Archive for the ‘Long Form’ Category

Hail, Princess Ælfthryth!

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Well, checking out the history of May 20 at Wikipedia, I learned something. Or rather, I learned a number of things, most of which don’t have any application here today. Those can wait.

My useful bit of learning is that it was on this date in 794 that King Æthelberht II of East Anglia visited the royal Mercian court at Sutton Walls, hoping to marry Princess Ælfthryth. The reception he got was less than cordial. He was taken captive and beheaded, though sources differ as to whether King Offa’s decision to execute the visitor was his alone or was influenced by – as Wikipedia characterizes her – “Offa’s evil queen Cynethryth.”

Wikipedia notes that the tale of Ælfthryth’s betrothal to Æthelberht II is “a late and not very trustworthy legend,” though the tale of his death at the Mercian court seems to be true. And I imagine one has to question as well, then, the tale that after Æthelberht’s death, Ælfthryth – as Wikipedia tells it – “retired to the marshes of Crowland Abbey,” where she was built into a cell about 793 and lived as a recluse to the end of her days.

Why does that matter? It really doesn’t, except that I love old English names with their odd vowels and odd consonantal combinations. And I remain thankful that none of the parents of the women I courted when I was young – or in later years, for that matter – decided that I’d be more useful without my head.

And then, learning of the tale of Princess Ælfthryth gives me a chance to offer here another of my favorite long-form pieces of pop rock: “Tie-Dye Princess” by the Ides of March. The long track, running 11:31, was the closer to Common Bond, the 1971 follow-up to Vehicle, the group’s 1970 debut, the title track of which had been released as a single and had gone to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album itself went to No. 55.

Common Bond didn’t fare nearly as well. The singles “Superman” and “L.A. Goodbye” went to No. 64 and No. 73, respectively, and a single edit of “Tie-Dye Princess” bubbled under at No. 113. (Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows “Tie-Dye Princess” as the A-side of Warner Bros. 7507, while the site Discogs.com shows it as the B-side. I’m inclined to agree with Whitburn.) And Common Bond bubbled under the Billboard 200 at No. 207.

I’m pretty sure that a princess at the court of Mercia wouldn’t have worn tie-dye in 794, but I don’t care. Here, in honor of Princess Ælfthryth and in honor of the possibly true tale of the ending of her courtship 1,222 years ago today, is “Tie-Dye Princess” by the Ides of March.

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.

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.”

Long Form No. 2

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Posts about Shawn Phillips have rolled through this blog at all three of its locations often enough that his name is among those on the right-side indices both here and at the EITW Archives site, but I noticed the other week that I’ve never shared – either as an mp3 in the early days or as a video – the suite that opens Phillips’ 1970 album Second Contribution.

The suite starts with the first hushed a capella notes of the song colloquially known as “Woman” – a tune that actually has the unwieldy title of “She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It’s Getting Too Heavy To Laugh” – and goes on for more than thirteen minutes, taking us through the titles “Keep On,” “Sleepwalker” and “Song for Mr. C.”

There’s something – I’ve never been quite sure what – about that four-song sequence, and in fact the entire Second Contribution album, that says to me “Early Seventies” in a way that not much, if any, other music can. My early Seventies – from 1970 to 1974 – bridged the years between high school and the first few years of college, and the ideas and images that flit through my mind when I hear that four-song suite range from used record shops hiding treasures in ramshackle buildings; sunlit bicycle rides with girls I knew in both high school and college; my first beer, my first beard, my first kiss and a few other firsts; and the general sense of (sometimes amiable) confusion among me and my friends about what we would do with our lives in a world that was changing faster than we (and our parents) could truly comprehend.

I’m pretty sure that I first heard Second Contribution on Rick’s turntable not long after the record came out. I certainly knew the album well from hearing it at his place by the spring of 1972, when Phillips performed at St. Cloud State the week I was grounded (a tale I told not long ago). And whenever I heard Second Contribution or the later albums Collaboration and Faces (both of which I also heard at Rick’s, I think, as well as at parties around campus), I told myself I needed to find those albums, especially Second Contribution.

That took years, though. There was so much other music I wanted to explore, and even with used records at the various shops in St. Cloud being priced cheaply, there was only so much cash at hand. And life moved along, taking me from St. Cloud to Denmark and back and then on to the Twin Cities and back and then eventually to Monticello and a job as a reporter. And one Saturday in 1981, as I browsed a bin of used records at a flea market, I came across a copy of Second Contribution. When I got it home and onto the turntable, however, there was a fair amount of noise covering the quiet introduction of “She Was Waiting . . .” The rest of the record was okay, though, and I reveled in the remembered sounds and the images and ideas they brought back. Sadly, the Other Half was not impressed, and I played the record rarely for the rest of our time together.

I tried to upgrade the quality of my Second Contribution vinyl a couple of times during my years in Minneapolis as the 1990s turned to the 2000s, but no matter how good the records looked, Phillips’ quiet starting vocal was buried in hiss. Then, one day in late 2005, as I wandered through our local music emporium looking to spend some Christmas money, I found the album on CD, and later that day, I heard the album’s quiet and haunting opening moments the way they were recorded, just like I’d first heard them on Rick’s turntable so many years earlier.

And the entire album, especially the four-song opening suite offered below, still sounds to me like the early 1970s felt.

Long Form No. 1

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

A couple of threads have been coming together in the past week or so, and as a result I’ve been digging into both the library and my memory for what I call long-form pieces of music.

It started, actually, the other week when I wrote about late 1972 and my quiet evenings in the basement rec room with a new batch of records. I wrote that one of the more arresting pieces I listened to during that time was the long, live version of “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain.

And then one of my music-loving friends at Facebook posted a call for friends to offer – one a day – their five favorite songs/records/tracks. Now, I’m always game to play along with one of those challenges, but I’ve done my top five singles there at least once and I didn’t see any point in doing that again.* So I agreed to play, but noted that I’d be offering five of my favorite long-form tracks or suites of tracks.

That was something I considered here as a successor project to Ultimate Jukebox series I offered here five years ago. In the last installment of that thirty-eight week project, I wrote:

One constraint I might ignore on a second go-round is length. I set a limit of 7:30 for a record, knowing that a 45 could handle that much, and I hit that limit with Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park.” (I came close, relatively, with Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” and Buddy Miles “Down by the River” and maybe a few others that don’t come to mind right now.) If I were to do the project over, I’d ignore that limit and include longer pieces.

Some of the worthy longer pieces that come immediately to mind are the Side One suite on Shawn Phillips’ Second Contribution, the Allman Brothers Band’s performance of “Whipping Post” from At Fillmore East, Bob Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” from Blood on the Tracks, “Beginnings” by Chicago from Chicago Transit Authority, Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Leon Russell’s take on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” from The Concert for Bangla Desh and Boz Scaggs’ “Loan Me A Dime” from his self-titled album.

But when I posted the first of my five selections earlier this week, I for some reason ignored that long-ago limit of 7:30 as a guide and offered instead a limit of 7:11, noting erroneously that I chose that running time because that was the length of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” (As it happens, the track on the 1970 Hey Jude collection runs 7:06, and the track on the “Mono Master” CD of the Beatles in Mono box set runs 7:19. But never mind, 7:11 it was.)

But where to start? That actually was the easiest decision. In the blog post about late 1972, I’d noted that the live version of “Nantucket Sleighride” was the first long jam I’d gotten into. So I went back from there to the first long-form suite that had grabbed hold of my ears (sifting the difference between the two by defining a jam as an improvised extension of a song while a suite is a planned chain of multiple songs).

And the first long-form suite I dug into deeply came from one of the first two albums I bought when I became deeply interested in pop and rock music in 1970. In February or so of that year, a friend passed on to me an hour of taped music from the Twin Cities’ FM station KQRS, and among the tunes in that hour was most of Chicago’s “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon,” the original setting for “Make Me Smile,” which I soon heard coming out of my AM speakers in a single edit.

I grabbed the album – called simply Chicago at the time and now generally called Chicago II – in May of 1970, and then I bought the piano book for the album and a piano transcription of the long-form introduction. And I spent a good portion of my music time for the next year digging into the album and the long suite, which came from the pen of trombonist James Pankow. (During my freshman year of college, a lot of the guys I hung around with were impressed with my piano version of “Make Me Smile.,” The gals, however, went for “Colour My World.”)

So what was it that grabbed me? The horns, especially when they came in on the off-beat during “Make Me Smile,” the shifts in tempo and style, the romance in the lyrics of “Make Me Smile” and the triumphant return to “Make Me Smile” near the end of the suite. Even back then, the lyrics of “Colour My World” were a bit over-sweet for me, but that was a minor complaint.

And even though I don’t listen to it nearly as often as I once did, any exploration of the long-form music that moves me has to start at the beginning. And for me, that was Chicago’s “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon.”

*While my list of my five favorite singles might vary slightly from time to time, it will always include “Cherish” by the Association, “We” by Shawn Phillips, “Long Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt and “Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers. The fifth spot is often open for discussion, often with the comment – made here before, I know – that if the Beatles’ “Back In The U.S.S.R.” had been released as a single, there would be no discussion of No. 5.