Archive for the ‘1966’ Category

Saturday Single No. 496

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

Here, edited slightly, is one of this blog’s earliest posts, originally offered here on February 5, 2007:

When I was a kid, the man across the alley – Leo Rau—was a jobber. That’s what my dad said he was. I didn’t know what a jobber was, but from what I could see of Mr. Rau’s work life, it was probably a lot of fun: In the Raus’ garage were boxes of candy and cases of cigarettes, and boxes and boxes of 45 rpm records.

What being a jobber meant, of course, was that Leo Rau had a chain of vending machines that he kept filled with the good stuff of life: Snickers, Nut Rolls and Juicy Fruit gum among the candy; Camels, Winstons and Herbert Tareytons among the cigarettes, and performers such as Sandy Posey, Petula Clark and Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass on the records destined for juke boxes in the St. Cloud area.

As I headed into my teens, being across the alley from the Raus seemed like a pretty good deal. Steve Rau, who was a few years older than I was, decided one day to get rid of his comic book collection, and gave it to me: Lots of Jughead and Archie, some war comics (stories of World War II, which was just more than twenty years past), and comics based on television shows of the mid-1950s, which I didn’t recall at all. It was a treasure trove.

And on several occasions, Mr. Rau passed on to me a box of 45 rpm records. I don’t recall everything he gave to me; I know one of them was Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” because I still have it. Another was the subject of this little piece, ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” by Bob Dylan and The Band, released as the B-side to Dylan’s” I Want You” (Columbia 43683). There are a few others that Mr. Rau gave me that have survived the forty years since I was thirteen.

And it’s remarkable that any of them survived. You see, at thirteen, I was distinctly unhip. I did not listen to Top 40 radio. I had only a few LPs and no singles to speak of in my record collection. And I didn’t listen to the records Mr. Rau gave me – I used them for target practice with my BB gun.

I cringe. I have no idea how many 45s I aimed and shot at, punching neat little holes in the grooves. Maybe a hundred. A lot of the records Mr. Rau gave me were country & western, a genre that was far less cool (and far more real and gritty) than country music is today. I remember a lot of Sandy Posey, Sonny James and Buck Owens, records that it would be nice to have today. But I know a good share of the records that met my BBs were pop and rock, simply because of the two for sure that I know survived: the Procol Harum and the Dylan. And it’s knowing how close I came to destroying the Dylan record that makes me shake my head in something near disbelief.

Here’s what Dave Marsh said about the record in his “Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made,” where he ranked the B-side at No. 243.

“If you liked the jingly folk-rock of ‘I Want You’ enough to run out and buy the single without waiting for the album (which only turned out to be Blonde on Blonde), you got the surprise of your life: A B side taken from Dylan’s recent European tour on which and a rock band (which only turned out to be The Band) did things to ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,’ a song from Highway 61 Revisited, that it’s still risky to talk about in broad daylight.”

Marsh continues: “Rock critics like to make a big deal about B sides but there are only maybe a dozen great ones in the whole history of singles. This one’s rank is indisputable, though, because it offers something that wasn’t legally available until the early Seventies: a recorded glimpse of Dylan’s onstage prowess. ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ came out before anybody ever thought of bootlegging rock shows, before anybody this side of Jimi Hendrix quite understood Dylan as a great rock and roll stage performer. And so this vicious, majestic music, hidden away in the most obscure place he could think of putting it, struck with amazing force.”

The group behind Dylan wasn’t exactly The Band: The drummer for the European tour was Mickey Jones. Levon Helm had become fed up with performing in front of angry and jeering crowds who wanted to hear Bob Dylan the folksinger and were being presented with Bob Dylan the rock and roll performer. He’d gone back to Arkansas and wouldn’t reunite with the other four members of what became The Band until after the tour, when he joined them and Dylan in Woodstock (where the six of them began recording the music later released as The Basement Tapes and where The Band began work on its debut, Music From Big Pink.)

The version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” that so entrances Marsh was recorded in Liverpool, England, on May 14, 1966, just three days before the so-called “Albert Hall” concert, which actually took place at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester (and was released in 1998 as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966).

I look at the fragile 45 that survived my BB gun and shake my head. It’s undeniably a treasure, but it didn’t survive because I knew that. It didn’t survive when so many other records were splintered by BBs because it was by Bob Dylan. As unhip as I was at the ages of twelve and thirteen, I had no real good idea who Bob Dylan was; that awareness would take at least another four to five years. It was an accident, pure and simple, that I never looked past the sights of my BB rifle at the Dylan record – a happy accident, to be sure. Historically, the sounds on the record are priceless; musically, they’re astounding.

Dave Marsh sums up his comments about the record: “Today it sounds like the reapings of a whirwind, Dylan’s voice as draggy, druggy and droogy as the surreal Mexican beatnik escapade he’s recounting, Robbie Robertson carving dense mathematical figures on guitar, Garth Hudson working pure hoodoo on organ. Slurred and obtuse as Little Richard reading Ezra Pound, there’s a magnificence here so great that, if you had to, you could make the case for rock and roll as a species of art using this record and nothing else.”

The riddle I find is this: The label on the 45 from 1966 says clearly “Recorded in Liverpool, England,” and the date of that show was May 14, 1966. And the Live 1966 “official bootleg” set released in 1998, says just as clearly that everything in the set was recorded in Manchester three days later. But the video below from the Live 1966 set sounds the same as my B-side.

So is it Liverpool or Manchester? I don’t know, but because the first recording date that I saw for that singular B-side was fifty years ago today, the supposed Liverpool performance of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Bob Dylan (and most of The Band), is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 495

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

So we’ll cast our glance at the Billboard Hot 100 from May 7, 1966, exactly fifty years ago today, and see what we can find. And yes, we’ll play some games with numbers, taking today’s date – 5/7/16 – and turning it into No. 12, No. 23 and No. 28 to find a single for a Saturday.

But we’ll start with a quick look at the No. 1 record of the week, which turns out to be “Monday, Monday,” by The Mamas & The Papas, the second charting record for the quartet (“California Dreamin’” had gone to No. 4 in early 1966). They’d have seven more Top 40 hits and a bunch more in and near the Hot 100 before the magic ran out. They were, it seems to me, one of those groups – like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the best of the Motown groups – than even an unhip kid could not miss in the mid-1960s. I remember hearing their stuff and liking it long before I was a dedicated Top 40 listener.

Sitting at its peak of No. 12 fifty years ago today was a record I do not remember ever hearing until this morning, “Try Too Hard” by the Dave Clark Five. I imagine I did hear it somewhere, but it clearly made no impression. Nor did anything by the Dave Clark Five. I have none of the group’s LPs although I imagine some of their singles are on some of the various anthologies, but those tracks certainly weren’t the reasons for buying the collections. And I find only two mp3s by the group on the digital shelves, and both of those came my way in the portions of the massive Lost Jukebox collection I found somewhere in the wild. I clearly never cared for or about the Dave Clark Five, and I doubt that will change now.

The record parked at No. 23 fifty years ago today is one that I did hear back then and still like today: “A Sign Of The Times” by Petula Clark, coming down the chart after peaking at No. 11 (and at No. 2 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart). I remember hearing – probably because of her presence on the AC chart – and liking everything Petula from 1964’s “Downtown” through her last Top Ten hit, “Don’t Sleep In The Subway,” in mid-1967. I guess you could call her one of my faves: I’ve got maybe five of her LPs on the shelves and about fifty mp3s tucked away in the chips, including a 1975 cover of Mocedades’ “Eres Tu,” which is one of those songs I collect in as many versions as possible.

And at No. 28 in the Hot 100 from fifty years ago today, we find an Elvis Presley track from one of the many movies Elvis starred in that are pretty lightly regarded these days (and likely were similarly regarded when they came out): the title track from Frankie and Johnny. It’s another record I don’t recall ever hearing, interesting to me for two reasons: The record features a faux Dixieland arrangement, and Elvis sings the old song about a cheating lover in the first person, taking the role Johnny as he does Frankie wrong. It’s a little odd, but it’s not awful. It didn’t do all that well, either, as it had already peaked at No. 25.

So, three records to choose from, two of which I’d never heard before. Well, there are days like that. I do like the Petula Clark record, but it’s very familiar. And choosing between the other two, I find that I really don’t like the Dave Clark Five. So here’s Elvis Presley’s take on “Frankie and Johnny,” today’s Saturday Single.

‘All My Days . . .’

Friday, April 15th, 2016

As we continue to make our ways here through the Valley of Virus – the Texas Gal seemingly ascending from its depths toward the uplands of recovery and me evidently making my way into its unpleasantness – there’s not much energy here.

So I was going to play the easy card that I’ve dropped on the table several times recently: In today’s case, asking the RealPlayer to find tracks recorded on April 15 over the years. I had a hunch that among them would be the recordings of Mississippi John Hurt’s concert on April 15, 1965, at Oberlin College in Ohio. And I was right. The tracks from that concert came up in the list.

But the RealPlayer also told me those tracks are no longer in the folder where I stashed them. And that’s true. Evidently, as I was updating my collection of Hurt’s music the other day, I inadvertently deleted the Oberlin concert tracks. I will have to replace them, and I’m not sure where I originally found them, likely somewhere out on the ’Net some years ago. The local library might have the CD, or I may track it down on Amazon and add it to the physical stacks here.

In any case, it’s always a good day to hear Mississippi John Hurt, so I’ll shift to a track included on his Last Sessions album, recorded in February 1966 at the Manhattan Towers Hotel in New York City. It’s suitable accompaniment for a trip through any valley: “Trouble, I’ve Had It All My Days.

Date corrected after first posting.

Saturday Single No. 489

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

In my look earlier this week at Ssgt. Barry Sadler’s 1966 hit “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” I noted that as the record climbed the charts and sat at No. 1 for five weeks, I liked it. But I may have inadvertently left the impression that I still do. I don’t, and I haven’t liked it or what it represents for a long, long time. And a comment about the record from a Facebook friend this week got me thinking about how that shift came to be.

I was twelve when the record came out, and I was just beginning the process of figuring out what was going on in the world around me and how I felt about those things. Most of those things were much closer at hand than the war in Vietnam, things like seventh grade math and girls. But I was also, as Thursday’s post indicated, reading newspapers and listening to news reports about events going on in the larger world and beginning to form, I guess, the ideals and principles that I’ve carried – or that have perhaps carried me – in the fifty years since. And among the things I pondered was the war in Vietnam.

As I wrote this week about my twelve-year-old self, “How much did I grasp about the war? Well, more than my classmates, certainly, and probably as much as many adults. . . . I believed what I read in the papers and heard on TV about Vietnam, as did, I think, my parents and all the other adults in my life. It would take a few years before we would realize that our government would lie to us.”

Over the next few years, I did figure out – as did many others in the U.S. – that our government was lying to us about Vietnam (and about many other things as well). And as I realized that, my thoughts and feelings about that war (and a lot of those other things) changed radically. As regards the war specifically, another impetus toward a changed attitude came on a sunny Saturday in 1969 when my sister’s boyfriend came home from Vietnam severely wounded and fundamentally changed; at the same time, that boyfriend’s best friend came home, as Country Joe would say, in a box. That was when, to adapt somewhat a 1960s trope, the political became personal.

And I imagine that if I’d ever thought about Ssgt. Barry Sadler and “The Ballad of the Green Berets” between that day in 1969 and the moment this week when I noted that it had been No. 1 fifty years ago, I’d have dismissed it as a bit of pop culture ephemera that offered a glorification of the war and of unthinking militarism that I rejected long ago.

So why did I write about Sadler and his record this week? Because they’re part of our musical and cultural history, and one of the things I try to do here is connect that history with the present. I perhaps didn’t do a very good job of that in my earlier post. I likely should have written – as I have here – about how my views of the record and the things it represents changed in the years that followed.

Thinking this morning about those changes brought to mind a song I still do like, one written and recorded by the late Phil Ochs in 1966, the same year Sadler’s record went to No. 1. It’s a song that’s been recorded numerous times over the years. One of my favorite versions, also from 1966, is by Julie Felix, an American folk singer whose long career has been based in Britain. So here (with guitarist John Renbourn evidently lending a hand) is Felix’s version of “Changes,” today’s Saturday single.

‘Silver Wings Upon Their Chest . . .’

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

Fifty years ago this week, the top spot in the Billboard Hot 100 belonged, for the fourth week in a row, to a jingoistic march celebrating some of America’s soldiers. The record? “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by SSgt. Barry Sadler.

Sadler’s record was a phenomenon, one of those records that both reflects and creates a pop cultural moment. At the time, the war in Vietnam was escalating rapidly: In 1964, according to the website American War Library, there had been 23,300 U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam; by 1966, that number had risen to 385,300. (It would peak in 1968 at 536,100.) Here at home, we were told we were fighting the Communists there so we would not have to fight them here. And because the government told us so, we thought we were winning.

And the Green Berets – or U.S. Army Special Forces – were among the heroes of the moment, a status propelled in good part by the book The Green Berets by Robin Moore. The book detailed Moore’s experiences training with the Special Forces and then being deployed with them to Vietnam. Interestingly, Wikipedia notes that “Moore’s account included several controversial facts about Special Forces missions that were classified at the time, prompting Moore to publish his book as ‘fiction’.” (The book spawned an equally jingoistic 1968 movie of the same title starring John Wayne.)

Sadler, who was in fact a staff sergeant in the Special Forces, had written the song while recovering from wounds sustained in Vietnam, and Moore encouraged him to record it. (Sadler’s picture – the same one that was used on the sleeve for the 45 and the LP jacket of his album – was also used on the cover of the paperback edition of Moore’s book.) The single, on RCA Victor, topped both the Hot 100 and the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for five weeks.

It was, as I said above, one of those records that both created and celebrated a moment, feeding the country’s need for heroes and goodness in a post-Kennedy world. And, I remember, we ate it up. I was in seventh grade, I knew a bit about the war in Vietnam, and I thought the record was neat. How much did I grasp about the war? Well, more than my classmates, certainly, and probably as much as many adults. I was already – as I have noted here many times – a news junkie. I believed what I read in the papers and heard on TV about Vietnam, as did, I think, my parents and all the other adults in my life. It would take a few years before we would realize that our government would lie to us.

I haven’t heard “The Ballad of the Green Berets” in years. It’s on the digital shelves, but I don’t recall it ever popping up during a random shuffle. Nevertheless, as I write about it this morning, I can hear it in my head, and I would guess that I could type in almost all the words without straining. It was everywhere fifty years ago.

As to Sadler, a follow-up single, “The ‘A’ Team,” made it to No. 28 in May 1966. After that, Wikipedia says, he wrote some novels about the military. In 1978, he killed a man in a dispute over a woman and was convicted of voluntary manslaughter; he appealed, arguing self-defense, and his sentence was reduced to twenty-one days. He moved to Guatemala, where in 1988 he was shot in the head during a robbery attempt. Despite treatment in the U.S. – provided by friends from the magazine Soldier of Fortune – Sadler never really recovered, and he died at the age of 49 on November 5, 1989. (All that from Wikipedia.)

Here’s his hit. And yes, I could have written the words from memory before listening to it. (And I noticed at some points the same awkward phrasing and timing that caught my attention, even as I liked the record, fifty years ago.)

Saturday Single No. 486

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

So, what were they listening to around the English-speaking world fifty years ago today? Let’s find out a little bit, anyway, by taking a look at four surveys offered at the Airheads Survey Radio Archive. We’ll check out the No. 27 record (selected for today’s date), hoping to find something worthy for a listen on a Saturday morning, and along the way, as we generally do, we’ll check out the No. 1 records.

Across the pond and anchored in the North Sea, Radio London was in its last year of sending its Fab 40 – as it called its survey – to British pop fans. The so-called pirate station began broadcasting in December 1964 and shut down in August 1967, when its activities became illegal under British law. It was still going strong in February of 1966, though, and fifty years ago today, it released its Fab 40 for the week. Parked at No. 27 was “Hide & Seek” by the Sheep, a record I don’t ever recall hearing. Checking the U.S. charts, I learn why: The record got only as high as No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100, and in those years before I was much of a pop listener, I wouldn’t have likely heard a record that didn’t make the Top Twenty.

The Sheep was actually the group the Strangeloves, who charted several times in 1965-66, most notably with “I Want Candy,” which went to No. 11 in the U.S. The joke, of course, is that the Strangeloves were marketed in the U.S. as wealthy Australian sheep farmers. As to “Hide & Seek,” a garage anthem heavy on the drums, bass and sax, the next week’s Radio London survey finds it moving up to No. 23. Sadly, the next two surveys are missing at ARSA, and by the time March 27 rolled around, “Hide & Seek” had dropped from the Fab 40.

The No. 1 record on Radio London fifty years ago today was “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” by the Kinks.

Heading Down Under, we check the Top 40 at 4BC in Brisbane, Queensland, where the No. 27 record on February 27, 1966, was “Wind Me Up (Let Me Go)” by Cliff Richard. I’ve written before that I’ve never quite understood the attractions of Cliff Richard’s music (save, perhaps, for “Devil Woman”), and if I didn’t get it during the years I listened to Top 40, I certainly wouldn’t have known anything from before those years, and that’s certainly the case with the plaintive “Wind Me Up (Let Me Go).” The record was on its way back down 4BC’s survey, having peaked a few weeks earlier at No. 13. It did not make the Billboard charts in the U.S., falling in the nearly four year period from August 1964 to June of 1968 when Richard was absent from the Hot 100.

The No. 1 record on 4BC fifty years ago today was “My Generation” by the Who.

Stepping on American soil, we head to the shores of Lake Michigan and check out the Silver Dollar Music Survey at WRIT in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And perched at No. 27 we find the melancholy classic “Crying Time” by Ray Charles. The record peaked there a week later at No. 25. Nationally, the record went to No. 6 in the Billboard Hot 100, to No. 5 on the magazine’s R&B chart and was No. 1 for three weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart. Even the kid who listened to trumpet music and soundtracks at the time remembers hearing that one coming out of the speakers.

The No. 1 record at WRIT fifty years ago was Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”

Our last stop this morning takes us northwest, across the Canadian border and up to Edmonton, Alberta, where CHED released its Hitline Top Thirty. Barely making the cut at No. 27 fifty years ago today was “Call Me” by Chris Montez. I know the song, and I suppose I’ve heard Montez’ version before; it went to No. 22 in the Hot 100 and to No. 2 on the AC chart. But Montez’ voice is not one I would associate with the song; in my head, I hear a female voice, but it’s not Petula Clark’s version, which evidently was the original. Montez’ version is not bad, but his voice is pretty thin (and I’ve always though the same about his performance on his better-known hit, “Let’s Dance,” which went to No. 4 in 1962). I do like the backing on “Call Me,” and I note that “Let’s Dance” was included on the massive 2013 box set The Wrecking Crew: We Got Good At It, so it’s quite likely, I would think, that it’s the Wrecking Crew backing Montez on “Call Me.”

The No. 1 record in the Hitline Top Thirty fifty years ago today was “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”

So, we have four candidates. The Cliff Richard record drops out immediately, and the Sheep’s “Hide & Seek” – not awful but not what I needed this morning – goes next. “Call Me” is a great song, but Montez’ vocal just doesn’t do it for me. So we end up with Brother Ray, and that’s not a bad place to end up. Here’s “Crying Time,” today’s Saturday Single.

One Chart Dig: January 1966

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Fifty years ago this week, six guys from Allen Park High School in Michigan – Allen Park is a suburb southwest of Detroit – saw their record sitting on the lowest rung of the Billboard Hot 100. “Wait A Minute” by Tim Tam & The Turn-Ons was bubbling under at No. 130 in the chart released on January 29, 1966.

Tim Tam & The Turn-Ons

Tim Tam & The Turn-Ons

Still, that was an improvement over the previous week, when the Bubbling Under section of the chart had listed thirty-five records, and “Wait A Minute” entered the chart at No. 131. The record would spend five weeks in the chart, peaking at No. 76. It was the only record the group ever placed in the Billboard charts.

The record was written by Rick (Tim-Tam) Wiesend and Tom DeAngelo, and I assume DeAngelo was a house writer/producer for Detroit-based Palmer records. It’s a not a bad record, kind of a mix of doo-wop and garage rock, and I do like the drum fills.

“Wait A Minute” would have fit right in with the records I vaguely recall from that winter’s seventh grade dance at South Junior High in St. Cloud. I do have some more vivid memories from that dance, and I may share them sometime, but for now, let’s just listen to Tim Tam & The Turn-Ons:

‘They Won’t Tell Your Secrets . . .’

Friday, January 15th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Creep Down The Alleyway . . .’

Friday, November 27th, 2015

The iPod reminded the other evening me of something I’d forgotten.

It chugged along as I did dishes, providing me another random set list of dishwashing music for a Facebook post, and along the way, it stopped on a Simon & Garfunkel tune: “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me.”

As the tale of a young man going on the run unfolded, I was reminded again of my first cassette player, the Panasonic model I bought in the summer of 1969 with the cash I’d earned working at the state trap shoot just outside of St. Cloud. I’ve noted before that the first cassettes I listened to were Blood, Sweat & Tears’ self-titled 1969 release and the Beatles’ Abbey Road.

But I forgot about Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 album, Sounds Of Silence.

Unlike the other two album, I never owned the factory cassette, and I didn’t put the LP into my collection for some years. But sometime in the late summer or autumn of 1969, I heard the album across the street at Rick’s and borrowed it to tape it.

As I’ve mentioned here before, my taping system in those days was brutal: I’d place the tape recorder in the middle of the basement rec room floor and play the record on the stereo about six feet away. The resulting recordings, while not great, were at least good enough for casual listening (and to be honest, the small speaker on the Panasonic was probably an audiophile’s nightmare).

I listened to the album a lot during my junior year of high school, 1969-70. I was just beginning to dabble in lyrics, and Simon’s work was among my inspirations: From the enigma of “The Sound Of Silence” through the lovely “Kathy’s Song” and the aforementioned “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” to the stoic “I Am A Rock,” the album’s lyrics made me think, not just about Simon’s evident themes of disaffection and isolation but about how one went about writing a lyric.

Along the way, I carefully copied out the lyrics to “A Most Peculiar Man,” another tale of social isolation:

He was a most peculiar man
That’s what Mrs. Riordon says, and she should know
She lived upstairs from him
She said he was a most peculiar man

He was a most peculiar man
He lived all alone
Within a house, within a room, within himself
A most peculiar man

He had no friends, he seldom spoke
And no one in turn ever spoke to him
’Cause he wasn’t friendly and he didn’t care
And he wasn’t like them
Oh no, he was a most peculiar man

He died last Saturday
He turned on the gas and he went to sleep
With the windows closed so he’d never wake up
To his silent world and his tiny room
And Mrs. Riordan says he has a brother somewhere
Who should be notified soon

And all the people said
“What a shame that he’s dead
But wasn’t he a most peculiar man?”

Admiring the lyric, I showed it to my English teacher, Mr. Dolan, and to my horror, he thought I had written it. I quickly corrected his misapprehension (which, of course, stemmed from my error of not having jotted Simon’s name down as I jotted down the lyrics), and in response, he suggested I try my hand at writing my own lyric. I didn’t tell him I was heading that direction already.

Eventually, the tape of Sounds Of Silence made its way out of my musical rotation. The LP came my way in the autumn of 1974 when Rick cleared his shelves of a number of albums and brought them across the street to me. I probably played it a little then, but it was no longer among my favorites.

So when the iPod offered me “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” the other day, I truly thought about the track and the entire album for the first time in a long while. (I didn’t think about it when I loaded the track onto the iPod? Not really. I was opening folders and clicking titles, and I may have thought, “Boy, I haven’t heard that in a long time,” but thinking that was a long way from actually hearing the track and responding to it.) And having been reminded of the album, I guess I’m going to have to purposefully listen to it from start to finish very soon.

Will I admire it as much as I once did? I don’t know. I might report back.

Here’s “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me.”

How Far Down?

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

So I glanced at the Billboard Hot 100 from July 23, 1966 – forty-nine years ago today – and the Top Ten was familiar, as it was during that long-ago summer:

“Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells
“Wild Thing” by the Troggs
“Lil’ Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs
“The Pied Piper” by Crispian St. Peters
“You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” by Dusty Springfield
“Paperback Writer” by the Beatles
“Hungry” by Paul Revere & The Raiders
“Red Rubber Ball” by the Cyrkle
“I Saw Her Again” by The Mamas & The Papas
“Sweet Pea” by Tommy Roe

I still wasn’t much of a fan back then, but summertime mean more time hanging around with the other kids, and someone back then always had a radio, so the hits of summertimes from, oh, 1964 through 1969 are more familiar to me than the hits that came along when school was in session.

And I liked some of the records in that Top Ten, notably “Hungry.” “The Pied Piper,” “I Saw Her Again,” and best of all, “Paperback Writer” (chiefly for what I later learned was Paul McCartney’s amazing bass line).

I ran down the second twenty records on that chart, and there were a couple that I wouldn’t have known back then: “Love Letters” by Elvis Presley and “You Better Run” by the Young Rascals. And I wondered how far down the chart I’d have to go to find a record that remains unfamiliar almost fifty years later.

As it turns out, not far. Sitting at No. 26 was “Sweet Dreams” by Tommy McLain, released on the MSL label, a record I’d never heard of or heard before:

It was a cover of Don Gibson’s 1956 release on the Jockey label, which went to No. 9 on the country chart. (Gibson re-released the record on RCA Victor in 1960, and it went to No. 6 on the country chart and to No. 93 on the Hot 100.) The more memorable cover these days, however, might be Patsy Cline’s 1963 effort – titled “Sweet Dreams (Of You)” – not only because it went to No. 5 on the country chart (as well as to No.44 on the pop chart and No. 15 on what is now called the Adult Contemporary chart) but because Sweet Dreams was the title of the 1985 biopic about Cline starring Jessica Lange.

McLain’s cover of the tune didn’t do that well. It did climb to No. 15 in the Hot 100, but it never made the country Top 40. And McLain – a native of Jonesville, Louisiana, described in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles as a “white ‘swamp-pop’ singer-songwriter” – never showed up in or near the Hot 100 again.