I was waiting at a light on Riverside Drive last evening, heading downtown for some Mexican takeout, when a city bus rolled past, its bright interior lights outshining the early December gloom and illuminating its occupants as if they were on a stage. The bus rolled past me, heading – like me – for the bridge across the Mississippi River and downtown. And as it did, it triggered two things in me: memories of several winters riding the bus to and from work in downtown Minneapolis and an accompanying visceral sorrow.
That visceral reaction, a burst of sadness so powerful that I had to take a few deep breaths as I waited for the green light, took me aback. But it probably shouldn’t have. Those three winters when I rode the bus to work downtown – the winters from late 1995 to the spring of 1998 – were among some of the bleakest seasons of my life.
It’s worth noting here that winters in Minnesota can be bleak no matter what else is going on in a person’s life. From November to February, anyone who works a regular shift job – say 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – here in the northland will go to work in the dark and return home in the dark. That’s cause enough for a little gloominess to start with. Then add, for me and many others, the difficulty that’s now called Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the disarmingly appropriate acronym of SAD), in which the absence of light fuels depression.
To that bitter mix, add my own chronic depression (noted here recently), and then add the situational sadness over a life seemingly heading both nowhere and toward any imaginable disaster at the same time, and you have a potent brew. So you find me during those dark winters leaving my cats in the morning and heading to the bus stop to ride to downtown jobs – one supposedly permanent and the others temporary – that were not at all what I ever planned or expected. And you have me riding home in the dark of late afternoon, home to the cats and a dinner alone, home to an evening of table-top baseball, vapid television or sad music on the stereo.
Of course, not all of my music was truly sad then; those were the years – 1995 into 1998 – during which vinyl was my drug of choice, holding at bay an even worse depression than the one I found myself in. (Also helping to hold back that deeper depression were my cats, Aaron and Simmons.) But in the memory that rolled over me as I waited out the traffic light last evening, the music was as doleful as was almost all of my life back then.
So that’s what I felt last evening as I watched the city bus go past with its passengers safe in its haven of light. When I was one of those winter passengers in a much larger city twenty years ago, that bright light was no haven; the darkness of my life felt inescapable, and it seemed as if I’d lost nearly all that had been good about my life. Those long gone but so very familiar feelings rolled over me as I waited out the red light on Riverside Drive, and then they left, leaving a vague residue of uneasiness.
That residue faded as the light changed and I moved on, heading first for the Mexican take-out place and then back to the East Side and eventually up the driveway toward my dual havens, the warm lights of home and the love of my Texas Gal.
So instead of thinking, as I’d originally planned, about a melancholy man, let’s think about a song I no doubt heard during those dark winters on Pleasant Avenue, a track that might have provided some hope and solace to brighten the gloom. It’s the tentatively hopeful “Love Will Come To You,” a 1992 track by the Indigo Girls, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
I’ve not been sleeping well lately. Folks who know me well might think that I’m being kept up either by fussing cats or by worries about the future of the Republic. Well, it’s neither of those (although I am concerned, as I indicated last week, with the direction of public affairs and it is true that any of the three cats can contribute minor bits of mayhem at any time).
No, it’s medications. A combination of meds required for the time being limits my sleep and leaves me somewhat zombied during the daytimes. That’s going to go on for another ten days or so, which means it’s tolerable; there is an end point visible to the fuzzy daze in which I frequently find myself.
It’s not utterly disabling: I just need to be a bit more careful and a bit more mindful of things that need to get done during the day. As always, lists help. And I’m off to make another one of those in just moments. Before I do, I’m going to run at random through the 300 or so the tracks on the digital shelves that have the word “sleep” in their titles and see what I find.
And I come across the lovely and very brief – 2:03 – “River Of Sleep” by the group Maggie’s Farm, fronted by the duo of Allison MacLeod and Claudia Russell. The group’s 1992 album, Glory Road, remains one of my faves among the CDs I found on a budget rack at a St. Paul bookstore during the spring of 2000. A few years ago, I noted that Glory Road was the only album released by Maggie’s Farm although MacLeod and Russell have released solo albums since. I said then, “I’ve seen the album classified as Americana, and that fits, I guess, but whatever you call it, it’s just a darned good album.”
“River Of Sleep” was written by McLeod and Mark Lee (who does some vocal work on the album and, I think, contributes the lead here):
Late at night, the world is quiet
It’s cold outside but you’re alright
Nothing can hurt you
Float down the river of sleep
The sun’s behind the trees The nightbirds sing sweet melodies Nothing can hurt you Float down the river of sleep
Close your eyes Dream of peace For nothing can hurt you Float down the river of sleep
Close your eyes Dream of peace For nothing can hurt you Float down a river and sleep
As your faithful narrator seems not to be enlightened enough on his own road to Shambala to avoid the head cold that afflicts him every summer year after year, our full examination of covers of the Daniel Moore song – first recorded by B.W. Stevenson and then Three Dog Night in 1973, as noted here – will have to be conducted piecemeal.
There really aren’t all that many covers of the tune, but even the minor hurdle of exploring them all seems insurmountable this morning, so I’m going to offer two and then curl up in a metaphoric cocoon. (Perhaps I’ll emerge as a more enlightened being, or maybe not.)
Anyway, the song “Shambala” seems to have been pretty much ignored for nearly twenty years after the two versions charted in 1973. There are many records with that title listed at Discogs.com and offered as videos at YouTube, but few of them are of the same song.
The next cover I can find of the tune showed up in 1992, when Rockapella, an a capella group from New York City, released “Shambala” on its album Smilin’. The group is better known, says Wikipedia, for its role as a vocal house band and resident comedy troupe on the hit PBS geography game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
And then it was on to South Africa. In 1994, a South African artist, Victor Khojane – recording as Dr. Victor – had a hit with the song after it was released on a maxi-single. I’ve seen the song credited in various places to Dr. Victor & The Rasta Rebels, but I’m not sure if it’s a group effort or a solo effort from Khojane. Either way, it’s danceable.
And we’ll continue our road to Shambala next week.
Years ago, when I moved to Columbia, Missouri, for graduate school, the Other Half stayed behind in Monticello. I was unconcerned; the plan was that I would get my master’s degree, move back to Monticello and find a college teaching job nearby. (St. Cloud State was Plan A, with the various small colleges and community colleges in the Twin Cities being a collective Plan B.) We figured two years apart would do no damage.
We settled our mobile home into its new slot in Walnut Hills Park in Columbia, and the Other Half went back to Monti and her new digs. And about six weeks later, I stood at my kitchen sink, washing dishes and looking out at the Missouri autumn, and I thought, “You know, I kind of like living alone.”
I stopped washing the bowl I had in my hand and pondered the implications of the thought. At the time, counting the dating years, the Other Half and I had been together for nearly eight years, married for five of them. I’d not thought myself dissatisfied. But then, I’d never thought much at all about how the two of us meshed or didn’t. So I pushed that single disconcerting thought away, rinsed the bowl, went on with my studies and – after eighteen months in Missouri – went home to Minnesota.
About two years later, that union collapsed under the weight of concerns unspoken and needs unmet. Who was to blame? Both of us, if that truly matters nearly thirty years later.
Two days ago, the Texas Gal headed to her home state for a weekend visit, the first time she’s seen her mother and her sister in seven years. She left on my desk a list of gardening concerns for my attention, but otherwise, it’s just me making my way through the days with the cats, who seem a bit confused by her absence. I’ve spent some time writing and puttering with mp3s. I’ve whittled away at the pile of magazines that’s built up in the past few months as I’ve focused on a few books. I’ve watered the gardens both evenings and taken care of a couple of the concerns on her list, cutting the vines that had begun to climb the fence around the compost pile and cutting away the newly sprouted basswood saplings next to the hostas. And I’ve done all that very aware of an empty space.
My mom and I went to lunch yesterday, stepping up a couple of notches and going to Red Lobster, as the Ace was closed for Independence Day. And yesterday evening, after making myself a dinner of cooked ring bologna, garlic and parmesan mashed potatoes and a Grain Belt Nordeast, I stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes and looking out at our Minnesota summer, and I thought, “I don’t like living alone, even for a few days.”
In a short time, I’ll head outside and try to weed the final two rows of onions before the day’s heat becomes uncomfortable. On my way through today and tomorrow, I’ll give extra attention to the cats (and especially to Little Gus, who on his least secure days is needier than a puppy), and I’ll water the gardens this evening and tomorrow evening. And I’ll do all this knowing that sometime late tomorrow, the Texas Gal will step out of a shuttle bus at a local hotel and get into our Nissan with me. And that empty space will be filled again, as it has been for more than fourteen years.
I don’t know that I needed a reminder, but I’ve learned again over the past two days that my life is better when she’s around, and I think she’d agree that hers is better when I’m around. And here’s a record that’s entirely appropriate: “Happy” by Bruce Springsteen. It was recorded in 1992 and included in the 1998 box set Tracks, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
Yesterday’s task here in the Echoes In The Wind studios wasn’t all that hard: Sort the contents of a four-CD anthology of the easy listening music of Franck Pourcel and tag the mp3s with the original album and date. Well, it wouldn’t have been that difficult had Mr. Pourcel not had a habit throughout his career of re-recording many of his favorite pieces.
That meant, for example, that when I got to his version of Tommy Dorsey’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” I ended up with an album/year notation that read: “In A Nostalgia Mood, 1983; International, 1972; and/or Pourcel Portraits, 1962.” And those, I think without being sure, were only the records released in the U.S. and France. I’m sure the Dorsey classic showed up on records Pourcel released elsewhere around the world, but I decided to focus, as well as I could, on releases in the U.S. and in Pourcel’s native France. I wouldn’t have been able to come that close to precision, of course, had it not been for two websites I found early in the process. One of them is Pourcel’s own website; the other was the Pourcel section of Grand Orchestras, a website devoted to cataloging the work of several easy listening groups and conductors.
So who the heck, I can imagine readers wondering, is Franck Pourcel? The easy answer comes from All-Music Guide: “French violinist Franck Pourcel is best-known for his jazzy string arrangements of pop hits, as well as his lush easy listening arrangements and film scores.” From the early 1950s until the mid-1990s, Pourcel and his orchestra recorded and released scores of albums across Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas, covering pop hits and orchestral classics. Pourcel passed on in 2000, just five years after his last recording session.
So why do I care? Well, I have a fondness for easy listening music, and a while back, when I chanced upon a Pourcel offering from 1973 titled James Bond’s Greatest Hits, I was hooked. I’ve been digging into his catalog ever since. Another one of my musical weaknesses is French pop, and Pourcel’s music scratches that itch, too, so I was very happy the other day to get hold of the four-CD anthology 100 All Time Greatest Hits, and it was those files I was sorting yesterday.
And then I came to the tune called “Chariot.” As I generally do when I’m researching, I clicked the link to listen to the tune as I looked for its origins. The video below isn’t quite what I heard; the version I had was the 1971 revision, but the 1962 original version below is close enough:
You’ll have recognized the melody, I assume, just as I did, probably hearing Little Peggy March inside your head, singing “I will follow him . . .”
I thought it was a mistake. The individual who’d originally tagged the files had made a few that I’d already caught, like tagging “Moon River” as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” so I went deeper into the two websites. As helpful as it otherwise was, the official Pourcel website simply told me that there was a tune titled “Chariot.” But the fan website, Grand Orchestras, said that “Chariot” began as a joke. Thinking of American western movies, Pourcel and co-composers Paul Mauriat and Raymond Lefevre – along with lyricist Jacques Plante – put together a tune and then concocted the story that the tune would be in the soundtrack of an American western film (from 20th Century Fox, no less) titled You’ll Never See It. Shortly after Pourcel’s orchestra released its version of the song, a French group called Les Satellites included the tune on an four-track EP. In late 1962 or early 1963, Britain’s Petula Clark recorded the song as “Chariot” and shot a video:
Clark also recorded the song in several other languages, including German, Italian and English (with the English version having some musical adaptation by Arthur Altman and lyrics by Norman Gimbel). The non-English versions were successful in Europe, going to No. 1 in France, No. 8 in Belgium, No. 4 in Italy and No. 6 in what I assume was West Germany. (I found an odd video of Clark presenting the tune with portions in all four languages: English, Italian, German and French.) Clark’s English version of the song, titled “I Will Follow Him (Chariot)” was released on Pye records in the U.K. and on Laurie here in the U.S., but neither of those versions charted.
Other cover versions followed, of course, including those from the Four Dreamers in French, Judita Čeřovská in Czech and Betty Curtis in Italian. George Freedman and Rosemary each released versions in Portuguese. And English versions came from Joan Baxter, Bobby Darin (“I Will Follow Her”), Dee Dee Sharp, and Skeeter Davis. And then, Little Peggy March got hold of the song:
Her version was a huge hit, of course: No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, No. 1 on the R&B chart for a week, and the No. 8 record of 1963 (bracketed in that annual tabulation by Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” at No. 7 and Little Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips – Pt. 2” at No. 9).
There were other covers, of course, with the song sometimes presented – as in the case of the versions by Percy Faith, Rosemary Clooney and Ricky Nelson (and others, I assume) – as “I Will Follow You.”
Over the next thirty years, there was the occasional cover – later covers in other languages added Finnish to the mix, according to Second Hand Songs – but the most notable resurrection of the song came in the 1992 movie Sister Act, where the song’s object was re-visioned and the tune that began as a bogus western became a gospel song. And we’ll leave it there today with Deloris (as played by Whoopi Goldberg) & The Sisters.
The bookshelves here in my study – I’m thinking of renaming the room “Odd & Pop’s Workshop” and getting a sign for the door, just to confound or amuse our guests – are laden with reference works, as I’ve likely noted here before. And from time to time, I pull one off the shelf and page through it, much as I did with encyclopedias when I was young.
Last evening, for example, I pulled off the shelves the All Music Guide to the Blues, a volume that I’ve owned since 1999 but that I’ve hardly looked at since maybe 2001, when I moved from south Minneapolis to join the Texas Gal in the suburb of Plymouth. What that means, I realized last night, is that I now recognize far more names in that volume than I did twelve years ago. And, having realized that, I’ll be checking the book’s recommendations for additions to my blues library.
This morning, however, I’m going to dig into the lists in the back portions of three of the Billboard volumes produced by Joel Whitburn. We’ll start with Top Pop Singles. (And I’m still a little chastened by not digging deeply enough into the fine print in Top Pop Singles while writing Tuesday’s post, as documented by the kind note from my friend Yah Shure.)
Among the lists in the back of Top Pop Singles is “The Top 500 Artists.” The opening ten of that list is not at all surprising:
The Rolling Stones
But who, I wondered, came in at No. 500? It turns out to be Chuck Jackson, the South Carolina-born R&B singer whose biggest hit came when “Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird)” went to No. 23 in 1962. It was one of twenty-nine records Jackson placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1961 and 1967. But as Jackson was the last artist cited in the Top 500, I thought I’d look for the lowest-charting record in his entry. It turns out to be “Who’s Gonna Pick Up The Pieces,” a B-side (to “I Keep Forgettin’”) that bubbled under for two non-consecutive weeks during August 1962, peaking at No. 119.
From Top Pop Singles, we head to the Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits. There, Whitburn lists the Top 100 artists from 1942 to 2004. And again, there are no real surprises on the top of the list:
Gladys Knight (& The Pips)
The Isley Brothers
On the other end of that Top 100, we find Atlantic Starr, described by Whitburn as an “urban contemporary group” from White Plains, New York. Between 1978 and 1992, Atlantic Starr had twenty singles reach the R&B Top 40, with two of them making it to No. 1: “Always” spent two weeks atop the chart in 1987 (and one week on top of the pop chart), making it the group’s biggest hit, and “My First Love” topped the chart for a week in 1989. The least of the group’s hits in the R&B Top 40 was its last, “Unconditional Love,” which spent two weeks in the chart in 1992 and peaked at No. 38.
Our third stop is the Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits and its listing of the Top 100 artists from 1944 to 2005. As was the case with the first two lists, the Top Ten is unsurprising. (It’s possible, maybe even likely, that George Strait has overtaken Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash for third place in the seven-plus years since the book was compiled.)
On the other end of that country list, we find the mother and daughter team of Naomi and Wynonna Judd, who as the Judds put twenty-four records into the country Top 40 between 1984 and 2000. The duo quit recording regularly in 1991 because of Naomi Judd’s chronic hepatitis, and their final hit – 2000’s “Stuck In Love” – was one of four tunes the duo recorded and released on a bonus CD with Wynonna’s New Day Dawning album. In the 1980s, the Judds had fourteen No. 1 hits on the country chart; 1984’s “Mama, He’s Crazy” was the first of them. Their poorest-performing single in the country Top 40 was 1991’s “John Deere Tractor,” which peaked at No. 29.
This morning, as I scanned the lower depths of the Billboard Hot 100 from November 29, 1975, I saw the name of a group that tickled some vague place in my memory: Prelude.
I let the circuits connect – it took a few seconds – and came up with a reference: I’d mentioned the folk-rock trio from England a couple of years ago and shared its cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” in the context of looking at a chart from November of 1974. Prelude’s cover of the Young song had gone to No. 22.
The chart I was looking at – the one from about a year later – showed Prelude with another cover, this time of Jackson Browne’s “For A Dancer.” As November 1975 came to a close, the Prelude’s single was sitting at No. 100 in its first week on the chart. It spent another seven weeks on the chart and peaked at No. 63, far lower than had the 1974 single. And it was the last appearance on the American pop chart for the English trio. I remembered liking the trio’s cover of “After The Gold Rush,” and the group’s take on “For A Dancer” has its charms as well.
From there, I had a few possible routes. Had Prelude had a third single listed in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, I might have dug for some more of the group’s music. I imagine that some of the group’s five albums are floating around out there, and there are two CD collections available, including one that offers everything the group recorded for the Pye and Dawn labels between 1973 and 1977.
And I pondered digging into more of that chart from the autumn of 1975. Despite my mining of that season numerous times, there are likely a few nuggets still to be found. But having found that Prelude cover of a Jackson Browne song, I decided to look for more Browne covers (something I did in two consecutive posts last spring).
My first stop was Joan Baez. On her 1975 album Diamonds & Rust, she offers a sweet cover of “Fountain of Sorrow,” a track I’d not been able to find at YouTube the last time I went digging for Jackson Browne covers. This time, it was available. Now, I enjoy Diamonds & Rust so much that it’s hard to pick out highlights beyond the title track, but, powered by Larry Knechtel’s piano and Jim Gordon’s drumming, “Fountain of Sorrow” is pretty close to the top of the list.
Perhaps the most-remembered accolades bestowed early on Baez had something to do with the purity of her voice, which was remarkable. These days, the same is often said about Alison Krause. The clarity of her voice is, in fact, one of the things that have moved her beyond the bluegrass niche in which she was first placed. Yes, she fiddles well, but, to me, it’s her singing – along with the quality of her backing band, Union Station, and the crafty selection of good material – that has brought her to a wider audience. On 2011’s Paper Airplane, she covered Browne’s “My Opening Farewell” with her customary brilliance.
We’ll close today’s post with a cover that on first thought surprised me and on second thought didn’t. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never quite embraced Browne’s two late-1980s albums Lives in the Balance and World in Motion, probably because they were so vastly different in focus from his earlier albums, from 1972’s self-titled debut through 1980’s Hold Out. (I tend to disregard Lawyers in Love from 1983 because it seems to have no focus.)
But when I heard Richie Havens’ take on “Lives in the Balance” (a performance I shared in one of those earlier posts of covers), I began to think that perhaps my main difficulty with those late 1980s albums isn’t the material but Browne’s performance of that material. I’ve come to no conclusion yet, but I think I’m going to have consider that possibility a bit more closely after coming upon a very accessible cover of “World in Motion” by the late Roebuck “Pop” Staples. With some help from Bonnie Raitt (and what sounds like Jackson Browne himself), the track showed up on Staples’ 1992 album Peace to the Neighborhood.
I remember seeing the saucepan on the stove, with a slight bit of steam rising from it. The burner was turned down low, and when I peered over the edge of the saucepan, I could see a fine mess of spaghetti and meatballs, my intended lunch.
But where was Mom? I was nine years old, and I’d biked home for lunch from my fourth-grade studies at Lincoln School. There was the spaghetti on the stove; there was my plate on the table, attended by the tall green can of parmesan cheese; but where was Mom?
I still don’t know where she was on that day in early 1963; it was probably late March from what I remember of the state of the yard and the trees and such. My guess is that she ran over to the neighbors on a quick errand and had been detained by chit-chat. In those days, it would have been standard to leave the back door unlocked during a brief errand like that.
I looked at the spaghetti in the bottom of the pan. Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, my favorite lunch, with four meatballs. But was it ready? I didn’t know. After all, I was nine; I didn’t know much about food preparation. I did know on that late winter or early spring day that I didn’t have a lot of time to figure things out. I waited a few minutes, and Mom didn’t show. So I scribbled a note on the pad on the table, and with a longing glance at the spaghetti in the pan, I went out the door and bicycled back to Lincoln School with an empty tummy.
A little more than twelve years ago, I ran into some medical problems that required a lot of changes. Basically, I had to watch my environment and I had to change my diet. One of the diet changes was the elimination of refined grains; I was on a whole grain diet.
I soon learned to read ingredient labels. As an example, a few products at the time trumpeted “whole wheat” on the fronts of their boxes, but a careful reading of the ingredients would reveal that the products also include enriched wheat flour along with the whole grains. I soon learned that if I were to trust the words on the front and choose such a product for my lunch, I’d spend the entire afternoon and a portion of the evening in great discomfort. Thankfully, I’ve been careful enough that such discomfort has been rare.
Things have gotten better over the last twelve years in a couple of ways. First, I’ve learned that my system can tolerate small portions of regular flour. Among my favorites along that line are the shrimpburgers from Val’s Drive-In down on Lincoln Avenue. I can’t eat the buns, but I pull the thinly breaded shrimpburgers out of the buns and eat them from a plate like shrimp steaks. The same holds true with rice. I generally eat brown rice, but I can eat a small portion of enriched rice on occasion, so I’ve been able in the past few years to join my family in our traditional Christmas dessert of rice pudding.
Also, it’s gotten easier to find products on the grocery shelves that I can eat. (It’s still challenging in a lot of restaurants, but it’s getting better there, too.) And a little more than a week ago, I learned something. Some time ago, we picked up a few rice mixes in envelopes, with the legend on the front promising “All Whole Grain.” When we got them home, I read the ingredients, and saw that the pasta in the mix was made with Durum semolina flour. As I generally rely only on products that say “whole grain flour,” I was skeptical and was pretty much ready to toss the three envelopes into a box to donate to a social services agency across town.
Then I started to think: In the past twelve years, I’ve seen many products list Durum semolina flour in their ingredients without saying it’s a whole grain. What if it is? The listing on the front of the rice mix seemed to indicate that it was. I Googled, and I learned that semolina flour is indeed considered a whole grain. The next question I had was: Would it function in my system like a whole grain? We made the rice mix last week, and I had plenty, enough to trigger discomfort if I were wrong. I had not a hint of trouble, and the thought of being able to add more options to my menu was a pleasant one.
The day I left the spaghetti on the stove had not been a pleasant one to that point. During the morning, Mrs. Mayer had called the fourth-graders in our fourth/fifth combination class to get out their arithmetic homework, probably some long division problems. Of the ten of so fourth graders, nine had their work done; I didn’t, and that was not a rare occurrence.
It wasn’t that I was incapable of doing the work. Long division was easy. So was reading. So were social studies and science and any other bits of academic work that came my way. (Well, except for penmanship. My handwriting remains to this day nearly illegible.) As the bulk of the work was easy, I was, for the most part, bored with school. Pair that with what I now know to be Attention Deficit Disorder – a condition neither recognized nor understood in 1963 – and you have a student who could rarely get his work done on time. As a result, school frustrated me, and I frustrated my teachers. And on that one morning in early 1963, Mrs. Mayer told me that, one way or another, I would have my arithmetic work done by the time lunch hour ended.
So after seeing the spaghetti on the stove and not having any idea whether it was ready to eat, I biked the five blocks back to Lincoln School and got to my arithmetic. I finished the assignment in time, done neatly enough for Mrs. Mayer to read it. I think she was pleased, though it was hard to tell. She always seemed a bit cranky, though she may have had reason, now that I think about it. It was just two years later, when I was in sixth grade, that the cancer finished its work and Mrs. Mayer passed on.
But I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that I’d gotten my work done by her deadline, and I’d had to skip lunch to do so. Not just lunch, but Chef Boy-Ar-Dee spaghetti!
During our next shopping trip after I’d researched semolina flour, the Texas Gal and I wandered past the canned pasta. And there was Chef Boy-Ar-Dee lasagna and beefaroni, in cans that pronounced the use of whole grains. I looked at the labels: whole wheat flour and semolina flour. We bought some for my weekday lunches, and I’ve had no problems.
So I’m moving another step forward. On the counter in the kitchen is a can of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee spaghetti and meatballs, listing semolina flour for the pasta. I might have a problem with the meatballs, as they have some cracker crumbs as filler, but I think it will be okay. So someday soon – probably not today, but maybe tomorrow – I’ll eat Chef Boy-Ar-Dee spaghetti and meatballs for lunch.
And I know I’ll think about the day I had to leave my lunch behind on the stove in order to go finish my arithmetic. I can still see the spaghetti in its orange sauce, heating in that pan, as I turned away hungry and headed back to school.
I was going to end this post with a selection of tunes from the Hot 100 from this week in 1963, but the Texas Gal insisted there was only one song that would work. As it turns out, she was right (as she so often is): A little bit later in 1963, Tom Glazer, a folk singer from Pennsylvania, got together with a bunch of kids he called the Do-Re-Mi Children’s Chorus and recorded a marvelous children’s song to the melody of “On Top Of Old Smokey.” Released as a single on the Kapp label, “On Top Of Spaghetti” went to No. 14 during the summer of 1963.
Even after finding a video of that 1963 single, though, I wasn’t entirely persuaded. But as I dug around YouTube this morning, I changed my mind. Why? Because in 1992, Disney included the song “On Top Of Spaghetti” on its kids album Shake It All About. And who did Disney get to record “On Top Of Spaghetti”? None other than Little Richard, helped out by – among others – Zaina Juliette Ark’Kenya, also known as Arkeni. Enjoy!
While looking for tunes with “rest” in their titles this morning, I came across several entries for the song “Tougher Than The Rest” by Bruce Springsteen. Now, that’s not the kind of rest I had in mind, but it’ll do for today.
The song comes from Springsteen’s 1987 album, Tunnel of Love, and it’s sparked a few covers. I dug into some of those this morning – not as many as I usually sample when I’m exploring covers – and found some interesting versions. Emmylou Harris included the tune on her 1990 album, Brand New Dance, and I saw some commentary this morning that ranked her version higher than others, so I went and bought the mp3, which I evidently can’t share in a video.
Well, I liked what I heard from Emmylou more than I did most of the covers I found. I was surprised by the tepid version from Everything But The Girl on that group’s Acoustic from 1992, as I generally like the album. And I didn’t hear much in the seemingly standard country styling from Chris LeDoux on his 1994 album Haywire. On the other hand, I did enjoy the version released on a two-song disc in 2009 by the Scottish group Camera Obscura.
As it turned out, the best version of the Springsteen tune I came across today is from a source that surprised me. Travis Tritt pulled the song into his hybrid of southern rock and Nashville twang on No More Looking Over My Shoulder in 1998, and the results were pretty good:
I’ll be back Thursday, either writing about Chef Boy-Ar-Dee or about covers of one of the greatest songs ever recorded by The Band.
Things are a bit rocky here – Mr. Virus never went away last week, it seems – and there are numerous tasks that demand my attention and energy for the next few days. So let’s just listen to Eva Cassidy’s take on the classic tune “Fever.” I won’t say Eva does a better job with the song than did Little Willie John or Peggy Lee, but I think she’d be in contention for third place.
(The track, which showed up on the posthumous compilation Imagine in 2002, is an alternate take from Cassidy’s work on The Other Side, Chuck Brown’s 1992 album of standards; the slinky violin part, according to All-Music Guide, was performed by Eva’s brother Dan Cassidy.)
As to results from Saturday’s baseball action on the tabletop here, Rick won his first title, as his 1954 Cleveland Indians won two one-run decisions to defeat Rob’s 1940 Reds in the finals, two games to one. That leaves your faithful narrator as the only one of the four of us who has yet to win the annual event. Maybe next year.
On another matter, I promised in my post about Mr. Virus last week to dig into more versions of “Love Has No Pride,” and I will do that. But I’m waiting for the U.S. Postal Service to bring an LP I purchased online that includes a cover of the tune that promises to be interesting. When the USPS delivers, so will I. See you Thursday!