s been a long election week here in the U.S., no matter what side of the ballot you fall on. And it’s Friday, likely more important for those who still clock in or report to a desk somewhere than for those of us who don’t, but still . . .

So here’s “Friday” by J.J. Cale. It’s from his 1979 album 5.

Monday morning comes too early
Work my back to the bone
All day Monday I keep thinking
“Weekend’s coming, gonna go home”

Tuesday I hate, oh, Tuesday
Ain’t no girls on the streets
Tuesday it ain’t good for nothing
Drinking beer and watching TV

Friday, Friday evening
Come on Friday, it’s been too long
Friday, Friday evening
Come on Friday, I want to go home

Wednesday’s hump day, hump day’s Wednesday
Over the hump, the week’s half-gone
If I had my pay on Wednesday
I’d hang out, the hump day’s gone

Thursday, you know I feel better
I can see the end in sight
Think I’ll write myself a letter
Help myself through the night

Friday, Friday evening
Come on Friday, it’s been too long
Friday, Friday evening
Come on Friday, I want to go home