Archive for the ‘1969’ Category

Saturday Single No. 454

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

I thought we’d dig into one radio survey this morning, so I went to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive and sorted out all the surveys from July 11 over the years, a trove of surveys stretching from 1958 to 1998 and from radio stations in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to York, Pennsylvania, alphabetically and to Burbank, California, geographically.

My plan was to find a survey that was issued by a station in an intriguing city during a year I like, but after nosing around, I thought that the first city in the list might be what I needed. A quick check of the files told me that I’ve never looked at a survey from Atlantic City, and the survey in question is from 1969, so there you go! The station was WMID, and it didn’t have a nifty name for its survey as many stations do, but at the bottom of the thirty-record survey, a note said that among the sources for the rankings were “WMID Boss Line requests.”

We’ll consider six records as candidates for this morning’s feature, based on combining the integers in today’s date: 7-11-15, and we’ll look, too, just for fun at the top and bottom records in the survey.

Anchoring the thirty records in the WMID survey forty-six years ago was Jerry Butler’s “Moody Woman,” while parked in the top spot was “My Pledge Of Love” by the Joe Jeffrey Group, both decent bits of R&B, but our business is with some of the records in the survey’s interior:

No. 26: “In The Ghetto” by Elvis Presley
No. 22: “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker & The Aces
No. 18: “See” by the Rascals
No. 15: “Grazing In The Grass” by the Friends of Distinction
No. 11: “Color Him Father” by the Winstons
No.   7: “Let Me” by Paul Revere & The Raiders

Without listening this morning, I recall only three of those records from my high school days, and only one of them fondly: I’m still weary of “In The Ghetto,” and “Israelites” never grabbed me, even though the two records ended up at Nos. 3 and 9 respectively in the Billboard Hot 100. I do still like the Friends of Distinction’s “Grazing,” which peaked at No. 3 in the Hot 100.

“Color Him Father” (which we touched on briefly when we discussed the Winstons’ “Love Of The Common People” a few months ago) is not a record I remember at all from that time, even though surveys from KDWB in the Twin Cities show it ranking at least as high as No. 5 and it went to No. 7 in the Hot 100. It’s a fine record, but it doesn’t grab me.

What about “Let Me” by Paul Revere & The Raiders and “See” by the Rascals? Well, having found and listened to “Let Me” this morning, I remember hearing it the radio, though not often, and I recall the screamed “Na-na! Na-na! Na-na! Na-na!” after the fake-out fade, which kind of ruined the record for me back then (and still does).

As for “See,” well, I imagine I heard it on the radio, as KDWB’s surveys online show it ranking as high as No. 8. And since it went to No. 27 in the Hot 100, I imagine I heard it live a little more than a year later when the Rascals played at St. Cloud State. But I don’t remember it at all. I dig it this morning, though, as much for the Dylanisms (intentional or not) of the lead vocal (Felix Cavaliere, I assume) as for the driving raucousness that makes it sound very much like 1969 sounded in some corners.

And that’s all enough to make “See” by the Rascals today’s Saturday Single.

Revised slightly after first posting.

Long Form No. 4

Friday, June 12th, 2015

As I’ve noted many times in this space, one of the major influences on my listening life was the tape player in the lounge at the Pro Pace youth hostel in Fredericia, Denmark, during my junior year of college.

I moved to the hostel in late January 1974, after spending about four-and-half-months living with a Danish couple about my folks’ age on the other end of the city of 32,000. There were about fifty college kids still living at the hostel by the time I moved to Pro Pace. (The hostel’s name meant “For Peace” in Latin, and it was pulled from the motto of the city of Fredericia, Armatus Pro Pace, which means “Armed For Peace. It’s a long story.) And with that many kids crowded into sixteen small rooms, it’s no wonder that the lounge became the center of activity.

And, as I’ve also said before, it was in that lounge that I first heard Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and first knowingly heard the Allman Brothers Band and the first Duane Allman anthology, with its riches of Southern music as recorded by both the Allmans and by the artists on whose work Duane Allman played during his short life. The tapes we played were dubbed from vinyl, so we didn’t have the jacket notes. That meant that every once in a while, as something came from the speakers that caught my ear, I’d ask the fellow who brought the tape to Fredericia (or one of his pals) who was performing a particular piece of music.

I don’t know if I ever specifically asked anyone about Boz Scaggs’ take on “Loan Me A Dime,” one of the pieces included on the Duane Allman anthology, but nearly every time the tape rolled past John Hammond’s take on Willie Dixon’s “Shake For Me,” I’d be deeply interested in the song that followed. I’d listen closely as “Loan Me A Dime” moved with its descending bass pattern – a pattern that’s always grabbed me – through its slow section in 6/8 time, into its moderate jam in 4/4 and then its maelstrom of a closing jam in 2/2, with the piano runs whirling in between the fiery guitar runs and above the punching horns.

Winter in Denmark wasn’t cold – temperatures stayed above freezing most of the time – but it was dark: It was almost always cloudy from November into February, and the sun rose late and set early, even in late January. Add to that gloomy prospect the utter failure of a romantic pairing and add as well many hours spent in the lounge reading, studying, writing letters or simply being, and the words and music of “Loan Me A Dime” insinuated themselves deep into me:

I know she’s a good girl, but at that time, I just didn’t understand.
I know she’s a good girl, but at that time, I just could not understand.
Somebody better loan me that dime, to ease my worried mind.

Now I cry, just cry, just like a baby all night long
You know I cry, just cry, just like a baby all night long.
Somebody better loan me that dime. I need my baby, I need my baby here at home.

The Danish nights got shorter, and the days got brighter through February. I spent March and most of April riding the trains of Western Europe, and all the things I saw, added to time and to distance from the lost young lady, helped my heart begin to heal by the time I came home in May.

Once home, I reacquainted myself with the life I’d left behind almost nine months earlier, from my friends and family to the forty or so rock/pop/R&B LPs in a crate in the basement on Kilian Boulevard. I also began slowly – the pace dictated both by a lack of cash and by other things requiring my attention during that late spring and summer – adding to my collection the music I’d learned to love while I was away. My first addition was the Allmans’ Brothers and Sisters, in the first few days I was home. My second, in early September – I said it was a slow process – was the first Duane Allman anthology, with “Loan Me A Dime” as its centerpiece.

I’d probably been told in Denmark that the singer was Boz Scaggs, but I don’t know if I’d recalled that. I knew that the guitar work came from Allman, of course. But as I took in the thirteen minutes of “Loan Me A Dime” in our rec room for the first time, I no doubt looked at the jacket notes and learned the names of drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist David Hood, pianist Barry Beckett, guitarist Johnny Johnson and horn players Joe Arnold, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller and James Mitchell. I learned as well that the track came from Scaggs’ self-titled debut album from 1969.

More than forty years later, there are still a few tracks that in my memory belong more to the lounge in Fredericia than anywhere else: Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” is one of them. Most of the music I first heard there, however, has traveled with me well and now belongs to me everywhere. It’s no longer limited to that distant and long-ago and cherished room.

“Loan Me A Dime” has traveled with me the best of all of them, perhaps. In the mid-1990s, I taught the song to Jake’s band during one of our weekly jams, and for the next few years, for twenty minutes a week, I got to be Barry Beckett (and for a couple of those years, in one of those marvelous and unlikely gifts that life can bring us, the fellow who brought the Allman anthology to Denmark would stand next to my keyboard and be Duane Allman).

And all of that is why Boz Scaggs’ “Loan Me A Dime” is Long Form No. 4.

‘It Hurts So Bad . . .’

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

During her college days (and my high school days) my sister acquired one album by the Lettermen: Hurt So Bad, a 1969 release. As is the case with most of my sister’s LPs from the late 1960s and early 1970s, I have that one, too. My copy is tucked away on the easy listening shelf, which is not well organized, so I can’t easily put my hands on it to see what kind of shape it’s in.

I know I’ve played the LP at least once, but I also know, from glancing at the track listing for the album at discogs.com, that back in 1969, I paid attention only to the title track. And that’s held true to this day: The only track from the album that I have on the digital shelves is “Hurt So Bad.”

“Hurt So Bad” was the last of six Top 40 hits for the Lettermen, peaking at No. 12 in the third week of September 1969, as my junior year of high school was taking off and as I was in my second month of listening purposefully to Top 40 radio. In other words, among my first Top 40 memories is a sweet, mellow and haunting song about the agony of losing a love and the corresponding agony of the slender hope that she might come back.

Never mind that at the time – just barely sixteen – I’d never really had a love to lose, much less to beg to return to me. I’d had crushes, sure, and one of the major crushes of my life was beginning to form right at that time, but I’d never lost a love. Nevertheless, I was already a romantic, and the lyrics of “Hurt So Bad” whispered their sad story to me whenever I heard the record. And I was ready to listen.

The single – and the album that both my sister and I own – came to mind this morning as I looked at the Billboard Hot 100 from this date in 1969, when “Hurt So Bad” was at No. 92, in the third week of its long climb to the Top Twenty. Seeing it there reminded me of evenings in my room as August and September rolled by, listening to the Lettermen’s harmonies, mouthing the words as I tried to imagine what it would be like to love someone so deeply and then lose her. Like most people, I’d find out eventually, several times over, and it was never as pretty as the song.

Six At Random

Friday, June 5th, 2015

I’m gonna fire up the iPod and let it do the work this morning. Many of the 2,000 or so tunes in the device are familiar, but sometimes the familiar tends to get ignored around here. So off we go:

First up is “Be Easy” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, a 2007 joint that, like most of Jones’ catalog, sounds as if it could have come out of Memphis forty years earlier. The track comes from 100 Days, 100 Nights, Jones’ third release and the first one I ever heard. Six of her albums with the Dap-Kings are on the shelves here along with a couple of one-off recordings. One of those one-offs, a cover of the First Edition’s 1967 hit, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” caught the ear of my pal Schultz when he was here a few weeks ago, and he spent a few moments jotting down the titles of Jones’ CDs for future reference.

Then we jump back in time to 1971, when Ten Years After’s “I’d Love To Change The World” went to No. 40. When this one popped up on the car radio a couple of years ago, I wrote, “I was once again bemused by the ‘Tax the rich, feed the poor, until there are no rich no more’ couplet. I also considered – not for the first time – about how unacceptable the reference to ‘dykes and fairies’ would be today. Social change happens glacially, but it does happen.” Even with those considerations, it’s still a pretty good record.

And we do get some Memphis R&B: “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” by the Staple Singers from 1973. The slightly funky and sometimes propulsive record went to No. 9, one of three Top Ten hits for the singers, and it spent three weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart. I didn’t really get the Staple Singers back then – too much other stuff crowding my ears, I guess – but they’re well-represented these days on both the vinyl and digital files, and “If You’re Ready” is one of my favorite tracks of theirs.

From there, we head into the mid-1990s and find a cover of Billie Holliday’s version of “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance (With You)” as performed by the late Etta James. The track comes from James’ 1994 album Mystery Lady – Songs of Billie Holiday. I can’t find any fault with the song selection, with the classic pop arrangements on the album, or with James’ performances, but there’s something about the entire project that leaves me a little cold. It’s a little odd: It’s like the parts are all fine but just don’t fit together. “I Don’t Stand . . .” is probably the best track on the album, and it’s nice and all, but ultimately kind of empty. That one may not stay on the iPod too much longer.

Somewhere along the line, I came across a huge pile of work by the late Lee Hazlewood, ranging from the early 1960s all the way to 2006, a year before his death. One of the more idiosyncratic folks in the pop music world, Hazlewood kind of fascinates me. And this morning, we get Hazlewood and Ann-Margret gender-flipping and covering Waylon Jennings’ No. 2 country hit from 1968 with “Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line” from the 1969 album The Cowboy & The Lady. Despite my affection for Hazlewood’s work, the limp performance by Ann-Margret means that this is another track that’s likely not going to remain long in the iPod. Linda Ronstadt’s superior version from the same year is already in the device, and that one should be the only one I need.

And we close with one of my favorite melancholy tracks, “Scudder’s Lane,” by the New Jersey band From Good Homes. Found on the group’s 1993 album, Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya!, the song tells a tale familiar and yet unique. I’ve posted the lyrics here before, but they’re worth another look:

Scudder’s Lane

me and lisa used to run thru the night
thru the fields off scudder’s lane
we’d lay down and look up at the sky
and feel the breeze, thru the trees
and I’d often wonder
how long would it take
to ride or fly to the dipper in the sky

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

I stayed with my love lisa
thru the darkness of her days
she walked into the face of horror
and I followed in her wake
and I often wonder
how much does it take
’til you’ve given all the love
That’s in your heart
and there’s nothing in its place

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

i’m afraid of the momentum
that can take you to the edge of a cliff
where you look out and see nothing
and you ask
it that all there is

still I drove back out of hainesville
and I asked myself again will there ever come a day
when you drive back home to stay
could you ever settle down and be a happy man
in one of the houses that they’re building thru the fields
off scudder’s lane

‘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:

Saturday Single No. 444

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

In 1969, the Winstons – an R&B group from Washington, D.C. – had a minor hit with a record titled “Love Of The Common People,” which went to No. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 19 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart. (Earlier in 1969, the Winstons had a bigger hit when “Color Him Father” went to No. 7 in the Hot 100, to No. 2 on the R&B chart and to No. 19 on the Easy Listening chart.)

Next week, we’re going to look at some different versions of “Love Of The Common People,” and we’ll likely take a listen to “Color Him Father” as well. But for now, with guests headed this way, the Winstons’ version of “Love Of The Common People” is today’s Saturday Single.

Four At Random

Friday, April 10th, 2015

I’m going to fire up the RealPlayer this morning and let it do the work for me.

Right off the top we get some easy listening: “Emmanuelle” by Italian sax player Fausto Papetti, which turns out to be an instrumental version of the theme to the 1974 soft-core film Emmanuelle. The film was the first of seven chronicling the adventures of the character created in 1959 by French writer Emmanuelle Arsan (a pseudonym for Thai-born Marayat Bibidh Krasaesin Rollet-Andriane) and portrayed in four of the films by Sylvia Kristel. (All of that according to Wikpedia.) The song and the soundtrack for the first film were written by Pierre Bachelet. Papetti, who passed on in 1999, was known, Wikipedia says, for both his saxophone work and the covers of his albums, many of which featured attractive women in little or no clothing. Papetti’s 1977 version of the theme came to me in a 2009 collection titled 100 Hits Romantic Saxophone.

And then we head back to 1944 for “Opus One” by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra. The fox trot – as it’s described on the Victor label – was written by Sy Oliver, who became, says Wikipedia, “one of the first African Americans with a prominent role in a white band” when he joined Dorsey’s band in 1939. It’s not my favorite track from Dorsey; that would be his theme song, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” from 1935. As it happens, any of the 1930s and 1940s big band tunes remind me of the summer of 1991, when I was reporting and writing a lengthy piece about life in Columbia, Missouri, during World War II. On a lot of evenings at home that summer, as I sat at my desk and planned my next day’s work, I stacked some big bands – Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and more – on the stereo and tried to get my head at least a little into an era that I never knew.

From there, it’s another dip into the easy listening pool with Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” as filtered through the sound of Frank Chacksfield & His Orchestra. The late Chacksfield was an English composer and conductor who is estimated, Wikipedia says, to have sold more than 20 million albums world-wide. Two of those albums reached the Billboard 200: Ebb Tide went to No. 36 in 1961 and The New Ebb Tide went to No. 120 in late 1964 or early 1965. Chacksfield and his orchestra had one single reach the magazine’s charts: “On The Beach,” the title song to the 1959 film, went to No. 47 in early 1961. Chacksfield’s take on Simon’s tune was a track on a 1970 album titled Chacksfield Plays Simon & Garfunkel & Jim Webb. It came to me in a 2005 collection titled The Lounge Legends Play Simon & Garfunkel.

Then up pop the Bee Gees with “Sun in My Morning” from 1969. The not terribly interesting track was the B-side to the group’s single “Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” which doesn’t make my list of vital Bee Gees’ tunes, either, even if it went to No. 54. There’s not a lot more to say as the tune plays itself out and this post limps to an end.

And there we see clearly the risk of letting random chance decide things.

Long Form No. 3

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

The summer of 1969, as I’ve noted here numerous times, was when I began to listen with great interest to Top 40 radio, as well as to a little bit of other music that fit within the genres of pop, rock and R&B. It was also the second of three summers when I spent four days working at the state trap shoot, sitting in a cramped dirty concrete structure placing clay targets on the machine that threw them out into the air to be shot.

And the confluence of those two things made 1969 the year when I got my first cassette recorder and discovered one of my favorite long pieces of music.

For a couple of years before then, I’d been fascinated by cassette recorders. One of my dad’s friends at St. Cloud State had one, and he was, I think, interested in the educational possibilities of the machines. They would certainly make easier any educational task that required a tape recorder, given their advantages in size and convenience over the large and often unwieldy reel-to-reel machines then in use.

The first time I saw Dr. Perry’s machine, I was more interested in it as a gadget than for its musical applications. It would just be fun to tape stuff. Around the same time, Rob across the street had gotten a small reel-to-reel recorder and for a few weeks, he wandered around the neighborhood, taping everything from the sounds of birds in his front yard to the roar of a Great Northern Railroad train as it went through the crossing on Seventh Street just a block away.

One afternoon, he and Rick and I rode along as their dad drove his beloved Studebaker for some maintenance in the city of Anoka, fifty miles southeast on Highway 10. Rob brought the tape recorder along, and the three of us recorded an aural journal of our trip, commenting on anything from the size of the small burg of Becker (365 then, 4,538 in the most recent census) and the crops in the fields in the countryside to the architecture of the churches and the presumptive errands of the people we saw along the way. Being adolescent boys, we found almost everything we said humorous, and the resulting taped journal occasionally lapsed from commentary into fits of giggling.

One couldn’t drive to Anoka every day, of course, but I thought at mid-summer 1969 that there would be some value in a cassette recorder. So my dad and I took the fifty dollars I got for my four days of trap shoot work downtown to Dan Marsh Drugs, where dad knew the folks who sold cameras and such; in those days, the “such” included cassette recorders. I selected a Panasonic model that fit my budget, and with some blank tapes in hand, set out to record the world. The thought of listening to music on the machine had not yet entered my consciousness.

When I’d decided to get a recorder, I’d hoped to have the machine in hand by the time Apollo 11 landed on the moon so I could record what turned out to be Neil Armstrong’s “one small step,” but that didn’t work out. I was five days late, and the first news event I was able to record off of television – and I did it just to see how it sounded – was Senator Ted Kennedy’s live statement relating what had happened at Chappaquiddick Island after he drove off a bridge and a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in his submerged car.

And after a few days of recording stuff and listening to it play back – and I hated the sound of my own voice – I wanted something more fun to listen to. For whatever reason – maybe budget, maybe not being interested quite yet in popular music, maybe simple dimness – I hadn’t thought about music. Then my sister stepped into the breach and one day brought home from the mall – where she worked as a waitress at Woolworth’s – a cassette of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ self-titled second album.

I recognized the hits: “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” had gone to No. 2 in the spring of 1969, and “Spinning Wheel” had done the same early that summer. I digested the rest of the album, and then football practice started and I began to be drawn into the music I heard on the radio in the training room. So I knew “And When I Die” as it began its own climb to No. 2 that autumn, and I began to wonder what tape I should get next to supplement BST and the music I was hearing on the radio.

Late one October evening, after I’d gone to sleep with the sounds of Chicago’s WLS at low volume on my bedside RCA radio, something woke me. As I lay there, I turned the radio up slightly. There came a ghostly “shoop” followed by a bass and drum riff repeated several times, and then I heard John Lennon’s unmistakable voice: “Here come old flat top. He come groovin’ up slowly . . .”

I was spooked, I was fascinated and I was determined to have that song – whatever it was – for my own.

It was, of course, “Come Together” from the Beatles’ Abbey Road, which had been released at the beginning of the month. Once I learned that, I also learned that the album – LP, cassettes and eight-track tapes – was on sale at J.C. Penney at the mall for $3.50. I handed some of my cash to my sister, and she brought home my first copy of Abbey Road.* And when I first played it, I came across the long set of songs now called the Abbey Road medley.

The suite of songs – starting with the simple piano introduction to “You Never Give Me Your Money” and ending with the now-famous couplet “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make” – entranced me, as it did millions of other listeners. It’s generally accepted now that the medley was the work of Paul McCartney (although three of the pieces in the medley – “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” – were Lennon creations), and it might be the high point of the Beatles’ existence.

The tracks in the medley are:

“You Never Give Me Your Money”
“Sun King”
“Mean Mr. Mustard”
“Polythene Pam”
“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”
“Golden Slumbers”
“Carry That Weight”
“The End”

While there’s plenty of brilliance to parse in the sixteen-minute medley – in writing, in playing, in singing, in production – there is one touch that, to me, elevates the medley from excellence to genius: The emergence of the “You Never Give Me Your Money” theme – first with trumpets, then adding strings and then adding vocals – in the middle of “Carry That Weight.”

Here, then, in our occasional exploration of longer pieces that move me, is Long Form No. 3, the Abbey Road medley:

*I’ve since had three other copies: That first tape was stolen and replaced, I bought the vinyl of the album in 1971, and I bought the CD in 2001.

Revised since first posting to include “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.”

Another One Gone

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

They keep falling. Musicians I listened to in my youth – and for many years after, in many cases – are departing more and more frequently from this world.

Yesterday it was Joe Cocker, who passed on at the age of 70 at his Colorado home. Though I don’t think I’ve written much about him – as least not as frequently as I have other performers – Cocker holds a firm place in my list of favorites for a couple of reasons.

First, he was the headline performer at my first Twin Cities rock concert. For Christmas 1971, my sister gave me a hand-made certificate good for two tickets to any concert I wanted to see, and when Joe Cocker scheduled an April concert at the now-gone Met Sports Center, I cashed in the certificate and took Rick down to the show with me.

I’ve noted here before that Cocker’s performance that night was erratic, as frequently was the case in those years. And I guess that’s being kind; he was drunk or high or both, and the first half of the show was ragged. But as the show wore on, Cocker became more focused, and at one point about three-quarters of the way through, the band – with Chris Stainton on piano, I think – tore into the introduction of “Hitchcock Railway,” and for the first time that evening, the Joe Cocker we heard was the Joe Cocker we’d expected to hear.

Here’s the studio version of “Hitchcock Railway” from Cocker’s 1969 album, Joe Cocker!

Then, from the same album, there’s Cocker’s cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darling Be Home Soon.” From the time I first heard the album – purchased used in the spring of 1972, when I was still in catch-up mode – Cocker’s take on John B. Sebastian’s lovely song has transfixed me.

I had come across Sebastian’s lyric a couple years earlier in a book titled The Poetry Of Rock, in which editor Richard Goldstein offers with brief – sometimes very brief – commentary lyrics that he thought were worthy of more thought than listeners might put into a three- or four-minute record or even a six- or seven-minute album track. The lyrics Goldstein offered the reader ranged widely, from Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl” and Leiber & Stoller’s “Hound Dog” to the Incredible String Band’s “Koeeoaddi There” and the Doors’ “The End.” Even after reading – and liking – the lyric – I’d never sought out the Spoonful’s version of “Darling Be Home Soon,” and the first time I met the song was on the Joe Cocker! album.

The combination of Sebastian’s yearning lyrics and the gospel-tinged joy that Cocker and his mates brought to the track made “Darling Be Home Soon” an anthem for me, one that I heard sometimes with joy, sometimes with despair and now – with both of us home at last – with contentment (though I still tend to play air piano when it shows up coming out of the speakers).

I kind of lost track of Joe Cocker during my college years. I caught up with 1969’s With A Little Help From My Friends and 1970’s raucous Mad Dogs & Englishmen. And then other performers took my attention, and when I went back to Cocker in 1975, I found the over-wrought “You Are So Beautiful” at No. 5, and then nothing much interested me until 1987’s Unchain My Heart, which I still enjoy.

In the past decades, I’ve gone back and checked out the years I skipped, and I’ve kept an ear on more recent releases. I enjoy some of it and find some of it tedious, but even with the stuff I like, something seems lacking. Maybe it’s not so much that the recent music has been flawed as that the first couple years of Cocker’s career were so brilliant that even the best of his later work seems pale. I rest my case on the live performance from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour of “Cry Me A River.”

Revised slightly since original posting.

Saturday Single No. 420

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

It’s a lazy morning here. I’m usually an early riser, even on Saturdays (the cats frequently help out with that), but this morning, after ushering two felines downstairs about six o’clock – a time that’s close to their normal breakfast hour – I went back upstairs, pulling the door to the stairs shut behind me.

The alarm clock was set to rouse me about ninety minutes later, but I turned it off, deciding that the tasks on today’s list could be delayed until the afternoon, if not later. And as I drifted back to sleep, I briefly thought of a Saturday song. It was still in my head when I woke about 9:30, so after tending to the cats and brewing some coffee, I looked to see if I’d ever written about it.

I haven’t, really. I’ve mentioned it a few times in passing, and I shared it once in a Baker’s Dozen (back in the old mp3 days) without writing anything about it. The record was the last of three Top 40 singles for the Sandpipers, a soft-pop vocal trio from the late 1960s and early 1970s whose work I tend to like a lot. (Given my affection for easy listening tunes from that era, that should not be surprising.) It entered the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1969 and hung around the bottom of the chart for a while. Then it dropped out of the chart for eight weeks before coming back and eventually peaking in June 1970 at No. 17 on the pop chart and at No. 8 on the magazine’s adult contemporary chart. (Its renaissance, one might guess, was a result of the song’s being nominated for an Academy Award for its presence in the movie The Sterile Cuckoo.)

In the days to come, Odd and Pop and I might dig into the rest of the Sandpipers’ catalog, or we might look at covers of the tune that eased its sleepy way into my head this morning. Today, however, all we need is “Come Saturday Morning” by the Sandpipers for our Saturday Single.