Archive for the ‘Saturday Single’ Category

Saturday Single No. 690

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

The other day, I drove past the house on Kilian Boulevard, the one Mom sold in 2004. I don’t get over to the East Side very often, and I was startled to see that whoever lives there now has put up a fence.

It’s a nice fence, about six feet tall with vertical white slats, enclosing the back yard. Curious, I drove around the block and then along the alley, looking at how the fence installers handled the relatively steep bank along Eighth Street, the rise along the driveway, and the area back by the alley where the garbage cans stand.

And as I examined the fence, I was stuck by my reaction to it. Not all that deeply inside of me, a voice was saying, “Dammit, you can’t fence off my back yard!”

Of course, it’s not my back yard anymore. Hasn’t been since 1976, when I packed a few things into my 1961 Falcon and moved across town to the drafty old house on the North Side.

But in a way that I’m sure lots of people will understand, it still is my back yard. It’s where Dad put the swing set and built the sandbox during the summer of 1957. It’s where I took a batting stance near the back steps and learned to hit a plastic baseball over the garage and into the alley. It’s where I endured the drudgery of digging dandelions and picking up sticks more times than I can count from childhood into young adulthood, adding mowing the grass along the way.

The back yard is where Dad cooked bread-and-butter roasts on his grill on many Saturdays and Sundays from the early 1960s into the 1990s. It’s where relatives gathered, again from the early 1960s into the 1990s to celebrate our family’s milestones: Lutheran confirmations, high school graduations, weddings, anniversaries.

It’s where we sat – Mom, my sister and brother-in-law, the Texas Gal and I – late on the June afternoon when Dad died, beginning to plan his funeral.

As I said, it’s a nice fence, and no doubt the folks who live in the house on Kilian have good reasons for installing it. And they certainly have the right to do so. It’s their back yard.

But in a very fundamental way, it’s always going to be my back yard, too.

Here’s a tune unrelated to any of that except for the words “back yard” in the title: Nat Stuckey’s cover of “Clean Up Your Own Back Yard,” first recorded by Elvis Presley. Stuckey’s version comes from his 1969 album New Country Roads. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 689

Saturday, May 16th, 2020

I worked at a number of things during my professional career: college teacher, corporate researcher, skip-tracer, public relations writer, newspaper editor and reporter. If I am at base any of those things, it is that last. Even more than twenty years after I closed my final notebook, I am a reporter, a newspaperman.

That’s why the story published May 13 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune – headlined “Twin Cities weekly newspapers are shutting down in the face of pandemic” – was distressing. The newspaper business has been in crisis for some time, of course. The rise of the 24-hour news cycle on television and the availability of other news sources on the Internet, along with other factors, have made newspapers more vulnerable, dropping circulation and thus depressing ad revenue.

Then, as the piece notes, add the impact of Covid-19 to society in general and to the business sector particularly, and ad revenues drop even more. The story wasn’t surprising to me; I’ve noticed the Minneapolis paper becoming noticeably slimmer in the past two months, and Time magazine, too, is remarkably more slender when I take it from the mailbox. That revenues have been falling at community newspapers as well is not startling.

Just as distressing as the actual news about weekly papers in the Twin Cities area, however, were the personal connections. I’ve known reporters, editors and publishers at many of the newspapers mentioned in the piece, and one of the newspapers that recently closed was the Eden Prairie News, where I wrote for almost four years in the early 1990s.

In a lot of ways, those were good years for me: I was coming out of my wandering phase – I had moved seven times in a little less than four years, going from Minnesota to North Dakota back to Minnesota to Kansas to Missouri and finally back to Minnesota again – and was looking for a place to stay for a while, perhaps even thrive. Eden Prairie and its newspaper helped me do both. And I was saddened to see that the newspaper is gone and sad, too, to see that the vibrant city I enjoyed getting to know is now without a local paper.

I imagine the day will come when print news is dead instead of just dying, and it may come in my lifetime. Maybe I’m wrong. Actually, I think I am. I see the major national newspapers – the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and others – surviving, and maybe even the newsmagazines like Time will do so, too. But I expect that smaller cities and town will be without local papers, and I think that will include St. Cloud.

There are about 100,000 folks in the St. Cloud metro area, and for years, the St. Cloud Times – owned by the Gannett chain – has been struggling, downsizing office space and shedding staffers in an attempt to stay upright. Someday, I think, the corporation will pull the plug. And the same is going to happen, I think, to newspapers all over the country in a lot of medium-sized cities like St. Cloud. We’ll all be poorer for it.

So I looked on the digital shelves for a track with the word “sad” in the title, to match how I feel as I write this, and I came up with “Sad Wind,” a 1966 instrumental B-side from a group called the Imperial Show Band. It came to me through the massive Lost Jukebox collection, and though it doesn’t sound particularly sorrowful, it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 688

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

I woke this morning to the sad news that Little Richard has died. The cause was cancer, said his son, Danny Jones Penniman, in the Rolling Stone report.

That report covers Richard Penniman’s career and influence better than I can, so I’ll leave that alone. I’ll note that in a long ago (and long abandoned) book and website project with a friend, we tabbed Little Richard as one of the five biggest trees from which the rock ’n’ roll forest descended.

(The other four, for what it matters, were Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Fats Domino. I think we likely nailed it, with the possible exception of Bo Diddley, unless one wants to go further back into late 1940s and early 1950s jump blues and R&B.)

Anyway, I’ve never said much about Little Richard here, and I’m not sure why. I’ve written some about his 1970s comeback albums on Reprise and his stuff has popped up occasionally in random draws. But as much as I respect his influence, for some reason, he’s never seemed central to my musical universe.

And the LP and CD shelves over the years have reflected that: A few hits packages and a two-CD re-release of those Reprise albums from the 1970s. That’s a pretty sparse – if stellar – collection of one of the founding fathers of the music I love. All I can say is that when pop-rock music grabbed me in 1969 and I began to explore its different roads, none of those early explorations brought me to Little Richard.

The closest I came was through Delaney & Bonnie and their 1970 album To Bonnie From Delaney, which came to me in late 1972. I recall reading through the notes as the record played and noticing that Little Richard supplied the piano on the second track on the second side, a cover (I now know) of his own 1956 record “Miss Ann.” At that point, being nineteen and still catching up, I knew his name but had heard little, if any, of his work.

So I sat there on our green couch in the rec room and listened as Little Richard proceeded to rip it up. That memory means that “Miss Ann” by Delaney & Bonnie – with Little Richard on piano – is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 687

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020

I’m trying to organize my thoughts about Long John Baldry’s 1991 CD It Still Ain’t Easy, which arrived here yesterday . . .

(The past six or so weeks of relative isolation have spurred jokes online and on television about folks going on online shopping sprees. There’s some truth to that here, as both the Texas Gal and I have been combing our favorite sites for goodies. Hers have been generally for quilting or cooking. Mine? Well, you can guess. Recent CD arrivals have been: Bob Dylan & The Band: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 – The Basement Tapes Complete, The Essential Bob Dylan, Intersection by Nanci Griffith, the three mid-1990s anthologies by the Beatles [supplementing the vinyl versions I got at the time], and the Baldry album mentioned above. I did buy one book, The Man Who Saved Britain, British author Simon Winder’s irreverent look at post-WWII Britain and the James Bond phenomenon.)

I’m pacing my listening of the Basement Tapes and the Beatles anthologies; those are more archival purchases than anything I’ll put into my regular rotation. The Essential Dylan will similarly get spare listening; it brings together most of his major recordings, almost all of which I’ve had for some time in at least one physical form, sometimes two. The one exception to that is “Things Have Changed” from the 2000 film Wonder Boys. So that was likely a frivolous purchase.

The purchases of the Baldry and Griffith CDs had more usual aims. I now once again have – in one form or another – all of Griffith’s studio albums (as well as one or two live performances), which satisfies an itch. And I’ve heard some of the Baldry album in various places and wanted to hear the rest.

And, pondering writing about It Still Ain’t Easy before I’ve totally absorbed it, I went to AllMusic this morning to see what the folks there had to say about the effort. Here’s Chip Renner’s assessment: “Baldry’s deep, rough-edged vocals have not changed over the years. The band is tight, with Mike Kalanj’s Hammond B-3 and Bill Rogers’ sax standing out. There are no flaws on this one, just great music.”

Well, all that is nice to know. But it terms of giving me a direction or pointing out specific tracks on which to focus, it leaves me wanting more. And I guess that’s okay. So we’ll just listen to the track that tipped me to the album a few years ago: “Midnight In New Orleans.” And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 686

Saturday, April 25th, 2020

Here’s what the top ten “Middle-Road” singles looked like in Billboard on April 24, 1965, fifty-five years ago yesterday:

“The Race Is On” by Jack Jones
“Cast Your Fate To The Wind” by Sounds Orchestral
“King Of The Road” by Roger Miller
“Red Roses For A Blue Lady” by Vic Dana
“Baby The Rain Must Fall” by Glenn Yarbrough
“Red Roses For A Blue Lady” by Wayne Newton
“And Roses And Roses” by Andy Williams
“Crazy Downtown” by Allan Sherman
“I Can’t Stop Thinking Of You” by Bobby Martin
“Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey

That’s a half-way familiar clutch of records. I recall hearing Nos. 2 through 5 on the radio regularly at home, either on WCCO from Minneapolis or St. Cloud’s own KFAM. And I liked all four of them. I also remember hearing Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” but I never cared much for it (despite my burgeoning James Bond fixation), and later in the year, when I got the soundtrack, I wholly embraced John Barry’s pulsating instrumental version of the tune.

Bassey’s version peaked at No. 2 on the Middle-Road chart (and at No. 8 on the Hot 100), while Barry’s own release of the instrumental got to No. 15 on the MR chart and to No. 72 on the Hot 100.

As to the top record in that mid-Sixties chart, I’ve heard Jack Jones’ “The Race Is On,” but it pales in comparison with George Jones’ 1964 No. 3 country original. Of course, George Jones’ record was never going to get middle of the road airplay, so if someone were going to get non-country chart success with the song, it might as well have been the inoffensive and bland Jack Jones. (Looking at Jack Jones’ listing of twenty-six chart hits in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, I can’t recall hearing a single one except for “The Race Is On,” which I’ve listened to a couple of times at YouTube while researching posts here.)

As to Nos. 6 through 9, I’m not familiar with them, which kind of surprises me, given my affection for mid-Sixties middle of the road stuff. Sherman’s record is, of course, a parody of Petula Clark’s massive hit “Downtown,” and Newton’s record is, like Dana’s, a cover of John Laurenz’ 1948 release. (According to Second Hand Songs, Dana and Newton released their versions in January 1965; theirs were evidently the first covers of the song in sixteen years.)

(Also parenthetically, Dana’s version of “Red Roses For A Blue Lady” was one of the records I got from Leo Rau, the jukebox jobber who lived across the alley from us back in those years. I have a hunch the record’s still here.)

Martin’s weeper sounds almost like it could have been a country hit (it wasn’t), but perhaps that’s because the title phrase is so similar to the opening of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” as recorded by (among others) Kitty Wells and Don Gibson in 1958 and Ray Charles in 1962.

Then there’s the Andy Williams record, which starts with a nifty bossa nova intro only to collapse into a languid and saccharine ending.

So, I like four of those ten. How many of them are in the iPod, indicating they’re still part of my day-to-day listening? Only two: “King Of The Road” and “Baby The Rain Must Fall.” I’m a little surprised by the absence of “Cast Your Fate To The Wind,” given that I’ve got almost thirty tracks by Sounds Orchestral on the digital shelves. And that’s the direction we’re going this morning.

Here’s “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” by the English pop orchestra Sounds Orchestral. Sometime after mid-April 1965, the record spent three weeks on top of the Middle-Road chart, and it peaked at No. 10 on the Hot 100. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 685

Saturday, April 18th, 2020

I’ve spent a little bit of time yesterday and this morning trying to sort out Nanci Griffith’s discography, all in the wake of sharing yesterday her 1987 version of “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret).”

I say “1987 version” because Griffith first recorded and released the poignant song in 1978. Without the parenthetical portion of the 1987 title, the song was the title track to Griffith’s first album, released on the B.F. Deal label. The re-recording of the song came after Griffith was signed to MCA; the album Lone Star State Of Mind, where the re-recording can be found, was Griffith’s second album for MCA.

And as far as I can tell, that’s the only song that Griffith has re-recorded in the studio – or at least re-released – from either There’s A Light Beyond These Woods or her second album, Poet In My Window (released on the Featherbed Productions label in 1982). One track from Poet – “Workin’ In Corners” – did find its way into the set list for the 1988 live album One Fair Summer Evening.

I imagine I’m the one of the few people who cares about this stuff. Well, probably not. I’m sure there are Nanci Griffith obsessives out there, just as there are discography obsessives. I only dabble in both topics, digging around in Griffith’s music when something brings her up (as the randomizer did yesterday), and digging around in various discographic sites when I have a question (as I did about “There’s A Light Beyond These Woods”).

As far as Nanci Griffith’s music goes, I have a fair amount of it: All but one of her albums are on the digital shelves and I have five on CD. Before the vinyl sell-off a few years ago, I had three LPs of her; the first one I bought was Last Of The True Believers. I actually remember pulling it from a bin in a store on Minneapolis’ Nicollet Avenue about a mile or so from my 1990s apartment.

How do I remember? I’m not sure, but I know I rarely shopped in that Nicollet Avenue store, and I recall being intrigued as I looked at the album, which came out on the Philo label in 1986, in between two of her albums on MCA. Something about the jacket grabbed my attention, and at the time, I was willing to try pretty much any new artist in most genres, so I put the album in the stack of stuff I was buying. The LP log tells me it was March 20, 1993; I also bought albums that day by Don McLean and Glenn Yarbrough.

Anyway, I took the album home, and sometime in the next few days I plopped it on the turntable. I clearly liked what I heard – especially her idiosyncratic voice and diction – as I ended up buying more and more of her stuff over the years. So I wondered, as I was digging around in the course of writing this (probably not too interesting) piece, what was the first Nanci Griffith track I heard?

Well, it likely was the opening track of Last Of The True Believers, which turned out to be the title track. So here’s “The Last Of The True Believers,” today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 684

Saturday, April 11th, 2020

So, what do we know about April 11?

Well, sifting through the list and information provided by Wikipedia, we find one major musical connection:

In 1727, Johann Sebastian Bach’s sacred oratorio, the St. Matthew Passion, had its premiere at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. At the time, Leipzig was in the Electorate of Saxony (now a federal state in Germany), and Bach was cantor at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig – a school that still exists – and was responsible for providing music for St. Thomas and three other Lutheran churches in the city.

Bach’s appointment as cantor came in 1723, and he stayed in that position until his death in 1750. His body was originally buried at Old St. John’s Cemetery in Leipzig, where his grave went unmarked for nearly 150 years. In the early Ninteenth Century, there was a revival of interest in his music, and in 1894, his remains were located and moved to a vault in St. John’s Church. The church was destroyed during World War II, so in 1950 – 200 years after his death – Bach’s remains were reburied under a bronze marker in St. Thomas Church.

Wikipedia adds, “Later research has called into question whether the remains in the grave are actually those of Bach.”

There’s not a tremendous amount of Bach’s work on the digital shelves here, basically the “Air on the G String,” the six Brandenburg concertos, some of his toccatas and The Well-Tempered Clavier. I do have several albums of Bach’s work recreated as wordless vocal pieces by the Swingle Singers, and a copy of Switched-On Bach, the 1968 synthesizer recasting of some of the composer’s most well-known works by Wendy Carlos (she was Walter Carlos at the time the album was released).

It seems that none of Carlos’ original work is available on YouTube (though many synthesized Bach pieces note her as an inspiration). Here’s one take from 2008 – by a YouTube user called syntesen – on the first movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 (1721), today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 683

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

Once a year during three of the four school years I worked for the Eden Prairie News, I taught an informal class in songwriting. And it was, sort of, Bill Withers’ fault.

Well, it was my fault. But it all came about because of Withers, who died this week at the age of 81, leaving behind a catalog of nine albums of R&B that crossed a lot of boundaries (and found a wide audience). Sadly, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Withers’ music when he was active. (His first album, Just As I Am, came out in 1971, and his last, Watching You Watching Me, was released in 1985.)

I knew and liked the major tunes, of course: “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Use Me,” “Just The Two Of Us,” and “Lean On Me” chief among them. And it was that last song that sparked my awkward and very limited turns as a teacher of songwriting.

It was early on a Monday, if I recall things rightly, and I was at Eden Prairie High School to shoot some photos of the concert choir as it prepared for a performance sometime in the next few weeks. The members of the choir were milling around the room and gabbing, and I stood waiting off to the side, camera slung around my neck, not far from the piano.

Then one of the young men in the choir said to another, “Hey, listen to this song I heard!” And he sat at the piano and sang the first verse to “Lean On Me.” But instead of underscoring every note of the melody with a chord, he played chords under only the first and last words of phrases.

His buddy nodded and said something nice about the song. And I couldn’t help myself. I went to the piano and told the first young man it was a good song, but he really needed to play all the intermediate chords for the song to sound right. He was puzzled, so I sat at the piano and played the song pretty much like Withers does, a chord for almost every note.

As I played, other students gathered around the piano, and when the choir director – a woman named Julie Kanthak – came in, one of the students said, “Hey, check this out!” She came to the piano as I played a bit more of the song. I’d been reporting for the paper for a year-and-a-half by that time, and I guess I’d never mentioned that I was a musician, and she looked surprised.

And when she learned that I also wrote songs, she asked me to come back on another day – when the choir was not deep into preparation for a concert – and talk to the students (many of whom I knew from having covered them in other school activities) about songwriting.

I did so a few weeks later, having given at least some thought to my process. I talked about the challenges of starting with lyrics, which I generally do, and the very different challenges of starting with the music, which I have done only rarely. And as I talked about that, I was surprised to realize something that I then shared with the students: Even though I’ve only written three or four songs by starting with the music, those three or four are among my best.

And I performed one or two of those songs, and a few of my others, talking between songs – sometimes between verses – about the process of putting each of those songs together.

I was in Eden Prairie for two more school years after that, and during each of those, I spent an hour with the concert choir, talking about songwriting and, I expect, learning more each time than did the students I was supposedly teaching.

And here, I imagine, I’m supposed to share Withers’ “Lean On Me.” But despite its small role in my very limited time as a teacher of songwriting – a memory I do cherish – it was never my favorite piece from Withers. I much prefer the album version of “Just The Two Of Us,” his collaboration with saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. It’s found on Washington’s 1980 album Winelight, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 682

Saturday, March 28th, 2020

The blank space on the computer screen has been mocking me for about an hour. At least five times, I’ve typed something, looked at it, and then deleted it. For some reason – perhaps because of the madness beyond our walls, perhaps because of a weariness that seems to have found its home in me overnight – I have nothing to say this morning.

Here’s Fotheringay’s take on Bob Dylan’s “Too Much Of Nothing.” It’s from the group’s self-titled 1970 album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 681

Saturday, March 14th, 2020

Intrigued by the results the other day of digging into a 1972 survey from a radio station formatting itself as “progressive,” I thought we’d do it again this morning. The first time, we were in Portland, Oregon, so I thought we’d head to the East Coast for our second time around.

Here are the six albums that WMMR in Philadelphia listed in its survey for the second week in March 1972:

Together by Jesse Colin Young
Sailin’ Shoes by Little Feat
Isle Of View by Jimmie Spheeris
Fanny Hill by Fanny
Hellbound Train by Savoy Brown
Compost self-titled

Only two of those ever showed up on the vinyl stacks here, the Spheeris and the Little Feat. I had seven LPs on the shelves by Jesse Colin Young, but Together was not one of them, so I’m surprised by that absence, as I am by the absence of Fanny Hill. The absence of the Savoy Brown album does not startle me at all. And Compost?

Well, I can’t say I’ve never heard of the band, but I didn’t recall the name. It turns out that Compost was also one of those groups promoted by Columbia on The Music People, just like Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders from Tuesday’s post. I checked the LP log, and I brought The Music People home with me in 1992, twenty years after it came out, so I first heard of Compost long after the group’s performing days.

And those days were relatively short: Wikipedia tells us that Compost released two albums, the 1972 self-titled release listed by WMMR (which has the alternate title of Take Off Your Body), and a 1973 release titled Life Is Round. The band is described at both Wikipedia and discogs.com as a jazz fusion group; its members were Bob Moses, Harold Vick, Jumma Santos, Jack Gregg and Jack DeJohnette. And we’ll get back to the group later.

First, though, how many of those albums ended up on the digital shelves here? Well, the albums by Little Feat, Spheeris, Fanny, and Young are here. Hellbound Train is not, although I do have Savoy Brown’s 1971 release, Street Corner Talking. Compost is represented only by the one track from its 1972 album that was featured on The Music People, “Country Song.”

So here’s “Country Song” by Compost, today’s Saturday Single.