Saturday Single No. 558

September 23rd, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reader Writes

September 21st, 2017

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

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

Yah Shure? Are you out there?

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

‘Where’

September 20th, 2017

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

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

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

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

There are a few records that bring back viscerally the last months of 1975 and the first of 1976, and Diana Ross’ “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” is one of them. Those months were my last as an undergrad; I was an intern in sports at a Twin Cities television station, with graduation quickly approaching (and no job prospects in sight). I was also in a relationship that seemed promising, but I was nevertheless very aware of the not so subtle hints being laid down by the lovely redhead who was interning in the station’s promotions department. So, to answer the record’s question, no, I had no idea where I was going to. But it wasn’t the lyrics that pulled me into the song; it was the twisting, yearning melody that caught me then and still does today (with current hearings all the more potent for the memories they stir). Whether for the melody or the words, the record caught many people as 1975 turned into 1976: It went to No. 1 on both the Billboard 100 and the magazine’s Easy Listening chart, and it reached No. 14 on the magazine’s R&B chart.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Single No. 557

September 16th, 2017

Today, I thought I’d go back to a moment on our trip to South Dakota. Not long after leaving Rapid City on our way home, we took a thirty-mile detour through Badlands National Park, getting out at several places for photos and to simply marvel at the land:

Badlands

What in the world, we wondered, did the explorers and settlers of the Nineteenth Century think when they came to these places, stretching for miles under the harsh Dakota sun? Further south, in the park’s Stronghold Unit, lies the place where the Lakota – seeking the survival of their way of life – held their Ghost Dance. As we drove the loop through the park, our comments to each other became murmurs and then became silence, both of us overwhelmed by the savage beauty of the place.

In that silence, as we drove on out of the Badlands, I thought – not at all for the first time during our Dakota trip – of the man I’d once known as Paul Summers, now Paul LaRoche, whose Lakota ancestors had been among those displaced from their homes and lives during the 1800s. I told his story – learning after the death of his Anglo parents that he had been adopted as an infant and then reconnecting with his Lakota heritage – long ago in the Eden Prairie News and then seven years ago in a post here.

Since that post, recording as Brulé, he’s continued to be one of the most well-known and successful Native American artists, releasing numerous CDs and touring frequently. I had some of his work before we headed west, and I added to that collection while we were in the Black Hills. None of Brulé’s work that I have at hand seems to speak specifically to the Badlands, but this morning, “Buffalo Moon” from the 1996 album We The People caught my ear. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Legs & Needles

September 13th, 2017

I learned about something called “dry needle therapy” yesterday, a process that closely resembles acupuncture.

Since about mid-June, I’ve been having problems with my legs: tightness in my hamstrings and my calf muscles, accompanied by painful occasional cramps. The two physical therapists I’ve been seeing have tried deep massages and have prescribed some simple exercises, which I’ve done on a generally regular basis. The tightness hasn’t gone away, and as of this week, the cramping is stronger and more frequent (although I take a few meds that usually help me get up and down the stairs or out to the mailbox without screaming).

So let’s cue up ZZ Top with “Legs” from 1984:

Neither of the physical therapists nor I expected Billy Gibbons and his pals to show up and solve my problems, so yesterday, one of them brought out the needles. The form I signed to consent to the treatment said that the technique wasn’t acupuncture, but it sure sounded like it, and once the treatment started, it felt like it. (I had one round of acupuncture back in 1999 after the on-set of my chemical sensitivity, when I was looking anywhere for answers.) I found a clarification this morning through Google:

Dry needling, according to one website, “involves needling of a muscle’s trigger points without injecting any substance. . . . The approach is based on Western anatomical and neurophysiological principles. It should not . . . be confused with the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) technique of acupuncture. However, since the same filament needles are used in both dry needling and acupuncture, the confusion is understandable.”

Did it hurt? Well, most of the twenty or so needles she placed in my hamstrings and my calves gave me a light poke that I could easily ignore, but two of three of them had me gritting my teeth. Did it help? I think it’s too soon to tell. The therapist said the muscles she treated would likely be a little weaker today, and I think that’s true. I’ve got three more sessions scheduled, with an appointment with my regular doctor nestled in between to talk about my legs and a few other concerns I have.

All I can do is keep on with the program, which means do my exercises, drink more water and take the needles. And in the meantime, lend an ear to Jackie DeShannon. Here’s “Needles & Pins” from 1963.

Saturday Single No. 556

September 9th, 2017

Boy, you go away for a week, and stuff piles up on you, in this case, folks crossing over. Walter Becker of Steely Dan left us on September 3, and country giant Don Williams and Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry both died on September 8. So this is the first moment I’ve had to sit down and really think about any of those deaths, and I’m not sure what to say. I’ll deal with Becker today and probably write about the other two next week, after we’re all unpacked and the laundry from the road is done.

When Steely Dan came along in 1972, I liked what I heard, and I still like it. All of the early albums – from 1972’s Can’t Buy A Thrill through 1980’s Gaucho – are on the digital shelves, even though I haven’t often written about the work of Becker, his partner Donald Fagen and the rest of the folks who laid down those sounds.

But liking Steely Dan isn’t enough for me to know what to say about its music. Trying to describe it, I once wrote of the Dan’s 1974 hit, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” that it had the visceral feel of that convalescent season, combing relief with “dissonance and odd angles and strange transitions.”

A far better assessment of what Becker meant to Steely Dan and to a fervent listener came the day after Becker crossed over. I frequently lean on the work of my pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ when I either don’t know what to say or don’t know enough to write intelligently about something. Today I do so again. Go here and read jb’s reflections.

As for this space, it would too easy to post “Rikki” here this morning. So I’m going to dip into 1977’s Aja and the track whose lyrics tell us:

Well, the danger on the rocks is surely past
Still I remain tied to the mast
Could it be that I have found my home at last?
Home at last.

I know that Steely Dan and a romantic notion seem as odd a pairing as cognac and Cheez Whiz, but it would be nice to think that Becker is – in whatever way he might have wished – home at last, so “Home At Last” from Aja is today’s Saturday Single.

Off To South Dakota

August 31st, 2017

Well, the Texas Gal and I are heading west. Come Saturday morning, we’ll be off for the Black Hills of South Dakota. We’ll spend five days there taking in as much as we can.

There are some must-see sights, of course: Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Reptile Gardens, Custer State Park and its buffalo herd, the city of Deadwood and its Boot Hill. And we’ll hit some museums and other attractions. We’re hoping not to exhaust ourselves, but it will be a busy five days.

That means, of course, that I won’t be posting here for maybe a little more than a week. I might get a Saturday Single up before we head out, but I ain’t promising nothing. And I have plenty to keep me busy for the next two days as we prepare to head out.

So here’s an aptly titled tune by the late Buddy Red Bow, a South Dakota native who was a member of the Lakota tribe and who served in Vietnam. He died in 1993 at the age of forty-four, having released three albums: the soundtrack to Hard Rider in 1972, BRB in 1981, and Journey to the Spirit World in 1983. Black Hills Dreamer, which may be a compilation of earlier work, was released posthumously in 1995.

I’ve read this morning that some consider him a Native American counterpart to Hank Williams, and I think I’m going to have to keep an eye out for his work while we’re on the road. This is “South Dakota Lady” from BRB.

Saturday Single No. 555

August 26th, 2017

Life circles around us and with us.

During the 1990s, when I was living in South Minneapolis, I often drove out to first, the exurb of Cedar and later, the city of St. Francis to spend weekend afternoons with Rob and his family. I watched as he learned to be a dad to his girls, Jessi and Deidre, and his son, Robinson (the middle child).

I won’t say I knew the kids well, but they knew who I was well enough that when I’d call for Rob and one of them answered, they’d chat with me for a few moments before getting their dad to the phone. And when the times came for them to graduate from high school, the Texas Gal and I were invited to the three receptions, the last one taking place eight or nine years ago.

Each of the three got the same graduation gift from us: a collapsible laundry basket to take off to college, and we threw in lingerie bags for the girls. They also each got a custom CD of hits from the year they were born. Jessi and Deidre got pop-rock; Robinson got country. And I was gratified when Deidre, the youngest of the three, opened the package with her CD and told me “I’ve been looking forward to this for years!”

Today, Robinson will be the first of the three to get married, an event that makes me more aware than usual of the passing of time. Back in the 1990s, when he was learning to use silverware, I gave him a gift: the Mr. Peanut silverware set that I’d used when I was young. (His mom, Barb, told me a while back that after he outgrew it, the set was packed away to save it for the next generation.) Today, he and his bride, Katie will get something else for the kitchen from us, along with all the good wishes we can muster.

And as I sorted through music this morning, I was struck by “Wedding Song,” a tune from Dion DiMucci’s 1972 album, Suite For Late Summer:

Love grows every day we’re together.
Life flows, binding our lives to each other.
I was a child; now I’ll be a man.
I was a child; now I’ll be a man.

You hold all my years in your body,
You’re my friend, my love; you know everything about me.
You were a child; you’re a child no more.
You were a child; now you’ve been reborn.

The circle’s waiting for us to take our place.
The circle never changes; we’re all the same.

Love grows every day we’re together.
Life flows, binding our lives to each other.
I was a child; now I’ll be your man.
You were a child; now you’ll be my friend.
Be my friend

So, for Robinson and Katie, Dion’s “Wedding Song” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘What’

August 25th, 2017

We resume our tour this morning through the five W’s and one H of basic journalism, a trek we’re calling Journalism 101, during which we’ll highlight tunes with titles that include the words “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” and “how.” We started with a post titled “Who” last month. Today, we move on to “what.”

Our initial search through the 96,000 or so tracks in the RealPlayer brings us 1,476 candidates. There’s winnowing required, and we lose entire albums (except, in some cases, the title track) from William Vaughn, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Jimmy Smith, Bobby Womack, Koko Taylor, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Janiva Magness, Catherine Howe, the Decemberists, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jackie Lomax, Gloria Scott, Pat Green, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, and a fair number more. We also lose a few tracks from Michael McDonald, a couple tracks from the Staples, one track from the Dynamics, two tracks from Dinah Washington, a track from Rodney Crowell and a few others.

But there are plenty of tracks remaining for our needs this morning, and instead of trying to sort through the remainder with any sort of criteria, I’m going to let the RealPlayer do the work randomly. I’ll intervene for spoken word tracks, tracks shorter than two minutes, and anything before, oh, let’s say 1945. So here we go:

First up in our trek today is “What Do You Want” by the Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds. The track showed up in the U.K. on the 1966 album Yardbirds. In the U.S., it was on Over Under Sideways Down. It’s your basic garage rocker with a slight Brit twist, at least until the last third or so, when Beck takes things over. It’s not near the top of the Yardbirds’ oeuvre, but mediocre Yardbirds is a lot better than a lot of other things we might hear as we wander among the digital shelves here.

We move on to a record about which I know next to nothing, “What More Can I Say” by Jeffrey Clay & The Diggers. It was released by MGM in 1965 but went nowhere; it came to our attention in the massive Lost Jukebox collection that was available online a while back. It’s not in any of the chart books or files I have, the Airheads Radio Survey Archive finds no mention of the single in its vast collection of surveys, and it’s the only single for Mr. Clay and his pals listed at Discogs. It’s not a bad record, just a little boring, with one odd thing: Producer Gene Nash tacked the sound of an audience of screaming girls to the beginning and the end of the record, in what I’d guess was an attempt to make the listeners think the group was overwhelmingly popular. I just wonder who it was those young ladies were actually screaming for.

And we hit some traditional country with “What’ll You Do About Me” by Randy Travis. I suppose that back in 1987, when the tune was an album track on Travis’ Always & Forever, the tale of a spurned lover who won’t give up seemed like a good topic. But listening thirty years later, in a world that’s become much more attuned to the traits of domestic abuse, I hear the story of a stalker who’s likely dangerous (especially in the verse where he’s got his hands on a two-by-two):

All you wanted was a one-night stand
The fire and the wine and the touch of a man
But I fell in love and ruined all your plans
Now what’ll you do about me?

Imagine the faces on your high-class friends
When I beat on the door and I beg to come in
Screamin’ “Come on, love me again!”
Now what’ll you do about me?

Well, you can change your number, you can change your name
You can ride like hell on the midnight train
That’s alright, Momma, that’s okay
But what’ll you do about me?

Picture your neighbors when you try to explain
That good ol’ boy standin’ out in the rain
With his nose on the window pane
Now what’ll you do about me?

What in the world are you planning to do
When a man comes over just to visit with you
And I’m on the porch with a two-by-two?
Lady, what’ll you do about me?

Well, you can call your lawyer, you can call the fuzz
You can sound the alarm, wake the neighbors up
Ain’t no way to stop a man in love
Now what’ll you do about me?

All you wanted was a one night stand
The fire and the wine and the touch of a man
But I fell in love and baby, here I am
Now what’ll you do about me?

Well, you can change your number, you can change your name
You can ride like hell on the midnight train
That’s alright, Momma, that’s okay
Now what’ll you do about me?

And we close our four-tune sample with the combination from 2008 of a long-familiar name with a long-familiar tune: Bonnie Bramlett taking on “For What It’s Worth.” Bramlett, of course, was the Bonnie of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, the powerhouse group of the late 1960s and early 1970s that offered a wicked stew of rock, blues, R&B and gospel; and the song, of course, is the one that Stephen Stills wrote when he was member of Buffalo Springfield that became an anthem for the counter-culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. A cynic could say, “Hey! It’s Double-Nostalgia Day!” But the song, slightly cryptic as it is, still sounds right today, and Bramlett’s supple and bluesy voice still sounds good on what is – so far – her most recent album, Beautiful.

Saturday Single No. 554

August 19th, 2017

I was short on time this morning, so I’m getting to this a bit late. I ran some errands, and I spent half an hour at our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship helping a handful of the fellowship’s children learn Ringo’s “Octopus’ Garden.” They’re going to lead the fellowship in singing the song during the first service of our new year in a few weeks.

Running late, then, I glanced at the Billboard Hot 100 for August 19, 1972, a date forty-five years now past (though it seems to me, as it no doubt does to many, as if it were 1972 just yesterday). The No. 1 record was Gilbert O’Sullivan’s omnipresent “Alone Again (Naturally).” And not a lot that followed in the Top 40 was unfamiliar, surprising or forgotten.

Then I got close to the middle of the chart, and what I noticed wasn’t surprising for its place in the chart, but it was surprising for what I learned about it moments later. Procol Harum’s live version of “Conquistador” was sitting at No. 46 on its way down the chart after peaking at No. 16, and I wondered when I’d last featured the track, which is one I liked a fair amount back in 1972.

And the answer? Never. And I’ve mentioned it only a handful of times.

Now, Procol Harum was never a favorite band of mine. I liked “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” when it came out of friends’ radios on its way to No. 5 in 1967. And when “Conquistador” came humming out of speakers during the summer of ’72, Procol Harum was still a mystery, a band that was more album rock than Top 40, and album rock was a territory I was only just beginning to explore.

So even though I liked the track, I didn’t run out and get the single or the album. I had other musical business at hand. That summer of 1972 saw me completing my Beatles collection and adding the double album Eric Clapton At His Best. And as it turned out, I didn’t get any Procol Harum until the 1990s, when I acquired the group’s 1967 self-titled debut, 1969’s A Salty Dog, and finally – in 1998 – the 1972 live album with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. None of those survived the Great Vinyl Selloff last winter, but I have most of it covered digitally and plan to get the rest (as well as more of the group).

Anyway, it was a nice reminder to see “Conquistador” listed in that long-ago chart, and it was – as I said – a surprise to see that I’d never featured it here. That neglect ends today, and Procul Harum’s “Conquistador” – recorded live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra – is today’s Saturday Single.