Archive for the ‘Video’ Category

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.)


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?)

Saturday Single No. 578

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

I’ve hated change all my life.

Well, most of the time. When I’ve traveled, I’ve enjoyed seeing, doing, experiencing new things. Traveling was different.

But when I am home, I like my life, my days to be orderly. Even a minor change puts me off-kilter. Case in point: Monday is laundry day. When there’s a Monday holiday, I usually end up doing laundry on Tuesdays, and the whole week feels out of whack.

I know, I know. This is one of those things we call a first-world problem. But it’s true: Even the slightest change in my routines and patterns leaves me feeling out of place.

And here comes a major change as we move from our house on the East Side to the condo on the North Side.

(The truck comes Monday. I think we’ll be ready, although we have two very long days of work ahead of us, work I will get to as soon as I finish here.)

One would think that I’m apprehensive or put off balance by the prospect of moving, of going through one of the major changes we can have in our lives. Well, I was. For the past several years, as the Texas Gal has talked about finding a new place, I’ve been skittish. I’ve loved living here on the East Side, here with the thirty-four oak trees and the garden and the squirrels and the lilacs. Especially the lilacs.

But I’ve come to realize that my skittishness was when we talked about finding an apartment, some place that wasn’t ours. I didn’t want to leave my house, the place where I’d felt at home probably more than any other, for just another place that would feel temporary.

As soon as the Texas Gal brought up the idea of buying a place, there was a shift in me, one I didn’t see coming. Of course, I never saw our owning a place coming, either. And when we decided on the condo on the North Side, there was a major shift. I won’t say I looked forward to the packing, the work of moving, but the move itself, the idea of a place that was ours, felt right.

A little less than ten years ago, when we moved from the adjacent apartments into the house, I wasn’t sure it was the right thing. We were cramped, yes, but . . . well, I was set in a place and I knew where things were and all that. But moving to the house here under the oaks turned out to be the right thing. And I think our move to the North Side will be the right thing.

I think that’s been obvious in some of my work here. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago:

I know that it’s going to take some time, even after we move, for the condo to feel like home. Every move I’ve ever made – and this move will be my twenty-first since I left Kilian Boulevard during the summer of 1976 – has found me slowly acclimating to each new place, living there for maybe a month or two before it felt like home. There will be no “eureka” moment, I know, just an eventual recognition that the new place on the North Side is where we belong.

And it’s taken a couple of weeks since then to realize that for the first time in my life, I’m looking forward to a major change, and that’s something new for me, a reflection of a change in me that I never saw coming. And that’s an appropriate place to end this last epistle from the East Side.

Here, with their cover of one of Phil Ochs’ most lovely songs, are Ian & Sylvia with “Changes.” It’s from their 1966 album Ian & Sylvia Play One More, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Listen To The Wolf

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Looking for a tune with the word “moving” in its title – trying to match our reality with a post for today – I came across Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moving.” It’s a basic Wolf joint, and I wondered as it played: How many Howlin’ Wolf tracks sit on the digital shelves?

The answer turns out to be 149, ranging temporally from some sides recorded to the RPM label in West Memphis, Tennessee, in 1951 to “Moving,” a track from The Back Door Wolf, which was released in 1973, just three years before the Wolf laid down his harp. The track, like many others on the digital shelves, came from the box set Chess put together in 1991.

And since we are moving, and because I have some duties along that line today – we are making progress, but Monday’s arrival of the moving van looms large – I’ll just offer “Moving” here and get out of the way. I hope to offer a post on Saturday, but we’ll see how things go.

Nervous Cats

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

The catboys are nervous. Their world is changing every day.

Boxes now block their preferred running paths through the house. The little enclosed cat bed on the sofa, which all three have normally used at one time or another throughout the day, is gone (taken to cushion something fragile when it was packed in a box).

Their world is disrupted, and they are, as I said, nervous. During the evenings, when the Texas Gal and I sit in the living room and watch TV (with me peering at the screen over a pile of boxes that will go to the Friends of the Library bookstore), all three cats come to us for lap time. That’s not new for Little Gus (who long ago gained enough excess weight to make his name ironic instead of cute), and not entirely new for Cubbie Cooper, but it is a new behavior for Oscar Charleston, whose preferred mode of contact with me until recently was “chase me until I fall down as if I’m exhausted, and then you may pet me.”

He hasn’t entirely given up the chase – or his rolling on the laundry rug in the basement until he’s so cute I have to pet him – but more often these days he paws at my leg as I sit in the living room, and once I’ve lifted him to my lap, he settles down quietly, as if seeking reassurance that there are still some certainties in his feline world.

We think they’ll like the new place. It will take some getting used to, and there will be some new – and thus unfamiliar – things. (Case in point: The makings of three beds – frames, box springs and mattresses – were delivered yesterday.) But many of the things that made up their home here on the East Side will be in their new place on the North Side.

And they’ll get their new home in one swoop: Early on February 19, moving day, we’ll be taking the three catboys to a pet spa just east of St. Cloud. Once the move is done – and Connor the mover estimates that it will take four to six hours to get everything moved and then unloaded at the new place – we’ll retrieve the cats.

Cats are notorious for being set in their ways. (I am the same, so I understand their anxiety.) Any change in their routine or their surroundings can distress them; the degree of distress depends entirely on the personality of the cat. We’re not too concerned about Oscar or Cubbie; they’re generally pretty mellow. Gus, on the other hand, is pretty insecure, and we expect that he may find a hidey-hole in the new place for a few days, coming out only when necessary. We’re pretty sure that when he learns that there are no monsters in the new place, he’ll settle in like the other two and once more be a happy cat.

And for a tune
today, we’re going to dip into the massive rockabilly/country compilation titled “That’ll Flat Git It,” where we find the McCoys’ “Full-Grown Cat” from 1958. The McCoys were Ronnie and Peggy McCoy, evidently brother and sister, and they recorded at least two singles for RCA Victor. The site Rockin’ Country Style notes that the McCoys were regular performers on Dallas’ KSKY in 1956 and regulars during 1959 on the Cowtown Hoedown that was broadcast on Fort Worth’s KCUL.

Saturday Single No. 577

Saturday, February 10th, 2018

I was messing around yesterday with a bundle of mp3s I gained access to, mostly easy listening stuff from the Sixties and Seventies (a sweet spot for me, as readers might know), and I started work tagging the mp3s from an album titled Peter Nero Plays Born Free and Other Movie Themes, slapped with a date of 1966, which was when the film Born Free was released.

It didn’t take long to determine that the CD from which the mp3s came had seen tracks added as bonuses, as among the tracks were “Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’,” which came out in 1971 and which I already had. It was Nero’s sole Top 40 hit, going to No. 21 in Billboard. (The record was once the subject here of a piece that spurred Nero to leave a comment, which – along with my love for easy listening – might easily be the reason I tend to collect his music.)

I compared the list of the original 1966 release that I found at Discogs – it then had the title Peter Nero Plays Born Free And Others – with the mp3s I was studying, and I found three others that didn’t belong, “Theme from ‘Love Story’,” ‘Theme from ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar’,” and “Mack the Knife.” I dug a little further, and found that I already had “Mack the Knife” from a 1963 album titled Hail the Conquering Nero. “Love Story,” which was new to my collection, was released as a single in 1971 (and showed up on a couple of LPs as well).

Which left the track “Theme from ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar’.” (Never mind that the original rock opera did not use the unnecessary comma.) I dug through the content listings of a few of Nero’s albums from around 1970, when the rock opera came out, preferring not to use the sometimes balky search function at Discogs. No joy, so I used the search and learned that “Theme from ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar’” seems to have been issued on vinyl only as the B-side of “Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’.”

I wrote the other week of my renewed affection for the original release of Jesus Christ Superstar. Finding an unknown version of the rock opera’s main theme by one of my favorite easy listening performers is reason enough for a small celebration, so Peter Nero’s 1971 take on “Theme from ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar’” is today’s Saturday Single.

Four At Random From ’68

Friday, February 9th, 2018

Since we’re in a 1968 mood around here these days (and will be for the remainder of the year), I thought we’d let the RealPlayer give us four at random from that long-ago year this morning. I might not have much to say about them, though, as the vast majority of my reference library is currently in boxes, waiting for the move to the North Side.

But we’ll pull four titles from the 2,800-or-so that pop up. (I’m imprecise here because some of the tracks in the RealPlayer come from albums like The History Of U.K. Underground Folk Rock 1968-1978, which puts them into the results of a search for “1968” even though the tracks aren’t from that year.) So let’s see what pops up and then we’ll see how much we have to say.

“I Think Of You” by James Hendricks
“Indian Lake” by the Cowsills
“Take A Look” by Gary Walker & The Rain
“Meadowland Of Love” by Afterglow

James Hendricks’ name is found these days on the margins of the pop side of Sixties folk-rock: He was a member, with Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty and Sal Zanovsky, of the Mugwumps, and was married to Elliot for a time (although AllMusic Guide says the marriage was designed to allow Hendricks to avoid the Vietnam-era draft). Elliot and Doherty went on to become half of The Mamas & The Papas, Zanovsky went on to join the Lovin’ Spoonful, and Hendricks went on to a pretty quiet solo career. “I Think Of You” is from his album Songs Of James Hendricks, released on Johnny River’s Soul City label. Like the album it comes from, the track is pretty bland country rock. The album itself – in these precincts, anyway – is memorable only because Rivers recorded two of the tunes – “The Way We Live” and the brilliant “Summer Rain” for his own 1968 album, Realization.

The Cowsills’ record could not, of course, be released today, what with the war whoops and all. But during the summer of 1968, the idea of cultural sensitivity and appropriation wasn’t on many folks’ minds, and the record went to No. 10. I remember the single well, as it was one of those I heard during my four days of working that summer at the trapshoot, with the radio keeping me company as I placed clay targets on the whirring trap machine for eight to ten hours a day. So even recognizing the record’s failings when measured by today’s cultural standards, I still give a nod of pleased recognition and have relatively pleasant memories when “Indian Lake” pops up anywhere. (“Relatively pleasant” because working in the trap bunker was a little scary, what with the throwing arm of the trap machine occasionally releasing while the clay target was barely out of my hand, and because four days of sitting in the tar dust created by the targets would make the skin on my face basically burn and peel off in the week after the trapshoot.)

Before forming his own group, Gary Walker was the drummer and sang for both the Standells and the Walker Brothers. “Take A Look,” from Album No. 1 by Gary Walker & The Rain, owes a little bit more to the Standells’ garage rock than to the Walker Brothers’ lush pop, but it’s still pretty undistinguished to these ears. I’m not at all sure how Gary Walker & The Rain came into the vaults here – probably from one blog or another ten years ago or so – but I think the tracks stay there through inertia and my tendency not to throw things out. (Remember the post a little bit ago about finding the darts I got when I was maybe 10?) Not that there’s anything wrong with Walker and his group, but from the few listens I’ve given their work, there’s not all that much that’s notable, either. Dissenting opinions, of course, are welcome.

The Oregon-based group Afterglow released one album, a self-titled piece. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AMG writes: “Each song on Afterglow sounds as if it could have been written by different bands . . . It’s not particularly coherent, and it isn’t particularly good – the group isn’t just derivative, but also doesn’t have a sharp sense of melody – but its sampler nature makes Afterglow a charming psychedelic relic.” So that’s the album, but what about the track “Meadowland Of Love”? Well, it’s pleasant Farfisa-laced pop with garage overtones and a slight aftertaste of the Swingle Singers. And I have no idea how Afterglow landed in the digital stacks.

First Wednesday: February 1968

Wednesday, February 7th, 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.

One of the most indelible images of the Vietnam War was captured forty years ago this month. Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams was working in the streets of Saigon during the Tet Offensive when, on February 1, he came upon South Vietnamese police and soldiers detaining a man named Nguyễn Văn Lém, who has most often been described over the years as a member of the Viet Cong guerillas. Whatever he was, Nguyễn was executed in the street by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, the chief of the national police. Adams was there, as was NBC television cameraman Vo Suu. Adam’s photo of the execution won a Pulitzer Prize, but his photo and Suu’s footage earned world-wide criticism for the executioner and the South Vietnamese forces and government.

That’s where it becomes important to know exactly who Nguyễn Văn Lém was. Wikipedia says that Nguyễn Văn Lém, according to South Vietnamese sources, “commanded a Viet Cong insurgent team, which, on February 1, 1968, the second day of the Tet Offensive, had targeted South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their place, the police officers’ families. Corroborating this, Lém was captured at the site of a mass grave that included the bodies of at least seven police family members. Photographer Adams confirmed the South Vietnamese account, although he was only present for the execution.”

Wikipedia also says that “[t]he execution was explained at the time as being the consequence of Lém’s admitted guerrilla activity and war crimes, and otherwise due to a general ‘wartime mentality’.”

(I have read a few times over the years that Nguyễn Văn Lém was a member of the North Vietnamese army operating in Saigon in civilian clothes; in that case, the Geneva Conventions allow for summary execution. From what I can tell, that claim is historical revisionism intended to justify Nguyễn Ngọc Loan’s administration of summary justice.)

It should also be noted that Wikipedia states that some of its sources for its entry on Lém “may not be reliable.” Whatever the truth fifty years later, I remember the revulsion the photograph and the film footage caused at the time. There was the usual yipping of approval from some quarters, but I think that even most of those still supporting the U.S. efforts in Vietnam were sickened by the brutality of this one incident.

Elsewhere in February 1968:

The Winter Olympics took place from February 6 through 18 at Grenoble, France. With loads of coverage on ABC – though not nearly as much coverage as the Olympics get these days – we were able to watch a fair amount of the action. The two leading personalities of the Games – as defined, I suppose, by ABC and other media – were ice skater Peggy Fleming, who won the only gold medal for the U.S., and French skier Jean-Claude Killy, who won all three men’s downhill events. A side note: The Grenoble games marked the first time that ABC used the now-familiar tympani- and brass-laden musical theme for its production; the work’s title is actually “Bugler’s Dream,” and it was composed by Frenchman Léo Arnaud.

Here in the U.S., there was a civil rights protest at a bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina, with officers of the state Highway Patrol firing into the crowd of protestors, killing three and wounding twenty-seven. Civil rights protests also took place that month at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

And the month ended on a tragic note in the music world, as Frankie Lymon of Frankie & the Teenagers was found dead of a heroin overdose February 27 in Harlem. He had been scheduled to begin recording for Big Apple records the next day.

The top ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first week of February 1968 were:

“Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers
“Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band
“Chain Of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“Bend Me, Shape Me” by the American Breed
“Woman, Woman” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat
“Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz
“Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by the Lettermen
“I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations

And the top ten albums that week were:

Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Greatest Hits by Diana Ross & The Supremes
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. by the Monkees
Herb Alpert’s Ninth by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Golden Hits by the Turtles
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Farewell to the First Golden Era by The Mamas & the Papas
The Last Waltz by Engelbert Humperdinck

Today’s featured album came from much later in 1968. (As I said in January, it would be nice if I could share one album from each month as the year goes along, but I’m not that organized.) The hit single that came from the album actually didn’t chart until 1969. The record is Introspect by Joe South. (I called the album little-known ten years ago; in the era of reissues, I’m not sure that’s the case now.)

It’s an odd record, in that it didn’t exist long in its original form. A long-time writer and session guitarist in Nashville and Muscle Shoals, South wrote “Hush” for Deep Purple and several songs for Billy Joe Royal, including “Down in the Boondocks.” And in 1968, South went into the studios and came out with Introspect, arranging and producing the album himself. (Some sources say the album was released in 1969, but the Rolling Stone Record Guide and All-Music Guide say it was 1968, so I’m going with that.)

When Introspect was released in November 1968, the album track “Games People Play” began to get some air play, if I’m reading between the lines correctly. Capitol released “Games People Play” as a single, and the record entered the Top 40 in February of 1969, going as high as No. 12 during a nine-week chart run. And at that point, Capitol pulled Introspect from the shelves. Three songs from the record were included on a new album, Games People Play, with the rest of the new record made up of South’s versions of songs he’d written for others and a few new things.

Capitol’s quick yank of Introspect made it a little bit of a collector’s item over the years. Amazon currently lists a U.S. CD set for release at the end of March 2018, with the pre-order price set at $38.99. The website also offers a Japanese issue on CD and vinyl, with streaming and mp3s available as well (prices vary). And a two-fer CD of Introspect paired with Don’t It Make You Wanna Go Home, South’s 1969 album, is available new for the tidy price of $245.22, with used copies starting around $35 and going up from there.

So what do you get for your money? Well, the eleven songs on Introspect kind of collide together with a mixture of country, pop, soul, a touch of gospel and even a little bit of Indian raga. It’s an odd mixture, an idiosyncratic blend that fits perfectly with South’s maverick persona. (AMG calls him a “prickly character” and relates that, after his brother’s suicide in 1971, South moved to Maui, Hawaii, and lived in the jungle.) The hit, as mentioned above, was “The Games People Play,” and “Rose Garden” was a hit in 1971 for Lynn Anderson.

Along with those tracks, I hear the album’s high points as its opener, “All My Hard Times,” the biting “These Are Not My People” and the closer “Gabriel.” But the entire album is well worth hearing (as is almost any of South’s work).

Track list
All My Hard Times
Rose Garden
Mirror of Your Mind
Don’t Throw Your Love to the Wind
The Greatest Love
Games People Play
These Are Not My People
Don’t You Be Ashamed
Birds of a Feather