Archive for the ‘1981’ Category

Off To South Dakota

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Well, the Texas Gal and I are heading west. Come Saturday morning, we’ll be off for the Black Hills of South Dakota. We’ll spend five days there taking in as much as we can.

There are some must-see sights, of course: Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Reptile Gardens, Custer State Park and its buffalo herd, the city of Deadwood and its Boot Hill. And we’ll hit some museums and other attractions. We’re hoping not to exhaust ourselves, but it will be a busy five days.

That means, of course, that I won’t be posting here for maybe a little more than a week. I might get a Saturday Single up before we head out, but I ain’t promising nothing. And I have plenty to keep me busy for the next two days as we prepare to head out.

So here’s an aptly titled tune by the late Buddy Red Bow, a South Dakota native who was a member of the Lakota tribe and who served in Vietnam. He died in 1993 at the age of forty-four, having released three albums: the soundtrack to Hard Rider in 1972, BRB in 1981, and Journey to the Spirit World in 1983. Black Hills Dreamer, which may be a compilation of earlier work, was released posthumously in 1995.

I’ve read this morning that some consider him a Native American counterpart to Hank Williams, and I think I’m going to have to keep an eye out for his work while we’re on the road. This is “South Dakota Lady” from BRB.

‘It’s Not A Lot . . .’

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

I thought some more this week about the young reporter I once was – the one we visited here last week – and as I did, I wondered what else besides Dan Fogelberg he might have had on the stereo when he spent an evening at home in the early years of the 1980s. The LP log shows a fair amount of classical music coming in to the house during the first years of that decade, as well as some big band music. As has been noted here before, that young man was dissatisfied with much of the popular music he heard, and he was looking for alternatives.

Still, the log shows purchases in those years of either new or relatively recent albums by Steve Winwood, Jackson Browne, and the Moody Blues as well as the aforementioned Dan Fogelberg. And he filled gaps in his collection with the purchase of older albums by Carly Simon, Steely Dan, the Bee Gees, and the Allman Brothers Band.

One of the tracks that caught his attention in those days came from the Moody Blues’ 1981 release, Long Distance Voyager. The tune “22,000 Days” is a lumbering meditation on mortality and time, topics that caught that young reporter’s attention even when he was on the short side of thirty. The verses were a little vague, but the chorus was blunt:

22,000 days. I’ve got 22,000 days.
It’s not a lot. It’s all you’ve got.
22,000 days.

At the time he got the album – thirty-four years ago this week, as it happens – his cosmic odometer had clicked over to 10,247 days. The Moodys’ benchmark of 22,000 days was far in the future. As he writes this morning, he hit that benchmark some time ago, as his odometer now reads 22,670. Theoretically, then, he’s living on borrowed time and has been since November 28, 2013.

But the 22,000 days is a symbol, not a measurement (though I do wonder why songwriter Graeme Edge didn’t use as a life span something not far off the Biblical three-score-and-ten and make the song “25,000 Days”). And I don’t expect to shuffle off anytime soon. Still, the track is a reminder that every once in a while we should remember that we are temporary beings and that life – on this plane, anyway – is finite.

And there aren’t many better days to ponder those facts than the last day of September, when the temporary nature of life presents itself clearly in the first days of autumn. Here’s the Moody Blues and “22,000 Days” from 1981.

Ghosts

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

On the way home from a lunch last week – I met my sister to celebrate my recent birthday – I drove through the city of Monticello, where I lived and worked after finishing college.

That in itself was not odd; Monti lies on one of our most direct routes to the Twin Cities, a drive that takes us through Monti on Highway 25, the main north-south street of the city, as we head toward Interstate 94. And if we take the other Monti exit on our way home, we drive down Broadway Street, the main east-west route through the city. I suppose we get through there ten times a year. But we rarely turn off those streets and we rarely stop.

Coming home from the Cities a couple of weeks ago, I had the Texas Gal turn off Broadway Street and drive along the parallel street, River Street, for a few blocks. It’s still as pleasant as I recall it, but an unexpected cul-de-sac forced us back to Broadway Street before I got to where I’d planned to go, and we headed on home.

Last week, driving alone, I turned at the right spot and drove past the building that housed the Monticello Times during the years I was a reporter and editor there, 1977 to 1983. It’s been a little bit more than ten years since my one-time boss, DQ, sold the paper to a chain and that chain moved the paper’s offices elsewhere in the city.

I’ve written here on occasion about the figurative ghosts I find here in St. Cloud, people and structures no longer present physically but very clear in my memory as I make my way through the city. Even though I’ve been back in St. Cloud almost thirteen years now, they still sometimes surprise me.

And ghosts of memory startled me the other day in Monticello. I lived there a far shorter time than I’ve lived overall in St. Cloud, from 1977 to 1987 with an eighteen-month interval in there for graduate school in Missouri. And I’ve known for maybe five years that the building that used to house the Monticello Times – on River Street and visible from Highway 25 – now houses a dental office. But I’d never stopped to take a look.

As I came near to River Street the other Tuesday, I was startled to see that the dental clinic had reconfigured the building. The main entrance used to be on River Street, up where DQ’s brother sold office products when I arrived in 1977 and where DQ’s office was located when I left town. It’s now at the opposite end of the building, and as I pulled into the parking lot and stopped, I looked at the large window to the right of the clinic’s main door. I imagine that on the other side of that window one now finds a waiting room. During the last couple years of my time at the paper, on the other side of that window you’d have found my desk.

It was, as I said, a Tuesday, and in the paper’s weekly rhythm, Tuesday was a writing day. From seven in the morning until about four in the afternoon, I’d have been at my desk, turning out copy: An account of the previous evening’s meeting of the Monticello City Council; stories covering the previous Friday’s football games at the high schools in Monticello and nearby Big Lake, as well as coverage for the other fall sports at the two schools and their attendant junior high schools; highlights from the weekly sheriff’s reports in Wright County and Sherburne County; a feature story or two; and coverage of anything out of the ordinary that might have occurred during the past seven days in that small town.

I sat in my car and looked at the window, thinking about the young man who, more often than his older version can now remember, would look out that window in search of the right word, the right lead sentence, the right way to offer his readers the news, both good and bad. And I realized that the young reporter and editor who sat on the other side of that window is as much a ghost to me these days as are the people in the stories he covered and the places he went to do so thirty-some years ago.

Having realized that, I dismissed the thoughts of going into the dental clinic, explaining what brought me there and looking at the space where my desk sat years ago. I left the ghost undisturbed, perhaps on the phone with the city administrator or maybe writing about a break-in at the local American Legion club, and I headed for home.

Here’s a track from an album I loved dearly during those last years at the Monticello paper: “Ghosts” is the closing track from Dan Fogelberg’s 1981 album, The Innocent Age.

Saturday Single No. 448

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

We’re going to play some games with numbers this morning, digging into some Billboard Hot 100s from a twenty-year span in search of a Saturday single. We’ll take today’s date – 5-23-15 – and add that up to 43, and then we’ll check out No. 43 in the Hot 100s for May 23 in the years 1987, 1981, 1976, 1972, 1969 and 1967.

Why, some may ask, are we beginning this in 1987, a year that rarely shows up here musically? (And many may not care.) Because May 23, 1987, was one of those dividing days, a day during which my life changed dramatically. First, and of lesser importance, it was the day that effectively ended my adjunct teaching time at St. Cloud State. I spent a good portion of the day sipping coffee in a St. Cloud restaurant, figuring out final grades for the students in my visual communications class. And then, that evening, I went to a friend’s party, where I met someone. By the time I drove home to Monticello in the early hours of May 24, my life had changed.

So off we go, starting with the Hot 100 released on May 23, 1987, where No. 43 was “Sweet Sixteen” by Billy Idol. More mellow and restrained than most of Idol’s charting work, the record was on its way up to No. 20. It’s catchy and sweet, but for some reason, the record unnerves me. I guess I’ve always had the sense that underneath the veneer of love, there’s an obsession for the young lady that might eventually find itself expressed in less-than-acceptable ways.

And in 1981, we fall directly on May 23 once more, and we find that the No. 43 record that week was “Say What,” by Jesse Winchester. The jaunty record was rising in the chart, heading for a peak of No. 32 (No. 12 on the Adult Contemporary chart), which would make it the only Top 40 hit in the long and mellow career of the late singer-songwriter. Running into “Say What,” which is a pretty good single, might be a sign, given my long-running affection for Winchester and his work, or it might just be a coincidence.

Things rock a little more when we go back to May 22, 1976, as we find “Crazy On You” by Heart sitting at No. 43. The first charting single for the Wilson sisters and their friends, “Crazy On You” was heading toward its peak at No. 35. (The Mushroom label reissued the single in 1977 after Heart had moved to the Portrait label on its eventual way to Epic; the reissued single went only to No. 52.) For some reason, I whiffed at the time on “Crazy On You” and its summertime follow-up, “Magic Man,” not catching on to Heart until “Dreamboat Annie” during the winter of 1976-77. I’ve since made up for that whiff.

And a decent bit of Stax soul greets us as we dig into the Hot 100 from May 20, 1972, when the No. 43 record was “I’ve Been Lonely For So Long” by Frederick Knight of Birmingham, Alabama. The record would peak at No. 27 (No. 8, R&B), giving Knight his only Top 40 hit. As I said, it’s a decent record, but the low bass parts contrast with the falsetto to make it sound – at some points, anyway – a little bit like a novelty.

And as we head back another three years, we go from an R&B singer with one Top 40 hit to a classic pop singer with twenty-seven Top 40 hits: “Seattle” by Perry Como was parked at No. 43 in the Hot 100 that was in play during this week in 1969. “Seattle” wouldn’t head too much higher; it would peak at No. 38 (No. 2, AC), but the song is etched deeply into my memory: One of Rick and Rob’s sisters was a big fan of the song and of the television series Here Come The Brides, which used the song as its theme, and I heard the record frequently when I was at their house. (According to Wikipedia, however, neither Como’s version nor the version recorded by Bobby Sherman – who starred in the show – was ever used on the show; when lyrics were added to the theme during the show’s first season, they were sung by “The New Establishment,” which one would guess was a group of studio singers.)

We finish our trek back today with a stop in the third week of May 1967, when the No. 43 record was “Melancholy Music Man” by the Righteous Brothers. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard the record until this morning, and it sounds like – a little more than a year after “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” went to No. 1 – Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield were throwing anything at the wall, as long as it had a Spectorish backing and some call-and-response vocals, to see what would stick. Well, “Melancholy Music Man” didn’t stick, as it moved no higher than No. 43. And I understand its failure: The record sounds like a mess.

So, with six candidates, where do we go? Well, long-time readers will know that as soon as Jesse Winchester showed up, anything that came after would have to be better than good to alter the outcome of today’s contest. And although I like “Seattle,” it’s just not good enough. That means that “Say What” by Jesse Winchester, is today’s Saturday Single.

(The video above uses the version of the tune from the album Talk Memphis. Whether it’s the same as the single, I don’t know.)

‘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?

‘And There’s No Time . . .’

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Well, actually, there is time this morning, but I’m spending it in other places than this blog, and I’m a little preoccupied. First of all, I’m keeping an eye on the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where the women’s hockey teams are playing medal games today, with the U.S. facing Canada for the gold medal a little bit later today.

And as I write, I’m captivated by the Swiss women’s hockey team coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period to defeat Sweden 4-3 in the bronze medal game. Now, being of half-Swedish descent, I should be at least annoyed. But a good story trumps bloodlines, and I’m nodding in approval as I watch the post-game celebration.

As well as watching the action from Sochi, I’m also watching the weather. Sometime very soon, a winter storm will come through here, dropping – according to the National Weather Service – somewhere from six to nine inches of snow between this morning and midnight. The Texas Gal is at her job downtown, and she said she’ll keep an eye on the snow outside her window, and she’ll make sure she gets on a bus before it gets too bad. (Taking a bus home – the nearest stop on the route is half a block from our front door – is likely safer for both of us than my trying to drive downtown through the snow to get her.)

So those things occupy my mind this morning, and I thought that just to keep the lights on here, I’d drop in a cover of a Beatles tune. On her 1981 album What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me, Chaka Khan took a stab at “We Can Work It Out.” It’s a good cover of the Lennon-McCartney tune, and it went to No. 34 on the R&B chart that year.

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.

What Was At No. 81?

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

It’s August 1, but I’m not going to go to Wikipedia to find out what happened on August 1 through the years. It’s not that I’m not interested; it’s just that I’ll likely not find the day owning a pairing of events as nifty as the First Defenestration of Prague and the birthday of Edd “Kookie” Byrnes that showed up Tuesday.

So we going to play with the numbers as we often do. We’ll turn 8/1 into No. 81 and see what we find in six editions of the Billboard Hot 100. Just for grins, we’ll start in an appropriate year that I don’t often visit – 1981 – and go back four years at a time from there. We’ll also note which records were No. 1 at the time.

And as we land on August 1, 1981, we run into a record I don’t know. I evidently did not hear “Summer ’81 Medley” during that season of newspaper work. The medley is a reasonably good rendition of (by my count) nine Beach Boys tunes credited to the Cantina Band. The record was in its second week on the chart; it would last one more week and go no higher. Though it doesn’t say so on the record label in the video, Lou Christie joined in, and in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, the record is credited twice, to Lou Christie and to Meco recording as the Cantina Band. (That moniker is a reference to Meco’s No. 1 hit from 1977, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band,” the first of eleven records that Domenico Monardo and his friends put on the chart). As for Christie, “Summer ’81 Medley” was the last of eighteen records that he placed in or near the Hot 100 between January 1963 and August 1981. During that same week, sitting at No. 1 for the first of two weeks was Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.”

Natalie Cole holds down the No. 81 spot as we move back to the first week of August in 1977. “Party Lights” boogies nicely but it didn’t do much more than that and it didn’t get much attention, moving up the chart only two more spots during its four-week stay in the Hot 100. (It went to No. 9 on the R&B chart.) Cole was, of course, a reliable chart presence for a decent length of time, notching twenty-two records in or near the Hot 100 between 1975 and 1998. As Cole was heading for the party lights, the No. 1 record was the late Andy Gibb’s “I Just Want To Be Your Everything,” in its second of four weeks on top of the chart (and the first of three straight No. 1 records for the youngest of the Brothers Gibb).

The Eagles don’t often show up here – I’m not entirely sure why that is – but it’s nice when they do. As August began in 1973, “Tequila Sunrise” was making a relatively brief and undistinguished appearance in the Hot 100. Forty years ago this week, the record was at No. 81, retreating from its peak rank of No. 64 (No. 26 on the Adult Contemporary chart). That’s not nearly as high as I would have guessed, given the record’s iconic stature. The Eagles, of course, have been a chart presence for more than forty years, with twenty-four records in or near the Hot 100 between 1972 and 2007. As “Tequila Sunrise” was holding at No. 81, Maureen McGovern’s “The Morning After” was in the first week of its two-week stay at No. 1.

Heading back four more years, we find ourselves in 1969, and sitting at No. 81 during the first days of August was “Simple Song of Freedom” by the late Tim Hardin. The anti-war anthem brought folk singer Hardin his only singles chart presence in a career that lasted from the mid-1960s until his death from a drug overdose in 1980. He’s better known, certainly, as the writer of numerous folk classics, including “If I Were A Carpenter,” “Reason To Believe” and “Lady Came From Baltimore.” The No. 1 record during the first days of August 1969 was Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus).”

Our next stop is August 1965, and the No. 81 record during that month’s first week is another record I’m not sure I’ve heard before: “He’s Got No Love”by the Searchers. The eleventh of fourteen records the Liverpool group would place in or near the pop chart, “He’s Got No Love” sounds good to these ears almost fifty years on. The record was in its second week on the chart; it would last only one more, rising to No. 79 before falling off. The No. 1 record during the first week of August 1965 was one of the major earworms of its time, Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry VIII, I Am.” (“Second verse, same as the first . . .”)

And in the first days of August 1961, twenty years back from where we started, the No. 81 spot in the Hot 100 belonged to Ronny Douglas, whose “Run, Run, Run” was in the second week of what would be a three-week visit to the chart. A decent enough record, it was the only appearance ever on the pop chart for New York singer-songwriter. Sitting at No. 1 during the first week of August 1961 was Bobby Lewis’ “Tossin’ and Turnin’,” in the fifth of seven weeks on top of the chart. (Lewis’ record spent ten weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart.)

They Weren’t ‘One-Hit Wonders’

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

As the Texas Gal and I watched the second hour of American Idol last evening, I was grumbling. Now, lots of folks grumble about American Idol, many of whom don’t watch the show, so I was in good company. But I had a specific complaint.

The second half of last evening’s singing competition was dedicated to “one-hit wonders.” Each of the four remaining contestants – four talented young women – got to choose and perform a one-hit wonder. But as that second hour of the show moved on, it became obvious to me (and to other chart geeks out there, I imagine) that AI had not spent much time – if any – working on a definition of “one-hit wonder.”

What’s my definition? Having thought about it overnight, I’d say an artist or group qualifies as a one-hit wonder by placing one and only one single in the Top 40. As to calling songs themselves “one-hit wonders” as AI did last evening, my thought is that the term should be reserved for songs that were in the Top 40 only one time. I think that’s reasonable. (What about artists and groups whose body of work was album-based or not specifically aimed at hit singles? That would seem to be a matter of common sense. As an obvious example, I think all record and chart geeks would agree that calling Jimi Hendrix a one-hit wonder is silly, even though he had only one record in the Top 40.)

Applying the above definitions, none of the four “one-hit wonders” served up last night on American Idol qualify, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles. The songs were: “MacArthur Park,” which was Richard Harris’ only hit when it went to No. 2 in 1968 but was also a No. 1 hit for Donna Summer in 1978; “Emotion,” which was Samantha Sang’s only hit when it went to No. 3 in 1978 but was also a No. 10 hit for Destiny’s Child in 2001*; “Whiter Shade of Pale,” which went to No. 5 for Procol Harum in 1967 but was one of three Top 40 hits for the group (“Homburg” went to No. 34 later that year and “Conquistador” went to No. 16 in 1972); and “Cry Me A River,” which was Julie London’s only Top 40 hit when it went to No. 9 during a 1955-56 stay on the charts but which also went to No. 11 for Joe Cocker in 1970.

Mention is made occasionally on the show of lists from which the performers select their songs when those songs fall in a specific category, so I’m going to assume that all four of those songs were on a list provided to the performers by the show’s producers. If that’s the case, it makes the show’s producers seem uninformed, if not disingenuous or actually dishonest, as they essentially sold those four songs as something they were not.

Does it matter? Not really, not in the large scale. But in the area of pop music and those who love it, I think it does. As I indicated above, I doubt that I was the only viewer bothered by the song selections last night. If there’s one thing that the Internet has taught us by giving us a number of ways to find kindred souls in large numbers, it’s that there are more chart geeks out there than anyone might have realized in, say, 1990, although it should be noted that even at that date, Whitburn was selling a lot of chart books.

And it’s not like there aren’t a lot of good songs available that would qualify on both portions of the definition I offered above. Let’s look for four of them just from the 1980s alone.

First stop as I wander through my files, my books and Wikipedia is “Tainted Love,” a song that was Soft Cell’s only hit when it went to No. 8 hit in 1982. The song was originally recorded in a superb soul version by Gloria Jones in 1965 (in what All Music Guide says is “one of the great ’60s hits that never was” and which would be a far better approach on AI than Soft Cell’s synthpop). It’s been covered by many – more than fifty versions are listed at Second Hand Songs – but was a hit only once.

For a performer with a country bent, there’s Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache,” which went to No. 22 in 1981. Trisha Yearwood covered it in 2001, according to SHS, but that version didn’t chart and Cash’s did, making it Cash’s only Top 40 hit (which is an injustice, but that’s another post entirely).

Benjamin Orr’s “Stay the Night,” which he co-wrote with Diane Grey Page, was synth-heavy when it went to No. 24 in 1987, but it’s a good song that I could very well hear from one of the four remaining AI contestants. The late Orr was bassist for the Cars, of course, and saw the Top 40 thirteen times as a member of the group, but “Stay the Night” was his only solo hit, and no other versions of the song – if there are any – have made the Top 40.

We’ve found a soul song, a country tune and a mid-tempo pop rock song. You want a ballad? How about “She’s Like The Wind,” a tune from the movie Dirty Dancing sung by the late Patrick Swayze with some help from Wendy Fraser. The record went to No. 3 in 1988, the only time either one of the performers hit the chart. Gender-flip it for one of the final four contestants, and you’re in business. A cover of the song by Lumidee with Tony Sunshine did get to No. 43 in 2007, but that’s not Top 40.

See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Those titles might not be to everyone’s taste, but it took me less than an hour to find four viable songs that are true one-hit wonders according to the definition I laid out above. It seems to me that the producers on American Idol could have easily compiled a long list of similar songs.

*Mention was made last night on American Idol of the Bee Gees’ recording of “Emotion.” That version never made the Billboard Top 40 or Hot 100 and is listed by Whitburn as a “classic” recording.

‘Oom-poppa-mow-mow!’

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

There it sat, nearly at the bottom of the Billboard Hot 100 that was released April 2, 1966, forty-seven years ago today: “Elvira” by Dallas Frazier, bubbling under at No. 134.* Of course, I love bottom-dwellers, and I like to dig up covers, so I grabbed my reference books and my mouse and dug in. Here’s where I started:

The song was familiar, of course, but not from Frazier’s version. His record got no higher than No. 72, and as I wasn’t listening to Top 40 radio at the time anyway, I’m reasonably sure I’d never heard it until today. (I thought for a moment that I might have heard it unmemorably during a ride in my dad’s 1952 Ford, where the radio was always tuned to WVAL’s country tunes, but the record didn’t show up on the country chart at all. Other records by Frazier did, as did many songs that he wrote. A look at his bio at All Music Guide is instructive.)

The version I knew, of course, was by the Oak Ridge Boys, a record that went to No. 5 on the pop chart and to No. 1 on the country chart and became one of the defining sounds of the summer of 1981. I liked the record well enough (though I got weary of it as it got near the end of its run on the charts), but not writing or thinking much about music at the time, I never wondered where the song came from or where it had been in the interim.

Of course, I wonder about those things now, which is why I was pleased to find Frazier’s original version listed in that long-ago Hot 100. Among the interesting names that showed up when I went digging for covers of the song were Kenny Rogers & The First Edition in 1970, Rodney Crowell in 1977, Ronnie Hawkins in 1979, Sleepy LaBeef in 1996, the Mexican group Yndio (with a Spanish version that I cannot date today), a children’s chorus called Drew’s Famous Kids in 2003 and the undying studio group, the Countdown Singers, in 2004.

There was also a 1967 version by an R&B singer named Baby Ray whose entry in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles is one record deep: A novelty record titled “There’s Something On Your Mind,” which peaked at No. 69 as 1966 turned to 1967. Baby Ray, a New Orleans native whose real name was Raymond Eddlemon, turned in a decent New Orleans-tinged version of “Elvira” but has pretty much been lost to history: Whitburn lists neither a birth date nor death date for him.

There are no doubt other versions out there. I do like Frazier’s original, but the version that I probably like the best is Hawkins’, from his 1979 album The Hawk. I’m not sure who’s doing the guitar work; the credits at All Music Guide, which look like they might be complete, list three guitarists: James Burton, Keith Allison and Waddy Wachtel. I could make a guess but no more than that. Whoever it is, the guitar part has echoes of Duane Allman. And there, without guessing, we’ll call it a day. (The video below also incudes Frazier’s original.)

*Right on the bottom of the chart, bubbling under at No. 135, was another record with a woman’s name in it: “My Darling Hildegarde” by the Statler Brothers. Maybe another time.