Archive for the ‘1996’ Category

‘We’ve No One To Hold . . .’

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

One of the more sentimental songs in the folk/pop canon is “Turn Around,” written in the 1950s by Malvina Reynolds, Alan Greene, and Harry Belafonte and first recorded by Belafonte for his 1959 album Love Is A Gentle Thing. The song might be most memorable to folks of my generation for its use in a 1960s television commercial for Kodak.

We’ll get to all that, I think, as well as a discussion of which male vocalist sang the tune for the Kodak commercial, in the coming days. Today, I just wanted to note why the song slid back into my life. Not quite two weeks ago, I concluded a brief meditation on autumn with the late Charlie Louvin’s 1996 version of Sandy Denny’s lovely song “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.”

The song was from Louvin’s album The Longest Train, and after I wrote the post, I did some digging, listening to a few more tracks from the album at YouTube and checking out how the album was received by listeners and critics. And I decided to invest a small amount of cash in a used copy of the CD, which arrived yesterday. After listening to the album, I can say it’s one of the best investments of six bucks I’ve ever made.

Louvin was in his seventies when he recorded The Longest Train, and his voice shows it. But the aging that’s evident in his voice adds a poignant touch to many of the album’s tracks. That was true of “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” when I shared it twelve days ago, and it’s equally true in Louvin’s take on “Turn Around.”

There are numerous variations to the lyrics of “Turn Around.” Here’s how Louvin sings it on The Longest Train:

Where have you gone, my little boy, little boy?
Where have you gone, my sonny, my own?
Turn around, you’re two.
Turn around, and you’re four.
Turn around, you’re a young man going out the door.

Where have you gone, my little girl, little girl?
Pigtails and petticoats, where have they gone?
Turn around, you’re young.
Turn around, you’re grown.
Turn around, you’re a young wife with babes of your own.

Where have they gone, our little ones, those little ones?
Where have they gone, our children, our own?
Turn around, they’re young.
Turn around, they’re old.
Turn around, and they’ve gone and we’ve no one to hold.

Turn around, they’re young.
Turn around, they’re old.
Turn around, they’ve gone and we’ve no one to hold.

(For those interested, Louvin recorded the song once before, for the 1966 album The Many Moods of Charlie Louvin. That version is here.)

‘She Takes My Blues Away . . .’

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Ever since B.W. Stevenson popped up earlier this week, I’ve been digging back into his music. Finding Stevenson’s “Save A Little Time For Love” and “Say What I Feel” through the help of our pal Yah Shure spurred me into ordering two CDs, each of which contains two of Stevenson’s 1970s albums. (The CD offering My Maria from 1973 and Calabasas from 1974 was already on my shelves, though I had a difficult time this morning determining which particular shelf.)

And as I began to dig into Stevenson’s music, I also found myself digging into the work of Daniel Moore, the co-writer of “My Maria” – the late Stevenson’s most successful single – and the writer on his own of “Shambala,” probably Stevenson’s second-best-known work. We’ll get to Moore next week as we listen to some covers of “Shambala” and perhaps a little bit of Moore’s rootsy self-titled album from 1971.

But for today, we’re just going to deal with “My Maria.” Here’s Stevenson’s version, which went to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 1 for one week on the adult contemporary chart:

From what I can tell, poking around at Second Hand Songs, at discogs.com and at Amazon, there are two U.S.-released covers out there of “My Maria.” (At discogs.com, there are some releases listed from other artists in Germany and the U.K. that may or may not be the same song.) One of those U.S.-released covers listed at Second Hand Songs is credited only to “Voice Male” and was included on a 1997 CD of covers titled Up, Up & Away.

(Other tracks on the Up, Up & Away CD include Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration,” Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now,” Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow Of Your Smile” and the classic by Ernie, “Rubber Duckie.” Sadly, or perhaps not, the link from Second Hand Songs to the CD’s page at Amazon no longer works, and a few quick checks at other CD emporia brought no joy.)

The other U.S.-released cover of “My Maria” is, of course, the 1996 cover by Brooks & Dunn. Having come late to an appreciation of country music (and not being an expert by any definition of the word), I wonder if Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn are not the most successful country duo of all time. If not, they’re definitely in the running, with – according to Wikipedia – twenty No. 1 hit on the Billboard country chart and another nineteen in the magazine’s Top Ten. “My Maria” wasn’t the duo’s biggest hit. Based on weeks at No. 1, that would have been 2001’s “Ain’t Nothing ’Bout You,” which topped the chart for six weeks. But “My Maria” was No. 1 for three weeks in 1996, and, says Wikipedia, was that year’s top country song. So here’s Brooks & Dunn’s cover of “My Maria.”

‘Like A Face In The Crowd . . .’

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Maps fascinate me. From the time I could unfold the bulky road maps of the early 1960s – free in those years at nearly every gas station – I’d trace routes from city to city, look for rivers and lakes and wonder what it would look like and feel like to, say, drive south along U.S. Highway 71 from the Canadian border at International Falls all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. (I’ve never done that, and the drive would be much less interesting now than it would have been in the 1960s because it appears that much of that highway’s route now follows the Interstate highways.)

Along with my fascination with maps came a love for place names. Whether they come from Native American traditions or from the names of places left behind by settlers or even from the less-than-fertile imaginations of suburban developers – a trail that leads figuratively here in Minnesota from Wabasha to New Prague to Woodbury – I’m captivated by the names of places every time I look at a map.

And that captivation finds its way into my life in a lot of ways. Most pertinent to this space is that I find myself listening to and collecting records and digital music files that use place names in their titles. I walked briefly through titles that include “Memphis” a couple of years ago. That may be the most popular of place names in my collection, but it’s not necessarily the most fun. Shortly after I began collecting mp3s in 2000, I came across the track listing of country singer Yearwood’s 1995 album Thinkin’ About You.

When I looked at that track listing, one song title stood out: “On A Bus To St. Cloud.” I’d never seen my hometown mentioned in a song, and I wondered if the city in question were instead St. Cloud, Florida. I got hold of a copy of the song and learned, happily, that it was my St. Cloud that was referenced. So I did a little bit of research. I found an interview with writer Gretchen Peters in which she said the inspiration for the song came when she was looking idly at a map and noticed St. Cloud, Minnesota. The name of the city intrigued her and provided the inspiration for what turned out to be a pretty decent song.

Yearwood was the first to record it, according to Second Hand Songs, with Peters recording her version a year later for her album The Secret of Life. Other covers listed at Second Hand Songs have come from John Joseph Nolis and the duo of Neyman & Willé. At Amazon, one finds versions by Leah Shafer, George Donaldson and other names that are unfamiliar (at least to me). One familiar name there is Jimmy LaFave, an Austin-based singer-songwriter whose work I enjoy; he put his version of “On A Bus To St. Cloud” on his 2001 album Texoma. And there are other covers out there, I’m sure.

But as I look for what sounds and feels definitive, I go back – as I often do – to the original. I’m astounded that it’s taken me this long – more than six years of blogging – to write about the song, but here’s Yearwood’s version of a tune that name-checks my hometown.

Instrumental Digging: 1950-1999

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

We continue today seeking the answer to a question sparked by our digging into instrumental music the other week: Which instrumentals ranked highest in the year-end listings in each of the decades of the 1900s? I looked at the years 1900-1949 late last week. Today, we’ll return to Joel Whitburn’s A Century of Pop Music and look at the more familiar music that came along during the years from 1950 to 1999.

1950s: The highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1950s was the mambo “Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White” by Perez Prado, which was the No. 1 record for 1955. The highest ranking instrumental for the decade as a whole was The Third Man Theme” by Anton Karas, 1950’s No. 3 record, which was No. 6 for the decade. Perez Prado’s record fell in at No. 10 on the decade list.

1960s: The highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1960s was “The Theme From A Summer Place by Percy Faith & His Orchestra, which was the No. 1 single for all of 1960. When the Sixties ended almost ten years later, Faith’s record was the top-ranked instrumental for the decade, ranking second among all records during the 1960s to only the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” (Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue,” which I featured last week, was the No. 3 record in 1968 and the No. 12 record for the overall decade.)

1970s: According Whitburn, the highest-ranking instrumental in any single year of the 1970s is “Fly, Robin, Fly” by Silver Convention, the No. 2 record for all of 1975 (behind the Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”). I might disagree with Whitburn’s classifying the record as an instrumental, as the record has words: “Fly, Robin, Fly/Up, up to the sky.” But given that the vocals are more of a chant than anything else (and that similar chant-like vocals show up in other records classified as instrumentals), I’d concede. As to the highest-ranking instrumental of the decade, I have to guess, as not one instrumental made the Top 40 records of the 1970s. My guess would be “Fly, Robin, Fly,” based on its three weeks at No. 1, a span of time no other instrumental matched during the decade. (Three instrumentals spent two weeks at No. 1 during the 1970s: “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees in 1974, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” by Meco in 1977, and “Rise” by Herb Alpert in 1979.)

1980s: The decade was a grim one for instrumental hits. Only three instrumentals were listed among the four hundred records that comprise the ten annual Top 40 listings for the 1980s. Of those three, the highest ranking was “Chariots of Fire – Titles” by Vangelis, which was the No. 15 record for 1982. (The other two ranked instrumental were from 1985: “Miami Vice Theme: by Jan Hammer and “Axel F” by Harold Faltenmyer, which came in at Nos. 24 and 37, respectively, in that year’s final listing.) And, as was the case with the 1970s, no instrumental made the list of the decade’s Top 40 records. One has to think, given the year-by-year rankings mentioned above, that “Chariots of Fire – Titles” was the decade’s highest-ranked instrumental.

1990s: If the 1980s were a dismal time for instrumentals in the charts, I have no words at all to describe the 1990s. Only one instrumental single made any of the ten year-end Top 40 listings: “Theme from Mission: Impossible” by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen of U2 ranked No. 39 for the year of 1996 and would, most likely, be the decade’s top instrumental. And that brings this exploration to a whimpering halt.

Note: The linked video for “Fly, Robin, Fly,” is of the album track; the single ran about two minutes shorter, but I don’t own the single, and the only good video of the single has some NSFW artwork. As to the other linked videos, I’m reasonably sure that the linked videos from the 1950s and 1960s feature the original singles, and I have no certainty at all about the music in the linked videos from the 1980 and 1990s.

‘One’

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

As I did something inconsequential the other day, the RealPlayer kept me entertained with a random selection. And then, in the space of five songs, it played two with the same title: “One,” first by U2 and then by Three Dog Night.

That got me to wondering how many tunes I have with the word “one” in the title, so I went looking this morning. I have no answer. The sorting function on the RealPlayer finds every instance of the letters “one” occurring. So I’ve had to bypass multiple versions of “Black Cat Bone” and “Another Man Done Gone” as well as every song with the word “lonely” in its title and the entire catalogs of the Rolling Stones, the Freddy Jones Band and C.W. Stoneking.

But even if I have no specific count, there were plenty of titles to choose from. Here’s a selection:

As has been mentioned before in this space, Neil Young’s 1978 album, Comes A Time, is my favorite album by that changeable and often enigmatic performer. On that album, “Already One” tells the tale of a love that’s difficult yet essential, a story that I’d think most of us have experienced along the way, even if the configuration was a little different than the one in Young’s song.

The Wilburn Brothers – Doyle and Teddy – were from Hardy, Arkansas, and performed at the Grand Old Opry and for a similar radio program, Louisiana Hayride, during the 1940s into 1951, before either of them was twenty. Between 1954 and 1970, they placed twenty-eight records into the Country Top 40. One of those came in late 1964, when “I’m Gonna Tie One On Tonight” went to No. 19.

Marva Whitney is a singer from Kansas City, Kansas, who toured between 1967 and 1970 as a featured performer in the James Brown Review. She recorded a fair number of singles during that time and on into the 1970s, with most of them released on the King label. Three of her singles reached the R&B Top 40; the best-performing was “It’s My Thing (You Can’t Tell Me Who To Sock It To),” which went to No. 19 in 1969. “He’s the One” was not one of those charting three, but it’s a great piece of 1969 R&B nevertheless.

The Sundays released three CDs between 1990 and 1997 in a style that All Music Guide says owes a lot to “the jangly guitar pop of the Smiths and the trance-like dream pop of bands like the Cocteau Twins.” For whatever reason – probably memories of hearing “Here’s Where the Story Ends” on Cities 97 during the early 1990s – I have all three Sundays CDs. Jangly and romantic, “You’re Not The Only One I Know” comes from the first one, 1990’s Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

The James Solberg Band spent a lot of time during the 1990s touring as the backing band for bluesman Luther Allison. Still, Solberg and his mates found time to record a couple of pretty good albums (for some reason, AMG calls the group the “Jim Solberg Band,” while the CDs themselves credit the James Solberg Band), and Solberg himself put together a few good solo albums starting in the late 1990s. In our search this morning, we come across “One of These Days” from the 1996 album of the same name.

Almost every time Al Stewart pops up on the radio or on the mp3 player, I find myself admiring his songcraft and performance. With his smart and literate lyrics and his generally accessible and atmospheric music, Stewart almost always casts a spell. I’ve no doubt heard “One Stage Before” from Year of the Cat hundreds of times since the album came out in 1976, but I’m not sure I’ve really listened to it. I did this morning, and all can do is admire it:

It seems to me as though I’ve been upon this stage before
And juggled away the night for the same old crowd.
These harlequins you see with me, they too have held the floor
As here once again they strut and they fret their hour.
I see those half-familiar faces in the second row
Ghost-like with the footlights in their eyes,
But where or when we met like this last time, I just don’t know.
It’s like a chord that rings and never dies
For infinity.

And now these figures in the wings with all their restless tunes
Are waiting for someone to call their names.
They walk the backstage corridors and prowl the dressing-rooms
And vanish to specks of light in the picture-frames.
But did they move upon the stage a thousand years ago
In some play in Paris or Madrid?
And was I there among them then, in some travelling show?
And is it all still locked inside my head
For infinity?

And some of you are harmonies to all the notes I play;
Although we may not meet, still you know me well,
While others talk in secret keys and transpose all I say
And nothing I do or try can get through the spell.
So one more time we’ll dim the lights and ring the curtain up
And play again like all the times before,
But far behind the music, you can almost hear the sounds
Of laughter like the waves upon the shores
Of infinity.

Saturday Single No. 236

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve indulged myself here with random six-song tours of the Seventies and the Eighties, and a rainy Saturday morning seems like a good time to keep the sequence going. So this morning, in search of our weekly treat, we’ll wander through the Nineties.

(I should note that I was baffled why the video I put together for the final tune in our Eighties exploration got so few hits. And I learned this morning that the video had disappeared because the HTML was incorrectly tinkered with, and that’s my fault. I’ve repaired the post, and if anyone wants to take in the Tom Jans performance of “Mother’s Eyes” that closed Jan’s final album, Champion, it’s here.)

There are about 6,800 tunes in the RealPlayer from the 1990s. The mix is far different than those from earlier decades, I would guess. There’s probably much less Top 40, much more adult contemporary, some alternative stuff (especially alt. country, leading to Americana, I would think), some blues, and a fair amount of regular country. So let’s see what pops out of the random slot:

First up are the Spin Doctors and their cover of “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” from the soundtrack to the 1993 movie Philadelphia. The Spin Doctors’ second album, a 1991 effort titled Pocket Full of Kryptonite, went to No. 3 on the Billboard 200, and a single from Pocket – “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” – was everywhere in the autumn of 1992 and the early weeks of 1993, reaching No. 17 in the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the Mainstream Rock chart. So the Spin Doctors were at their peak when they took on the John Fogerty tune for Philadelphia. Their cover’s not bad, but there’s nothing in it that’s new, either.

Stop No. 2 this morning is a track from the last album by the late Richard Newell, a blues harpist better known as King Biscuit Boy. Long considered, says All-Music Guide, “the premier practitioner of blues harmonica in Canada,” Newell toured with and jammed with many folks during his fifty-eight years, including Muddy Waters, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John and John Lee Hooker. His recorded output is slender: Five albums between 1970 and 1995 (he crossed over in 2003), but all are good listening. The tune we’ve come across this morning is a nifty little workout called “Down On The Farm” from his 1995 album Urban Blues Re: Newell.

We move on, finding ourselves in Walkabout territory. I’ve seen the group tagged as alternative country rock, and that seems to pretty much sum it up. The tune we’ve fallen on is “Polly” from Satisfied Mind, a 1993 collection of acoustic covers. Written by the late Gene Clark, a founding member of the Byrds, “Polly” first showed up on Through the Morning, Through the Night, the 1969 album Clark recorded with Doug Dillard. As much as I like Dillard & Clark, I prefer the Walkabouts’ almost eerie version of the song.

And from there, we tumble into the world as seen by Alabama 3 (known as A3 in the U.S.), the group that came to wide attention when “Woke Up This Morning” was used as the opening theme for the HBO series The Sopranos. “Bourgeoisie Blues” comes from the same album, 1997’s Exile on Coldharbour Lane, and sports the same mix of sound collage, driving rhythms and vocals that to my ears sound ironic, all stirred into a tune that AMG calls an “electro-Marx-house combination.” Sample lyric: “Temptation’s got a hold on you/She’s eating away at your dreams.” Odd but gripping.

Our fifth tune this morning is “Moon Over Catalina,” a surf instrumental from the Blue Stingrays’ lone album, a 1997 effort titled Surf-N-Burn. It turns out that the Stingrays were actually members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers taking a busman’s holiday. The album, which is a lot of fun, includes what seem to be fourteen original tunes and a surf-washed take on John Barry’s main theme from Goldfinger. All of it, including “Moon Over Catalina,” is a lot of fun.

And we come at last to a tune from one of the last albums from the late Long John Baldry. A blues singer during the early days of the British blues scene, Baldry shifted to pop for a brief period in the the 1960s and then slide into blues rock, with the 1971 album It Ain’t Easy being one of the peaks of his career. The tune we’ve landed on this morning comes from the 1996 album Right To Sing The Blues, a project that showed off Baldry’s gravelly delivery to good effect. So “Midnight Hour Blues” is today’s Saturday Single

Two Looks Back, One Look Forward

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

My list of things to accomplish today is longer than I would like, and following an early morning trip to the dentist – no major problems but the usual admonition to floss more frequently – I am short of time.

So I thought I would supply two looks back and one look forward today.

I wrote Tuesday about the beginnings of the metamorphosis of Paul Summers – whom I knew in Eden Prairie – into Paul LaRoche of the Lower Brulé Lakota Tribe and the music he now creates as Brulé with the band American Indian Rock Opera. I’ve been listening a fair amount in the past few days to their music, and I thought I’d toss another selection out there.

Here’s “Buffalo Moon” from Brulé’s first CD, the 1996 release We the People.

Since that release, as I mentioned this week, Paul LaRoche’s two children, Nicole and Shane, have joined in his musical efforts, and Nicole has released several CDs of her own. Here’s “Beyond the Trail of Tears” from her 2001 CD, Passion Spirit.

And, as I plan tomorrow to take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1970 – my favorite musical year – here’s “Back to the River” by the oddly named The Damnation of Adam Blessing, which was at No. 107 in its first week in the Bubbling Under section of the Hot 100. (I may have posted this tune when I was at one of my other two locations on the Intertubes, but if so, it’s been a while and it’s a good tune.) From what I can tell, the record hung around the Bubbling Under section for four weeks in November and December 1970 and then disappeared for a bit before coming back for three more weeks of Bubbling Under in January 1971.

And I’ll be back tomorrow.

My Verdict: ‘Rocket 88’ Was The First

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

It’s time to throw my nickel into one of rock music’s enduring debates this morning: What was the first rock ’n’ roll record?

To my mind – dim as it sometimes can be – there are two candidates: “The Fat Man,” a 1950 record by Fats Domino, and “Rocket 88,” a 1951 single from Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (which was really Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm with saxophonist Brenston taking the lead vocal).

I come down on the side of “Rocket 88.” There’s nothing wrong at all with the Domino track: It’s got a rollicking beat, courtesy of its hometown, New Orleans. “They call, they call me the fat man because I weight two hundred pounds,” the record starts, and – co-written and co-produced by Domino and his long-time partner Dave Bartholomew – the single gets its business done in a tidy two minutes and thirty-six seconds and includes a middle section that showcases Domino’s falsetto.

Wikipedia says: “‘The Fat Man’ features Domino’s piano with a distinct back beat that dominates both the lead and the rhythm section. Earl Palmer said it was the first time a drummer played nothing but back beat for recording, which he said he derived from a Dixieland “out chorus.” Domino also scats a pair of choruses in a distinctive wah-wah falsetto, creating a variation on the lead similar to a muted Dixieland trumpet.”

As I said, there’s nothing wrong with “The Fat Man.” It’s got a great vocalist, a great team of writers and producers. The band was made up of top session players, including the magnificent Earl Palmer on drums. And it came out of New Orleans, a city and source of music that – based on my reading, my pondering and my gut – was the second most important city in the development of rock ’n’ roll.

The advantages that “Rocket 88” has over all of that history come down to two: It was recorded in Memphis, the most important city in rock ’n’ roll history, and it was recorded/produced by Sam Phillips.

Like “The Fat Man,” “Rocket 88” has a groove, but while Domino’s record seems dance, Brenston’s record drives, pulling the band and the listeners down the highway.

Wikipedia says: “The song was based on the 1947 song ‘Cadillac Boogie’ by Jimmy Liggins. It was also preceded and influenced by Pete Johnson’s “Rocket 88 Boogie” Parts 1 and 2, an instrumental, originally recorded for the Los Angeles-based Swing Time Records label in 1949.”

Wikipedia continues: “Working from the raw material of jump blues and swing combo music, Turner made it even rawer, starting with a strongly stated back beat by drummer Willie Sims, and superimposing Brenston’s enthusiastic vocals, his own piano, and tenor saxophone solos by 17 year old Raymond Hill . . . . The song also features one of the first examples of distortion, or fuzz guitar, ever recorded, played by the band’s guitarist Willie Kizart.”

(Basing new songs on versions of earlier songs – a practice that could draw charges of plagiarism today – was an accepted practice among musicians in the folk, blues and rhythm & blues communities and traditions. Domino’s song, Wikipedia notes, “is a variation on the traditional New Orleans tune, ‘Junker’s Blues’ number by Drive’em Down, which also provided the melody for Lloyd Price’s ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ and Professor Longhair’s ‘Tiptina.’” Two years later, with a faster beat and a few minor lyric changes, Big Mama Thornton released essentially the same song as Domino’s from a Los Angeles date for Peacock, singing, “Well, they call me Big Mama ’cause I weigh three-hundred pounds.”)

So what makes “The Fat Man” a good R&B song and what makes “Rocket 88” rock ’n’ roll? Well, one hesitates to pull the watch apart too much for fear of being left with a pile of gears, springs and little screws, but the Wikipedia quote above does identify the key ingredients of “Rocket 88”: Sims’ back beat, Brenston’s vocal, the solos and the fuzz guitar.

And then there’s Memphis and Sam Phillips, the owner and operator of the Memphis Recording Service, where “Rocket 88” was cut. I think, and I’m certainly not alone in this, that Memphis is the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll. Chicago, New York, Detroit, Cincinnati (home of King Records) and, yes, New Orleans (and probably several other cities I have not mentioned) were instrumental in the development of the music, but – as Robert Gordon titled his fascinating book about the city’s musical traditions – it came from Memphis.

And it came from Sam Phillips’ studio. Jimmy Guterman, in Runaway American Dream, his 2005 assessment of Bruce Springsteen’s recording career, calls Phillips “the single most important non-performing figure in rock’n’roll,” noting that it was Phillips who, “along with folks like Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Charlie Rich, invented the past 50 years of popular music.”

There are other acceptable answers to the question “What was the first rock ‘n’ roll record?” All of those answers have reasons behind them: the recording date and location, the session personnel, the lead performer and ultimately, the way the record sounds and the way it makes the listener feel. My answer, as I indicated above, rests on its creation in Memphis and on Sam Phillips’ role in its creation. Oh, and one more thing: “Rocket 88” just flat out rocks.

(And no, I don’t know why Bettie Page shows up in the video.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 15
“Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, Chess 1458 [1951]
“Ferry ’Cross the Mersey” by Gerry & the Pacemakers, Laurie 3284 [1965]
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond, Uni 55175 [1969]
“Come And Get Your Love” by Redbone, Epic 11035 [1974]
“While You See A Chance” by Steve Winwood, Island 49656 [1981]
“A Long December” by Counting Crows from Recovering the Satellites [1996]

In the box in which I keep the best of the four hundred or so 45s that I own, there resides a copy of Gerry & the Pacemakers’ “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey.” It belongs, actually, to my sister, who brought it home sometime during the early months of 1965, when the record was on its way to No. 6. I don’t think it was the first record she bought; I recall her buying bargain bags – ten 45s for a dollar – sometime earlier, but the thought tickles at me that “Ferry” might have been the first single she actively sought out when it was on the charts. I do remember her playing it for the first time on our old portable player, and I liked it at the time far more than I expected. Obviously, I still like it. And no, she can’t have it back.

The spookiness of “Holly Holy” grabbed hold of me late one evening in the fall of 1969 when I heard the record on – I assume – WJON shortly after I’d turned out the light to go to sleep. I wrote once before about hearing the song at dusk on a sliding hill, and that happened, but my first hearing was in the dark of my room. I found the song a little unsettling, what with the choir chanting – or seeming to – behind Diamond’s vocal, the percussion (tympani?), the swelling climax and the frequent use of what I now recognize as minor thirds. Nevertheless, I found the record appealing as well. I’m not sure about the unsettling part, but plenty of other folks found the record appealing, too, as it went to No. 6

The Redbone single is one of those I caught up to sometime after the fact. I was in Denmark when “Come And Get Your Love” entered the Top 40 and climbed to No. 5. By the time I got home in the latter portion of May, the record was in the last couple weeks of its eighteen-week stay in the Top 40, and its airplay was diminishing. I likely heard it during the last couple of weeks of spring and during the summer of 1974, but never enough to dig any further into Redbone or its music. That digging came later, during the vinyl-crazed years of the 1990s, probably after I found a Redbone LP at Cheapo’s and vaguely recalled the hit. With the possible exception of “The Witch Queen of New Orleans,” – a record that went to No. 21 in 1972 – nothing else in Redbone’s catalog approaches “Come And Get Your Love,” and it’s fun to hear it pop up every now and then surrounded by the other tunes in the Ultimate Jukebox.

Over all the years since I first dug into rock and pop and their relatives in the autumn of 1969, very few contemporary records have ever moved me to run off to the store in search of them. The last two of these six did just that. I was living in Monticello when Steve Winwood’s “While You See A Chance” started to get airplay on its way to No. 7 in early 1981. (It was also on its way to being Winwood’s first Top 40 hit, a fact that’s a little surprising in light of his long and celebrated career to that point.) Loving the synth-based intro and solos and the groove of the body of the song, my wife of the time and I invested a portion of a weekend in a shopping trip to one of the Twin Cities’ major malls. We picked up some other, more useful items – clothes, kitchen stuff and so on – but the highlight of the day for me was Winwood’s album Arc of a Diver, where the album track of “While You See A Chance” resided. (I believe the single was an edit, and I think that’s the audio on the linked YouTube video.) And twenty-nine years later, I still find the sound a little thrilling.

Another record that got me out into the shops was Counting Crows’ “A Long December,” which I heard on a Twin Cities’ radio station late in 1996, soon after Recovering the Satellites was released. (The track was never released as a single, if I read the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits correctly, but went to No. 6 on a chart based on airplay.) Seeking a vinyl copy of the album, I spent a good chunk of a Saturday morning making the rounds of four or five music stores near my home. I was discouraged and wandering the aisles of the last of the stores when another music lover came through the door and sold his copy of Recovering the Satellites. After the seller left, the clerk looked at me, eyebrows raised, and named a price. I paid it and went happily on my way. I still love the track, even after repeated listenings over the last thirteen-plus years, and I still marvel at one particular line: “The feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters but no pearls.”