Archive for the ‘1987’ Category

‘What’

Friday, August 25th, 2017

We resume our tour this morning through the five W’s and one H of basic journalism, a trek we’re calling Journalism 101, during which we’ll highlight tunes with titles that include the words “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” and “how.” We started with a post titled “Who” last month. Today, we move on to “what.”

Our initial search through the 96,000 or so tracks in the RealPlayer brings us 1,476 candidates. There’s winnowing required, and we lose entire albums (except, in some cases, the title track) from William Vaughn, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Jimmy Smith, Bobby Womack, Koko Taylor, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Janiva Magness, Catherine Howe, the Decemberists, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jackie Lomax, Gloria Scott, Pat Green, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, and a fair number more. We also lose a few tracks from Michael McDonald, a couple tracks from the Staples, one track from the Dynamics, two tracks from Dinah Washington, a track from Rodney Crowell and a few others.

But there are plenty of tracks remaining for our needs this morning, and instead of trying to sort through the remainder with any sort of criteria, I’m going to let the RealPlayer do the work randomly. I’ll intervene for spoken word tracks, tracks shorter than two minutes, and anything before, oh, let’s say 1945. So here we go:

First up in our trek today is “What Do You Want” by the Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds. The track showed up in the U.K. on the 1966 album Yardbirds. In the U.S., it was on Over Under Sideways Down. It’s your basic garage rocker with a slight Brit twist, at least until the last third or so, when Beck takes things over. It’s not near the top of the Yardbirds’ oeuvre, but mediocre Yardbirds is a lot better than a lot of other things we might hear as we wander among the digital shelves here.

We move on to a record about which I know next to nothing, “What More Can I Say” by Jeffrey Clay & The Diggers. It was released by MGM in 1965 but went nowhere; it came to our attention in the massive Lost Jukebox collection that was available online a while back. It’s not in any of the chart books or files I have, the Airheads Radio Survey Archive finds no mention of the single in its vast collection of surveys, and it’s the only single for Mr. Clay and his pals listed at Discogs. It’s not a bad record, just a little boring, with one odd thing: Producer Gene Nash tacked the sound of an audience of screaming girls to the beginning and the end of the record, in what I’d guess was an attempt to make the listeners think the group was overwhelmingly popular. I just wonder who it was those young ladies were actually screaming for.

And we hit some traditional country with “What’ll You Do About Me” by Randy Travis. I suppose that back in 1987, when the tune was an album track on Travis’ Always & Forever, the tale of a spurned lover who won’t give up seemed like a good topic. But listening thirty years later, in a world that’s become much more attuned to the traits of domestic abuse, I hear the story of a stalker who’s likely dangerous (especially in the verse where he’s got his hands on a two-by-two):

All you wanted was a one-night stand
The fire and the wine and the touch of a man
But I fell in love and ruined all your plans
Now what’ll you do about me?

Imagine the faces on your high-class friends
When I beat on the door and I beg to come in
Screamin’ “Come on, love me again!”
Now what’ll you do about me?

Well, you can change your number, you can change your name
You can ride like hell on the midnight train
That’s alright, Momma, that’s okay
But what’ll you do about me?

Picture your neighbors when you try to explain
That good ol’ boy standin’ out in the rain
With his nose on the window pane
Now what’ll you do about me?

What in the world are you planning to do
When a man comes over just to visit with you
And I’m on the porch with a two-by-two?
Lady, what’ll you do about me?

Well, you can call your lawyer, you can call the fuzz
You can sound the alarm, wake the neighbors up
Ain’t no way to stop a man in love
Now what’ll you do about me?

All you wanted was a one night stand
The fire and the wine and the touch of a man
But I fell in love and baby, here I am
Now what’ll you do about me?

Well, you can change your number, you can change your name
You can ride like hell on the midnight train
That’s alright, Momma, that’s okay
Now what’ll you do about me?

And we close our four-tune sample with the combination from 2008 of a long-familiar name with a long-familiar tune: Bonnie Bramlett taking on “For What It’s Worth.” Bramlett, of course, was the Bonnie of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, the powerhouse group of the late 1960s and early 1970s that offered a wicked stew of rock, blues, R&B and gospel; and the song, of course, is the one that Stephen Stills wrote when he was member of Buffalo Springfield that became an anthem for the counter-culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. A cynic could say, “Hey! It’s Double-Nostalgia Day!” But the song, slightly cryptic as it is, still sounds right today, and Bramlett’s supple and bluesy voice still sounds good on what is – so far – her most recent album, Beautiful.

‘West’

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Today, finally, we go west, sorting through the digital shelves for four tracks that use the word “west” in their titles.

Sorting in the RealPlayer for the word, we get 613 tracks, but as I suspected, we have some winnowing to do. Numerous tracks have been labeled “West Coast” in the genre slot, and they fall by the wayside, Jackson Browne’s For Everyman, the City’s Now That Everything’s Been Said, and Walter Eagan’s Not Shy among them. Anything titled or tagged as having been recorded at the Fillmore West will be ignored, as will numerous blues joints that came out of West Helena, Arkansas (many of them by Howlin’ Wolf).

Most of Alfred Newman’s soundtrack to the 1962 movie How The West Was Won is lost, as are Ray Charles’ two volumes from 1962 of Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music. The same holds for anything by Cashman & West (with and without Pistilli), and for a group called West, which gets double-docked for its 1968 self-titled album.

We also throw out the fight song from Western Illinois University, and numerous singles, starting with those on the Westbound and EastWest labels. Among the lost singles are “Linda’s Gone” by the West Coast Branch, “Fairchild” by Willie West, “Rave On” by Sonny West, “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” by Tex Williams & His Western Caravan, “Tennessee Toddy” by Billy Gray & His Western Okies, “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)” by Kim Weston, “500 Miles” by Hedy West, “Take What You Want” by West Point, and “The Ballad Of Paladin” by Johnny Western.

Still, we have enough to work with.

Trying to tap into the spirit of the music they’d made a decade earlier, the Allman Brothers Band offered “From The Madness Of The West” on its 1980 album Reach For The Sky. In its six-plus minutes, the jam gave the listener the expected: parallel guitar lines playing arching melodies, a percussion solo, modal progressions and a technically precise guitar solo. What it could not offer, of course, were those people and things the Allman Brothers Band lost along the way: the departed Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, the bypassed Jaimoe, and the ability to do things no other band could. “From The Madness Of The West” is decent listening but no more than that. If you let it roll by in the background without thinking about it, it’s pleasant music, but when you stop to think about the arc of the Allman Brothers Band, the track – and in fact all of Reach For The Sky – feels like the part in a novel where you pause and wonder if in fact there can be any revival.

In 1987, when the Grateful Dead released the album In The Dark and pulled from the album the single “Touch Of Grey,” I wonder if Jerry Garcia and the rest of the band were baffled by the result. The album went to No. 6 on the Billboard 200, and the single went to No. 9 on the Hot 100. The group had reached the Top 20 of the album chart a few times before – Blues For Allah had done the best, going to No. 12 in 1975 – but never before had a Dead single hit the Top 40, much less the Top Ten. The group’s highest charting single before “Touch Of Grey” had been 1971’s “Truckin’,” which topped off at No. 64. As it happened, the Dead’s burst of popularity coincided with the rebirth of my interest in buying tunes, and In The Dark became the first Grateful Dead album on my shelves. And one of my favorite tracks from the album – “West L.A. Fadeaway” – qualifies for today’s exercise, bringing along a blues verse that more often than not makes me chuckle: “I met an old mistake walkin’ down the street today/I didn’t wanna be mean about it, but I didn’t have one good word to say.”

With a spare accompaniment – guitars and few strings – Nanci Griffith sings:

Wash away the tears
All the angry times we shared
All the feelings and the sorrows come and gone
We have let them slip away
Because I’m standing here today
And I’m smiling at your old West Texas sun

I remember times
When you’d weathered out my mind
But you always had a peaceful word to say
And you could always bring a smile
With the mischief in your eyes
Still, I’m glad the miles keep me separate from your games

You know you’re still as wild
As those old west Texas plains
Standing by the highway do you still call my name?
Lord, I can’t believe it’s been such a long, long time
Since I’ve seen that Texas boy smile

Well, I’ll be heading out of town
I may stop by next time around
Hell, it’s raining, but at least that’s something real
I came shackled down with fears
About our dreams and wasted years
And now I know exactly how to feel

Wash away the tears
All the angry times we shared
All the feelings and the sorrows come and gone
We have let them slip away
Because I’m standing here today
And I’m smiling at your old West Texas sun

The track is “West Texas Sun” from Griffith’s first album, the 1978 release There’s A Light Beyond These Woods. As one might expect for a first album, it’s a little tentative; the confident story-teller that I discovered in the early 1990s has yet to show up. (I think of “Love at the Five & Dime” from The Last of the True Believers in 1986 and “Trouble In The Fields” from Lone Star State Of Mind a year later, just to highlight two great songs that came along very soon.) But even early Griffith is worth a stop this morning.

And we close this morning with a recent version of a song that’s been around for nearly ninety years: “West End Blues.” Written by Clarence Williams and King Oliver and first recorded in 1928 by King Oliver & His Dixie Syncopators, “West End Blues” was one of the tunes that New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint selected for his 2009 album The Bright Mississippi. In his review of the album at AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that “although straight-out jazz is uncommon in Toussaint’s work, this neither feels unfamiliar or like a stretch,” adding, “Upon the first listen, The Bright Mississippi merely seems like a joyous good time, but subsequent spins focus attention on just how rich and multi-layered this wonderful music is.” As I listened to the most recent cover of “West End Blues,” I noted that the digital shelves also hold a copy of one of the earliest covers of the song: A 1928 release by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five.

Random In The ’80s

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Simply because we don’t visit the decade very often around here, we’re going to make a four-stop trip through the 1980s this morning. When I sort for the decade, the RealPlayer offers us somewhere around 6,200 tracks. (I have to estimate because of things like catalog numbers – Buddy Holly’s “Rave On,” Coral 61985, for example – and releases from box sets and other re-releases that note a date in the 1980s for things recorded earlier.) So here we go:

First up is Wynton Marsalis with “Soon All Will Know” from his 1987 album Marsalis Standard Time, Vol. 1. Modern jazz is not a territory I know well or travel in confidently, but a while back – after Marsalis and Eric Clapton recorded a live blues album – I grabbed some Marsalis CDs from the library and dropped them into our mix here, figuring I might learn something. I’m not sure I have so far, but I keep letting the tracks fall here and there as I roll on random. After seeming to wander around for a while, “Soon All Will Know” grabs a decent groove and offers a nice intro to today’s wanderings.

Steve Forbert’s music has been for years on the margins of my interest. Folks might recall that his 1979 single “Romeo’s Tune” showed up in my Ultimate Jukebox six years ago, but that was more a consequence of its getting radio play at a time when I wasn’t hearing much I liked on the radio. This morning, we land on “Laughter Lou (Who Needs You)” from Forbert’s 1980 album Little Stevie Orbit, a work whose tracks pop up on occasion but on which I’ve not focused much attention. The album went to No. 70 on the Billboard 200, clearly following on the success of 1979’s Jackrabbit Slim, which hit No. 20. But there was no interest in any singles from the album, even though Nemperor released “Song For Katrina” as a promo. As to “Laughter Lou (Who Needs You),” the lyrics have some nice putdowns for poor Lou and the music drives along quite nicely. I probably wouldn’t have changed the station if it had come on the radio back in 1980, but I don’t know that I would have anxiously waited to hear it again.

We move on to “Crazy Feeling” a track from The “West Side” Sound Rolls Again, a 1983 album by Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers, the guys who years earlier were the heart of the Sir Douglas Quintet and its hit, “She’s About A Mover.” Sahm has shown up in this space a number of times over the years (as has Meyers, though almost always unmentioned while Sahm’s music played), and “Crazy Feeling” is a remake of a 1961 Sahm single that hews very, very close to the original; the major difference seems to be that the 1961 version doubled up on the crazy and was titled “Crazy, Crazy Feeling.” As to the album, there’s not a lot out on the Interwebs about it (and I’m not at all sure how it came to be in the digital stacks), but I do note this morning that a copy of the LP is going for $219 at Amazon. (That’s the asking price, of course; how much it actually sells for could be an entirely different matter.)

Anyone trying to keep track of the various unreleased works by Bruce Springsteen that end up bootlegged in the corners of the ’Net would have an impossible task. I don’t try to keep track; I just listen to the boots when they show up and keep some of them (well, most of them). One of the tracks that I’ve come across that way is “Sugarland,” which showed up on a board somewhere as part of a collection called Unsatisfied Heart, a group of outakes from the Born In The U.S.A. sessions in 1983 and 1984. According to Setlist.fm, Springsteen has performed the song live twice, two days apart in Ames, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska in November 1984. It’s a plaint about the prospects of a farmer (and that makes sense of the locales of its performances):

Grain’s in the field covered with tarp
Can’t get a price to see my way clear
I’m sitting down at the Sugarland bar
Might as well bury my body right here

Tractors and combines out in the cold
Sheds piled high with the wheat we ain’t sold
Silos filled with last year’s crop
If something don’t break, hey, we’re all gonna drop

‘If I Have Been Unkind . . .’

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

As I was learning how to make my way across the ocean of rock, blues R&B and all the rest during the early 1970s, I imagine that somewhere, I ran across the music of Leonard Cohen. Someone at a party, a dorm bull session, a quiet evening or somewhere else had to have put onto the stereo one of Cohen’s early albums – Songs Of Leonard Cohen, Songs From A Room or Songs Of Love and Hate.

I would have been unimpressed. The generally spare melodies and arrangements and the plainness of Cohen’s voice would have left me wanting more and would have over-ridden any regard I might have had for the quality of Cohen’s songs. Some of those songs I would have known via covers by other artists, like Judy Collins’ versions of “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” “Suzanne” and “Sisters Of Mercy,” and I liked those, but Cohen’s own versions left me cold.

(In writing that, I find some irony, for over the decades, I’ve been dismayed to hear friends say essentially the same thing about Bob Dylan: I like his songs, but I cannot stand the way he sings.)

So even though there’s a fair amount of Cohen’s work on both the vinyl and digital shelves here, very little of it is played. The only album of Cohen’s that I truly like is his 1992 work, The Future, and with the exception of the great track “Closing Time,” my regard for the album is tied more to its time and my place then.

This comes up now, of course, because as we put together an alternate version of Joe Cocker’s second album, Joe Cocker!, we run right into Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire.” It’s the second track on Cocker’s album, and his relatively spare take on the tune is likely the first one I ever heard. Judy Collins was evidently the first to release the song, on her 1968 album Who Knows Where The Time Goes, and I might have heard that before the spring of 1972, but I don’t think so. Some of the versions released through 1972, according to Second Hand Tunes, came from folks I would eventually listen to – Jackie DeShannon, Dave Van Ronk, Genya Ravan and Tim Hardin among them – but they were not on my turntable then.

So would any of those early versions work for our purposes today? I like the idea behind Collins’ country-tinged take, but I think the vocal gets lost. Ravan’s take from 1972 is restrained with a slowly building backing, and I like it, too. Plenty of covers have come since then, of course, and I’ve heard and liked some. But among all the versions of the tune that I’ve heard – and that list also includes covers by k. d. lang, the Neville Brothers, Fairport Convention, Kate Wolf, Johnny Cash and more – I keep coming back to Jennifer Warnes’ foreboding version on her 1987 album of Cohen’s songs, Famous Blue Raincoat.

Saturday Single No. 465

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

While cleaning the kitchen this morning to make way for another Saturday of pickle power – the last of the season? We’ve thought so before – I let the iPod keep me company. And as one of the tunes played, I wondered how often had it been mentioned here over the past eight-plus years.

Only twice, as it turns out, and it’s been offered for listening only once. So I thought I’d let the archives do the bulk of the work for me today. Here, edited slightly, is something I wrote in October 2007 about the year of 1987:

In 1987, I began what I now call the nomadic phase of my life. During the nearly five-year period from May 1987 through March 1992, I moved eight times, wandering from Minnesota to North Dakota back to Minnesota to Kansas to Missouri and back to Minnesota.

It was, clearly, an unsettled time in my life. I taught at two universities, a college and a community college, lost one cat, wrote for four newspapers, wrote a novel and lots of lyrics, fell in love three times and watched it fade three times, bought more than six hundred records, made friends and lost friends, survived the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 (a total of twenty-eight inches of snow fell in the Twin Cities from October 31 through November 3), and wound up on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, where I lived for the next seven years, waiting (though I did not know it) for the Texas Gal’s path to intersect mine.

And, as always, I listened to a lot of music. Being on college campuses at various times during those years kept me more in touch with new music than I had been when I was working as a free-lance writer. That was especially true in Minot, North Dakota, where I advised the university newspaper for two academic years, from the autumn of 1987 through the spring of 1989. My office was adjacent to the paper’s newsroom/workroom and the sound of the radio in the next room was inescapable. Luckily, I liked most of what I heard.

Among the tunes I heard coming from that radio in the next room was the Grateful Dead’s “Touch Of Grey.” It turned out to be the band’s only Top 40 hit, going to No. 9 in the Billboard Hot 100, and it came from the band’s only Top Ten album, In The Dark, which went to No. 6. Chart success, of course, was never the Dead’s primary motivation, but the record sounded good coming from the radio and eventually, from my stereo.

And because that sound is one of the good memories I have from my time on the Dakota prairie, “Touch Of Grey” is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Singles No. 402 & 403

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

The tale of the Cash family and the song “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” feels to me this morning like something that might have been told by a country radio version of the recently departed Casey Kasem.

Having come to an appreciation of country music by a roundabout way and not via the radio, I can only assume that there is or was a country radio show similar to Kasem’s American Top 40. If that’s the case, then the tale has to have been told. But it was new to me this morning.

Johnny Cash wrote the tale of the boy and his guitar:

In a little cabaret in a South Texas border town
Sat a boy and his guitar, and the people came from all around.
And all the girls from there to Austin
Were slippin’ away from home and puttin’ jewelery in hock.
To take the trip, to go and listen
To the little dark-haired boy that played the Tennessee flat-top box.

And he would play: [Instrumental]

Well, he couldn’t ride or wrangle, and he never cared to make a dime.
But give him his guitar, and he’d be happy all the time.
And all the girls from nine to ninety
Were snappin’ fingers, tappin’ toes and beggin’ him: “Don’t stop.”
And hypnotized and fascinated
By the little dark-haired boy that played the Tennessee flat-top box.

And he would play: [Instrumental]

Then one day he was gone, and no one ever saw him ’round.
He’d vanished like the breeze, and they forgot him in the little town.
But all the girls still dreamed about him,
And hung around the cabaret until the doors were locked.
And then one day on the Hit Parade
Was a little dark-haired boy that played a Tennessee flat-top box.

And he would play: [Instrumental]

Cash recorded the song in Hollywood on July 19, 1961, fifty-three years ago today. Released as a single, “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” went to No. 11 on the Billboard country chart and to No. 84 on the magazine’s Hot 100.

Fast forward twenty-six years to 1987, when Cash’s daughter Rosanne was putting together her sixth album, King’s Record Shop. According to Wikipedia, it was at the urging of her then-husband Rodney Crowell that the younger Cash recorded “Tennessee Flat-Top Box.” When she recorded the song, Wikipedia says, Rosanne Cash was unaware her father had written it; she thought the song was in the public domain.

Released as a single in late 1987, Rosanne Cash’s version of “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” went to No. 1 on the county chart, the third of four country No. 1 records from King’s Record Shop. (The others were “The Way We Make A Broken Heart,” “If You Change Your Mind” and “Runaway Train.”) According to a note in the 2001 edition of the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, the younger Cash’s success with “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” “marked a healing of her strained relationship with her dad.”

That healing probably wasn’t as easy as that makes it sound, but never mind. And the tale is probably not unique; I imagine there are other examples of families’ later generations finding success with remakes of earlier generations’ works. (I’m not going to dig for them today, but I imagine I’d find some.)

But it’s still a nice story, with two versions of the same song that are both worth hearing. That’s why Johnny Cash’s 1961 recording of “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” (offered above) and Rosanne Cash’s 1987 cover of her father’s song (below) are today’s Saturday Singles.

Saturday Single No. 358

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Thoughts on writing implements – as promised in Thursday’s post – will have to wait, because two tales from some years ago are intertwining, and there’s more there to untangle than we generally do here on a Saturday morning. And in making Thursday’s promise, I did not account for the fact that the Texas Gal and I have signed up for a few hours of booth duty today representing our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at today’s Pride in the Park, part of the local LGBT organization’s annual Pridefest.

So, due to the vagaries of my forearm tendons and my lack of planning, this blog has become a little bit of a sparsely seeded place this week. With luck, next week will find me more productive.

In keeping with the disjointedness of the week, here’s a track that has nothing to do with any of this except for the song’s title. It’s the classic country song, “Making Plans,” written by Voni Morrison and Johnny Russell. The version recorded by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner went to No. 2 on the country chart in 1980, and seven years later, Parton recorded it with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris as part of their Trio album.

Here’s “Making Plans,” today’s Saturday Single.

And At No. 95 . . .

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

So what do we know about September 5?

Well, two things I know right off the top of my head: Baseball Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie was born on September 5, 1874, in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. And I was born on September 5, 1953, here in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Yep, I’m sixty years old today. That’s a lot of candles.

Or maybe not. When I was a kid, our family made a mathematical game out of candles on birthday cakes. Let’s say it was Dad’s birthday, and he was fifty-seven. Mom might put four big candles and one small candle on Dad’s cake and then let me figure it out: The big candles counted for thirteen years each, and the little one was five years.

So my cake today might have three big candles, or five big candles and one small one, or maybe four big candles and four small ones. Or maybe just one honking big candle. The one thing I’m pretty sure of is that, with apologies to the Crests, it probably wouldn’t be sixteen candles, at least not sixteen identical candles, because we never went in for fractions or percentages. (Sixteen identical candles would come out to 3.75 years per candle, but on the other hand, sixteen candles would work if you went with six big candles at five years each and ten small candles at three years each. There are many ways to skin a birthday candle equation.)

Candles and Nap Lajoie aside, there are a few other notable events that have happened on September 5, according to Wikipedia: In 1666, the Great Fire of London ended, after destroying 10,000 buildings including St. Paul’s Cathedral but killing only six people. In 1774, the first Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia. In 1836, Sam Houston was elected the first president of the Republic of Texas. In 1906, Brabury Robinson of St. Louis University threw the first legal forward pass in college football to Jack Schneider as the Billikens-to-be (the university adopted the lovable and unique mascot sometime around 1911) defeated Carroll College of Wisconsin 22-0. Wikipedia lists many more September 5 events, but I’ll stop there.

But what about – as is our focus here – music? Maybe the Billboard charts and some records found at No. 95? (For 9/5, of course.) Odd and Pop – my imaginary tunehead companions – urge caution. “If you dig that deep in the charts for today’s music, you might get something weird,” says Pop.

“Well, that would be good,” says Odd. “After all, who wants to hear something that was so popular that we can sing it in our sleep?”

Tossing their cautions into the September breeze, I head to the files to check out the Billboard Hot 100s between 1954 and, oh, 1990 that were released on September 5. There were six of them.

The first of those September 5 charts came out in 1956, when Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” was sitting at No. 1. We could choose from among four records, as there was a four-way tie at No. 93, listed alphabetically by title. We’ll go with the third of those four, which leaves us with “Lola’s Theme” by Steve Allen. Unfortunately, I can find no trace of the recording online (though some 45s and 78s of it are for sale). The record – a version of a theme from the movie Trapeze starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis – went to No. 75. It was one of six records Allen put into or near the Hot 100 between 1955 and 1964, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Hits. Allen’s recording of “Lola’s Theme” was one of two to reach the chart; Muir Mathieson’s version of the tune went to No. 67, also in 1956. I did manage to find a non-charting version of the tune at YouTube, so here’s “Lola’s Theme” as released that same year by Ralph Marterie & His Orchestra.

We jump ahead to 1960 and find a record that my little pal Odd is going to love. Sitting at No. 95 on the day I turned seven years old was “Rocking Goose” by Johnny & The Hurricanes, a group better known for “Red River Rock,” their No. 5 hit from 1959. “Rocking Goose” went to No. 60 and was one of ten Hot 100 hits or near-hits for the group. It’s just silly enough that the seven-year-old whiteray might have liked it if he’d ever heard it. It’s doubtful that he did, though. And he likely wasn’t aware, either, that Elvis had another No. 1 hit that week, “It’s Now Or Never.”

Oddly enough, the No. 95 record from the Hot 100 released on September 5, 1964, was from an artist whose passing last month was noted by major media and numerous blogs: Eydie Gormé. “Can’t Get Over (The Bossa Nova)” was on a very short climb to No. 87 and was a follow-up to Gormé’s No. 7 hit from 1963, “Blame It On The Bossa Nova.” The follow-up is a decent record but, as with most sequels, tends to pale in comparison to the original. I imagine I might have heard it on a television variety show or maybe even on the radio at home: “Can’t Get Over (The Bossa Nova)” went to No. 20 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Sitting at No. 1 on the day I turned eleven was a record I vaguely remember hearing as my sister listened to KDWB: “House Of The Rising Sun” by the Animals.

Our next stop is right in the middle of what I call my “sweet spot,” the years when music and Top 40 radio mattered the most to me back then. The No. 95 record on September 5, 1970, just a few days before I started my senior year of high school, was “Empty Pages” by Traffic. I don’t know that I heard the song then; the title doesn’t show up in any of the KDWB surveys collected at the Oldiesloon website, and the record peaked in the Hot 100 at only No. 74. (The single might have been shorter or otherwise different from the album version in the linked video; I don’t know.) I was, however, familiar with the No. 1 record that week, Edwin Starr’s “War,” which was in the second of three weeks on top of the chart.

By 1981, I was rarely listening to hit radio, as the Other Half and I tended to tune into one of the Twin Cities AC stations on the clock radio and on those frequent evenings when we sat reading with the radio on in the background. So it’s a pleasant surprise to find that I know well the record that was sitting at No. 95 on my twenty-eighth birthday: “All Those Years Ago,” George Harrison’s tribute to the murdered John Lennon. “All Those Years Ago” had been No. 2 for two weeks and had gone to No. 1 on the AC chart, one of eighteen records that Harrison placed in the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1988. The No. 1 record that week was the abysmal Diana Ross/Lionel Richie duet, “Endless Love,” in the fourth week of a nine-week stint on top of the Hot 100.

Our last stop of the day is 1987, when I celebrated my birthday in Minot, N.D., having moved there just a few weeks earlier. The No. 95 record on September 5, 1987, is one that I know I’ve  heard many times, but today marks the first time I’ve ever sought it out: “Girls, Girls, Girls” by the bearers of unnecessary umlauts, Mötley Crüe. The record went to No. 12, one of fourteen hits and near-hits Whitburn lists for the group through 2008. I doubt that I’ve ever sought out the No. 1 record for that week, either, though I’ve heard it many times: “La Bamba” by Los Lobos, in the first of three weeks atop the chart.

They Weren’t ‘One-Hit Wonders’

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

As the Texas Gal and I watched the second hour of American Idol last evening, I was grumbling. Now, lots of folks grumble about American Idol, many of whom don’t watch the show, so I was in good company. But I had a specific complaint.

The second half of last evening’s singing competition was dedicated to “one-hit wonders.” Each of the four remaining contestants – four talented young women – got to choose and perform a one-hit wonder. But as that second hour of the show moved on, it became obvious to me (and to other chart geeks out there, I imagine) that AI had not spent much time – if any – working on a definition of “one-hit wonder.”

What’s my definition? Having thought about it overnight, I’d say an artist or group qualifies as a one-hit wonder by placing one and only one single in the Top 40. As to calling songs themselves “one-hit wonders” as AI did last evening, my thought is that the term should be reserved for songs that were in the Top 40 only one time. I think that’s reasonable. (What about artists and groups whose body of work was album-based or not specifically aimed at hit singles? That would seem to be a matter of common sense. As an obvious example, I think all record and chart geeks would agree that calling Jimi Hendrix a one-hit wonder is silly, even though he had only one record in the Top 40.)

Applying the above definitions, none of the four “one-hit wonders” served up last night on American Idol qualify, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles. The songs were: “MacArthur Park,” which was Richard Harris’ only hit when it went to No. 2 in 1968 but was also a No. 1 hit for Donna Summer in 1978; “Emotion,” which was Samantha Sang’s only hit when it went to No. 3 in 1978 but was also a No. 10 hit for Destiny’s Child in 2001*; “Whiter Shade of Pale,” which went to No. 5 for Procol Harum in 1967 but was one of three Top 40 hits for the group (“Homburg” went to No. 34 later that year and “Conquistador” went to No. 16 in 1972); and “Cry Me A River,” which was Julie London’s only Top 40 hit when it went to No. 9 during a 1955-56 stay on the charts but which also went to No. 11 for Joe Cocker in 1970.

Mention is made occasionally on the show of lists from which the performers select their songs when those songs fall in a specific category, so I’m going to assume that all four of those songs were on a list provided to the performers by the show’s producers. If that’s the case, it makes the show’s producers seem uninformed, if not disingenuous or actually dishonest, as they essentially sold those four songs as something they were not.

Does it matter? Not really, not in the large scale. But in the area of pop music and those who love it, I think it does. As I indicated above, I doubt that I was the only viewer bothered by the song selections last night. If there’s one thing that the Internet has taught us by giving us a number of ways to find kindred souls in large numbers, it’s that there are more chart geeks out there than anyone might have realized in, say, 1990, although it should be noted that even at that date, Whitburn was selling a lot of chart books.

And it’s not like there aren’t a lot of good songs available that would qualify on both portions of the definition I offered above. Let’s look for four of them just from the 1980s alone.

First stop as I wander through my files, my books and Wikipedia is “Tainted Love,” a song that was Soft Cell’s only hit when it went to No. 8 hit in 1982. The song was originally recorded in a superb soul version by Gloria Jones in 1965 (in what All Music Guide says is “one of the great ’60s hits that never was” and which would be a far better approach on AI than Soft Cell’s synthpop). It’s been covered by many – more than fifty versions are listed at Second Hand Songs – but was a hit only once.

For a performer with a country bent, there’s Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache,” which went to No. 22 in 1981. Trisha Yearwood covered it in 2001, according to SHS, but that version didn’t chart and Cash’s did, making it Cash’s only Top 40 hit (which is an injustice, but that’s another post entirely).

Benjamin Orr’s “Stay the Night,” which he co-wrote with Diane Grey Page, was synth-heavy when it went to No. 24 in 1987, but it’s a good song that I could very well hear from one of the four remaining AI contestants. The late Orr was bassist for the Cars, of course, and saw the Top 40 thirteen times as a member of the group, but “Stay the Night” was his only solo hit, and no other versions of the song – if there are any – have made the Top 40.

We’ve found a soul song, a country tune and a mid-tempo pop rock song. You want a ballad? How about “She’s Like The Wind,” a tune from the movie Dirty Dancing sung by the late Patrick Swayze with some help from Wendy Fraser. The record went to No. 3 in 1988, the only time either one of the performers hit the chart. Gender-flip it for one of the final four contestants, and you’re in business. A cover of the song by Lumidee with Tony Sunshine did get to No. 43 in 2007, but that’s not Top 40.

See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Those titles might not be to everyone’s taste, but it took me less than an hour to find four viable songs that are true one-hit wonders according to the definition I laid out above. It seems to me that the producers on American Idol could have easily compiled a long list of similar songs.

*Mention was made last night on American Idol of the Bee Gees’ recording of “Emotion.” That version never made the Billboard Top 40 or Hot 100 and is listed by Whitburn as a “classic” recording.

‘Nine’

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

It’s time for “Nine” as the integers march on, and when we sort the 67,400 mp3s on the digital shelves, we come up with ninety-one mp3s, but only about ten of those tracks will suit our purposes this morning.

What do we leave behind? Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” and Muddy Waters’ “She’s Nineteen Years Old” won’t work for us, nor will “John Nineteen Forty-One,” the elegiac closing instrumental on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1970 opus Jesus Christ Superstar. We’ll pass on “19 Somethin’,” a 2002 tribute to the 1970s and 1980s by country boy Mark Wills, and we’ll pass as well on Paul McCartney’s 1973 track “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five.” Also unqualified are Julius Daniels’ 1927 recording of “Ninety-Nine Year Blues,” several versions of “Ninety-Nine And a Half (Won’t Do)” and the Sonics’ 1965 album track “Strychnine.”

Also going by the wayside are two versions of “Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street)” – one by Bob Dylan and one by country singer John Berry – along with most of the tracks on the Cloud Nine albums by the Temptations (1969) and George Harrison (1987). We’ll also ignore Steve Winwood’s 2008 album, Nine Lives, and the few tracks I have from Bonnie Raitt’s similarly titled album from 1986.

One Nine Seven Zero, a 1970 album by French singer Françoise Hardy also goes in the “no thanks” pile this morning as do single tracks by Nova’s Nine, James K. Nine and two similarly titled tracks: “Janine,” a 1971 plaint by Parrish & Gurvitz, and “Jeannine,” a decent 1969 single from Neil Sedaka.

Having disposed of those and others, where do we start? With some tasty slide guitar, I think, found in “Cloud 9” from Harrison’s similarly titled 1987 album. The album, produced by Harrison with fellow Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne, was seen as one of Harrison’s best and went to No. 8 on the Billboard 200; the single “Got My Mind Set On You” went to No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart. I don’t know why Harrison used the numeral “9” in the title of the track and the word “nine” in the album’s title, but either way, the sweetly morose “Cloud 9” is a nice way to start our short journey this morning.

And we’ll stay with clouds for another track: A cover of the Temptations’ “Cloud Nine” by Cuban conga player Mongo Santamaria. There are four albums of Santamaria’s work from the late 1960s and the 1970s on the digital shelves here, all of them good for getting the feet tapping, the head bouncing and the fingers dancing on the keyboard. “Cloud Nine” comes from Santamaria’s 1969 album Stoned Soul, and a shorter version of the track went to No. 32 on the Bilboard Hot 100 as well as to No. 33 on the R&B chart and No. 30 on the AC chart. It was the second of two Top 40 hit for the Cuban percussionist; in 1963, “Watermelon Man” went to No. 10 on the pop chart, No. 8 on the R&B chart and No. 3 on the AC chart.

At the thoroughly enjoyable blog, Dr. Schluss’ Garage of Psychedelic Obscurities, the good doctor had this to say about Sitar & Strings, a 1968 album by the Nirvana Sitar & Strings Group: “I’m always up for a psychsploitation album early in the morning . . . and this one can certainly fill in for the cheese missing from my eggs. Just as the title sort of suggests, we’ve got a bunch of late 60’s hits with the melody lines played on a sitar while 101 Strings-style orchestrations lumber on in the background. You’re either in for this ride or you’re not.” Well, I’m in, and the NS&SG’s track “Nine O’Clock” twangs and twingles along nicely this morning. The group’s Sitar & Strings album, according to Leonard at red telephone 66, had eight covers and three originals, and as I don’t see any listing of a tune titled “Nine O’Clock” making the charts, the track must have been one of the originals. (If I’m wrong, someone please let me know.) It’s good, trippy Thursday morning music.

“Nine Pound Hammer” is a traditional English folk song, and the earliest recorded version of it, according to Second Hand Songs, came from Al Hopkins & The Buckle Busters in 1927. The earliest version in my stacks comes from the Monroe Brothers, who recorded it for Bluebird in 1936, and the best-known version of the tune is likely the 1947 cover by Merle Travis (who, having added a few lines to the traditional song, is frequently given writing credit). The version on the table this morning, however, comes from the Beau Brummels, better known for the 1965 hits “Laugh, Laugh” and “Just A Little.” In 1967, the San Francisco group recorded “Nine Pound Hammer” for their album Triangle, a collection of songs that All Music Guide called “a ruminative dream cycle.” The album barely edged into the Billboard chart, peaking at No. 197.

Janis Ian’s 1975 comeback might have seemed to come out of nowhere. That was when her album Between the Lines went to No. 1 and its single, “At Seventeen,” went to No. 3 in the Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the AC chart. But the foundation for that comeback seems to have been laid the year before when Ian’s album Stars went to No. 83 and a single from the album, “The Man You Are In Me,” went to No. 33 on the AC chart. (It bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 104.) Now, those aren’t great numbers, but keep in mind that Ian had been absent from the singles chart since 1967. “Page Nine” was one of the tracks on Stars, and like the album it comes from – and Between the Lines a year later – its sound is for me one of the defining sounds of the mid-1970s.

Over the course of something like 1,200 posts at this blog, I’ve mentioned the British progressive group Caravan twice: Once when cataloging the records I brought home in a certain November and once when I included a track from the group in a random mix. Today, we’ll make it three mentions with the inclusion in today’s offerings of the group’s side-long suite, “Nine Feet Underground” from the group’s 1971 album In the Land of Grey and Pink. In his assessment of the album, Bruce Eder of All Music Guide called the piece “musically daring,” noting that it “didn’t seem half as long as its 23 minutes” and adding that it was “a dazzling showcase for Pye Hastings’ searing lead guitar and Dave Sinclair’s soaring organ and piano work.”