Archive for the ‘1966’ Category

‘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.

‘Come On In My Kitchen . . .’

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

‘I Am Wednesday’s Child . . .’

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Being not nearly as iconic as Monday, Wednesday gets short shrift – and I wonder, not for the first time, what in the hell shrift is – when it comes to being the subject of songs. Out of 82,000-some tracks in the RealPlayer, only five have “Wednesday” in their titles:

“A Wednesday In Your Garden” by the Guess Who, 1969.
“Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” by Simon & Garfunkel, 1964.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday” by Wild Silk, 1968.
“Wednesday’s Child (Main Theme)” by John Barry, 1966.
“Wednesday’s Child (Vocal)” by John Barry/Matt Monro, 1966.

Those last two entries come from the soundtrack to The Quiller Memorandum, a 1966 spy flick set in Berlin that had a pretty good cast (George Segal, Alec Guinness and Max von Sydow among others). I’ve never seen the film, but the soundtrack came to my attention, of course, because it was written by John Barry.

It’s a moody and atmospheric soundtrack, which one might expect, and even without a zither (as far as I can tell), it reminds me vaguely of Anton Karas’ work for the 1949 thriller The Third Man. I think that comes from the presence of a lot of plucked strings, which distinguishes the Quiller soundtrack from the three scores Barry had written for James Bond films by 1966 (From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball). One odd bit that must have been scored as source music in the film – from a radio or in a club, I suppose – is a saxophone arrangement of Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” and there’s a suitably Teutonic track titled “Autobahn March,” but the bulk of the score is quiet, sometimes melancholy, sometimes foreboding and occasionally sweet.

I’m not sure how well Mack David’s lyrics for “Wednesday’s Child” reflect the film, but like much of the score itself, they’re suitably sad:

Wednesday’s child is a child of woe.
Wednesday’s child cries alone, I know.
When you smiled, just for me you smiled.
For a while I forgot I was Wednesday’s child.

Friday’s child wins at love, they say.
In your arms, Friday was my day.
Now you’re gone. Well, I should have known.
I am Wednesday’s child, born to be alone.

Now you’re gone. Well, I should have known.
I am Wednesday’s child, born to be alone.

Wednesday’s child, born to be alone.

Monro, who did vocals for several Barry themes – “From Russia With Love” and “Born Free” among them – does a decent job with the tune, which makes it a fine selection for a Wednesday:

Saturday Single No. 435

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

There’s one memorable February 28 in my life, one that stands out above the sixty-two others. And that’s counting today, which I suppose I should not do; it’s early, and things may well happen that make today memorable.

Anyway, the one memorable February 28 so far was in 1976, when I walked across a stage at St. Cloud State and got my diploma for my bachelor’s degree. That didn’t end my college days; I hung around for another year and some months, adding some post-grad stuff and another undergraduate minor. But it was a milestone, and we took pictures and went out for lunch and all that.

And I got records as gifts.

A couple days before graduation, a casual friend had delivered to me a copy of Art Garfunkel’s Breakaway. I was startled. We’d had some intense conversations not quite a year earlier but had not seen each other since then. And I guess those conversations carried more weight for her than they had for me. I remember being puzzled as I watched her drive away. But the record was decent.

And at lunch on graduation day, my girlfriend’s mother – who for a while would be my mother-in-law – passed to me a card that contained some cash. So a couple days after the festivities, I headed over to Musicland in the mall on the west end of town and picked up two double albums: Beginnings by the Allman Brothers Band (a repackaging of the band’s first two albums stuck together) and Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde.

Both of my shopping selections had – as has so much else in my life – their roots in my time in Fredericia, Denmark, a couple of years earlier. The lounge at the youth hostel where I lived for a few months was filled most evenings with the sounds of the Allman Brothers’ later albums, and I wanted to know the earlier stuff.

And when I borrowed from the Fredericia library the cassette of Dylan’s first greatest hits album sometime during the autumn of 1973, I was startled to find “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” as one of the offered hits. The track was not on the U.S. version of the album I’d heard several times (and would eventually buy for myself).

But I loved the track, with its harmonica introduction, its rolling piano throughout, its cryptic (and sometimes biting) lyrics, and most of all, the rising building up to the chorus and the descending bass once we get there. So when I had some money to spend, I decided that wanted a copy of the track in my collection, and if the rest of Blonde On Blonde came along, so much the better.

All of that works well this morning, as I’ve mentioned “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” only three times before in the eight years I’ve been writing about music, and I offered it just once, back in 2008. So here, from 1966, is a track that I consider one of Dylan’s masterpieces, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 431

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

About three years ago, having run across an obscure single by Rod McKuen in a Billboard Hot 100 from 1962, I remembered seeking out a couple of volumes of McKuen’s poetry in high school:

Why? A couple of things contributed, I imagine. I’d been listening frequently to the Glenn Yarbrough album The Lonely Things, a 1966 LP of McKuen’s songs that my sister had received from a boyfriend before he headed off to Vietnam. And there was my embryonic interest in writing my own verse and lyrics. Those two bits of my life united, I think, into the realization that even if matters of the heart did not unwind as I might wish they would (and they did not, though at sixteen, how could they have done so?), something worthy might be salvaged from the sorrow.

So I read the two volumes, recognizing a few of the pieces from the Yarbrough album and dipping into those that were not familiar. I found some of them affecting, I remember, and I found some of them not to my taste. Assessing them from a distance of more than forty years – and not having read many of them for that long – I now see much of McKuen’s work as manipulative, pushing his loved (and lost) one’s buttons, as it were, instead of truly grieving. And his poems and lyrics – even those on the Yarbrough album, which I still love – all too often tap sentiment instead of true emotion.

Hmmm. Until I wrote those words, I didn’t know I felt that way about McKuen’s work. As I used to tell my reporting and writing students: If you want to know how you really feel about something, start writing about it and follow the words. But anyway, back to work . . .

And I still feel that way about the work of McKuen, who passed on in California two days ago at the age of eighty-one. But that’s (mostly) the dismissive assessment of an adult. As an adolescent, as I noted in that piece from three years ago, I found many of his works affecting, and – especially when filtered through the voice of Glenn Yarbrough – touching. Sentimental? Yes, I still think so, but I’m also aware that the reliance on sentiment – by McKuen and other writers alike – is one of the things that pushed me toward being a writer, toward using the events and feelings of my life as foundations of my own work.

And there we come to one of the points of this blog: How the music I’ve loved over the years has brought me to where I am, as a writer and a person. And the fact that I have come to be far more critical of McKuen’s work in the forty-five years that have passed since I was a high school junior does not negate the value I found in some of McKuen’s work then nor its influence since those days on my writing and my life.

That value and that influence came most of all from Yarbrough’s album The Lonely Things. So to remember Rod McKuen and to acknowledge his place in my life, here’s one of the pieces from Yarbrough’s album that I found most affecting in 1970. Even as I recognize the song’s flaws today, I still find the combination of McKuen’s words and Yarbrough’s voice a potent mix, which only means that I am both sixteen and sixty-one as I listen to it this morning. Here’s “Stanyan Street, Revisited,” today’s Saturday Single.