Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

Chart Digging: January 1975

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Here’s the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100 from the fourth week of January 1975, released on January 25 that year:

“Please, Mr. Postman” by the Carpenters
“Laughter In The Rain” by Neil Sedaka
“Mandy” by Barry Manilow
“Fire” by the Ohio Players
“Boogie On, Reggae Woman” by Stevie Wonder
“You’re No Good/I Can’t Help It” by Linda Ronstadt
“One Man Woman/One Woman Man” by Paul Anka w/ Odia Coates
“Morning Side Of The Mountain” by Donny & Marie Osmond
“Never Can Say Goodbye” by Gloria Gaynor
“Pick Up The Pieces” by the Average White Band

Oh, my god. No wonder I was depressed that month.

Well, there were other reasons for my deep funk. I was still trying to put my life back together after my Halloween 1974 traffic accident (and I was not doing a very good job of it). But if that’s the music I was hearing as I skipped class and spent my days at The Table sipping bad coffee and pretty much chain-smoking Marlboro Lights, then the tunes were not likely helping my mood.

The best thing there is the Stevie Wonder single. Some folks will find virtues in the Ronstadt A-side that I have never heard. There are times when I enjoy the records from the Ohio Players, Gaynor and the Average White Band, but they’re not real frequent. (Of those three, the Gaynor is the best.)

I have no time at all for the records by the Carpenters, Anka/Coates or the Osmonds, and I can enjoy the Sedaka record on only very rare occasions.

Then there’s “Mandy,” which I swear we’d been hearing in the Atwood Center jukebox since mid-October, at least four weeks before it entered the Hot 100 in November. It got to No. 1 a week before the chart we’re examining today, where we found it at No. 3.

It’s an overly dramatic, trite and bathetic song and a bombastic record. And I loved it. I recall regularly dropping quarters in the snack bar jukebox for four records between the autumn of 1974 and spring 1975. They were “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)” by Reunion, “We” by Shawn Phillips, “I Saw Her Standing There” as performed by John Lennon with Elton John (the flip side of Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom”), and “Mandy.”

I probably dropped more quarters for “Mandy” during that 1974-75 year than for any other record. And the thought of it this morning brings back potent bittersweet memories.

As we usually do, let’s see how many of those eleven records in the top of that chart are among my current day-to-day listening in my iPod.

Well, only one of them is included in the more than 2,800 tracks I carry around the house with me: The Stevie Wonder single.

Now, here is where I usually drop to the bottom of the chart, or somewhere in the middle, to find something more or less at random, something we’ve never (or rarely) heard in the nearly fourteen years this blog’s been throwing things at the wall. But a search of the 2,500-or-so posts in our history this morning told me that we’ve mentioned Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” twice and never posted it.

So here’s “Mandy.” Will I drop it into the iPod? I dunno.

Incorrect title changed after posting.

The Moody Blues: 1978

Thursday, January 7th, 2021

For almost a year now, the CD of the Moody Blues 1978 album Octave has been sitting on top of a pile of the group’s later albums on a bookcase near my desk. And during those eleven months – ever since I shared here my assessment of Seventh Sojourn, the group’s 1972 album – I’ve thought to myself, “I need to write that post.”

And yet, I didn’t and didn’t, instead pulling something else out of my mind and reference books to share here nearly three times a week. And I wondered: Was I lazy, not wanting to organize myself enough to actually think and write clearly about the album? I certainly know the album, having had it on my shelves since early 1979. As one of my characters in a bit of fiction asked another, “What’s the tale, Dale?”

And upon another listening this week, I came up with my answer. With one major exception, I really don’t like the album. Nine of its ten tracks leave me pretty much empty. Those nine tracks sound okay musically: the ballads are sweet, and the up-tempo tracks lope along as they should. Lyrically, those nine tracks tell familiar stories in familiar ways: love stories, self-discovery, a little bit of cosmic wonder.

And that all sounds like something you’d be pleased to have playing in the background in early 1979 as you catch up with friends: Who’s getting married, who has a new job, who’s having a first baby, whose parents aren’t doing so well. That’s what we talked about during those years, our first years of being out on our own. We were young professionals offering our competence to the world for the first time.

And on the stereo, there were the Moody Blues offering their competence to the world, and – with one huge exception – that’s all that Octave offerred: competence without any seeming inspiration. The five long-time members of the group – Graeme Edge, John Lodge, Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder and Justin Hayward – had returned from time away from the band, five years or so, and offered an almost entirely forgettable set of tracks that were pleasant in the background but lacking substance when given more careful attention.

Coming to that realization over the past week depressed me. Octave was the third of the group’s massive catalog that I’d ever owned; I’d gotten the 1968 album In Search of the Lost Chord in 1972 and found the hippie mysticism a little silly but listenable. I got 1972’s Seventh Sojourn for Christmas that year, and loved the album, less mystical but still pertinent and enjoyable musically. And I also knew the 1970 album A Question Of Balance well, having heard it across the street at Rick’s many times.

So realizing this week that I don’t like the album bummed me out. A little more thought brought me to understand that – with one major exception – I didn’t much like the album in 1979, either. And that brought me to think about – and here things get markedly personal – my life back then. I had a job I loved as a reporter for the Monticello Times. I was newly married. I was losing touch with my college friends and not replacing them. And looking back forty-some years, the only memories of that life that aren’t tinged with sorrow are the memories of my job.

So sorrow-laden memories of the times float along as I listen. Trying to sort things out, a few of the tracks did seem better than the others as I listened this week: Despite its ponderous and clichéd introduction, “Steppin’ In A Slide Zone” is a decent piece, “Had To Fall In Love” is a pretty track, and “The Day We Meet Again” is all right. But there’s no way I can accurately assess and review the album without delving into the mostly unhappy life I was living when the album came into that life. Call it a grade of Incomplete and leave it that way on the transcript forever.

There is, of course, the one exception I’ve mentioned several times: “Driftwood,” the fifth track on the album and the last track on Side One in the LP configuration, towers above anything else on the album. It’s a melancholy track, to be sure, but its sadness, its sorrow, is couched in perhaps the most beautiful music the Moody Blues ever made, capped by the metaphor of the title and chorus: “Don’t leave me driftwood on the shore.”

No person was about to leave me as driftwood back then, but – looking back as fairly as I can – perhaps I sensed that life outside the newsroom was leaving me behind in some ways, and thus, “Driftwood” spoke to me. Or maybe that’s bullshit, and it was the sweeping melody, the bittersweet lyrics, the French horn, and the saxophone that pulled me in. I don’t know, and despite my frequent need to assess and analyze the stops and turns in my life, I’m just going to say that “Driftwood” can stand alone as perhaps the best thing the Moody Blues ever did and one of the tracks I have most loved over the years.

Saturday Single No. 718

Saturday, January 2nd, 2021

Okay, so I was confused two days ago when I said I’d be back here yesterday. New Year’s Eve felt like a Friday, so I was anticipating posting a Saturday Single the following day. Then yesterday turned out to be Friday.

It’s been hard keeping track of days, anyway, a statement that’s likely not surprising to anyone out there. The disruption in our routines over the past year have often left me trying to track back, wondering what television show I watched the night before or trying to remember something else from the day before that would help me put it on a peg and thus identify the current day.

The one thing I do have that helps me lock in my temporal fix is Wednesday, garbage day. Now, the truck comes by early Thursday morning, so that’s technically garbage day for this part of the city. But the trash goes out to the alley the afternoon before, making Wednesday the day of the week that offers a task than cannot be farmed out to another day, thus providing one bit of certainty during the week.

So even though it’s a Saturday, we’re going to celebrate a Wednesday song: “A Wednesday In Your Garden.” Written by Randy Bachman of the Guess Who, it first showed up on that band’s 1969 album Wheatfield Soul. According to Second Hand Songs, there have been only a handful of covers of the song in the fifty-plus years since.

One of those covers came my way this Christmas, when the Texas Gal gave me the Staple Singers’ Come Go With Me, a seven-CD box set that collects the six albums the group did for Stax in the late 1960s and early 1970s and adds a seventh CD of non-album B-sides and some live work from the 1972 Wattstax concert.

And on the 1969 album We’ll Get Over, we find “A Wednesday In Your Garden.” The Staples take a few liberties with the lyrics, dismissing the “long black funeral gown” for a line I can’t hear clearly.

Doesn’t matter. Here’s the Staple Singers’ take on Randy Bachman’s “A Wednesday In Your Garden.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

As The Year Ends

Thursday, December 31st, 2020

I’m overwhelmed again, as this awful year lurches to its ending. I don’t know how much better 2021 will be, but one has to hope for something at least a little bit better. My level of optimism shifts from one day to the next, and it’s quite low this morning.

As I’ve struggled with stuff this week, I keep reminding myself that the Texas Gal and I are lucky. We’re safe, warm and dry, and we are not dependent on jobs for our income, having both retired. So many have it so much worse than we do that I feel a bit churlish nattering on about my dismay.

So I’ll be back tomorrow and in a better mood, one would hope. Here’s “Things Get Better,” the opening track from Delaney & Bonnie & Friends’ 1970 live album On Tour With Eric Clapton.

Saturday Single No. 717

Saturday, December 26th, 2020

And the holiday is over.

It was a pleasant one here, with plenty of goodies and with gifts between the Texas Gal and me parceled out one-at-a-time every few days or so starting about December 10 (a pattern we fell into about fifteen years ago and have liked).

There are plenty of goodies left: about a third of a charcuterie tray – meats and crackers and cheese – is yet in the fridge, as is at least two-thirds of a large lasagna. And even the cats have leftover treats, courtesy of the new family just to our east; sixteen-year-old Sydney stopped by yesterday afternoon with a stocking full of cat treats. We’ll have to ask the newcomers what brand the goodies are, as the cats seem to like them a great deal.

We Zoomed for a while yesterday afternoon, checking in with my sister and her husband and my nephew in the Twin Cities suburb of Maple Grove and with my niece and her husband and their two toddler boys in a Chicago suburb. And we made phone calls to the Texas Gal’s sisters and to a few other folks we know who were alone for the day.

So even though we went nowhere, it was a busy sort of day, and it’s left an odd sort of weariness, perfectly suited, I guess, for the odd sort of year we’re having. So, as the morning mist outside my window begins to differentiate itself from the cloud cover, I’ll ask the RealPlayer to sorts its 82,000-some tracks for the word “odd.”

We don’t get a lot to work with, which does not surprise me, and what we do get is not inspiring. So I’m going to turn to the most odd thing I’ve come across in recent months.

Adriano Celantano is an Italian multi-talent: actor, director, producer, singer-songwriter. In 1972, according to what I’ve read, he had the idea to write a song with lyrics that sounded English but were actually nonsense. So he wrote and produced “Prisencólinensináinciúsol,” enlisting his wife, Claudia Mori, for some vocal parts.

Wikipedia says: “Celentano’s intention with the song was not to create a humorous novelty song but to explore communication barriers.” The website quotes Celantano: “Ever since I started singing, I was very influenced by American music and everything Americans did. So at a certain point, because I like American slang – which, for a singer, is much easier to sing than Italian – I thought that I would write a song which would only have as its theme the inability to communicate. And to do this, I had to write a song where the lyrics didn’t mean anything.”

That’s a little more high-minded that what I’ve read elsewhere, which is that Celantano thought that English-sounding lyrics were so popular in Italy that he figured he could have a hit with a record of gibberish if it just sounded like English.

Either way, it worked. “Prisencólinensináinciúsol” went to No. 5 in Italy and in the Netherlands, to No. 2 on the Belgian Wallonia chart and to No. 4 on the Belgian Flanders chart, and to No. 6 in France. The Germans, however, didn’t seem to get the joke, as the record went only to No. 46 in West Germany.

It’s kind of a hoot, so here’s “Prisencólinensináinciúsol” in its basic form. There is a video out there from an Italian television show setting the record in a large dance routine, with Mori’s lyrics lip-synced by Italian actress Raffaella Carrà, and that’s kind of fun, but for now, the original is today’s Saturday Single.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 25th, 2020

It’s early Christmas morning, and it’s quiet here. The Texas Gal is still sleeping, likely with Little Gus the cat keeping her company after his breakfast. The other two cats have probably found their morning nap places, too. And it’s quiet as I write, with only the sound of warm air blowing from the vents keeping me company.

We’re staying home today, nibbling during the day on a charcuterie tray and dining this evening on a homemade lasagna. We’ve got a few television series we’re running through, so we’ll likely watch some episodes of those, and no doubt the jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table will get some attention, as will the new box sets of music. (More about those later.)

So, Merry Christmas to all our friends out there! In this strangest – and for some, stressful and sad – holiday season, may you find yourself among those whom you love in the places you call home. If at all possible, may you be joyful and be at peace!

Here’s a lovely piano version of one of the few Christmas songs I post here. It’s pianist Ilio Barantini taking on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” from 1971. It’s from Barantini’s 2019 album Merry Christmas All Over The World.

Saturday Single No. 715

Saturday, December 12th, 2020

“This is an odd phone call,” my sister said the other day. “I’m dis-inviting you two for Christmas dinner.”

It wasn’t unexpected. The Texas Gal and I had already decided that we were going stay home on Christmas. And it wasn’t distressing, either, to be dis-invited. It makes perfect sense. We have our very small set of people we see – and then only briefly – during these Covid times, and my sister and her husband and their son have their pods (a usage I’ve begun to see more and more frequently but one I’ve not employed until this moment).

“That’s fine,” I said. “We’d pretty much decided to turn down any invitation, but you’ve come in ahead of us. What will we not be having for Christmas dinner?”

They’re having a ham dinner purchased in full from one of their nearby grocery stores. We’re planning – we think – lasagna, baked in a large pan that was a Christmas gift from my sister and her husband to us more than fifteen years ago, not long after the Texas Gal and I set up housekeeping together.

And as I told my sister that this week, the length of time we’ve owned that pan startled me, and that reminded me of the flexibility of time, how it bends and stretches and turns in its own ways, leaving those of us who use it to measure our lives baffled and bemused.

Fifteen years ago, we were midway through our time in our second apartment, the one in St. Cloud in the complex called Green Gable, just yards from the house where we would eventually live for more than nine years. In some ways – and this is not by any means a deep thought – it feels as if the time in that apartment was just moments ago. Still, I was forty-nine when we first moved there; now I am sixty-seven. We’d been together a little less than three years at the time; now we’ve been married for thirteen.

When we were first merging our households in 2001 and it became evident that the task of moving my stuff to her apartment was beyond our abilities and we’d need to hire the task out, she said to me, offhandedly, “Well, you’re almost fifty, you know.”

The comment, true though it was, startled me. I was forty-seven, but I’d never thought of myself as being close to that milestone. My reaction amused her, and the comment has come with us through the years, being updated every once in a while. These days, she tells me, “Well, you’re almost seventy, you know.”

And I am. And as this odd year of Covid plays out its last month, I think of years together, which is a grace I often thought I’d never have with anyone. And I think that lasagna for Christmas sounds perfect.

There are, as might be expected, no tracks on the digital shelves that include the word “lasagna” in their titles. As for “time,” there are too many to sort rationally, so I’ll just fall on one of my favorite tracks by Eric Andersen, whether it actually speaks to my thoughts above or not.

Here’s “Time Run Like A Freight Train” from Andersen’s 1975 album Be True To You. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

No. 48, Forty-Eight Years Ago

Friday, December 4th, 2020

We’ve not bounced around in 1972 lately, so it’s likely a good time to see what folks were listening to in early December of that year, at least as reflected in the top section of the Billboard Hot 100. And we’ll play a game of Symmetry, heading down the chart to see what was sitting at No. 48 during that late autumn forty-eight years ago.

It was my second autumn as a student at St. Cloud State (because of a couple of failed courses a year earlier, I wasn’t technically a sophomore), and it was an unmemorable time. The friendships that has sustained me through my first year of college had faded away, and I was pretty much on my own. I hung around with some folks from a speech class that fall quarter, but I never quite fit there, either. And I wasn’t dating anyone, nor were there any candidates in sight.

I was exploring musically, having finished my Beatles collection in August. Some record club purchases brought me albums by the Moody Blues, Buffalo Springfield, the Rolling Stones and Mountain, and those sounds filled the basement rec room many evenings as I played a Sports Illustrated tabletop football game by myself.

And I still listened to the radio in my bedroom and in the car, so the records in the Top Ten forty-eight years ago (as reported by Billboard on December 9, 1972) were likely familiar:

“I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy
“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by the Temptations
“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
“I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash
“You Ought To Be With Me” by Al Green
“Me & Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul
“It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond
“Ventura Highway” by America
“Clair” by Gilbert O’Sullivan
“I’m Stone In Love With You” by the Stylistics

That’s pretty heavy on the soul/R&B side of the ledger, with a couple of southern California records (stylistically as well as literally), one piece of fluff (“Clair”) and one record – the Helen Reddy – that’s sui generis. And nine of the ten are as familiar as was the interior of my 1961 Falcon, which I’d inherited that summer from my sister.

The one record not familiar by title is the Al Green, which I recalled after a quick listen; I don’t know that I heard it often, and I certainly haven’t heard it as much over the years as I’ve heard “Call Me (Come Back Home),” “Tired Of Being Alone” and “I’m Still In Love With You.”

So, here’s the question we almost always ask when we look at a Billboard Top Ten: Do those records matter now? And we find the answer to that question by seeing if they’re among the 2,700 or so tracks in my iPod.

And I find four of those ten: The records by Nash, Paul, Hammond and the Stylistics. I might add “Ventura Highway,” but the others that I recall – as I ponder them this morning – carry a sense of sorrow. (Well, not “I Am Woman,” but as I noted above, that’s one of a kind.) I was not happy during the latter months of 1972, and nearly a half-century later, that unhappiness seems to be still attached to some of that era’s music.

But what of our other business here? What do we find when we move further down that Hot 100 to No. 48? Well, we come across a record I knew well at the time, one that I heard from an album that took its place between the Moody Blues, Mountain, the Beatles and the rest as I pondered third down and three in the basement rec room: “Let It Rain” by Eric Clapton.

The track came from Clapton’s first solo album, a self-titled effort released in 1970, and was released as a single in 1972, I think, because of its inclusion that year in the two-LP Polydor release Clapton At His Best (which is where I found it). We’ve caught it here at the peak of its thirteen-week stay on the Hot 100. And whether you count it as forty-eight years or fifty years, the track – co-written by Clapton and Bonnie Bramlett – is still a brilliant piece of work.

 

‘I Was Alone, I Took A Ride . . .’

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020

As I noted last week, some dates resonate and unlock memories. I typed today’s date at the top of this post and was immediately pulled back fifty years to St. Cloud Tech and a day of high school crisis during my senior year.

What was the crisis? I’d spent a portion of the previous evening visiting a young lady – the blonde sophomore girl I’ve mentioned here over the years, calling her Dulcinea in honor of my quixotic pursuit of her affections, a pursuit that lasted the bulk of my senior year of high school.

She had a boyfriend, and he’d made it clear to me and some mutual friends that he was not pleased with me and my goals. What he told her, I’ve never known. And fifty years ago last evening – on December 1, 1970 – I visited the young lady at her home, bringing along the Beatles’ Revolver album to make a point.

We sat at her kitchen table, talking of everything and nothing as the record played. Then came the fourth track on Side Two, “Got To Get You Into My Life.” She nodded and smiled at me as Paul McCartney’s words filled the space between us, words I’d written out and tucked into her locker at school only a few weeks earlier.

I left not long after the album ended. She accompanied me to my car, and we stood talking in the cold for a few moments before I drove off. As I did, I wondered if I should have kissed her.

And the next day, fifty years ago today, whispers and urgent conversations filled my day and those of my friends. In a quiet corner of the band room, I told my Dulcinea how I felt about her and left her to make a choice. It took her some time to do so, but by the end of the school year, she did, and as I graduated and headed off to college, my load of regrets was just a bit heavier.

There are more than 130 covers of “Got To Get You Into My Life” listed at Second Hand Songs, ranging from one by Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers in August 1966, shortly after the Beatles released the song, to a cover by a singer named Fay Classen released last March.

Here’s one from 2009 by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, from the soundtrack to the movie Imagine That.

Saturday Single No. 713

Saturday, November 28th, 2020

I’ve mentioned before how some dates resonate with me, how I’ll look to the calendar and see, for example, January 25 and remember in vivid detail a long-ago (and unhappy) January 25. I doubt if I’m alone in that; I assume the same thing happens to other folks.

Today, November 28, is one of those days. It was forty-three years ago today that I – twenty-four years old and not at all sure of myself – walked into the offices of the Monticello Times and took up desk space as a reporter. My beats, to start, would be sports at Monticello High School and at the high school in the nearby city of Big Lake; school news from the high schools, junior high schools and elementary schools in the two cities, and features.

In a very short time, I’d add to my plate coverage of the Wright County Sheriff’s Department (which provided police service to the city of Monticello), and of the Big Lake Police Department and of the sheriff’s department in Sherburne County.

The following spring, I’d add coverage of city government to my duties, attending meetings of the city councils in both Monticello and Big Lake, and covering through phone interviews the board meetings in Monticello and Big Lake townships. I’d do fewer features.

My first day at the Times included an interview with the owners of the new Milky Whey cheese shop in the hamlet of Hasty, introductions and lunch at Monticello High School, and – if I recall things rightly – coverage of a girls basketball game that evening. Sometime during the day, I posed at the typewriter at my boss’ desk so readers could get a look at the new guy who’d end up hanging around for almost six years. (My desk was backlit, said the photographer.)

GPE, 11-28-77I think back to that slender young man as he entered the world of professional journalism. His earliest plan – no more than a vague idea, to be honest – had been to become a television sports reporter and play-by-play guy. Then he spent more time writing in college than he did learning how to shoot film, and after some initial resistance, he embraced print reporting. (He realized he liked to write long pieces, and the byword of broadcast reporting is brevity, so . . .)

As I walked into the Times office that morning in November 1977, I was still unformed (although I would have been horribly insulted had anyone told me that). I had an immense amount to learn about journalism, about small-town living, about life in general. A lot of those lessons came my way during the nearly six years I spent at the Times, lessons for which I am – more than forty years later – grateful.

After those nearly six years, I moved on to grad school, to teaching, to reporting at other papers. I took with me a box full of plaques, a clutch of skills, and a cluster of friendships that remain strong to this day. That’s a pretty good haul for a first job.

There’s nothing that speaks to me in the two Billboard Hot 100s that bracket that long-ago November 28, so I’m going to turn to one of the three LPs I bought later that week. Thursdays – the day after we went to press – were light days at the newspaper, so I drove the thirty miles to St. Cloud that afternoon, did some shopping and had dinner with my folks, handing them as I arrived copies of that week’s newspaper, including – I’m pretty sure – a piece with my byline on the front page.

That evening, back in my rented mobile home just outside of Monticello, I no doubt played the records I’d bought in St. Cloud that day, and it’s pretty likely that I went to sleep with the Moody Blues’ Days Of Future Passed on the turntable. So here’s what was probably the last thing I heard on that long-ago Thursday, my first day as a published journalist: It’s “Nights In White Satin” from 1967, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.