Archive for the ‘Video’ Category

Saturday Single No. 546

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

Let’s go – and as I write that, my mind automatically fills in “to San Francisco,” channeling the Flower Pot Men’s British hit (No. 4) from 1967 – so what the hell, let’s go there.

It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, when thousands of real hippies and wannabees and lost children made their ways to San Francisco to hang around the Haight, get groovy, listen to music, and either find or lose themselves.

Okay, that’s kind of cynical. Maybe.

Was the hippie invasion and the Summer of Love a construct of the mass media whose reporters and columnists had no idea what was going on but had to package it somehow? Or was it an organic thing that the media discovered? Or was it something else?

It really doesn’t matter. If it was a construct, the construct became the real thing and the real thing got subsumed into the construct, and we can debate metahistory and microhistory and the McLuhanesque Ideal and the Friedling Fallacy all day (and all of the night) and come to no conclusions.

The Summer of Love, from where I sit in the cheap seats today (and from the Midwestern perch from where I saw the news reports fifty years ago), brought a few things that lasted: Some good music, a case study in Pied Piper media frenzy, and a reaffirmation of San Francisco’s lasting and perhaps pre-eminent place in American culture as a destination where one can alternately find or lose or sell or buy one’s self all with the purpose of being the best self one can be.

That lasting and possibly pre-eminent place in our culture is borne out (from my narrow perspective) by the number of songs from all eras that use San Francisco as either a place or a metaphor or both. Digging just into the digital shelves here (and looking only at titles), the summer of 1967 alone offered us the record by the Flower Pot Men (the single was by British session artists with the omnipresent Tony Burrows on lead vocal; there’s also an album, which I’ve heard but know little about) and the anthemic “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie, penned by John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas.

There are also on the 1967 shelves here a few of the no doubt numerous covers of the McKenzie record, a version of Jesse Fuller’s oft-covered “San Francisco Bay Blues” by Richie Havens, and one very odd track that made me stop for a moment.

I have too many tracks on the digital shelves that reference San Francisco in their titles to deal with all of them on a Saturday. So let’s call this the first in a series that I hope we can continue in the week to come. And we’ll start with a track from 1967 that’s utterly out of touch with what we think of when we ponder San Francisco during that year. In other words, it that has nothing to do with flower power (or with blues on the bay, for that matter).

Here’s that surprising nugget from the digital shelves, Nancy Wilson’s “I’m Always Drunk In San Francisco (And I Don’t Drink At All).” It’s from her 1967 album Welcome To My Love, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 545

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

The number of mp3s currently loaded into the RealPlayer is 95,083. We topped the 95,000 mark sometime in the past two months, when I wasn’t watching carefully. Both Odd and Pop, however, insist that the last couple thousand tracks we’ve added to the main shelves here at EITW were carefully curated.

Well, let’s take a look at some of the recently added albums that got us to the big number:

We have three CD’s worth of work – with some duplicates winnowed out – by the original Carter Family: A.P. Carter, his wife, Sarah, and A.P.’s sister-in-law, Maybelle. After watching the PBS special American Epic, a three-hour look at the years when recording industry representatives went out and recorded a vast array of American folk music, I thought I needed to hear a little more from the Carter Family, and with some help, I got some new stuff. If I have a favorite among the tracks that were added, it might be the 1929 track “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blues Eyes.”

After listening for years to a badly ripped version of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s self-titled debut from 1969, I took advantage of a visit to a major brand bookstore the other week and plucked Crosby, Stills & Nash from a budget bin. The CD also has four unreleased tracks, but they don’t seem integral to the story of the album (though they’re pleasant enough to hear). I dropped the CD into the player in the car as I was running some errands the other day, and I was reminded once more how good the album is and how ingrained in my memory it remains. My favorite track? Well, that’s hard, but I do remember that after I got the music book for the album, “Helplessly Hoping” was the first track I learned to play on the guitar.

During that retail stop, I also grabbed the 50th anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the stereo version newly produced from the original tracks by Giles Martin, the son of Sir George Martin. You’ve probably heard about it. I ripped the album as one long mp3 for the files, but I gave the CD its first listen on a larger player, and it sounds new and remarkably clear. I’m going to have to give it a few more listens to note specific differences between this version and the three others I already had (stereo vinyl from 1970, CD release from the late 1980s, and The Beatles in Mono release from 2009). If I had to choose a favorite, it’s not very original: the suite from “Good Morning Good Morning” through the last fading seconds of the massive piano chord that ends “A Day In The Life.”

I stopped in the other week at Uff Da Records, St. Cloud’s new place for vinyl and CDs, both used and new. A quick rifling of the used CDs brought me two finds. The first was Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, an album that I’ve had on vinyl since 1988 and had occasionally looked for on CD since 2000 or so. My copy is a record club edition, which doesn’t bother me because the music is the same, and the tunes put together by the Wilburys – who were, of course, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison – still holds up. I have two favorite tracks that I would find hard to separate: “Handle With Care,” which I first heard in 1988 while driving home one afternoon in Minot, North Dakota, giving me some of the relatively few moments of undiluted happiness I felt that year, and “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” Dylan’s winking parody/tribute aimed at Bruce Springsteen.

The other find at Uff Da was a disappointment: Boz Scaggs’ 1997 release, Come On Home. I’ve enjoyed Scaggs for years, even some of the more uneven work, and I’ve long had his 1976 masterpiece, Silk Degrees, on a short list of essential albums. But I’ve run Come On Home through the CD player in the car a couple of times and it falls flat. The blues licks and the arrangements are okay, Scaggs’ voice is still great, the lyrics leave a great deal to be desired, and the result is one of the most disappointing albums I’ve bought in a long, long time. I think I have to go back to 2004 and Brian Wilson Presents Smile to find an album that has left me feeling so empty. So there are no favorite tracks from Come On Home.

As I wrote about the Traveling Wilburys this morning, I remembered how good it felt to smile as I listened in my car to George Harrison’s lead vocal on “Handle With Care.” That smile got wider when I heard Orbison’s voice on the first bridge and the whole crew – led by Dylan and Petty – on the second bridge. And as the song began to fade, just when I thought I could grin no wider, the harmonica solo – it had to be Dylan, right? – just about split my face apart. For the memory of that pure joy in the midst of a very hard year, “Handle With Care” by the Traveling Wilburys is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 543

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

Okay, so it’s going to be a beautiful day today, with the temperatures peaking somewhere above eighty degrees. And the Texas Gal wants to go out and play.

We’ll likely head north, hoping that the traffic of folks heading from the Twin Cities “to the lake” – as the Minnesota saying goes – is not too thick. Our destination? Well, we may head to the city of Brainerd, an hour away, and hit an antique shop or two as well as a discount store we’ve heard about.

We may head a little further than that and stop in the rather touristy town of Nisswa, not far at all from Gull Lake, where my dad’s boss had a summer home during the 1960s and I spent some time water skiing on occasion. In Nisswa, we’d walk the three blocks or so of (rather expensive) shops and probably have some ice cream.

And we’ll likely stop in Baxter at Morey’s Fish House for some treats.

Beyond that, we don’t know. But we do know we’re heading north in a very short time, so I’m just going to grab a June tune, one either with “June” in its title or that was recorded in June. So let’s see what the RealPlayer gives us.

Among the very few tracks that I know were recorded on June 3, we find “Southern Casey Jones,” recorded in Chicago on this date in 1936 by a performer named Jesse James. It’s one of many recordings telling the tale of the legendary (but real) railroad engineer who died when his Illinois Central freight train crashed into a stationary train near Vaughan, Mississippi, on April 30, 1900. The crash became fodder for numerous tunes in numerous versions, moving the location of the crash and revising much more, as well.

The recording came my way in the fourth volume of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, the group of tracks that Smith had selected before his death in 1991. The first three volumes were released in 1952, and that fourth volume was released in 2007.

Anyway, here’s Jesse James’ version of the Casey Jones tale, “Southern Casey Jones.” It was recorded eighty-one years ago today, and it’s today’s Saturday Single:

Saturday Single No. 542

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

In between helping the Texas Gal with setting up and planting the garden and helping my sister coordinate financial and medical details for my mom, I’ve not had a lot of time to think this week. Add to that my annual spring sinus infection, and my energy level is low. So we’re going to do a quick and easy post here this morning. Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from forty years ago this week, the end of May 1977, when I was midway through my term as arts and entertainment editor at St. Cloud State’s University Chronicle.

“Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder
“When I Need You” by Leo Sayer
“I’m Your Boogie Man/Wrap Your Arms Around Me” by KC & The Sunshine Band
“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
“Got To Give It Up (Part 1)” by Marvin Gaye
“Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky)” by Bill Conti
“Couldn’t Get It Right” by the Climax Blues Band
“Lucille” by Kenny Rogers
“Lonely Boy” by Andrew Gold
“Feels Like The First Time” by Foreigner

At the time, I was listening to albums and album rock at home, to Top 40 in the Chronicle newsroom, and to whatever it was that was offered by jukebox in the Atwood Center snack bar. And I knew all of those during the spring of 1977 except maybe “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” and the Marvin Gaye record.

Did I like the ones I knew? Not many. I truly liked the Stevie Wonder and the Fleetwood Mac, and I loved – as readers will know – the Bill Conti (though I heard it far less on the radio than I did Maynard Ferguson’s version of “Gonna Fly Now”). I didn’t care about “Boogie Man,” “Couldn’t Get It Right” or “Lonely Boy,” and I disliked the singles by Rogers and Foreigner.

This morning, “Wrap” was still a stranger, but I know the Gaye record not only from hearing it over the years since but from the hoo-ha about its having been appropriated in 2013 for “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. (I’m still baffled that I don’t remember “Got To Give It Up” from 1977.)

But what else I there in that Hot 100? Let’s do some games with numbers, taking today’s date – 5/27/17 – and checking out Nos. 22, 32 and 44 to find a Saturday Single. Just for fun, we’ll also check out No. 100.

Sitting at No. 22 forty years ago was “Calling Dr. Love” by Kiss, coming down from a peak at No. 16. While I know many loved the painted ones, Kiss has never been on my list. So I’ll refrain from comment except to note that the record was the group’s tenth of an eventual twenty-seven in or near the Hot 100 between 1974 and 1990.

Things sound better at No. 32, at least for fans of quirky one-hit wonders, for sitting in that spot forty years ago this week was “Ariel” by Dean Friedman. The only appearance by the singer from Paramus, New Jersey, in the Hot 100, the record is one I remember fondly from evenings in my tiny mobile home in Sauk Rapids. “Ariel” peaked at No. 22, and I still think its tale reflects accurately at least a portion of the odd carnival that was the mid-1970s. As I wrote nine years ago, “Friedman got the details right about post-hippie, pre-disco America, from the peasant blouse to the Legion Hall.”

Parked at No. 44, we find “Hollywood” by Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, heading up to No. 32. I know the record now, but I don’t recall hearing it anywhere during those months forty years ago. It showed up for me on the album Ask Rufus during 1997, and was pleasant listening but no more than that.

And finally, we look at the No. 100 record during that week forty years gone: “Freddie” by Charlene. A tribute to the late actor and comedian Freddie Prinze that peaked at No. 96, it’s soggy and pathetic. (Charlene, of course, was the perpetrator in 1982 of the No. 3 hit “I’ve Never Been To Me.”)

Given the options, I have little choice, but that’s okay: Dean Friedman’s “Ariel” is today’s Saturday Single. [This is the album version, not the single version, but so it goes.]

Saturday Single No. 541

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

So I searched the 94,746 tracks in the RealPlayer for tracks with “Saturday” in their titles (and yeah, we’ve done that before, but it’s been a while and we’ve added some material), and came up with 115 tracks.

But you know the drill: There are a number of them we can’t use, like everything we get from the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. With the exception of their title tracks, other entire albums get tossed away, too, like Saturday Night Special, a 1975 album by jazzman Norman Connors; Come Saturday Morning, a 1970 easy listening treat from Jackie Gleason; Between Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a 2005 release from Mick Sterling; and Come Saturday Morning (And Other Hits), a 1970 album by the Living Trio. And there are single tracks from albums that have “Saturday” in their titles, like a Tom Waits track from his own The Heart of Saturday Night from 1974 and a Bobby Charles track found on the 1993 compilation Louisiana Saturday Night.

But we still have about forty tracks to choose from, so let’s look at three of them.

The first track under consideration is “Saturday Nite At The Duckpond” by the Cougars, a 1963 record from a short-lived band from Bristol, England. The surfish record, which spent eight weeks in the U.K. singles chart and peaked at No. 33, borrows themes from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, an act of appropriation that led to its being banned from broadcast by the BBC. It showed up in the digital files here as part of a collection titled Instrumental Gems 1959-1970.

A fair number of emails show up here offering digital copies of new musical releases, and that, I think, is how I came to own copies of two albums by Gin Wigmore, a singer-songwriter from New Zealand. She has an odd quality to her voice that’s not easy to describe, something that other listeners might think makes her voice sound, well, “affected and “precious” are words that comes to mind. Over the course of an album, that quality might be wearisome, but one track at a time, I think it works. “Saturday Smile” is from her 2013 album Gravel & Wine, and it’s a slightly melancholy but effective meditation on love and loss.

Seven versions of “Come Saturday Morning” lie on the digital shelves. The song was first recorded by Liza Minelli in 1969, but became popular when the Sandpipers’ was included on the soundtrack to the 1970 file The Sterile Cuckoo. From there, for a few years, the coverfest was on, with easy listening giants like Ray Conniff and Jackie Gleason joined by singers like Johnny Mathis and Patti Page, instrumentalists like Peter Nero and Andre Kostelanetz and more. I think the Sandpipers’ version is my favorite, but the most interesting of the seven I have – and I will no doubt go looking for more in the next few days – is the one offered by former Raider Mark Lindsay on his 1970 album Silverbird.

And for some reason, as I ponder those three, I keep returning to Gin Wigmore’s “Saturday Smile.” It’s grabbed hold of me this morning like I remember it doing the first time I listened to it a few years ago. So it’s today’s Saturday Single.

One Survey Dig & A Note

Friday, May 19th, 2017

I’m guessing that as my senior year of high school wound down in the spring of 1971, I wasn’t listening much to KDWB out of the Twin Cities. Here’s the top fifteen from station’s “6+30” survey during this week in May 1971:

“Sweet & Innocent” by Donny Osmond
“Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones
“Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” by Lobo
“It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr
“Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It)” by Daddy Dewdrop
“Love Her Madly” by the Doors
“Put Your Hand In The Hand” by Ocean
“Want Ads” by the Honey Cone
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
“Power To The People” by John Lennon
“Me And My Arrow” by Nilsson
“Never Can Say Goodbye” by the Jackson 5
“If” by Bread
“Rainy Days & Mondays” by the Carpenters
“Be Nice To Me” by Runt-Todd Rundgren

Why am I thinking that KDWB wasn’t a major part of my listening habits? For a couple of reasons. First, much of my listening was late evening (from 9 p.m. to whenever I fell asleep, probably about 10:30), and that came from either WJON down the street or WLS in Chicago. I think KDWB had been relegated to daytime listening at home – and there wasn’t much of that during the school year – and to whatever time I spent driving, and that wasn’t a lot, as I didn’t yet have my own car.

And then, there are two records in that top fifteen that I don’t recall hearing as much would have been likely had I been listening to the Big 63. Even though it was a national hit (No. 7 in the Billboard Hot 100), I don’t recall hearing the Donny Osmond single a lot. Maybe I just tuned it out. And then there’s the Runt-Todd Rundgren record, “Be Nice To Me.” Having listened to it at YouTube this morning, I can only say that it’s not at all familiar (and that’s possible, as it went only to No. 71 in the Hot 100 and I’ve never dug deeply into Rundgren’s catalog.)

And there’s one more bit of evidence that KDWB wasn’t getting much airplay around our stretch of Kilian Boulevard: Sitting at No. 21 in the “6+30” from forty-six years ago this week is Boz Scaggs’ “We Were Always Sweethearts,” which seems to have peaked at KDWB at No. 17.

The record’s popularity on KDWB was an anomaly, as the record, which was Scaggs’ first to hit the Billboard chart, peaked at No. 61 in the Hot 100. I don’t remember hearing it back then. If I had, I would think I would have remembered it when I got around to hearing it on the Moments album in later years.

It doesn’t matter, really. But “We Were Always Sweethearts” is still a good record, and it’s a good way to close this little bit of survey digging.

A note . . .
I’d planned for some time for this week to have been the week when I resumed a regular schedule here. That plan went away Tuesday when Mom went to the hospital with what turned out to be a couple of small strokes. Things seemed pretty dark Wednesday, but by Thursday morning, she was sitting in a chair, eating on her own, telling my sister and me things we had to remember to take care of, and singing along to a playlist of Lutheran hymns I pulled up from YouTube on my phone.

As I write, the plan is for her to return this afternoon to her place at Prairie Ridge. (That’s the memory care facility attached to Ridgeview Place; she’s been in memory care for about a month.) We’ll have some hospice protocols in place for her; more strokes are likely, and she doesn’t want to go back to the hospital and undergo the ensuing tests. She’s ninety-five and she’s tired, but she was entirely present yesterday as she and my sister and I talked about her care with some staff members from the St. Cloud Hospital.

And strokes or not, tired or not, she made it very clear to us that she intends to keep her appointment to have her hair done today.

Saturday Single No. 540

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

A fresh cup of coffee sits on my right, a bowl of Grape Nuts dusted with brown sugar is soaking up milk on a TV tray to my left, and I’m struggling with writing a piece for tomorrow’s Parents Day program at our UU Fellowship. (We don’t meet during the summer months, when Father’s Day falls, so when Mother’s Day comes around, we celebrate all parents.)

As I deal these days with the issues of an aging mother, I’m learning that the roles of parent and child sometimes shift and, in some ways, reverse. And in thinking about the circles of life, I’m reminded of this bit of verse I wrote while I was in graduate school in 1984, titled, appropriately, “The Circle Always Closes.”

The circle always closes, and time swings on its hinge.
You look ahead, but then you find the past once more in view:
People you’d thought left behind through time or simple chance
Appear again in warning, love and wisdom in each glance.
To know of what they’re warning, you must confront them still,
You must consider what they said and did while forming you.
To forget is to abandon, so you recollect, and then
The circle always closes, and you build anew again.

That put me in mind, of course, of another lyric, a better one that’s been put to melody: Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game,” which Tom Rush recorded as the title tune of his 1968 album, which is where I heard it first. It’s a good song, and I have a few versions of it here. My favorite is the one by Ian & Sylvia; that one was on their 1967 album So Much For Dreaming, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Songwriting credited corrected after first posting.

Saturday Single No. 539

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

One of my favorite things about our membership at the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is that on the first Sunday of each month during the church year, we gather after our service for a lunch of soup and bread. And I’m even more pleased when one of those Soup Sundays comes along and I have a chance to provide a soup.

Around these parts, the soup-making generally falls to the Texas Gal. It’s one of her favorite things to cook. She’s good at it, and when she makes soup, she makes a lot of it, so we end up with extra to freeze for those days when we don’t want to think too hard about dinner. And maybe twice during our church year, she’ll make a soup to take to church for one of our Soup Sundays. The hosting is generally sorted out by having each of our fellowship’s committees take a month, and the Texas Gal is on a couple of committees.

But for tomorrow’s Soup Sunday, I’m cooking. The Building & Grounds Committee was assigned to host tomorrow’s lunch, but that committee is a little short-staffed, so I volunteered to bring a soup and then help with clean-up afterward.

And when I volunteered, I knew exactly what I was going to make: Polska bean stew. It’s from a recipe I found while wandering around the Interwebs a few years ago, one that originated on the website of the company that owns the Hillshire Farms brand of sausage.Polska Bean Stew The Texas Gal thought it sounded good, so we gave it a try. We liked it, although there are a few things we would have changed. We made it again with those changes, and then – a couple of years ago – we brought it to church for a Soup Sunday. At the end of the lunch, our seven-quart crockpot was scraped nearly clean. (That’s not a new experience for us; nearly every soup we’ve brought to a Soup Sunday has been a hit, from the Texas Gal’s vegetable beef or chicken noodle soups to my Swedish yellow pea soup.)

So later today, I’ll shine up the stockpot and get to work on a batch of Polska bean stew. I’ll be making a triple batch: two-thirds of it will go into the crockpot tomorrow to take to church, and the rest we’ll keep here. We’ll have some for dinner on Monday, most likely, and we’ll freeze some.

I won’t list the recipe here, but here are the ingredients: Bacon, kielbasa, chopped onions, sliced carrots, minced garlic, kidney beans, cannellini beans, chicken broth, water, diced tomatoes, oregano, sage, pepper and bay leaf. It also calls for hot pepper sauce, which we skip, but we do put in a pinch of home-grown dried hot chili pepper. (If anyone out there wants the recipe with notes on our modifications, just let me know.)

Thinking about Polish bean stew, I went into the RealPlayer looking for an appropriate tune. I found nothing for “Polska” and nothing that seemed worthy when I searched for “Polish.” “Beans” got me lots of versions of “Red Beans & Rice” and “Cornbread & Butterbeans,” but nothing that worked for me this morning. “Stew” got me lots of tunes by Al Stewart, John Stewart and Rob Stewart as well as a few versions of “Stewball.”

So I pulled out of my memory the fact that a mazurka is a Polish dance, and among the works I have by French orchestra leader Franck Pourcel, I found the “Obertass Mazurka,” written by Henryk Wieniawski, a Polish composer of the Nineteenth Century. The recording is from Pourcel’s 1993 album Treasures Of Slav Music, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Three Long-Ago Lists

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

Over the ten years I’ve been blogging here, I’ve offered up numerous lists ranking albums and individual tracks in various ways (the thirty-eight week Ultimate Jukebox of 2009 being no doubt the best organized). I’ve recently been reminded as I dug through a box of stuff my dad saved that such rankings and listings didn’t start here.

Among the newspaper pieces of mine that my dad saved over the years were two columns – one from the Monticello Times and one from the Eden Prairie News – detailing lists of favorite tracks. There’s little overlap between the two – the first put together in about 1980 and the second coming from 1995. The contrasts are intriguing, and even more so are the contrasts between those two and a third listing that came between them, in 1988. We’ll get to that intervening list in a bit.

Here are the tracks from the Monticello list, put together, again, in about 1980:

“Layla” by Derek & The Dominos
“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan
“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)/A Day In The Life” by the Beatles
“Loan Me A Dime” by Boz Scaggs
“A Whiter Shade Of Pale” by Procol Harum
“Dreams” by the Allman Brothers Band
“(Sooner or Later) One Of Us Must Know” by Bob Dylan
“Southern Man” by Neil Young
“Miracles” by Jefferson Starship

Honorable mentions:
“Stage Fright” by The Band
“Touch Me” by the Doors
“Somebody To Love” by Jefferson Airplane
“Question” by the Moody Blues
“Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers Band

(A few years later, I shared that list with a fellow grad student over a beer in a favorite hangout for journalism students at the University of Missouri. “Good list,” she said, “but it’s all white boys.” She was, of course, right: there was no diversity there.)

Fifteen years later in Eden Prairie, likely straining for a column idea as deadline approached and 275 words’ worth of space waited blank for me on Page 4, I packaged my top eight tracks as my prescription for beating the winter blues:

“Layla”
“Into The Mystic” by Van Morrison
“Loan Me A Dime”
“Be My Baby” by the Ronettes
“Forever Young” by Bob Dylan
“The Weight” by The Band
“Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen
“Drift Away” by Dobie Gray

Honorable mentions:
“American Pie” by Don McLean
“Bernadette” by the Four Tops
“Born To Run” by Springsteen
“Closing Time” by Leonard Cohen
“Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman

“Layla” and “Loan Me A Dime” are the only holdovers there. I don’t think that’s an indication that I liked the other tracks on the earlier list any less. It’s more a result, I think, of change in me: In the early 1980s, I was an interested listener who knew a little bit about the music on his record player; by 1995, I had expanded my listening and had begun to dig deeper into the history of the music I heard. The 1995 list was, I think, a more thoughtful list.

Then there was the intervening list: In early 1988, I was asked by a colleague at the public radio station at Minot State University to put together a desert island list of music and then to come to the studios, where we would listen to and then talk about those records for an hour. I have the tape somewhere, but I no longer have the written list of the ten tracks I chose. I actually recall only four of the ten:

“Layla”
“Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers
“Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
“Us and Them” by Pink Floyd

Two of those last three now strike me as odd, and one of them just hurts. The Pink Floyd track remains a favorite, being a time-and-place artifact of my days in Denmark. It has its place among the 3,700 or so tracks in the iPod, but to place it in the top ten now seems strange. The CSN&Y track – it popped up the other day on a cable channel – is fine, but its elevation to my top ten in 1988 is even more baffling. It doesn’t even make it into the iPod these days.

Then there’s “Unchained Melody,” which led off my desert island tape in 1988. It was the No. 1 record for my love life at the time, a life-altering relationship that was luminous and enervating while it lasted but one that left me devastated and flailing for years when it ended. Nearly thirty years later, when the record pops up on an oldies station, I still hear only echoes of grief.

So, where to go for a tune after that admission? That turns out to be a question that’s easy to answer. And it’s a little surprising to learn that in ten years here, I’ve never once mentioned Aretha Franklin’s “Don’t Play That Song.” It went to No. 11 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970, and it topped the magazine’s R&B chart for three weeks.

Saturday Single No. 538

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

Sometime around 1969, I was wandering around Mac’s Music in downtown St. Cloud, either checking out books of solos for trumpet or piano sheet music (if it was before the autumn of that year, it was horn music I was looking for, as I hadn’t yet resumed playing piano), and I came across a bin of odd little plastic thingies. I picked one up, white with a red sort-of speaker, and took a closer look.

It was called a Hum-A-Zoo, and it was basically a kazoo in altered form. HumaZooIntrigued, I spent fifteen cents or so and began a period of (most likely) annoying my friends, my family and our neighbors by humming random tunes into the toy as I went about my mid-teen days. (It wasn’t the only odd instrument I had cluttering the knick-knack bin on my bedroom table; I also had a couple of Jew’s harps, a nose flute and a box of what were called – if my memory serves me well today – Swiss bird whistles that I bought from a vending machine at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.) But the joy of the Hum-A-Zoo faded, as it does for most gimmicks and gewgaws, and it eventually sat ignored in the bin, its pristine white in time turning an ugly shade of yellow.

I’m not sure if the Hum-A-Zoo is still with me in one of the boxes of miscellany I’ve ported around through the years. If it is, I’m not sure the little membrane would still be flexible enough to produce the buzz that a good kazoo provides. No matter. Up until last autumn, I would have put long odds on needing either a Hum-A-Zoo or its ancestor, a kazoo, for any of my musical needs or impulses.

That was when I was working with my friends Heather and Lucille to put together our show, Cabaret De Lune. And we decided that my tune “Twenty-First Century Blues” needed an instrumental break on kazoos. I didn’t even bother to look for the Hum-A-Zoo but went kazoo hunting instead. I called a couple of music stores and came up empty, but my third call, to an establishment called Bridge of Harmony, was a success: The store had two kazoos. Either Heather or Lucille stopped by and bought them, and they were then used to good effect for that small portion of our show. And I assume that Heather and Lucille took their kazoos home for whatever use they had for them.

And I now have a kazoo, a blue and gold one – just like in the picture – from the Trophy Music Company of Cleveland, Ohio.kazoo

Earlier today, I was practicing with two of my fellow musicians from our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, preparing for the next few Sundays. This week’s program is a presentation by one of our members on Scott Joplin and his times. Earlier this week, that member asked Jane and Tom if they’d perform “I’m Certainly Living A Ragtime Life,” a tune recorded in 1913 for the Zoophone label by G.H. Elliot. (Was that the original? I’d guess so, but I’m not certain.)

So I listened this morning as Jane and Tom worked through the chords – he with his banjo and she with her guitar – and took a go at the melody. And when they finished a couple of run-throughs, I idly said, “You know what might be kind of fun in there? A kazoo.”

Tom jumped on the idea: “Oh, yeah, that would be great!” Jane nodded her head, and one of the two asked if I had a kazoo.

Well, I didn’t, but I knew where I could get one. So I joined them on the vocal and then faked a humming part as they ran through the chords for the chorus. And on the way home from practice, I stopped by Bridge of Harmony and picked up my Trophy Music kazoo. It cost a little more than four bucks, far more than my red and white Hum-A-Zoo cost me nearly fifty years ago. (Yeah, I could check the actual values with an inflation calculation, but never mind.)

I may never use the kazoo after tomorrow; the demand for a kazoo solo tends to be pretty rare, I’m sure. But that’s okay. Maybe twice in a lifetime is enough.

In any case, “I’m Certainly Living A Ragtime Life” is a fun song to do. It’s hard to make out the words in the 1913 recording, so here’s a modern version by British singer Ian Whitcomb. It’s from his 1972 album Under The Ragtime Moon (an album I must find), and it’s today’s Saturday Single.