Archive for the ‘1969’ Category

Saturday Single No. 654

Saturday, August 17th, 2019

So, Woodstock. Fifty years ago. What was I doing?

Well, on at least one of those days, I mowed the lawn. I’m guessing it was Friday or Saturday. I know that I’d seen on the news the evening before a story about the massive traffic jam caused by hippies invading a small town in upstate New York as they headed to a music festival.

I recall thinking about the story as I pushed our orange power mower back and forth across the lawn on the south side of the house. I also seem to recall having one of our transistor radios in my pocket, using an earphone to drown out the roar of the mower. (Actually, probably both of our transistor radios were in use, one in each front pocket, as one radio alone would not insulate me from the mower’s roar.)

And I recall vaguely thinking it would be nice to be in upstate New York among the invading hippies, but then, I would rather have been a lot of places that morning besides mowing the lawn.

Of course, the folks heading to the Woodstock festival weren’t all hippies. Some were, but most, I’d guess, were just college kids out for a weekend of music in the country. But we simplify things, and the news report I’d seen the night before, well, it blamed the traffic jam and resultant gridlock and confusion on the hippies (again, if I recall things correctly).

So what was I listening to that morning? Likely the Twin Cities’ KDWB, but since we took a look at a KDWB survey a little over a week ago, I see no point in going there. Instead, I stopped this morning at Airheads Radio Survey Archive and dug up a survey from fifty years ago from New York’s WABC. I figure that as the invaders in their cars and VW microbuses headed for Bethel, New York, most of them came through the New York City area. And most would have had the radio on, many of them tuned to WABC.

Here’s the top ten from WABC’s unnamed survey from August 16, 1969, fifty years ago yesterday:

“Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells
“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
“In The Year 2525” by Zager & Evans
“My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder
“Baby I Love You” by Andy Kim
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon
“What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” by Junior Walker & The All Stars
“My Pledge Of Love” by the Joe Jeffrey Group

That’s a decent forty minutes of listening. Many will complain that it’s ruined by the Zager & Evans single, but I’ve always liked it.

Normally, I’d dive to the bottom of the survey and look at the stuff there. But the information at ARSA about WABC’s Woodstock weekend survey is incomplete; the lower stuff isn’t all there. So we’re going to listen to WABC’s No. 1 record, “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” No doubt the invading hippies heard it plenty as they made their ways as close as they could to Bethel.

And in more than twelve years, it seems it’s never been featured here. So here’s Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

One Survey Dig

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019

I have a physical therapy appointment this morning – I’m working on getting the muscles in my back into better shape following my surgery – so I’m here only briefly. But I do have time to dip into a 1969 survey from the Twin Cities’ station KDWB to see what we can find.

We’ll play Games With Numbers and take today’s date – 8/7/19 – and turn it into 34, and see what we find at No. 34 of the station’s 6+30 survey released during the second week of August in 1969. As we normally do, we’ll take a look at the top few records in the survey before dropping to its lower levels.

The top five records at KDWB that week were:

“Pain” by the Mystics
“Baby I Love You” by Andy Kim
“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“It’s Getting Better” by Mama Cass
“My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder

Four-fifths of that group makes a great set of listening. “Pain,” of course, is one of my all-time favorite records, partly because of the recording itself, which I loved as a junior in high school, and partly because I went years without hearing it until I found a copy of it at a record show in the 1990s, and then went a few more years beyond that before finding my own copy of it in an antique shop in the small town of Royalton, Minnesota. (I’ve told the story of the record and of my find in posts gathered here and here.)

As to the other four of KDWB’s top five that week, I like three. The Mama Cass single, well, from a brief listen this morning, I know it and remember hearing it, but I am not all that fond of it. It’s worth noting that for whatever reason, it was favored much more in the Twin Cities than it was nationally, where it peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Baby I Love You” might be a better memory than a record, but Kim’s cover of the Ronettes’ 1963 hit – kind of a sub-Spector production from Jeff Barry (one of the writers of song with Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector) – was decent listening. Not as good as the Ronettes’ version when I finally got there, but it did sound good coming out of the speakers.

And there’s not much to say about “Honky Tonk Women” or “My Cherie Amour” except that they’re great records.

So what lies below? What do we find at KDWB’s No. 34 fifty years ago?

Well, we stumble for the third time in less than a month into Tom Jones, this time with “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.” The record was new to the survey; it would peak at No. 13 in early October. (Data from both Oldiesloon and the Airheads Radio Survey Archive.)

This was the record’s second release. It had gone out in 1967 and stalled at No. 49 on the Hot 100. The 1969 re-release did much better, going to No. 6 (and to No. 1 for one week on the Billboard Easy Listening chart).

It’s a decent record, and I’m a little surprised that it didn’t dent the Country Top 40. I don’t recall hearing it, but it’s a pleasant listen on a Wednesday morning fifty years later.

‘Truck Stop’

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

So, still hanging around in July 1969, here’s the top ten albums from the Billboard 200 from fifty years ago this week:

Blood, Sweat & Tears
Hair, original cast recording
Romeo & Juliet soundtrack
This Is Tom Jones
The Age Of Aquarius by the 5th Dimension
A Warm Shade Of Ivory by Henry Mancini
Tommy by the Who
Crosby, Stills & Nash
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan

It’s entirely possible I had a copy of the No. 1 album in the house at the time. I had recently acquired my cassette tape recorder, and soon after I did, my sister came home from her waitressing shift at the mall with a gift for me: a cassette of Blood, Sweat & Tears. It had been on sale somewhere at the mall, and knowing I had no music for my new machine, she stepped up.

It’s an interesting ten, and music from four of them – the BST, the 5th Dimension, the Dylan and the CS&N – still show up on the iPod regularly. Eight of those albums would find their ways into the LP stacks over the years, everything except the Iron Butterfly and Tom Jones albums.

Which did I enjoy the most? Probably either the BST or the CS&N. The least? Most likely Tommy, which I got for my birthday in 1988 and played no more than two or three times until I sold it not quite thirty years later. (In fact, I have only two tracks from the album on the wide-ranging digital shelves, the overture and – for some reason – “Hawker.” I suppose I should get “Pinball Wizard” in there, some day.)

But anyway, let’s drop further down that fifty-year-old chart and take a look at the albums at Nos. 40, 80, 120, 160 and 200.

Parked at No. 40, we find another Tom Jones album, Help Yourself, on its way down the chart after peaking at No. 5. It was his first Top Ten album; he’d have three more in the next year or so, but it contained only one hit single, the title track, which had gone to No. 35 in October 1968. Jones’ larger hit during the late summer of ’69 was a re-release of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” which had stalled at No. 49 in 1967 but entered the Hot 100 in this last week of July 1969 and went to No. 6.

We find another album on its way down the chart at No. 80: Cream’s Goodbye, which had peaked at No. 2. The last studio album for the bluesy and improvisational rock trio, Goodbye featured the perennial “I’m So Glad,” a live cover of the Mississippi Sheiks’ 1930 recording “Sitting On Top Of The World,” and “Badge,” a minor hit (No. 60 on the Hot 100) co-written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison (although Wikipedia notes that Harrison credits an inebriated Ringo Starr with the line about the swans living in the park).

Having never done this kind of digging into the Billboard 200 before, I’m not sure how obscure an album one might find at No. 120 or lower. For the moment, we’re not worried, as the No. 120 album fifty years ago this week was Crimson & Clover by Tommy James & The Shondells. Home to the group’s last two hits – “Sweet Cherry Wine” went to No. 7 and the album’s title track was No. 2 for two weeks – the album was heading out of the chart after peaking at No. 8. It was the only Top Ten album in the group’s history.

We chance on a favorite album of mine when we get to No. 160, where we find King Curtis’ Instant Groove. It showed up in my collection in 2008, when I bought the vinyl version online because it included Curtis’ version of “The Weight” and because Duane Allman was among its studio musicians. The LP was in decent shape, but a few years later, I added the CD version of the album to my stacks. Back in 1969, the album would go no higher than No. 160. Only two of the eight King Curtis albums that Joel Whitburn lists in Top Pop Albums did better: 1964’s Soul Serenade went to No. 103, and the 1971 album Live At Fillmore West went to No. 54.

And speaking of No. 200, the bottom record in the chart at the end of July 1969 was Truck Stop by Jerry Smith & His Pianos. The record by the Philadelphia-born pianist and songwriter – Whitburn calls him “a prolific session musician” – stalled at No. 200 for two weeks and then fell out of the chart. Two singles from the album showed up in Top Pop Singles: “Truck Stop” went to No. 71 and “Drivin’ Home” bubbled under at No. 125. Whitburn notes that Smith also recorded as Papa Joe’s Music Box; as Cornbread & Jerry, he wrote and sang on the Dixiebelles’ No. 9 hit in 1963, “(Down At) Papa Joe’s.” He also recorded as The Magic Organ, and Street Fair, his 1972 album under that name, went to No. 135 on the Billboard 200.

I was leaning toward posting “Badge” for our listening this morning, especially since I discovered that I’ve not mentioned the track even once during more than twelve years of blogging. But I’m fascinated by the weirdness of our final entry and by the multiple guises under which Jerry Smith recorded. And how often do I get a chance to post honky-tonk piano, anyway? So here’s “Truck Stop” by Jerry Smith & His Pianos, a No. 71 single from the No. 200 album fifty years ago this week.

‘Up To Abergavenny . . .’

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

We may as well hang around in 1969 for a while, so here’s the top ten from the Billboard Easy Listening chart fifty years ago this week:

“Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet” by Henry Mancini
“Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder
“Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver
“Quentin’s Theme” by the Charles Randolph Grean Sound
“Love Me Tonight” by Tom Jones
“Yesterday When I Was Young” by Roy Clark
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen
“With Pen In Hand” by Vicki Carr
“In The Ghetto” by Elvis Presley
“The Days Of Sand & Shovels” by Bobby Vinton

Lots of familiar stuff there. In fact, only two of the records listed there are unfamiliar by title: The Tom Jones and the Bobby Vinton. So, off to YouTube. I vaguely recall the Tom Jones record (noting that it sounds like a lot of his other stuff), and hearing the Vinton record, I recall writing about it about a year ago, when I called it “dreadful.” That judgment still holds.

(Seeing the Elvis record in that top ten, I’m reminded of a comment I saw on Facebook this week at a Sixties group I frequent, asserting that Elvis was done by 1965. I replied that the commenter needed to check out Presley’s Memphis recordings from 1969.)

There’s some decent listening in that top ten (with the exception of the Vinton record). Favorites there include the records by Mancini, Oliver, the Lettermen and Presley, and I like the Vicki Carr record, too.

What do we find of interest in the lower portions of the Easy Listening chart from fifty years ago?

At No. 12, we find Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 covering Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.”

At No. 14 sits Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525,” heading to a two-week stay at No. 1 (and a six-week stay at No. 1 on the Hot 100).

At No. 20, Booker T & The MG’s cover Simon & Garfunkel with their version of “Mrs. Robinson.”

And for all of my love of 1960s easy listening, there are more records – a lot of them – that don’t sound at all familiar: “Think Summer” by Ed & Marilyn at No. 25. “Forever” by Mercy at No. 28. “First Hymn From Grand Terrace” by Mark Lindsay at No 30. “The Girl I’ll Never Know” by Frankie Valli at No. 32. “Abergavenny” by Shannon at No. 36.

That last entry caught my eye, and I headed to Joel Whitburn’s Top Adult Songs and found something odd. “Abergavenny” is listed in the title index, but there is no listing for a performer named “Shannon” in the book. I ducked into Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles and found a cross-reference from “Shannon” to Marty Wilde, an English singer-songwriter whose birth named was Reginald Smith. He’s listed in Top Adult Songs, too (and both entries note that he’s the father of 1980s singer Kim Wilde).

Abergavenny, it turns out, it a Welsh town six miles from Wales’ border with England. The record is, well, a mixture of pop vocal (with slightly surreal lyrics) about a trip to Abergavenny with some oddly pounding percussion in the background and a brass band instrumental in the middle.

It peaked at No. 22 on the Easy Listening chart and went to No. 47 on the Hot 100.

Back In ’72, Part 2

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Having examined the other day what I was listening to on the radio as the summer of ’72 rolled on, I thought I’d take a look at the LP log and see what new tunes had found their way into the cardboard box in the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard.

New acquisitions in the past year had been:

Stephen Stills
Jesus Christ Superstar
Abbey Road by the Beatles
Something New by the Beatles
13 by the Doors
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Meet the Beatles
Naturally by Three Dog Night
The Concert For Bangla Desh
Rubber Soul by the Beatles
Greatest Hits, Vol. II, by Bob Dylan
Portrait of the Young Artist by Mark Turnbull
Joe Cocker!
‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!’ by the Rolling Stones
Early Beatles
Yellow Submarine by the Beatles
Clapton At His Best by Eric Clapton
The Beatles Second Album
A Special Path by Becky Severson

Obviously, I was still pulling together my complete collection of the Beatles original albums (which I would finish by the end of August 1972), and those albums got lots of play in the rec room, especially Abbey Road and Rubber Soul. Others that got frequent play were Stephen Stills, Aqualung, Joe Cocker!, Clapton At His Best, and the albums by Dylan, the Doors and the Rolling Stones. (Some records brought home earlier than the summer of 1971 were also in heavy rotation.)

As I noted the other day, Becky Severson’s album was one I likely played only once until I ripped it into mp3s in 2007. Similarly, the Mark Turnbull album most likely got played only once until I ripped one track about ten years ago. Becky’s album is still here; Turnbull’s is not.

So, which of those albums still speak to me?

Well, Abbey Road for certain; I pop it into the car CD player on occasion and most of it is in the iPod. The four early Beatle albums were the American mishmashes pulled from the British albums and stand-alone single releases, all of which I have on CD in differing configurations, so I don’t listen to the American releases as albums anymore. A good number of the tracks from those CDs are in the iPod, as is one from Yellow Submarine.

Stephen Stills remains one of my favorite albums of all time, likely Top Ten, certainly Top 20, and all ten of its tracks are on the iPod.

What else shows up on the iPod? (That’s as good a measure as any of what music matters to me in my day-to-day life.)

Two tracks from Jesus Christ Superstar. Ten of thirteen from the Doors album (and only two other Doors tracks are on the iPod, underlining my contention that the Doors were a great singles band that made mediocre albums). Five tracks from Joe Cocker! None from Aqualung. Seven tracks from The Concert For Bangla Desh. Pretty much everything from the Clapton and Dylan anthologies, which were two of the most influential album acquisitions of my life. Two from the live Stones album. And one from the Three Dog Night album.

That’s about what I would have guessed, though I’m a little surprised by the absence of anything from Aqualung.

Anyway, here’s a track from those 1972-era acquisitions that popped up on the iPod the other day. It’s been mentioned here a couple of times over the past twelve-plus years but never featured. And it’s pretty damned good. Here’s the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog,” recorded at Abbey Road in February 1968 and released on Yellow Submarine in 1969.

Saturday Single No. 643

Saturday, June 1st, 2019

I mentioned KDWB’s survey from June 2, 1969, in yesterday’s post, noting that it did not fit my needs for a May 31 survey. For today, it does just fine. Here, according to the Heavy Hit List, is what was popular at the beginning of the summer of ’69 on the Twin Cities station that provided the soundtrack for pretty much every kid I knew.

(As I’ve noted before, I was not yet a committed listener, but I nevertheless heard KDWB pretty much everywhere I went in those days, except for the rec room in our basement.)

Here’s the top ten from that Heavy Hit List:

“Get Back” by the Beatles
“Love (Can Make You Happy)” by Mercy
“Grazing In The Grass” by Friends Of Distinction
“These Eyes” by the Guess Who
“Happy Heart” by Andy Williams
“More Today Than Yesterday” by the Spiral Starecase
“Oh Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers
“Let Me” by Paul Revere & The Raiders
“The River Is Wide” by the Grass Roots
“Lodi/Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

“Let Me” was marked as new to the survey, and it’s a record I do not remember by title. The same is true of the Andy Williams record. The other nine records are very familiar and very much liked.

Of course, ten seconds into listening to both “Let Me” and “Happy Heart,” I know the records. I am, however, ambivalent about both of them. If I were to rank the eleven records above, they’d come in at the bottom of the pack. And their popularity on KDWB exceeded by a fair amount their success nationwide: “Let Me” peaked at No. 20 in the Billboard Hot 100, and “Happy Heart” went to No. 22.

So how would I rank the other nine? Well, I’m not going to sort through all of them, but I think the top three would be the records by the Friends Of Distinction, the Grass Roots and the Edwin Hawkins Singers, with “Get Back” sitting in fourth place.

And I clearly remember listening intently to “Grazing In The Grass” with Rick, with both of us working hard (and failing) to replicate the chatterbox vocals on the break:

I can dig it, he can dig it, she can dig it,
We can dig it, they can dig it, you can dig it
Oh, let’s dig it. Can you dig it, baby?

So for that reason – and for the fact that it’s a great record that went to No. 3 on the Hot 100 and to No. 5 on the Billboard R&B chart – “Grazing In The Grass” by the Friends Of Distinction is today’s Saturday Single.

Survey Digging: May 31, 1969

Friday, May 31st, 2019

It’s time for a visit to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive to check out what folks were listening to around the country fifty years ago, as May 1969 drew to a close. We’ll check out the No. 31 record at four stations and note the No. 1 and No. 2 records as well.

We’ll start in New York City with the Music Power Survey at WABC. Parked in the No. 31 slot in the survey was “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker & The Aces. The first portion of the second sentence of the Wikipedia entry on the record sums up my memory of the single: “Although few could understand all the lyrics . . .” I recall straining my ears to figure out what the song was about and not really succeeding for years. Wikipedia goes on to note, “the single was the first UK reggae number one and among the first to reach the US top ten (peaking at number 9). It combined the Rastafarian religion with rude boy concerns, to make what has been described as a ‘timeless masterpiece that knew no boundaries’.”

(The “rude boy” culture in Jamaica, another Wikipedia entry points out, correlates roughly with what’s called “gangsta” culture in the U.S.)

Sitting at No. 2 at WABC fifty years ago was “Love (Can Make You Happy)” by Mercy, while the No. 1 record was the Beatles’ “Get Back.”

We’ll head south along the East Coast and make a stop in Miami, where we’ll take a look at the Fabulous 56 Survey from WQAM. The No. 31 record there as May 1969 came to a close was “Goodbye” by Mary Hopkin. The song was written by Paul McCartney (though credited, as was the arrangement at the time, to John Lennon as well). McCartney also produced the recording, adding bass, an acoustic guitar solo and the somewhat odd acoustic guitar introduction. I recall liking the record, which makes sense as it’s kind of a sappy and sad love song, and anyone who’s read this blog more than once knows that’s one of my soft spots. The record peaked at No. 13 in the Billboard Hot 100 and went to No. 6 on the magazine’s easy listening chart.

The No. 2 record on the Fabulous 56 was the Guess Who’s “These Eyes” and the Beatles’ “Get Back” and its flip, “Don’t Let Me Down,” were listed as a double No. 1.

Our next stop is in Tucson, Arizona, home of KTKT and its mundanely named “Top Forty.” The No. 31 record in that part of the southwest on May 31, 1969, was “Pinball Wizard” by the Who. The centerpiece in the group’s rock opera Tommy, the record – full of slashing acoustic guitars and suspended chords (among my favorite sounds) – doesn’t sound nearly as loud or disruptive to me now as it did fifty years ago. I know I didn’t hear it a lot back then, but I sought it out about a year later when I came across the piano arrangement for the song and began to work on it at the keyboard. I got pretty good at it, but it never sounded as cool on the piano as it does on the Who’s guitars, so I let it go. The record went to 19 on the Hot 100.

Sitting at No. 2 on KTKT fifty years ago was, again, “Love (Can Make You Happy)” by Mercy, and the station’s No. 1 record was “Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet” by Henry Mancini.

I was going to end this trip in the Twin Cities, but WDGY’s survey only goes to No. 30, and KDWB didn’t release a 6+30 Survey until June 2. So we’ll finish our excursion with the Entertainment Survey from WLTH in Gary, Indiana. The No. 31 record there fifty years ago today was a favorite of mine: “Where’s The Playground Susie” by Glen Campbell. I wrote some years ago about discovering the song on a live Campbell recording given to me in a box of cassettes: “[W]hen I heard Campbell’s live performance of what was another [Jimmy] Webb gem, the sweep of its melody, the sadness and confusion in its words and the playground metaphor all made me sit up and take notice.” The record went to No. 26 on the Hot 100, to No. 10 on the easy listening chart and to No. 28 on the country chart.

The No. 2 record at WLTH fifty years ago was, as in New York and Tucson, “Love (Can Make You Happy)” by Mercy, and – as in Miami – the No. 1 spot was the double-sided “Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles.

(As it happens, I could not have pulled any information from a June 2, 1969, edition of KDWB’s 6+30. The station did not begin calling its survey the 6+30 until the end of June in 1969. Before then, the station’s survey was called the Heavy Hit List. It had other names earlier than that, I know. Perhaps someday I will sort them all out. Note added June 1, 2019.)

Saturday Single No. 640

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

Here are the top ten albums in the Billboard 200 released fifty years ago yesterday, May 10, 1969:

Hair by the original cast
Blood, Sweat & Tears
Galveston by Glenn Campbell
Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan
Donovan’s Greatest Hits
Cloud Nine by the Temptations
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
Bayou Country by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Help Yourself by Tom Jones
Led Zeppelin

Four of those ten, the LP database tells me, never showed up in the vinyl stacks: the records by the Temptations, Iron Butterfly, Tom Jones and Led Zeppelin. I had some other Zep and a Temptations anthology, and I once made the misguided decision to buy Iron Butterfly’s live album. (The live version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was even more aimless than was the studio version.) No albums by Tom Jones ever showed up in the vinyl stacks.

A few of those – the BST, the Campbell, the CCR – are great albums. Nashville Skyline is enjoyable, but somehow seems slight; if we’re listening to Dylan from 1970, I prefer New Morning. And the Donovan album is pleasant, but my judgment on his work has been the same since it first came out of the radio speakers in the mid- to late 1960s: It’s for the most part a series of trifles with little substance.

The most interesting of those ten might be Hair. I think the cast album was more a marker of a social moment than a record one listened to (unless one had seen the musical, I suppose), but what I noticed about the music was the number of cover hits it inspired: “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” went to No. 1 for the 5th Dimension, “Hair” went to No. 2 for the Cowsills, “Good Morning Starshine” went to No. 3 for Oliver, and “Easy To Be Hard” went to No. 4 for Three Dog Night. The Happenings tried to get in on the trend, too, but their medley of “Where Do I Go/Be-In/Hare Krishna” stalled at No. 69. And there may be other covers I’m not aware of.

As to current listening, a fair number of tracks from those albums are among the 3,900-plus tracks on the iPod: a couple from Nashville Skyline, a couple from Galveston, and seven each from Blood, Sweat & Tears and Donovan’s Greatest Hits. (Yes, I said Donovan’s works are basically trifles; that doesn’t mean they’re not fun to listen to.)

As it happens, I drove to the train station in Big Lake the other day to head to a Twins game with Rob, and I let the Blood, Sweat & Tears album keep me company. Even with David Clayton-Thomas’ tendency to over-sing, the album is pretty high on my list. (How high? In my top fifty, maybe.) I had kind of forgotten how jazzy things get during the instrumental breaks.

And I was also reminded as I listened that Blood, Sweat & Tears was the first album I got after I got my tape player during the summer of 1969. I’ve long since added it on vinyl and CD, which puts it pretty close to the front of the line in terms of music I’ve listened to the longest.

So here’s “Smiling Phases” from Blood, Sweat & Tears’ 1969 self-titled album. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Taking Time

Friday, May 10th, 2019

I haven’t been entirely lazy during the last week. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve been scanning old family pictures that my sister and I have found in various boxes, spending a couple hours each day at the desk sorting out the in-focus shots from those more fuzzy.

Along with that, I’ve been attaching the occasional scanned photo to the pages of appropriate relatives at my family tree at Ancestry.com, where I’ve been digging for a while.

The one thing I have not done this week is anything regarding blogging, whether about music or anything else. I general write early in the morning, but this week I’ve been sleeping in, perhaps because I still need down time. After all, the doctors did say when I had my surgery in January that, although I could resume normal activities in April, it would be about a year before I’d be fully recovered. And I do tire easily.

So I took a week for me. And in the past few days, I’ve been thinking about what I might write about when I come back to this space. I’ve got no major plans for today. I have an idea for tomorrow’s Saturday Single. And I think that next week, Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny and Richard and Linda Thompson will be featured here at least once, as I don’t think I’ve ever written much about them.

But for today, I’m just happy to open the file and put down some words. As for music, I took a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from fifty years ago today – May 10, 1969 – and found at No. 100 a record I featured here a little more than eight years ago, which is an eternity in blog time. Here’s Wilson Pickett’s not-entirely-successful cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” which peaked at No. 64.

‘Dance Into May!’

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

Here’s a piece that ran here ten years ago. I’ve edited it just a bit. Happy May Day!*

It’s May Day again

No one has left a May Basket at my door this morning. I’m not surprised: How long has it been since anyone actually left a May Basket anywhere? I suppose there might be places where that sweet custom lingers, but that’s not here.

I do recall spending hours with construction paper, blunt scissors and schoolroom glue at Lincoln Elementary School, painstakingly putting together May Baskets with my classmates. I was not an artistic child. My skills were such that my baskets – year after year – were lopsided creatures with little gaps and clots of dried white glue all over. And the May Baskets I made over the years never got left on anyone’s doorstep.

May Day has long been marked as International Workers Day, but on this May Day I do not know of any workers who will march in solidarity today. In Europe, certainly (and perhaps in other places as well), there will be such marches. I do wonder how relevant those marches and those marchers are in these times. How lively is the international labor movement these days? Probably not all that lively, and these may be days when a more vital labor movement would be useful, as societies and priorities are being reordered.

As to specifically celebrating May Day, though, I recall the days of the Soviet Union: May Day was one of the two days a year when there were massive parades across the expanse of Moscow’s Red Square, past the Kremlin and Lenin’s Tomb. It would have been a spectacle to see, of course. One thing the Soviet Union could do well was put on a parade.

Looking further back into May Day history, Wikipedia tells me that the “earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian [times], with the festival of Flora the Roman Goddess of flowers, [and] the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane.” May Day, in pagan times, the account continues, marked the beginning of summer.

Current celebrations still abound in the land of about half of my ancestors, according to Wikipedia: “In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of Pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: ‘Tanz in den Mai!’ (‘Dance into May!’). In the Rhineland, a region in the western part of Germany, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the maypole, though the males are still allowed and encouraged to do so.”

Well, there is no dancing here today, at least not around maypoles (possibly around the kitchen if I am bored while waiting for the toaster). If I look real hard in the refrigerator, I might find a bottle of Mai Bock from one of the area’s breweries. That would be cause enough to celebrate.

Happy May Day!

A Six-Pack For May Day
“First of May” by the Bee Gees, Atco 5567 (1969)
“For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” by Glenn Yarbrough, from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her (1967)
“May Be A Price To Pay” by the Alan Parsons Project from The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980)
“Mayfly” by Jade from Fly on Strangewings (1970)
“Hills of May” by Julie Felix from Clotho’s Web (1972)
“King of May” by Natalie Merchant from Ophelia (1998)

I imagine I’m cheating a little bit with two of those. But to be honest, I thought I’d have to cut more corners than I did. I was surprised to find four songs in my files with the name of the month in their titles.

How could I not play the Bee Gees’ track? It was, I think, the only single pulled from the Gibb brothers’ sprawling album Odessa, but it didn’t do so well on the chart: It spent three weeks in the Top 40, rising only to No. 37. Clearly out of style in its own time, what with the simple and nostalgic lyrics, the sweet, ornate production and the voice of a singer seemingly struggling not to weep, it’s a song that has, I think, aged better than a lot of the singles that surrounded it at the time. Still, I think “First of May” is better heard as a part of Odessa than as a single.

Speaking of out of style at the time, in 1967 Glenn Yarbrough’s honeyed voice was clearly not what record buyers were listening for. His For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her was a brave (some might say desperate, but I wouldn’t agree) attempt to update his sources of material, if not his vocal and background approaches: Writers whose songs appear on the album include Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan, Buffy Ste. Marie, Phil Ochs, the team of Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley and, of course, Paul Simon, who wrote the enigmatic and beautiful title track. I don’t think the new approach boosted Yarbrough’s sales much – at least one single was released to little effect in Canada and the UK; I don’t know about the U.S. – but the record enchanted at least one young listener in the Midwest. The album remains a favorite of mine, and Yarbrough’s delicate reading of the title song is one of the highlights.

The Alan Parsons Project track “May Be A Price To Pay” is the opener to The Turn Of A Friendly Card, the symphonic (and occasionally overbearing) art-rock project released in 1980. Most folks, I think, would only recognize it as the home of two singles: “Games People Play” went to No. 16 in early 1981, and the lush “Time” went to No. 15 later that year. The album itself was in the Top 40 for about five months beginning in November 1980 and peaked at No. 13. That success paved the way for the group’s 1982 album, Eye In The Sky, which peaked at No. 7 in 1982, with its title track becoming a No. 3 hit. As overwhelming as The Turn Of A Friendly Card can be, I think it’s Parsons’ best work.

I don’t know a lot about Jade; I came across the trio’s only album – rereleased on CD with a couple of bonus tracks in 2003 – in my early adventures in the world of music blogs. All-Music Guide points out the obvious: Jade sounded – right down to singer Marian Segal’s work – very much like early Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny. That’s a niche that a lot of British groups were trying to fill at the time, and Jade filled it long enough to release one album. “Mayfly” had more of a countryish feel than does the album as a whole.

According to AMG, “Julie Felix isn’t too well-known in her native United States, but since 1964 she’s been a major British folk music star and has been compared over there with Joan Baez.” Well, that seems a stretch to me, based on Clotho’s Web, the album from which “Hills of May” comes. The album is pleasant but has never blown me away.

One album that did blow me away when I first heard it in, oh, 1999, was Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia. Supposedly a song cycle that traces the character of Ophelia through the ages, the CD was filled with lush and melancholy songs, some of which were almost eerie. Repeated listening only made the CD seem better, if a bit more depressing. It’s a haunting piece of work, and “King of May” is pretty typical of the entire CD.

*The information at Wikipedia may have altered over these past ten years. If this were a newspaper piece, I’d check. But it’s a blog post and not a very important one, either, so I’m leaving that stuff as it was ten years ago.