Archive for the ‘1958’ Category

Six Tunes For A Plugged Head

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Every year in late summer – the first couple weeks of September or so – something in the plant world decides to declare war on me. I don’t know if it’s pollen, but then, I’m no botanist, so I suppose it could be. Whatever it is, though, it doesn’t like me very much. And I spend, usually, a week to ten days with a sinus infection, feeling as if someone has turned my head into a block of concrete. (There are those, I imagine, who will tell me that September is no different, that I am a blockhead the rest of the year, too. Fine. Chuckle away. At least someone is getting something out of this.)

This year, however, my ailment lasted longer than usual, and I began to find myself dragging more and more each day. When I started last Friday on the fourth week of feeling crappy, I decided enough was enough. And though I could not get in to see Dr. Julie yesterday, I did get an appointment with one of her colleagues. He asked me my symptoms and nodded as I listed them. He listened to my lungs, looked in my ears and down my throat. And he told me I have a sinus infection. More importantly, he prescribed an antibiotic. So I should be perkier in a few days.

In the meantime, here are some related tunes.

J.J. Cale’s first album, Naturally, remains one of my favorites, with its slow Okie groove. The best track on the 1972 record is probably “Magnolia,” but this morning, we need “Call the Doctor.”

I won’t call the Bliss Band a favorite – I haven’t listened to the group’s stuff long enough to use the word – but I find that enjoy the group’s late 1970s work when it pops up on the RealPlayer. Here’s “Doctor” from the group’s 1979 album, Neon Smiles. The band sings, “I don’t need you, doctor to make me better . . . I need a shot of rock ’n’ roll!” A good thought.

I have eight versions of the classic R&B song “Sick & Tired” in my collection. Here’s one that I don’t have: Fats Domino’s version of the tune. Domino’s version of the tune peaked at No. 22 in the spring of 1958. The original version, by Chris Kenner, had been recorded and released in 1957.

And of course, perhaps the most appropriate tune for what I’ve been dealing with is the first hit by the Electric Light Orchestra, which went to No. 9 in early 1975: “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head.”

Along with a diagnosis, one thing the doctor provides is hope. And that was the title of a track that showed up on Quicksilver Messenger Service’s 1971 album, Quicksilver.

And of course, in a week or two, with my medicine and rest and other good stuff, I’ll find better days. So here’s the official video for Bruce Springsteen’s “Better Days,” which came from the 1992 album Lucky Town.

That should do it for today. If all goes well, then tomorrow we’ll dig into the final six records in the Ultimate Jukebox.

Of ‘Miracles’ and Miracles

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Five of the six songs in this week’s installment of the Ultimate Jukebox take me places, which is probably not a surprise, as those five fall temporally into what I imagine could be called my “sweet spot,” after the place on a baseball player’s bat that makes the ball soar. My sweet spot is the years 1970 through 1975, a time when music was just about the most important thing in my life. And if there were events and people that were more important during those years, then their passages through my life were marked by records.

The sixth record in this set, which is actually the oldest, has no real time or place associations for me, as it came out when I was five years old and I didn’t hear it until I was much older than that. It’s a great record, or it wouldn’t be here, but my connection to it is less visceral.

What intrigued me about the other five records when I first looked at the random selection for this week was that, even though they do come from a relatively brief span of time, hearing them now puts me in five different places. One of them puts me in the shelter of my bedroom, listening to my old RCA radio on an early spring day. Another puts me in one of the trap houses at the gun club that I mentioned in my most recent post, with the same RCA radio keeping me company as I earn part of my sixty dollars.

By the time the third of the five records in question was released, I’d just started my second year of college, and the tune places me in Atwood Center, which is a little odd, as I didn’t start spending a lot of time there until a bit later than that. And then the fourth record drops me down in one of the strangest places any record puts me: It’s a sticky summer evening, and I’m with Rick and our occasional pal Gary, standing in line at the Dairy Queen. (There are in fact, two records that put me in that moment, and I can only assume that we heard them from a radio or from speakers in the ceiling as we waited in line; the other Dairy Queen record did not make it into the Ultimate Jukebox.)

In a little bit, I’ll untangle any mysteries about which of those four records puts me where. But before I do, I’ll look at the fifth of those records, which is probably the most powerful in its association with its time. The very first, almost tentative strains of Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles” whirl me back to the autumn of 1975, a season I’ve written about many times before. The place is the tree-lined wide sidewalk between Centennial Hall and Stewart Hall on the campus of St. Cloud State. I’m heading from Centennial, where I work at the periodicals counter, to Stewart, where the mass communications department has its offices and where most of my classes take place. To my immediate left is Atwood Center, where my friends and I gather at The Table.

It must be October, as the leaves on the trees are yellow. (That makes sense, as the single – an edit of the album track – entered the Top 40 in late September and hung around for thirteen weeks, peaking at No. 3.) And I’m thinking as I walk – and as I did numerous times during that autumn – that miracles do happen. I was alive, I had good friends and I liked my classes. I hadn’t yet found the romantic miracle that Marty Balin was singing about, but in time, I hoped, that would come. For the moment, I was thriving, and that was miracle enough.

There are plenty of passionate listeners and critics who over the years have derided Grace Slick, Marty Balin and company for selling out at one time or another in pursuit of hit records. Did that happen with Red Octopus in 1975? Or later, with Earth or Nuclear Furniture? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I liked the Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow and Volunteers, and I didn’t care much for some of the rest of the Airplane’s catalog. I liked Red Octopus and didn’t care much for a lot of the stuff that followed (though for sentimental reasons, “Sara” from 1986 can tug at me).

So what does all that have to do with the price of cookies in Tonga? I’m not entirely sure, but I think what I’m nibbling at is the weight of expectations and demand that a storied past can put on performers.  No, Red Octopus did not sound like Surrealistic Pillow, but then, 1975 did not sound like, or feel like, 1967. I do think that as Starship, the performers we’re talking about here lost their ways and ended up producing boring records. But the problem to me was that the records were boring, not that the records didn’t sound like 1967 or 1969 or whatever year one might have in mind. And I think that over the years, lots of people have carped at Red Octopus because it didn’t sound like classic Airplane.

Well, how could it? The times had changed, and so had the group. And I think Red Octopus holds up pretty well as an album: There are a couple of clinkers, yes, but there is also a cluster of good tracks and, of course, one genuine miracle.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 24
“Rave On” by Buddy Holly, Coral 61985 [1958]
“Reflections of My Life” by Marmalade, London 20058 [1970]
“Are You Ready?” by Pacific Gas & Electric, Columbia 45154 [1970]
“You’re Still A Young Man” by Tower of Power from Bump City [1972]
“Diamond Girl” by Seals & Crofts from Diamond Girl [1973]
“Miracles” by Jefferson Starship from Red Octopus [1975]

A friend of mine and I once talked about putting together a book and website about the history of rock music using the metaphor of a forest. The story of rock, we thought, would stem from the performers we were calling the Five Big Trees. It was a horribly simplistic idea, and I think I knew that at the time, which may be why the project never went anywhere. To begin, any reasonable forest of rock ’n’ roll would of course have more than five big trees. But one of the things we got right was naming Buddy Holly as one of those big trees. First, the music he released in his tragically short career remains interesting and vital today. It should also be noted that he pretty much invented the idea of a group that not only wrote its own songs but also had a great deal of influence over the production of its records in the studio. “Rave On” was one of Holly’s lesser hits – it went to No. 37 in the summer of 1958 – but to me, it holds all of the virtues of Holly’s music: a good beat, cogent lyrics, a strong melody and that idiosyncratic hiccup:

Marmalade’s “Reflections of My Life” is the song that puts me in my room with my radio. I remember sitting up on my bed reading when these simple and melancholy chords came out of the speaker, followed by drums, a liquid bass line and some of the saddest lyrics I’d ever heard. A Scottish group, Marmalade released albums through the 1970s and on into the ’80s, but until a couple of years ago, I don’t know that I’d ever heard anything by the band but its one hit. “Reflections of My Life” went to No. 10 in the spring of 1970 and, beyond the trigger of memory, still sounds interesting today. (I find it odd that All-Music Guide begins its entry with the statement: “Marmalade is . . . best remembered today for one record, their cover of the Beatles’ ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’.” That’s not the universe I live in; is it that way for anyone else?)

I’ve written about Pacific Gas & Electric’s single “Are You Ready” a couple of times: I noted that hearing it in my bunker was one of the indelible memories of working at the trap shoot in 1970, and I detailed the difficulty of finding the short version of the song, which was evidently issued only as a disk jockey release. (Thanks again, Yah Shure!) The long version was interesting the first couple of times I heard it, but it just doesn’t do anything for me anymore.  The short version, the one I heard coming out of my radio, still kicks:

The horn section for Tower of Power is renowned not only for its work on the group’s albums but also for its session and guest work. And it’s always amazing when listening to Tower of Power’s work to hear how well that horn section is integrated into an R&B/funk context. (My first hearing of that integration sometime in the early 1970s wouldn’t have been such a surprise, of course, if I’d ever really listened to James Brown.) I’m not sure that “You’re Still A Young Man” contains the best work that the TOP horns ever did, but the song’s opening cascade of horns is to me one of the classic moments in the group’s history. The record earned TOP the first of its three hits, going to No. 29 in the late summer of 1972. And all I can figure is that I heard the record at least once on the jukebox at Atwood Center, because when those horns start their intro, there I am.

James Seals and Dash Crofts first hit the charts in 1972, after fourteen years of playing together either in bands or as a duo. And for a time, the duo was so successful that it’s hard to say whether their sound fit the times or whether it in some ways defined the times. I know that for several years back then, every nightspot I went to that offered live music regularly booked singer-songwriter duos with guitars and tight harmonies. And Seals & Crofts’ early hits were – and still are – great records: melodic, with great hooks and good lyrics (though those lyrics could get over-wrought; the best example might be “Hummingbird”). Two of their singles will show up in this project; today’s selection, “Diamond Girl,” is the record that puts me in line at the Dairy Queen during the summer of 1973, waiting for a frozen treat and preparing to leave home. Whatever the reason for the song staying with me, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. The single – an edit of the album track – went to No. 6 that summer.

One Part Bliss, Two Parts Agony

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

What is it that qualifies a record for my Ultimate Jukebox?

Well, it’s not universal acclaim, for there are few records that would qualify under so stringent a rule. I’d hazard that a few Beatles records might. (The 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide noted that “not liking the Beatles is as perverse as not liking the sun.”) I do have two records by the Beatles among the songs I’ll be featuring here, but they are, I guess, quirky picks and thus might not find unanimous support. And if Beatles records aren’t unanimous choices, I don’t know what records might be.

Obviously, the records highlighted here are songs that move me one way or another: Some of them make me want to dance (a sight not often granted to non-family members, which is good for the welfare of all). Some of them astound me musically. Some take me to other places and times, both good and ill, and some remind me that there were times when folks were making great music in many places before I was aware of it or even before I was born. And some of them tug on my emotions, bitter and sweet alike.

“Cherish” by the Association is one of the latter. It’s also a record that I once acclaimed as the perfect single or as near as one can get to a perfect single or something like that. And I still think it’s that good. So did a lot of people: Written by Association member Terry Kirkman and produced by the legendary Curt Boettcher, the record spent three weeks at No. 1 during the early autumn of 1966.

And “Cherish” is one of those relatively rare pre-1969 pop/rock records that broke through to me at the time of its release, during the years before I became an active Top 40 listener. Romantic that I was even at the age of thirteen, I’d had crushes, but I recall thinking as I sorted out the record’s lyrics that “Cherish” was describing something several magnitudes greater, a kind of worshipful enchantment that I thought – admittedly vaguely; I was thirteen – must be one part bliss and two parts agony at the same time.

When I finally got my own futile chance to truly cherish someone a few years later, I learned I was right. Even so, or maybe because of the formative memory, “Cherish” remains atop my all-time list:

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 21
“Yakety Yak” by the Coasters, Atco 6116 [1958]
“Cherish” by the Association, Valiant 747 [1966]
“Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin/Big Brother & The Holding Company, Columbia 44626 [1968]
“Going Up The Country” by Canned Heat, Liberty 56077 [1968]
“Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum, Reprise 0885 [1970]
“Dreams” by the Cranberries from Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? [1993]

“Yakety Yak” was one of the little playlets that writers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller put together for the Coasters and other R&B groups during the mid- to late 1950s. The genius of the song is having the tale told almost entirely from the father’s perspective; as I hear it, “Yakety Yak” is the only thing the kid gets to say. And that’s trumped every time by Dad’s “Don’t talk back!” Add to that a stellar saxophone solo by the great King Curtis, and it’s no wonder that “Yakety Yak” was a No. 1 hit, reaching that spot for a week on the Top 100 chart of the time, and topping that era’s R&B chart for seven weeks.

“Piece of My Heart,” which is almost entirely linked to Janis Joplin these days, was originally recorded by Erma Franklin, Aretha’s sister. Franklin’s R&B/soul version of the song did fairly well, making it to the Top Ten of the R&B chart and to No. 62 on the pop chart. Then Joplin and her backing band of the time, Big Brother & The Holding Company, got hold of the song and drenched it in acid. By the time Joplin and her band were done, the song was hers, though I think one can hear echoes of Franklin’s performance in Joplin’s work. The record was released as a single and went to No. 12 during the autumn of 1968.

When those of us of a certain age hear the opening riff to Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country,” most of us, I’d wager, see the opening sequence to the 1970 documentary Woodstock, which tells the tale of the legendary three-day music festival of the previous summer. The use of the blues ’n’ boogie band’s anthem for the film was a brilliant idea, benefitting both film and band. Now, Canned Heat was hardly unknown at the time, as “On The Road Again” had gone to No. 16 in the autumn of 1968 and “Going Up The Country” had reached No. 11 as 1968 turned into 1969, but I’m sure that the group became far more visible as a result. In another vein, I still have fun demonstrating to music-attuned visitors the opening riff on the quills from Henry Thomas’ 1928 recording of “Bull Doze Blues,” clearly the source of the opening flute riff of “Going Up The Country.”

When my mind wanders to the topic of my favorite one-hit wonders, Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky” usually floats to the top of the pool fairly quickly. I like too many one-hit wonders to be able to sort out an utter favorite, but Greenbaum’s fuzz-drenched single – which went to No. 3 in the spring of 1970 – would certainly be one of the finalists. I’ve seen it lumped in at times with other hit songs of its era that actively promoted religion (see “Put Your Hand In The Hand” by Ocean, as an example), but I don’t think “Spirit In The Sky” is quite as clear in its theology. Not that it matters when the guitar solo hits.

The shimmering and jangly “Dreams” remains an enigma to me. It’s not the lyrics, which tell a pretty straight-forward tale. Nor is it the music, per se. What still puzzles me is Dolores Riordan’s odd keening. Don’t get me wrong, I like it. But it’s such an odd sound – I like odd sounds, sometimes – that I sometimes wonder at the popularity of the Cranberries during the 1990s.  When I first heard the Cranberries sometime around 1993 – almost certainly on Minneapolis’ Cities 97 – I was intrigued but I figured I’d be part of a minority. If so, it was a substantial minority, as the Cranberries did quite well: The group’s debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, was a Top 20 album and “Dreams” made it to No. 42 in the Billboard Hot 100. After that, the three succeeding albums went to No. 6, No. 4 and No. 13 before 2001’s Wake Up And Smell The Coffee reached only No. 46. That’s a pretty good run; I won’t say “Dreams” is the best the group did in that run, but it is the track I like the best.

Another List From Your Host

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

This is most likely a fool’s errand, but, being a lover of lists, I got to wondering the other evening about what names would show up on a list of the most influential musicians, performers and/or songwriters in American popular music. I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about this, but no real research, so this is a first draft, if you will. I know I’ll likely miss some, and suggestions will be gladly accepted in the comments.

I’ll start with one Nineteenth Century figure and two whose careers span the divide between the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, and after that, we’ll stay in the last century.

Stephen Foster

John Philip Sousa

Ma Rainey

Louis Armstrong

The Carter Family

Duke Ellington

Muddy Waters

Cole Porter

Frank Sinatra

Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Chuck Berry

Elvis Presley

Phil Spector

Berry Gordy

Bob Dylan

Prince

And there we’ll stop. I know, only one woman. I considered several others: Jenny Lind, Bessie Smith, Julie London, Carole King and Madonna among them, and of those names, I think Bessie Smith’s would have been the next to be listed. But I wanted to keep the list to a manageable length.

And I also wanted to stop, essentially, twenty-five years ago, which is why the list stops with Prince. There no doubt have been writers and performers in these past twenty-five years who will belong on such a list someday, but I think we need to let the dust settle a little. If I were forced to guess right now, two names that I think will belong on that list would be those of Kurt Cobain and Will.I.Am.

There are, of course, plenty of folks from the years I’m considering who came close but didn’t seem to me to have as much influence on American pop music as the sixteen listed above. The next two likely would have been Buddy Holly and Michael Jackson. There’s no doubt that they changed American music, as did those listed above. But then, so did others not listed, like Scott Joplin, Hank Williams, Fats Domino, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Stephen Sondheim, Brian Wilson, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen and on and on.

So why this list today? Well, I was looking at how the Ultimate Jukebox would play out from here on, and I noticed that several of the chapters had multiple entries for which I hadn’t yet been able to find clips on YouTube. I did some shifting of those entries so that no more than one of those would show up in each segment, without paying attention to which songs they were. After I did that, I noticed that this week’s random list of songs ranged from the 1940s to the 1990s, beginning with Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied.”

That got me thinking about Waters’ place in that hypothetical list of American music, and I took a closer look at this week’s entries and saw that two more of those whom I’d place on such a list would also show up this week: Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan. And I began to think about who else would be on that list. So there you go.

(I do have to acknowledge one thing: After my initial round of tinkering with the upcoming segments of the Ultimate Jukebox, I noticed that this week’s entry had songs from the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1990s. [I think; see the final paragraph.] I looked ahead and switched the next song from the 1980s into this week, replacing a second song from the 1970s. This will be the only time I switch a song for any reason other than balancing the non-YouTube entries.)

And here’s the video for the most recent song on this week’s list. (You may have to sit through a brief advertisement.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 18
“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters, Aristocrat1305, 1948
“Carol” by Chuck Berry, Chess 1700, 1958
“Daddy (Rollin’ In Your Arms)” by Dion, Laurie 3464, 1968
“Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Buddah 383, 1973
“On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Scotti Bros. 04594, 1983
“Things Have Changed” by Bob Dylan from the soundtrack to Wonder Boys, 1999

“I Can’t Be Satisfied” was Muddy Waters’ first hit after moving permanently to Chicago from Mississippi in 1943, and it followed five years of scuffling in Chicago’s clubs while working day jobs. The Aristocrat label was run by Leonard and Phil Chess, who soon changed the label name to Chess, and Waters recorded for the label into the 1970s. Because of reissues, his discography is difficult to follow, but during his lifetime, he released about sixty singles and thirty albums, including compilations, says Wikipedia. It’s probably impossible to overstate his influence on blues and rock and American pop culture. Want one small reminder? Listen to “I Can’t Be Satisfied” in the player below and note the introduction. Then go listen to the Allman Brothers Band’s “Pony Boy” and pay close attention at the forty-second mark.

Muddy Waters – “I Can’t Be Satisfied”

Just as with Waters, Chuck Berry’s influence on the music we listen to is vast and incalculable. From “Maybellene” in 1955 through a live version of “Reelin’ & Rockin’” in 1973, Berry got fourteen singles into the Top 40 (and more than that on the R&B chart). And according to a piece I read recently – though I cannot for the life of me remember where it was – Berry, now 83, still shows up once a month at a St. Louis club to play a set. He was (justifiably) among the first members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his riffs have influenced – directly or indirectly – anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar with rock music on his or her mind. I won’t say “Carol” is my favorite Berry tune, but it’s not heard as often as, say, “Johnny B. Goode” or “Sweet Little Sixteen” or a few others. Given that, its relative lack of familiarity makes me listen a little bit closer, which is a good thing.

Dion’s “Daddy (Rollin’ In Your Arms)” was the B Side to his 1968 hit “Abraham, Martin and John” and had to be a stunning surprise to anyone who ever flipped the 45 over. Dave Marsh called it “a surging, churning, angry, anguished version of Robert Johnson’s country blues,” adding, “Haunted electric guitars clang and clash against one another, drums pound in from another room, uniting in a wad of noise symbolizing nothing but spelling out pain and fear.” Yeah, it’s all of that, and it’s a compelling record, one that Marsh placed at No. 452 in his 1989 ranking of the top 1,001 singles

Gladys Knight – with and without the Pips – had twenty-seven Top 40 singles between 1961 and 1996, and “Midnight Train to Georgia” is likely the best of all of them. The tale of a man’s retreat from California to his home in Georgia – and the willingness of his (one assumes) California lady to go with him – was No. 1 for two weeks on the pop chart and for four weeks on the R&B chart in late 1973. Unlike a lot of stuff that topped the pop charts even in 1973, this was an adult record telling an adult tale of displacement, failure, loyalty and finally, a different type of success in the wake of that failure. And it had a compelling mid-tempo groove, too.

I’ve written a little bit previously about “On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, noting that it’s the best non-Springsteen Springsteen record I know of, so we’ll pretty much leave it at that. The record is from the 1983 movie Eddie & The Cruisers, and in the fall of 1984, it spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 7; it was also No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart for five weeks.

 I confess to a quandary. I have a date of 1999 on my mp3 of Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed,” but everything I see this morning dates the release as 2000. I’m certain I have a reason for dating it 1999 – perhaps a recording date listed somewhere in the notes to some anthology – but I can’t lay my hands on that information this morning. If I’m wrong, then this week’s chapter misses the 1990s and there goes that nifty little bit of programming. Ah, well. It’s still a great piece of music.

Just Too Early

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

The Texas Gal doesn’t have to travel often for her job, a fact that she and I both appreciate. But every once in a while, there’s no way around it. So it was this morning, as she and a few co-workers headed for Chicago. Their flight was set to leave the Twin Cities at seven o’clock, and security concerns require passengers to be at the airport an hour before the flight.

So for the past few days, the Texas Gal and her co-workers were counting hours back from six in the morning to set the schedule. They decided to meet this morning at half past four at a truck stop parking lot located near Interstate 94, their route to the Twin Cities. Thus, our alarm went off at a little past three o’clock this morning. The Texas Gal did her last bits of packing, and we got her bags into the car and headed out for the small town of Clearwater twelve miles away, where the truck stop overlooks the highway.

I’m not much of a morning person. (Neither, for that matter, is the Texas Gal.) If I had my druthers, I’d likely sleep until noon and be active each night into the wee hours. But even as a house-husband, that’s not practical. And during the years I was in the workforce, my presence was required on my various jobs at a relatively early hour. So when I was working, I trained myself to get to bed earlier and get up earlier. During my newspapering days, I was frequently the first one into the office, and I learned that I could get a lot of routine work done during those early hours.

And that remains true even when the work I do is my own. I tend to write my posts for this blog in the early hours, generally finishing before ten o’clock and almost always before noon.

But I’m still not much of a morning person. Especially today. I think as soon as I get this posted, I’ll grab a nibble and get some rest. Sometimes early is just too early.

A Six-Pack of Early
“Early In The Morning” by Buddy Holly, Coral 62006 [1958]
“Early In The Morning” by Vanity Fare, Page One 21027 [1969]
“Early Morning Rain” by Peter, Paul & Mary from See What Tomorrow Brings [1965]
“Early In The Morning” by The Cuff Links from Tracy [1969]
“Early Morning Riser” by Pure Prairie League from Bustin’ Out [1972]
“Early In The Morning” by Corey Harris from Between Midnight & Day [1995]

Buddy Holly’s “Early In The Morning” was written by Bobby Darin and recorded with backing vocals from – according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits – the Helen Way Singers, a group that did lots of session work during the late 1950s, based on a quick Google search. The record went to No. 32 on one of the various charts kept during the late 1950s and to No. 45 on another. It was Holly’s last Top 40 hit before his death: In early 1959, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” entered the Top 40 on March 9, a little more than a month after Holly’s death.

Vanity Fare was a British pop group that, quite frankly, always puts me in mind of the groups that Tony Burrows was involved with: White Plains, Edison Lighthouse, the Brotherhood of Man and so on. But the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits lists five other names and no Burrows as members. “Early In The Morning” was a pleasant little ditty and went to No. 12 during a nine-week stay in the Top 40 as 1969 ended and 1970 began. Vanity Fare’s better-known hit, “Hitchin’ A Ride,” went to No. 5 during the spring of 1970.

“Early Morning Rain” is a durable Gordon Lightfoot tune that first showed up – as far as I can tell – as the title tune for an Ian & Sylvia LP in 1965. The composer’s own version shows up on Lightfoot! in 1966. By that time, the song had been covered by numerous folk artists and a few others, too, and over the more than forty years since then, the song has continued to attract musicians: Paul Weller included it on his 2005 album of covers, Studio 150. Peter, Paul & Mary covered the song on their 1965 album See What Tomorrow Brings. Here’s a video of a performance on the BBC that was most likely recorded around that time:

If there was an American equivalent of Tony Burrows, one of the nominees has to be Ron Dante, who was the voice of the Archies and of the Cuff Links in 1969 (and had previously sung as the Detergents on the spoof hit “Leader of the Laundromat”).  “Tracy” was the hit for the Cuff Links, reaching No. 9 during late 1969. One of the bits of filler on the Tracy album was “Early In The Morning,” which wasn’t a bad piece, as those things go.

Being an early morning rise sounds more appealing when Pure Prairie League is singing about it. The song was an album track on the group’s second album, Bustin’ Out, which remains one of the great country-rock albums. The hit on the album – though it took a few years for RCA to release it as a single – was “Amie,” which went to No. 27 in early 1975.

 Corey Harris, says All-Music Guide, “has earned substantial critical acclaim as one of the few contemporary bluesmen able to channel the raw, direct emotion of acoustic Delta blues without coming off as an authenticity-obsessed historian. Although he is well versed in the early history of blues guitar, he’s no well-mannered preservationist, mixing a considerable variety of influences — from New Orleans to the Caribbean to Africa — into his richly expressive music. In doing so, he’s managed to appeal to a wide spectrum of blues fans, from staunch traditionalists to more contemporary sensibilities.” I first came across Harris through his performance of “Walkin’ Blues” on the 2000 release, Dealin’ With The Devil – Songs Of Robert Johnson. Since then, I’ve only heard a few other things from Harris, but I’ve liked what I’ve heard. “Early In The Morning” is from his 1995 debut album.

— whiteray