Today is International Women’s Day, and I struggled to think of a way to mark it here without seeming frivolous or clueless. Then I thought about something I saw last weekend as I caught up with Rhiannon Giddens’ performance on Austin City Limits.
During that performance, recorded last April, Giddens introduced “At The Purchaser’s Option” like this:
I came across this advertisement for a newspaper . . . for a human being, a woman for sale, from 1828. It just listed her attributes like it would list anything’s attributes. So you’re reading this thing and it gets down to the end of the ad, and as an afterthought, it mentions that she has with her a nine-month old baby who is at the purchaser’s option. And it just kinda made me think a lot about what that woman’s life was like and, you know, what I get to – how I get to live my life, and so, this is a song that came out of that.
“At The Purchaser’s Option” is the first track on Giddens’ new album, Freedom Highway.
I spent a bunch of time yesterday messing around with a file folder full of mp3s. The folder is labeled “Temp,” and it’s where I dump albums of stuff when they first land here and I haven’t got time at the moment to check titles and tag before I filter them into the RealPlayer.
Of course, stuff settles to the bottom of the folder and sits there, and every once in a while, I look at one or another of the folders at the bottom of the Temp folder and wonder, “When the heck did I get that?” Windows 10 helpfully sorts the stuff in the Temp folder into categories that range from “Today” to “A Long Time Ago.” And there’s lots of stuff in that last category.
Well, there’s less now than there used to be. I checked titles and tags in a lot of folders yesterday including a U.K. collection of soul hits (about thirty of which I did not already have); the first volume of The Complete Goldwax Singles; and albums by Ferrante & Teicher, Redwing, Andrea Marr, Slim Harpo, the Motels, and the Sutherland Brothers, with and without Quiver.
I also spent some time mining some out-of-print easy listening albums from the nifty blog In-Flight Entertainment, including stuff by Sounds Orchestral, Bert Kaempfert, Hugo Montenegro, Henry Mancini, Billy Strange, and the Button Down Brass.
But the best find of the past two days was likely the two CDs I grabbed for $1 each at the local library’s bookstore Thursday: Daniel Lanois’ 1993 release, For the Beauty of Wynona, and John Marytn’ 1998 album, The Church With One Bell.
I’ve liked Lanois’ production work with U2 (The Joshua Tree) and Bob Dylan (Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind), and I love his own albums, Acadie, Belladonna and Shine. I heard Wynona long ago but – amid the many, many albums I said I’d get to later – I’ve never heard it since.
As for the later British singer/songwriter Martyn, I don’t know as much about him. I have one album on the digital shelves, Stormbringer, a 1970 release that he recorded with his wife, Beverly, and I’m looking forward to digging into The Church With One Bell.
I’d already heard one track, however. The Bobby Charles tune “Small Town Talk” is one of those songs I love enough to gather into my digital shelves any version of it I can find. A while back, I came upon Martyn’s version from The Church With One Bell and liked it a lot. And when I found the CD at the library Wednesday and was reminded of Martyn’s version of the song, well, there you go!
There’s a house. If it’s real, it’s in an older neighborhood, one that was home to factory workers about a hundred years ago. When I stand on the wooden back steps and look at the sidewalk at the end of the plain dirt driveway, I sense the footprints of tired men walking home.
The house is tan, the window frames dark brown, and the paint is flaking badly. I turn to the back door and enter the kitchen. The old linoleum crackles under my tread. I know this place, can sense the faint aromas of hundreds of meals: chicken, maybe chops, and almost certainly some favorites from an old country left behind.
A plain table with two chairs is on my left as I enter, next to the window that overlooks the driveway, and I turn toward it. The kitchen appliances are somewhere to my right. They’re indistinct, but I know that like the paint outside and the linoleum underfoot, they are old.
There is a doorway beyond the table, and there is light in the room beyond the doorway. I hear the murmur of voices, perhaps conversation or maybe a radio. Through the doorway, I see the shape of a chair, perhaps a sofa, and just beyond, there is a flicker of movement and maybe the sound of footsteps.
And I see no more. The dream, one I’ve had dozens of times over the years, ends there as I stand by the table in the kitchen, looking into the next room with its yellowish light and its murmurs and its shadows. If that house exists, I do not know where it is, and yet, I’ve been there time and again.
Here’s “Theme From A Dream” by the Larry Page Orchestra. It’s a tune written and first recorded by Chet Atkins. Page’s version was first released on his orchestra’s 1970 album, Bridge Over Troubled Water.
In one of those things that occasionally bedevil all of us in this digital world, I found myself for about two weeks unable to access my Yahoo! email account, the one that’s used for this blog and for offers to meet incredibly scrumptious women. When whatever gunked up the Intertubes cleared up – and I imagine it was a combination of digital Yahooligans and my own errors – I found a gift from regular reader and friend Yah Shure:
He sent along scans of the WJON/WJJO Starship Sampler from February 9, 1976, detailing thirty-eight top singles on each of the two St. Cloud stations – WJON was Top 40 (or near enough) and WWJO was (and still is) country – along with a list of 30 featured pop/rock albums on the back cover of the sampler. (Yah Shure had intended me to have the sampler in time to write about it on February 9, but whatever went wrong with my email put a dent in that idea, so we’re a little more than a week late, which seems like no big deal after forty-one years.)
The two stations, of course, were right around the corner and across the railroad tracks from my folks’ place on Kilian Boulevard (and they’re still there in a newer building, just down Lincoln Avenue from our current place). For many years, WJON was one of the stations that gave me my evening Top 40 fix. Oddly enough, at the time of this particular sampler, that wasn’t the case: I was living in the Twin Cities, finishing an internship in television sports and getting my Top 40 from KDWB.
Still, it’s fun to know what the folks I left behind me in the Cloud were listening to, even though not much of it is surprising. Here is WJON’s Top Ten from that long-ago week:
“Convoy” by C.W. McCall
“I Write The Songs” by Barry Manilow
“Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers
“50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon
“Evil Woman” by the Electric Light Orchestra
“Squeeze Box” by the Who
“All By Myself” by Eric Carmen
“Fox On The Run” by Sweet
“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” by Neil Sedaka
“Winners & Losers” by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds
(I’m going to leave the country side of the sampler alone today except to note that “Convoy” was also No. 1 there.)
The only one of the pop Top Ten I did not recall was “Winners & Losers,” and a trip to YouTube did not impress me. The record, which went to No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, was HJF&R’s follow-up to the group’s No. 1 hit, “Fallin’ In Love,” which I also thought was a little flabby. (I’m not alone there. Yah Shure noted in a later email that both “Fallin’” and “Winners” were releases on the Playboy label, the group’s new home, and he noted that “their Playboy output was like listening to their Dunhill singles, minus any air in the tires.”)
The only surprise that Yah Shure pointed out on the Top 40 side of the sampler was the presence of Michael Murphey’s “Renegade” at No. 34, a decent enough record but one that I don’t recall at all. We both expressed amused bafflement that “The White Knight” by Cledus Maggard & The Citizens Band – a sort of rough-edged “Convoy” wannabee – sat at No. 26 on WJON. And he noted – half kidding, I think – that he was surprised that station owner Andy Hilger hadn’t “put the kibosh” on the station’s airing the Who’s naughty joke, “Squeezebox.”
Beyond that, the sampler was pretty much what you’d expect from early February 1976. There were a good number of records I recall fondly, some I love, some I don’t care about, and some I dislike. Beyond “Renegade,” there was only one I did not recall: David Ruffin’s “Walk Away From Love,” which sat at No. 19. A trip to YouTube refreshed my memory, and it fell into the “don’t care” category.
The interior pages from the February 9, 1976, Starship Sampler are here.
We’ll take a look at the list of “St. Cloud’s Top Albums” from February 9, 1976, early next week. And we’ll close today with a record that sat at No. 31 in the Starship Sampler that long-ago week, one that I like a great deal, and one that’s not been mentioned here since April 2007, Helen Reddy’s “Somewhere In The Night.”
I’m still regrouping here, doing the minimum necessary to keep the household running, drinking lots of fluids, taking lots of decongestant and other meds and just holding on. But I thought I’d toss out another preview to the feature I hope to start in earnest in the next week or so: Journalism 101.
Last Thursday, I offered a preview of the first of the five W’s: “Who.” Today, we’ll find a tune with “What” in its title, sorting among 1,375 tracks the RealPlayer found. Among the tracks we’ll have to reject are two pretty good albums, the Doobie Brothers’ What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits and the Dramatics’ Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get. (There are more that we must pass by, but – in keeping with the tenor of this post – that’s a preview.)
From the perspective of nearly sixty years, the Coasters’ 1959 track “What About Us” sounds, certainly in the first verse and perhaps in some of the later verses, like a plaint about economic inequality:
He’s got a house made of glass Got his own swimming pool . . . what a gas We’ve got a one-room shack Five by six by the railroad track, well
What about us What about us Don’t want to cause no fuss But what about us
He’s with a beautiful chick Every night of the week, pretty slick We’re two poor hung up souls Girls won’t touch with a ten-foot pole, well
What about us What about us Don’t want to cause no fuss But what about us
He goes to eat at the Ritz Big steaks, that’s the breaks We eat hominy grits From a bag, what a drag
He’s got a car made of suede With a black leather top, got it made If we go out on dates We go in a box on roller skates, well
What about us What about us Don’t want to cause no fuss But what about us
By the second verse, songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are placing the tale clearly in the teen-age milieu, but I wonder if the first verse and some of the later verses had a wider target.
“What About Us” was released in late 1959, and Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows it going to No. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 as the B-side to “Run Red Run,” which went to No. 36. Oddly, perhaps, Whitburn’s R&B book shows “What About Us” as the A-side; it went to No. 17 on the Billboard R&B chart (with “Run Red Run” going to No. 29 on the B-side).
Whether pointed statement or teenage playlet, whether A-side or B-side, the record has the classic Coasters sound: A catchy rhythm, humor-laden lyrics, the low-voice interjections and a sax solo that I assume comes from King Curtis. Enjoy!
The Texas Gal headed off to work a few moments ago, sniffling and wheezing from a mid-winter cold that’s been plaguing her for a few days, and I have a feeling I’m not far behind her. (As I typed that sentence, I barked out two or three dry coughs similar to those she began with early this week.)
So I’m going to go take it easy on the couch for a good portion of the day and get back in here tomorrow. But first, I thought I’d mention an idea for a series of posts that I hope to get to very soon. As readers know, I’ve found a number of ways to sort track titles over the years. Two that seemed to work were March of the Integers, looking for numbers in song titles, and Floyd’s Prism, seeking colors. Follow the Directions ignored Horace Greeley’s advice and failed to go west, but that may happen yet.
And I realized as I was pondering the news the other day that my long-ago training in journalism offers me a list of words that should be good sorting material. I think we’ll call it Journalism 101, and we’ll sort for:
As I noted above, I’m going to take the rest of the day off (thought processes are already beginning to get a little gummy), but first, I’m going to offer a preview of the eventual post that will be titled “Who.”
When we sort the 90,000-odd mp3s in the RealPlayer for “who,” we get 714 tracks. (Babe Ruth!) And of course, lots of them aren’t going to work. Everything in the player by the Guess Who goes by the wayside, as do twenty-some tracks by a group called 100% Whole Wheat. And so on. (A more detailed list of what’s lost will be included in the full track, which will run sometime next week, I hope.)
But, as I’d expected, there will be plenty of tracks left with the word “who” in their titles. And we’ll preview the new feature with one of those tracks, a single from a New Jersey group called the Glass Bottle. I don’t recall hearing the single when it came out in late 1971; not a lot of people did, as the record got only as high as No. 87 in the Billboard Hot 100, but I know that if I had heard it, I would have loved it.
Here’s the Glass Bottle with “The Girl Who Loved Me When.”
I’m battling another bit of cold/sinus crap, the Texas Gal and I are dealing with some impending changes in our health insurance, and I’m keeping up perhaps a bit too obsessively with the news coming from Washington, D.C.
So I’ve not been in the best frame of mind this week. And that’s why it was pleasant on Wednesday evening to get together with a few of the other musicians from our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship to plan our musical offerings for the next few weeks.
We try to do that on a regular basis, but things got a bit stretched in December, what with holiday activities, so we were pretty much scrambling week-to-week as we put together the music since January began. So it was good to put a little bit of order in place, and it was good – as it always is – to work on some music for the next few weeks.
One of the tunes we’re planning to do in a couple weeks comes from a folkish trio of women who call themselves Red Molly. The trio – Laurie MacAllister, Abbie Gardner and Molly Venter – released five studio albums, a live album and an EP between 2005 and 2014. Since then, they’ve been on what they call a hiatus, working on solo projects.
The tune – “May I Suggest” – might seem out of touch with the way these times seem to be flowing, but I think that along with being concerned about that flow, we also need, more than ever, to be aware of the good things that still fill our lives from day to day. And Red Molly’s “May I Suggest” might help folks do that. I know it does for me.
It’s from the trio’s 2008 album Love and Other Tragedies.
The Texas Gal and I keep trading this funky cold/sinus annoyance back and forth. After a busy weekend that neither of us could avoid – a reserved museum exhibit on Saturday and various obligations at church on Sunday – she spent Monday at home while I did laundry and other essentials.
She was back to work yesterday and I shoveled snow twice. Now it’s Wednesday, there’s more shoveling ahead, and I’m in my chair and not sure I’m moving any further than the medicine cabinet for some pills or the living room to sleep on the couch.
But I dug through the digital stacks and found a tune for the day: “Jackson” by Johnny Cash & June Carter (not yet June Carter Cash), recorded fifty years ago today in Nashville.
And finding the record brought me an extra smile because “Jackson” was one of the tunes we offered in November during Cabaret De Lune, with Heather and I starting it out as a torch song and then shifting to a country dance rhythm toward the end.
Anyway, I’m heading for the medicine cabinet, and here’s “Jackson.”
As it does nearly every January, the cold has settled in for a bit: Tuesday’s high was 5 degrees above zero (-15 for those keeping score in Celsius), yesterday’s high was zero (-18), and today, we’re supposed to top out at -4 (-20). It would be nice if I could stay in today, but I’ll have to head out at least twice: this morning to the liquor store for a few more boxes to pack LPs and this afternoon to the drug store for some prescriptions for the Texas Gal.
Okay, so it’s cold. That’s winter in Minnesota. (According to a ranking cited yesterday by WCCO in the Twin Cities, Minnesota ranks No. 1 on a Most Miserable Winter list.) And having spent fifty-eight of my previous sixty-three winters here (and two in equally cold North Dakota), I can deal with it: Dress in layers, watch the thermostat settings, make sure there’s plenty of windshield washer fluid – “blue juice” in day-to-day terms – in the car, wear a hat, and turn into the skid when the car starts to slide on the ice.
(After years of driving in potentially slick conditions, and after countless instances of my various cars fishtailing on icy roads, that last winter necessity has become an instinctive reaction. The day after Christmas – which was a day of freezing rain and snow – I was heading down Lincoln Avenue when I hit a very slick patch. The rear end of the car headed right, and I twitched the steering wheel to the right and straightened out so quickly that the little episode was over before I really had time to think about it. I found that a little spooky.)
I’ve seen predictions that this will be a colder than average winter. That’s going to place some stress on the Texas Gal, whose job requires her to be out of the office moving from place to place at least two days a week (and some stress on the utility bill). Beyond my concerns about both of those stressors, though, I’m fine with a cold winter. I survived the winter of 1976-77 in a house on St. Cloud’s North Side that did not have central heat, so assuming the furnace doesn’t give out, I can survive a colder-than-average winter here.
That winter of 1976-77 was a memorable one. I was out of college and out of work, paying something less than $40 a month to share a shabby four-bedroom house with two other guys. As I’ve noted here before, we had a large oil-burning stove in the living room and a smaller one in the kitchen, and that was it for heat. My room was above the living room, and was the warmest one in the house, and there were mornings when the temperature outside was -30 and the inside temperature huddled around 40. (Among my Christmas presents from my folks that winter was a small space heater for my room; the cats and I were grateful.)
I survived, getting through the winter, re-enrolling in school in February to add a minor in print journalism, and in April, moving to the adjacent small town of Sauk Rapids to rent a mobile home from my friend Murl.
Beyond being cold, the house on the North Side was ill-maintained, cramped and not very clean. I would not wish to live in those conditions again. And yet, I have mostly pleasant memories of the place. One of them finds me in my room on a chilly January evening, with the cats dozing on the bed. I’m seated at the table that served as a desk, clicking away at my Olivetti portable typewriter (with its Pica typeface instead of the more common Elite).
I have no idea what I was writing. Maybe an application for a job, perhaps a letter, or I might have been typing up my latest set of lyrics. Whatever it was, I was doing so with the radio on, tuned to WCCO-FM in the Twin Cities. And sometime during that evening, the radio offered me the faux swing/jazz sound of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band.
“Whispering/Cherchez la Femme/Se Si Bon” peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of January 1977 and was the only Top 40 hit for the group that eventually evolved into Kid Creole & The Coconuts. (The record went to No. 1 on the magazine’s disco/dance chart, to No. 31 on the R&B chart and to No. 22 on the adult contemporary chart.) And though I don’t hear it often, when I do, it brings back memories of my cozy domesticity circa 1977: me and my cats, a typewriter, a space heater, and a radio.