Archive for the ‘On The Map’ Category

On The Map, No. 2

Friday, December 11th, 2020

A while back, we started a feature called “On The Map” by looking at songs that had “Memphis” in their titles. Today, we’re searching the digital files for tunes with “California” in their titles.

Our search brings up 197 tracks in the RealPlayer, many of which we have to dismiss. For example, we’ll ignore everything except the title tracks from Tony Rice’s 1975 album California Autumn, John Stewart’s 1969 album California Bloodlines, the Eagles’ 1976 album Hotel California, and all of a 2002 anthology titled California Soul.

We also have to let go of tracks by groups called California, the California Gold Rush, the California Guitar Trio, and the Californians, as well as an entire album titled Sounds of ’69 (including a cover of the Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”) by the California Poppy Pickers.

And then, we lose a few tracks that my notes indicate were recorded in the Golden State, including five studio recordings by Elmore James from 1954 as well as live tracks by Santana from the late 1960s, by King Curtis from 1971 and by the Allman Brothers Band from 1975.

Still, my guess is that leaves us about 150 tracks to wander through with “California” in their titles. Alphabetically, they range from “Ain’t Nobody Home (In California),” a 1978 album track by Steppenwolf’s John Kay, to “Southern California Wants to be Western New York,” a 1996 effort from folkie Dar Williams.

There are duplicate titles, performances and covers, of course. There are, from what I can tell, seven different songs titled “California,” recorded by Charlie, the Freddy Jones Band, Jill King, Joni Mitchell, Pat Green, Bob Dylan, and Shawn Mullins. Little Richard adds a parenthetical comment to his “California (I’m Comin’).”

There are six tracks titled “California Blues,” three of which are the same song (Jimmie Rodgers’ original from 1928 and covers from Redwing in 1971 and John Fogerty in 1973). Two of the other three might be distant relations of Rodgers’ tune (from Dickey Betts & Great Southern in 1977 and Levon Helm in 2004), but the sixth, from the Crooked Jades in 2003, is a different song entirely.

I find eleven versions of “California Dreamin’,” from the 1966 original by The Mamas & The Papas to the 2010 cover by the Belgian choral group Scala & Kolacny Brothers. Some of the other covers of the John Phillips song are from Baby Huey, Bobby Womack, Johnny Rivers, Barry McGuire, and José Feliciano.

There are four versions of a tune I’ve not really noticed until this morning (as far as I know), “California My Way.” I’m a little chagrined, as Second Hand Songs tells me that the song was written by Willie Hutch and first showed up on the 5th Dimension’s Up, Up and Away album in 1967. That original is here, so maybe I should have recognized it. I also find covers by Rumbles Ltd. (1967), The Committee (1968), and the Main Ingredient (1974).

Another tune that shows up multiple times is “California Soul,” a Nickolas Ashford-Valerie Simpson song. Just seeing the title reminds me of a discussion via multiple emails more than ten years ago with the now-departed blogger who called himself Paco Malo. I preferred the 1969 version of the tune by Marlena Shaw, while he championed the duet from the same year by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. There are versions here as well by Brenda & The Tabulations, Edwin Starr, the 5th Dimension, and the Undisputed Truth, among others.

And there are many single tracks as well: “Bless You, California” by the Beau Brummels, “California Rain” by Delaney Bramlett, “California Blue” by Roy Orbison, “California Nights” by Lesley Gore, “California State Correctional Facility Blues” by Quicksilver Messenger Service, “Everyone I Meet Is From California” by America, and on and on.

So what should we listen to this morning? Well, I’m in a little bit of a subdued mood, so I think it’s time for “Here In California” by Kate Wolf. It’s from her 1987 album Close To You. It’s meditative and a little enigmatic:

Here in California,
Fruit hangs heavy on the vine.
There’s no gold. I thought I’d warn you,
And the hills turn brown in summertime.

On The Map, No. 1

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

So, last Saturday, I wrote about England Dan & John Ford Coley’s 1971 single “New Jersey,” only to have long-time reader and friend Yah Shure remind me that I’d written about the record before (a post that spurred him to share the early work of the duo with me).

I went back into the archives and found – as I expected – he was correct: A little more than four years ago, I’d written pretty much the exact same piece, even down to mentioning that the introduction to the single sounded a lot like Joe Cocker’s cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Well, as I said at the end of the more recent piece about “New Jersey,” it’s not a very memorable record. Neither, it seems, are some of my posts, even to me.

But the record’s title got me thinking, as I sometimes do, about records with geographical names in their titles: Nations, states, counties, cities and towns. And I wondered how many such titles are on the digital shelves. There are many, no doubt, and I thought I’d dig into that this morning in an entirely unsystematic way.

I have a hunch, perhaps wrongly, that the city of Memphis has more title mentions than any other place among the files in the collection here. A quick count this morning finds a total of ninety-three tracks with “Memphis” in their titles. There are some duplicates, I know; for one, I saw two copies of Mott the Hoople’s “All The Way From Memphis,” one from my own digging and one that I got courtesy of the Half-Hearted Dude.

(The last time I counted the Memphis tunes in the files, for a post almost ten years ago, the total was about fifty, so I’ve been working on it.)

The Memphis tunes cross a broad swath of time. Among those that have been tagged with the appropriate dates – the vast majority have; I am still working on some anthologies – the files range from Bessie Smith’s “Jazzbo Brown from Memphis Town,” which she recorded in 1926, to Melissa Etheridge’s cover of “Memphis Train” which was released in 2016.

And there are sometimes multiple versions of the same song. I found, for example, six versions of “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again,” one by the Grateful Dead, one by Cat Power and four of them – different takes all – by Bob Dylan. There are also six versions of “Back To Memphis,” two of them by The Band, one by The Band with the Cate Brothers, one by Levon Helm of The Band, and versions by Rory Block and Alvin Youngblood Hart.

Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” shows up five times: Berry’s version is kept company by versions by Billy Strange, Sandy Bull, Al Caiola, and Tiny Tim with The Band. (Don’t ask.)

So, do I have a favorite Memphis song? Yes, I do. It’s by Etta James, from her 2003 album, Let’s Roll. Here’s “Wayward Saints Of Memphis.”