Archive for the ‘Single’ Category

Still Moody

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

Today was the day I was going to continue my assessment of the Moody Blues’ catalog and dive into their 1971 album Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. But my semi-annual cold with its assorted ailments has sapped my energy, and although I’ve likely listened to the album enough, I don’t have the energy to write about it at length.

Later in the week, perhaps, I can take another whack at it. In the meantime, here’s the best track from the album, likely an unsurprising choice (and one that’s been featured here before): “The Story In Your Eyes.” A single release of the track went to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early October 1971, a month after the album peaked at No. 2 on the magazine’s album chart (where it sat for three weeks, blocked from the top spot by Carole King’s Tapestry).

‘She’s Lost The Sun . . .’

Thursday, December 12th, 2019

When I explored the Billboard Easy Listening chart from fifty years ago in a post here last week, many of the top fifteen records that I highlighted were among those I was hearing on the Top 40 at the time. That’s not surprising, of course. Crossover between the two charts was common. (I don’t know if that’s the case today. My interest in the Top 40 fades somewhere between twenty and thirty years ago. I’m old.)

One of the records on that Easy Listening chart from 1969 that caught my eye as I wrote was the Guess Who’s “Undun.” It was one of my two or three favorite records from the Canadian group during my high school days, topped only, I’d guess, by “No Time” (which did end up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox). And until it showed up on that long-ago Easy Listening chart last week, it hadn’t crossed my mind for a while. Nor had the larger catalog of the Guess Who. (Even though about ten of the group’s singles are in my iPod, they evidently don’t pop up often enough that I take notice.)

So I spent some time the other day checking the digital shelves for Guess Who material and ripping and sorting the 2003 two-CD Anthology released by RCA/BMG Heritage. I suppose I should just pop the CDs into the car’s player the next few times I head out on errands or drop them into the large stereo set that sits not far from my desk here in the EITW studios. But I just listened to a few of the resulting mp3s, “Undun” included.

“Undun” was, according to the listings in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, the B-side of “Laughing,” which entered the Hot 100 in July of 1969 and peaked at No. 10. “Undun” followed its A-side into the Hot 100 in mid-October and was in the chart for ten weeks, reaching No. 22. On the Easy Listening chart, it peaked at No. 15, which is where it was in the fifty-year-old chart explored here last week. (It was the only record the Guess Who ever got into the Easy Listening chart.)

And in the Twin Cities, it looks like the record peaked at No. 22 on KDWB, where I got a good share of my Top 40 fix. So I let some memories wash over me as I listened to it the other day; the autumn of 1969 was a pretty good time.

And then I wondered about real easy listening versions of the song, recordings from folks like Ferrante & Teicher or Ray Conniff. Well, those folks didn’t record the tune, according to the information from Second Hand Songs, but I did find a version of the tune that scratched my easy listening itch: Hugo Montenegro included a cover of “Undun” on his 1970 album Colours Of Love.

‘Just Like The Wind Will . . .’

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

We got about six inches of snow here yesterday morning, and this morning, the temperature is eight degrees below zero. Winter is here, and the weather reminded me of youthful fun at Riverside Park on the East Side, a large space wedged between Kilian Boulevard and Riverside Drive. The park has one of St. Cloud’s best sliding hills, a place that came to mind when I wrote this post in January 2009. I’ve revised it just a bit.

There are, as I’ve discussed before, many songs that take me back to a specific time and place, or remind me of a specific person, or both. That’s true, I’d guess, for anyone who loves music: some records trigger memories. Among such recordings for me are Pink Floyd’s “Us And Them,” which sets me down in the lounge of a youth hostel in Denmark; Orleans’ “Dance With Me,” which puts me in the 1975 version of Atwood Center at St. Cloud State; and Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” which tugs me back to my duplex in Minot, North Dakota, on a winter’s night.

There are, I’m certain, hundreds of such songs, and every once in a while, one of them pops up on the radio, the stereo, the RealPlayer, or the iPod, and it triggers one of those long-ago associations for a moment or two. One happened when I was driving to the grocery store the other day.

I was listening, once again, to Kool 108 in the Twin Cities. The station, as it does every year, had played holiday music from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Even if one loves holiday music – and as I’ve noted here, I generally don’t – that’s way too much of a good thing. So I was hungry for oldies on the car radio this week, hungry enough that I even listened to “Help Me, Rhonda” all the way through instead of pushing the button for another station. And I’m glad I hung in there with the Beach Boys, for the following song took me back:

Holly holy eyes, dream of only me
Where I am, what I am, what I believe in
Holly holy
Holly holy dream, wanting only you
And she comes, and I run just like the wind will
Holly holy

Sing a song
Sing a song of songs . . .

It was early 1970, and Rick and I were at the sledding hill at Riverside Park, no more than a mile from our homes. We had a couple of new saucer sleds and were testing them out on the long hill, enjoying the times we wiped out as much as we enjoyed those times we made it upright to the bottom of the hill.

It was a cloudy Sunday, and the light that penetrated the cloud cover was fading; evening was approaching as we hauled ourselves up the hill for the last time that day. And as we got to the top of the hill, from somewhere came the sound of a radio for just a few seconds: Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy.”

I’m not sure where the sound came from. In the parking lot at the top of the hill, a car with its radio on might have had a door open for just a moment, perhaps to admit tired sledders about to head home. That seems likely. But however it happened, we both heard the song as we went up the hill.

“Good song,” I said. It was okay, said Rick, not one of his favorites.

And almost thirty-nine years later, as I drove to the store, the strains of “Holly Holy” put me back there again: On that long hill in Riverside Park, cheeks red, glasses splashed with snowflakes, feet cold inside my boots, taking the first steps on the way to home and hot chocolate.

It’s now been fifty years since “Holly Holy” was on the charts. It slipped into the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1969, and by mid-December, it was at No. 13, heading to No. 6 (and to No. 5 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart).

And next month, it will have been fifty years since Rick and I trudged up the hill and caught just a snippet of the Neil Diamond record. I don’t know that we ever went sledding at Riverside again, but I’ve heard “Holly Holy” many times since (five times in the past year on the iPod alone, according to the device’s stats), and it remains one of my favorite Diamond records ever, another reminder that the music of 1969-70 – my junior year in high school – was one of the richest musical veins I’ve ever mined.

Saturday Single No. 668

Saturday, December 7th, 2019

So what were the easy listening stations playing fifty years ago this week? Here are the top fifteen from the chart now called Adult Contemporary that were listed by Billboard in its December 6, 1969, edition, fifty years ago yesterday.

“Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“Try A Little Kindness” by Glen Campbell
“And When I Die” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“A Woman’s Way” by Andy Williams
“Smile A Little Smile For Me” by the Flying Machine
“Make Your Own Kind Of Music” by Mama Cass Elliot
“Wedding Bell Blues” by the 5th Dimension
“Midnight Cowboy” by Ferrante & Teicher
“Early In The Morning” by Vanity Fare
“Love Will Find A Way” by Jackie DeShannon
“A Brand New Me” by Dusty Springfield
“I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City” by Nilsson
“Goin’ Out Of My Head” by Frank Sinatra
“Undun” by the Guess Who

Nearly all familiar, as I would have guessed. Of that fifteen, there are only two that don’t immediately play on the turntable in my head: the Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra singles. I know “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” of course, but Sinatra’s take on it seems almost sleepy, with none of the urgency I hear in the original version of the song by Little Anthony & The Imperials (No. 6 in the Hot 100 in 1964) or even in the most successful cover of the tune, which was part of a medley by the Lettermen (No. 7 in 1968). When you’re less urgent than the Lettermen . . .

As to Williams’ “A Woman’s Way,” I don’t recall it at all, and my reaction to it this morning was “Wow!” Consider:

Oh, the measure of her man
Is in a woman’s eyes
She can make him something special
If she tries

From the moment she that she gives herself
Her life is not the same
It’s a woman’s way to live
So she proudly takes his name

For a woman’s life is empty
Until she finds her man
It’s a woman’s way to give all that she can

Different times.

A third record from that top fifteen that caught my eye this morning was Glen Campbell’s “Try A Little Kindness.” A couple months ago, the speaker at our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship talked about the importance of kindness, and for once, the four of us that make up the musicans’ group were on topic, offering the Sunday morning gathering our version of the tune, written by Bobby Austin and Curt Sapaugh.

I thought briefly about making that our Saturday Single, but a quick check told me that it showed up here the week Campbell passed on in 2017, so we’ll search elsewhere. And none of the other records in that easy listening top fifteen, as much as I love many of them, call to me this morning. So we’re going to play Games With Numbers and turn today’s date – 12/7/19 – into 38 and see what’s at No. 38 in that fifty-year-old Easy Listening chart.

And we come across Bossa Rio, a Latin group from Brazil that placed two records in the Easy Listening chart in 1969 and 1970, with neither of them finding their ways into the Hot 100. The latter of the two, “With Your Love Now,” went to No. 15 during the summer of 1970. The earlier record, the one we’re interested in today, peaked at No 22 during an eight-week run on the chart that started in 1969 and continued into 1970.

The group sounds – perhaps inevitably – like Sérgio Mendes & Brasil 66. But that’s a nice sound on a Saturday morning. Here’s Bossa Rio’s take on the Beatles’ “Blackbird.”

‘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 near-decade 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.

Edited slightly.

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.