Archive for the ‘1995’ Category

‘Service Engine Soon’

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Sometime this past summer as the Texas Gal was out and about, a message showed up on the dashboard of our Nissan Versa. “Service Engine Soon,” it said. She noted the message, continued on her way to work and made a couple of phone calls. The second call was to me.

“I called the guy at the dealership, and he said we really don’t need to worry about it,” she told me. “He said he’s been driving for six months with his ‘service engine’ light on. So I’m not going to worry about it. We can have it taken care of when we get the car set up for winter.”

That winterizing took place the other week. Over the years we’ve been in St. Cloud, the guys at one of the national franchise tire and repair places have been reliable and, it seems, very fair in their pricing. So last week, I took the Versa in to have the oil changed, get all the fluids and processes checked and have a tire leak repaired. And I asked the guys to see why the car was sometimes hesitating when I hit the gas and to find out what had made the “service engine” light come on.

After I dropped the car off, I wandered across the street for a burger, knowing that the work would take at least two hours. When I ambled back into the shop, I learned that analyzing the tire problem revealed that we needed four new tires and that the oil and everything else been taken care of. Everything except the “service engine” light. The mechanic working on the Versa showed me some papers with charts and graphs and readings. He told me something about a Bank One O2 sensor being out, which in turn was affecting the gas flow, and that was why the car was hesitating. He said, “You might want to talk to your dealership. The car’s only got 34,000 miles on it, so the part might be under warranty.”

I doubted that the part was under warranty, as the car was more than four years old, but I nodded and asked him what he thought his place would charge to replace the sensor. He gave me a price, and once I was home, I called the dealership where we bought the car, got the service department and explained what I wanted to know.

Well, the guy said, he couldn’t tell me what the price might be. They’d have to do their computer check to see what the problem was. Once they did that, they’d see if the part was under warranty. If the part was under warranty, the computer check was free; if it wasn’t, the computer check would cost us $100. I told him what I’d learned, that the other fellows said it was a Bank One O2 sensor. He told me that guys at “shops like that” often didn’t know what they were talking about, and I was better off coming in to the dealership.

I didn’t care for the attitude, so I thanked him and hung up. And a little later this morning, I’m taking the Versa into the national tire and repair chain for what the guys there told me should be no more than a thirty-minute repair. I’ll bring a book along and likely wander across the highway for a burger while they tend to the sensor. And I imagine that soon after that I’ll be on my way.

There are, I suppose, all sorts of car songs that could fit in here, but I’ve never been all that hepped up about car songs. So to close today, I’ve found a song whose title kind of fits into the scheme of tales automotive, even if the lyrics don’t quite work. Here’s the late Jeff Healey and the Jeff Healey Band with a track from their 1995 album, Cover to Cover. It’s a scorching version of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breakin’ Down.”

‘One Last Cup Of Wine We Will Pour . . .’

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Once more, I start with one idea and then go off somewhere else.

This morning, I was scanning the Billboard Hot 100 for October 15, 1966, and I was finding some nice bits and pieces for a Chart Digging post when I came to a record by Crispian St. Peters. Yeah, the fellow who had a No. 4 hit a few months earlier in 1966 with “The Pied Piper” and who passed on in June 2010 at the age of seventy-one.

His name, of course, wasn’t the Anglophilic Crispian St. Peters; he was Robin Peter Smith, which to my mind sounds English enough, especially as he came from Kent. (I’d think billing him as Smith From Kent might have sounded good, but then, I’m not a mid-1960s record executive.) The promotions and A&R men likely thought that calling him Crispian St. Peters would sell more records. I don’t know how his career went in the U.K., but on this side of the ocean, “The Pied Piper” was clearly his biggest hit. “You Were On My Mind,” a cover of the tune that was a 1965 hit for We Five, went to No. 36 in the summer of 1967, and two of his other three records in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles only reached the Bubbling Under portion of the Hot 100.

And the Crispian St. Peters record that caught my attention today is “Changes,” which was at No. 64 forty-five years ago this week and eventually peaked at No. 57:

It’s a pleasant record, and I knew I’d heard the song before, but I couldn’t place it right away.  Then I noticed the writing credit and I went digging.

I’ve never written much about Phil Ochs, who is often referred to as one of the tragic figures of the 1960s folk movement. A committed political activist who was also a gifted songwriter and performer, Ochs wrote some of the most hard-edged and sometimes caustic anthems to come out of that 1960s movement. The ones that come most quickly to my mind are “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” from 1969 and “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” from 1965. He sold some records and got some attention, but as I understand it from a few sources, he also battled depression. He killed himself in 1976.

“Changes” was an anomaly for Ochs, a personal song from an almost perpetually political man. From what I can tell, it first showed up on an album titled Phil Ochs in Concert, a 1966 album that’s very likely not a true live album. It sounds very much like a collection of solo studio performances with applause grafted onto the beginning and end of the tracks. The version in the video below sounds like the version on that so-called live album with the audience sounds removed; it first showed up, as far as I can tell, on the 1989 anthology titled There But For Fortune. But no matter what version you find, “Changes” is a good song.

Sit by my side, come as close as the air.
Share in a memory of gray,
And wander in my words, dream about the pictures
That I play of changes.

Green leaves of summer turn red in the fall;
To brown and to yellow they fade,
And then they have to die, trapped within
The circle time parade of changes.

Scenes of my young years were warm in my mind,
Visions of shadows that shine.
’Til one day I returned and found they were the
Victims of the vines of changes.

The world’s spinning madly; it drifts in the dark,
Swings through a hollow of haze,
A race around the stars, a journey through
The universe ablaze with changes.

Moments of magic will glow in the night.
All fears of the forest are gone,
But when the morning breaks they’re swept away by
Golden drops of dawn, of changes.

Passions will part to a strange melod,.
As fires will sometimes burn cold.
Like petals in the wind, we’re puppets to the silver
Strings of souls, of changes.

Your tears will be trembling, now we’re somewhere else.
One last cup of wine we will pour,
And I’ll kiss you one more time, and leave you on
The rolling river shores of changes.

So sit by my side, come as close as the air.
Share in a memory of gray,
And wander in my words, dream about the pictures
That I play of changes.

It also turned out, I think, to be one of Ochs’ most-covered songs. I have a few versions of the song, and – while it’s difficult at All-Music Guide to sort out the listings for Ochs’ song as opposed to other songs with the same title – I found a few more this morning.

Some of the performers that covered “Changes” are unsurprising: Ian & Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, the Pozo-Seco Singers and other folk interpreters of the mid-1960s. But there are some interesting covers: bluegrass musician Tony Rice included the tune on his 1988 album Native American, and former Byrd Gene Clark recorded the song – with help from Carla Olson – for True Voices, a 1995 benefit CD. (The video presenting Clark’s cover also includes his performance of “Silent Crusade” from his 1977 album Two Sides to Every Story.)

But the most interesting cover among those I listened to this morning come from an album that I long sought on vinyl, finally settling for a CD rip: Changes, a 1966 release by the folk/pop rock duo of Jim Glover and Jean Ray, who recorded as Jim & Jean. Their take on “Changes” has a Byrds-ish quality to it. A look at the album credits listed at AMG – and I’d guess that the credits are incomplete – shows Al Kooper on guitar and Harvey Brooks on guitar and bass, so I’m not sure who’s doing the Byrds-y thing there. But it’s an interesting folk-rock cover of one of Phil Ochs’ better songs.

Revised slightly and video placed December 21, 2013.

‘Riding With The Wind . . .’

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

When Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing” first showed up in 1967, it was as an album track on Axis: Bold as Love, tucked near the end of Side One, almost seeming an afterthought between “Ain’t No Telling” and “If 6 was 9.”

Well, she’s walking through the clouds,
With a circus smile running wild,
Butterflies and rubies,
And moonbeams and fairy tales.
That’s all she ever thinks about.
Riding with the wind.

Lord when I’m sad, she comes to me,
With a thousand smiles she gives to me free.
It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright
Take anything you want from me,

Fly on, Little Wing.
(Anything you want . . .)

“Hendrix,” says William Ruhlman of All-Music Guide, “originally developed the lovely guitar pattern that serves as the basis of the song while playing in Greenwich Village in 1966 and finished it in the fall of 1967 in time to record it for his second album. Playing the guitar through a Leslie organ speaker, he emphasized its melodic appeal, adding lyrics that paid tribute to a generous, if somewhat ethereal female who might as easily be a child or an angel as a woman.”

The track today sounds as if it would have been a perfect single to pull from Axis: Bold as Love, but it seems that the only single released from the album was “Up From the Skies” b/w “One Rain Wish,” which spent four weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 82. The A-Side of that one sounds like a science fiction/fantasy shuffle and it has some elegant wah-wah guitar, but – with, as always, the benefit of hindsight – I have a sense that “Little Wing” might have done better on the chart.

As it was, the song seems to have been pretty much ignored until Eric Clapton brought it to life during the sessions for  Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs in September of 1970 (just nine days before Hendrix’ death). Adding what Ruhlman correctly describes as “a majestic opening riff,” Clapton, Duane Allman and the rest of  Derek & the Dominoes recast “Little Wing” from Hendrix’ semi-mystical musings to – in keeping with the rest of the album – a tale of love gone awry.

But amid the riches of Layla, even an iconic performance of “Little Wing” didn’t merit a single. The track wound up as the B-Side of Polydor 15056, with “Bell Bottom Blues” as the A-Side.

(The 1973 Polydor release of “Bell Bottom Blues” is notated by Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles as “longer version,” leading me to believe that the Atco single released two years earlier must have been an edit. The Polydor single was in the Hot 100 for four weeks and went to No. 78; the 1971 Atco single – with “Keep On Growing” as the B-Side – stayed in the chart two weeks and peaked at No. 91.)

The Polydor single, I have to assume, was the result of Polydor releasing in early 1972 the anthology Clapton At His Best at about the same time as Atco released The History of Eric Clapton. At the time, I opted for the Polydor set – I wrote about its influence on my life as a music fan some years ago – because it was the first of the two that I found.

(Though both of those anthologies have been supplanted by releases like the Crossroads box set and more, it’s still interesting to compare the tracks included: The Atco draws heavily on Clapton’s time with the Yardbirds, John Mayalls’s Bluesbreakers and Cream, then touches on Blind Faith and Clapton as studio musician. It also covers Clapton’s time as one of Delaney & Bonnie’s friends and finally offers the title track from the Layla album. The Polydor collection pulls much of its material from Layla and Clapton’s ensuing self-titled solo album, with two tracks from Blind Faith and nothing from the years before.)

On that Polydor album, “Little Wing” announces itself after the jam that ends “Keep On Growing,” and the first time it did so in our basement rec room, it caught my attention completely. Because of repeated listening to the Polydor anthology over the years, the track still seems to me to belong there – after “Keep On Growing” and before “Presence Of The Lord” – more than it does leading off Side Four of the vinyl configuration of Layla or being tucked between “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” and “It’s Too Late” on the Layla CD. Wherever one finds it, however, the track is brilliant.

What got me thinking about “Little Wing” this week was a cover version. A while back, the Texas Gal and I went down to one of the local sales lots and bought a 2004 or so Chevy Cavalier to replace the 1998 Nissan that I had been driving into the dust. For practical reasons, she adopted the Cavalier and handed off to me our 2007 Nissan Versa. Besides having a driver’s side window that works, the greatest benefit of driving the Versa is that it has a CD player. So I spent several evenings a couple months ago ripping CDs of pretty much random stuff pulled from the mp3s. Among them, as it turned out, was an intriguing cover of “Little Wing” by famed harmonica player Toots Thielemans & the London Metropolitan Orchestra.

It’s not the only cover version of “Little Wing,” of course. A quick look at listings at AMG show versions by Sting, the Corrs, Danish singer Sanne Salomonsen, Concrete Blonde, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gil Evans and numerous others. But I thought the Thielemans version – which I found on In From The Storm, a 1995 collection that offers cover versions of twelve of Hendrix’ songs – was worth a listen this morning.

An Apocryphal Tale From 1975

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

While messing around Facebook this week, trading messages with Bobby Jameson and mutual friends, I was reminded of a tale I heard sometime during the fall of 1975, a tale I never quite believed. Nevertheless, it’s a tale that over the years has occasionally tickled my mind in the manner of “How effing cool would that be if it were true!”

I was with my friends at The Table in the snack bar of St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center, and a friend of a friend told us about her trip the day before to Minneapolis, seventy miles away. Actually, the tale didn’t start until she and her companions were returning to St. Cloud.

The routes between St. Cloud and Minneapolis were not as direct in 1975 as they are now. These days, one gets onto Interstate Highway 94 south of St. Cloud and with only a few moments of concentration required, can find oneself in downtown Minneapolis a little more than an hour later. With a little more required focus and a little more time, downtown St. Paul, ten miles to the east, is easily accessible.

In 1975, however, the system of Interstate highways was still being completed. There were points between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities where drivers would find themselves on state highways or local roads and, given congestion, there were times when local roads were preferable to getting back onto those portions of the freeways that were completed.

That’s what had happened the previous day to that friend of a friend and her companions as they left the Twin Cities and headed back to St. Cloud. Avoiding crowded roads and quite possibly road construction, they’d gotten on to county highways just outside of the suburban area, which was much smaller in 1975 than it is now. They found themselves in the rural areas of northwestern Hennepin County, some of which remain rural to this day. And as they drove, turning here, turning there but always heading northwest toward St. Cloud, they came upon a country tavern, standing by itself along the road.

Being college kids, at the sight of a roadhouse they realized they were thirsty, and these friends of my friend tumbled and laughed out of the car and into the bar, where they found a table and ordered at least one pitcher of beer. There were, the tale-teller told us, plenty of tables available; the place had no more than eight to ten other customers during the midafternoon of a weekday. It also, she said, had live entertainment. On a small stage, a guitarist about the same age as the new members of his audience was performing; his repertoire, the friend of a friend said the next day, was folkish versions of songs popular within the past ten years, with some countryish stuff thrown in. And as the visitors from St. Cloud listened and watched, they became aware that the singer was frequently looking off to his left, where sat a patron of the bar with his chair tipped against the wall and a wide-brimmed hat pulled down low, hiding his face.

And here’s where the story turns from plausible tale to rural legend.

After a half-hour or so, the singer said he was going to take a brief break, and a voice from near the wall told him to wait for a little while. The man in the broad-brimmed hat levered himself upright, reached down and picked up a guitar and came up to the small stage, where the brighter light revealed him to be Bob Dylan.

I know. I know. I’ve been running this story through my brain for more than thirty-five years, and I don’t really believe it either. I never knew the friend of a friend well enough to know if she found satisfaction in spreading unmitigated hogwash just for the fun of it. One would suspect so. But there is one fact that can alter one’s perception of the tale, shifting it from utter bullshit to slight plausibility. Bob Dylan did own at that time a farm/ranch/retreat in rural Hennepin County and was known to be in frequent residence there. I suppose there may be a recording log or concert schedule that shows that Dylan was somewhere other than Hennepin County during October 1975, making the friend of a friend an absolute liar. I’ve never looked. But absent that proof, the tale, however unlikely, is remotely possible.

Anyway, the friend of a friend said Dylan grinned or grimaced as his identity became clear, and then he took a chair next to the young performer on the small stage. The two of them performed three songs. I wish I knew what they were but I don’t. I don’t recall if I asked the friend of a friend and she did not know or if I was so preoccupied by sorting possible truth from likely bushwa that I didn’t think to ask. She said that after three songs, Dylan left the stage with the younger performer and the two headed to the back of the building. The St. Cloud students finished their beers and left, eventually finding their way back to St. Cloud and The Table, where I heard the tale the next day.

As I said, I have no idea if the story has even a kernel of truth. There are times when I think of the tale and doubt every word, down to the color of the car in which the friends of my friend were traveling. There are times when I think, “Well, maybe . . .” and wish I had been there.

And then there are the moments when I think: If I had a chance to perform just one song with Bob Dylan, what would I choose?

I’ve written about a lot of his work over the past four years. (The fourth anniversary of EITW is in fact approaching; we might serve cake.) Two of his recordings – “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” and “Things Have Changed” – found their ways into the Ultimate Jukebox. But all of that was about listening, not performing. And when I think about performing a Dylan song with guitars only, I find myself juggling three choices that are likely described as “quirky,” one from 1974’s Planet Waves, one from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks and one from 1989’s Oh Mercy.

The first two – “Forever Young” and “If You See Her Say Hello,” respectively – are among my favorites, but when I think of the utterly mind-boggling idea of sharing a stage with Bob Dylan, I keep coming back to the fairly obscure “Shooting Star,” which I think is one of Dylan’s gems. Here’s a video of him performing it for MTV Unplugged, which was released in 1995.

I’ll be back Thursday, probably with a look at early 1967.

Crossing Into Unknown Territory

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Okay, I’m a fifty-six-year-old white guy (soon to be fifty-seven). The territories of rap and hip-hop are alien lands for me. I don’t know where the line is between the two, and when I do tentatively cross the border into one or the other of those genres, I have no idea where the neighborhoods of the various subgenres lie.

It’s not that I disdain the two. I respect both rap and hip-hop as vital expressions of subcultures I can never, ever truly know. I am aware that hip-hop, especially, is now one of the world’s major and most vibrant musical genres. And the fact that I know so little about it and its cousin, rap, dismays me.

(As I write, I think about Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote some of the classic R&B songs of the 1950s [“Hound Dog,” “Kansas City,” “Youngblood,” “Searchin’,” “Yakety Yak,” “There Goes My Baby” and many, many more]. The two of them, I’ve read in numerous places, immersed themselves in southern California’s black culture of the time, which is why – as I’ve also read many times – they were able to tap into the streams of that culture for their songwriting and production. That was remarkable then, and I think it would be remarkable now. A current performer who comes to mind in that context is Eminem. I can’t make the judgment, not knowing enough about the man’s work, but from my distant view, he seems to have also bridged the gap between white and black cultures as a writer and performer. Those readers who know these genres better than I are invited to respond and tell me if I’m right or wrong about that.)

The barrier facing me is more than racial and cultural, of course. Those, in fact, might not be the greatest barriers between me and an understanding of rap and hip-hop. In understanding popular music of any genre, it seems to me that the larger barrier is always age. The musical styles and genres we hear during our formative years are the ones that stay most dear to us and most ingrained in us. Somewhere along the line – after high school, after college, after graduate school, after marriage – we join the adult world, and that world (unless we work in the music business or an area closely related to it, like radio) pulls us away from the culture of youth and the immersion into current music that is such a large part of that culture. As we age, we can learn about and listen to current and new genres and styles, of course, and many of us do, but I doubt that most of us can ever immerse ourselves into new music the way we did when we were younger and the tablet of our tastes and experiences was mostly blank.

So how, then, does Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” show up as one of the records in my Ultimate Jukebox? Because it’s an incredibly compelling piece of music, reflecting an experience I can never know. I first came across the record – as did many folks with my skin tones, I imagine – when it was used in the soundtrack to Dangerous Minds, a 1995 film that Wikipedia describes as “based on the autobiography My Posse Don’t Do Homework by former U.S. Marine LouAnne Johnson, who took up a teaching position at Carlmont High School in Belmont, California, where most of her students were African-American and Hispanic teenagers from East Palo Alto.”

When I saw the film – years after it came out, unfortunately – the soundtrack intrigued me as much as the story. After a few listens, some of it grabbed me and some didn’t, but “Gangsta’s Paradise” was one of the keepers, chilling, haunting and beautiful. All-Music Guide notes that after Coolio and rapper L.V. crafted the song, which sampled the chorus and music of the Stevie Wonder song “Pastime Paradise,” Coolio’s label, Tommy Boy, “discouraged him from putting it on an album” and placed it instead on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack. “Gangsta’s Paradise” was also released as a single and spent thirty-six weeks in the Top 40, including three weeks at No. 1. The record became the title track for Coolio’s next album, released toward the end of 1995; that album went to No. 9 on the pop chart and to No. 14 on the R&B chart.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 30
“Rainy Night in Georgia” by Brook Benton from Brook Benton Today [1970]
“I Saw Her Standing There” by Little Richard from The Rill Thing [1970]
“Let It Ride” by Bachman Turner Overdrive from Bachman-Turner Overdrive II [1974]
“Lowdown” by Boz Scaggs from Silk Degrees [1976]
“Dancing Queen” by ABBA, Atlantic 3372 [1977]
“Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio from the soundtrack to Desperate Minds [1995]

The quiet organ wash and guitar licks that open Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” are among the most powerful of the sounds that can pull me back to my room during the early months of 1970. I spent a fair amount of time there that winter, finding a refuge in the sounds that came from my old RCA radio, and “Rainy Night In Georgia” is one of my most-loved songs from that time. I heard it a lot, too, as it went to No. 4 and gave Benton his first Top 40 hit in almost six years, which is an eternity in pop music. And the record is kind of an anomaly: It’s closer to traditional pop than to anything else (though no one should try to deny the soulfulness of the vocal), and although traditional pop wasn’t entirely banished from the Top 40 at the time, it was getting more and more rare. (As is the case with a few of these tunes, the video I’ve linked to offers the longer album track instead of the single edit, which was labeled as shorter; as I do not have the 45, I can’t say how much shorter it actually is, given that running times on 45 labels are notoriously untrustworthy.)

When I make a CD of assorted music for friends, one of the things I like to do is include covers of Beatles records by the folks who inspired the Beatles to begin with. One of the least likely of those – and one that will not show up in this project, though maybe it should have – is Fats Domino’s 1969 cover of “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey.” There are a few other good coverbacks of Beatles records, as I call them, but my favorite is Little Richard’s cover of “I Saw Her Standing There.” It was released on The Rill Thing, one of four albums – one unreleased until it came to light a few years ago in a limited box set – that the flamboyant genius recorded for Reprise in the early 1970s. The three released albums didn’t do so well: According to AMG, two singles from The Rill Thing made it into the Billboard Hot 100: “Freedom Blues” went to No. 47 (No. 28 on the R&B chart) and “Greenwood, Mississippi” got to No. 85, although the album did not chart. The follow-up album, 1971’s King of Rock and Roll, got to No. 193 on the album chart but didn’t chart any singles, and the third of the released Reprise albums, 1972’s The Second Coming, made no dent on any chart at all that I can find. I sometimes wonder if those albums would have done better if Reprise had issued “I Saw Her Standing There” as the A-side of a single instead of as the B-side to “Greenwood, Mississippi.”

Little Richard – “I Saw Her Standing There” [1970]

With its irrepressible “Ride, ride, ride, let it ride!” hook and its churning instrumental backing, Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s first charting single pounded out of the radio in early 1974 on its way to No. 23. And for a few years, Randy Bachman (formerly of the Guess Who) and his brother Robbie joined up with C. Fred Turner and Blair Thornton to provide decent radio fare and a few pretty good albums. And I learned something new while glancing at the band’s entry in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: On BTO’s final charting single, 1976’s “Take It Like A Man (No. 33), backing vocals were provided by Little Richard. (The video I’ve linked to again provides the album track. The charting single was labeled with a shorter running time, though again I have no idea how much shorter it actually was.)

Boz Scaggs’ only Top Ten hit, “Lowdown,” seemed inescapable in the late summer and early autumn of 1976. Actually, for me, it was inescapable; I was living with three guys in a decrepit house on St. Cloud’s North Side, and one of the guys owned Silk Degrees, the album from which Scaggs’ single was pulled., So I heard the album at least three times a week for the four months that Kevin and I shared living quarters. Well, it could have been worse. Silk Degrees is a hell of an album, and “Lowdown”  is a great track. As well as being omnipresent on the North Side, it was all over the charts: It went to No. 3 on the pop chart, No. 5 on both the R&B chart and the disco singles chart, and to No. 4 – listed as “Lowdown/What Can I Say” – on the dance music/club play singles chart. (Once more, the video I’ve linked to offers the album track; similarly, the single was labeled as being shorter, though once more I have no idea how much shorter it was.)

I wrote once that the piano glissando that kicks off ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” is one of the greatest musical moments of the 1970s. Well, there were a lot of good moments in that decade, so that was likely overstatement. But there’s no doubt that it’s a great start to a great pop record. There is a temptation to call ABBA’s music – and I also like several of the group’s other singles, “Waterloo” and “SOS” to name two – a guilty pleasure. But that’s inaccurate, as I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about enjoying brilliantly produced pop music. And that includes “Dancing Queen,” which went to No. 1 and was the seventh of ABBA’s fourteen Top 40 hits.

Memorial Day 2010

Monday, May 31st, 2010

“John Brown” by Bob Dylan from MTV Unplugged [1995]

John Brown went off to war to fight on a foreign shore
His mama sure was proud of him!
He stood straight and tall in his uniform and all
His mama’s face broke out all in a grin

“Oh son, you look so fine, I’m glad you’re a son of mine
You make me proud to know you hold a gun
Do what the captain says, lots of medals you will get
And we’ll put them on the wall when you come home”

As that old train pulled out, John’s ma began to shout
Tellin’ ev’ryone in the neighborhood:
“That’s my son that’s about to go, he’s a soldier now, you know”
She made well sure her neighbors understood

She got a letter once in a while and her face broke into a smile
As she showed them to the people from next door
And she bragged about her son with his uniform and gun
And these things you called a good old-fashioned war

Oh! Good old-fashioned war!

Then the letters ceased to come, for a long time they did not come
They ceased to come for about ten months or more
Then a letter finally came saying, “Go down and meet the train
Your son’s a-coming home from the war”

She smiled and went right down, she looked everywhere around
But she could not see her soldier son in sight
But as all the people passed, she saw her son at last
When she did she could hardly believe her eyes

Oh his face was all shot up and his hand was all blown off
And he wore a metal brace around his waist
He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know
While she couldn’t even recognize his face!

Oh! Lord! Not even recognize his face

“Oh tell me, my darling son, pray tell me what they done
How is it you come to be this way?”
He tried his best to talk but his mouth could hardly move
And the mother had to turn her face away

“Don’t you remember, Ma, when I went off to war
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
I was on the battleground, you were home . . . acting proud
You wasn’t there standing in my shoes”

“Oh, and I thought when I was there, God, what am I doing here?
I’m a-tryin’ to kill somebody or die tryin’
But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
And I saw that his face looked just like mine”

Oh! Lord! Just like mine!

“And I couldn’t help but think, through the thunder rolling and stink
That I was just a puppet in a play
And through the roar and smoke, this string is finally broke
And a cannonball blew my eyes away”

As he turned away to walk, his Ma was still in shock
At seein’ the metal brace that helped him stand
But as he turned to go, he called his mother close
And he dropped his medals down into her hand

(Copyright © 1963, 1968 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1996 by Special Rider 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