Archive for the ‘2013’ Category

Saturday Single No. 541

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Baby, Please Come Home . . .’

Friday, December 19th, 2014

One of my favorite Christmas traditions – and I have very few – comes to an end tonight on the Late Show with David Letterman: Darlene Love’s annual performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

Love has performed the song on Letterman’s shows on NBC and CBS since 1986, and with Letterman retiring in the spring, Love said that this year’s performance will be her last of the song on any talk show, according to a piece in this morning’s New York Times.

The Times reports: “People say, ‘He can’t demand that’,” Ms. Love explained, sweeping back her curly platinum hair. “I say, ‘He’s not demanding.’ I made a point myself, and I want to do it just for David.” (The Times piece is here.)

I imagine I’ve seen Love’s last twenty or so annual performances of the song she first recorded in 1963 for the Phil Spector album A Christmas Gift For You, most of them when the show was aired and some of them afterward. It seems to me that my first viewing of one of Love’s performances came in the late 1990s, when I was flipping among the six channels on my TV late one December evening. I came across Letterman – whose show I generally ignored – promising viewers that Darlene Love would perform after the commercial break.

When the break was over and Love took the stage, I was overjoyed. And I’ve been so every year since. (I should note that in 2007, when Love was unable to perform on the show because of a writers strike, a recording of her 2006 performance was aired instead. I loved it anyway.)

And tonight, I’ll watch the last time as Love, 73, and a large cluster of musicians recreate – as closely as a live performance can, I think – Spector’s Wall of Sound. And I imagine, me being me, I’ll be a little misty-eyed as the performance comes to close. That’s okay. I’ll make sure I have some tissues at hand.

Here’s Love’s performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” from last year:

‘The First Day Of School . . .’

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

All across Minnesota this morning, the new school year began and kids headed off to school. The Texas Gal and I saw a few of them making their ways down Wilson Avenue – likely to nearby Lincoln Elementary – as I drove her to work. It brought back memories, of course, of the young whiteray heading up Fifth Avenue, wondering who would be his teacher and who would be his classmates.

I especially recall the first day of fifth grade. Three years earlier, my sister had been in Roger Lydeen’s class for fifth grade, and her respect and affection for Mr. Lydeen had been obvious that year, when I was in second grade. And as I headed to school, I was hoping that I would be placed in Mr. Lydeen’s class.

To my disappointment, I was not. I found myself in Mr. Johnson’s classroom down the other hall. Crestfallen, I examined my classmates, and was a bit baffled. A year earlier, there had been about thirty fifth-graders and thirty fourth-graders at Lincoln, and in an early attempt at tending to gifted students, the ten or so brightest fifth graders and the ten or so brightest fourth-graders – including me – had been placed in a combined classroom. And as I looked around at the kids in Mr. Johnson’s class, I saw that none of the other kids I’d been with a year earlier were present.

Had I been culled out of the smart kids for some reason? Maybe I’d been demoted because I’d had chronic difficulty getting my homework done. Maybe a smarter kid had moved into the neighborhood. Maybe I’d gotten dumber without noticing. Something had obviously gone wrong for me, but I had no idea what. As Mr. Johnson arranged an attendance book and a few other things on his desk, and as my classmates chattered around me, I tried very hard not to cry.

And then there was a knock on the door, and the school secretary came in and handed a note to Mr. Johnson. He opened it and read it, then thanked her as she left the room. Then he turned to me and said, “You’re supposed to be in Mr. Lydeen’s class.”

I needed no urging. I grabbed my notebooks and headed out the door and down the hall, still baffled but utterly relieved to be going where I belonged.

Here’s Joe Grushecky’s “The First Day Of School,” inspired by both his student days and his time as a special education teacher. It’s from his 2013 album Somewhere East Of Eden.

‘The Time Has Passed Us By . . .’

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

In a career studded at least partly with lush, heartfelt and romantic songs, the Bee Gees might never have written and recorded a track as lush, heartfelt and romantic as the song that belongs to today: “First of May.” Released as a single from the trio’s 1969 album Odessa, “First of May” went to No. 37 that spring in the Billboard Hot 100. (It went to No. 18 in the Cash Box chart, and to No. 6 in the U.K.)

And if ever there were a day to check out covers, today is the day to look at a few covers of “First of May.” Several popped up shortly after the Bee Gees’ version came out. Among those listed at Second Hand Songs are 1969 versions by Fausto Pepetti and José Feliciano (on his Feliciano 10 to 23 album) and a 1971 cover by Cilla Black (on Images). And a 1970 cover brought “First of May” into the idiosyncratic and decidedly adult contemporary sights of the Mystic Moods Orchestra from its English Muffins album:

Another cover of the tune that caught my ear this morning came in 1979 from a Nigerian singer named Patti Boulaye, who included the song on her 1979 album, You Stepped Into My Life. The name was new to me, but Wikipedia says she was “among the leading black British entertainers in the 1970s and 1980s.” And that was the last cover listed at Second Hand Songs for eighteen years.

The listings at Second Hand Songs are likely not comprehensive (as I’ve said before), but I noticed in the website’s accounting of “First of May” a pattern I’ve seen there with other popular songs from the 1960s and 1970s: Frequent covers in the years immediately following a song’s first release followed by a slowing of interest in the song until, roughly, the years right around 2000. At that point, many songs have what can only be termed a renaissance, and I wonder if there is a correlation between the proliferation of covers and the growth in Internet marketing of music track-by-track. I suspect there is, and I imagine I could find evidence for that correlation if I wished to research the question, but I have other things in which to invest my time. (I also suspect there is a correlation less easy to research between the proliferation of covers of 1960s and 1970s songs with the quality of the songwriting during those times.)

In any event, the evident resurgence of interest in “First of May” included a pairing of Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees with G4 (described at Wikipedia as a “British opera boy band”) to record the song for the 2005 album, G4 and Friends. (There are several videos at YouTube of Gibb and G4 performing the song live in various venues.) And the most recent version of “First of May” listed at SHS comes from the Universal Daughters, whose 2013 cover – included on the album Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me – featured British singer Jarvis Cocker.

But the recent cover that I liked most came from English singer Mari Wilson, whose generally restrained version contrasts nicely with the over-performance that “First of May” often seems to invite. Wilson’s version is on her 2012 album, Cover Stories:

‘Lips That Once Were Mine . . .’

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

A couple of times in this space, I’ve mentioned English singer Joe Brown and his performance of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” at the 2002 memorial concert for George Harrison. I’ve dug around a bit, trying to find the 1997 album for which Brown originally recorded the 1920s tune – Fifty Six & Taller Than You Think – but with used copies going for more than thirty bucks at Amazon and one new copy there priced at $3,769, I think I’ll go without for a while. I did find a video at YouTube that features Brown doing a shorter version of the old song than he recorded for the 1997 album. (The video uses the artwork for the 1997 album but offers, I believe, the version of the song included on the 2008 album The Very Best of Joe Brown.) I included the video a few years ago in a post that looked at my favorite music from the decade 2001-2010, and here it is again:

I’ve come to love that old song, but despite that, I’ve never looked much into the history of the song itself, and that surprises me, as it’s something I generally do when I realize that a current recording is really an old song resurrected. So over the course of the next few days, I’m going to dig into “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” which Second Hand Songs tells me was written by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn and first recorded in 1925 by Jones with the Ray Miller Orchestra.

We’ll likely get to Isham Jones’ version, but that will be next week. For now, as I begin to dig, I’m going to start with a very new version of the song that I found on the recently released second volume of soundtrack tunes from the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. I watched the show regularly during its first season but then lost track of it and of the storyline. Even so, I take a look at it when I chance upon it during a late-night wander up the premium channels, and I remain impressed with the show’s ability to look and feel like the 1920s.

Some of that success no doubt comes from the music, which is generally new recordings of period songs done in the period style. And that recently released Vol. 2 of the soundtrack includes an abbreviated version of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” as performed by Matt Berninger, the frontman of the indie band, the National. I don’t know the National, and I suppose I should give its work a listen. But for the time being, Berninger does a decent job on “I’ll See You In My Dreams.”

Next week, we’ll head back to 1925 and Isham Jones’ original version of the tune, and we’ll move forward from there.

Date of first recording corrected November 20, 2013.

‘Only Say That You’ll Be Mine . . .’

Friday, November 1st, 2013

When one wanders through the vast field of American folk songs – the songs that arose here in the years before recorded music, that folks sang at home and passed on via oral traditions, and that provide at least part of the foundation of today’s popular music – one finds mayhem of all sorts. Take a listen to numerous entries, for example, in Harry Smith’s massive Anthology of American Folk Music, and you’ll find jealousy, robbery, rape, accidental death, murder and more.

At least two of those are present in “Down On The Banks Of The Ohio” as recorded in 1936 by the Blue Sky Boys. The song wasn’t included in Smith’s original three volumes in 1952 (reissued in 1997 in a six-CD box), but it showed up in a 2000 release of a fourth volume Smith never completed. In that song – released on the Bluebird and Montgomery Ward labels (and used in 1973 in the soundtrack to the movie Paper Moon) – the Blue Sky Boys sing:

Come my love, let’s take a walk,
Just a little ways away.
While we walk along, we’ll talk,
Talk about our wedding day.

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

I drew my knife across her throat,
And to my breast she gently pressed.
“Oh please, oh please, don’t murder me,
For I’m unprepared to die you see.”

I taken her by her lily white hand.
I let her down and I bade her stand.
There I plunged her in to drown,
And watched her as she floated down.

Returning home ’tween twelve and one.
Thinking of the deed I done.
I murdered a girl I love, you see,
Because she would not marry me.

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

Next day as I returning home
I met the sheriff standing in the door.
He said “Young man, come with me and go,
Down to the banks of the Ohio.”

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

The song, according to Wikipedia, comes from the 19th century, and many versions with different verses have arisen since. In the first recorded version of the tune, performed in 1927 by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers, the young lady confesses that she loves another, and that spurs the narrator to murder. In that 1927 version, however, the sheriff makes no appearance, leaving the murderer to grieve on the banks of the river.

Okay, so jealousy and murder were not uncommon in song (and still are not, perhaps especially in county music, the most direct descendant of the folk songs Smith collected), but it was still startling to see earlier this week in the Billboard Hot 100 from October 30, 1971, that Olivia Newton-John had a hit with a gender-flipped version of “Banks Of The Ohio.” The single went only to No. 94 here in the U.S. (No. 34 on the Adult Contemporary chart), but it was No. 1 for five weeks in Australia. Here’s a 1971 television appearance:

Newton-John’s version trims out the verses that provide motive for the murder, that tell of the drowning and that bring in the sheriff, yet it’s still a jarring song for 1971 when one listens to the story. Well, maybe not; 1971 was also the year that the Buoys hit No. 17 with “Timothy,” a barely disguised tale about a cave-in and cannibalism. But I wonder how many folks who sang along with the pretty chorus of Newton-John’s hit shook their heads when they realized that things were not as pleasant as they seemed along the banks of the Ohio.

Newton-John’s version of the song is the only one that’s hit the Billboard Hot 100 and AC Top 40. No version has ever reached the R&B or Country Top 40s. Finding it in the R&B listings would have surprised me, but a greater surprise was its absence from the country chart. In the years before and after Newton-John’s cover of the song, there have been plenty of other countryish covers, both as “Banks Of The Ohio” and “Down On The Banks Of The Ohio.” (Wikipedia notes a couple other titles, too: Henry Whittier recorded the song in the 1920s as “I’ll Never Be Yours,” and the song has sometimes been titled “On the Banks of the Old Pedee.”)

As I wandered through numerous covers of “Banks Of The Ohio” in the past few days (and I won’t note all of them; you can go to Second Hand Songs and find the list I used as a starting point if you’re so inclined), a few stood out. I liked the version by Howard & Gerald with the Starlite Mountain Boys that was released in 1970 on Mountain Doer (or Mo Do) Records of Marion, West Virginia. The same was true of the version the Kossoy Sisters included on their 1956 album, Bowling Green and Other Folk Songs from the Southern Mountains. And a current artist named Tom Roush recorded a very lush take on the song for his album My Grandfather’s Clock: More Music of 19th Century America, released just this year.

But the most fascinating version of the old song I’ve found in the past few days comes from a very familiar artist. The person who posted it on YouTube called it “the creepiest version” of the song, and I can’t disagree. Here, from his 1957 album, Come Sit By My Side, and studded with dissonance, is Glenn Yarbrough’s take on “Banks Of The Ohio.”