Chart Digging, October 23, 1961

October 23rd, 2014

As my stint in third grade went through its second month, I’m not entirely sure what was on my mind beyond basic third-grade business. When I look at the Billboard Hot 100 from this date in 1961, I see many familiar titles, but I know that very few of them would have been familiar to me back then, when I was eight.

The Top Ten has some gems (and a few limpers) in it:

“Runaround Sue” by Dion
“Bristol Stomp” by the Dovells
“Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean
“Hit The Road, Jack” by Ray Charles
“Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” by Sue Thompson
“This Time” by Troy Shondell
“I Love How You Love Me” by the Paris Sisters
“Let’s Get Together” by Hayley Mills & Hayley Mills
“Ya Ya” by Lee Dorsey
“The Fly” by Chubby Checker

There are three on that list that I might have known about as they sat in the Top Ten: “Runaround Sue” is one of those, simply for its popularity, though I’m not at all certain. Hayley Mills’ duet with herself from the first iteration of the movie The Parent Trap did catch my attention for a couple of reasons: We had the comic book version of the movie at home – my sister had bought it but I enjoyed it, too – and, having seen Ms. Mills in Pollyanna the year before, I had an eight-year-old’s crush on the young British actress. Still, I recall hearing the record only a couple of times, and listening to it today was, frankly, painful both in terms of content and performance. (Here is the YouTube link if you feel the need to check for yourself.)

Then there was Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John.” A spoken word tale of the archetypal quiet big man who sacrifices himself for his workmates, the record was, I think, a phenomenon, a judgment that seems accurate based on vague memory and on its chart performance: Five weeks at No. 1 on the pop chart, two weeks at No. 1 on the country chart and nine weeks at No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart.

Here’s a clip of Dean performing the song on his own television program, The Jimmy Dean Show, in 1963:

I likely heard the record on WCCO back in late 1961 when it was riding high on the AC chart, but I have to admit I didn’t get the story until a few years later, when the song showed up on a cheapie album by a group called the Deputies on the Wyncote label. The Wyncote album, titled Ringo, was put out to capitalize on Lorne Greene’s 1964 hit, and when I heard “Big Bad John” then, the narrative was clear (although I wondered for some time what a “Cajun queen” was).

(Along with “Ringo” and “Big Bad John,” the Wyncote album contained a lot of public domain material. I played the record a while back, and it’s still in pretty good shape, so I tried to rip it to mp3s, but there was a persistent hiss, which, I’ve read, is chronic problem with Wyncote LPs from that era.)

Anyway, from the Top Ten, I thought I’d drop to the lower portions of the Hot 100 from fifty-three years ago today and see if there was anything down there I might have recognized at the time. Surprisingly, there was.

I’ve mentioned on occasion that during the early 1960s, my sister – three years older than I – would sometimes pick up a bag of bargain 45s at Musicland or Dayton’s or wherever she found them during a trip to the Twin Cities. And I recall that one of those bargain bags brought her a copy of “Let There Be Drums” by Sandy Nelson.

Nelson’s surf-washed instrumental would eventually climb to No. 7, but fifty-three years ago today, it was just starting its climb and was bubbling under at No. 105. The bargain bag that brought the record to Kilian Boulevard was likely purchased sometime in early 1962, after the record had passed its peak. So while I might not have heard “Let There Be Drums” when it was on the chart, it didn’t have to wait ten to twenty years – as did many other records of the time – to reach my ears.

‘Our Love’s Got No Season . . .’

October 22nd, 2014

When I started digging into the song “Even A Fool Would Let Go,” I figured I’d find more versions out in the world than I did. It’s a great song, I thought, with a catchy hook musically and lyrically. (In a post last week, I featured the 1974 original by Gayle McCormick and the 1982 cover by Levon Helm that brought the song to my attention.)

But it’s a song that’s never gotten much attention – I’ve found eight more covers so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the well is dry after those eight – nor has it had any presence that I could find on the major Billboard charts.

Nor, among the few covers I’ve found, have I found anything that grabs me very hard. Three years after McCormick first recorded the song, Kerry Chater – one of the song’s co-writers – released his version on Part Time Love, but the album got little attention. (A single release of the title track got to No. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

Sporadic covers showed up for a little more than a decade. Among those I’ve listened to without much interest are versions by Kenny Rogers (1978), Dionne Warwick (1981) the Marshall Tucker Band (1982), Gloria Gaynor (1982) and Joe Cocker (1984). The worst of that bunch is the lifeless take on the tune by the Marshall Tucker Band, although Rogers’ cover was dull, as well.

Was there anything good? Well, I found a few covers that piqued my interest. Dolly Parton did a nice take on the tune on her Dolly, Dolly, Dolly album in 1980, and I find myself intrigued by the version country singer John Anderson offered on his 1985 album Tokyo, Oklahoma.

Finally, I took a listen – not for the first time – to the cover of the song offered in 1990 by the British folk-rock duo Clive Gregson and Christine Collister on their album Love Is A Strange Hotel. It doesn’t blow me away, but the duo’s very spare approach offers another way into the song than I’d heard elsewhere.

Saturday Single No. 415

October 18th, 2014

As I did the dishes Thursday afternoon, I kept track of the tunes coming from the little mp3 player so I could post the list on Facebook. I no longer offer Dishwashing Music daily, but I do so maybe twice a week these days, usually when the player gives me an intriguing set of songs.

Thursday’s set was just that: “It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr, “Get Together” by the Youngbloods, “Pain” by the Mystics, “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty, “No Time” by the Guess Who, “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel and “The Ballad Of Casey Deiss” by Shawn Phillips. I chose to highlight the Shawn Phillips track, as I hadn’t heard it for a while.

And as I searched at YouTube for a video of the tune and then listened to it to make sure it would work for my post, I wondered idly when Phillips – a Texan who currently lives in South Africa – would make his way back to Minnesota for some performances. He came through St. Cloud a few years ago, and I somehow missed it. Shaking my head regretfully, I finished the Facebook post and went on with my afternoon.

The Texas Gal came home, and I walked across the street to check on the mail. When I came back in, she was on the phone with someone. That someone said something funny and she laughed, and as she did, she handed the phone to me. The caller, it turned out, was my long-time pal Rick, calling from the southern Minnesota town of Kenyon, where he and his family moved a couple of years ago.

After some pleasantries, he told me the news: Shawn Phillips was playing a concert Saturday (today) in the small town of Zumbrota, about seventeen miles east of Kenyon. “Zumbrota?” I asked.

“I know, I know,” Rick said. “It’s weird. But that’s how Phillips is. He finds small venues when he’s around Minnesota.”

That’s true, and it’s part of Phillips’ continuing affection for Minnesota, which for some reason was one of the few places – along with his native Texas – where his records sold well and his concerts were well-attended back in the early 1970s, when his unique combination of rock and folk brought him some attention and some sales.

Phillips’ chart presence was not massive: Between 1971 and 1976, four of his albums reached the Billboard 200; two others bubbled under, including my favorite, 1970’s Second Contribution; two of his singles reached the Billboard Hot 100 during those years, and two others bubbled under. Nevertheless, whenever he came through St. Cloud in those years, tickets to his shows were hard to get.

“So,” Rick continued, “there are a bunch of us going.” He mentioned a few names, and they were folks I know, some fairly well. “And,” he went on, “I was wondering if you wanted to come down and see the show. I’ll cover the ticket. I figure I owe you a ticket to see Shawn Phillips.”

Well, that was true. Back in May of 1972, I had a pair of tickets on my dresser for a weeknight Phillips concert in St. Cloud State’s Stewart Hall, one for me and one for Rick. On the Saturday evening before – and I feel as if I’ve told this tale here before although I couldn’t find it in the blog’s Word files – I saw Rick standing at the corner of his lawn, seemingly waiting for someone. I walked across the street to chat with him as he waited, and he invited me to a party – a kegger – in a place called Hidden Valley somewhere near the small town of Sartell, which at that time was about ten miles north of St. Cloud. (The cities have expanded during the past forty-two years and now border each other.)

I tagged along to the party with Rick and came home sometime after midnight, drunk and ill. My parents, to understate things, were not amused. I was grounded for the next week: Home from college right after work each day, no evening excursions, no friends visiting, no phone calls. Well, I deserved some kind of discipline, and I could still see my (potential) girlfriend during the day. The only thing that would really hurt would be missing Shawn Phillips.

I got my tickets to Rick. I think my folks called him, and he came over and picked them up. He says I dropped them to him out of my bedroom window, which is a far better tale, so we’ll go with that. I don’t know who used the ticket that would have been mine. As it happened, KVSC, the college radio station, broadcast Phillips’ show from Stewart Hall, so on the night of the concert, I was able to hear his performance. But it would have been far better to be there. So, yes, Rick was correct as we talked on the phone two days ago: He owed me a ticket to a Shawn Phillips concert.

Zumbrota, however, is 130 miles away, a lengthy drive for me. I’d stay a night in a hotel in Kenyon owned by one of Rick’s in-laws, and hotel stays present their own challenges for me. And I’ve just barely gotten over whatever bug it was that laid me cross-wise this past week. So for reasons of budget and health, I had to decline the offer. Rick understood. We talked a bit about an upcoming Strat-O-Matic get-together in St. Cloud, and then I told him to enjoy the Shawn Phillips show. And I told him that the long-standing debt is no longer on the books.

All of that, then, made it easy to find a tune for this morning. Here, from Shawn Phillips’ 1970 album Second Contribution, is “The Ballad of Casey Deiss,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘My Love’s Got No Season . . .’

October 16th, 2014

As far as I know, the first time I ran into the very good song “Even A Fool Would Let Go” was in February of 1990, when I happened upon a copy of Levon Helm’s self-titled 1982 album in Anoka, Minnesota. The album didn’t entirely impress me – I think it’s one of Levon’s lesser efforts, which is kind of a mystery, given the presence of the Muscle Shoals crew and Steve Cropper and production by Duck Dunn – but the song, the third track on the album, grabbed me:

And as Levon’s version came to my attention in the past few days, I thought I’d dig around a little bit. The song, written by Kerry Chater and Tom Snow, was first recorded by Gayle McCormick, the former lead singer for Smith, for her 1974 album One More Hour.

There are more covers beyond Levon’s, of course, although not as many as I thought there would be. But my attention is flagging this morning, and the painters are here. I’ll get back to “Even A Fool Would Let Go” in one of the next few days.

Some R&B From Deep In ’74

October 14th, 2014

Shoe shoe shine used to cost a dime, a penny could buy you plenty.

So goes the hook from “Shoe Shoe Shine” by the Dynamic Superiors, a Washington, D.C., group that recorded for Motown. Forty years ago this week, the single was bubbling under the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 104. The record would peak at No. 68 during the first week of December 1974 and go to No. 16 on the R&B chart:

It caught my ear this morning because the lyrics of the record seem to sum up, perhaps a bit obliquely, the general sense in 1974 that things in the U.S. weren’t going so well. (And if they weren’t going so well for the white middle class in which I was firmly ensconced, they were no doubt worse for folks of color.)

First of all
Let’s get one thing straight
All the things you desire
Will have to come late

Ain’t handing you no jive
Telling you it is what it ain’t
Pretending I can do things
That I, oh, that I can’t

But I remember (I remember)
I remember (I remember)

Shoe shoe shine used to cost a dime
A penny could buy you plenty
A nickel was the fare
To take you anywhere
Troubles, we didn’t have many

I may not have much to speak of
But there’ll always be plenty of love

You might as well get
Rid of those crazy ideas
Rainy days will outnumber
The ones you see clear

The picture in your dreams, no
That ain’t the way it’s gonna be
When you sit in your lucky chair
All you may have is me

Telling the story (telling the story)
Of glory (of glory) when
Shoe shoe shine used to cost a dime
A penny could buy you plenty
A nickel was the fare
To take you anywhere
Troubles, we didn’t have many

It’s a sadly sweet record with a great hook, written and produced by the team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, and one might think that given all its positives – including its unflinching assessment of life in 1974 – that it should have done better in the chart. But I say that a lot, and as good as the record is, there were in 1974 – like always – hundreds of records with a similar sound (if not the same message) fighting for airplay.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t recall ever hearing the record before. I don’t know if it got airplay on KDWB or WJON, but I kind of doubt it, and I wasn’t listening to those stations much anymore, anyway. I was getting my music that autumn mostly from my LPs (collecting the work of the Allman Brothers Band was that season’s goal) and from the jukebox at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center. And by the time “Shoe Shoe Shine” entered the Hot 100 in early November, I wasn’t listening to much of anything for a while.

But forty years later, I like “Shoe Shoe Shine” well enough that I’ll likely seek out whatever I can find from the Dynamic Superiors’ self-titled album from 1974. That album provided the group with one more single: “Leave It Alone” bubbled under at No. 102 during the spring of 1975.

Saturday Singles Nos. 413 & 414

October 11th, 2014

I’m supposed to sing tomorrow in church, but there is a tickle at the back of my throat that worries me.

I noticed it yesterday when I was practicing. My voice in the higher portion of my (somewhat limited) range was not as strong as it generally is, and I was straining to hit the D just above Middle C. That’s not good, as the verse of one of the two songs I’m scheduled to sing begins on that note, as does the chorus of the second.

So I’m a little worried.

As I wrote a while back, singing in public is something that’s come back to me only in the past year, since I’ve been comfortable once again sharing my voice – and sometimes songs I’ve written – in public. It’s not something I’ve done a lot over the years.

I sang in junior high and high school choirs, of course, and in a choir at St. Cloud State for one quarter (as a one-credit activity). After that one quarter, I decided I’d invest my activity credit in work at the campus radio station. From that point on for many years, the only singing I did was along with the radio or while practicing on my guitar. During college days, I often worked on my music while I was perched on the little bank on our lawn just yards from Kilian Boulevard, singing softly and occasionally dropping my head to reach the harmonica rack and offer the world what can only be described as Bob Dylan Lite.

Dylan wasn’t my only influence. In the late months of 1990, as the U.S. was preparing for what turned out to be a brief war with Iraq, I wrote an anti-war tune titled “One Wall Is Enough” and in a burst of bravery sang it at a piano one evening in a coffeehouse in Columbia, Missouri. When I was finished and sat sipping coffee (thinking that it hadn’t gone too badly and that the applause from the sparse crowd had been genuine), one of the proprietors of the place joined me at my table.

“Nice job,” he said. “You want to know what I heard?” I nodded. “Well, there was some Dylan, of course, and the song construction was straight from Buddy Holly and Lennon-McCartney.” I nodded again, because he was right. “And I heard some Lightfoot and some Van Morrison. And I heard something in the lyrics I’ve never heard before, and I figure that’s got to be you.”

As vague as it was, that might have been one of the better compliments I’ve received in my life.

That coffee-house lark was an exception; otherwise, from the time I left St. Cloud State until the mid-1990s, any performing was limited to gatherings of friends and a one-off performance for a student group at Minot State. It was during the 1990s that I came across Jake and the band he was collecting, and during the years I played with Jake’s guys, I sang lead on a few things: The Band’s “The Weight,” Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” and the Darden Smith/Boo Hewerdine composition, “First Chill Of Winter.”

From the time I was turned away from Jake’s group in early 2001 until last December when another church member and I performed “First Chill Of Winter,” I sang for no one (except the Texas Gal from rare time to rare time). Since that first church performance, I’ve sung there a few times on my own and several times with that other member (and with the choir frequently). Happily, my efforts have been well-received and the compliments I’ve gotten seem genuine.

And I’m supposed to sing tomorrow, but the tickle in the back of my throat this morning makes me think that’s unlikely. I’m a little bummed out about that. I’d selected two songs that fit mid-October nearly perfectly and also, it turns out, fit well into a Saturday post here.

The first has been mentioned here over the years (and shared long ago during the years of downloading): The cover of Eric Andersen’s “Blue River” by Andersen, Jonas Fjeld and Rick Danko (with Danko handling the lead vocal) from the trio’s 1991 Danko/Fjeld/Andersen album.

And then there’s Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” as recorded by Kate Rusby, a British folksinger whose stellar work I’ve recently discovered. Rusby’s cover of Denny’s beautiful tune came out on a CD single in 2008.

And there, in the hope that I’ll be able to perform them tomorrow, are your Saturday Singles.

‘Smoke, Smoke, Smoke . . .’

October 9th, 2014

I’d been a smoker for most of the past twenty-five years when I lit up my last cigarette on October 9, 1999, fifteen years ago today. I’d tried to quit at least three times, but not even the wishes of the Other Half and the promise of a more serene domestic life back in the late 1970s were powerful enough to keep me smokeless. Once that pairing was over in 1987, I gave little thought to quitting for the next twelve years.

Smoking was a habit I’d fallen into by happenstance coupled with a moment of terrible judgment. After a few fumbling encounters with cigarettes in my mid-teens – the most memorable was a smoke shared at Bible camp with another camper, the two of us feeling like outsiders as we listened to the music coming from the cabin where the other campers were dancing – I was firmly a non-smoker. Smoke was all around me, of course: My dad smoked, both cigarettes and a pipe. Friends smoked. Passengers on buses smoked. Diners in restaurants smoked. I didn’t, and I was pretty resolute about it.

Until a spring day in Fredericia, Denmark, in 1974. I’d become pretty good friends with a fellow named Rob C (so called to differentiate him from Rob from across Kilian Boulevard). And one day in May, we ended up sitting in a quiet spot on the city’s earthen walls, probably talking about what we expected to find when we went back home, a trip that was only days away. Rob pulled out a pack of cigarettes – hideously expensive in Denmark even then – and shook one out. Then he offered the pack to me. I took a cigarette – the brand was “LOOK” and like the American “KOOL” brand its name echoed, it was a menthol – and I lit up and inhaled for the first time.

And I was hooked.

I smoked for the rest of my college years, even after an odd lung ailment in June 1974 put me in the hospital for a week and took away a good chunk of that summer. I quit when I married the Other Half, but I started smoking again during an afternoon of fishing with my pal Larry not quite a year later. I quit twice more during the nine years the Other Half and I were together, but that only meant I started smoking again two more times. Eventually I quit trying to quit and smoked my way through the late 1980s and almost all of the 1990s.

And then, in September 1999, I was overexposed to toxic chemicals when new carpet was put into the building where I worked, and that – coupled with what I now suspect was a mold problem in my new apartment – made my system extremely sensitive to many common chemicals, including tobacco smoke. After that happened, I knew I would have to quit. Smoke in the air made my scalp itch and my ears burn, as did many other common chemicals. I avoided the other chemicals as well as I could – I wasn’t working, I quit using fragranced products, I changed my diet and more – but I still smoked about two packs a day.

Until that evening fifteen years ago today. I was at my kitchen table, and I lit up a cigarette, and my throat immediately started to swell shut. I stubbed out the cigarette and went in search of my antihistamines. They didn’t work. I used an epi-pen, a couple of which I kept on hand. That didn’t work. I called a friend and asked her to take me to the emergency room at the nearest hospital. They kept me there about six hours, giving me more antihistamines and epinephrine until my throat settled down to a more normal state.

And at two in the morning, my friend and I went back to my place, and I loaded my smoking stuff – ashtrays, lighters and a few packs of Old Gold – into a bag and asked her to dispose of it. I haven’t had a cigarette since, except in a few dreams. Sometimes I miss smoking, but I have a pretty good incentive not to smoke: I like breathing.

And here’s the best recording I know about the tug of tobacco, “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” by Tex Williams & His Western Caravan from 1947. A cover of the tune by Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen made it to No. 94 in 1973, but Tex Williams’ version outdid that by a long ways: It sat at No. 1 on the country chart for sixteen weeks in 1947.

A Week Of Appointments

October 7th, 2014

Somehow I managed to cram several medical-type appointments into a little more than a week, making the next ten days far more scheduled than I had planned. Add in the normal errands for us and for my mother, and then top that off with the expected arrival today of house painters – and I have no idea how long that project will take – and it’s a busy time.

I hope to do a more detailed post later this week, but for now – commemorating my visit to the clinic to have blood drawn this morning for lab work – here’s the Neville Brothers with the aptly titled “My Blood.” It’s from the brothers’ 1989 album Yellow Moon.

One Chart Dig, Early October 1969

October 2nd, 2014

It’s a grungy and gray day outside, and that matches my mood perfectly this morning. I’ve got things I can do, but today, I just don’t want to do them. There’s nothing particularly wrong, but it seems as if there’s nothing particularly right, either. It’s just one of those days. But we can still find some music.

I took a quick look at the Billboard Hot 100 from the first week in October 1969 – we’ve been in 1969 a lot recently, but that’s okay – and found a record I’m nearly certain I’ve never heard before. Bubbling under the chart at No. 102 – selected for today’s date, 10/2 – was “Taking My Love (And Leaving Me),” a pretty good single from Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. That’s as high as it got, and it probably deserved better.

Jerryo’s Boo-Ga-Loos

September 30th, 2014

When I’m out wandering the Interwebs, looking at lists, checking out blogs or clicking from link to link at YouTube, there are many names in the musical universe that catch my eye and make me either stop or click back to see what I’ve missed. Among those names are those of Funk Brothers Benny Benjamin and James Jamerson, drummer and bassist, respectively, and the foundation of much of Motown’s 1960s musical genius.

They popped up again today as I was idly sorting through videos of singles from the Billboard Hot 100 from September 30, 1967, which happened to be my sister’s seventeenth birthday. Sitting at No. 1 on that long-ago day was “The Letter” by the Box Tops. Anchoring the Hot 100 from its Bubbling Under spot at No. 135 was “Been So Nice” by the Righteous Brothers.

And just eleven spots north of “Been So Nice” was “Karate-Boo-Ga-Loo” a release on the Shout label by a performer calling himself Jerryo. I’d heard of neither the record nor the performer, so I headed to YouTube. The first video of the record I found was a little off in its sound, so I kept clicking, but not until I read that first video’s statement that the Funk Brothers, including Benjamin, Jamerson and pianist Popcorn Wylie, had provided the backing for Jerryo on “Karate-Boo-Ga-Loo.”

It’s well known, of course, that the Funk Brothers frequently moonlighted, working sessions for record labels other than Motown, a practice that just as frequently annoyed Motown’s Berry Gordy. And I suppose that the moonlighting practices of Bemjamin, Jamerson and the rest are now so legendary that their names have been appended all over the Internet to music they had no part in making. So it was with a grain or two of salt that I listened to “Karate-Boo-Ga-Loo” this morning. And all I can say is that it sounds like Benny Benjamin on the drums, and – perhaps a little less definitively – like James Jamerson on the bass.

Shout was a subsidiary of the Bang label and the listings at show releases – nearly all 45s – starting in 1966 and ending in 1975. Scanning the list of singles at that site, I see two that are familiar to me: Freddy Scott’s “Are You Lonely For Me” from 1966 and Erma Franklin’s “Piece Of My Heart” from 1967. I’ve no doubt heard others but evidently not frequently enough to know them by their titles.

Jerryo, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, was actually Jerry Murray, who with Robert “Tommy Dark” Tharp made up the duo of Tom & Jerrio (and why the spelling is different, I have no idea). Before Jerry’s single was released on Shout, the duo had two records on ABC-Paramount: “Boo-Ga-Loo” went to No. 47 (No. 11 on the R&B chart) in the spring of 1965 and “Great Goo-Ga-Moo-Ga” bubbled under at No. 123 for one week in August of that year.

“Karate-Boo-Ga-Loo” went to No. 51 (No. 16 R&B), and I thought for a minute about the reasons for including the word “karate” in its title. It seems to me, based on vague memories, that pop culture at the time was going through one of its occasional fascinations with Asian martial arts. I have no specific memories or citations on which to base that, except that the cheap aftershave called Hai Karate, also trading on our fascination with those martial arts, showed up on shelves during the same year, 1967, a memory confirmed at Wikipedia.

As for Jerryo, he had one more single get some airplay: “Funky Boo-Ga-Loo” spent one week at No. 40 on the R&B chart in early 1968. Are there Funk Brothers there? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me.