Archive for the ‘1960’ Category

Saturday Single No. 530

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Forty-three years ago today, I spent some time in Paris’ Montmartre district, touring the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and then walking to Place du Tertre, where painters gather to ensnare the tourists. Many years later, I looked back at that walk and wrote this:

The basilica’s neighborhood – including Place du Tertre – seemed almost too French, a little too close to what one thinks of when one imagines a Parisian neighborhood: Nattily dressed men, arms waving as they argue on the sidewalk; a student in tattered jeans sipping café au lait at a sidewalk table, jotting his thoughts into a journal and peering through the smoke of his Gauloise at the girls passing by; an older woman trudging to work or to the bakery past a row of parked Citroën autos; two priests walking rapidly with their heads down and with their cassocks flowing in the breeze made by their rapid passage down the sidewalk and into a side street; and the artists with their easels and their palettes and their berets, eyeing their own works critically and their neighbors’ works enviously.

It felt a little like a movie set or a collection of clichés, and it took a few moments of reflection for me to realize that it’s not often that life so perfectly mimics a stereotype. As I wandered from the basilica and into Place du Tertre, the image of Paris that I carried around inside me from books, movies and music was superimposed on the reality of Paris that was in front of me, and for a few brief and sweet moments, the two were congruent: I had found the Paris I had imagined I would find.

Of course, moments like that aren’t at all durable. In a few minutes, maybe a garbage truck came by from a nearby alley, or two backpacking travelers began laughing loudly at something that only they found humorous, or a group of Japanese tourists clustered around their flag-toting guide to hear what she had to say about the square, and that small corner of Paris was still Paris, but it was no longer as nearly perfect as it had been.

And as I look back, it seems to me that for those few moments of near-perfection, the only thing missing was the sound of an Edith Piaf song playing in the background: “No, je ne regrette rien . . . .”

So here, forty-three years later, is Edith Piaf’s “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien,” recorded in Paris on November 20, 1960. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘You Done Your Daddy Wrong . . .’

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Back when I was a little horn-playing sprout, listening to my Herb Alpert and Al Hirt records on our RCA stereo, I found myself wanting to dance every time the needle got to the last track on Hirt’s 1963 album, Honey In The Horn. With its rapid tempo, its lip-rippling horn riffs, and its background singers chants of “Go along, go along,” I loved Hirt’s cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On.”

Of course, at the age of twelve or so, I had no idea it was a cover. I had no idea who Hank Snow was. And I had no idea that Snow’s 1950 original had topped the country chart for a record-tying twenty-one weeks, matching the performance of Eddy Arnold’s 1947 release, “I’ll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms).” (In 1955, Webb Pierce tied Arnold and Snow when his “In The Jailhouse Now” was No. 1 for twenty-one weeks, and in 2013, notes Wikipedia, the three records were dropped from their record-holding positions when “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line spent twenty-four weeks at No. 1.*)

I’m not sure when I learned about Snow’s original – sometime between 1965 and 2000, I guess – but it’s without a doubt one of the classics of country music:

The record came to mind the other day when I heard a version of “I’m Movin’ On” by Johnny Cash with Waylon Jennings that was recently released on Out Among the Stars, a collection of recently discovered Cash recordings from 1981 and 1984. And I wondered what other covers might be out there, expecting the list to be lengthy.

And I was right: Second Hand Songs lists more than fifty covers of the Snow song, and there are others at Amazon (though many of those listings are the Rascal Flatts song with the same title). And Wikipedia references a few other covers. I don’t entirely trust that list, however, as it cites covers by Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin, and I can find no indication that either Dylan or Zep recorded the song. (Dylan’s official website does note that he performed the song in concert nineteen times between 1989 and 1993.)

Some of the covers have hit the various charts. On the country chart, Don Gibson took the song to No. 14 in 1960, and a live version by Emmylou Harris went to No. 5 in 1983. (The Harris version linked here is from an anthology, and I believe it’s the single version from the live Last Date album, though I imagine the single might have had the introduction trimmed. If it’s the wrong performance, I’d appreciate knowing about it.)

Three versions of the tune have also hit the pop chart: A jaunty cover by Ray Charles went to No. 40 (and to No. 11 on the R&B chart) in 1959, singer Matt Lucas took the song to No. 59 in 1963 in his only appearance on the chart, and John Kay saw his Steppenwolf-ish cover of the tune go to No. 52 in 1972.

And that’s enough for today. We’ll be back later this week with some more.

*Based on what I read at Wikipedia, I have some reservations about “Cruise” holding the record for most weeks at No. 1, as some of those twenty-four weeks belong to the original release and some of them belong to a remix by hip-hop artist Nelly. If there’s a remix, is it the same record?

Sometimes It’s Not So Easy

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

On occasion, my fascination with easy listening music jumps out of the speakers and bites my ears.

I was puttering at the computer yesterday, posting a note or two on Facebook, checking email, keeping an eye on the news from Ukraine and scoping out the latest rumors about the Minnesota Vikings and the upcoming NFL draft. Keeping me company was the RealPlayer, chugging along on random and offering me some current Americana, some 1960s and 1970s pop, some 1950s R&B and the occasional bit of a film soundtrack.

And then came this:

I winced and then laughed at Ray Conniff’s pretty much clueless take on “Happy Days” (found on the 1976 album TV Themes), and then I took a look to see exactly how much music I have by Ray Conniff in the files. It turns out to be 227 mp3s. That means that Conniff should have been listed in the Top 20 artists I posted a few weeks ago, coming in at No. 15, just ahead of Richie Havens. Why wasn’t he? Because some of his albums were credited to just Ray Conniff, others to Ray Conniff & The Singers, others yet to Ray Conniff & His Orchestra and so on, and that inconsistency, along with my inattention to detail that day, kept Conniff off my chart.

Why so much Conniff? Because I do love – generally – easy listening music from the 1950s through the 1970s, probably in large part because the work of Conniff and his easy listening brethren reminds me of the years of Hula Hoops and Erector sets on through the years of madras shirts and eventually mood rings. So my love for the music is mostly nostalgia, but that’s a potent enough force as it is.

And then there’s the fact that some of the easy listening tunes in the stacks are pretty good music. In terms of execution, nostalgic weight and chart performance, it’s hard to beat “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’” by Percy Faith, which was No. 1 for nine weeks in 1960. There were many other decent easy listening pieces during the years of my youth; many of those are in my files; some, I have to assume, are not.

But it’s not at all difficult to find easy listening missteps like Conniff’s “Happy Days,” especially when the easy listening folks tried to translate pop-rock hits into instrumentals palatable for their audience (generally older folks, of course, as well as the unhip kids like me). And since pratfalls are often more fun than graceful success, I thought I’d wander through the collection and find some easy listening efforts that are not at all easy to listen to.

So here are a couple from 1969: A clueless take on Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” from Billy Vaughn’s Theme From Love Story and a flighty version of the Doors’ “Touch Me” from Enoch Light & The Brass Menagerie, Vol. 1.*

I could dig further for hard listening, but I won’t. Instead I’ll close with a couple of covers that are interesting takes on popular songs. On his 1970 album Doc Severinsen’s Closet, the Tonight Show band leader of the time took some chances by covering a number of intriguing titles (including a cover I once shared here of “Court of the Crimson King”). The one that caught my ear this morning was his cover of the Chairmen of the Board’s “Give Me Just A Little More Time” (into which Severinsen incorporated a quote from “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” from the group then called Chicago Transit Authority).

And as I dug around in the 121 tracks I have from dual pianists Ferrante & Teicher, I came across their cover of Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.” Ferrante & Teicher occasionally missed the sense of a song; there are some missteps in their work. But far more often than not, at least to the ears of this easy listening fan, they succeeded in translating pop songs into their own idiom. I think they did so with “The Sound of Silence,” which was on their 1969 album Midnight Cowboy.

*I was going to make it a trio of missteps from 1969 by including Franck Pourcel’s version of Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525”, which seems to have first been issued on the Bolivian release En El Anno 2525, but after a couple of listens, I’m liking it.

Wandering Randomly

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

It’s time for a random walk through the more than 70,000 mp3s that have somehow gathered on the digital shelves in the past thirteen years. We’ll set the RealPlayer’s cursor in the middle of the pack, hit the forward button and check out the next six tracks.

First up is Howling Wolf’s single of “Wang Dang Doodle” from 1960:

Tell Automatic Slim, tell razor-totin’ Jim,
Tell butcher knife-totin’ Annie, tell fast-talkin’ Fanny,
We gonna pitch a ball down to that union hall.
We gonna romp and tromp till midnight,
We gonna fuss and fight till daylight.
We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long.
All night long, all night long, all night long.

The song, written by Willie Dixon, might be better known from Koko Taylor’s 1966 version, which went to No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the R&B chart, but the Wolf’s version is the original. According to Wikipedia, neither Dixon nor the Wolf thought much of the song, with the Wolf quoted there as calling it a “levee camp” song. “Wang Dang Doodle” hit the charts again in 1974, when the Pointer Sisters’ cover went to No. 61 on the Hot 100 and to No. 24 on the R&B chart.

Eternity’s Children was a four-person pop group that evolved out of a group first formed in 1965 in Cleveland, Mississippi. The group’s self-titled debut album from 1968 has achieved some prominence over the years due to the co-production from sunshine pop gurus Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen, although All Music Guide notes that the album “does not rank among the Boettcher/Olsen duo’s crowning achievements – both producers were distracted by other concurrent projects.” “Sunshine Among Us” is the album’s closing track; released as a single, it bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 117.

In her lengthy career in the Hot 100 – from 1962 into 1980 – Jackie DeShannon hit the Top 40 three times, and all three records had the word “love” in their titles: “What The World Needs Now Is Love” went to No. 7 in 1965, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” went to No. 4 (No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary chart) in 1969, and “Love Will Find A Way” went to No. 40 (No. 11 AC) later that same year. Given the ubiquity of love as a topic for song, that might not be unique, but I thought it was interesting. The record we chance on this morning is the third one of those. “Love Will Find A Way” isn’t overwhelmingly good, and I don’t know that I heard it back in 1969, but it would have sounded nice coming out the radio between, say, the Beatles and Three Dog Night.

Chris Rea’s Blue Guitars is a 2005 release that consisted of eleven CDs, a DVD and a book that included liner notes, lyrics and Rea’s own paintings. “The album,” notes Wikipedia, “is an ambitious project with the 137 songs recorded over the course of 1½ years with a work schedule – according to Chris Rea himself – of twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Initially the project was inspired by Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey and can be called an ‘odyssey’ in its own right, for depicting a journey through the various epochs of Blues Music, starting at its African origins and finishing with modern-time Blues from the 60s and 70s.” We land this morning on “Ticket For Chicago,” a track from the Country Blues disc of the massive album. Complete with the crackle and hiss of an old 78 at its start, the track is a pleasant stop along the way and a reminder that I need to dig far deeper into Blue Guitars than I have so far.

Our fifth stop is a cryptic B-side to a Top 20 hit on the Apple label: Mary Hopkin’s “Sparrow” seems to be a tale of melancholy confinement and the hope of escape, with that famed Apple producer Paul McCartney framing Hopkin’s crystal voice with bells and choirs and – at the end – a meandering saxophone. The track – written by Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle in their roles as songwriters for Apple – was the flip side to Hopkin’s “Goodbye,” which went to No. 13 (No. 6 AC) in 1969. While it’s doubtful that “Sparrow” could have been a hit as the A-side, I like it much better than I do “Goodbye” or Hopkin’s two other Top 40 hits, “Those Were The Days” (No. 2 pop and No. 1 AC in 1968) and “Temma Harbour” (No. 39 pop and No. 4 AC in 1970).

And we end our brief journey this morning on a front porch somewhere in the Louisiana bayous with Tony Joe White’s “Lazy” telling us that he’s just not going to get much done today:

Lazy,
Today you know I feel so dog gone lazy.
I believe my get-up-and-go has done gotta be gone.
Today I just can’t get it on.

The mellow and bluesy track comes from White’s 1973 album Home Made Ice Cream, which is a decent enough piece of work. It’s an album with a nice, generally laid back groove, very much like, say, something from J. J. Cale. But only occasionally does it approach the swampiness of “Polk Salad Annie,” White’s No. 8 hit from 1969.

‘A Restless Wind . . .’

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

While I was multitasking the other evening – checking out Facebook, listening to music and keeping half an eye on a football game – the RealPlayer selected from its 70,001 mp3s a track I hadn’t heard for a long, long time: “The Wayward Wind” by Gogi Grant, a record that spent eight weeks at No. 1 during the summer of 1956.

It was the second hit in the career of the woman who began life as Myrtle Arinsberg and went through several name changes before an A&R man from RCA named her Gogi Grant, if I’m reading things right in Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of Number One Hits. Grant first reached the Top Ten in late 1955, when “Suddenly There’s A Valley” went to No. 9. I’d never heard “Valley” until this morning, and my sense is that it’s just standard mid-1950s pop.

Grant’s take on “The Wayward Wind,” however, is a sweeping and dramatic record, and I got to wondering how the song – written by Stan Lebowsky and Herb Newman – fared in the hands of folks who covered it. So I went digging. There are twenty-one other versions of the song listed at Second Hand Songs  and numerous other versions listed at Wikipedia and at All Music Guide. Two covers made the Billboard pop chart: a version by Tex Ritter entered the chart about two months after Grant’s did and climbed to No. 28, and in 1961, a cover by Frank Ifield bubbled under at No. 103. (Grant’s version was re-released in 1961 and went to No. 50.)

In the five years between the Ritter and Ifield covers, there were plenty of folks who took a stab at “The Wayward Wind.” Among those listed were Jimmy Young, Shirley Bassey, Gene Vincent, Patsy Cline, Sam Cooke, rockabilly singer Carl Mann, the Everly Brothers, Pat Boone, Eddy Arnold and Rikki Henderson. The most interesting of those might be the 1961 cover by the Everly Brothers, just for their well-known close harmony. The quasi-rockabilly take from 1960 by Carl Mann (almost certainly recorded at Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis) has its moments, and I also like 1963’s bare bones country version from Eddy Arnold. But too many of those early covers try to replicate the epic (in the original sense of the word) sound of Grant’s original.

It’s also mildly interesting to check the lyrical approach: Grant sang the song in third person, about the man who wandered. Mann gender-flips, singing about the girl who wandered. The Everlys sing the song in the first person, as do Ritter, Ifield and Arnold.

After Ifield’s version bubbled under in 1963, covers came from the Browns, Hank Snow, Mary McCaslin, Connie Smith, Connie Francis, Crystal Gayle, and in 1985, from Neil Young with Denise Draper, a countryish version that leads off his Old Ways album. Since then, the various lists include versions by the Lazy Cowgirls, Lynn Anderson, Anne Murray, Logan Wells, Barbara Mandrell & Friends and Carol Noonan.

Even combining the three lists doesn’t provide a comprehensive account. I found versions as well by Slim Whitman and Frankie Laine, and a version that I like a lot that paired 1980s country singer Sylvia Hutton with flautist James Galway for the title track of Galway’s 1982 album, The Wayward Wind.

And At No. 95 . . .

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

So what do we know about September 5?

Well, two things I know right off the top of my head: Baseball Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie was born on September 5, 1874, in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. And I was born on September 5, 1953, here in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Yep, I’m sixty years old today. That’s a lot of candles.

Or maybe not. When I was a kid, our family made a mathematical game out of candles on birthday cakes. Let’s say it was Dad’s birthday, and he was fifty-seven. Mom might put four big candles and one small candle on Dad’s cake and then let me figure it out: The big candles counted for thirteen years each, and the little one was five years.

So my cake today might have three big candles, or five big candles and one small one, or maybe four big candles and four small ones. Or maybe just one honking big candle. The one thing I’m pretty sure of is that, with apologies to the Crests, it probably wouldn’t be sixteen candles, at least not sixteen identical candles, because we never went in for fractions or percentages. (Sixteen identical candles would come out to 3.75 years per candle, but on the other hand, sixteen candles would work if you went with six big candles at five years each and ten small candles at three years each. There are many ways to skin a birthday candle equation.)

Candles and Nap Lajoie aside, there are a few other notable events that have happened on September 5, according to Wikipedia: In 1666, the Great Fire of London ended, after destroying 10,000 buildings including St. Paul’s Cathedral but killing only six people. In 1774, the first Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia. In 1836, Sam Houston was elected the first president of the Republic of Texas. In 1906, Brabury Robinson of St. Louis University threw the first legal forward pass in college football to Jack Schneider as the Billikens-to-be (the university adopted the lovable and unique mascot sometime around 1911) defeated Carroll College of Wisconsin 22-0. Wikipedia lists many more September 5 events, but I’ll stop there.

But what about – as is our focus here – music? Maybe the Billboard charts and some records found at No. 95? (For 9/5, of course.) Odd and Pop – my imaginary tunehead companions – urge caution. “If you dig that deep in the charts for today’s music, you might get something weird,” says Pop.

“Well, that would be good,” says Odd. “After all, who wants to hear something that was so popular that we can sing it in our sleep?”

Tossing their cautions into the September breeze, I head to the files to check out the Billboard Hot 100s between 1954 and, oh, 1990 that were released on September 5. There were six of them.

The first of those September 5 charts came out in 1956, when Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” was sitting at No. 1. We could choose from among four records, as there was a four-way tie at No. 93, listed alphabetically by title. We’ll go with the third of those four, which leaves us with “Lola’s Theme” by Steve Allen. Unfortunately, I can find no trace of the recording online (though some 45s and 78s of it are for sale). The record – a version of a theme from the movie Trapeze starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis – went to No. 75. It was one of six records Allen put into or near the Hot 100 between 1955 and 1964, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Hits. Allen’s recording of “Lola’s Theme” was one of two to reach the chart; Muir Mathieson’s version of the tune went to No. 67, also in 1956. I did manage to find a non-charting version of the tune at YouTube, so here’s “Lola’s Theme” as released that same year by Ralph Marterie & His Orchestra.

We jump ahead to 1960 and find a record that my little pal Odd is going to love. Sitting at No. 95 on the day I turned seven years old was “Rocking Goose” by Johnny & The Hurricanes, a group better known for “Red River Rock,” their No. 5 hit from 1959. “Rocking Goose” went to No. 60 and was one of ten Hot 100 hits or near-hits for the group. It’s just silly enough that the seven-year-old whiteray might have liked it if he’d ever heard it. It’s doubtful that he did, though. And he likely wasn’t aware, either, that Elvis had another No. 1 hit that week, “It’s Now Or Never.”

Oddly enough, the No. 95 record from the Hot 100 released on September 5, 1964, was from an artist whose passing last month was noted by major media and numerous blogs: Eydie Gormé. “Can’t Get Over (The Bossa Nova)” was on a very short climb to No. 87 and was a follow-up to Gormé’s No. 7 hit from 1963, “Blame It On The Bossa Nova.” The follow-up is a decent record but, as with most sequels, tends to pale in comparison to the original. I imagine I might have heard it on a television variety show or maybe even on the radio at home: “Can’t Get Over (The Bossa Nova)” went to No. 20 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Sitting at No. 1 on the day I turned eleven was a record I vaguely remember hearing as my sister listened to KDWB: “House Of The Rising Sun” by the Animals.

Our next stop is right in the middle of what I call my “sweet spot,” the years when music and Top 40 radio mattered the most to me back then. The No. 95 record on September 5, 1970, just a few days before I started my senior year of high school, was “Empty Pages” by Traffic. I don’t know that I heard the song then; the title doesn’t show up in any of the KDWB surveys collected at the Oldiesloon website, and the record peaked in the Hot 100 at only No. 74. (The single might have been shorter or otherwise different from the album version in the linked video; I don’t know.) I was, however, familiar with the No. 1 record that week, Edwin Starr’s “War,” which was in the second of three weeks on top of the chart.

By 1981, I was rarely listening to hit radio, as the Other Half and I tended to tune into one of the Twin Cities AC stations on the clock radio and on those frequent evenings when we sat reading with the radio on in the background. So it’s a pleasant surprise to find that I know well the record that was sitting at No. 95 on my twenty-eighth birthday: “All Those Years Ago,” George Harrison’s tribute to the murdered John Lennon. “All Those Years Ago” had been No. 2 for two weeks and had gone to No. 1 on the AC chart, one of eighteen records that Harrison placed in the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1988. The No. 1 record that week was the abysmal Diana Ross/Lionel Richie duet, “Endless Love,” in the fourth week of a nine-week stint on top of the Hot 100.

Our last stop of the day is 1987, when I celebrated my birthday in Minot, N.D., having moved there just a few weeks earlier. The No. 95 record on September 5, 1987, is one that I know I’ve  heard many times, but today marks the first time I’ve ever sought it out: “Girls, Girls, Girls” by the bearers of unnecessary umlauts, Mötley Crüe. The record went to No. 12, one of fourteen hits and near-hits Whitburn lists for the group through 2008. I doubt that I’ve ever sought out the No. 1 record for that week, either, though I’ve heard it many times: “La Bamba” by Los Lobos, in the first of three weeks atop the chart.

Instrumental Digging: 1950-1999

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

We continue today seeking the answer to a question sparked by our digging into instrumental music the other week: Which instrumentals ranked highest in the year-end listings in each of the decades of the 1900s? I looked at the years 1900-1949 late last week. Today, we’ll return to Joel Whitburn’s A Century of Pop Music and look at the more familiar music that came along during the years from 1950 to 1999.

1950s: The highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1950s was the mambo “Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White” by Perez Prado, which was the No. 1 record for 1955. The highest ranking instrumental for the decade as a whole was The Third Man Theme” by Anton Karas, 1950’s No. 3 record, which was No. 6 for the decade. Perez Prado’s record fell in at No. 10 on the decade list.

1960s: The highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1960s was “The Theme From A Summer Place by Percy Faith & His Orchestra, which was the No. 1 single for all of 1960. When the Sixties ended almost ten years later, Faith’s record was the top-ranked instrumental for the decade, ranking second among all records during the 1960s to only the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” (Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue,” which I featured last week, was the No. 3 record in 1968 and the No. 12 record for the overall decade.)

1970s: According Whitburn, the highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1970s is “Fly, Robin, Fly” by Silver Convention, the No. 2 record for all of 1975 (behind the Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”). I might disagree with Whitburn’s classifying the record as an instrumental, as the record has words: “Fly, Robin, Fly/Up, up to the sky.” But given that the vocals are more of a chant than anything else (and that similar chant-like vocals show up in other records classified as instrumentals), I’d concede. As to the highest-ranking instrumental of the decade, I have to guess, as not one instrumental made the Top 40 records of the 1970s. My guess would be “Fly, Robin, Fly,” based on its three weeks at No. 1, a span of time no other instrumental matched during the decade. (Three instrumentals spent two weeks at No. 1 during the 1970s: “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees in 1974, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” by Meco in 1977, and “Rise” by Herb Alpert in 1979.)

1980s: The decade was a grim one for instrumental hits. Only three instrumentals were listed among the four hundred records that comprise the ten annual Top 40 listings for the 1980s. Of those three, the highest ranking was “Chariots of Fire – Titles” by Vangelis, which was the No. 15 record for 1982. (The other two ranked instrumental were from 1985: “Miami Vice Theme: by Jan Hammer and “Axel F” by Harold Faltenmyer, which came in at Nos. 24 and 37, respectively, in that year’s final listing.) And, as was the case with the 1970s, no instrumental made the list of the decade’s Top 40 records. One has to think, given the year-by-year rankings mentioned above, that “Chariots of Fire – Titles” was the decade’s highest-ranked instrumental.

1990s: If the 1980s were a dismal time for instrumentals in the charts, I have no words at all to describe the 1990s. Only one instrumental single made any of the ten year-end Top 40 listings: “Theme from Mission: Impossible” by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen of U2 ranked No. 39 for the year of 1996 and would, most likely, be the decade’s top instrumental. And that brings this exploration to a whimpering halt.

Note: The linked video for “Fly, Robin, Fly,” is of the album track; the single ran about two minutes shorter, but I don’t own the single, and the only good video of the single has some NSFW artwork. As to the other linked videos, I’m reasonably sure that the linked videos from the 1950s and 1960s feature the original singles, and I have no certainty at all about the music in the linked videos from the 1980 and 1990s.

What Was At No. 71?

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

It’s just after eight in the morning here on the East Side, and nothing much is moving out there. It’s been snowing on and off – mostly on – since yesterday morning. Officially, we’ve gotten 7.1 inches of snow so far, and odds are we’re going to get another three to four inches. Out in the driveway, the snow is about six inches deep, so neither the Texas Gal nor I are going anywhere for a while.

So with not much else to do except dig around in my collection of Billboard charts (not that I often need an excuse), I thought I’d take our snowfall total, move the decimal point and then take a look at what records were No. 71 on or around March 5 over the years. We’ll start in 1966, because that’s the earliest year I find when the magazine’s Hot 100 was actually issued on March 5. We’ll likely go back a few years from there, and then come this direction for a while.

And the day starts with a little bit of a puzzle: At No. 71 on March 5, 1966, we find the Righteous Brothers’ take on “Georgia On My Mind” making its way back down the chart after peaking at No. 62. The puzzle is that the record was released on the Moonglow label, and by March of 1965, the Righteous Brothers had left Moonglow far behind, joining and then leaving Phil Spector’s Philles label and then recording for Verve. In fact, “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration,” the Verve record that would become the Brothers’ second No. 1 hit (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” went to No. 1 in 1965), entered the Hot 100 the very same week, sitting at No. 90. It seems obvious that the release of “Georgia” was just the latest effort by Moonglow to get a slice of the Righteous pie: Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows five charting or near-charting Moonglow singles during the time the Righteous Brothers were recording for Philles. Then came “Georgia,” which was the Brothers’ last charting single on Moonglow. So it’s really not that much of a puzzle, I guess. But it did make me read the fine print a little bit more closely.

I have evidently been able to write more than a thousand posts about popular music without previously mentioning the name of Esther Phillips, also known as Little Esther, which strikes me as odd given my interest in 1960s R&B. Phillips, whose unique voice and delivery I like very much, had fifteen records in or near the Hot 100 between 1962 and 1975, with the first and last of them reaching the Top 40: “Release Me” went to No. 8 in late 1962, and “What A Diff’rence A Day Makes” reached No. 20 in the autumn of 1975. In March of 1963, three years back from today’s starting point, Phillips’ “I Really Don’t Want To Know” was at No. 71, a week after peaking at No. 61. (The linked video also includes the record’s B-side, “Am I That Easy To Forget.”) I should note that during the early 1950s, prior to the years covered by the Billboard Hot 100, Phillips had eight records reach the R&B Top 40, most of them recorded during her association with band leader Johnny Otis.

When we get to the first week of March 1960, we land in traditional pop territory, with Johnny Mathis’ “Starbright” taking up the No. 71 slot of that week’s Hot 100. The record was climbing toward its eventual peak at No. 25 and was the twentieth of an eventual fifty-three records Mathis would place in or near the Hot 100 between 1957 and 1984. That time-span includes, according to Whitburn, No. 1 records separated by more than twenty years. According to Top Pop Hits, “Chances Are” went to No. 1 during a twenty-eight week chart stay that started in September 1957 and lasted into March 1958, and “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” Mathis’ collaboration with Deniece Williams, went to No. 1 in June of 1978. And here is a real puzzle: Whitburn has “Chances Are” going to No. 1 for one week during those twenty-eight weeks, but the week-by-week Billboard charts that I copped from a blog some years ago show “Chances Are” peaking at No. 5, and the record is not listed in Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of Number One Hits. I’m not sure at all what’s correct there.

Heading back to the other side of our starting point, we land on the chart released March 8, 1969, and find ourselves listening to a song better known, I think, for a later version. “Hello It’s Me” by Todd Rundgren’s early band, the Nazz, was sitting at No. 71 in that 1969 chart. The record would go no higher, nor would it do very well – peaking at No. 66 – when it was rereleased a year later. It’s a good song, but the record seems painfully draggy. Of course, that’s because Rundgren recorded a more up-tempo version of the song and released it under his own name in 1973, when it went to No. 5. But you know, I think I’d find the Nazz version draggy and tedious even if Rundgren had never revisited the song. So we move on.

And in March of 1972, we land on a record at No. 71 that’s showed up here before and will always put a lump in my throat: “Waking Up Alone” by Paul Williams. The record was heading to a peak at No. 60, the best-performing of the three singles Williams placed in or near the Hot 100. Of course, I think it should have done much better, a judgment I’ve held since I first heard the record a little more than three years after its brief stay on the chart. Does it make me think of someone? No, it’s heartbreaking all by itself, which means that Williams succeeded at his craft to a degree that I wish I could match one time in my life. As I wrote here once, the record’s best part on a purely musical level is the saxophone that comes in near the end, “hanging around long enough to take a nice solo and then walk us home.”

Our last stop this morning is March of 1975, and we’re going country: Sitting at No. 71 thirty-eight years ago was “Linda On My Mind” by Conway Twitty. The tale of tangled love and heartache was on its way to No. 61 and was the next-to-last record out of twenty-five that Twitty would place in or near the Hot 100. It did much better on the country chart, of course, being one of forty No. 1 records overall for the Mississippi-born singer, a total that was tied for the most all-time with George Strait in 2006, when my edition of Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits was compiled. (A glance at Wikipedia this morning shows that Strait has since broken that tie with an additional four No. 1 records on the country chart.)

The Third King Of The Blues

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

When it comes to the three Kings of the blues – B.B., Albert and Freddie – my database runs the gamut. I know a fair amount about B.B. King, I have a decent acquaintance with Albert King, and until this week, I’ve known almost nothing about Freddie King.

Even though I’ve had a few tracks in the mp3 player for a few years, and even though I’ve got an LP of the best of his work in the early 1960s for the Cincinnati-based Federal label, I’ve never paid much attention to Freddie King. But a few weeks ago, as I poked around the CD stacks in the St. Cloud public library (to be precise, it’s the St. Cloud branch of the Great River Regional Library system), I came across a twenty-track CD on Rhino titled Hideaway: The Best of Freddy King.

The first thing I noticed was the variant in the spelling of King’s first name. The CD notes and All-Music Guide both say that the “Freddy” spelling was used during the earlier portions of King’s career. The first track on the CD that uses “Freddie” is one recorded in 1969 for the album My Feeling for the Blues. There were two other tracks on the CD that used that spelling. And when I used my magnifying glass to read the fine print about the session men for those last two tracks, I saw the names of Leon Russell, Don Preston and Duck Dunn, among others. At that point, things became much more interesting.

That’s because, as much as I love the blues itself, I love even more the music that resulted during the late 1960s and early 1970s when the blues re-intersected with rock: The sessions that Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and B.B. King recorded in London around that time are examples. And so, too, after doing some digging and then listening for the past few days, is the work that Freddie King did for Leon Russell’s Shelter label. (The same will likely be true, when I’ve listened to them more than I have so far, for the two late 1960s albums King recorded on Atlantic with King Curtis producing and the two 1970s albums King recorded for RSO, with Eric Clapton taking part on one.)

The Shelter albums – Getting Ready . . . from 1971, The Texas Cannonball from 1972 and Woman Across the River from 1973 – will have a familiar sound to anyone who’s listened to Leon Russell’s solo work from the same era. Leon’s arrangements and piano work don’t overwhelm King’s guitar or voice, but it seems to me that when listening to even the most basic of blues workouts from the three albums, it would be likely for a rock fan to think, “Gee, that sounds like Leon Russell back there.”

Of the three Shelter albums, Woman Across the River sold best, making it to No. 158 on the Billboard album chart. A single edit of “Going Down” was released from the first Shelter album, Getting Ready . . ., but it didn’t make the charts. It does, however, give an idea of what at least some of the Shelter sessions sounded like.

Freddie King, like B.B. and Albert and other bluesmen, was a pretty solid concert draw among the rock audience in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. But King had his largest chart hit in 1961, when the instrumental “Hide Away” went to No. 29 on the pop chart and No. 5 on the R&B chart. Joel Whitburn notes in the Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B & Hip-Hop Hits that the single was titled after Mel’s Hide Away Lounge in Chicago. And at All-Music Guide, Cub Koda writes, “Throughout the ’60s, ‘Hide Away’ was one of the necessary songs blues and rock & roll bar bands across America and England had to play during their gigs.”

Just as interesting from this chair was King’s 1960 take on “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” which, according to Second Hand Songs, was the first recording of the Billy Myles tune that would become a blues standard. Among the places the tune turned up, of course, was on Derek & The Dominos’ Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs in 1970. And in 1975, a live version would show up on King’s second album for RSO, Larger Than Life. Here’s the 1960 original:

And in the category of things I can’t resist, “The Bossa Nova Watusi Twist” was King’s next-to-last entry on the pop chart, a 1963 record that bubbled under at No. 103.

About That Concert
It turns out – despite Saturday’s post here – that we didn’t have to worry about getting to the Sunday afternoon concert by the Harlem Gospel Choir. We were in fact snowed in, with a total of about eight inches falling from Saturday night through Sunday afternoon. But we had misremembered the date of the concert; it’s this coming Sunday. I’ve rarely been so pleased to be wrong.

‘Seven’

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

And the March of the Integers goes on, this morning reaching “Seven.”

Having looked ahead, as all good tour guides do, I see that the march is likely to end after “Ten.” Titles with numbers in them are pretty slender from “Eleven” through “Fifteen.” “Sixteen” would work (I’ll bet readers can think of six songs with “sixteen” in their titles in less than sixteen seconds), but the flow ebbs to a trickle after that.

This morning’s search through the RealPlayer for “seven,” however, turns up more than two hundred records. That total is trimmed a fair amount when we take into account the Allman Brothers Band’s 1990 album Seven Turns, French singer Françoise Hardy’s 1970 album One Nine Seven Zero, Etta James’ 1988 album Seven Year Itch, Bettye LaVette’s 1973 release Child Of The Seventies and a few other albums. We also have to ignore the two songs recorded in March 1930 in Atlanta, Georgia, by A. A. Gray & Seven-Foot Dilly and everything listed by the John Barry Seven, Louis Armstrong & His Hot Seven, the Society of Seven, Sunlights’ Seven and numerous titles with the words “seventh” and “seventeen” in their titles. (No Willie Mabon, Johnny Rivers or Janis Ian today.) Still, we have enough to play with.

And we start with a Fleetwood Mac record from 1987. “Seven Wonders” was the second single released from the group’s 1987 album, Tango In The Night. It went to No. 19, which was not as high as the two singles from the album that bracket it in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: “Big Love” went to No. 5, and “Little Lies” went to No. 4. Because of that bracketing and because of the massive overall success of that era’s Fleetwood Mac on both the singles and album charts, I think “Seven Wonders” has been a little obscured. I suppose that for some folks, a little of Stevie Nicks’ mysticism can be more than enough, and “Seven Wonders” does follow that path lyrically as well as in Nicks’ vocal delivery. That’s no problem for me, though.

We’ll stay in 1987 for a bit yet, as that was the year that Terence Trent D’Arby released Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent d’Arby, an album on which the precocious D’Arby – as noted by Rob Bowman of All-Music Guide – “wrote virtually every note, played a multitude of instruments, and claimed that this was the most important album since the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper.” Now, it’s not that good, though it did spin off a couple of Top Five hits: “Wishing Well” went to No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts, and “Sign Your Name” went to No. 4 pop and No. 2 R&B. Given our focus this morning, “Seven More Days” is our landing spot. It’s an atmospheric track with intelligent lyrics and a good vocal.

When one seeks out songs using the word “seven,” then Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road” becomes one of the obvious choices. First released on Young’s 1969 album Rock, Salt & Nails, the song was covered memorably by the Eagles, as well as by groups and performers ranging from Mother Earth and Ian Mathews to Rita Coolidge and Dolly Parton. The song’s genesis is interesting, and in 2007 the now-dormant blog pole hill sanatarium presented Young’s comments on the song, as found at a website that evidently no longer exists:

I lived in Montgomery, Alabama, in the early ’60s and had a group of friends there that showed me the road. It led out of town, and after you had crossed seven bridges you found yourself out in the country on a dirt road. Spanish moss hung in the trees and there were old farms with old fences and graveyards and churches and streams. A high bank dirt road with trees. It seemed like a Disney fantasy at times. People went there to park or get stoned or just to get away from it all. I thought my friends had made up the name “Seven Bridges Road.” I found out later that it had been called by that name for over a hundred years, that people had been struck by the beauty of the road for a long time.

The Bee Gees’ 1969 album Odessa has popped up in this space before, at least once as an album and once as a source for a tune in my Ultimate Jukebox. Sprawling and at times beautiful, Odessa remains a favorite, one that I don’t pull out of the CD shelves and listen to in its entirety nearly often enough. Among its seventeen tracks are three instrumentals, two of which don’t seem to work all that well, as if the Bee Gees’ ambitions were larger than their abilities in 1969 (and if that were the case, well, the Bee Gees weren’t the only performers in that time – or any time – to fall into that category). The instrumental that works for me, however, is “Seven Seas Symphony” with its gentle and lightly accompanied piano figure leading into full-blown orchestration and back to (mostly) piano again and then again.

And we jump to 1990 and the sessions that took place after Bruce Springsteen famously fired the E Street Band. Recorded in Los Angeles during the sessions that resulted in the lightly regarded 1992 albums Human Touch and Lucky Town, “Seven Angels” has Springsteen handling guitars and bass as well as vocals. The only other musicians listed in the credits – “Seven Angels” is found on the 1998 box set Tracks – are Shawn Pelton on drums and E Streeter Roy Bittan on keyboards. Even taking into consideration Springsteen’s propensity for recording tracks and then stashing them in the vault because they don’t fit the vision he has for an album, one wonders how a track as good as “Seven Angels” was passed over for some of the stuff that was used on those two 1992 albums.

For those who were television watchers during the 1960s, Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven does not raise visions of a Western (in both senses of the word) version of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic The Seven Samurai. Rather, we see the Marlboro Man, rugged in his sheepskin coat and cowboy hat, as he herds cattle and rides the mountain ridge before pausing to light up a Marlboro. Sometimes I think that all we need to know about American advertising culture – the joys of Mad Men notwithstanding – is that Bernstein’s sweeping and heroic theme became identified with Marlboro cigarettes and that Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was better known to kids of my age as the Puffed Wheat song. I could, of course, cite many more uses of classical pieces, orchestral movie themes and popular songs for advertising, but I’d rather just sigh and listen to Bernstein’s majestic theme and try to remember John Sturges’ tale of heroism, loyalty and sacrifice.