Archive for the ‘Single’ Category

‘In Search Of . . .’

Friday, October 11th, 2019

During the autumn of 1972, having completed my Beatles LP set, I turned to explore other music, selecting four albums in a record-club buying binge: Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones, Retrospective by the Buffalo Springfield, a live album by Mountain and In Search Of The Lost Chord by the Moody Blues.

In the forty-some years since, the least-played album of those four is that last, the Moody Blues’ first foray into mysticism backed by the Mellotron (which gave them sounds orchestral and more with which to work). Released in 1968, it was also – to my ears – the worst of the group’s albums until the 1990s. I recall the first time I played it, lazing on the green couch in the basement rec room, hearing the spoken word track “Departure” as it led off Side One:

Be it sight, sound, the smell, the touch.
There’s something inside that we need so much
The sight of a touch, or the scent of a sound
Or the strength of an oak with roots deep in the ground.
The wonder of flowers, to be covered, and then
To burst up through tarmac to the sun again
Or to fly to the sun without burning a wing
To lie in the meadow and hear the grass sing
To have all these things in our memories’ hoard
And to use them
To help us
To find . . .

And then came laughter taking the place, I’ve assumed, of the words “the lost chord.” One of the lyric sites I use offered “God” as the laughter-covered word. Maybe. All I know is that as “Departure” played on my stereo for the first time, I was baffled and not at all entranced. The rest of the album – picking up right after “Departure” with “Ride My See-Saw” – was just okay. “Legend Of A Mind” with its “Timothy Leary’s dead . . .” was a bit silly, and the creaking doors in “House OF Four Doors” were overkill. I was not blown away as I had been a year or so earlier when I’d heard the group’s Question Of Balance across the street at Rick and Rob’s house.

There were some nice moments: “Ride My See-Saw” does rock, and “Voices In The Sky” and “The Actor” are lovely and elegant. And on my listening this week, the closer, “Om,” is not so odd as it seemed that autumn evening in 1972.

But my interest in exploring the rest of the Moody Blues’ catalog stopped when I heard In Search Of The Lost Chord. It engaged again a few months later at Christmastime, when Rick gave me the group’s most recent album, Seventh Sojourn, which was much more accessible to the nineteen-year-old me.

So I ducked back a year and listened with friends to bits and pieces of the 1971 album Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and eventually bought that album – along with Days Of Future Passed – in the late 1970s, just about the time the group came back from its hiatus with Octave, which I bought immediately.

So In Search Of The Lost Chord was a rocky start. How did it do on the charts? According to Joel Whitburn, the album went to No. 23 on the Billboard 200, and one single – “Ride My See-Saw” – went to No. 61 on the Hot 100. It’s my least favorite of the group’s early albums (those released before the group’s 1970s hiatus). I’ll give it at best a C-minus.

Here’s “Ride My See Saw” (led off by the last cackling laughter of “Departure”).

‘The Room Was Humming Harder . . .’

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

Sometime recently – and I cannot provide anything more specific – a television show I was watching with the Texas Gal used for its background music Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale.” Hearing it reminded me of this piece; it ran here twelve years ago this week. It’s been condensed and revised a little bit.

It was the summer of 1967, and I was doing my normal eight-week stint in summer school, an enrichment program designed to provide kids a chance to learn things they wouldn’t be exposed to during the school year. So, just as I had for the nine months preceding, I spent another two months hauling myself every day to the bus stop a block north of our house and riding the two miles to South Junior High for mornings of enrichment.

On one of my rides home during that summer, someone had a radio on the bus tuned to one of the two Twin Cities’ Top 40 stations, almost certainly KDWB. This might have been a regular thing, music in the back of the bus, but I’m not sure. What I am certain of is that I listened with the other kids that day as the radio played the strangest-sounding song any of us had maybe ever heard.

It began with a ponderous and spooky organ solo, with drums and cymbals providing punctuation. And then a reedy voice entered: “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels ’cross the floor . . .” It was, of course, Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

We looked at each other, then back at the radio as the voice went on to tell a surreal tale in a setting that combined the ancient world with the medieval, although I doubt that any of us could place it that accurately back then; we just knew it wasn’t in our time, what with vestal virgins and the miller’s tale.

What did it mean? We had no idea, but it sure was strange . . . and cool. We liked it a lot, even I, who was still a couple of years away from digging very deeply into pop and the Top 40. Over the years, the meaning of the words – written by Keith Reid – has been assessed maybe way too many times. At its website, Procol Harum provides a link to a discussion of the lyrics, where listeners and fans – who seem to call themselves “Palers” – indulge themselves in deep and far-fetched theorizing.

The last word on the lyrics, it would seem, comes from the top of that page of theories, where one finds organist Matthew Fisher’s comment from an interview with the BBC:

“I don’t know what they mean. It’s never bothered me that I don’t know what they mean. This is what I find rather hard, that, especially in America, people are terribly hung up about lyrics and they’ve got to know what they mean, and they say, ‘I know, I’ve figured out what these lyrics mean.’ I don’t give a damn what they mean. You know, they sound great . . . that’s all they have to do.”

The song was so odd, so different from anything on radio at the time, that beyond its lyrics, it spawned another discussion: Where did the music come from? Was it a lift from a classical piece? If so, which one? (Something by Bach was always considered most likely.)

I recall reading a piece about the song that included a quotation from a fellow who at the time was a classical music critic for a London newspaper. He said that he and a colleague spent an entire morning whistling the melody from “A Whiter Shade of Pale” back and forth to each other before deciding that it probably wasn’t Bach but a theme that sounded very much like his work.

And that’s pretty much the case. At the Procol Harum website, there’s an excerpt from a radio interview with Fisher in which he notes that the song certainly refers to two Bach pieces but is nevertheless an original work. Those pieces are “Air for the G String” and the choral piece titled in English “Sleepers, Awake!” (For those so inclined, the Procol Harum website also provides a link to Bach expert Bernard S. Greenberg’s formal analysis of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and its links to the two Bach pieces.)

Of course, the other bus riders and I didn’t know all that as we listened for the first time to “A Whiter Shade of Pale” on that bus carrying us home from summer school. It was just a cool song. And it still is. It’s also a popular song for cover versions: The website Second Hand Songs lists more than 170 covers by folks ranging from Noel Harrison, Flash Cadillac and R.B. Greaves to Annie Lennox, Bonnie Tyler and the Canadian Brass. (There are also several versions with the lyrics in French, Finnish, German and Swedish that I know I’m going to check out.)

Here’s Greaves’ version. It was released as an Atco single in late 1970 and spent two weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 82. I like it.

Gloves

Friday, October 4th, 2019

Walking through the garage as I returned from an errand this morning, I noticed a pair of battered leather gloves on one of the shelves. Gray and dark blue, they have small holes on a couple of fingers, and they fold neatly along creases left by about ten years of yard work.

They’re the gloves I bought not long after we moved into the house on the East Side in September 2008, gloves that I wore for outdoor chores there: raking, clearing snow from the sidewalk, putting in and taking down garden fences, cleaning the gutters, and changing two storm windows for screens during ten springs and reversing the process during ten autumns.

The gloves came along with us when we moved from the house to the condo a little more than a year-and-a-half ago, but I’ve had little need to use them. They went over my everyday gloves a few times in our first few months here when I cleared snow from the front steps, and did so again in the early portions of last winter for the same reason.

After my back surgery in January, the Texas Gal took over the shoveling duties for the rest of the winter, and my blue and gray gloves sat unused on the shelf. When I saw them this morning, the part of my brain that occasionally mixes up time thought, “Oh, yes, I need to change out the windows.”

And then I realized that we’re no longer at the East Side house. We have all-season windows here, and I no longer need to switch one kitchen window and one dining room window as I did for our decade-plus there. (We had central air in the house, but on temperate days, we liked to be able to open the windows for the comfort of natural breezes.)

It’s just as well that I don’t have to mess with any of the windows, as all of them save one – the one nearest my desk in the lower level of the condo – are on the second floor and would require riskier ladder work than the half-story extension required on the East Side. But there was an odd sense that came along with the realization, a recognition that I kind of miss doing the outside work required at the house, a recognition combined with relief that – being eleven years older now than I was when we moved into the house – I no longer have to mess with most of that stuff.

They’re just gloves, tattered and probably due for disposal. But sometimes things are more than just things. Sometimes they are also reminders of the work they’ve done as well as the times during which that work was accomplished. So it is with the blue and gray gloves on the shelf in the garage. When the snow falls in the coming months, I may buy a new pair, but I doubt I’ll truly be able to replace them.

Here’s a song with an apt title: “Workin’,” by Junior Parker and Jimmy McGriff. It’s from their 1971 album Good Things Don’t Happen Every Day.

Finding Granny’s Intentions

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019

I’m trying this week to finish up three projects: Scanning old photos and burning them to disc for my sister and our cousins, writing a song for our church, and catching up on stats for my tabletop baseball league.

That sadly leaves this space in fourth place this week.

And the weather’s not helping: The second week of autumn is cloudy and damp. The leaves are still generally green, though those on our flowering crab and linden have begun turning yellow. But it’s gray outside.

But back to fourth place: A search for “fourth” on the digital shelves brought up a a track titled “Fourthskin Blues” by a group with the intriguing name of Granny’s Intentions. The band came out of Limerick, Ireland, in the mid-1960s and in a few years was making a good living in the club scene in Dublin.

The band’s only album, according to discogs, was Honest Injun, released on Deram in 1970. “Fourthskin Blues” was one of that album’s tracks.

‘Work It Out”

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

The Texas Gal and I are now card-carrying senior citizens.

The other day, we joined the Whitney Senior Center about six blocks away from our place, got our cards and learned a bit about the center’s extensive programming. Some of it we’ve already begun using, some will wait until we figure out exactly what it is we want to do over there.

What drew us (besides the fact that we are, of course, on the far side of sixty)?

The exercise room, actually. For the past eight weeks or so, I’ve been heading to the medical building where our doctor has her practice, working with a couple of physical therapists to improve the functions of my back muscles, the ones disrupted in January by my spinal fusion. And as I’ve worked on that, my therapists have been adding to my routine various simple bits of a workout.

It’s been good for me, I can tell. Not only is my back feeling better, but I’ve found that I enjoy the activity (and that coming from someone who has rarely sought physical activity), and I feel better. So the Texas Gal and I began to wonder how to continue the workouts at what we hoped would be a lower cost. We knew the Whitney Recreation Center adjacent to the senior center had a workout room as well as a walking track (which intrigued the Texas Gal), so we checked that out and pondered its cost, which was something like $150 yearly for me to access the workout room and for her to access the track.

And then, as we signed up to join the senior center, the volunteer at the counter noted that the senior center had its own exercise room and that some Medicare supplementals would cover the entire cost. And it turns out that my supplemental is one of those. So we filled out applications, paid the Texas Gal’s fee, and yesterday, one of my physical therapists met me there to check out the senior center’s exercise room and put me through a workout.

(The Texas Gal walked on a treadmill and kept an eye on what I was doing, hoping to use some of my routines in her own workouts.)

This isn’t our first attempt as getting in better shape. Some years ago, we tried to become more active, joining in turn two commercial gyms. The first had limited facilities for changing clothes, and the second, well, I just never felt comfortable there, being a portly older man among younger and sleeker folks. Neither of those should be a problem now.

Here’s an aptly titled tune from sax player Jim Horn. “Work It Out” is the title track to an album he released in 1990.

‘An Odd & Overlong Joke’?

Friday, September 20th, 2019

Musically here, it’s still, for the most part, all Moody Blues, all the time, as I continue to move through the band’s immense catalog, starting with the British debut album The Magnificent Moodies (and the additional early tracks that came with the CD reissue, four of which showed up as substitutes on the group’s first U.S. album Go Now). I’ve also been rotating the band’s later albums in and out of the car as I run errands around town, re-familiarizing myself with them as albums instead of single tracks that pop up on random.

(Not surprisingly, I know the work from the 1970s and very early 1980s better than I know the work from the late 1960s or from the later 1980s and beyond. And as I add additional hearings on to the pile, I am beginning to notice some things that, well, they don’t surprise me, but maybe reaffirm in unexpected ways my thoughts on the band.)

One thing that has not surprised me is wide and varied critical reaction to the band. Writer David McGee, in the 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, wrote:

“No major band has so relentlessly parlayed nonsense as have the Moodies; were it not for their titanic success, in fact, they might easily be dismissed as an odd and overlong joke . . . but it’s the artsiness of their symphonic rock that’s truly crass, and their self-importance that’s offensive. Gods of ’70s FM radio, they invented a sort of easy-listening psychedelia that resolutely combined the worst of both worlds. Long since their heyday, they’ve continued to produce mild echoes of that stuff.”

McGee goes on to praise the band’s early work on The Magnificent Moodies, calling the single “Go Now!” a “ballad version of the British Invasion pop they were masters of,” noting as well the band’s facility at performing “credible Sonny Boy Williamson numbers and R&B fare along the lines of a sweeter Spencer Davis Group.”

But head back in time to 1979, when writer Alan Niester took on the topic of the Moody Blues for the first edition of the Rolling Stone guide. Assessing the album Go Now, Niester writes:

This 1965 album is now interesting mainly for the wonderful hit single “Go Now” and its near-hit follow-up “From The Bottom Of My Heart.” The other ten songs are as thin and inept as anything by the Dave Clark Five. But as a souvenir of young adolescence, this timeworn LP is irreplaceable magic.

Well, I have always thought the Dave Clark Five was low-rent, but “thin and inept”? That’s harsh. Anyway . . .

“From The Bottom Of My Heart (I Love You)” scraped the bottom of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 93 in June 1965, four months after “Go Now!” had reached No. 10. To my ears, neither one of those owes much to Sonny Boy Williamson or Spencer Davis Group Lite. Instead, I hear hints of what would happen to the group when Denny Laine and Clint Warwick left and Justin Hayward and John Lodge joined up with Mike Pinder, Graeme Edge and Ray Thomas.

Here’s “From The Bottom Of My Heart (I Love You).” I think in the next week we’ll spend one more post looking at the pre-psychedelic Moodies and then jump into the era I know better (and like a lot more). I hear hints of that era here.

Back In ’72, Part 2

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Having examined the other day what I was listening to on the radio as the summer of ’72 rolled on, I thought I’d take a look at the LP log and see what new tunes had found their way into the cardboard box in the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard.

New acquisitions in the past year had been:

Stephen Stills
Jesus Christ Superstar
Abbey Road by the Beatles
Something New by the Beatles
13 by the Doors
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Meet the Beatles
Naturally by Three Dog Night
The Concert For Bangla Desh
Rubber Soul by the Beatles
Greatest Hits, Vol. II, by Bob Dylan
Portrait of the Young Artist by Mark Turnbull
Joe Cocker!
‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!’ by the Rolling Stones
Early Beatles
Yellow Submarine by the Beatles
Clapton At His Best by Eric Clapton
The Beatles Second Album
A Special Path by Becky Severson

Obviously, I was still pulling together my complete collection of the Beatles original albums (which I would finish by the end of August 1972), and those albums got lots of play in the rec room, especially Abbey Road and Rubber Soul. Others that got frequent play were Stephen Stills, Aqualung, Joe Cocker!, Clapton At His Best, and the albums by Dylan, the Doors and the Rolling Stones. (Some records brought home earlier than the summer of 1971 were also in heavy rotation.)

As I noted the other day, Becky Severson’s album was one I likely played only once until I ripped it into mp3s in 2007. Similarly, the Mark Turnbull album most likely got played only once until I ripped one track about ten years ago. Becky’s album is still here; Turnbull’s is not.

So, which of those albums still speak to me?

Well, Abbey Road for certain; I pop it into the car CD player on occasion and most of it is in the iPod. The four early Beatle albums were the American mishmashes pulled from the British albums and stand-alone single releases, all of which I have on CD in differing configurations, so I don’t listen to the American releases as albums anymore. A good number of the tracks from those CDs are in the iPod, as is one from Yellow Submarine.

Stephen Stills remains one of my favorite albums of all time, likely Top Ten, certainly Top 20, and all ten of its tracks are on the iPod.

What else shows up on the iPod? (That’s as good a measure as any of what music matters to me in my day-to-day life.)

Two tracks from Jesus Christ Superstar. Ten of thirteen from the Doors album (and only two other Doors tracks are on the iPod, underlining my contention that the Doors were a great singles band that made mediocre albums). Five tracks from Joe Cocker! None from Aqualung. Seven tracks from The Concert For Bangla Desh. Pretty much everything from the Clapton and Dylan anthologies, which were two of the most influential album acquisitions of my life. Two from the live Stones album. And one from the Three Dog Night album.

That’s about what I would have guessed, though I’m a little surprised by the absence of anything from Aqualung.

Anyway, here’s a track from those 1972-era acquisitions that popped up on the iPod the other day. It’s been mentioned here a couple of times over the past twelve-plus years but never featured. And it’s pretty damned good. Here’s the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog,” recorded at Abbey Road in February 1968 and released on Yellow Submarine in 1969.

How Many Junks?

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

Summer – in a cultural sense – starts this week, the last days of May. (In a meterological sense, summer starts with the solstice, which will take place here in the American Midwest at 10:54 a.m. on Friday, June 21.) But these days of dwindling May have been disappointing, with too many clouds and too much rain and very few sunny days.

And that’s been a problem, as the Texas Gal has taken this week off from work, and we’d like to play in the sunshine. (Well, it was just as well that yesterday was kind of ooky, as we both had dental appointments and neither of us – especially she – wants to waste a nice day with the mundane unpleasantness of that.) Today, however, promises better times with a high temperature of about 75 (Fahrenheit) and – if I am reading the forecast on my phone correctly – at least dappled sunshine for the day.

So we’re going to go play in a few hours, starting with a lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. Then we’re going to wander a little ways from St. Cloud, looking for antique stores or junk shoppes that we have not visited recently. How many junks we buy depends on both our moods and our assessments of our wallets.

I had thought about dropping in here a song with “summer” found somewhere in its title, but the last sentence of that last paragraph pushed me in a different direction. Here’s Paul McCartney’s lovely brief ballad “Junk.” It was written in India in 1968 and was passed over for inclusion on the White Album and Abbey Road, finally seeing release on the solo album McCartney in 1970.

Saturday Single No. 642

Saturday, May 25th, 2019

Here’s a piece that ran here in October 2015. I’m running it again today because of the number in the heading above. As you’ll see lower down, the minor mystery has been solved.

My sister and I had one of those “oh, my” moments last week at Mom’s storage unit when we found Dad’s alarm clock in a box of stuff. Every night he was home during his more than forty-six years on Kilian Boulevard, Dad had wound the little brown clock – Westclox? Timex? I don’t recall right now – and checked the alarm before setting it back on the nightstand and turning off the light for the evening.

It was that brown alarm clock that had started our weekdays during the school year, waking Mom and Dad at 6 a.m. They’d get dressed, and then Dad would rouse my sister and me while Mom headed downstairs to make breakfast for all of us.

When my second year of college started in September 1972, after my sister had decamped during the summer for marriage and a life in the Twin Cities, my mom decided to sleep in most mornings. That meant it was just Dad and me during the early morning, getting ready for our days across the river at St. Cloud State. He’d rise and dress, then wake me, and both of us would head out the door and drive off right around 7 a.m., he in his 1952 Ford and me in the 1961 Falcon I’d just inherited from my sister.

And for some reason, as the college quarter started during September 1972, Dad began waking me exactly at 6:42 a.m. Every day. Why that exact minute? I have no idea. But for some reason, that minute mattered.

There were days when I wasn’t quite sleeping, having surfaced from slumber to a half-waking state (a place between dreams and reality that I find quite pleasant), and I’d be aware of Dad standing next to my bed. Moments later, I’d hear the very faint click as the plastic tile in my clock radio flipped down, changing the time from 6:41 to 6:42, and Dad would shake my shoulder gently.

I’d nod, he’d head down the stairs to the kitchen, and I’d get out of bed and prepare for the day. By that time, neither of us ate breakfast at home, but when I got down to the kitchen, there would be a small glass of V-8 Juice and a larger glass of milk at my place at the table. I drank them standing up, and we’d head out.

And that’s how I started pretty much every school and work day from the autumn of 1972 until I moved away from Kilian Boulevard during the summer of 1976 (my time in Denmark excluded, although even there, I was an early riser). I never knew the significance of 6:42, and I never asked. I once mentioned it to my sister, and learned that before she left home, she was the 6:42 riser, with me following. Our conversation went elsewhere, so I never asked her the significance, if any, the minute had.

And I suppose I could have asked her last week, as she and I stood in the storage unit, looking at Dad’s clock with memories whirling in our heads. I didn’t think to do so.

She held up the clock and looked at me, as if to ask what to do with it. I shrugged; there are only so many things one can keep. She shrugged, too, and she placed Dad’s alarm clock into the box of things destined for an antique store.

In the time since I wrote this, I’ve asked my sister: Why 6:42? She said that she and Dad had learned that her rising at 6:42 gave her just enough morning preparation time to be ready to leave the house at 7 a.m. “That’s the only significance it had,” she said. And after my sister left Kilian Boulevard for her married life, I unknowingly inherited her schedule. As prosaic and utilitarian as that might have been, any time I see those three digits – whether as 6:42 or 642 – they bring me back to a time when I was much younger and my Dad was still here, winding his alarm clock every night.

And here’s an appropriately titled tune from the late Richie Havens: “Younger Men Grow Older.” It’s from an even more appropriately titled album, 1971’s Alarm Clock.

Time

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

A Facebook friend of mine posted this morning a photo of herself and her daughter from some decades ago, noting that, “Lately, the years of my life seem to be flying by so much faster. Telephone poles whizzing by my train window, the scenery just a blur.”

I understand, though I did not always. I’ve told the story before, back in 2007:

During my college days – it must have been in 1975 – Mom was away for a few days, and Dad and I were batching it. One evening, we headed downtown to the House of Pizza – without question my all-time favorite pizza place – for dinner and a couple of beers. As we sipped our beers after dinner, the conversation turned to the passage of time.

“You know,” he said, “for someone your age” – I was twenty-one – “time seems to go slowly. As you go on, you’ll see that it begins to speed up. And by the time you get to be my age” – he was fifty-five – “it begins to move so rapidly that the years just fly, and it’s hard to keep track of it.”

I’m sure I nodded, not comprehending. He’d had a heart attack the previous autumn, and it could be that he was feeling that first chill of mortality. Maybe not. But something spurred him to talk for one of the few times I recall about how he felt about at least a part of his life. And I guess that’s why it’s such a clear memory.

As it turned out, Dad had another twenty-eight years left. I’ll turn fifty-four next week, just one year younger than Dad was that evening when we had pizza and beer. . . . I have no conclusions to draw, just the observation that my father was right, and the days and months and years seem to be accelerating, carrying me and those I love along.

I’m sixty-five now, and each of the eleven years since I wrote that has flown more rapidly yet, sweet years flitting past. I never got the chance to tell Dad he was right.

A search for “time” among the 77,000-some tracks in the RealPlayer pulls up more than 2,800 results. That includes artists’ names and album titles, of course, so some of those go away. But there are plenty of tracks still from which to choose.

Having waded through about half of the options, I came across a song called “Of Time And Rivers Flowing” that showed up in 1998 on the album Where Have All The Flowers Gone – The Songs Of Pete Seeger. I’ve never mentioned it, which I find a little odd, as the performance on the tribute album came from Richie Havens.

Of time and rivers flowing
The seasons make a song
And we who live beside her
Still try to sing along
Of rivers, and fish, and men
And the season still a-comin’
When she’ll run clear again.

So many homeless sailors
So many winds that blow
I asked the half-blind scholars
Which way the currents go
So cast your nets below
And the gods of the moving waters
Will tell us all they know.

The circles of the planets
The circles of the moon
The circles of the atoms
All play a marching tune
And we who would join in
Stand aside no longer
Now let us all begin.

We can stand aside no longer
Now let us all begin.