Archive for the ‘Album’ Category

First Wednesday: May 1968

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

When one looks back at the major events of 1968 – or of any year, for that matter – there is generally a kind of storybook quality about them: They happened, they got attention, but they didn’t really affect us or the people around us.

What I mean is: No matter how awful – or in rare cases, beneficial – an event might be that is large enough to attract the attention of the world, simply because of sheer numbers, it rarely affects us or someone we know. To put it in the perspective of an event I mentioned in my look at March 1968, very few of us in the U.S. knew someone involved with the massacre at My Lai. As horrible as it was, when the tale of the massacre became public, very few of us had our revulsion augmented by the fact that we knew someone who had pulled a trigger or knew someone who was murdered or had a loved one murdered. And as powerful and terrible as the events of 1968 had so far been as we entered May, most of us were still spectators, gaping at the display.

But in May, as obliquely as it might have been, a major news story touched down at our home in St. Cloud. It wasn’t tragic, it could have had a far greater impact than it did, but it was there.

What became known as mai 68 in France began, says Wikipedia, as a series of student strikes that broke out in May at universities and schools in Paris, “following confrontations with university administrators and the police.” The French government, led by President Charles de Gaulle, attempted to end the strikes with more police action, but that only made matters worse.

There were street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter of Paris, followed by “a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by ten million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached such a point that de Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for June 23.”

Wikipedia further notes: “May ’68 was a political failure for the protesters, but it had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment that saw the replacement of conservative morality (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) with the liberal morality (equality, sexual liberation, human rights) that dominates French society today. Although this replacement did not take place solely in this one month, the term mai 68 is used to refer to the shift in values, especially when referring to its most idealistic aspects.”

In St. Cloud, at my home, we watched the events of about four thousand miles away with great interest. I remember seeing students at the barricades in the streets of Paris, both on television and in photos in newspapers and magazines. Why did it matter? Because my sister, three years older than I and about to graduate from high school, was scheduled to spend six weeks in France that summer – near Paris, I believe – studying French language and culture.

Her six weeks would begin in July, but as the events of May wore on, I seem to remember my sister and my parents being kept informed by the sponsoring agency. There was some concern that the program might have to be canceled. Now, a Midwestern girl not getting her chance to go to France pales, I know, when compared with many of the wounds that the year of 1968 was inflicting. But it would have saddened her greatly, and grief is grief. As it happened, the furor in France died down as the summer came, and the sponsoring agency found a place to host the program in the city of Narbonne, just off the Mediterranean Sea. My sister got her time in France.

The uncertainty, though, had a point, as I look back at it. It was a lesson, as if the universe were pointing out that large events are more than tales on a storyboard: They touch people’s lives.

Beyond the upheaval in France, May of 1968 was a relatively tranquil month, according to the list of events at Wikipedia, almost as if the world were catching its breath for what was to come. Still, relatively tranquil is not tranquil.

There were increasing protests in the United States against the war in Vietnam. In Catonsville, Maryland, a group that came to be called the Catonsville Nine went to the local draft board on May 17. Two brothers who were Catholic priests, Fr. Daniel Berrigan and Fr. Philip Berrigan, headed the group. At the draft board office, Wikipedia says, the nine protestors “took 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured homemade napalm over them, and set them on fire.” They were tried in federal court in October and found guilty of “destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967.”

The breakaway Nigerian province of Biafra was surrounded by the Nigerian army. This contributed, Wikipedia notes, “to a humanitarian disaster as the surrounded population was already suffering with hunger and starvation.” Efforts to relive the privation were launched around the developed word. Wikipedia once more: “It has been argued that by prolonging the war the Biafran relief effort (characterized by Canadian development consultant Ian Smillie as ‘an act of unfortunate and profound folly’), contributed to the deaths of as many as 180,000 civilians.”

The images we saw from Biafra in the news were truly horrible. If the name of the province/nation is unfamiliar to you, Google it and click on the image search.

There’s no way to write a paragraph of transition from starving Biafrans to the Top 40 without seeming utterly callous. So let’s just acknowledge, I guess, that some folks could play while some starved. It’s always been so, and – unhappily – it will likely always be so.

Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for the week of May 4, 1968:

“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap Featuring Gary Puckett
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells
“I Got The Feelin’” by James Brown & The Famous Flames
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra and Chorus
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers
“If You Can Wait” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
“Dance to the Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Take Time To Know Her” by Percy Sledge
“Summertime Blues” by Blue Cheer
“The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde” by Georgie Fame

Not a bad batch, with the exception of Bobby Goldsboro and the Irish Rovers. “Young Girl” might be a little creepy, given today’s point of view, but I’m not sure we thought about it like that back then. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the Intruders’ record. I might recognize it, but I’m not sure.

Here are the Top 10 albums in Billboard from that first week of May 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly soundtrack
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With by Bill Cosby
The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

A couple things jump out. First, it was a very good spring for Simon & Garfunkel. In its second week on the charts, Bookends had jumped from No. 71 to No. 4, and it would stay on the album chart for another thirty-eight weeks. The soundtrack to The Graduate was in its fifth week at No. 1 with four weeks to go during a forty-seven week stay on the chart. And Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme ,which came out in 1966, had re-entered the Top Ten in early April and would stay until late June, eventually cataloging sixty weeks in the Top 40.

The other thing I noticed is that Are You Experienced had popped back into the Top Ten after falling out. The last week in April, the first album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience had been at No. 13. The first week in May, it was at No. 10, in its thirty-eighth week in the Top 40. The record had done the same thing in February, popped into the Top Ten and then out again, as well as twice in 1967, in October and December. (Its peak position had been No. 5, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums and it would be in the Top 40 for a total of seventy-seven weeks.)

And from the vantage point of fifty years later, I wince as I see one of Bill Cosby’s comedy albums on the chart. I had one of them, Wonderfulness, which I bought in 1967. Does that also make me wince? Only a little. I was fourteen. My copy of Wonderfulness, which I would guess hadn’t been played since the late 1960s, went out the door during the Great Vinyl Selloff a little more than a year ago. Did I sell it because of the allegations of criminal sexual behavior (now, in one case, found to be true) or because I no longer wanted it? A little of both, I’d guess.

The album I’m sharing today would enter the Top 40 during the second week of May. It would be a short stay – just six weeks – and the album would peak at No. 29, but in terms of quality and in terms of influence, Jerry Butler’s The Ice Man Cometh would shine as brightly as anything released in 1968.

Butler came out of Chicago and joined the Impressions in the late 1950s, hitting with, among others, “For Your Precious Love,” which, in 1958, went to No. 11 on two of the Billboard pop charts of the day and to No. 3 on the magazine’s rhythm and blues chart. He then left the group and moved to the Chicago-based Vee-Jay label in 1960. Six Top 40 hits followed through 1963, the biggest of them being “He Will Break Your Heart,” which went to No. 7 on the pop chart and spent seven weeks on top of the R&B chart in 1960.

In 1967, Butler signed with Mercury, and after one Top 40 hit – “Mr. Dream Merchant” went to No. 38 (No. 23, R&B) – went into the studio with two producers being allowed to helm an album on their own for the first time: Leon Gamble and Kenneth Huff. The resulting record threw off four Top 40 hits and started Gamble and Huff along the way to their near-domination of the charts in the 1970s with their Philadelphia International label, which had a roster that included Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, the O’Jays, the Three Degrees, MFSB and more.

That’s not to say The Ice Man Cometh serves only as an appetizer, as a preview of coming attractions. It’s a great album on its own, as Butler’s combination of smooth and gritty is echoed by Gamble and Huff’s setting the blues-based rhythm section to work against pop-based strings and background vocals. The four singles that came from the record were “Never Give You Up” (which went to No. 20 pop, No. 4 R&B), “Hey, Western Union Man,” (No. 16 pop, No. 1, R&B), “Are You Happy” (No. 39 pop, No. 9 R&B) and the record’s single best track, “Only the Strong Survive,” which topped out at No. 4 on the pop chart and at No. 1 for two weeks on the R&B chart.

(Lovers of Elvis Presley will recall that the King covered “Only the Strong Survive” during his sessions in Memphis in early 1969. When they listen to Butler’s version, they’ll see where Elvis got his ideas. Don’t get me wrong: Elvis’ version of “Only the Strong Survive” is a great record. It’s just not as good as the original.)

Track list:
Hey Western Union Man
Can’t Forget About You, Baby
Only The Strong Survive
How Can I Get In Touch With You
Just Because I Really Love You
Lost
Never Give You Up
Are You Happy?
(Strange) I Still Love You
Go Away – Find Yourself
I Stop By Heaven

Video unavailable.

First Wednesday: April 1968

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

Forty years ago this evening, I went into the living room to watch something on television. It was just after dinner and dishes, so it was somewhere between six and half-past six. Or maybe it was nearly seven o’clock. I’m not sure, and I have no idea what it was I was planning to watch that Thursday evening.

The television schedule for that evening shows nothing I’d have been interested in: Batman, The Flying Nun, Cimmaron Strip and Daniel Boone occupied the hour between half-past six and half-past seven. I’m sure I was planning to watch as much as I could that evening of a Minnesota North Stars playoff game from Los Angeles, but that would be later. When I turned the television on that evening, it was still light outside.

But almost as soon I turned the television on, it was dark. One of the national newscasters – I do not recall which one – told me and millions more that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed that evening in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been shot while on the balcony of his motel room, preparing for another evening of supporting the sanitation workers’ strike that had brought him to the city.

I was fourteen but already had – as I’ve noted before – a sense of news and a sense of history. I imagine I went and told my parents the news, but I know I sat in front of the television for a couple hours as the white men employed by whatever network I was watching tried to make sense of the assassination of a black leader. Except they couldn’t make sense of it, of course. It was one more brick of insanity falling in place in the mad wall that 1968 was building.

Campaigning in inner city Indianapolis that evening, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy found himself relating the news of Dr. King’s assassination to a crowd of black supporters. “It fell to Kennedy,” writes Tom Brokaw in his book, Boom!, “to deliver the news, which was so shocking and unexpected that it took everyone a few moments to absorb the enormity of the fact.”

Brokaw goes on:

“As he stood in the darkness, illuminated only by the lights of news cameras, Kennedy talked gently but intensely about the need to resist ‘hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction . . .’ he said, ‘or we can make an effort as Martin Luther King did to . . . remove that stain of bloodshed that spread across our land’.”

In what Brokaw calls “one of the most powerful speeches of Kennedy’s career, delivered extemporaneously,” the senator told the crowd:

Aeschylus once wrote: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country; whether they be white or whether they be black. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.

There was no violence in Indianapolis that night, but riots broke out starting that night and over the next few days in more than a hundred U.S. cities in response to Dr. King’s murder, including – according to Wikipedia – Baltimore, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. In an event that may or may not have been related but that added to the tension in the country, two days after Dr. King was murdered, a shootout in California between Oakland police and members of the Black Panthers resulted in several deaths, including that of Panther Bobby Hutton, who was sixteen.

Racial tension continued to spark riots through the spring, as in Louisville, Kentucky, in late May, where rumors that white authorities were intentionally delaying a plane that was bringing black leader Stokely Carmichael to Louisville triggered two days of rioting in the city’s west end. A year already bad was getting worse.

Also that month, Rudi Dutschke, the head of APO, a German left-wing student organization opposed to the sitting government, was attacked and injured April 11 (he would die eleven years later from his brain injuries). The same day, German left-wing students blockaded the Berlin headquarters of the Springer Press. Many of them were arrested, including Ulrike Meinhof, who in the next few years would organize the Red Army Faction, a German revolutionary organization.

From April 23 through April 30, protestors at Columbia University in New York took over administration buildings and shut down the university. Wikipedia says the “protests erupted . . . after students discovered links between the university and the institutional apparatus supporting the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, as well as their concern over an allegedly segregatory gymnasium to be constructed in a local park.”

From where I sat in the American Midwest, the world was falling apart. That wall of insane bricks the year was building, seemingly of its own accord, was getting larger. At the end of the month, there was an event that, looking back, provides a smile. At the time, though, it did nothing more for people of my parents’ generation than provide another bit of confirmation that the world was indeed going mad: On April 29, the musical Hair – with its songs about drugs and sex and its on-stage nudity – opened on New York City’s Broadway.

Within a year, despite its depravity, Hair would spin off four Top Ten singles for four different groups or performers: “Hair” by the Cowsills (No. 2), “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by the 5th Dimension (No. 1), “Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver (No. 3) and “Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night (No. 4).

But those hits came in 1969. What was it we were listening to during the first week of April 1968, when the bricks began to fall faster?

Here’s the Top 15 from Billboard for the first week of April 1968:

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Valleri” by the Monkees
“La-La Means I Love You” by the Delfonics
“(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” by Aretha Franklin
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” by Georgie Fame
“Love is Blue” by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)” by Manfred Mann
“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co.
“Scarborough Fair/Canticle” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Dance To The Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Kiss Me Goodbye” by Petula Clark

If nothing else, it was a great time to seek solace with a radio (with the probable exception of “Honey”; I can live with “Simon Says”). Some folks, of course, liked their music in long form. Here’s what the Top Ten album chart looked like during the first week of April 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/Soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Valley of the Dolls by Dionne Warwick
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack

If one were looking at that as a shopping list, there are only a couple of hitches. One could get by without The Graduate for the most part as long as he or she had three Simon & Garfunkel albums: Sounds of Silence; Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; and the forthcoming Bookends. That would give the listener all the S&G songs from the movie except for one version of “Mrs. Robinson.” Completists, of course, would need The Graduate.

Other than that, the only album that’s not essential to get a musical sense of 1968 would be the Dionne Warwick record. The album’s two hits – the title song and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” – don’t gain anything by being heard in the context of the album, which has otherwise always seemed extraneous to me. The Paul Mauriat album, on the other hand, has always been enjoyable, from the hit title song on down, a remnant of the times – not all that far gone – when the album charts were dominated by pretty music and not by rock.

The album shared here today, Tom Rush’s The Circle Game, was not nearly that large a seller. I’m not sure where it ranked in sales when it was released in 1968; all I can safely say is that it did not reach the Top 40 album chart. Nor did its creator ever have a Top 40 hit.

[Ten years later, with a larger reference library, I can say that The Circle Game peaked at No. 68 on the Billboard 200 during a fourteen-week run in the spring and early summer of 1968. It was the best chart performance of any of Rush’s albums. And the best any single of his did was in early 1971, when “Who Do You Love” bubbled under for five weeks, peaking at No. 105.)

Rush, a native of New Hampshire, came to public attention through the folk scene in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the early 1960s. His early work, according to the first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, “placed him squarely in the folk-blues vein of contemporaries John Hammond and Koerner, Ray & Glover.”

A move to Elektra Records for 1965’s Tom Rush brought some experimentation with song choices and performing styles. The 1966 follow-up, Take A Little Walk With Me, which featured one side of rock-styled performances and one side of country/folk blues, was well-received.

It was in 1968, with The Circle Game, that Rush hit his high-water mark, according to the Rolling Stone guide. Rush’s choice of songs is impeccable: The record draws from the catalogs of the then-unknown trio of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and Rush provides a couple of good originals, with one of them – “No Regrets” – being one of those songs a writer hears once and immediately wishes he had written.

Beyond “No Regrets,” the record’s highlights include two of the Mitchell compositions – the title song, which Mitchell released on Ladies of the Canyon in 1970, and “Urge for Going,” which she placed on the B-side of “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” in 1972. The Rolling Stone guide says Rush’s take on “Urge For Going” sums up the atmosphere of The Circle Game, saying that the song’s “low-key, spare arrangement characterizes the educated, wistful and warm style Rush had evolved.”

Rush’s performance of Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves” is also effective. If I have a quibble about the album, it’s that sometimes the arrangements behind the songs are a bit lush. It’s a mood that works for the most part, but sometimes I’d like something a little more spare. But that’s a minor quibble about a very good record.

Tracks
Tin Angel
Something in the Way She Moves
Urge for Going
Sunshine, Sunshine
The Glory of Love
Shadow Dream Song
The Circle Game
So Long
Rockport Sunday
No Regrets