Archive for the ‘Floyd’s Prism’ Category

‘White’

Friday, January 31st, 2014

And so, after several delays, we land on “White,” the last of nine chapters in Floyd’s Prism, looking at songs whose titles feature the seven colors of the spectrum plus black and white.

As with nearly all of the previous entries, when we sort the tracks in the RealPlayer, we get a total of 766. That’s many more than we need, but many of them, we cannot use. Some show up, as I noted the other day, because they’re tagged with the notation, “Ripped from vinyl by whiteray.” But others, equally unuseable, show up for other reasons.

Some have words in their titles that are close to “white,” including eleven versions of “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” And we’ll also pass on “Whitestone Bridge,” a 1973 tune from the Irish band Tír na nÓg; “Whitewash,” a 1976 outing by the Gin Blossoms; and two versions of Curtis Mayfield’s 1971 offering, “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey).”

Out goes everything by the Average White Band, Tony Joe White, country singer Joy Lynn White, vintage singers Bukka White, Josh White and Georgia White, harp legend Charlie Musselwhite, Edgar Winter’s White Trash, current performer Jack White and country singer Lari White. We also dismiss the great “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead, a few vintage tracks by Paul Whitehead & His Orchestra and two tracks from Lavelle White, one on Duke from 1958 and the other from her 2003 album, Into the Mystic. And we pass by every track in the collection by Barry White; we could have kept his “Rhapsody in White,” but we decided against it.

What else? Three albums titled Black & White, by the BoDeans, the Pointer Sisters and the previously mentioned Tony Joe White, fall by the wayside, as do Shawn Phillips’ 1973 album Bright White (we posted the title tune here the other week), Michael Omartian’s 1974 effort White Horse, most of David Gray’s 200 album White Ladder and Gene Clark’s 1971 offering White Light. We also pass by the Cowboy Junkies’ 1986 album Whites Off Earth Now!! and numerous singles on the White Whale label.

So we take what’s left, which turns out to be plenty for our purposes this morning.

I mentioned David Gray’s 2000 album White Ladder above. It’s a CD that’s truly not strayed far from our player during the years since it came out, a tuneful and literate album. The best-known track on the record is no doubt “Babylon,” which made seven different Billboard charts, reaching No. 57 on the Hot 100 and No. 8 on the Adult Top 40. While the title track is nowhere near as well-known (and doesn’t have nearly as great a hook as “Babylon,” to be honest), “White Ladder” is still a good track from an artist whose body of work has sometimes been uneven (and sometimes gets a little repetitive, to be honest).

Nearly seven years ago, during the first weeks of this blog’s existence, I told the tale of my grandfather and his buying a birthday present for my sister, a 45 rpm record that turned out to be the tales of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood written by Steve Allen and then told by Al “Jazzbo” Collins in early 1950s jazz and hipster lingo. The 1953 record was an unlikely hit, and it spun off more such performances. Today’s selection is “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs” as told by Collins later that same year. The story came from the pen of Douglas Jones, whose ear for the hipster argot was, to my own ears, not as sharp as was Allen’s. Still, it’s a fun trip through the woods to the dwarves’ rib shack.

There’s not a lot more for me to say about the late Levon Helm. Today’s sorting brought up Helm’s take on the Carter Stanley tune “White Dove,” from Helm’s 2009 album, Electric Dirt. The album went to No. 36 on the Billboard 200 and was awarded a Grammy as the Best Americana Album in 2010.

From 2009 we drop back sixty-eight years to what is certainly the most sentimental song in this set of six. But then, wartime can do that, and “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” is one of the quintessential songs of World War II. Written in 1941 by Walter Kent and Nat Burton, the tune reflects the unease of Britons facing Nazi Germany alone and expresses hope for a return to normal life after the war. Though other versions might have become better known on this side of the Atlantic, especially the version by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the version by Vera Lynn – the original, I believe – is the one that the Brits loved, despite the sad fact that bluebirds are not indigenous to the British Isles and have never flown over the tall white cliffs. Lyricist Burton, notes Wikipedia, was an American who seemingly didn’t know any better, but no matter: Since 1941, “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” anyway.

Chad Mitchell was, as his name reminds us, the founder of the Chad Mitchell Trio, a folk group that placed eight albums in the Billboard 200 between 1962 and 1965 (the last two charting after Mitchell left and the group was renamed just the Mitchell Trio (and included among its members at that time John Denver). Mitchell at that point embarked on a solo career, and one of the artifacts of that rather unsuccessful effort is the 1969 album Chad. The album, writes Richie Unterberger at All Music Guide, was “an odd match of Mitchell’s crooning folk vocals with covers of then-recent folk-rock-ish songs by Joni Mitchell (‘Both Sides Now’), Dino Valente (‘Let’s Get Together’), and far more obscure titles like Tim Buckley’s ‘Goodbye & Hello,’ H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The White Ship,’ Jim & Jean’s ‘What’s That Got to Do with Me,’ and the Association’s ‘Bus Song’.” It’s the Lovecraft tune that draws us in this morning. The album-opener, “The White Ship” is, in its weird and unmarketable (but oddly compelling) way, 1969 summed up in three minutes and thirty-eight seconds.

From 1969’s folk-rock self-indulgence, we head to 1957 and a concise country anthem, “A White Sport Coat & A Pink Carnation” by Marty Robbins. The tale of the young fellow all spiffed up for the dance only to have his gal waltz off with someone else was No. 1 on the Billboard country charts for five weeks in mid-1957. It was one of a remarkable eighty-three records Robbins placed in the country Top 40; the record also went to No. 2 on the Hot 100, where Robbins had thirty-six records in or near the chart over the years.

‘Little Blue Eyes . . .’

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

For one reason and another, I’m not going to get to the full post of “White” today. Here’s another placeholder/preview: “White Lies, Blue Eyes” by the Brooklyn group Bullet. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1971 and went to No. 28 in early 1972.

Tomorrow’s another day, and we’ll see what happens.

‘Bright White . . .’

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

This morning’s task here at the EITW studios was to sort the 73,000 or so mp3s on the shelves, looking for titles with the word “white” in them. That’s in preparation, of course, for the ninth and final chapter of the adventure we call Floyd’s Prism, which has thus far covered the seven colors of the spectrum and black.

Our sorting got complicated right away. First of all, there are many tracks in the collection by both the Average White Band and Tony Joe White. And then, not only does the RealPlayer sorting function take into account title, artist name and album title (or record label, if the mp3 was better known as a single), but it also sorts for the various notes appended to the mp3s by their creators.

And when I turn my records into mp3s, I have the habit – most of the time – of appending a note that says “Ripped from vinyl by whiteray.” So there are many, many mp3s that show up in the search that have no connection to “white” in their titles, their artists or their album titles or record label names. I don’t recall ripping a live version of Gregg Allman performing “Dreams” during a 1974 concert in Boston, but I’m glad I did. I remember ripping in its entirety the 1982 album Chipmunk Rock, and I sort of regret that (but only sort of; it is a little bit of a hoot to hear Alvin, Simon and Theodore take on Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and other tunes of that vintage).

Anyway, I’m sorting things out, looking for titles with “white” in them. I’ll have plenty to choose from, so I thought that as I sort and research, I’d offer a preview of sorts today. Here’s the title track to Shawn Phillips’ 1973 album, Bright White.

I’ll be back Saturday with a single, and we’ll dig into “White” next week.

‘Black’

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

As we continue Floyd’s Prism and look for six good tracks with the word “black” in their titles, we have lots of material to work with, as a search through the more than 72,000 mp3s on the digital shelves brings up a total of 665 results. There is, however, the normal winnowing that takes place.

Whole albums (except the occasional title track) must go, including three albums titled Black & White, one each from Tony Joe White (1969), the Pointer Sisters (1981) and the BoDeans (1991). We also lose, among others, Black Cadillac by Rosanne Cash (2006), Black Cat Oil by Delta Moon (2012), Black Eyed Man by the Cowboy Junkies (1992), Black Moses by Isaac Hayes (1971), Long Black Train by Josh Turner (2003), Long Black Veil by the Chieftans (1995), Young, Gifted & Black by Aretha Franklin (1972), and the soundtracks to the films Black Swan, Black Snake Moan and The Black Dahlia.

Three singles on the Black & White label are cast aside, two by T-Bone Walker and one by Ivie Anderson & Her All Stars. Single tracks from two albums titled Black & Blue go by the wayside; the albums came from Lou Rawls in 1963 and the Rolling Stones in 1976. I have two tracks that Long Cleve Reed & Little Harvey Hull recorded in the 1920s for the Black Patti label; those are set aside. One track each from Ruby Andrews’ 1972 album Black Ruby and XTC’s 1980 effort Black Sea miss the cut, too. One of my favorite Danish tracks, “Mød Mig I Mørket” (which translates to “Meet Me In The Dark”) came from Malurt’s 1982 release Black-out, so that goes away, too. And we lose the great “My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” recorded in 1922 by Trixie Smith & The Jazz Masters on the Black Swan label.

Groups and performers must be winnowed as well. We lose, among others, the Black Crowes, Black Heat, the Black Keys, Black Uhuru, Blackburn & Snow, the Blackbyrds, Margaret Johnson & The Black & Blue Trio (who recorded “When a ’Gator Holler, Folks Say It’s A Sign Of Rain” in 1926), Otis Blackwell and Willie “61” Blackwell, eight of whose 1941 sides for Bluebird showed up in the box set When The Levee Breaks: Mississippi Blues (Rare Cuts 1926-1941).

But we have plenty of records left.

We start with a guide to a cool wardrobe in the summer of 1957, when “Black Slacks” from Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones went to No. 17:

Black slacks. I’m the cat’s pajamas.
I always run around with crazy little mamas.

Well, all the girls look when I go by.
It’s what I wear that makes ’em sigh.

Black slacks: I wear a red bow tie.
Black slacks: They say “Me, oh my.”

Later in 1957, the quartet from Spartanburg, South Carolina, followed “Black Slacks” with another single of fashion advice, “Penny Loafers and Bobby Sox,” but that one only went to No. 42, and – reading between the lines in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – ABC-Paramount dropped the group. Bennett & The Sparkletones got one more shot, on the Paris label, but “Boys Do Cry” bubbled under at No. 125 in September 1959.

I took a stab at the history of the song “Long Black Veil” in 2009 (in a Saturday post that has yet to show up at our archival site), but I have sixteen versions of the song on the digital shelves, so it was almost inevitable that one of them would show up today. I’ve settled on the album track the Kingston Trio released on The New Frontier in late 1962. The album went to No. 16, but as good as that sounds, it was only the second of the trio’s twelve charting albums between 1958 and 1962 to miss the Top Ten. The trio’s time was passing, notes Bruce Eder of All Music Guide: “The Kingston Trio’s 14th album for Capitol Records appeared at a time when folk music was changing around them in ways that no one could have predicted just a couple of years earlier. Bob Dylan had not yet charted a record, but he was at Columbia Records and he was writing serious, topical, angry songs that would soon start getting attention; and a rival folk group called Peter, Paul & Mary was starting to make headway with the public doing songs that had a political and philosophical edge.”

Nor could I ignore “Baby’s In Black” by the Beatles. The track came to my sister and me as part of Beatles ’65, an album cobbled together by Capitol by taking some U.K. non-album singles and B-sides, one track from A Hard Day’s Night and several tracks from the British release Beatles For Sale. While my CD collection and the mp3’s digital tags reflect the track’s origins as an album track on Beatles For Sale, my memory will always have it as part of Beatles ’65, especially since I know there is a 1964 picture somewhere in our family archive – as yet still unfound – of me wearing my Beatle wig and plugging my ears with our copy of Beatles ’65 propped in my lap. Beyond that, “Baby’s In Black” remains a good early Beatles track.

There’s not a lot of information out there – at least readily available information – about soul singer Billy Thompson. He had no hits in the Billboard Hot 100 or on the R&B chart. The bare bones are there at Discogs.com: He was born in Indianola, Mississippi, and he “went to the New England Conservatory of Music at Boston, where he majored in musical composition, and arranging.” That’s it. That, and the 1965 single “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye/Black Eyed Girl” on the Wand label, which is the only thing I can find listed at Soulful Kinda Music, which is pretty comprehensive. I’ve never heard “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” but if that Wand single is the only record Thompson made then “Black Eyed Girl” is a hell of a resume by itself.

As regular readers have no doubt realized over the years, I love pretty much anything ever recorded by Big Maybelle Smith. From her work on King Records in the 1940s through her time at Savoy in the 1950s and at Rojac in the 1960s, I find something to like in almost anything she did. And among my favorites are the quirkily selected covers found on Got A Brand New Bag from 1967. Among them is “Black Is Black,” which Los Bravos took to No. 4 in 1966. That was a great single, but Big Maybelle’s take on “Black Is Black” is, to my ears, just as good.

And we’ll close today with one of the most evocative songs of 1990: “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles. According to Myles’ YouTube channel, the record was originally released in Canada in 1989 and then hit the U.S. in 1990. Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles says “Black Velvet” entered the Hot 100 during the first week of January that year; in March, the record was No. 1 for two weeks and topped the Album Rocks Track chart for two weeks as well. In addition, Myles’ performance earned her the 1990 Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocalist.

‘Violet’

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

As promised yesterday, we’ll continue today with the next installment of Floyd’s Prism, and when we search in the mp3 stacks for tunes with “violet” in their titles, we get a minimal result: only thirty-six titles.

And most of them have to be discarded, as is generally the case. First off the pile are a couple of singer-songwriter albums: Madison Violet’s Americana-tinged 2009 album, No Fool For Trying, and Sarah Alden’s 2012 effort, Fists Of Violets, which is more difficult to characterize.

Then, we lose some individuals tracks whose titles come close: “Violetta” from the 1962 album A Taste of Honey by exotica master Martin Denny; “Goodbye To the War; Goodbye To the Violets” from the 1973 album Weltschmerzen by the People’s Victory Orchestra & Chorus; “Violets for Your Furs” from Frank Sinatra’s 1954 album, Songs for Young Lovers; U2’s “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” from the 1992 album, Achtung Baby; and versions of Eric Andersen’s “Violets of Dawn” from the Robbs (1967), Rick Nelson (1969), Mary Chapin Carpenter (2009) and Andersen himself (1966, as noted here yesterday).

That leaves us with six tracks, which was our target. So on we go.

The British-based folk rock band Eclection recorded only one album during its two-year (1967-69) existence, but the self-titled album, released in 1968, is pretty good and not as Brit-centered as one might expect. In the liner notes for the 2001 reissue of the album, Richie Unterberger wrote, “The combination of male-female harmonies, optimistic lyrics with shades of romantic psychedelia, folk-rock melodies, acoustic-electric six- and twelve-string guitar combinations, and stratospheric orchestration couldn’t help but bring to mind similar Californian folk-pop-rock of the mid-to-late 1960s.” The track “Violet Dew” doesn’t quite cover all of those bases, but it covers a lot of them. Perhaps the most noticeable thing as I listen this morning is the remarkable voice of singer Kerrilee Male, who left the band later in 1968 to go home to Australia and seemingly, from anything I can find online this morning, never recorded again.

Shawn  Phillips’ work from the early 1970s has shown up frequently in this space (though perhaps not for a while), but his later work not so much. That’s unfortunate, as Phillips’ later work is worth hearing. The difference, I suppose, is that his work from the latter portion of the 1970s does not carry the same time-and-place weight for me as does his earlier stuff; I didn’t hear much of the later work at the time it came out. Still, nearly every time something pops up from his late 1970s albums, I’m glad it did so. Today, it’s “Lady in Violet” from his 1978 album Transcendence, about which I said in 2007: “It’s a pretty good album, of a piece with the rest of his work, although the lyrics don’t seem to stand up as well . . . . Musically, it’s enjoyable with a breath-taking moment or two.” Whether any of those moments show up in “Lady in Violet” is your call, I guess. I think they do.

Without doubt, the finest offering among the six surviving “Violet” tracks is “Violet Eyes” by Levon Helm. Found on his 1980 album, American Son, the track offers harmonies and an overall feeling that echo the best albums of The Band. According to All Music Guide, the track was recorded in Nashville: “While recording a few songs for the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, in which he played Loretta Lynn’s father, Levon Helm and friends just kept the tape rolling.” And as I listen this morning, I wonder why no solo tracks from Helm showed up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox. So, in what I imagine could be – perhaps should be – the last instance of Jukebox Regrets, I’ll acknowledge that “Violet Eyes” and “Even A Fool Would Let Go” (from Helm’s 1982 self-titled album) should have been part of the Ultimate Jukebox.

Maybe it doesn’t happen so much anymore (or maybe I just don’t see it), but a few years ago the simple mention of Coldplay at a forum or bulletin board – during a time when that band was perhaps the most popular band in the world – would spark arguments, dismissive comments and utter vitriol aimed at Chris Martin and his mates. I never understood that. I don’t count Coldplay among my favorites, but I don’t find the group’s music unlistenable. And I do like very much several tracks from the group, including “Violet Hill” from the 2008 album Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends.

To label something as “glossy Americana” might be a contradiction, but that’s what I hear when I listen to the 2011 CD Barton Hollow by the duo called the Civil Wars. The album by Joy Williams and John Paul White offers mostly rootsy ballads that seem to have been worked over until they shine, which is not an awful idea, but some part of me wants a few unsanded and unvarnished bits in my folk music. Still, I find Barton Hollow enjoyable, and that holds true for the instrumental “The Violet Hour” this morning.

I’m not sure how I got hold of Jeremy Messersmith’s 2010 album, The Reluctant Graveyard. There are a number of public relations firms that email me regularly, offering CDs or downloads, so I’m assuming that’s how I heard of Messersmith, who is based in Minneapolis. And having done some digging and some closer listening this morning, I have to add Messersmith – who’s gained a lot of critical acclaim in the past few years – to that long list of musicians to whom I should pay greater attention. As to this morning’s task, “Violet!” is one of the better tracks on The Reluctant Graveyard. Here’s the (rather quirky) official video:

‘Indigo’

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Back in August, when I shared “Orange,” the second portion of the series of posts we’re calling Floyd’s Prism, I noted my relief that there were enough songs in my files with “orange” in their titles for me to do a standard six-song post.

And I said in a parenthetical note: “I have my concerns about ‘indigo,’ but we’ll deal with that when we get there.”

Well, we are there. I was right to have concerns. And we’ll deal with them.

A search for “indigo” in the files brings up 209 mp3s, the vast majority of which are tunes by the Indigo Girls. There are a couple of singles from a 1960s folk-rock group called the Indigos. We find Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” scavenged from an album called Ellington’s Indigos.

Then there is “Mood Indigo.” Oddly, I don’t have Ellington’s original version. I have covers of the song by Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra and John Barry (from the soundtrack to the 1984 film The Cotton Club).

And I have a great, N’Awlins-infused version of the Big Band classic from Duke Elegant, Dr. John’s 1999 album celebrating Ellington’s birth a century earlier. That’s all the indigo I got, but it’s pretty damned good.

We’ll do a rare Wednesday post tomorrow, digging around in the Billboard Hot 100 from October 30, 1971.

‘Blue’

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

In some ways, “Blue” should be the easiest segment of the trip we’re calling Floyd’s Prism, a tour through the seven colors of the spectrum (with the addition of “Black” and “White”). A search by the RealPlayer brings up 9,764 mp3s that have the word “blue” somewhere in their song or album titles, in their performers’ names or in the genre tags than have been appended to them.

So we have, as often happens with these projects, plenty of material to choose from. Perhaps too much, because we have blues, lots of blues, both in song and album titles and in genre tags. And as much as I love the blues, they’re not what I’m looking for (unless, that is, I find a tune called something like “Ice Blue Blues” among those nine-thousand-some mp3s).

So, what do we winnow? Well, among the more interesting blues titles that we won’t be using are “Protoplasm Blues,” a 1973 offering by Don Agrati (better known as actor Don O’Grady as one of the titular sons in the 1960s television comedy My Three Sons); “Chimes Blues,” a 1923 track by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band featuring Louis Armstrong on cornet; “Yer Blues” by the Beatles, “Summertime Blues” by both the Who and Blue Cheer; “If the Blues Was Whiskey,” a 1935 effort by Bumble Bee Slim; seventeen versions of “Statesboro Blues,” ranging from Blind Willie McTell’s 1928 original to Dion’s 2006 cover; and twenty versions of “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” from Robert Johnson’s 1936 original to Carolyn Wonderland’s 2011 cover (titled, as are most of the covers, as simply “Dust My Broom”).

Many artists that got pulled in by the search must be discarded, including Blue Magic, Blue Merle, Blue Asia, Blue Boys, Blue Cheer (again), Blue Haze, Blue Mink, Blue Money Band, Blue Notes, Blue Öyster Cult, Blue Ridge Highballers, Blue Rodeo, Blue Rose, Blue Sky Boys, Blue Stingray, Blues Delight, Blues Image, Blues Magoos, Blues Project, Blues Traveler, Bob B Soxx and The Blue Jeans, David Blue, and the Moody Blues.

And, then, most or all tracks of many albums go by the wayside, inclding Backwater Blues, a 1961 release from Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee; the 1964 release from Koerner, Ray & Glover, [Lots More] Blues, Rags and Hollers; Leo Kottke’s 1969 album, 12-String Blues; Julie London’s 1957 torch song collection, About the Blues; the 2003 album from Chris Thomas King & Blind Mississippi Morris, Along The Blues Highway; Jimmy McGriff’s 1967 offering, A Bag Full of Blues; Ringo Starr’s 1970 album, Beaucoups of Blues; the 1986 soundtrack by Gabriel Yared to the film Betty Blue; Joni Mitchell’s 1970 masterpiece, Blue; LeAnn Rimes’ similarly titled 1996 album; saxophonist Ike Quebec’s 1961 album, Blue & Sentimental; Chris Rea’s massive 2005 box set, Blue Guitars (mentioned here the other day); Eric Andersen’s 1972 album, Blue River; a 1999 tribute to Led Zeppelin titled Whole Lotta Blues; and on and on, including more than 200 tracks released between 1933 and 1942 on the Bluebird label.

But that leaves us, still, with plenty of “Blue” material.

The first choice was easy. I wanted a version of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue.” I’ve got five versions by the man himself: three from the studio in 1974 and two live versions, but I decided against any of those. I also passed on the Indigo Girls’ cover from their 1995 live album, 1200 Curfews, in favor of a version from 1976 by the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils. The Devils were, says Wikipedia, a blues-funk band; All Music Guide just calls their stuff pop rock. In any case, the Devils released six albums between 1971 and 1978; their last, All Kidding Aside, bubbled under the Billboard album chart for one week at No. 208. Their cover of “Tangled Up In Blue” comes from their 1976 album, Safe In Their Homes, and it’s pretty good.

One of my favorite quirky albums is The McGarrigle Hour, a wide-ranging 1998 collection of tunes recorded by sisters Kate and Anna McGarrigle, along with other members of their equally wide-ranging collection of musical family and friends, including Loudon Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and more. Among the songs included is the 1919 tune “Alice Blue Gown” by Joseph McCarthy and Harry Tierney. Alice Blue, says Wikipedia, was a pale tint of azure that was the favorite color of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. Her gown of that color, says Wikipedia, sparked a fashion sensation in the U.S. that inspired, among other things, the writing of the song “Alice Blue Gown” for a 1919 Broadway musical titled Irene. The song’s vocals on The McGarrigle Hour come from Anna McGarrigle’s daughter, Lily Lanken, with background vocals by Anna McGarrigle and Rufus Wainwright.

The great song “Blue Moon” could not be ignored today. But which version of the Richard Rogers & Lorenz Hart tune? As I dug, I learned that the song we know today was actually the fourth version of the tune that Rodgers & Hart, contacted at the time to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, put together; Rodger’s melody was the same throughout, but Hart ended up crafting four different lyrics for the tune. The first two were not used. The third was included in the 1934 movie Manhattan Melodrama, but after the film’s release, says Wikipedia, “Jack Robbins – the head of the studio’s publishing company – decided that the tune was suited to commercial release but needed more romantic lyrics and a punchier title. Hart was initially reluctant to write yet another lyric but he was persuaded.” The result was the song we know today: “Blue moon, you saw me standing alone . . .”  There are eight versions of the song on the digital shelves, beginning with Mel Tormé’s 1949 take and including the Marcels’ No. 1 doo-wop version from 1961. But I went with Julie London, who put her restrained version of “Blue Moon” on her 1958 album, Julie Is Her Name, Vol. 2.

It might have been in a garage sale or maybe in the budget rack at a Half Price Books, but one Saturday during the brief time the Texas Gal and I lived in the Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth, I came across Walking Into Clarksdale, the 1998 album by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Sadly, once I got home and dropped the disc into the player, I wasn’t impressed. As Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide writes, “It’s certainly possible to hear where the duo was intending to go, since the circular melodies, Mideastern drones, sawing strings, drum loops, and sledgehammer riffs all add up to an effective update and progression of the classic Zeppelin sound. The problem is, the new sound doesn’t go anywhere.” I tossed the disc onto the shelf and made a note to come back to it another day. I think that day will be soon, as I ran across “Blue Train” this morning, and it sounds a lot better than I remember anything from Walking Into Clarksdale sounding eleven years ago.

Nanci Griffith’s 2006 album, Ruby’s Torch, was a collection of songs offered as –unsurprisingly, given the album’s title – torch songs. Only one of the songs in the collection, though, could really be said to fall into that subgenre of music on its own. (That would be “In The Wee, Small Hours of the Morning,” the title track to a 1955 concept album by Frank Sinatra.) But using orchestration, appropriate and creative arrangements and her own unique voice, Griffith maneuvered the other ten songs on the album into the genre quite well. “Bluer Than Blue” is the track we’re interested in this morning, a re-working of the tune that was a No. 12 hit for Michael Johnson in 1978.

Every time I hear a commercial use as background music a snippet of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” I murmur to myself that I need to get a CD a Gershwin’s works. As the temporal range of my musical interests continues to expand – my most recent CD purchases have been collections of 1930s and 1940s western swing and of new recordings of songs popular during the mid- and late 1800s – I find more and more gaps in my collection. I do have some Gershwin on the vinyl shelves and a little bit on the digital shelves. One of the treasures in the latter location is a 1994 release of “Rhapsody in Blue” by harmonica player Larry Adler and arranger/producer George Martin. The track showed up on the album Glory of Gershwin, and based on the reviews I’ve read, the other tracks on the album are a bit disappointing. But Adler’s work here is well worth a listen.

‘Green’

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

So today, in the fourth installment of Floyd’s Prism, we come to “Green,” the “G.” in the famous mnemonic for recalling the colors of the spectrum: “Roy G. Biv.”

The RealPlayer provides a total of 576 mp3s to sort. The first tracks to be trimmed are the sixteen covers of 1960s folk from the fine 1999 collection Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village in the ’60s and the thirteen covers from a similar 2009 album, The Village: A Celebration Of The Music Of Greenwich Village.

We also lose many, if not all, tracks from other albums: The Stone Poneys’ Evergreen, Vol. 2, Dana Wells’ The Evergreen, Steel Mill’s Green Eyed God, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River, Dar Williams’ The Green World, Leo Kottke’s Greenhouse, the Pete Best Band’s Hayman’s Green (yes, that Pete Best; it’s a pretty decent album from 2008), the bluesy Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, the Jayhawks’ Tomorrow the Green Grass and a few others, including Sibylle Baier’s Colour Green, an album featured here not long ago that was made up mostly of home recordings from the early 1970s and released in 2006.

We set aside multiple albums by Al Green and country singer Pat Green, and single albums from songwriter Ellie Greenwich, the 1960s groups Green and Evergreen Blue Shoes, and a 2010 album by a European electropop duo called the Green Children.

We also lose tracks by performers Barbara Greene, Cal Green, Eli Green (with Mississippi Fred McDowell), Grant Green, the Greenwoods, Jackie Green, Johnny Green & The Greenmen, Judy Green, the little known R. Green (of R. Green & Turner, who recorded two blues sides for the J&M Fulbright label in Los Angeles in 1948), Rudy Greene, Rudy Green & His Orchestra, Lorne Green, the marvelously named Slim Green & The Cats From Fresno and, of course, Norman Greenbaum.

And a few songs fall by the wayside because of their titles: Jackie DeShannon’s “The Greener Side,” five mp3s titled “Evergreen” (some with numbers attached and none of them the 1976 Barbra Streisand record), Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Greenland Whale Fisheries,” Tony Rice’s “Greenlight on the Southern,” a couple versions of “Greensleeves,” three of “Greenback Dollar,” and six tracks with “Greenwood” in their titles, including the wonderful 1970 single “Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard.

But that leaves us many titles yet to work with. We’ll start with a country favorite of mine from 1993.

I didn’t know about the tune in 1993, of course, as I rarely listened to country music then. (A work friend of mine in those days suggested I give a Brooks & Dunn album a listen; I returned it to him regretfully, not yet ready for boot-scootin’.) But come the year 2000, with the Texas Gal on the scene, I began to catch up at least a little on what I’d been missing. And one evening, as we were passing time watching country music videos on CMT, there came Joe Diffie’s “John Deere Green.” The story of Billy Bob and Charlene and the tall green letters on the water tower amused me, and it touched memories of both summer weeks on my grandpa’s farm and of Gramps’ allegiance to John Deere farm equipment. I don’t follow country closely, but it’s on the radio and the CD player occasionally; it’s not nearly as foreign as it was, thanks mostly to the Texas Gal and at least in part to Diffie’s single (which went to No. 5 on the country chart and to No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100).

There are five versions of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Bitter Green” in the digital stacks: covers by Ronnie Hawkins, Tony Rice and fellow Canadian folk singer Valdy and studio and live versions by Lightfoot. I like them all but decided to go with Lightfoot’s version from his 1968 album, Back Here On Earth. At the time, Lightfoot was known mostly in the U.S. as a songwriter; his performing career was much stronger in Canada (and that imbalance remained until 1970 or so). “Bitter Green” and the story it tells are vintage Lightfoot: an easily embraced melody backed only by guitar and literate and clear lyrics. He’d go on to great critical and popular success in the 1970s and beyond, but many of his early recordings are still worth close listening. This is one of them.

Gods and Generals, a 2003 film based on a 1996 novel by Jeffrey Schaara, was focused, says Wikipedia, on “the life of Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson,” the God-fearing and militarily brilliant yet eccentric Confederate general.” I’ve not seen the film, and perhaps I should, but my interest in Gods and General this morning is the soundtrack, itself notable to me because Bob Dylan’s haunting “’Cross the Green Mountain” is its closing track. In her review of the soundtrack at All Music Guide, Heather Phares notes that Dylan’s contribution “sounds more contemporary than most of the rest of the album, but still has enough rustic warmth to complement it gracefully.” The video to which I’ve linked has a shorter version of the tune than does the soundtrack; the original version, which runs eight-plus minutes, is available on the soundtrack CD and on Dylan’s 2008 release, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8.

Although I try to dig up relatively rare and different tracks when I do sets like this – for Floyd’s Prism or the earlier March Of The Integers – there are times when familiar tracks simply demand to be included. Such is the case with “Green Onions” by Booker T. & The MG’s. The record – familiar and forever fresh – went to No. 3 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1962. In his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh wrote that “Green Onions” is “what happens when the best backup band in the universe decides it’s time to get noticed.”

In early 2007, a Houston, Texas, music producer named Kevin Ryan went into his home studio and, as Dan Brekke of Salon wrote that April, “engineered a sort of retro mash-up of two of his favorite artists, Bob Dylan and Dr. Seuss. . . . Ryan took the text from seven Seuss classics, including ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ and set them to original tunes that sounded like they were right off Dylan’s mid-’60s releases. He played all the instruments and sang all the songs in Dylan’s breathy, nasal twang. He registered a domain name, dylanhearsawho.com, and in February posted his seven tracks online, accompanied by suitably Photoshopped album artwork, under the title Dylan Hears A Who.” The Salon piece tells the tale of the copyright claims that followed from the folks who own the Dr. Seuss material, examines the copyright issues at hand and notes that the material is still widely available on the ’Net. That’s true, of course, at YouTube, where Ryan’s version of “Green Eggs & Ham” remains a delight.

When Joni Mitchell released Blue in 1971, the lyrics to “Little Green” must have seemed like typically elliptical Joni Mitchell lyrics, telling a story by circling around it with vague hints and references:

Born with the moon in Cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her
Little green, be a gypsy dancer

He went to California
Hearing that everything’s warmer there
So you write him a letter and say, “Her eyes are blue”
He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you
Little green, he’s a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed
Little green, have a happy ending

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

When one reads those lyrics now, in the light of Mitchell’s having given birth to a daughter in 1965 and giving her up for adoption – a tale that became public in 1993 – “Little Green” becomes a heart-breaking piece of work.

‘Yellow’

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Here we are with “Yellow,” the third installment of Floyd’s Prism. Sorting nearly 70,000 mp3s for the word “yellow,” we’re left with only 125 titles. And not all of them will work for us this morning.

Good chunks of several albums go by the wayside: Of the six Beatles’ tracks on the 1969 Apple release Yellow Submarine, we lose five, with only the title tune remaining. We lose almost all of The Unfortunate Rake, Vol.2: Yellow Mercury, a 2003 album by the Crooked Jades, a San Francisco band whose work could easily be labeled Americana. Almost all of Donovan’s 1966 album, Mellow Yellow, falls to the cutting room floor, as does all of Hot Tuna’s 1975 album, Yellow Fever, and most of the Neville Brothers’ 1989 effort, Yellow Moon. I don’t have much from Elton John’s Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road, but the only thing that survives there is the title track, which we’ll set aside anyway.

A few artists fail to make the finals, too, as we bypass records by the Yellow Balloon, the Yellow Brick Road, the Yellow Jackets, the Yellow Hair, Yellow Autumn (the entire 1977 album Children Of The Mist), and two tracks of Native American chants from the album Lewis & Clark: Sounds of Discovery performed by, among others, Courtney and Dana Yellowfat. But even with all of that, we have plenty of tracks left.

We’ll start with a Donovan song, “Mellow Yellow.” I’m not going to mess around with Donovan’s original version, though. Over the years, I’ve wearied of the Welsh performer’s catalog to the point that a Donovan tune on the RealPlayer almost always makes me click to the next track and a Donovan tune on the car radio generally makes me push the button for another station. Instead, we’ll start today’s exercise with Big Maybelle’s cover of “Mellow Yellow” from her 1967 album, Got A Brand New Bag. The Rojac label released several singles from the album – “96 Tears” went to No. 99 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 23 on the R&B chart – but “Mellow Yellow” wasn’t on any of them.

Jaime Brockett’s 1969 album, Remember The Wind And The Rain, brought the New England-based singer – and occasional songwriter – some play on late-night free-form radio with his thirteen-and-a-half minute epic, “Legend of the U.S.S. Titanic,” a track based at least a little bit on Leadbelly’s 1948 recording, “The Titanic.” But our interest here today is another track from the same album, the Michael Smith-penned “Talkin’ Green Beret New Super Yellow Hydraulic Banana Teeny Bopper Blues,” which includes jabs at Spiro Agnew, Dick Clark, lock-step patriotism, apple pie and, of course, the Green Berets.

Among my favorites from the 1990s is the sometimes bleak and always moody group October Project. I recall hearing “Bury My Lovely” from the group’s self-titled 1993 album on Minneapolis’ Cities 97 during the mid-1990s, and once I got a CD player in the latter portions of that decade, I began to listen to more of the group’s stuff. “Sunday Morning Yellow Sky” comes from the 1995 album Falling Farther In, and like most of the group’s work, it was written by Julie Flanders and Emil Adler. Add Mary Fahl’s unique voice, and you have a disquieting yet beautiful piece. Near the end, Fahl sings:

Sunday morning, yellow sky
The sun is floating diamond high
Hours passing, a baby cries
In the arms of someone you imagine

Close your eyes
This is your lullaby
Close your eyes
This is your lullaby

I don’t know what it means, but I love it.

“Don’t cross the double yellow line” sings the Music Machine in its 1967 single “Double Yellow Line.” I found the single in one of the Nuggets box sets that have proliferated in the CD era, based on the original Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era released in 1972. “Double Yellow Line” was released as a single but bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 111, having far less success than the group’s better-remembered single “Talk Talk,” which went to No. 15 in January 1967. Even having found the lyrics online this morning, I’m not entirely certain what “Double Yellow Line” is about, but it’s a nice bit of garage rock for a Thursday morning.

I mentioned the Neville Brothers’ album Yellow Moon above; the one track we do not have to ignore this morning is the very sweet title track. Written by Aaron Neville, “Yellow Moon” bops along the sidewalk and through the swamp, funky and sweet with a very snaky solo on what sounds like a soprano saxophone. The album was one of the first I bought after I got my first CD player in the previously mentioned late 1990s, and all of its tracks – but especially “Yellow Moon” – remind me of some good times on Pleasant Avenue during the latter years of that decade. As to the music, the album went to No. 66 on the Billboard 200, and according to Wikipedia, Lou Reed called it one of the best of 1989.

Yellow Sunshine was a funk/R&B group that was formed in Philadelphia in 1972 or 1973, says the website Discogs, and one listen to the group’s “Yellow Sunshine” bears that out. The 1973 single, released first on the Gamble label and later on TSOP, didn’t chart. Nor did the group’s self-titled album, and the group split up, with the group’s keyboard player heading to work for the legendary Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff and two other members joining the equally legendary group MFSB.

‘Orange’

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

When we sort the mp3s on the shelves looking for titles with the word “orange” – the second of nine stops on our tour of Floyd’s Prism – we don’t have a lot of irrelevancies to discard. The search brings up fifty-three mp3s, a good share of which will be useful.

We do have to discard the eleven tracks from the 1970 self-titled album of the group Orange Bicycle (a group whose “Jelly on the Bread” showed up on a recent Saturday), and we set aside as well the 1970 album by Paul Siebel titled Woodsmoke and Oranges. We also have to drop tracks from two similarly titled bands: “Your Golden Touch” by the Clockwork Orange, which I believe was a garage rock band from Paducah, Kentucky; and both sides of a single on the Liberty label, “After Tonight” and “Ready Steady,” by the Clockwork Oranges. The latter group was evidently from England, based on the note at the Lost Jukebox discography that calls the single an “Ember Records Production [f]rom London.”

We also lose a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album Orange Blossom Special, both sides of a 1966 single by the Palace Guard on the Orange Empire label, both sides of a 1969 single by the group Orange Colored Sky, and an odd piece of leftist theater titled “Operation Godylorange” by a Danish ensemble called Totalpetroleum.

But we do have enough to work with, which is a relief, as I was worried about “orange” when I began to look at Floyd’s Prism. (I have my concerns about “indigo,” but we’ll deal with that when we get there.) We’ll start with the oldest of our six recordings and more forward from there.

A couple CDs’ worth of Nat King Cole’s music came my way a few years ago, and on one of them, I found our first record for this morning: “Orange Colored Sky” by the King Cole Trio. Recorded in August 1950, the track comes from a time when Cole’s recordings were sometimes credited to the trio and sometimes to Cole as a solo artist. The record, which was recorded with Stan Kenton and his orchestra (according to the notes of the 1994 CD Nat King Cole: The Greatest Hits) did not show up in the R&B Top 40. Given that, I’m not sure why “Orange Colored Sky” shows up in that hits package. It’s not like there was a dearth of material to choose from; between 1942 and 1964, Cole had forty-six records reach the R&B Top 40, and starting in 1954 and going into 1964, he placed sixty-six records in or the Billboard Hot 100. (In 1991, both charts – as well as the Adult Contemporary chart – hosted “Unforgettable,” the creepy hit that paired the long-dead Cole’s 1961 vocals with those of his daughter Natalie.)

I noted above that today’s winnowing took away a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album, Orange Blossom Special. One track that survived, of course, is the title track. Recorded in December 1964 and released as a single, Cash’s take on “Orange Blossom Special” went to No. 3 on the country chart and to No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, long a country and bluegrass standard, was written in 1938 by fiddler Ervin T. Rouse and first recorded by Ervin and Gordon Rouse in 1939. Their version is no doubt widely available; I found it on East Virginia Blues, one of the eleven CDs in the remarkable series of roots music titled When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll. Cash recorded the tune at least one more time: The live album recorded in 1968 at California’s Folsom Prison includes a pretty good version of the song.

One of the stranger tracks I came upon this morning – not quite as strange as the Danish “Operation Godylorange” but still odd – was “Orange Air” from the 5th Dimension’s second album, the 1967 release The Magic Garden. Written by Jimmy Webb, the song notes in its chorus: “And then the night Jasmine came clinging to her hair and lingered there, and there was orange air.” At All Music Guide, Matthew Greenwald says the song is “another one of Jimmy Webb’s emotionally intense, slightly depressing lyrics that make up this brilliant concept album. The downcast message of being let down by the disintegration of a love affair is nicely juxtaposed by a buoyant arrangement and vocal performance.” I’m glad he got it, because I sure didn’t, but it’s still a nice track.

Staying in 1967 for another moment, we land on an outtake from the sessions that provided us with Music From Big Pink, the first album by The Band. “Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast)” first showed up as a track on The Basement Tapes, a 1975 release of some of the music The Band and Bob Dylan recorded in the months after Dylan’s July 1966 motorcycle accident and before the releases in 1967 of his John Wesley Harding and in 1968 of The Band’s Big Pink. The version of the Richard Manuel tune linked here is, I believe, the one included on the expanded edition of Music From Big Pink released in 2000 and labeled there as a demo.

And it’s off to San Francisco in 1971 and an album that reflected as it was being recorded the changing membership of the group It’s A Beautiful Day. The album Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime, notes Lindsay Planer of AMG, was recorded as “lineup number two was replaced by lineup number three – netting a separate band for the Choice Quality Stuff side and the Anytime side.” The sprightly instrumental “Oranges & Apples” shows up on the Anytime side of the LP, and it turns out to be an offering that sounds more like something from a middle-of-the road ensemble than a track from one of the great hippie bands of its time. David LaFlamme’s famous violin is hardly there at all, which is just weird. But then, the track is titled “Oranges & Apples,” which probably means something about comparisons.

And we close this edition of Floyd’s Prism with a stop in 1989 and a track from one of my favorite Van Morrison albums. “Orangefield” was tucked on the second side of Avalon Sunset, and I’m of two minds about it. It’s repetitious, both lyrically and musically, which should make the track a little tedious. But there’s something thrilling about it, too, with the string and percussion accents and the backing vocals of Katie Kissoon and Carol Kenyon pulling me in and drawing me briefly into another Morrison-inspired trance.