Archive for the ‘Single’ Category

Cold But Cozy

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

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.

Busy

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

I’m still around, getting through the first week of the new year: Sorting records, coping with some business for Mom and keeping the house livable.

I will be back. In the meantime, speaking of “busy,” here’s “Busy Line” by the Pipkins. From the 1970 album Gimme Dat Ding.

One From 12-29

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

As we did yesterday, we’re going to dig into the product of the search function of the RealPlayer today and find a track recorded on today’s date, December 29. And in doing so, we find ourselves in the Sugar Hill club in San Francisco’s North Beach district.

That’s where blues artists Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee spent the evening of December 29, 1961, offering an eighteen-song set that was recorded but seemingly went unreleased until 1999, when the entire performance was released on CD as Backwater Blues. (It’s entirely possible that an abridged version of the performance was released as an album or that individual tracks from the Sugar Hill performance were included on compilations of one sort or another in the thirty-eight intervening years.)

Here’s the tune that became the title track of that performance from fifty-five years ago, “Backwater Blues” (titled that even though McGhee introduces the song as “Backwater Rising”).

‘And It Came To Pass . . .’

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

With a storm moving in for Christmas Day itself, we’ve advanced our plans by one day, making today one of preparation and tomorrow the day that the Texas Gal, my mother and I will go to celebrate the holiday at my sister’s home in the northwestern suburb of Maple Grove.

But before I head out for some final shopping, I wanted to stop by here. As long-time readers know, I don’t really do much Christmas music. But this season, we’ll expand this blog’s Christmas music playlist by one song and then wish all of you and all of yours a joyful and peaceful holiday tomorrow, however you mark the day.

Here’s “Christmas Dinner” by Peter, Paul & Mary. Written by Noel Paul Stookey, it was released on the 1969 album Peter, Paul & Mommy.

And it came to pass on a Christmas evening
While all the doors were shuttered tight
Outside standing, a lonely boy-child
Cold and shivering in the night

On the street every window
Save but one was gleaming bright
And to this window walked the boy-child
Peeking in, saw candlelight

Through other windows he had looked at turkeys
And ducks and geese and cherry pies
But through this window saw a gray-haired lady
Table bare and tears in her eyes

Into his coat reached the boy-child
Knowing well there was little there
He took from his pocket his own Christmas dinner
A bit of cheese, some bread to share

His outstretched hands held the food
And they trembled, as the door it opened wide
Said he “Would you share with me Christmas Dinner?”
And gently said she, “Come inside”

The gray-haired lady brought forth to the table
Glasses to their last drop of wine
Said she, “Here’s a toast to everyone’s Christmas
And especially yours and mine”

And it came to pass on that Christmas evening
While all the doors were shuttered tight
That in that town, the happiest Christmas
Was shared by candlelight

‘So Long Ago . . .’

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

We talked a bit about 1974 last week, when I told a tale of romance and its aftermath, but the music tied to that post came from a year earlier. This morning, I decided to wander through the Billboard Hot 100 from December 21, 1974, forty-two years ago today, and see what came to mind.

The bulk of the records listed were, without surprise, familiar. I wasn’t actively listening to Top 40 at the time, but stuff drifts in the environment, you know, and becomes familiar whether you really like it or not. In addition, a lot of the stuff in that chart from December 1974 was on the jukebox at the student union, where I still spent a lot of time once I got back to school at the beginning of winter quarter.

And one of the records making its chart debut forty-two years ago today – sitting at No. 68 – is one that I liked a great deal then even though for some reason, I didn’t make any effort to find the record or even learn its title for years. I just heard John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” coming out of the speakers at school, in the car and, I imagine, many of the other places I hung out as the sad year of 1974 began to fade toward 1975 (which turned out to be a far better year). And I heard it a lot, as it went, eerily, to No. 9. And then, as records do, it faded away.

In some ways, I’m surprised that I never thought to find out the record’s title. I obviously knew it was Lennon’s work, but I evidently didn’t need to know more than that. As for buying it, well, I never did buy many singles, and I never gave much thought in those days to picking up Lennon’s Walls and Bridges album.

All I can say is that I wasn’t spending a lot on records in late 1974 and I kept to that in the first months of 1975 (and for a long time after, as far as that goes). And when I did buy, I was focusing on getting the most prominent of the stuff I’d heard during my time in Denmark, including albums by the Allman Brothers Band and the first Duane Allman anthology. So as much as I liked “#9 Dream,” it had to wait to get onto my shelves.

And it was a long wait. Eleven years later, on a January evening in 1986, the Other Half and I did some shopping in Buffalo, the county seat about ten miles south of Monticello. It’s a odd destination, as we rarely shopped in Buffalo; if we didn’t stay in Monti, we’d usually head thirty miles northwest up Interstate 94 to St. Cloud or go the same distance the other way to any number of malls or big box stores in the Twin Cities’ northwestern suburbs.

But we went that Friday evening to Buffalo, and one of the places we went had LPs. I noticed The John Lennon Collection, a recently released anthology of the man’s solo work, and it went home with us. So if I hadn’t ever bothered to learn it before (and I don’t know if I had or hadn’t), I learned by the end of that evening that the track with the haunting refrain “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé” was in fact called “#9 Dream.” And I was glad to have it – and the rest of the tracks on the collection – with me.

A December Tale

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

It’s a weekday evening in December 1974, and I’m hanging around in the rec room in the basement at home, waiting to head out on a coffee date that I’m afraid will be at least a little awkward.

The story started during August of 1973, when most of the St. Cloud State students who would spend the next academic year in Fredericia, Denmark, got together for a picnic at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. During that picnic, a young woman and I had a brief but intriguing conversation at the foot of the falls for which the park is named, talking about a very few people we knew in common and about our hopes for the adventure to come.

Our nascent friendship turned into something else about a month into that adventure. We traveled together a little bit, spending a weekend in the German city of Kiel. We put together a Thanksgiving dinner for my Danish family, scavenging substitutes for American dishes not available in Denmark. We hung out in bars, and in our rooms at our host families’ homes. We fell in love.

One evening, we went with her Danish host sister and that young woman’s boyfriend to visit some friends of his in the nearby city of Vejle. On the brief drive back to Fredericia, my girl and I cuddled in the Volkswagen’s back seat to the sound of the Toys’ 1965 hit, “A Lover’s Concerto.” (Was it an oldies station on the radio? A tape? I don’t remember.) My glasses got in the way, and she reached up and gently took them off.

“I won’t be able to see,” I said.

“I’ll be your eyes,” she murmured.

That’s one of the most tender moments I recall from any of the many loves of my life.

And then, over the course of a couple of months, it fell apart, leaving hard questions. Did we want the same things? Probably not. Did I move too fast, ask for too much? Probably. Were we young and not very wise? Without a doubt. By the time we got to the end of our time in Denmark in May 1974, we weren’t speaking to each other.

With some challenges and joys in my life, I healed a great deal that summer, but I knew there were some words – most of them kind and gentle – I wanted to share with her. I saw her at a party early during the new academic year, but her demeanor told me she wasn’t interested in talking. I thought she might never be. My heart went elsewhere that autumn, renewing an interest long denied. Then there was a traffic accident, and I dropped out of school for a month.

One day during that month, when I was physically strong enough to be away from home for a few hours, I went over to the campus. I filled out some paperwork to drop a chemistry course in which I’d been struggling before the accident, and I visited my friends at The Table in the student union. Then it was time to leave. I headed upstairs and turned the corner toward the door, and there she was.

“How are you?” I managed.

“I’m fine,” she said, shaking her head as if that were unimportant. “But how are you?” And I realized that she had heard about the accident, and she cared.

“Oh,” I said. “I’m okay. Getting better.” And we chatted for a few moments until my mom pulled up outside.

I looked at the young woman. “Can we get together sometime to talk?”

She nodded. “Call me in December, when the new quarter starts.”

I did so, and on a December weeknight, I got ready to see her, with the stereo in the rec room playing Jim Croce’s Life & Times album. A year earlier, when I was in Denmark, the album’s last track, “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way,” had been a very minor hit, going to No. 64 in Billboard. I’d not heard it then, but that’s what I heard just before I left home that evening:

Snowy nights and Christmas lights
Icy window panes
Make me wish that we could be
Together again
And the windy winter avenues
Just don’t seem the same
And the Christmas carols sound like blues
But the choir is not to blame

But it doesn’t have to be that way
What we had should have never have ended
I’ll be dropping by today
’Cause we could easily get it together tonight
It’s only right

Crowded stores, the corner Santa Claus
Tinseled afternoons
And the sidewalk bands play their songs
Slightly out of tune
On the windy winter avenues
There walks a lonely man
And if I told you who he is
Well, I think you’d understand

But it doesn’t have to be that way
What we had should have never have ended
I’ll be dropping by today
’Cause we could easily get it together tonight
It’s only right

But it doesn’t have to be that way
What we had should have never have ended
I’ll be dropping by today
’Cause we could easily get it together tonight
It’s only right

I headed to her dorm, Jim Croce in my head. At the restaurant, we split a piece of strawberry pie and laid some things to rest, offering apologies and soothing – or at least beginning to – some of the hurts. We laughed a little.

Maybe ninety minutes after I picked her up, I dropped her off at her dorm, and as I drove home, I realized Jim Croce was wrong: It did have to be that way.

The Universe Decides

Friday, December 9th, 2016

The winnowing of the vinyl continues. This week, I got back to work, sorting the pop, rock and R&B LPs in a swath that ran from Sade to Warren Zevon, keeping maybe 100 out of the 600 LPs I looked at, putting the rest in crates on the floor. (From there, they’ll go to boxes that we’ll take down to Minneapolis, probably in early January.)

There were some tough decisions: I let go of lots of Neil Young, and lots of stuff by Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods, War, the Waterboys, Stevie Wonder, the Who, Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel, and Steeleye Span. Much of that stuff is replicated in the digital stacks; some isn’t.

What did I keep?

Well, all the Bruce Springsteen stays here, as does all the Boz Scaggs. The same goes for Jesse Winchester, Southside Johnny (with and without the Asbury Jukes), Bobby Whitlock, the Sutherland Brothers (with and without Quiver) and Tower of Power.

There were, of course, other albums by lesser-known (and lesser-regarded) performers and groups. Some of those stayed and some were put on the floor to leave. I kept individual albums by, as examples, Huey “Piano” Smith., Tim Weisberg, Floyd Westerman, Paul Williams, Jennifer Warnes and Jimmy Webb. Among those set to leave are individual records by – again as examples – Warren Zevon, Michelle Shocked, the Turtles, Carly Simon, the Three Degrees and Rick Wakeman.

Many of the decisions were hard (the two hardest were letting go of twelve albums by War and six by Steeleye Span, keeping in each case an anthology), and I imagine that if I’d been doing this batch of sorting on another day, some of those decisions would have been different.

So what’s left to sort? Well, about 800 LPs sit on the bricks and boards I wrote about long ago in a tale about dad’s woodworking skills and my use of a saber saw, and I would guess about half of those will stay. That’s where you’ll find Bob Dylan, The Band, the Beatles, the blues collection, my dad’s classical collection, standard pop (including Al Hirt), country, and lots of anthologies.

I would guess that most of the anthologies will go; many of them are K-Tel and Ronco records with truncated versions of hits, and some of the country and standard pop will go. My goal – negotiated with the Texas Gal, whose aim is to trim down all of our belongings for the eventual move to an apartment – is to get to right around 1,000 LPs. And, as I said, some of the decisions are difficult. Some are not: There were no twinges of regret as I put albums by Uriah Heep and Bonnie Tyler, to name two, into the crates on the floor.

And sometimes the universe decides. At one point yesterday morning, I was holding Gold in California, a two-record anthology of the work of the late folk singer Kate Wolf, whose music I love. I’ve mentioned her a very few times over these nearly ten years, and I’ve gathered a bit of her stuff into the digital stacks, including all the tracks on Gold in California. But it was the only album of hers among the vinyl. So I was dithering.

I’d had my iTunes library playing on random as I sorted. And as I pondered what to do with the anthology, iTunes offered me “Carolina Pines,” one of only four Kate Wolf tracks among those 3,700-some selections. I nodded and put the album with the keepers. After all, who am I to argue with the universe?

Here’s “Carolina Pines.” It’s from Wolf’s 1985 album Poet’s Heart.

‘A Wednesday Car’

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

It’s Wednesday, it’s cold outside – 13 degrees, but it feels like zero – and I have to go out a little later today to see the foot doctor and get some groceries for my mom. I think she’d like to go along, but I’m going to discourage that; it’s just too cold out there.

Anyway, I did some digging in the files for something for a cold Wednesday when I can’t seem to get things going, and I came across “A Wednesday Car” from Johnny Cash. It was on his 1977 album The Rambler. It’s good for a chuckle (if not a little bit of thought about the truth of the song).

The assembly line is runnin’ slow on Monday
They’ve been livin’ it up and layin’ up Saturday and Sunday
On Tuesday, they’re about to come around
But they still feel bad and they’re kinda down
And mad ’cause they’ve got four more days before the weekend rolls around
On Wednesday they’re feelin’ fine again
And they’re workin’ like a dog and diggin’ in
Tryin’ to do everything they should, puttin’ them cars together good
And I got me a car that was made on Wednesday, on Wednesday
If you’re gonna buy yourself a new car,
You just better hope you’re lucky enough to get one made on Wednesday

On Thursday, the weekend is in sight
And they’re in a hurry and they don’t do nothing right
Friday is the worst day of the week, that’s the day they make the lemons, dogs, and freaks
If your car was made on Friday, friend, you’ll soon be in the creek
Cause it’s payday and the loafin’ has begun
Lord, them Friday cars, just hope you don’t get one
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday
Are all bad days, and the only try day is Wednesday
And my car was made on Wednesday, on Wednesday
If your car wasn’t made on Wednesday I’d advise you not to even leave home any.

First Days On The Job

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Even after more than forty years pondering memory and time as an adult and almost ten years writing here about the two (along with music), sometimes the blurring and blending of my days, months and years holds me still for a moment or two. This week, it was this photo.

edit-for-echoes

That, of course, is me, in a photo taken thirty-nine years ago this week during my first day of work at the Monticello Times. I started there on Monday, November 28, 1977, and the first edition with my byline in it was dated Thursday, December 1. And I remember a few things about that first day:

I rode with our photographer, a fellow named Bruce, to the crossroads hamlet of Hasty – about nine miles up Interstate 94 from Monti – to interview the owners of a newly opened cheese shop based in an old creamery. The Milky Whey, as they called it, was in a decent location on a county road that intersected the freeway, not far from from the exit. I’m not sure when the shop closed, but by the time I left Monticello for grad school not quite six years later, the creamery was once again boarded and shuttered.

My boss, DQ, took me over to the high school, where a lot of my newsgathering would take place over those nearly six years. He introduced me to some of the administration and then we ate lunch in the faculty lounge, which had long been his habit on Mondays. I did the same for several of the following Mondays, but I felt like an interloper. Those folks didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them (although I would get to know some of them well as the years went by). So by February of 1978 or so, I had developed my own schedule for getting news at the high school on Mondays, and my lunch hour found me in another place.

That afternoon, Bruce took the photo above and another one, more of a portrait shot, for use in that week’s paper. It was the portrait that ran, along with a brief bit of copy I wrote, introducing our readers to the new guy at the paper.

And that evening, I think I covered a girls basketball game at Monticello; if I did, it was the first time I’d covered girls athletics. This was only a few years after girls began to play interscholastic sports, and the game was a bit ragged, not the fluid, well-played game that one saw on occasion then and sees these days from high school on up.

And after that day – a long one that was capped, no doubt, with some television and a frozen dinner – the rest of the first publication week moved rapidly. Tuesday, I wrote most of the day, learning more and more about my slate of responsibilities, and that evening, I covered a wrestling match, writing the story early on Wednesday, just hours before the paper went to press.

That evening, I looked at the paper’s front page and my first professional byline. I remember staring at it, wondering if I would be able to stick, to do the job well enough. And, with a few missteps here and there, I did stick, and that byline – one I can still see in my head – turned out to be the first of probably a few thousand over the years.

So, is there any music attached to those first few days? Not really. I can’t think of anything that I heard either driving from place to place or at home in the evenings. But on Thursday that week – technically our publication day, but a light day at the office – I drove the thirty miles to St. Cloud and had dinner with my girlfriend and my parents (it was Mom’s birthday) and took time out to do some record shopping downtown, buying one album, Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus.

After dinner, I headed back to Monti, and before driving to the mobile home park just south of town, I stopped at one of the few places in that small town that sold LPs and bought two more records, Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees and the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed.

I remember playing the Moody Blues’ 1967 album that evening in my half of a mobile home duplex. I’d had a busy few days: the rush of moving during the weekend before, my first days at the paper, my first byline, my excursion to St. Cloud. I recall sitting there as the music played, thinking that my job was in Monticello, but my girlfriend and my family and all the rest of my life, all of that was still in St. Cloud.

And I don’t know if I felt as melancholy as the album’s last track sounds (even though the song proclaims love, it always has and always will sound more like a plaint to me), but looking back at those combined feelings of accomplishment and dislocation, it seems somehow appropriate that the last music I likely heard on that first publication day was the Moodys’ “Nights In White Satin” and the album’s closing bit of verse.

7

‘Thumb’

Friday, November 25th, 2016

We keep too much food in our freezer in the basement, and it’s not well organized. When we pull out, say, a bag of frozen corn, we have to be careful that we don’t have a bratwurst or a chicken breast avalanche. So Wednesday evening, when I had to dig into the back recesses of the freezer for a large tub of turkey stock, it became an adventure.

I found the turkey stock without moving too many things around. But because of their size and shape, two items were hard to replace in the freezer: a rack of pork ribs and a frozen pizza. As tried to find a place for the ribs, something else came sliding along the shelf toward me, and I thrust my left hand forward to stop it.

And I caught my thumbnail on something, either the edge of a hard frozen box or the end of the one of the metal rods that make up the shelf. The thumbnail cracked at the top of its arc and the right-hand portion of the nail bent backwards, tearing off of the quick for maybe a quarter of an inch. As cold as my thumb was at the moment, it didn’t hurt much and it didn’t bleed much, so I finished reorganizing the freezer and headed upstairs, where I expected the warmth to bring blood and pain.

And that was the case. Eventually, I got a Band-Aid over the thumb, and also eventually, the bleeding and most of the pain stopped. I kept the bandage on overnight and then went through the day yesterday without a bandage on it, as I will do today. But the thumb isn’t of much use right now, and when I forget and try to do something simple that requires pressure from that thumb, well, I change plans pretty quickly.

Even typing seems to go slowly. Even though my left thumb does no work at the keyboard, I have to be careful not to bump it, and that makes the work more halting than normal. (My typing style is idiosyncratic. Letter keys are the province of the forefingers and middle fingers alone. I shift only with my left pinky and space only with my right thumb; the ring fingers and the right pinky – like the left thumb – are just along for the ride.) So we won’t spend a lot of time here right now, and we’ll be skipping tomorrow’s Saturday Single, too. (I’d planned to get up early and get something done before we head out to our delayed celebration, but that’s not going to happen now.)

So we’re going to look for thumb music this morning. A search for the word in the RealPlayer brings us forty-five tracks. Some of them get dismissed early, like a 1976 album by Michael Dinner titled Tom Thumb the Dreamer. It’s a singer-songwriter thing, and seems to be a decent piece, based on a quick listen to a few tracks this morning. I have no idea how it came to be in the files.

We’ll also dismiss anything on the Blue Thumb label, which takes care of one Ike & Tina Turner single, two Pointer Sisters singles, and the Pointers’ 1975 album, Steppin’. And we also drop a version of “Witchi Tai To” by a performer using the name of Tom Thumb.

That leaves twenty-seven tracks, with that total made up almost entirely of versions of three tunes: Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb,” and “Ridin’ Thumb,” a tune originally recorded by Seals & Crofts. The one outlier is a Jackie Lomax track, “Thumbin’ A Ride.”

The original version of “Ridin’ Thumb” isn’t in the stacks, but we have versions from King Curtis (1971), Three Dog Night (1973) and It’s A Beautiful Day (also 1973). King Curtis also supplies us with a track called “Ridin’ Thumb Jam” (also 1971).

Intrigued by those tracks, I decided to go find the original version by Seals & Crofts. It was on the duo’s second album, Down Home, released in 1970 on the T-A label. There was also a single release, but it didn’t make the charts. And we’ll see you next week.