Archive for the ‘1967’ Category

‘Do I Still Figure . . .’

Friday, September 14th, 2018

So, following up on last Saturday’s post, we’ve been checking out various versions of the tune we know now as “Do I Still Figure In Your Life.” We start with the original by the Honeybus, titled at the time “(Do I Figure) In Your Life.” Written by Pete Dello of the Honeybus, the tune was released on Deram in 1967:

I notice a couple of things right off the top: The strings – both in the introduction and behind the vocals – remind me strongly of the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” and of some of the things that George Martin was doing with the Beatles. And the diction carries a hint of Bob Dylan. Still, the record sounds very much of its time and is a pleasant listen. And according to the author of a website about the band “(Do I Figure) In Your Life” deserved better than it got in 1967 Britain and “should have been a huge hit but inexplicably missed the charts despite heavy airplay and good reviews.”

(Given that the preceding assessment comes from a fan page, some skepticism is likely in order. But it is a pretty good record and would not have sounded out of place on a U.S. station in, say, October 1967.)

The first to cover the tune, as we learned last Saturday, was British pop singer Dave Berry, whose version, as I noted last week, “was released in 1968 on Decca in the U.K. and on a London promo in the U.S., according to Discogs.” Taking the slightly baroque approach of the Honeybus a little further, Berry started his take on “Do I Still Figure In Your Life” with a harpsichord solo and returned to the instrument in between verses. It’s a sweet version of the tune but – beyond the harpsichord – unremarkable.

Then, as noted last Saturday, came Joe Cocker, whose version was no doubt the first I ever heard of the song. (I was digging into memories in the past few days, and I think I heard Cocker’s version in a dorm room at St. Cloud State sometime during the autumn of 1971, a couple of years after the track came out on Cocker’s 1969 album, With A Little Help From My Friends.)

Picking around in the listing at Second Hand Songs, we’ll dig into the shambling version released by an artist who styled himself Creepy John Thomas. An Aussie, he also called himself Johnny Driver and played with the Edgar Broughton Band, according to Discogs. His take on Pete Dello’s song reverted to the original title, “(Do I Figure) In Your Life” and was included on his 1969 album, Creepy John Thomas:

Then came – as noted last Saturday – Kate Taylor, followed by the occasional revisiting of the song over the years, more frequently in the 1970s and sporadically since then. I ran across a few versions at YouTube that weren’t listed at Second Hand Songs, including a bland version from Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze, Mike & The Mechanics) and a sterile version from Norwegian singer Karoline Krüger.

And maybe it’s because it was the first version I ever heard, but I come to the conclusion – having listened to about twenty takes on the song in the last week – that no one does it like Joe Cocker:

Exploring The Date

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018

So, what do we know about August 22?

Well, the basics, first: It’s the 234th day of the year, with 131 remaining.

And just as it does with every other day of the year, Wikipedia offers a list of events that have occurred over the years on August 22. Here are a few:

The Battle of Bosworth Field in England in 1485, which marked, with the death of Richard III, the end of the House of York and of the Plantagenet dynasty and, with the claiming of the crown by Henry Tudor, the beginnings of the House of Tudor. Richard’s famous (if likely fictional) cry “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” comes from William Shakespeare’s account of the battle in his play Richard III. According to Wikipedia, British scholars have likely found – finally – the true site of the battle, located near the town of Market Bosworth in the county of Leicestershire. The newly researched site was found as a result of a 2005-2009 project and is actually not far from the previously assumed site of the battle. The battle most recently popped into the news in 2012, when historians discovered the grave of Richard III under a parking lot in the city of Leicester. His body was reburied in March 2015 in Leicester Cathedral.

Jacob Barsimson arrived in 1654 at New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony now known as New York City. He was the first known Jewish immigrant to American. He’d been sent there by leaders of the Jewish community in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to determine if Jewish immigration to North America was feasible. Following the fall of a Dutch colony in Brazil, twenty-three Dutch Jews arrived in New Amsterdam in September 1654 and established the first Jewish settlement in what would become the United States.

Automobiles made the news twice on August 22, 1902. The Cadillac Motor Company was formed out of the remains of the Henry Ford Company. (That company was Ford’s second short-lived firm; his third attempt, the Ford Motor Company, was formed in June 1903 and exists today.) And President Theodore Roosevelt became the first president of the United States to make a public appearance in an automobile. Sadly, Wikipedia does not identify which brand of auto Roosevelt rode in.

In 1941, German troops began the Siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Wikipedia says that the siege, which lasted nearly 900 days, “caused extreme famine in the Leningrad region through disruption of utilities, water, energy and food supplies. This resulted in the deaths of up to 1,500,000 soldiers and civilians and the evacuation of 1,400,000 more (mainly women and children), many of whom died during evacuation due to starvation and bombardment. Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery alone in Leningrad holds half a million civilian victims of the siege.” It was, says Wikipedia, the most lethal siege in history.

Let’s lighten it up a bit. On this date in 1989, Nolan Ryan struck out Rickey Henderson to become the first major league pitcher to record 5,000 strikeouts.

Sticking with baseball, on this date in 2007, the Texas Rangers set a one-game major league scoring record when they defeated the Baltimore Orioles 30 to 3.

And finally, let’s talk about music. Among tracks recorded on August 22 over the years, we find “Jumpin’ At The Woodside” by Count Basie & His Orchestra in 1938, “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” by the King Cole Trio in 1946, “The $64,000 Question” by Bobby Tuggle in 1955, and in 1967, Etta James laid down three tracks in Muscle Shoals, Alabama: “Steal Away,” “Don’t Lose Your Good Thing,” and “Just A Little Bit.”

All three tracks would be released on James’ 1968 album Tell Mama. Here’s “Just A Little Bit.”

Saturday Singles Nos. 596 & 597

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

Sometime in the late summer of 1969, my sister came home from a shift of waitressing in the Woolworth’s restaurant at the Crossroads mall on the west end of St. Cloud, and she brought me a gift: Blood, Sweat & Tears’ 1968 self-titled album on cassette.

I’d recently spent the money I’d earned working at the state trapshoot – a three-time experience I’ve written about numerous times here – for a Panasonic cassette tape recorder, but I had yet to get myself anything to listen to. Rick and I had spent some time and giggles recording things around our two households and the neighborhood, but that was it. And then my sister spotted Blood, Sweat & Tears on sale at the mall, possibly at J.C. Penney but more likely at Musicland.

I knew the group, sort of. I think I’d heard “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” the previous spring, when it went to No. 2, and I know I’d heard “Spinning Wheel” during the early summer, when it also went to No. 2, but that was about it. So with a fair amount of curiosity, and grateful to have something to listen to in my tape recorder that didn’t feature my own voice, I popped the cassette in and hit “Play.”

I liked what I heard (and still do; seven of the album’s ten tracks are on the iPod). And I listened to the album enough in those long-ago days that its sequence and solos and turns are still ingrained in my head. When “Smiling Phases,” the album’s real opener (I tend to discount the Erik Satie pieces as filigree) fades out on the iPod, I expect to hear “Sometimes In Winter.” And when that one fades out, I expect to hear this:

And so on through “Blues – Part II” (followed by a reprise of Erik Satie and the sound of footsteps and a slamming door – more filigree). I’ve liked the album enough over the years that it’s one of two that I’ve owned as cassette, LP and CD. (The Beatles’ Abbey Road is the other.)

Fast-forward to this morning: I was heading downtown for a stop at the bank and then a haircut. Little Milton’s Greatest Hits – a 1997 Chess/MCA release – was in the CD player. And along came this, originally released in 1967 as Checker single 1189:

I’ve listened to it several times since then: on the way home from the barbershop and then a couple times as I’ve written this post. I have to admit that – even though I frequently dig into covers and their origins, I’ve never spent any time wondering where Blood, Sweat & Tears found the song. And that’s okay. There are a lot of tunes and covers to write about. This morning, it’s enough to say that Little Milton’s original “More and More” and Blood, Sweat & Tears’ 1968 cover of the tune are today’s Saturday Singles.

Some Friday Songs

Friday, June 8th, 2018

When I sort the 72,000 tracks in the RealPlayer for “Friday,” the returns are not encouraging: I get twenty-two tracks. Two of them are set aside immediately: They’re performances of “Remedy” and “Willie McTell” by The Band during 1994 on the NBC show Friday Night Videos.

The other twenty tracks, however, provide an interesting mix, though I think we’ll pass by the theme from the television show Friday Night Lights by W.G. “Snuffy” Walden. So what we’ll do is sort the other nineteen tracks by their running time, set the cursor in the middle of the stack and find four tracks.

And we start with a churning, loping and somewhat dissonant boogie decorated by one of those odd lyrical excursions typical of Steely Dan: “Black Friday” from the 1975 album Katy Lied:

When Black Friday comes
I fly down to Muswellbrook
Gonna strike all the big red words
From my little black book

Gonna do just what I please
Gonna wear no socks and shoes
With nothing to do but feed
All the kangaroos

When Black Friday comes I’ll be on that hill
You know I will

I’m not an expert on Steely Dan, though I enjoy the group’s music almost any time I hear it and recognize the skill and talent on display. But the artistic visions of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen almost always leave me a little off-kilter, as if – to use an idea I think I’ve expressed at other times describing other artists – I’m suddenly living in a world of eighty-nine degree angles.

The first moments of the next track are oddly similar to “Black Friday,” but then the tune slides into the familiar jangly sound of “Friday On My Mind” by the Easybeats, a 1967 hit that peaked at No. 16 in the Billboard Hot 100. The tune has its own moments of dissonance as it tell the tale of a fellow enduring another week of work or school, looking for the weekend so he can get to the city and spend time with his gal: “She’s so pretty!”

So were the Easybeats a one-hit wonder? It depends on how you define the term. I’ve seen some chartheads define a one-hit wonder as a group that had only one record reach the Hot 100. I tend to think that’s a bit stringent, and use the qualifier of only one hit in the Top 40. Why discuss that here? Because the Easybeats had one other record in the Hot 100: a 1969 release titled “St. Louis” that spent one week at No. 100 and then dropped off the chart.

By my terms, then, the Easybeats – who hailed from Sydney, Australia – are definitely a one-hit wonder. Their hit is a record I’m not particularly fond of, but there it was at No. 16 during the spring of 1967.

Larry Jon Wilson, who died in 2010, was a Southern storyteller whose songs never seemed to hurry, even when they clipped right along. “Friday Night Fight At Al’s” fits into that style very well. I found it on an album titled Testifying: The Country Soul Revue, a 2004 sampler put out in the United Kingdom by the Casual Records label. (Among the other artists on the album were Tony Joe White, Bonnie Bramlett and Dan Penn.)

The track starts with Wilson’s laconic explanation that Al’s Beer Depot was a bar out near the bomb factory, a place where he went for a banquet one Friday when things went as they normally did at Al’s:

The Friday night fights at Al’s place: The situation was grim and I was forced to face
The extreme possibility of no one ever seein’ me alive again
When the night was over, chairs are busted, tables are flyin’
Get me out of here, Jesus, I’m afraid of dyin’
It’s the Friday night fights at Al’s place . . . We didn’t have no referee

Wilson’s body of work is a little thin: Four albums between 1975 and 1979, another in 2008, and a few other things here and there, two of which are included on Testifying. I like his stuff a lot.

Our fourth stop today brings us the Tulsa sound of the late J.J. Cale, a shuffling tune titled simply “Friday,” a track from a 1979 album titled, with equal simplicity, 5. I’ve loved Cale’s work since I came across his first album, Naturally, back in 1972, a year after it came out. There is a sameness to his work, yes, but it’s a comfortable sameness, if that makes any sense.

In any case, just lean back and listen to “Friday.”

Saturday Single No. 572

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

Having set myself a year-long project of looking back at 1968 earlier this week, I thought I’d end this first week of the year by looking at the top ten albums in the Billboard 200 from January 6, 1968, fifty years ago today:

Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. by the Monkees
Diana Ross & The Supremes Greatest Hits
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Dr. Zhivago soundtrack
The Sound Of Music soundtrack
Farewell To The First Golden Era by the Mamas & the Papas
Strange Days by the Doors
Love, Andy by Andy Williams

That’s kind of a mixed bag for me, and that’s borne out by checking for those albums in the vinyl database. I’ve owned six of them: The two Beatles albums, the Supremes’ hits album, the Doors’ album, the Mamas & the Papas’ album and the soundtrack to Dr. Zhivago. The database also shows a copy of the soundtrack to The Sound Of Music, but that one belongs to the Texas Gal and moved onto the shelves only after she brought it back from Texas in 2004.

I had one Andy Williams album on the vinyl shelves, Born Free, because I love the title track. Given my penchant for 1960s easy listening, I likely would have liked Love, Andy, but it never made its way home with me.

The more interesting absences are those of the Stones and Monkees albums. I’ve heard Their Satanic Majesties Request several times over the years, and once was enough. I found it silly and overbaked, so I never bothered to acquire it. As to the Monkees’ album, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it, and that’s because I’ve never paid much attention to the group. I had Headquarters and a greatest hits album on the vinyl shelves, and neither one of those survived the sell-off a year ago.

Moving forward to the CD racks, only four of those albums show up: The two Beatles albums and the two soundtracks, although I do have a more extensive collection of hits by the Supremes, with and without Diana Ross. The digital shelves have most of that stuff – again, The Sound Of Music is the Texas Gal’s deal – as well as the Doors’ album, the Monkees’ album and the albums by the Mamas & the Papas that were the sources of the hits on Golden Era. Still absent are the albums by the Rolling Stones and Andy Williams.

Trying to sort out which of those albums matters most by looking at what shows up on the iPod, as I’ve done here before, is uninformative. About half of Sgt. Pepper shows up, as does about half of Magical Mystery Tour. There are four tracks from Strange Days, seven hits by the Mamas & the Papas, twelve hits from the Supremes, and one hit – “Pleasant Valley Sunday” – from Aquarius et al. I find nothing from either of the soundtracks, although versions of “Somewhere, My Love” pop up from Ray Conniff and Roger Williams.

So which of the albums in that Billboard Top Ten matters most to me? Probably Sgt. Pepper, but there’s no point in posting anything from it here. So I turn to a track from the Doors that I first ran across in late 1971, when I bought their hits collection, 13, after hearing The Soft Parade every time I visited my friend Dave in his St. Cloud State dorm room. “Moonlight Drive” from Strange Days – released in September 1967 – became one of my favorites on that compilation, and it turns out that I’ve never mentioned the track even once here in nearly eleven years of blogging.

That’s why it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 569

Saturday, December 16th, 2017

Having stumbled via serendipity yesterday onto the story of “The Huckle-Buck,” I thought I would toss things to the universe again today and see what I have on the digital stacks recorded on December 16 over the years.

A caveat: As mentioned before, I have session data on perhaps ten percent of the tunes in the digital stacks, usually for those that come from box sets of vintage music. There are a few other CD or LP sets that include session dates, but not many. So what do we get for December 16?

Well, not much. We get Ruth Brown’s “Hello, Little Boy” from 1953, a live performance of “Fire” by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band from 1978, and a full day’s work in a New Jersey studio by saxophone player Ike Quebec from 1961: The entire Blue & Sentimental album plus a couple of bonus tracks.

(If I recall things correctly, I found the Quebec album in a pawnshop here on the East Side a couple of years ago. It seemed like an odd thing to find there, but anyway . . .)

And while there’s nothing wrong with any of that, it leaves me a little dissatisfied on this Saturday morning. So we’re heading to the Billboard Hot 100 from this date in 1967, and we’ll hope that a fifty-year old chart will bring us Saturday satisfaction. We’ll play Games With Numbers and turn 12-16-17 in Nos. 28, 29, 33 and 45, and see what we find.

At Nos. 28 and 29, we find a pair of well-known singles, “Different Drum” by the Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt and “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin, respectively. Both were on their way up the chart, with “Different Drum” later peaking at No. 13, and “Chain of Fools” getting to No. 2 (as well as spending four weeks atop the magazine’s R&B chart).

The record at No. 33 is another heavy hitter: “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. It, too, was headed up the chart to an eventual peak at No. 10 (and No. 2 on the R&B chart).

So we move on to No. 45, which turns out to be a pleasant but probably unnecessary take on Glen Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Harpers Bizarre. The record stalled at No. 45 in the Hot 100 but made its way up the magazine’s Easy Listening chart to No. 2, where it spent two weeks.

And sometimes, we take what chance gives us, so “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Harpers Bizarre is today’s Saturday Single.

Hucklebucking

Friday, December 15th, 2017

So, I thought, what do I have in the digital stacks that was recorded on December 15?

And the RealPlayer brought me a few tracks: Lena Horne’s “Stormy Weather” from 1941, the King Cole Trio’s version of “Sweet Lorraine” from 1943, Deanna Durbin’s “Always” from 1944, Dion’s “Ruby Baby” from 1962 and three copies of “The Huckle-Buck” by Paul Williams & His Hucklebuckers, recorded in 1948.

And I stopped right there, because the tag on one of those three copies said the track was recorded in New York, while the tag on another said Detroit. The third had no location listed. And between the three copies of the same track, I had four catalog numbers, all on the Savoy label. But before we go any further, let’s listen to “The Huckle-Buck” as Williams and his band recorded it in December of 1948:

The record was a major hit in 1949, topping the Billboard Best Seller chart for twelve weeks and the magazine’s Juke Box chart for fourteen weeks. You’ll note that the catalog number in the video is Savoy 683, and that’s the number that Joel Whitburn has listed in Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits, so we’ll go with that. But according to the data at The Online Discographical Project, Savoy did in fact issue the record with three other catalog numbers as well.

But where was it recorded? Where did I find Detroit and New York mentioned? Well, I found New York listed as the recording site on the two-LP set The Roots Of Rock ’N Roll, a 1977 release on the Savoy label. And Detroit was listed as the site in the very detailed notes supplied with The Big Horn, a four-CD set from England of 106 tracks featuring saxophone, released in 2003 by Proper Records.

And I’m uncertain. Part of me says that the New York location make sense, because Savoy should know where one of its biggest hits was recorded. And part of me tends to think that Detroit is correct, because the notes in the booklet accompanying The Big Horn are so very detailed and could contain information found during the intervening years. I’d like to know, but I’m not going to let the discrepancy get in the way of the music. Because there’s a lot of stuff about “The Huckle-Buck” that I found interesting.

First, Paul Williams pretty much stole the song. The website Second Hand Songs notes that the tune was first called “D’ Natural Blues.” It was written by Andy Gibson and it was first performed by Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra in September of 1948. The website then notes:

Paul Williams heard Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra perform “D’ Natural Blues” and decided to perform this song too. He called it “The Huckle-Buck.” The reactions turned out to be very positive and he decided to record it (December 15th, 1948). Lucky Millinder recorded it a few weeks later (beginning of January 1949) . . .

Here’s Millinder’s “D’ Natural Blues.”

Soon enough, lyricist (and occasional composer) Roy Alfred wrote some words for the tune, and Roy Milton & His Solid Senders recorded a vocal version in January 1949 that went to No. 5 on the R&B chart. And the covers kept on coming: Big Sis Andrews & Her Huckle-Busters, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton (No. 12, R&B), Homer & Jethro with June Carter (as the B-side of a 1949 record titled “The Wedding of Hillbilly Lily Marlene”), Benny Goodman, Pearl Bailey and on through the 1950s until we get to the 1960s and the only version of the tune that’s been a hit in the Billboard Hot 100: Chubby Checker’s cover went to No. 14 (and No. 15 on the R&B chart) in the autumn of 1960, just months after “The Twist” went to No. 1 for the first time:

The list of covers at Second Hand Songs – instrumentals and vocals alike – is pretty lengthy, and includes a lame 1961 vocal version by Annette Funicello, an instrumental version by a 1988 edition of Canned Heat*, and a wicked version by Otis Redding, recorded in September 1967 and released post-humously on The Dock of the Bay in 1968. And that’s where we’ll close today’s proceedings. Hucklebuck, ya’ll!

*That 1988 edition of the band has two original members, according to Wikipedia: Fito de la Parra and Larry Taylor. That’s pretty thin gruel from this side of the table. My sense is that once Al Wilson and Bob Hite were gone (1970 and 1981, respectively), so was Canned Heat.

‘Where’

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Today, we’re going to open our textbook and take on the third portion of a project we’re calling Journalism 101, looking for tracks that have the word “where” in their titles. And it has to be a stand-alone word; “nowhere,” “somewhere,” “anywhere” and all the other possible compound words won’t cut it.

The first run through the RealPlayer nets us 947 tracks. But we lose a number of entire albums (except, in some cases, the title tracks): Where It All Begins by the Allman Brothers Band, Come To Where I’m From by Joseph Arthur, Where Is Love by Bobby Caldwell, Eva Cassidy’s Somewhere, Judy Collins’ Who Knows Where The Time Goes, Somewhere My Love by Ray Conniff & The Singers, Bo Diddley’s Where It All Began, and that just gets us into the D’s with so much more of the alphabet to go until we run into Bobby Womack’s Home Is Where The Heart Is.

Lots of titles with those compound words are culled as well, including six versions of “Somewhere My Love.” (I also have ten versions of the tune under the title “Lara’s Theme.”) We also lose four versions of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” twelve versions of the Beatles’ “Here, There & Everywhere,” five versions of “Somewhere In The Night,” and more that I won’t list here.

But there are still plenty of titles to choose from, so let’s look at four:

There are a few records that bring back viscerally the last months of 1975 and the first of 1976, and Diana Ross’ “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” is one of them. Those months were my last as an undergrad; I was an intern in sports at a Twin Cities television station, with graduation quickly approaching (and no job prospects in sight). I was also in a relationship that seemed promising, but I was nevertheless very aware of the not so subtle hints being laid down by the lovely redhead who was interning in the station’s promotions department. So, to answer the record’s question, no, I had no idea where I was going to. But it wasn’t the lyrics that pulled me into the song; it was the twisting, yearning melody that caught me then and still does today (with current hearings all the more potent for the memories they stir). Whether for the melody or the words, the record caught many people as 1975 turned into 1976: It went to No. 1 on both the Billboard 100 and the magazine’s Easy Listening chart, and it reached No. 14 on the magazine’s R&B chart.

More than six years ago, I looked at Oscar Brown’s song “Brother Where Are You” and wrote:

The tune is familiar to me – and others of my vintage, I assume – because of its inclusion by Johnny Rivers in his 1968 masterpiece Realization. In those environs, the song became less a plaint about racial injustice and more a call for economic and political justice. (It was, of course, not uncommon in the late 1960s and early 1970s for young, socially aware white men to call each other “brother” with no irony and little self-consciousness.)

That post (you can read it here) gave a listen to the first version recorded of the song – Abbey Lincoln’s take from her 1959 album Abbey is Blue – and to a few other versions as well, including Rivers’ cover. Sorting through the eleven versions of the tune here on the digital shelves, I’ve decided to offer the one I found most recently: Marlena Shaw’s typically eccentric version, released in 1967 on the Cadet label. From what I can find, it made no chart noise at all.

Thinking, as we were, of records that define seasons, as soon as the list of “where” tunes got to “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, I was back in the summer of 1972, working half-time as a custodian at St. Cloud State, taking long bicycle rides on Saturday evening, driving idly around town in my 1961 Falcon with Rick as a passenger, and wondering when I was going to meet someone. I doubt if I heard the record as a cautionary tale, advising me that love was hard and not always permanent, but if that thought had ever crossed my mind, I likely would have thought in response, “But even lost love is better than no love.” (I learned years ago that such a thought is better left to songwriters and poets than to anyone in real life.) The record was everywhere that summer, going to No. 5 on the Hot 100 and topping both the R&B and Easy Listening charts.

And lastly we’ll turn to Cat Stevens’ brilliant 1970 album, Tea For The Tillerman. “But tell me,” Stevens sings in the first track, “where do the children play?” It’s a rhetorical question, of course, but it’s one that I think runs with resignation through the entire album, through “Sad Lisa,” “On The Road To Findout,” “Father & Son” and all the rest. At least that’s what I hear these days. Back in 1971, when I heard “Wild World” on the radio and caught up with the rest of the album over the next few years, the lost loves, the fragile women, the quests for place and knowledge all seemed so utterly romantic. Perhaps the resignation I hear is only the echo of being sixty-four, with eighteen so far in the past as to be unknowable. In any event, “Where Do The Children Play” is still lovely and forever haunting.

Looking Back Fifty

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Here’s what the Top Ten in the Billboard 200 looked like fifty years ago this week:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Headquarters by the Monkees
Surrealistic Pillow by the Jefferson Airplane
Flowers by the Rolling Stones
The Doors
Sounds Like by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You by Aretha Franklin
Born Free by Andy Williams
Revenge by Bill Cosby
Dr. Zhivago original soundtrack

The only one of those that might have been in our basement rec room when it opened for business a few months later – if I recall things correctly, Dad was still working on the paneling and the suspended ceiling as the summer of 1967 began to tip towards autumn – would have been the Jefferson Airplane record.

I don’t know if my sister already had the record when the stereo was moved to the basement during the 1967-68 school year or if she got the record after our basement rec room was up and hosting. I do know that I listened to the record many times between early 1968 and the summer of 1972, when my sister took her records with her to her new home in the Twin Cities.

I also know that only one other record in that Top Ten list ever made its way into the Kilian Boulevard rec room. That was Sgt. Pepper, which I bought sometime during July 1970. Most of the others came along later; the albums by the Monkees, the Doors, the Stones, Aretha Franklin and Andy Williams eventually found places on my shelves, as did the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack. And based on a cursory look this morning, the only one of them that survived the Great Vinyl Selloff in the past year was the Beatles’ album.

Looking at the digital shelves, I have two tracks from Sounds Like, one track each from Flowers and the Andy Williams album, and nothing from the Cosby album. The other six are here complete.

As to what shows up from those albums on the iPod, which has about 3,800 tracks on it, well, I’ve included “Within You, Without You” and the ending suite from Sgt. Pepper, “The Crystal Ship” from The Doors, “Respect” and “Dr. Feelgood” from the Aretha album, “Comin’ Back To Me,” “Today,” and “How Do You Feel” from the Jefferson Airplane album (along with single versions of “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love”), “Casino Royale” from the Tijuana Brass album, and nothing from the other five albums in that long-ago Top Ten.

I’m not really sure if all that winnowing proves anything except that I like Surrealistic Pillow more than I do Sgt. Pepper (and as I’ve thought about it over the years, there are a fair number of other albums I also like more than I do Sgt. Pepper) and that I tend to land on singles from the other 1967 albums. So we’ll listen to a track from Surrealistic Pillow this morning. Here’s the pretty (and echo-laden) “Today.”

Saturday Single No. 546

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

Let’s go – and as I write that, my mind automatically fills in “to San Francisco,” channeling the Flower Pot Men’s British hit (No. 4) from 1967 – so what the hell, let’s go there.

It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, when thousands of real hippies and wannabees and lost children made their ways to San Francisco to hang around the Haight, get groovy, listen to music, and either find or lose themselves.

Okay, that’s kind of cynical. Maybe.

Was the hippie invasion and the Summer of Love a construct of the mass media whose reporters and columnists had no idea what was going on but had to package it somehow? Or was it an organic thing that the media discovered? Or was it something else?

It really doesn’t matter. If it was a construct, the construct became the real thing and the real thing got subsumed into the construct, and we can debate metahistory and microhistory and the McLuhanesque Ideal and the Friedling Fallacy all day (and all of the night) and come to no conclusions.

The Summer of Love, from where I sit in the cheap seats today (and from the Midwestern perch from where I saw the news reports fifty years ago), brought a few things that lasted: Some good music, a case study in Pied Piper media frenzy, and a reaffirmation of San Francisco’s lasting and perhaps pre-eminent place in American culture as a destination where one can alternately find or lose or sell or buy one’s self all with the purpose of being the best self one can be.

That lasting and possibly pre-eminent place in our culture is borne out (from my narrow perspective) by the number of songs from all eras that use San Francisco as either a place or a metaphor or both. Digging just into the digital shelves here (and looking only at titles), the summer of 1967 alone offered us the record by the Flower Pot Men (the single was by British session artists with the omnipresent Tony Burrows on lead vocal; there’s also an album, which I’ve heard but know little about) and the anthemic “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie, penned by John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas.

There are also on the 1967 shelves here a few of the no doubt numerous covers of the McKenzie record, a version of Jesse Fuller’s oft-covered “San Francisco Bay Blues” by Richie Havens, and one very odd track that made me stop for a moment.

I have too many tracks on the digital shelves that reference San Francisco in their titles to deal with all of them on a Saturday. So let’s call this the first in a series that I hope we can continue in the week to come. And we’ll start with a track from 1967 that’s utterly out of touch with what we think of when we ponder San Francisco during that year. In other words, it that has nothing to do with flower power (or with blues on the bay, for that matter).

Here’s that surprising nugget from the digital shelves, Nancy Wilson’s “I’m Always Drunk In San Francisco (And I Don’t Drink At All).” It’s from her 1967 album Welcome To My Love, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.