Archive for the ‘Video’ Category

Saturday Single No. 591

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

We’re off to the eye doctor!

Both the Texas Gal and I have noticed in the past couple of weeks that things are getting a bit blurry, especially when we’re driving and most especially when we’re driving after dark. So we checked our records, and for both of us, it’s been a few years since we had our eyes checked.

So later this morning, we’re off to the regional big box store on the East Side, where we’ve had our eyes checked since we moved to St. Cloud almost sixteen years ago. We’ll also likely look for a hose attachment we can use to clean the winter gunk from the garage floor and for a couple other necessities as well. And lunch at one of our former East Side haunts might be on the agenda, too.

But it’s our eyes that are the main part of the agenda. So here’s a tune that’s never shown up here before: “Meagan’s Gypsy Eyes.” It’s from Child Is Father To The Man, the 1968 debut album for Blood, Sweat & Tears, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘We Have Lost The Time . . .’

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Well, it worked pretty well on Wednesday, so we’re going to glance this morning at a Billboard Hot 100 from May 18, selecting this time the one from 1974 that was released just as I was planning my return to Minnesota after almost nine months in Denmark. That’s forty-four years ago now, and it feels like, well, not quite like yesterday but certainly a lot more recent than forty-four years.

Anyway, playing Games With Numbers with that Hot 100 turns today’s date – 5/18/18 – to forty-one, so let’s take a look at the record that was sitting at No. 41 in that long-ago chart. It turns out to be Anne Murray’s take on the Beatles’ “You Won’t See Me,” heading toward a peak at No. 8 (and at No. 2 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart).

I recall the single well, and I recall as well than I didn’t think much of it then. And I still don’t. The production has always sounded heavy-handed to me, with, well, a thickness to it that didn’t suit Murray’s voice well.

The fact is, very little of Murray’s work has ever appealed to me, so when her cover of “You Won’t See Me” hit the speakers back then, I either changed the radio station or ignored the jukebox for four minutes. And not a single track of hers is among the 72,000 files on the digital shelves here. Her stuff is not awful; it’s just not my deal.

But that’s the way it goes with Games With Numbers. Sometimes you hit a great one; sometimes you get something very foul; and sometimes, like today, it doesn’t really matter. But anyway, here’s Murray’s record:

‘Raise The Candles High . . .’

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

Glancing at the Billboard Hot 100 from May 16, 1970 – an astounding forty-eight years ago today – I played a quick Games With Numbers and converted today’s date – 5/16/18 – to thirty-nine. And sitting at No. 39 forty-eight years ago today was Melanie’s “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain),” the anthem she composed after the experience of performing at Woodstock the previous August.

Recorded with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, the single had jumped twenty-three spots in the previous week and was on its way to a peak position of No. 6. It got there during the second week of July, about the time that the state trapshoot took place at a gun club just outside the St. Cloud city limits. I heard the record often as I sat in a trap for four long days, loading clay targets on a scary humming machine and trying not to get my fingers broken.

And since I’ve never featured the single here (and because long ago I characterized Melanie Safka in this space as the quintessential hippie chick), here’s “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain).”

(I think this is the single version, but there are so many versions offered at YouTube that I’m really not sure.)

Saturday Single No. 590

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

It started as one of those Facebook queries/challenges. A friend asked me to take ten days and display the jackets of ten favorite albums. I bit. And most of those ten would be familiar to anyone who’s read this blog regularly:

Honey In The Horn by Al Hirt (1963)
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her by Glenn Yarbrough (1967)
Abbey Road by the Beatles (1969)
The Band by The Band (1969)
Second Contribution by Shawn Phillips (1970)
Den Store Flugt by Sebastian (1972)
Comes A Time by Neil Young (1978)
Tunnel Of Love by Bruce Springsteen (1987)
Evidence by Boo Hewerdine & Darden Smith (1989)
Riding On The Blinds by Danko/Fjeld/Andersen (1994)

Now, that’s not necessarily my list of the best ten albums; those are favorites, and I made sure that the list of ten included albums from the Eighties and Nineties. And then, just for fun, I kept going, up to twenty, then thirty, and then beyond. This morning, I put up a posting of a favorite album for the forty-eighth time: Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970).

Is it my forty-eighth favorite album? Probably not. I think it likely would rank higher if I were actually trying to rank them. But all I’m doing is trying to share with my friends at Facebook albums that I love, offered in no particular order. So once in a while I throw in a curveball, just to remind folks that my musical universe is vast and strange. That’s how The Best of the Red Army Choir (2002) came to be listed on Day 31. (None of my 316 Facebook friends gave it a “like.”)

And I took a look this morning at the growing list – forty-eight albums long now – and wondered if I’d written about all of them. Most of them, I could say “yes” without digging into the blog’s archives. But I wondered about one of them: Mississippi Fred McDowell’s 1969 album, I Do No Play No Rock ’n’ Roll. It turns out I’ve mentioned McDowell and the album three or four times, but pretty much always in passing (though I have featured a track or two).

McDowell was found and first recorded in 1959 by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins. He was living and working as a farmer near Como, Mississippi (though he still called Rossville, Tennessee, his home). He’s been styled as a Delta blues musician, but Wikipedia notes that “McDowell may be considered the first north hill country blues artist to achieve widespread recognition for his work. Musicians from the hill country – an area parallel to and east of the Delta region – produced a version of the blues somewhat closer in structure to its African roots. It often eschews chord change for the hypnotic effect of the droning single-chord vamp. McDowell’s records offer glimpses of the style’s origins.”

McDowell began recording commercially (though he continued farming), and in 1969, recorded I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll for the Capitol label, using electric guitar on a record for the first time. (Wikipedia notes that along the way, McDowell gave tips on slide guitar to Bonnie Raitt and notes as well that McDowell was pretty pleased with what the Rolling Stones did with his song “You Got To Move” on their Sticky Fingers album.)

My introduction to Mississippi Fred McDowell probably came in the studios of KVSC-FM at St. Cloud State sometime during my freshman year, almost certainly early in 1972. I seem to remember being in the tiny room that served as our lounge with music coming in from Studio B, but I suppose could have been at home, whiling time away in my room with my new clock radio tuned to KVSC. Wherever it was, the first sounds of the first track on I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll caught my attention: a few plucks on a guitar string and then a weathered voice saying, “My name is Fred McDowell. They call me Mississippi Fred McDowell . . .”

And after a little bit of talk, which includes the line that became the title of the album, McDowell moves into Big Joe Williams’ “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” I’d never heard anything like it before. And it would be nice if I could say I immediately became a blues fan, buying and listening to McDowell’s records and those of his contemporaries and predecessors and followers.

I didn’t, of course. I was still learning about rock and its various branches and styles. I began to catch up to the blues during the late 1980s and 1990s. Mississippi Fred McDowell popped up on a few anthologies, and in 2002, as I was creating my LP database, I noticed his name again and remembered that moment in early 1972. The Texas Gal and I were living in the Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth, with no easy day-to-day access to a decent record shop, so I went online, and in a few days the mail carrier brought me my vinyl copy of I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll.

I don’t listen to it often, but it is a favorite (if that makes sense), and when I was pondering the other morning which album cover to post at Facebook, McDowell’s album came to mind, and I thought I should follow up here. So here’s some talk from Mississippi Fred McDowell and his take on “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” all of it the first track of I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Forty-Eight Years

Friday, May 4th, 2018

May 4, 1970: Four Dead In Ohio

Allison Krause
Jeffrey Miller
Sandra Scheuer
William Schroeder

Here’s the original Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young single of “Ohio” from 1970, written by Neil Young.

First Wednesday: May 1968

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

When one looks back at the major events of 1968 – or of any year, for that matter – there is generally a kind of storybook quality about them: They happened, they got attention, but they didn’t really affect us or the people around us.

What I mean is: No matter how awful – or in rare cases, beneficial – an event might be that is large enough to attract the attention of the world, simply because of sheer numbers, it rarely affects us or someone we know. To put it in the perspective of an event I mentioned in my look at March 1968, very few of us in the U.S. knew someone involved with the massacre at My Lai. As horrible as it was, when the tale of the massacre became public, very few of us had our revulsion augmented by the fact that we knew someone who had pulled a trigger or knew someone who was murdered or had a loved one murdered. And as powerful and terrible as the events of 1968 had so far been as we entered May, most of us were still spectators, gaping at the display.

But in May, as obliquely as it might have been, a major news story touched down at our home in St. Cloud. It wasn’t tragic, it could have had a far greater impact than it did, but it was there.

What became known as mai 68 in France began, says Wikipedia, as a series of student strikes that broke out in May at universities and schools in Paris, “following confrontations with university administrators and the police.” The French government, led by President Charles de Gaulle, attempted to end the strikes with more police action, but that only made matters worse.

There were street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter of Paris, followed by “a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by ten million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached such a point that de Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for June 23.”

Wikipedia further notes: “May ’68 was a political failure for the protesters, but it had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment that saw the replacement of conservative morality (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) with the liberal morality (equality, sexual liberation, human rights) that dominates French society today. Although this replacement did not take place solely in this one month, the term mai 68 is used to refer to the shift in values, especially when referring to its most idealistic aspects.”

In St. Cloud, at my home, we watched the events of about four thousand miles away with great interest. I remember seeing students at the barricades in the streets of Paris, both on television and in photos in newspapers and magazines. Why did it matter? Because my sister, three years older than I and about to graduate from high school, was scheduled to spend six weeks in France that summer – near Paris, I believe – studying French language and culture.

Her six weeks would begin in July, but as the events of May wore on, I seem to remember my sister and my parents being kept informed by the sponsoring agency. There was some concern that the program might have to be canceled. Now, a Midwestern girl not getting her chance to go to France pales, I know, when compared with many of the wounds that the year of 1968 was inflicting. But it would have saddened her greatly, and grief is grief. As it happened, the furor in France died down as the summer came, and the sponsoring agency found a place to host the program in the city of Narbonne, just off the Mediterranean Sea. My sister got her time in France.

The uncertainty, though, had a point, as I look back at it. It was a lesson, as if the universe were pointing out that large events are more than tales on a storyboard: They touch people’s lives.

Beyond the upheaval in France, May of 1968 was a relatively tranquil month, according to the list of events at Wikipedia, almost as if the world were catching its breath for what was to come. Still, relatively tranquil is not tranquil.

There were increasing protests in the United States against the war in Vietnam. In Catonsville, Maryland, a group that came to be called the Catonsville Nine went to the local draft board on May 17. Two brothers who were Catholic priests, Fr. Daniel Berrigan and Fr. Philip Berrigan, headed the group. At the draft board office, Wikipedia says, the nine protestors “took 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured homemade napalm over them, and set them on fire.” They were tried in federal court in October and found guilty of “destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967.”

The breakaway Nigerian province of Biafra was surrounded by the Nigerian army. This contributed, Wikipedia notes, “to a humanitarian disaster as the surrounded population was already suffering with hunger and starvation.” Efforts to relive the privation were launched around the developed word. Wikipedia once more: “It has been argued that by prolonging the war the Biafran relief effort (characterized by Canadian development consultant Ian Smillie as ‘an act of unfortunate and profound folly’), contributed to the deaths of as many as 180,000 civilians.”

The images we saw from Biafra in the news were truly horrible. If the name of the province/nation is unfamiliar to you, Google it and click on the image search.

There’s no way to write a paragraph of transition from starving Biafrans to the Top 40 without seeming utterly callous. So let’s just acknowledge, I guess, that some folks could play while some starved. It’s always been so, and – unhappily – it will likely always be so.

Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for the week of May 4, 1968:

“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap Featuring Gary Puckett
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells
“I Got The Feelin’” by James Brown & The Famous Flames
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra and Chorus
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers
“If You Can Wait” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
“Dance to the Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Take Time To Know Her” by Percy Sledge
“Summertime Blues” by Blue Cheer
“The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde” by Georgie Fame

Not a bad batch, with the exception of Bobby Goldsboro and the Irish Rovers. “Young Girl” might be a little creepy, given today’s point of view, but I’m not sure we thought about it like that back then. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the Intruders’ record. I might recognize it, but I’m not sure.

Here are the Top 10 albums in Billboard from that first week of May 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly soundtrack
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With by Bill Cosby
The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

A couple things jump out. First, it was a very good spring for Simon & Garfunkel. In its second week on the charts, Bookends had jumped from No. 71 to No. 4, and it would stay on the album chart for another thirty-eight weeks. The soundtrack to The Graduate was in its fifth week at No. 1 with four weeks to go during a forty-seven week stay on the chart. And Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme ,which came out in 1966, had re-entered the Top Ten in early April and would stay until late June, eventually cataloging sixty weeks in the Top 40.

The other thing I noticed is that Are You Experienced had popped back into the Top Ten after falling out. The last week in April, the first album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience had been at No. 13. The first week in May, it was at No. 10, in its thirty-eighth week in the Top 40. The record had done the same thing in February, popped into the Top Ten and then out again, as well as twice in 1967, in October and December. (Its peak position had been No. 5, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums and it would be in the Top 40 for a total of seventy-seven weeks.)

And from the vantage point of fifty years later, I wince as I see one of Bill Cosby’s comedy albums on the chart. I had one of them, Wonderfulness, which I bought in 1967. Does that also make me wince? Only a little. I was fourteen. My copy of Wonderfulness, which I would guess hadn’t been played since the late 1960s, went out the door during the Great Vinyl Selloff a little more than a year ago. Did I sell it because of the allegations of criminal sexual behavior (now, in one case, found to be true) or because I no longer wanted it? A little of both, I’d guess.

The album I’m sharing today would enter the Top 40 during the second week of May. It would be a short stay – just six weeks – and the album would peak at No. 29, but in terms of quality and in terms of influence, Jerry Butler’s The Ice Man Cometh would shine as brightly as anything released in 1968.

Butler came out of Chicago and joined the Impressions in the late 1950s, hitting with, among others, “For Your Precious Love,” which, in 1958, went to No. 11 on two of the Billboard pop charts of the day and to No. 3 on the magazine’s rhythm and blues chart. He then left the group and moved to the Chicago-based Vee-Jay label in 1960. Six Top 40 hits followed through 1963, the biggest of them being “He Will Break Your Heart,” which went to No. 7 on the pop chart and spent seven weeks on top of the R&B chart in 1960.

In 1967, Butler signed with Mercury, and after one Top 40 hit – “Mr. Dream Merchant” went to No. 38 (No. 23, R&B) – went into the studio with two producers being allowed to helm an album on their own for the first time: Leon Gamble and Kenneth Huff. The resulting record threw off four Top 40 hits and started Gamble and Huff along the way to their near-domination of the charts in the 1970s with their Philadelphia International label, which had a roster that included Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, the O’Jays, the Three Degrees, MFSB and more.

That’s not to say The Ice Man Cometh serves only as an appetizer, as a preview of coming attractions. It’s a great album on its own, as Butler’s combination of smooth and gritty is echoed by Gamble and Huff’s setting the blues-based rhythm section to work against pop-based strings and background vocals. The four singles that came from the record were “Never Give You Up” (which went to No. 20 pop, No. 4 R&B), “Hey, Western Union Man,” (No. 16 pop, No. 1, R&B), “Are You Happy” (No. 39 pop, No. 9 R&B) and the record’s single best track, “Only the Strong Survive,” which topped out at No. 4 on the pop chart and at No. 1 for two weeks on the R&B chart.

(Lovers of Elvis Presley will recall that the King covered “Only the Strong Survive” during his sessions in Memphis in early 1969. When they listen to Butler’s version, they’ll see where Elvis got his ideas. Don’t get me wrong: Elvis’ version of “Only the Strong Survive” is a great record. It’s just not as good as the original.)

Track list:
Hey Western Union Man
Can’t Forget About You, Baby
Only The Strong Survive
How Can I Get In Touch With You
Just Because I Really Love You
Lost
Never Give You Up
Are You Happy?
(Strange) I Still Love You
Go Away – Find Yourself
I Stop By Heaven

Video unavailable.

Saturday Single No. 581

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

It’s got lots of drums, it’s got surf-ish guitar, it’s loud, it’s more than fifty years old, it’s British, and it mentions Saturday in its title!

It’s “Saturday Nite at the Duckpond” by the Cougars, released in 1963 as Parlophone 4989. It came my way in a rip of the 1979 EMI release Instrumental Gems 1959-1970 (which includes among its selections the Beatles’ “Flying” from Magical Mystery Tour). A quick tour around YouTube shows that the track is available on numerous other compilations, as well.

And as the track played, it was familiar, so I went digging, and found this about the Cougars at Wikipedia:

Their single “Saturday Nite at the Duck-Pond” uses music from Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The song achieved some notoriety for been banned by the BBC, despite which it spent eight weeks in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at #33. Their songs “Red Square” and “Caviare and Chips” also borrowed themes from Tchaikovsky.

Widely available or not, brief or not, borrowed or not, the track serves its purpose this morning on a day when I hope to unbox and organize (in my own fashion) about 1,200 CDs. Thus, “Saturday Nite at the Duckpond” by the Cougars is today’s Saturday single.

First Wednesday: March 1968

Friday, March 9th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month (except for this month, when my schedule and memory failed me, delaying the post by two days. But we’re still calling it “First Wednesday”).

As had been the case for many of the months preceding it, and as would be the case for many of the following months, the month of March 1968 was dominated – at least in the U.S. – by news of the Vietnam War and of the presidential campaign just getting under way.

During the month’s first week, what is now called the First Battle of Saigon ended. The battle had started in January as part of the Tet, or New Year’s, offensive of the army of North Vietnam and the guerrilla Viet Cong. During the First Battle of Saigon, thirty-five battalions of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces attacked six specific targets in the capital of South Vietnam, then called Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City.

As I’ve mentioned before, the fighting – in Saigon and elsewhere in South Vietnam – ended in a clear military defeat for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, but those forces won the war of perception, as U.S. military and civilian leaders had been telling us here in the U.S. for some time that the enemy no longer had the ability to mount major military operations. Oops.

Back in the U.S., the war was the major topic of conversation in the presidential election, then just getting underway. President Lyndon Johnson won the Democratic side of the March 12 primary election in New Hampshire, the first in the nation. But the president’s slender victory – 49 percent to 42 percent – over anti-war candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy was received by the president as a repudiation of his policies, especially in Vietnam. Consequently, on the last day of March, he announced to a nation-wide television audience that he would not seek re-election.

Between the end of the Tet Offensive and the end of President Johnson’s presidential campaign came one of the U.S.’s darkest days in Vietnam. On March 16, a battalion of American soldiers was told to enter the villages Sơn Mỹ and find the hamlets called My Lai 1, 2, 3 and 4, where Viet Cong and North Vietnamese sympathizers had been reported. Their orders, according to Wikipedia, were to “burn the houses, kill the livestock, destroy foodstuffs, and perhaps to close the wells.” The battalion’s Charlie Company was told by its commander, Captain Ernest Medina, that nearly all the civilian residents of the village would have left for the market that morning by seven o’clock, meaning that anyone in the village when the company arrived was almost certainly an enemy.

Wikipedia says that, in a later court martial, some of the soldiers in Charlie Company testified that they understood their orders as being “to kill all guerilla and North Vietnamese combatants and ‘suspects’ (including women and children, as well as all animals), to burn the village, and pollute the wells.”

And that’s what they did. The toll? Even today, fifty years later, it’s unclear. Wikipedia says that the number of civilian deaths at My Lai was either 347 (according to the U.S. military) or 504 (according to a memorial at the site in Vietnam). The consequences? The U.S. military quickly initiated a cover-up of the massacre, a cover-up that eventually unraveled, thanks largely to a whistle-blower in the U.S. Army and to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Eventually, the U.S. Army tried one general for the cover-up and one soldier – Lt. William Calley – for the massacre. The general was acquitted; Calley was convicted and would up serving four and one-half months in a military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, during which time he was allowed routine and unrestricted visits by his girlfriend, according to a book by Aryeh Neier on war crimes and their effects.

By utter coincidence, on the same day as the massacre, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the presidential race.

Also in March 1968, according to Wikipedia:

A demonstration against American policies in Vietnam took place March 17 in London’s Grosvenor Square, site of the U.S. Embassy, and turned violent. A total of ninety-one people were injured and 200 were arrested.

On March 19, student protests began at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C. The protests were marked by “the first building takeover on a college campus,” which Wikipedia says marked “a new era of militant student activism on American college campuses.” For five days, students staged a sit-in of the university’s administration building, temporarily shutting down the school. The impetus for the demonstration, according to Wikipedia, was the punishment of thirty-seven students who had disrupted the university’s Charter Day celebration on March 1. Additional causes of the protests were “the school’s ROTC program and military recruitment; the disproportionate number of African-Americans being sent into combat in the Vietnam War; and the lack of curriculum of African-American studies.”

In Nanterre, France, on March 22, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and seven other students “occupied the eighth-floor faculty lounge in the administration building at University of Paris X Nanterre, commonly referred to as the University of Nanterre,” an action whose consequences eventually brought France into a state of revolution in the month of May.

Even during a grim month in a grim year, there was always music for solace, though any kind of solace was becoming more difficult to find. Still, we listened, and in the first week of March, these were the top fifteen songs on WDGY in Minneapolis:

“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“Valley of the Dolls” by Dionne Warwick
“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by the First Edition
“Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz
“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite” by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart
“I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Everything That Touches You” by the Association
“I Can Take Or Leave Your Loving” by Herman’s Hermits
“Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by the Lettermen
“Too Much Talk” by Paul Revere & the Raiders
“Baby, Now That I Found You” by the Foundations
“Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
“We’re A Winner” by the Impressions

That same week, the top albums in the U.S. were:

Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Herb Alpert’s Ninth by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Greatest Hits by Diana Ross and the Supremes
Disraeli Gears by Cream

The top fifteen singles are not bad, maybe a little gooey in spots, especially the top spot. The albums are a great set, except for one. And no, it’s not the Paul Mauriat I dismiss. That’s still a pretty good album, for what it is. It’s the Rolling Stones’ record that doesn’t fit. I have digital versions of eight of those ten albums, and I have a Supremes anthology that includes the tunes on Greatest Hits. The only one of those ten albums unrepresented on the digital shelves is Their Satanic Majesties Request. Even when I had the vinyl, I never listened to it. It’s a mostly inconsequential album, with only “She’s A Rainbow” and, maybe, “2000 Light Years From Home” having any weight.

The album I’m sharing here today wouldn’t be released until September, so it doesn’t at all reflect the upheaval and anguish of April. But today’s album does represent a trend in pop music of the merging and mingling of styles.

The 5th Dimension first hit the charts in February 1967 with the single “Go Where You Wanna Go,” a No. 16 cover of the Mamas & the Papas song. Four months later, “Up-Up And Away” went to No. 7 while the album from which the singles had been pulled, Up, Up and Away, went to No. 8. (And no, I have no idea why the song title and the album title are punctuated differently; it’s bothered me for years.) The album and the singles were all produced by Johnny Rivers and released on his Soul City label.

The sound of the 5th Dimension has been described as what would happen if the Mamas and the Papas sang in Motown. That’s a little harsh and not quite right. Yes, the sound is at least partly a blending of California pop and R&B, and it’s true that the 5th Dimension’s music is not as gritty as were the sounds coming out of Detroit and Memphis. But rather than trying to create a Motown-Lite sound, I think what Rivers and the members of the 5th Dimension were trying to do was to bring several things – including Motown grit – into L.A.-based pop.

The three male members of the 5th Dimension hailed from blues- and R&B-drenched St. Louis, while Marilyn McCoo came from Jersey City and Florence LaRue Gordon was from Pennsylvania. Add that Johnny Rivers was born John Ramistella in New York City, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to hear bits of Philly-Jersey-New York girl groups and echoes of street-corner crooning in the 5th Dimension’s music, combined with a pop-soul sensibility and all laid over a bed of L.A. session work by musicians who clearly had been listening to Motown and Stax.

The group’s third album, Stoned Soul Picnic, came out in August 1968. (The group’s second album, 1967’s The Magic Garden, spun off the minor singles “Paper Cup” and “Carpet Man” but otherwise failed to make much of an impact.) Three singles from Stoned Soul Picnic charted: “Stoned Soul Picnic” (No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the magazine’s R&B chart) and “Sweet Blindness” (No. 13 on the Hot 100) were both written by Laura Nyro, while the song-writing team of Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson created “California Soul,” which went to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album itself went to No. 21 on the Billboard 200.

Those who pore over studio credits on the backs of album jackets found much to celebrate when they looked at the back of Stoned Soul Picnic. On guitars were Tommy Tedesco, Mike Deasy and Ray Pohlman. Joe Osborn and Pohlman handled bass. Larry Knechtel and Jimmy Rowles were on keyboards. Larry Bunker handled marimba, vibes and other percussion, and the drum work came from Hal Blaine. (Just listen to the fills and you’ll know that.) Also credited were the Sid Sharp Strings and the Bill Holman Brass. Marc Gordon, who was credited with Johnny Rivers as producer on Up, Up and Away a year earlier, was credited with “co-ordination,” while Rivers was called a “realizor” on Stoned Soul Picnic.

The album is a good one, falling into the genre that I call pop-soul rather than R&B: Lighter than a lot of things I listen to and certainly lighter than a lot of things that were being listened to in 1968. Heavy times need some lightness once in a while, though, and I think that’s what the 5th Dimension provided.

(The video includes a bonus track, “East of Java,” which one can only assume came from the same sessions.)

Tracks:

Sweet Blindness
It’ll Never Be The Same Again
The Sailboat Song
It’s A Great Life
Stoned Soul Picnic
California Soul
Lovin’ Stew
Broken Wing Bird
Good News
Bobbie’s Blues (Who Do You Think Of?)
The Eleventh Song (What A Groovy Day!)
East of Java (bonus track)

Saturday Single No. 580

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

Given the ways the days and dates intersect on the calendar as the years go by, sometimes there are stretches of years when a specific date – like today’s: Saturday, March 3 – are kind of rare. In the stretch of years I call my musical sweet spot – the years from, oh, 1968 through 1975 – there is just one time when March 3 fell on a Saturday: 1973.

I could, as I have sometimes done, look to earlier or later years in search of a single for a Saturday morning. March 3 fell on a Saturday in 1979, a year that holds little interest musically, and in 1962, which does hold more interest but will be saved for another day.

So off to 1973 we go. The top ten in Billboard on this date forty-five years ago was:

“Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack
“Dueling Banjos” by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell
“Last Song” by Edward Bear
“Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” by the Spinners
“Crocodile Rock” by Elton John
“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon
“Love Train” by the O’Jays
“Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” by Deodato
“Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver
“Don’t Expect Me To Be Your Friend” by Lobo

Well, there’s nothing there that falls in the “no, please don’t” category, but the only ones that I truly love are the singles by the Spinners and the O’Jays. I do like “You’re So Vain,” but it’s on a second tier, and I liked “Killing Me Softly . . .” when it came out, but I’ve long since gotten tired of it.

And, as we generally do, we’re going to look deeper at this particular Hot 100. Instead of playing Games With Numbers or getting too fancy, though, we’re just going to look at Nos. 40, 70 and 100 and see what we find.

At No. 40, we find a cross-over from the world of country: “Soul Song” by Joe Stampley, a Louisiana boy who – according to Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles – had sixty-one hits on the country chart between 1971 and 1979, with four of those going to No. 1. “Soul Song,” which peaked on the pop chart at No. 37, was his only record on the Hot 100. I likely heard it back then, but I don’t recall it. Listening this morning, I find it kind of dull and repetitious. Not my deal.

Candi Staton gives us some groovin’ advice when we get to No. 70: “Do It In The Name Of Love.” The biggest hit for the Alabama-born Staton, of course, was 1976’s “Young Hearts Run Free,” which went to No. 20 on the Hot 100 and was No. 1 on the R&B chart. “Do It In The Name Of Love” has a good funky vibe to it, but then, so did a couple thousand other singles in 1973. It peaked at No. 63 on the Hot 100 and at No. 17 on the R&B chart.

At the bottom
of the Hot 100 forty-five years ago today was “We Did It” by Syl Johnson, an R&B performer who was born in Mississippi and raised in Chicago. “We Did It” was one of seven records Johnson placed in or near the Hot 100, none of which reached the Top 40. (He had twelve records in the R&B Top 40, with his greatest success being his 1975 cover of the Talking Heads’ “Take Me To The River,” which went to No. 7.) Like the Staton record, “We Did It” has a good groove, this one provided by Willie Mitchell’s production. It peaked at No. 95.

So, where does that leave us? Well, the No. 100 record sounds pretty damn good this morning what with the groove and the horns and all, and that’s enough to make “We Did It” by Syl Johnson today’s Saturday Single.

On Patrol

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

The most direct route from our new digs to the local hardware store – and I’ve traveled that route many times during the past nine days – takes me along Twelfth Avenue North past the back of the Church of St. Paul, a Catholic church that’s home to All Saints Academy, an elementary school.

I drove home along Twelfth Avenue the other day just as recess was starting. A batch of All Saints students, heavily bundled against the day’s cold, were making their ways across the street to the playground with a young woman standing guard with a school patrol flag. The woman – a teacher or perhaps an aid – extended the flag across my path as I approached. I stopped, and the last of the students made their ways across the street and into the snowy playground.

She lifted the flag and headed toward the church, her duty done. As she did, I rolled down my passenger side window and called out to her. When she turned, I asked her how frequently she had to stop a vehicle.

“About one or two times every recess,” she said. She, like the students, was dressed for the cold: A heavy coat, a scarf that covered her throat and chin, and a hat that came down to the top of her glasses. A few tendrils of blonde hair had escaped her hat and framed her face, and her cheeks were ruddy from the cold.

I told her that I’d been a patrol boy long ago at Lincoln Elementary and that there was hardly any traffic there, with Lincoln being at the end of a less-traveled street. “In two years,” I told her, “I got to stop one car.”

“That’s all?”

“That was it,” I said. “And it was a glorious day.”

She laughed, as did I, and then she turned to head into the church, carrying her patrol flag, and I headed up the street toward home.

Searches on the digital shelves for “patrol,” “traffic,” and “school” brought me nothing that I cared for this morning. So I searched for “saint,” given the name of the school whose recess parade I encountered. And I came up with “The Saints,” a cover by Little Richard of “The Saints Come Marching In.” It’s from the 1972 album The Second Coming. (Given Mr. Penniman’s diction and my unfamiliarity with anything but the song’s first verse, I’m not sure if the lyrics are the traditional ones or an alternate version, but according to the information at All Music, Little Richard and producer R.A. “Bumps” Blackwell claimed writing credits for the track, so who knows?)