Archive for the ‘1989’ Category

‘Voodoo’

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Casting about for an idea, as I often do, I took a look this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from July 3, 1965, fifty years ago today. And sitting at No. 31 was a title and an artist’s name that caused more than an instant of cognitive dissonance: “Voodoo Woman” by Bobby Goldsboro:

It doesn’t give me a sense of the jungles of Haiti or the bayous of Louisiana, but it’s not a truly awful record. The drums kind of work and the shrill harmonica gives the record an alien sound. As to the drums, I wondered if the famed Wrecking Crew provided the backing and the drums were Hal Blaine’s, but my copy of the book The Wrecking Crew is at Rick’s house (though the book might not have answered my question anyway), and I didn’t want to spend time googling this morning.

“Voodoo Woman” was Goldsboro’s seventh record in or near the Hot 100, and by the time early July rolled around in 1965, it was coming down from its peak at No. 27. I don’t think I’d ever heard it until this morning, which isn’t surprising, as I wasn’t a listener at the time. And finding it made me wonder how many tracks on the digital shelves also have “voodoo” in their titles (if not in their marrow).

A search for the word brings up 109 mp3s, but a number of the results have to be discarded: All of D’Angelo’s 2000 album Voodoo and all of the Rolling Stones’ 1994 album Voodoo Lounge have to be set aside, and all but the title tracks from Alex Taylor’s 1989 album Voodoo In Me and the 1959 exotica album Voodoo by Robert Drasnin have to be left behind as well. We also lose Rhythm Disease, a 2001 album by the Hillbilly Voodoo Dolls, and several tracks each by the Voodoo Dogs and the Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo.

That still leaves plenty of tracks, with perhaps the best-known being “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” from the 1968 album Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Beyond the version that ended up on the album, I’ve somehow managed to get hold of sixteen alternate versions of the Hendrix tune, which is likely overkill even for me, and it’s not what I have in mind this morning anyway.

Of the maybe forty tracks remaining, do any call to mind midnight in the jungles and along the bayous? Taylor’s “Voodoo In You” is decent, but it’s a cover of Johnny Jenkins’ version from the 1970 album, Ton-Ton Macoute! The backing tracks for Jenkins’ album began as tracks for a Duane Allman solo album before he formed the Allman Brothers Band and thus includes work from Allman, some of the future members of the ABB and a few other Muscle Shoals standouts, so Jenkins’ “Voodoo In You” is good. On the other side of the gender divide, I have covers of Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman” from Susan Tedeschi (2004) and Ana Popovic (2011) but oddly, not Taylor’s 1975 original (an omission that will be rectified soon). But none of those quite fill my empty space today, either.

Passing over those tracks seems to leave it up to the Neville Brothers, which feels right. Here’s “Voo Doo” from their 1989 album Yellow Moon. The album went to No. 66 on the Billboard 200.

No. 1’s Heard Live

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

I noted the other day that when Louis Armstrong performed at St. Cloud State in 1966 and played “Hello, Dolly,” that was almost certainly the first time I’d heard a live performance of a No. 1 record (by the original performer, that is). And I wondered how many of those moments there have been in my life.

That called for an hour or so spent paging through Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits, which I accomplished this morning. It turns out that I’ve heard twenty tunes performed by the original artists that have hit No. 1, which seems not a bad total for someone who’s never spent a lot of time going to concerts or clubs.

Two of the No. 1 records have come my way live more than once. I heard Don McLean perform “American Pie” at St. Cloud State in February 1986 and then again in August 1990 in Columbia, Missouri. But that’s topped by Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles,” which I’ve heard live three times: In the spring of 1973 at St. Cloud State’s Selke Field; when Preston opened for the Rolling Stones in Århus, Denmark, in October 1973; and when he played with Ringo Starr’s first All Starr Band in St. Paul in July 1989.

I also heard two other No. 1 tunes on that 1989 evening in St. Paul: Ringo’s “Photograph” and “She’s Sixteen,” but even that great night is eclipsed by the October 1973 evening when I heard Preston’s hit and then took in three No. 1 hits by the Rolling Stones: “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Angie.”

Going back further in time, there was one other night when I heard three No. 1 tunes from the original performers: In October 1970, the Rascals played St. Cloud State and did “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin’,” and “People Got To Be Free.” It’s a concert I tend to forget because my memories of the evening are tinged with some melancholy: My hopes of taking a certain young lady to the show evaporated very late in the day. With an extra ticket in hand, I gave Rick a call, and he was more than happy to see the show, but even with his good company, I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I had anticipated.

I’ve been at a few other shows over the years during which I heard two performances of No. 1 hits: The Association did “Windy” and “Cherish” at a St. Cloud State show in early 1970; Glenn Campbell sang both “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights” at a show in St. Cloud in 2011; and Paul McCartney performed “My Love” and “Band On The Run” when the Texas Gal and I saw him in St. Paul in September 2002.

Those last two, of course, were initially credited to Paul McCartney & Wings, but despite the absence of the Wings folks during that St. Paul performance, I think I can reasonably put the two songs on this list because no matter who the other members of Wings were over the years, McCartney was the main driving force. That wasn’t the case with the Beatles, of course, which is why I don’t include the bonanza of mostly McCartney-penned Beatles’ No. 1 hits that made up a good chunk of that evening in St. Paul: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Yesterday,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Hello, Goodbye,” “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” and “The Long & Winding Road.” (Along the way that evening, McCartney performed the George Harrison-penned “Something,” another No. 1 hit, as a tribute to his late bandmate.)

That leaves just three other performances for this list: “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In” by the 5th Dimension during an October 1969 concert at St. Cloud State, “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond at the Minnesota State Fair in September 1971, and the performance that sparked this post, ‘Hello, Dolly” by Louis Armstrong in January 1966 at St. Cloud State.

And to close, here’s a live performance of “Photograph” by Ringo’s first All Star Band at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in 1989. This sounds a lot like it sounded in St. Paul earlier that summer. (Members of that band were: Jim Keltner and Levon Helm on drums, Rick Danko on bass, Joe Walsh and Nils Lofgren on guitars, Dr. John on piano, Billy Preston on keyboards, and Clarence Clemons on saxophone. As Ringo says in the video, his son Zak Starkey sat in.)

‘That Dirty Little Coward . . .’

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

The jukebox across the way in the Atwood Center snack bar was playing Elton John. Sitting at The Table, I heard the puzzling title phrase, “I feel like a bullet in the gun of Robert Ford.”

It must have been a Monday morning in early 1976, about the time John’s record entered the Top 40. Why a Monday? Because that was the quarter when I was an intern at a Twin Cities television station, and the only times I was at The Table in Atwood that quarter was on the occasional Monday morning when I checked in with my adviser before heading back to the Twin Cities and my sports reporting work.

Anyway, I looked over at the jukebox across the way and wondered out loud, “Who’s Robert Ford?”

The answer came quickly from my friend Sam, one of whose passions was the American West. “He’s the dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard,” he said.

I looked blankly at him. “Okay,” I said. “That must mean something.”

He laughed and said, “Robert Ford was the man who shot Jesse James.”

I imagine I nodded, and the conversation went elsewhere and after a while, I headed to my adviser’s office and then back to the Twin Cities. And it’s entirely possible that until I picked up Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to The Long Riders in 1989, I never heard the folk song “Jesse James,” the song that Sam quoted to me that morning. Cooder’s version – which I sadly cannot embed here – plays over the end credits of the Walter Hill movie.*

The song is an old one, written soon after James’ death in 1882 by Billy Gashade (or perhaps LaShade) and first recorded in 1920 by a typewriter salesman named Bently Ball, according to the blog Joop’s Musical Flowers. Until I ran across that citation, the earliest version I knew about – but one I’ve not heard – came from Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1924. Digging around at YouTube in the past few weeks, I’ve found versions by the Kingston Trio from 1961, the South Memphis String Band (a group made up by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and the Black Crowes; Jimbo Mathus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Alvin Youngblood Hart) from 2010 and Van Morrison (from a 1998 performance with Lonnie Donegan and Chris Barber).

(Joop’s Musical Flowers lists many more versions, some dating to 1924, and has video or audio links for some of them.)

The shelves here also include versions by Bob Seger, from his 1972 album, Smokin’ O.P.’s, and by Bruce Springsteen, from his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and from the 2007 release Live In Dublin.

All of those are worth hearing (well, I’m not sure about the Kingston Trio’s version, which is why I did not link to it), but one of the best is the version by Pete Seeger from his 1957 album, American Favorite Ballads.

* Walter Hill’s film is also notable for the casting of four sets of acting brothers – Keach, Carradine, Quaid and Guest – as, respectively, the historical brothers James, Younger, Miller and Ford.

A Week Of Appointments

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Somehow I managed to cram several medical-type appointments into a little more than a week, making the next ten days far more scheduled than I had planned. Add in the normal errands for us and for my mother, and then top that off with the expected arrival today of house painters – and I have no idea how long that project will take – and it’s a busy time.

I hope to do a more detailed post later this week, but for now – commemorating my visit to the clinic to have blood drawn this morning for lab work – here’s the Neville Brothers with the aptly titled “My Blood.” It’s from the brothers’ 1989 album Yellow Moon.

‘Sitting At No. 100 . . .’

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

It’s time for a little bit of chart digging. We’re going to look at four Billboard Hot 100 charts released on July 8 over the years – 1967, 1972, 1978 and 1989 are the years that come up when I sort out the files (well, so do 1995 and 2000, but I’m not interested) – and see what records sat at No. 100 on those four dates. If there was a Bubbling Under section, we’ll take a quick look at what record brought up the rear and see what we can find out about that.

Right off the top, we get a classic. Sitting at No. 100 on July 8, 1967, was “Gentle On My Mind” by Glen Campbell. It was the first week in the chart for Campbell’s cover of John Hartford’s tune, and the record would stall out four weeks later at No. 62 (No. 30 country). Capitol re-released the single a little more than a year later, and in November 1968, the record hit No. 39 (without re-entering the country Top 40). I’ve always tended to think of “Gentle” as Campbell’s first big hit, but by late 1968, the singer had already hit the Top 40 (and No. 2, 1 and 3, respectively, on the country chart) with “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “I Want To Live” and “Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife.”

Sitting at the very bottom of the chart and bubbling under at No. 135 on that July day forty-seven years ago was the original version of “My Elusive Dreams” by Curly Putman. The Alabama singer-songwriter’s version would go one notch higher, but a little higher on that same chart (and eventually peaking at No. 89), was a version of the tune by David Houston and Tammy Wynette that would go to No. 1 on the country chart. Sadly, I can’t find a version of Putnam’s original single; he seems to have re-recorded it in recent years, but I’m not interested in that. (Bobby Vinton in 1970 and Charlie Rich in 1975 would release versions of “My Elusive Dreams” that each hit the pop, country and adult contemporary charts.)

When we dig into the very bottom of the Hot 100 from July 8, 1972, we run into a band that’s been mentioned at least twice in this space over the years, now with a slight change of name. Sitting at No. 100 is “Country Woman” by the Magic Lantern. The band from Warrington, England, had previously called itself the Magic Lanterns and had hit No. 29 in late 1968 with “Shame, Shame.” “Country Woman” came out on Charisma, the band’s third label; previous releases had come out on Atlantic and Big Tree. The record, the last the band would get into the chart, peaked at No. 88.

My files show no Bubbling Under section in the July 8, 1972, Hot 100.

Our first two stops at No. 100 found records on the way up; when we look at the Hot 100 from July 8, 1978, we find a record about to leave the chart: George Benson’s “On Broadway” had peaked at No. 7 (No. 2 R&B and No. 25 AC) in mid-June and had then tumbled back down the chart. Benson’s cover of the Drifters’ 1963 hit was the second of his eventual four Top 10 singles: “This Masquerade” went to No. 10 (No. 3 R&B and No. 6 AC) in 1976, “Give Me The Night” would go to No. 4 (No. 1 R&B and No. 26 AC) in 1980, and “Turn Your Love Around” would go to No. 5 (No. 1 R&B and No. 9 AC) in 1982. Benson’s last chart presence came when 1998’s “Standing Together” bubbled under at No. 101, giving Benson a total of twenty records in or near the Hot 100.

There were only ten singles bubbling under that July 7, 1978, chart, and sitting at No. 110 was “I Just Want To Be With You” by the Floaters. The Detroit R&B group had hit big a year earlier when “Float On” went to No. 2 (No. 1 for six weeks on the R&B chart), but the second time was no charm, as “I Just Want To Be With You,” which actually sounds pretty good to me this morning, bubbled under for five weeks and got no higher than No. 105. (I have to be honest: I don’t remember “Float On” at all. As large as its national profile was, the record either did not dent the playlists of the stations I was listening to that summer of 1977, which were KDWB in the car and WJON in the evenings, or it just made no impression on me.)

And as we get to the Billboard Hot 100 from July 8, 1989, we again find a week when nothing bubbled under. And the last entry in the chart, No. 100, is the last presence in the charts for the London trio Wang Chung: “Praying To A New God.” The record had peaked at No. 63 and would be gone by the next week’s chart. The group is far better remembered, of course, for its three Top 20 hits: “Dance Hall Days,” No. 16 in 1984; “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” No. 2 in 1986; and “Let’s Go,” No. 9 in 1987. I was familiar with those three, likely because I was in grad school at Missouri and teaching and working at St. Cloud State during those years. But I don’t at all remember “Praying To A New God,” and I think that’s okay. Here’s the official video for the record:

Saturday Single No. 367

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

It is still technically autumn. Winter does not officially arrive for another four weeks or so.

There is no snow on the ground. There were, however, snowflakes in the air as I ran errands the other day.

Outside our dining room window this morning, the trees in the yard look crisply etched against the sky. It looks cold. And it is: six degrees Fahrenheit.

In my head, I hear Darden Smith and Boo Hewerdine: “There’s a cold wind blowin’ that’s got me knowin’ the first frost is headed this way.”

This is not the first time the temperature has dropped below thirty-two degrees. It’s been in the twenties now and then in the past few weeks, including yesterday.

But when I awoke around five this morning, I saw frost on one of the upstairs windows for the first time this season, and from the dining room window this morning, the cold and dry air makes the trees in the yard look as if they have sharp edges. Those things tell me this morning that we’ve turned a corner, as we do every year around this time.

So as we turn that corner into the cold wind, here are Smith and Hewerdine with a track I’ve shared here before (and likely will share again). “The First Chill Of Winter” from their 1989 album Evidence is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Cast Your Dancing Spell My Way . . .’

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

So how many covers are out there of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”? Who knows?

There are sixty versions – including Dylan’s – listed at Second Hand Songs. There are more than 500 mp3s – with much duplication – offered at Amazon. Beyond that, I’ve found covers at YouTube not listed in either place.

(I checked at both BMI and ASCAP, as I’m not sure which organization administers Dylan’s songs. I found no listings for Dylan at either place, which eithers means I’m doing something wrong while searching or his compositions are administered elsewhere. Either way, it’s no help.)

The listing at Second Hand Songs starts with Dylan’s original and the Byrds’ ground-breaking cover in 1965 and goes on to the 2012 version by Jack’s Mannequin, which was included in the four-CD set Chimes of Freedom – The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. The first cover listed after the Byrds’ cover is a 1965 misspelled offering of “Mr. Tambourin Man” from a group called the Finnish Beatmakers. Except for the Finnish accent – which I kind of like – it’s a copy of the Byrds’ version, starting right from the guitar introduction.

And that’s the case for many of the covers I’ve listened to this week: they’re warmed-over fowl. One of the few with an original sound came, interestingly, from Gene Clark, one of the members of the Byrds when they recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man.” His version of the Dylan tune – with a reimagined (and very nice, to my ears) introduction – was included on his 1984 album, Firebyrd.

The originator of the Byrds’ classic guitar lick, Roger McGuinn, shows up on a 1989 version of the tune recorded live in Los Angeles with Crowded House. As might be expected in that circumstance, it’s pretty much a copy of the Byrds’ version, with the Finn brothers et al. backing McGuinn.

Other early versions of note came from the Brothers Four and Johnny Rivers in 1965, from a young Stevie Wonder (with, one assumes, the Funk Brothers behind him), the Lettermen, the Beau Brummels and Noel Harrison in 1966, and from the Leathercoated Minds and Kenny Rankin in 1967. Versions from 1966 that I’d like to hear came from Billy Lee Riley and Duane Eddy. Odetta, as might be expected, offered an idiosyncratic and austere take on the tune in 1965.

Easy listening folks got hold of the tune, too. Billy Strange is listed at Second Hand Songs as having recorded a cover in 1965; I haven’t found that one (though my digging is not yet done), but I did find an easy listening version – with banjo, no less – recorded in 1965 by the Golden Gate Strings. And Johnny Harris & His Orchestra recorded the tune for the Reader’s Digest’s Up, Up & Away collection, which seems to have been released in 1970.

Speaking of banjo, the bluegrass/country duo of Flatt & Scruggs took on the song for their 1968 album, Changin’ Times. It’s nicely arranged with some nice harmonica in the background, but they’re too, well, square for the song, and that’s true right from the start, when they drop the “ain’t” and sing “there is no place I’m goin’ to.”

We’ll look at a few more versions of the tune – some of them quite nice – next week, but we’ll close today with a foreign language version of the tune. (Did you honestly think I would not drop one of those in?) Titled “Hra tampuurimies,” it’s a 1990 version from the irresistibly named Finnish group Freud, Marx, Engels & Jung.

‘Yellow’

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Here we are with “Yellow,” the third installment of Floyd’s Prism. Sorting nearly 70,000 mp3s for the word “yellow,” we’re left with only 125 titles. And not all of them will work for us this morning.

Good chunks of several albums go by the wayside: Of the six Beatles’ tracks on the 1969 Apple release Yellow Submarine, we lose five, with only the title tune remaining. We lose almost all of The Unfortunate Rake, Vol.2: Yellow Mercury, a 2003 album by the Crooked Jades, a San Francisco band whose work could easily be labeled Americana. Almost all of Donovan’s 1966 album, Mellow Yellow, falls to the cutting room floor, as does all of Hot Tuna’s 1975 album, Yellow Fever, and most of the Neville Brothers’ 1989 effort, Yellow Moon. I don’t have much from Elton John’s Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road, but the only thing that survives there is the title track, which we’ll set aside anyway.

A few artists fail to make the finals, too, as we bypass records by the Yellow Balloon, the Yellow Brick Road, the Yellow Jackets, the Yellow Hair, Yellow Autumn (the entire 1977 album Children Of The Mist), and two tracks of Native American chants from the album Lewis & Clark: Sounds of Discovery performed by, among others, Courtney and Dana Yellowfat. But even with all of that, we have plenty of tracks left.

We’ll start with a Donovan song, “Mellow Yellow.” I’m not going to mess around with Donovan’s original version, though. Over the years, I’ve wearied of the Welsh performer’s catalog to the point that a Donovan tune on the RealPlayer almost always makes me click to the next track and a Donovan tune on the car radio generally makes me push the button for another station. Instead, we’ll start today’s exercise with Big Maybelle’s cover of “Mellow Yellow” from her 1967 album, Got A Brand New Bag. The Rojac label released several singles from the album – “96 Tears” went to No. 99 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 23 on the R&B chart – but “Mellow Yellow” wasn’t on any of them.

Jaime Brockett’s 1969 album, Remember The Wind And The Rain, brought the New England-based singer – and occasional songwriter – some play on late-night free-form radio with his thirteen-and-a-half minute epic, “Legend of the U.S.S. Titanic,” a track based at least a little bit on Leadbelly’s 1948 recording, “The Titanic.” But our interest here today is another track from the same album, the Michael Smith-penned “Talkin’ Green Beret New Super Yellow Hydraulic Banana Teeny Bopper Blues,” which includes jabs at Spiro Agnew, Dick Clark, lock-step patriotism, apple pie and, of course, the Green Berets.

Among my favorites from the 1990s is the sometimes bleak and always moody group October Project. I recall hearing “Bury My Lovely” from the group’s self-titled 1993 album on Minneapolis’ Cities 97 during the mid-1990s, and once I got a CD player in the latter portions of that decade, I began to listen to more of the group’s stuff. “Sunday Morning Yellow Sky” comes from the 1995 album Falling Farther In, and like most of the group’s work, it was written by Julie Flanders and Emil Adler. Add Mary Fahl’s unique voice, and you have a disquieting yet beautiful piece. Near the end, Fahl sings:

Sunday morning, yellow sky
The sun is floating diamond high
Hours passing, a baby cries
In the arms of someone you imagine

Close your eyes
This is your lullaby
Close your eyes
This is your lullaby

I don’t know what it means, but I love it.

“Don’t cross the double yellow line” sings the Music Machine in its 1967 single “Double Yellow Line.” I found the single in one of the Nuggets box sets that have proliferated in the CD era, based on the original Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era released in 1972. “Double Yellow Line” was released as a single but bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 111, having far less success than the group’s better-remembered single “Talk Talk,” which went to No. 15 in January 1967. Even having found the lyrics online this morning, I’m not entirely certain what “Double Yellow Line” is about, but it’s a nice bit of garage rock for a Thursday morning.

I mentioned the Neville Brothers’ album Yellow Moon above; the one track we do not have to ignore this morning is the very sweet title track. Written by Aaron Neville, “Yellow Moon” bops along the sidewalk and through the swamp, funky and sweet with a very snaky solo on what sounds like a soprano saxophone. The album was one of the first I bought after I got my first CD player in the previously mentioned late 1990s, and all of its tracks – but especially “Yellow Moon” – remind me of some good times on Pleasant Avenue during the latter years of that decade. As to the music, the album went to No. 66 on the Billboard 200, and according to Wikipedia, Lou Reed called it one of the best of 1989.

Yellow Sunshine was a funk/R&B group that was formed in Philadelphia in 1972 or 1973, says the website Discogs, and one listen to the group’s “Yellow Sunshine” bears that out. The 1973 single, released first on the Gamble label and later on TSOP, didn’t chart. Nor did the group’s self-titled album, and the group split up, with the group’s keyboard player heading to work for the legendary Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff and two other members joining the equally legendary group MFSB.

‘Orange’

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

When we sort the mp3s on the shelves looking for titles with the word “orange” – the second of nine stops on our tour of Floyd’s Prism – we don’t have a lot of irrelevancies to discard. The search brings up fifty-three mp3s, a good share of which will be useful.

We do have to discard the eleven tracks from the 1970 self-titled album of the group Orange Bicycle (a group whose “Jelly on the Bread” showed up on a recent Saturday), and we set aside as well the 1970 album by Paul Siebel titled Woodsmoke and Oranges. We also have to drop tracks from two similarly titled bands: “Your Golden Touch” by the Clockwork Orange, which I believe was a garage rock band from Paducah, Kentucky; and both sides of a single on the Liberty label, “After Tonight” and “Ready Steady,” by the Clockwork Oranges. The latter group was evidently from England, based on the note at the Lost Jukebox discography that calls the single an “Ember Records Production [f]rom London.”

We also lose a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album Orange Blossom Special, both sides of a 1966 single by the Palace Guard on the Orange Empire label, both sides of a 1969 single by the group Orange Colored Sky, and an odd piece of leftist theater titled “Operation Godylorange” by a Danish ensemble called Totalpetroleum.

But we do have enough to work with, which is a relief, as I was worried about “orange” when I began to look at Floyd’s Prism. (I have my concerns about “indigo,” but we’ll deal with that when we get there.) We’ll start with the oldest of our six recordings and more forward from there.

A couple CDs’ worth of Nat King Cole’s music came my way a few years ago, and on one of them, I found our first record for this morning: “Orange Colored Sky” by the King Cole Trio. Recorded in August 1950, the track comes from a time when Cole’s recordings were sometimes credited to the trio and sometimes to Cole as a solo artist. The record, which was recorded with Stan Kenton and his orchestra (according to the notes of the 1994 CD Nat King Cole: The Greatest Hits) did not show up in the R&B Top 40. Given that, I’m not sure why “Orange Colored Sky” shows up in that hits package. It’s not like there was a dearth of material to choose from; between 1942 and 1964, Cole had forty-six records reach the R&B Top 40, and starting in 1954 and going into 1964, he placed sixty-six records in or the Billboard Hot 100. (In 1991, both charts – as well as the Adult Contemporary chart – hosted “Unforgettable,” the creepy hit that paired the long-dead Cole’s 1961 vocals with those of his daughter Natalie.)

I noted above that today’s winnowing took away a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album, Orange Blossom Special. One track that survived, of course, is the title track. Recorded in December 1964 and released as a single, Cash’s take on “Orange Blossom Special” went to No. 3 on the country chart and to No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, long a country and bluegrass standard, was written in 1938 by fiddler Ervin T. Rouse and first recorded by Ervin and Gordon Rouse in 1939. Their version is no doubt widely available; I found it on East Virginia Blues, one of the eleven CDs in the remarkable series of roots music titled When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll. Cash recorded the tune at least one more time: The live album recorded in 1968 at California’s Folsom Prison includes a pretty good version of the song.

One of the stranger tracks I came upon this morning – not quite as strange as the Danish “Operation Godylorange” but still odd – was “Orange Air” from the 5th Dimension’s second album, the 1967 release The Magic Garden. Written by Jimmy Webb, the song notes in its chorus: “And then the night Jasmine came clinging to her hair and lingered there, and there was orange air.” At All Music Guide, Matthew Greenwald says the song is “another one of Jimmy Webb’s emotionally intense, slightly depressing lyrics that make up this brilliant concept album. The downcast message of being let down by the disintegration of a love affair is nicely juxtaposed by a buoyant arrangement and vocal performance.” I’m glad he got it, because I sure didn’t, but it’s still a nice track.

Staying in 1967 for another moment, we land on an outtake from the sessions that provided us with Music From Big Pink, the first album by The Band. “Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast)” first showed up as a track on The Basement Tapes, a 1975 release of some of the music The Band and Bob Dylan recorded in the months after Dylan’s July 1966 motorcycle accident and before the releases in 1967 of his John Wesley Harding and in 1968 of The Band’s Big Pink. The version of the Richard Manuel tune linked here is, I believe, the one included on the expanded edition of Music From Big Pink released in 2000 and labeled there as a demo.

And it’s off to San Francisco in 1971 and an album that reflected as it was being recorded the changing membership of the group It’s A Beautiful Day. The album Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime, notes Lindsay Planer of AMG, was recorded as “lineup number two was replaced by lineup number three – netting a separate band for the Choice Quality Stuff side and the Anytime side.” The sprightly instrumental “Oranges & Apples” shows up on the Anytime side of the LP, and it turns out to be an offering that sounds more like something from a middle-of-the road ensemble than a track from one of the great hippie bands of its time. David LaFlamme’s famous violin is hardly there at all, which is just weird. But then, the track is titled “Oranges & Apples,” which probably means something about comparisons.

And we close this edition of Floyd’s Prism with a stop in 1989 and a track from one of my favorite Van Morrison albums. “Orangefield” was tucked on the second side of Avalon Sunset, and I’m of two minds about it. It’s repetitious, both lyrically and musically, which should make the track a little tedious. But there’s something thrilling about it, too, with the string and percussion accents and the backing vocals of Katie Kissoon and Carol Kenyon pulling me in and drawing me briefly into another Morrison-inspired trance.

‘You Can Hear The Whistle Blow . . .’

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

A week ago, as I explored tunes buried in the deeper portions of the Billboard chart in mid-January 1972, I shared the version of “500 Miles” by a group billed as Heaven Bound with Tony Scotti. In doing so, I called the tune a “folk song,” vaguely remembering it sung around campfires somewhere, perhaps at the Shores of St. Andrew, where I attended Bible camp during the summer of 1968.

But I also recalled it from one of the first pop-rock albums I ever owned: Look At Us by Sonny & Cher. It was a Christmas gift from my sister in 1965, one of her occasional attempts to encourage me to listen to the same music that my peers did. I liked the album well enough, and “500 Miles” – if not the heart of the album – was a pretty good track:

As I listened to Sonny & Cher this week for the first time in years, I still liked it, but it came to mind that Sonny Bono’s Spectorian folk-rock likely pulls “500 Miles” away from its roots as a folk song, whether those roots are in the literal folk tradition as a song that evolved over time or in purposeful composition during the folk boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s. And I wondered where the tune had come from.

It came, as it turned out, from the pen of Hedy West, a folk singer and performer from Georgia who recorded a few albums of traditional folk music in the early 1960s and 1970s. She wrote only a few songs, and “500 Miles” was by far her most famous composition. The song, according to Wikipedia, “was put together from fragments of a melody she had heard her uncle sing to her back in Georgia.” In her own performance of the tune from her 1963 self-titled album, she offers more verses than are usually sung.*

West’s version of her song wasn’t the first released, however. The Journeymen – a folk trio made up of John Phillips (future founder of the Mamas & the Papas), Scott McKenzie (of future “San Francisco” fame) and Dick Weissman – recorded “500 Miles” for their 1961 self-titled album.

From there, covers of the song multiplied. The Kingston Trio included the song in a live recording done in late 1961, and folk icons Peter, Paul & Mary included the song as an album track on their 1962 debut album. Other covers in the early and mid-1960s came from the Brothers Four, Johnny Rivers, Peter & Gordon, Jackie DeShannon and more. And in 1963, Bobby Bare released a reworking of the song with an expanded title – “500 Miles Away From Home” – and additional lyrics that went to No. 10 on the pop chart and No. 5 on the country chart.

I have no idea how many performers have covered the tune, then or since. The listing at AMG shows 237 CDs with the tune “500 Miles” on them, and nearly a hundred more with the title “500 Miles Away From Home.” Many of those are duplicates, of course, so there may not be as many cover versions as I once thought, maybe thirty at a guess.

One of the most recent came from a group called the Innocence Mission, which included “500 Miles” on its 2000 release Christ Is My Hope. In its review of the album, AMG notes the “childlike humility and translucence of Karen Peris’ voice” as contributing “to a kind of wide-eyed wisdom that seems to gaze into the everyday and illuminate its elusive spiritual core.” I didn’t necessarily get that, but I thought casual listeners could be forgiven if they thought that the performance came from 1970s folkie Melanie. It’s a nice version with a decent if simple arrangement.

I should also note that Rosanne Cash did an excellent cover of Bare’s version of “500 Miles” on her 2009 release The List, an album whose contents were drawn from a literal list of essential American songs compiled for Cash in the early 1970s by her famous father, Johnny.

But the most interesting cover of the song I found as I dug around the past few days – one that’s far removed in approach from Hedy West’s spare rendition – came from an unexpected source. In 1989, the Hooters, a pop-rock band from Philadelphia best remembered, AMG says, for the No. 21 hit “And We Danced” (or perhaps for being Cyndi Lauper’s backing band on She’s So Unusual),  adapted “500 Miles” – adding lyrics evidently inspired by that year’s events in and near Beijing’s Tienanmen Square – on its album Zig Zag.

The haunting, atmospheric arrangement works very well, and the Hooters’ version, which went to No. 97, has the added attraction of including background vocals from Peter, Paul & Mary along the way.

*Some compilations of West’s work are available on CD and through downloads at Amazon, as is a CD version of Getting Folk Out Of The Country, the 1974 album she recorded with folk musician Bill Clifton. There’s some vinyl out there, too, both at Amazon and through GEMM.