Archive for the ‘1967’ Category

‘Strange’

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

For two days now, the Texas Gal has been out of commission with a head cold, and my internal monitors tell me I’m soon to join her. I have a meeting early this afternoon for which I need to be cogent, but I can tell that the rest of the day – before and after the meeting – I’ll be lucky if I’ve got the sense to pour a bowl of cereal.

So I’m turning things over to my little tuneheads Odd and Pop, and they’ve flipped a coin and decided that Odd gets to choose today’s featured tune. Pop laid one condition on the selection: “As long as you’re going to choose something strange, make sure that ‘strange’ is in the title.” Odd nodded as he happily wandered off to play in the digital shelves.

And he came back with a single from San Francisco, recorded in 1966 and released in 1967: “Stranger In A Strange Land” by the duo of Blackburn & Snow. I did just a little digging. Richie Unterberger of All Music writes:

One of the most interesting folk-rock acts of the 1960s to totally miss out on meaningful national exposure, the male-female duo of Jeff Blackburn and Sherry Snow had a lot going for them. Their male-female harmonies were nearly on par with those of the early Jefferson Airplane, and they boasted a wealth of fine original material by Blackburn that deftly combined folk, rock, country, and light psychedelic influences into a melodic blend that was both commercial and creatively idiosyncratic. What they didn’t have was a regular release schedule. Indeed, there were only two poorly distributed singles on Verve, including the classic “Stranger in a Strange Land,” before they split up in the late ’60s.

Unterberger notes that the duo did record an album’s worth of unreleased material, and that material, along with the tracks from the two singles, was released on CD in 1999 with the title Something Good For Your Head. Somewhere along the way, I stumbled across that CD release, and then I came across a slightly different version of “Stranger In A Strange Land” in the box set Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970. It was the box set version of the tune that Odd came across this morning.

A little more digging told me that, notwithstanding Unterberger’s praise for Blackburn’s writing, “Stranger In A Strange Land” was not Blackburn’s work. The writer was Samuel F. Omar, which was evidently a pseudonym for David Crosby. And that makes things even more strange, which is just fine this morning.

Strange or not, even Pop was pleased. “This coulda made the charts,” he said as he listened. Here’s what he heard:

‘They Won’t Tell Your Secrets . . .’

Friday, January 15th, 2016

Things start with a familiarly slinky piano riff joined by a girl group singing softly in the background. Then, enter Mitch Ryder.

“Sally,” he says, “you know I’m your best friend, right? And four years ago, I told you not to go downtown, ’cause you’re gonna get hurt. Didn’t I tell you you were gonna cry? Mm-hmm. So you kept hangin’ around with him.”

Then, sounding utterly fed up, Ryder hollers, “Here it is, almost 1968, and you still ain’t straight!”

And Ryder rolls into his own version of “Sally, Go ’Round The Roses,” one that works in the chorus to “Mustang Sally” along the way:

Ryder’s cover of the Jaynetts’ 1963 hit is on his 1967 album What Now My Love, and it’s just one of numerous covers of “Sally” in the more than fifty years since the Jaynetts’ hit went to No. 2 in the Billboard Hot 100. Twenty-seven of those covers – including two in French – are listed at Second Hand Songs. There are certainly more covers of the song out there, but as usual, that’s a good starting place.

That list of twenty-five covers in English range in time from a 1965 version by Ike Turner’s Ikettes that doesn’t roam very far from the Jaynetts’ original to a 2012 version from the album Moving In Blue by Danny Kalb & Friends – Kalb was a member of Blues Project in the 1960s – that’s instrumentally exotic but vocally drab.

There have been plenty of others along the way. One that I’ve heard touted as worth hearing is a live performance from 1966 by the San Francisco group Great Society with Grace Slick. I found it uninteresting, as I did a 1974 version by the all-woman group Fanny (on the album Rock & Roll Survivors). Yvonne Elliman traded in the Jaynetts’ slinky piano for some weird late Seventies electronica when she covered the song on her 1978 album Night Flight, and that didn’t grab me too hard, either. More interesting was the funky 1971 version by Donna Gaines (later Donna Summer) released on a British single.

At a rough estimate, covers of “Sally” by female performers outnumber those by male singers by about a three-to-one ratio. Joining Ryder with one of the relatively few male covers of the tune was Tim Buckley, whose 1973 cover from his Sefronia album has an interesting folk vibe (though he wanders away from the lyrics and the melody for an odd bit in the middle).

Another folkish version of the tune comes from the British band Pentangle, who included the song on its 1969 album Basket of Light. The group’s version is one of my favorite covers, as is the version by the far more obscure group Queen Anne’s Lace, which put a cover of “Sally” on the group’s only album, a self-titled 1969 release.

But the honors for strangest version of “Sally, Go ’Round The Roses” that I came across go to singer Alannah Myles, who found an utterly weird – but compelling – Scottish vibe for the song on her 1995 album, A-Lan-Nah.

The Day

Friday, October 16th, 2015

In the east, a thin sliver of light – maybe bright, maybe muted through clouds – slides its way above the horizon. As it does, the music begins.

The tune is “Dawn” from a 1973 self-titled album by a group calling itself Glory. It was Glory’s first album, but that’s only a technicality: Since 1968, when two Cleveland groups more or less merged to form what All Music Guide calls an “acid rock combo,” the musicians in Glory had been calling themselves The Damnation Of Adam Blessing and had released three albums on the United Artists label. A dispute with the label brought about the name change.

The first album, a 1969 self-titled work, spent two weeks in the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 181. In 1970, a single titled “Back To The River” – from the album The Second Damnation – bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks, peaking at No. 102.

Glory, a good if unspectacular album, was the last word from the group; it and the first two Adam Blessing albums, as well as an anthology, are available on CD.

The music continues as the hands of the clocks turn just a little. It’s not quite raining as we listen to “In A Misty Morning” by the late Gene Clark from his 1973 album, Roadmaster.

At the time, the album was actually released only in the Netherlands, according to Wikipedia, which notes that Clark’s label, A&M, was displeased with the slow pace of his work and created the album by combining eight of Clark’s new tracks with three tracks from other sessions (two tracks from sessions with the Byrds in 1970-71 and one track from sessions with the Flying Burrito Brothers). Whatever the source, Roadmaster is a decent listen.

Clark’s catalog is not easily listed, given his solo work and his work with Doug Dillard, with the Byrds and finally with McGuinn, Clark & Hillman. I’ve seen his 1974 album No Other mentioned as the best of his career, and it’s the only solo album to reach the Billboard 200, peaking at 144 in 1974.

Most of his work, including Roadmaster, seems to be available on CD; I didn’t take the time to do an album by album check.

By late morning, the mist is gone, and as the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, it’s time for a break. Our refreshment is “Red Wine At Noon” by Joy Of Cooking, found on the group’s 1971 self-titled debut.

The Berkeley-based group has been mentioned and featured here frequently enough that I’m not sure there’s a lot left to say. I’ll just note that I wish that the group’s unreleased fourth album, 1973’s Same Old Song And Dance, would somehow find a release. And I’ll add that not long ago, I got hold of a two-CD collection titled “back to your heart” that offers seventeen unreleased studio tracks – some of them polished, some less so – as well as a 1972 concert in Berkeley. If you like what I call “living room music,” it’s sweet stuff.

All three of Joy Of Cooking’s original albums spent some time in the Billboard 200: Joy Of Cooking (1971) went to No. 100, Closer To The Ground (1971) peaked at No. 136, and Castles (1972) got to No. 174. The group’s only charting single in Billboard was “Brownsville,” which went to No. 66 in 1971. All the original albums are available on CD, as is “back to your heart” and a collection titled American Originals, which includes a few tracks from the unreleased Same Old Song And Dance.

The day moves on, and some times of day and some times of year merge nicely for time spent outdoors. That’s evidently what the Stone Poneys thought in 1967 when they released “Autumn Afternoon” on Evergreen Vol. 2.

The Stone Poneys were, of course, Linda Ronstadt, Bobby Kimmel and Kenny Edwards, with Ronstadt handling almost all of the lead vocals on Evergreen Vol. 2, the group’s second album. If the stories at Wikipedia are accurate (and I think they are, given the notes), the group’s label, Capitol, saw Ronstadt as the marketable talent and Kimmel and Edwards as expendable. And the guys were pushed firmly to the side.

Evergreen Vol. 2 went to No. 100 in Billboard upon its release in 1967. The first album, re-released with the title The Stone Poneys Featuring Linda Ronstadt, went to No. 172 in 1975.

The Stone Poneys’ first two albums are available on a two-fer CD; also available on CD is Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. III, a 1968 release that was, from what I read, more Ronstadt and very little Poneys.

After the sun goes down (and we could easily – and might someday – devote an entire slice of this kind of whimsy to “sundown” alone), and the shadows come from the streetlights and perhaps a full moon, it’s time to get a little slinky. Pat Benatar did it well on “Evening” from her 1991 exploration of jump blues and torch songs, True Love.

Benatar, of course, was a 1980s icon with eleven Top 40 hits from 1979 to 1984; six of her albums made the Top Fifteen during that time as well. True Love did not. It peaked at No. 37. Given my tastes, it’s not surprising that I like it better than the rest of Benatar’s catalog. Like all of her catalog, it’s easily available.

Just past 11:59 p.m., the clock turns over, a new day starts, and we hear “Midnight Wind” by John Stewart from his 1979 album Bombs Away Dream Babies. The album was fortified by Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks – both contributed backing vocals, and Buckingham added guitar and co-produced – and was the greatest success of Stewart’s long career, peaking at No. 10 on the Billboard 200.

None of Stewart’s six earlier charting albums had gone higher than No. 126; his 1980 follow-up, Dream Babies Go Hollywood, went to No. 85, and Stewart’s moment was gone.

But the moment was a great one, with a sound evocative of its time: “Midnight Wind” went to No. 28 in the Hot 100; its predecessor, “Gold,” had reached No. 5. A third single from Bombs Away Dream Babies, “Lost Her In The Sun,” went to No. 34.

The album is seemingly out of print; copies are available on CD but at higher prices than I’m willing to pay. The same seems to hold true for most of Stewart’s catalog.

‘Hurry, Tuesday Child . . .’

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Tuesdays around here are usually pretty quiet: Laundry’s a day in the past, the routine of the week is settling in, and after I throw a post into the blogosphere, I often have a lunch of herring filets – usually in a mustard sauce – with flatbread.

This week, however, Tuesday is Laundry Day. Why?

Well, it has to with the years that the Texas Gal spent working for Creative Memories, a home-sales firm that marketed scrapbooking supplies: Specially designed albums, specially designed pages, and all sorts of accessories and gadgets that could be used to put anyone’s memories into a scrapbook. It’s probably not too fine a point to say that Creative Memories invented the scrapbooking industry. And then, the company faltered and failed for a number of reasons, including the fact that other firms began making and selling similar goods in retail stores for much lower prices.

Anyway, during the years that the Texas Gal worked there, the company would often sell older and discontinued merchandise to its employees at ridiculously low prices: an album that retailed for around $40 would go for $1, and so on. So boxes of scrapbooking supplies gathered first in the closet of the apartment across the way and then in the basement here at the house. And in an effort to declutter a little bit, the Texas Gal – who tried scrapbooking as a hobby but decided to stick with quilting and gardening – decided a few weeks back that it was time to get rid of the sixteen boxes of albums, pages, stickers and whatnot that were gathered in one end of the basement.

So Sunday I started hauling boxes to the living room, and yesterday, instead of doing laundry, I finished that task and then straightened the place up a bit, as one of the Texas Gal’s co-workers was stopping by after work to relieve us of some of the scrapbooking supplies.

That’s why today, a Tuesday, is Laundry Day, and to add to the confusion, I’m waiting for the air conditioner guy to give me a call and come out and fix the AC, which quit working yesterday morning. It’s not supposed to be too warm today, and normally, I’d open the windows, but – according to news reports – the second wave of smoke from Canadian wildfires will blow into the area sometime late this morning or early afternoon. I was out to run an errand in the first wave of smoke yesterday, and it was not pleasant. So we’ll stay closed up here, doing laundry and waiting for the AC guy. I’ll still probably have herring filets and flatbread for lunch, though.

Anyway, here’s a Tuesday song: Bobbie Gentry’s “Hurry, Tuesday Child,” originally found on the 1967 album Ode to Billie Joe.

‘Voodoo’

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Casting about for an idea, as I often do, I took a look this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from July 3, 1965, fifty years ago today. And sitting at No. 31 was a title and an artist’s name that caused more than an instant of cognitive dissonance: “Voodoo Woman” by Bobby Goldsboro:

It doesn’t give me a sense of the jungles of Haiti or the bayous of Louisiana, but it’s not a truly awful record. The drums kind of work and the shrill harmonica gives the record an alien sound. As to the drums, I wondered if the famed Wrecking Crew provided the backing and the drums were Hal Blaine’s, but my copy of the book The Wrecking Crew is at Rick’s house (though the book might not have answered my question anyway), and I didn’t want to spend time googling this morning.

“Voodoo Woman” was Goldsboro’s seventh record in or near the Hot 100, and by the time early July rolled around in 1965, it was coming down from its peak at No. 27. I don’t think I’d ever heard it until this morning, which isn’t surprising, as I wasn’t a listener at the time. And finding it made me wonder how many tracks on the digital shelves also have “voodoo” in their titles (if not in their marrow).

A search for the word brings up 109 mp3s, but a number of the results have to be discarded: All of D’Angelo’s 2000 album Voodoo and all of the Rolling Stones’ 1994 album Voodoo Lounge have to be set aside, and all but the title tracks from Alex Taylor’s 1989 album Voodoo In Me and the 1959 exotica album Voodoo by Robert Drasnin have to be left behind as well. We also lose Rhythm Disease, a 2001 album by the Hillbilly Voodoo Dolls, and several tracks each by the Voodoo Dogs and the Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo.

That still leaves plenty of tracks, with perhaps the best-known being “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” from the 1968 album Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Beyond the version that ended up on the album, I’ve somehow managed to get hold of sixteen alternate versions of the Hendrix tune, which is likely overkill even for me, and it’s not what I have in mind this morning anyway.

Of the maybe forty tracks remaining, do any call to mind midnight in the jungles and along the bayous? Taylor’s “Voodoo In You” is decent, but it’s a cover of Johnny Jenkins’ version from the 1970 album, Ton-Ton Macoute! The backing tracks for Jenkins’ album began as tracks for a Duane Allman solo album before he formed the Allman Brothers Band and thus includes work from Allman, some of the future members of the ABB and a few other Muscle Shoals standouts, so Jenkins’ “Voodoo In You” is good. On the other side of the gender divide, I have covers of Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman” from Susan Tedeschi (2004) and Ana Popovic (2011) but oddly, not Taylor’s 1975 original (an omission that will be rectified soon). But none of those quite fill my empty space today, either.

Passing over those tracks seems to leave it up to the Neville Brothers, which feels right. Here’s “Voo Doo” from their 1989 album Yellow Moon. The album went to No. 66 on the Billboard 200.

Assisted Living Music

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

My mom’s been living in her assisted living center for nine years now, which means I’ve dropped by there somewhere around a thousand times. Beyond the fact that some of Mom’s fellow residents don’t seem all that much older than I am, one of the main things I notice about Ridgeview Place over in Sauk Rapids is the background music. (That figures, eh?)

There’s a CD player in a small sitting room adjacent to the foyer, and there’s another one upstairs in what’s called the Great Room, where the folks who live at Ridgeview Place gather for musical performances by community groups and presentations by visitors. (Travel tales with photos and videos are a big hit.) It’s also where the folks gather monthly for a Happy Hour – some wine, crackers and cheese – and where they play bingo twice a week. (Mom told me on the phone yesterday afternoon that she’d just won that day’s blackout game; she netted two dollars.)

When the Great Room isn’t hosting an event, though, music comes quietly from the CD player there, and the CD player in the sitting room seems to be playing tunes through the day.

So what is it the folks at Ridgeview Place are hearing? Well, you’d think it was 1942 or maybe 1948, which makes some sense. On my regular walks through the foyer, I hear a lot of Big Band stuff, recognizing on occasion some Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. I was waiting to talk to the director the other afternoon, and as I sat there, I heard a nice rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” I’m not sure whose version it was, except that it was neither the Bing Crosby version nor the Tommy Dorsey version (with a vocal by Frank Sinatra), both of which were big hits in 1944.

There are moments when the time focus slides a little bit further into the Twentieth Century: I’m pretty sure that the other day I heard Percy Faith’s 1953 hit “The Song From Moulin Rouge (Where Is Your Heart),” and there have been a few other moments when I’ve heard something that comes from the easy listening files of the late 1950s or even the early 1960s. And that makes some sense. If we assume that the idea is to present the music of the residents’ youth (when they were, say, fifteen to twenty-two) and the current residents range in age from, oh, seventy-five to ninety-three (my mother’s age), then the years from which the music would be drawn would range from 1936, when my mom was fifteen, to 1962, when a seventy-five year old resident would have been twenty-two.

That ending date – 1962 – might be a bit recent. During my trips through the lobby – and they’re brief though frequent – I’ve not yet heard much from the late 1950s or early 1960s. But I imagine hits from those years are coming: Probably not much Elvis or any Lloyd Price, but certainly the Browns, the McGuire Sisters, some Perez Prado, some Percy Faith and some Floyd Cramer.

The topic came up this morning as I drove the Texas Gal to work. A tune came on WXYG, and she said, “That’s probably what we’ll be hearing when we’re in assisted living.” I laughed and said, “Maybe.” And then I told her that I had not yet heard anything on the Ridgeview Place CD players from the era of the Beach Boys, Lesley Gore and Chubby Checker.

“Well, thank God for that,” she said. “Maybe they’ll skip that era.”

I doubt it. I expect that when folks eight to ten years older than I become the majority of the residents at places like Ridgeview Place, the music in the sitting rooms and activity rooms will include tunes from the Highwaymen, Ferrante & Teicher, the Kingston Trio, Bobby Vee, the Shirelles and other artifacts of the early 1960s.

The more interesting question to me is whether the music in places like Ridgeview Place will follow the shifts in popular music that took place in the 1960s. Will the music by those artists mentioned in the above paragraph be followed in five to ten years by tunes from Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Beatles, Janis Joplin, the Allman Brothers Band and Jimi Hendrix?

That, too, I doubt. I think any music from our era – and my sweet spot stretches from 1967 to 1975 or so – will draw from the softer side: Simon & Garfunkel, the 5th Dimension, Seals & Crofts, Neil Diamond, Carole King and so on. And some years down the road, as I sit as a resident in one of those foyers, even though it would amuse me, I doubt very much that I’ll hear Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “And When I Die.”

Nor, I would think, will I heard the tune that came on WXYG this morning, the one that got the Texas Gal and me talking: the Doors’ 1967 track, “Break On Through (To The Other Side).”

‘Living On Free Food Tickets . . .’

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

We mentioned briefly last week the minor hit the Winstons had in the fall of 1969 when “Love Of The Common People” went to No. 54 in the Billboard Hot 100 (and to No. 19 on the Easy Listening chart). By then, the song had been around for couple of years. In the autumn of 1967, versions by Wayne Newton (No. 106) and the Everly Brothers (No. 114) had bubbled under the Hot 100.

I’ve never been much of a Newton fan, so his version doesn’t move me much. Nor does the Everlys’ take on the tune grab me. So I dug a little deeper and found the original version of the tune, recorded in October 1966 and released in January 1967 by the Four Preps. That one was okay, and I liked the delivery of lead singer David Somerville (one-time lead singer for the Diamonds). But I kept digging anyway, and I found a countryish version from 1970 by John Hurley, one of the song’s two writers.

That was okay, too, but I’m still liking the Winstons’ version most, and I wonder if that’s because of my vague memories of hearing it in 1969. I’m not sure where that would have been; neither the Twin Cities surveys at Oldiesloon nor the collection of surveys at Airheads Radio Survey Archive show the record on a KDWB survey (and the same is true for the Twin Cities’ WDGY, which I could not get in St. Cloud). Neither of those collections is complete, of course, and it’s quite possible that the record showed up for just one or two weeks on KDWB and I heard it once or twice.

Anyway, beside the Winstons’ take on the song, what versions move me? There are plenty to choose from, based on the list at Second Hand Songs. I liked the 1967 cover from Waylon Jennings, but was even more impressed by the version that Jim Ed Brown released the same year. And there are plenty of covers listed at Second Hand Songs that I didn’t check out. Some of the familiar names there were Sandy Posey, Lynn Anderson, the Gosdin Brothers, John Denver, Wanda Jackson, B.J. Thomas, and Paul Young, whose 1984 take on the tune went to No. 45 on the Hot 100.

But I suppose I should close with the version of the song that reminded me the other week of the Winstons’ charting version. Here’s Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band from the 2007 release Live In Dublin:

‘Come On In My Kitchen . . .’

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Come on into the kitchen here at the studios. You need an invitation? Okay, here’s one by a British blues musician named Paul Williams, from his 1973 album In Memory Of Robert Johnson:

Looking at the record jacket shown in the video, a blues fan sees a couple of errors. Robert Johnson did not die in a hotel room but rather in a house in Greenwood, Mississippi (at 109 Young Street, if the late Honeyboy Edwards’ commentary in the 1991 documentary The Search For Robert Johnson is accurate). And Johnson was twenty-seven when he died, not twenty. But the mistakes on that jacket simply illustrate how little was known about the man forty years ago when his music had already inspired a generation of blues artists through whatever 78s had survived nearly forty years and through two LPs released by Columbia.

Anyway, you’re in the kitchen. Over there, on the right, is the stove. In a 1929 recording, Blind Willie McTell warns Bethenea Harris that “This Is Not The Stove To Brown Your Bread” (with Alfoncy Harris adding guitar in the background). But the oven’s been in use, according to Spencer Wiggins, who wants to know “Who’s Been Warming My Oven” in a track recorded for Goldwax sometime around 1967 but not released at the time:

And over there, on the left, is the refrigerator. Alice Cooper sang in 1970’s “Refrigerator Heaven” about being frozen until a cure for cancer was found, but that’s happening in some lab, not in my kitchen. So we’ll turn a little bit and head for the counter, and that’s where we find Dolly Parton’s “Old Black Kettle” waiting for soup or stew or whatever we’ll have for dinner this evening, as it has been since she sang about it in 1973. And next to it we find breakfast: The “Second Cup Of Coffee” that Gordon Lightfoot’s been sipping since 1972 and some “Shortnin’ Bread” courtesy of Mississippi John Hurt, probably from 1966.

And then we’re out the door for the day.

Like Nancy & Lee On Acid?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Once again, things that I might have known, things that I maybe should have known, and things that I wish I had known coalesce, just because I looked at the entries in the lower levels of a Billboard chart.

The chart in question was from February 24, 1968, forty-seven years ago today, when I was fourteen and liked hearing the No. 1 record of the day, the sublime “Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat. I also liked the No. 10 record, the Lettermen’s medley, Medley: “Goin’ Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” The rest of the Top Ten – the Classics Four, the Temptations, Otis Redding, the Lemon Pipers and the rest – were of little interest to me.

I was still very much an Easy Listening kid (or, in today’s parlance, an Adult Contemporary kid, a label I probably would have liked very much).

So even though I knew most of the stuff on the top of the chart – and learned to like a lot of it in the years to come – there are, as always, records on the bottom of the chart that I never heard back then (and that I generally never hear until I do one of these posts). Today, in that chart from 1968, it’s “Dr. Jon (The Medicine Man)” by Jon and Robin & The In Crowd, which was bubbling under at No. 125.

The title intrigued me, so I found a video of the record at YouTube, clicked the play button and found great weirdness:

While I listened, hearing a vague echo of something else, I glanced through the comments, and I saw that a visitor calling himself StudioZ7 had noted: “Sounds like Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood on acid.” And I nodded, because that pretty much nailed it. And there’s a similar sort of weirdness, this time with a garage rock foundation, in “Love Me Baby” on the B-side.

The record went to No. 87, a far cry from the first release from Jon & Robin & The In Crowd: “Do It Again A Little Bit Slower” went to No. 18 in June 1967. As familiar as “Do It Again” is, I must have heard it sometime, and it was likely the Jon & Robin version; a quick search for covers in the U.S. comes up blank (though I do find references to covers in Denmark and France without much effort). But I’d certainly forgotten about the record until this week.

It turns out that the duo’s Jon was John Abnor, Jr., and the Abnak label on which the duo recorded was owned by his father, John Abnor, Sr. The label was started, says Wikipedia, mainly as an outlet for the music of young Jon and his partner, Javonne “Robin” Braga. I wonder if that was truly the case, though, as the label’s largest success came from the Five Americans, whose “Western Union” went to No. 5 in April 1967, before Jon & Robin & The In Crowd had seen “Do It Again” enter the chart.

(In Top Pop Singles, Joel Whitburn notes that in 1970, Javonne Braga – “Robin” – married James Wright of the Five Americans. Maybe it was no big deal, but I can’t help wondering if Wright stole that girl away.)

“Do It Again . . .” and “Dr. Jon” were the only records that Jon & Robin – with or without the In Crowd – got into the Hot 100; three other singles, two credited just to Jon & Robin, bubbled under. All five singles are available at YouTube at the #JonAndRobin channel, and all five of them are on the 2006 CD Do it Again: The Best of Jon & Robin. (A sixth single, “Hangin’ From Your Lovin’ Tree,” is listed in Top Pop Singles but is credited to simply the In Crowd, and it’s not on the CD.)

‘Going Down The Stoney End . . .’

Friday, February 20th, 2015

The Texas Gal and I were killing time between television shows the other night. She played a game on her laptop while I read a copy of Rolling Stone as the Seventies channel on the TV provided the soundtrack. There was a flourish of drums followed by a ringing piano introduction, and Barbra Streisand sang:

I was born from love and my poor mother worked the mines
I was raised on the good book Jesus
Till I read between the lines
Now I don’t believe I wanna see the morning

And as I listened to Streisand deliver “Stoney End,” one of Laura Nyro’s (perhaps) less cryptic songs, I wondered who played piano on the track, as the piano intro and the later piano fills are two of the things that make me like the record more than I like a lot of Streisand’s work. So when the song ended, I went to the stacks to check out the Stoney End album jacket, but it turns out I don’t have the vinyl of the 1971 album. All I have is a digital copy scavenged from somewhere, and the album credits I find online list several keyboard players, so I don’t know who to thank for that chiming intro on “Stoney End.”

At that point, this post could have gone several different ways. I could assess Streisand’s work in detail, but I gave a brief assessment of my reaction to her work in a 2010 post about a drive-in movie date gone wrong, and nothing has changed my view that Streisand’s career went off the rails – artistically, at least – in 1977 with the ego-trip film A Star Is Born. (The Texas Gal dates the artistic derailment a bit later, with the 1983 release of Yentl. We both agree that early in her career – the 1960s – Streisand was a great interpreter of songs from Broadway and the Great American Songbook.)

And I didn’t really want to turn my interest in Streisand’s “Stoney End” into a post on the late Laura Nyro’s music. You’ve heard folks say about Bob Dylan, “A great songwriter, but man, I cannot stand to listen to him sing,” right? I feel a little bit like that about Laura Nyro: I love her songs, as inscrutable as they may sometimes be, but on too many of her recordings, she sounds shrill to me, so even though I have a little of her work around, I rarely listen to it. Happily enough for today’s exercise, Nyro’s take on “Stoney End” – found on the 1967 album More Than A New Discovery – is one of her better performances, and I quite like it.

So, with both of those versions of “Stoney End” echoing in my ears, I wondered about other versions of the song. And in the past few days, I’ve found nine other covers of the Nyro song, almost all of them jammed between the years 1967 – when Nyro released her version – and 1972, when Bert Kaempfert released, on his album 6 Plus 6, the only easy listening version of the tune I’ve found. (Maynard Ferguson also released an instrumental version of the tune, his coming on his self-titled 1971 album, but being a typically bold and brassy Maynard Ferguson track, one can’t classify it as easy listening.)

From what I find online, the first to cover “Stoney End” were the Blossoms, an R&B backing group with a massive list of credits but perhaps best known for having Darlene Love as one of its members and for being the actual performers on a couple of Phil Spector productions that were credited to the Crystals. The Blossoms recorded “Stoney End” in 1967 for the Ode label. Sharp-eared listeners will note that Love did not take the lead vocal; one of the comments at YouTube notes that in her autobiography (My Name Is Love), Love wrote, “Some of the chorus parts were too high for me, so Jean [Thomas] took the lead.”

Actress and singer Peggy Lipton – whose musical career I examined in a post last summer – recorded the tune in 1968, also for the Ode label, and one doesn’t need to have very sharp ears at all to realize that producer Lou Adler laid Lipton’s vocals over pretty much the same backing track as he’d put together for the Blossoms a year earlier. Lipton’s single release of “Stoney End” was the first one to tickle the Billboard charts, bubbling under the Hot 100 at No. 121. (Streisand’s 1970 single release is the only other version of the song to chart; it went to No. 6 on the Hot 100 and to No. 2 on what was then called the Easy Listening chart.)

A few more covers came along as the 1960s waned and the 1970s dawned: Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys recorded the song for their 1968 album Linda Ronstadt, The Stone Poneys & Friends, Vol. III, Diana Ross recorded the song during the sessions for her self-titled 1970 album, but the track didn’t see the light until 2002, when it showed up as a bonus track, and jazz singer Selena Jones laid down her take on the tune on her 1971 album, Platinum.

And a couple of singers in recent years have recorded the song for tribute albums: Beth Nielsen Chapman added her idiosyncratic take on “Stoney End” to the multi-artist album Time And Love – The Music Of Laura Nyro in 1997, and Broadway singer Judy Kuhn included “Stoney End” on her own tribute album, Serious Playground – The Songs of Laura Nyro, released in 2007.

Of the covers noted in those last two paragraphs, only one stands out to me: The 1968 version by Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys. (And many thanks to reader and pal Yah Shure for providing the mp3 to make the video below.)