Among the trees we have gracing our acre-plus of yard are three Norway pines, perhaps my favorites with their graceful conical shapes and their clusters of long needles. One of the three is not far from the house and has been the starting point over the years for the seating for our summer picnics. All three are tall and, if you’ll excuse the personification, noble.
But I’m a little worried. All three of them have been shedding branches – some quite large – this winter. The yard is strewn with maybe thirty of them, ranging from a foot to perhaps four feet long. And that seems odd. We’ve had some high winds so far this winter, but nothing more fierce than we’ve had in winters past. (In fact, this has been a fairly mild winter: not that much snow and only one stretch of sub-zero temperatures although there is some chatter about a major storm heading our way at the end of next week.)
So I don’t know why the Norway pines are shedding so many branches this winter when they’ve not done so in winters past. I’m uncertain if the falling branches are harbingers of something wrong with the three Norway pines or if they’re just coincidence. I’d like to think it’s the latter.
The branches also bother me because they’re unsightly. As the snow cover has melted and the temperatures have risen in the past week or so, the Texas Gal and I have talked about getting outside and picking up the branches. I think we’ll be doing that today or tomorrow afternoon, as the temperature is supposed to get into the mid-50s.
That won’t tell us why the Norways are shedding branches, but at least it will make the yard a little more tidy.
And here’s an appropriate tune, a cover of a song originally done by The Band in 1969. Here’s “Whispering Pines” as performed by Boz Scaggs and Lucinda Williams. It’s from Scaggs’ 2015 album A Fool To Care, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
It’s time for a four-track random walk through the 3,805 tracks on iTunes to find ourselves a Saturday Single:
First up is Muddy Water’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” the first single the blues musician released after making his way in 1943 from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. The track was recorded in December 1947 and released on Aristocrat – a precursor of Chess Records – in 1948. It didn’t hit the Billboard R&B chart, but in September of 1948, Waters’ “I Feel Like Going Home” went to No. 11 on R&B chart. From what I can tell this morning, in more than ten years of blogging here, I have mentioned “I Can’t Be Satisfied” only twice, once in passing and once as one of the records played daily in my mythical roadhouse.
Up pops a Bob Dylan B-side: “Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar,” released on the flip of “Heart of Mine” in 1981 and then released on the Biograph box set in 1985. A different version of the tune showed up on the Shot of Love album in 1981, but I think I’d have to do a side-by-side, second-by-second comparison to find the differences. In the notes to Biograph, Dylan basically says that he and the band lost their ways in the version that went out as the B-side. I have to admit that I was unaware that “Heart of Mine” was released as a single in 1981; I never heard it, and it never even bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100.
And we stay with Mr. Dylan, moving back fourteen years from Shot of Love to the quiet and understated John Wesley Harding from 1967 and its meditative track “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine.” With just a guitar and a harmonica and an understated voice, Dylan tells of the saint “tearing through these quarters” and offering the cryptic words
No martyr is among ye now Whom you can call your own So go on your way accordingly But know you’re not alone.
Next comes the sweet love story of “1927 Kansas City” as told by Mike Reilly, who became a member of Pure Prairie League after a brief solo career. The only remnant of that solo career in the charts is “1927 Kansas City,” which tumbled around the lower levels of the Hot 100 for six weeks, peaking at No. 88 (and at No. 38 on the Adult Contemporary chart). It’s a little gooey, maybe, but it’s got some nice production touches and some nice lyrical turns, and since I’m a sucker for sweet love stories, it’s a favorite.
Well, we’ve got two Dylans, a classic blues and a sweet love story on the table. I’m tempted by the love story, of course, but I featured it here not quite three years ago. I’m also limited by the fact that Dylan’s originals do not stay on YouTube very long at all, and although some nice covers of “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” are available there (including one from last year by Eric Clapton), it was the original that popped up in iTunes this morning. So pretty much by default, we’re going to have to go with Muddy Waters. (That’s not a bad default position to have, you might note.)
Here’s Muddy Water’s 1947 recording of “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.
I still feel like crap, so I searched the 90,000-odd mp3s in the RealPlayer for the word “headache,” and I came up with one title: “Willies’ Headache,” a 1973 track by Cymande.
Cymande, according to Wikipedia, is “a British funk group that released several albums throughout the early 1970s and . . . recently reunited in 2014 with a European tour.”
“Willies’ Headache” was a track on the group’s second album, Second Time Round, and it brings with it a conundrum: On the album label as offered at Discogs.com, the title of the track is spelled as I have it above. On the video below, it’s spelled “Willy’s Headache,” which makes more sense.
It doesn’t matter, I guess. What matters is that my own headache is soothed this morning by the mellow and funky sounds, and I like the chorus: “Gotta be aware! Don’t get too lost in your dreams.” And all of that makes “Willies’ Headache” a good choice for this week’s Saturday Single.
Wandering through the digital stacks this morning, I found a few tracks tagged as having been recorded on January 28 over the years. (I have session date information for perhaps five percent of the 90,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer.) Let’s take a look at them.
The oldest comes from Frank Hutchison, who recorded “Stackalee” in New York City in 1928. An early version of the tale of bad man Stagger Lee that Lloyd Price turned into a No. 1 hit in 1959, Hutchison’s spare take on the song – with his guitar on his lap and a harmonica in a rack – came to me through the CD box set of the legendary Anthology of American Folk Music compiled by Harry Smith and released in 1952.
Next along the timeline for January 28 are a couple of western swing tracks laid down in Chicago in 1935 by Milton Brown & His Brownies. “Crafton Blues” is an instrumental composed by the band’s Ocie Stockard, and “Who’s Sorry Now” is a cover of the 1920s standard first recorded and released in 1923 by Bob Thompson. The two tracks came my way on Western Swing, a three-CD set that billed itself as “The Absolutely Essential” collection.
On January 28, 1953, most likely in Los Angeles or Hollywood (a judgment based on the fact that the arrangements and backing were from Nelson Riddle), Nat King Cole recorded “Almost Like Being In Love.” The track was released that year on Nat King Cole Sings For Two In Love, an eight-track, ten-inch LP. I found “Almost Like Being In Love” on the compilation CD The Very Best of Nat King Cole.
Big Joe Turner had a busy day on January 28, 1955, in New York City, and four tracks from that day’s session have made their ways to my stacks: “Morning, Noon and Night,” “Ti-Ri-Lee,” “Flip Flop and Fly” and “Hide and Seek.” Of the four, “Ti-Ri-Lee” is a little less frantic but still nowhere near a slow dance, and the other three are your basic (but still enjoyable) Joe Turner joints. I found “Morning, Noon and Night” and “Ti-R-i-Lee” on a Turner compilation titled Big. Bad & Blue, and the other two came from the CD The Very Best of Big Joe Turner (which I happened to be playing in the car this week).
Jumping ahead in the timeline a little bit, two Johnny Cash-related tracks show up. On January 28, 1971, Tammy Wynette appeared on The Johnny Cash Show on ABC. Her performance of “Stand By Your Man” showed up on The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show. And on January 28, 1974, in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Cash recorded “Ragged Old Flag,” which was released as a Columbia single and was later included in the CD collection The Essential Johnny Cash.
Heading back a few years from that, in 1969, George Harrison brought Billy Preston to a Beatles session at the Apple studios on January 28. Among the results was the single version of “Get Back,” on which Preston provides an electric piano solo and became, if I recall things correctly, the only non-Beatle credited on a Beatles record. The track was included in the Mono Masters CD package.
And last, we’ll head back another year to 1968 and a recording session for the Moody Blues at the Decca Studios in the West Hampstead area of London. The group was working on In Search of the Lost Chord, and among the results of the session was an early version of “What Am I Doing Here?” The track got left off the album, and in November of that year, it was given some overdubs and a new mix. Still, “What Am I Doing Here?” was unreleased until 1977, when the November version was included in the Caught Live + 5 collection.
I found the original version of “What Am I Doing Here” on the expanded CD release of In Search of the Lost Chord, and I prefer it to the overdubbed November version. At any rate, a November track doesn’t meet our requirements today, so the January 28, 1968, recording of “What Am I Doing Here?” is today’s Saturday Single.
It’s been a while since we looked at the book that offers the weekly Top Ten album charts from Billboard. So here’s the Top Ten from this week in 1972, forty-five years ago:
American Pie by Don McClean The Concert for Bangla Desh Music by Carole King Chicago at Carnegie Hall Led Zeppelin IV (untitled) Teaser & The Firecat by Cat Stevens Tapestry by Carole King There’s a Riot Goin’ On by Sly & The Family Stone Madman Across The Water by Elton John Wild Life by Wings
During that distant week, three of those albums would have been in the box next to the stereo in our basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard. The Concert for Bangla Desh was there, as I’d gotten it for Christmas just weeks earlier. And my sister had copies of Tapestry and the Cat Stevens album. She did, however, take them with her when she got married, so by August of that year, the only one of those albums in the house was the massive concert document.
Over the years, all but one of the other nine made their ways to my shelves, but it took some time to get started and to finish:
American Pie, February 1989 Madman Across The Water, February 1989 Chicago at Carnegie Hall, February 1989 & June 1990 Led Zeppelin IV, March 1989 There’s A Riot Goin’ On, September 1989 Teaser & The Firecat, November 1995 Music, November 1998 Tapestry, November 1998
(Two notes: I have never owned a copy of Wild Life, and by the time I got around to the four-LP Chicago album, it was being offered as two sets of two LPs each.)
I’m not sure what conclusions can be drawn from that timeline, but the question that popped into my head as I pulled that listing together was: Are any of those albums essential listening for me in 2017?
Well, making that question hard to answer is the fact that the way we listen to music in 2017 is far different than the way it was back in 1972. We have playlists in our devices, pulling individual tracks from disparate sources. It’s a rare thing, I think, for us to listen to an album – whether current or from our youths – from start to finish. I try to do that in the car at least once a week, popping a CD in and letting it roll from the first track through the last; since it generally takes several trips to get through a CD, it’s not quite the same, but it’s a close approximation, I think.
As it happens, one of the two albums that I heard in the car this week was The Concert for Bangla Desh. It was as enjoyable this week as it was during January of 1972, and I made a mental note to see how much of its music I have among the 3,700 tracks in the iPod. As it turns out, I had pulled only four tracks from that album into the device: Leon Russell’s medley of “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Young Blood,” Billy Preston’s “That’s The Way God Planned It” and George Harrison’s performances of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Bangla Desh.”
So I guess I could say that those four are the essential tracks from that album, and maybe we should alter our question, asking instead: Which of those albums in that long ago Top Ten have tracks that are, based on the contents of the iPod, still essential to me today?
Well, almost all of them. Tapestry leads the way with six tracks in the iPod, and there are three from Music. The device has four tracks from the Led Zeppelin album, and I’ve pulled two each from the Don McLean, Elton John and Cat Stevens albums. Which leaves unrepresented from that January 1972 Top Ten the albums by Chicago and Sly & The Family Stone, meaning that – approaching our question from the other end – those two albums have for me nothing essential.
None of that accounting is surprising, of course (except maybe that four of the Zep tracks landed in the iPod). But it tells me that there twenty-three tracks that I evidently see as essential from those albums in that January 1972 Top Ten. And here’s the one that back in 1972, I would have deemed least likely to be among my essential listening. It’s “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
Well, the great LP purge is finished. Last Saturday, we took another 800 or so LPs down to Cheapo in Minneapolis, and we should get a decent check in the mail today.
When Tony at Cheapo told me the amount over the phone Sunday, I was a bit surprised. It was more than I expected for this particular batch of records.
“Well, you had some interesting stuff in there,” he said.
“What worried me,” I told him, “was all the K-Tel and Ronco stuff.”
“Yeah,” he said with a chuckle. “You didn’t get much for those.”
Altogether, I estimate that we dropped off about 2,200 LPs in our three trips to Minneapolis. How many of those Cheapo sent to the wastebasket, I don’t know. But we averaged about fifty-six cents per LP, which was nice for our savings account.
I still have about 1,000 LPs, mostly the stuff I love (some of which, like the Beatles and the Dylan collections, would sell well), and about twenty of them are in a basket near my desk where they wait to be ripped on the turntable. And I have a list of stuff I sold that I want to replicate via mp3. I’ve scavenged a few of those out in the wilds of the ’Net in the past weeks, and I’ve got a long list of CDs reserved at the local library.
This week, I was ripping some of the yearly Billboard hits CDs and some of the massive – eight CDs’ worth – history of Atlantic rhythm & blues. That’s meant a few hours each day at the computer, winnowing out old mp3s of lower bitrate or researching catalog numbers and release dates for tunes new to the digital shelves.
With the total of sorted and tagged mp3s loaded into the RealPlayer approaching 90,000, it’s difficult – as I’ve noted here before – to keep track of everything I have. So as I sort things, I’m sometimes surprised. That was the case yesterday as I wandered through my collection of work by the late Ben E. King.
I don’t have a lot of his work – thirteen tracks – but I have the obvious ones – “Stand By Me,” “Spanish Harlem” and the other hits. And I have a track that I tend to forget about that I found on the 1997 anthology One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen.
So here’s Ben E. King’s sweet cover of “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from January 7, 1967, fifty years ago today:
“I’m A Believer” by the Monkees
“Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen
“Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville
“Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band
“Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra
“That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra
“Good Thing” by Paul Revere & The Raiders
“Words of Love” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Standing In The Shadows Of Love” by the Four Tops
“Mellow Yellow” by Donovan
Still deeply into soundtracks and trumpet music at the time, about the only one of those I paid any attention to in early 1967 was “Winchester Cathedral,” and that was for two reasons: First, Rick’s older sister – or maybe one of her friends – had the record, and we’d heard it multiple times on New Year’s Eve as we whiled away the last hours of 1966. And then, being a fan of distinctive (read “odd”) music even then, I liked the faux 1920s vibe of the record.
The other nine records in that list, however, were unimportant to me although I’m sure I heard all of them as I made my way through the middle of eighth grade. From the vantage point of a half-century down the road, it’s a decent Top Ten. None of them would make me punch the button on the radio to change the station in irritation, but then, neither would any of them call me to sit in the car to hear the end of the record once I’d pulled into, say, the hardware store lot.
But then, I’m no longer dependent on the radio to hear any of those records; they’re all at my fingertips when I’m home, and I can add any of them to the iPod any time I want. In fact, that might be a better measurement of whether any of those records matter to me these days: Are they among the 3,751 tracks currently in the iPod?
As it turns out, six of them are. The four that are absent are the records by the Royal Guardsmen, Aaron Neville, the Mamas & the Papas and Donovan. That’s not a particularly surprising split, and of those four, I’m most likely to add “Mellow Yellow” to the mix, as I’ve neglected to place any Donovan at all onto the iPod.
There are others from that long-ago Hot 100 that are in the iPod, and there are likely others on the list that I’ve neglected to pull into the little appliance but should have. As I head down the list from No. 10, the first one I notice that fits into either of those categories is a record that was featured here as part of a Baker’s Dozen almost ten years ago, which is a long, long time in blog years. It was probably my favorite pop record in the first months of 1967.
So here’s “Georgy Girl” by the Seekers. Fifty years ago today, it was sitting at No. 20, having leaped up from No. 37 the week before. It would eventually spend two weeks at No. 2 (and get to No. 7 on the chart that today is called Adult Contemporary), and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
There is a temptation as we get to the end of a calendar year to offer something here to sum up the twelve months ending today and then offer good cheer as we head into another trip around the Sun. That’s not an attractive idea this morning.
Why? Well, things are unsettled both here along Lincoln Avenue and in the world at large, and I wouldn’t know what to say about any of that right now. Resolution of our local concerns may come in the first few months of the coming year, and that would be welcome. Resolution of my concerns about the world at large will take longer, and I’m not particularly hopeful.
So we’re going to leave all that alone. Instead, I’m going to carry on today on the path I’ve taken here for the last three days: Offering a tune original to the date, and today that means finding a track recorded on December 31. There are a few candidates on our digital shelves:
On this date in 1973, the Allman Brothers Band played the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and I have recordings of the entire concert, which went on for nearly four hours. I also have one track – “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” – from the Allmans’ gig a year earlier in New Orleans.
In 1963, a girl group called the Gems gathered at the Chess studios in Chicago and laid down a peppy version of a near-novelty tune: “That’s What They Put Erasers on Pencils For.” It was released as Chess 1882. The record didn’t chart, nor did it make it onto any of the 1964 surveys collected at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive.
We find two tracks recorded on this date in 1955 by Marty Robbins: “Mean Mama Blues” and “Tennessee Toddy.” They’re decent country tunes, and they were released on Columbia 21477 but did not chart.
The last of the December 31 recordings in the digital stacks (and recording date information is attached to maybe 10 percent of the nearly 90,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer) comes from a familiar source. On New Year’s Eve 1980, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band played Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Two of that evening’s performances showed up not quite five years later as tracks on the massive Live/1975–85 box set: “Held Up Without A Gun” and “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).”
Regular readers, I’m sure, already know where things are headed here. Here, recorded thirty-six years ago this evening and offered as both our year-end marker and our regular Saturday Single, is “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).”
The late autumn gods sent us snow yesterday and early this morning. Nothing odd about that in mid-December, but it is still – in technical terms – late autumn. Winter doesn’t truly begin here until the lovely time of 4:44 a.m. this coming Wednesday.
But that’s just a formality. We’ve had three pretty good snowfalls already – by that, I mean four inches or more – and although we got back to bare ground a couple days after the first one, I think we’re set now with snow cover until late February or March. And that’s fine; it’s winter in Minnesota.
And I’m taking it easier on the shoveling this season. This is our ninth winter in the house. During the previous eight, I would take care of all the shoveling in one go: Clear the top of the driveway, swoop a center path on the sidewalk along the edge of the house and from the front steps out to the street, clear the front steps and then trim the sidewalk edges with a upward and forward beveling motion of the shovel combined with a sort of crab-like backward shuffle.
(It’s likely hard to envision that edge-trimming strategy from words; one of these days, I think I’ll have the Texas Gal shoot some video. But there’s something comforting about the beveling and crab shuffle; every time I finish off our brief bit of sidewalk with that technique, I am – just for those few minutes – my father, for I learned that odd bit of sidewalk maintenance from him during the 1960s on the walk that ran along Kilian Boulevard.)
But this winter, when I can, I’m splitting the shoveling task in two: I’ll clear the top of the driveway and scrape a center path down the sidewalk (and clear the front steps while I’m at it), and then leave the beveling crab shuffle for a later trek outside. It’s easier on the body that way, and that’s something I need to keep in mind as I wander between birthdays No. 63 and No. 64. And that’s fine.
The only negative so far in this early portion of the snow season comes from an error by our new plowman. In previous winters, the guys who have snowplowed our drive have pushed the scraped snow into an open area on the west side of the garage. The grass there is pretty sketchy because of the presence of a large Norway pine. When the new fellow did his first run through, I pointed the area out to him, and he nodded.
This morning, about seven o’clock, I watched as he plowed our drive, and – as he had done earlier in the week – he pushed some snow into an area east of the drive, between the house and an oak tree. I thought to myself that he was getting awfully close to the little brick-lined garden buried under the snow near the tree. And as I prepared to head outside – still in the lounging pants and sweatshirt I use as pajamas, but never mind – I saw him push a second load of snow into the area and heard a crunch that could only have come from blade on brick.
I headed out and told him where he needed to put all the snow from now on, and I mentioned that we have a brick-lined garden there, and that he’d plowed into it. “I didn’t hear anything,” he said, shaking his head. I’m sure he didn’t. The truck is loud and the heater fan was on in the cab.
“Well, I did,” I said. “Please put all the snow up by the pine tree.” He nodded, and I went back inside. As I did, I took a quick look at the place where the bricked garden lies. Any damage to the bricks was in the area where we plant annuals because I could still see the taller perennials – lilac, spirea and red something-or-other – poking above the snow. Other than that, we’ll have to wait until the snow melts to see if there’s much damage to our little garden.
In the RealPlayer, there are forty-three tracks that have something to do with the word “brick,” ranging temporally from Fairport Convention’s 1969 album Unhalfbricking to the 2009 track “Brick by Brick” by Train. There is, of course, the Commodores’ “Brick House” as well as several versions of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” And there are four versions of a tune listed once as “(Play Something Sweet) Brickyard Blues” and three times as just “Brickyard Blues.”
We’ll go with a version of that last song by a Scottish singer named Frankie Miller. Oddly enough, on the label for Miller’s 1974 album High Life, the tune is listed as simply “Brickyard Blues,” but on the authorized video at YouTube, the title is listed as “(Play Something Sweet) Brickyard Blues.”
No matter. It’s a decent take on the tune, produced by its writer Allen Toussaint, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
I was waiting at a light on Riverside Drive last evening, heading downtown for some Mexican takeout, when a city bus rolled past, its bright interior lights outshining the early December gloom and illuminating its occupants as if they were on a stage. The bus rolled past me, heading – like me – for the bridge across the Mississippi River and downtown. And as it did, it triggered two things in me: memories of several winters riding the bus to and from work in downtown Minneapolis and an accompanying visceral sorrow.
That visceral reaction, a burst of sadness so powerful that I had to take a few deep breaths as I waited for the green light, took me aback. But it probably shouldn’t have. Those three winters when I rode the bus to work downtown – the winters from late 1995 to the spring of 1998 – were among some of the bleakest seasons of my life.
It’s worth noting here that winters in Minnesota can be bleak no matter what else is going on in a person’s life. From November to February, anyone who works a regular shift job – say 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – here in the northland will go to work in the dark and return home in the dark. That’s cause enough for a little gloominess to start with. Then add, for me and many others, the difficulty that’s now called Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the disarmingly appropriate acronym of SAD), in which the absence of light fuels depression.
To that bitter mix, add my own chronic depression (noted here recently), and then add the situational sadness over a life seemingly heading both nowhere and toward any imaginable disaster at the same time, and you have a potent brew. So you find me during those dark winters leaving my cats in the morning and heading to the bus stop to ride to downtown jobs – one supposedly permanent and the others temporary – that were not at all what I ever planned or expected. And you have me riding home in the dark of late afternoon, home to the cats and a dinner alone, home to an evening of table-top baseball, vapid television or sad music on the stereo.
Of course, not all of my music was truly sad then; those were the years – 1995 into 1998 – during which vinyl was my drug of choice, holding at bay an even worse depression than the one I found myself in. (Also helping to hold back that deeper depression were my cats, Aaron and Simmons.) But in the memory that rolled over me as I waited out the traffic light last evening, the music was as doleful as was almost all of my life back then.
So that’s what I felt last evening as I watched the city bus go past with its passengers safe in its haven of light. When I was one of those winter passengers in a much larger city twenty years ago, that bright light was no haven; the darkness of my life felt inescapable, and it seemed as if I’d lost nearly all that had been good about my life. Those long gone but so very familiar feelings rolled over me as I waited out the red light on Riverside Drive, and then they left, leaving a vague residue of uneasiness.
That residue faded as the light changed and I moved on, heading first for the Mexican take-out place and then back to the East Side and eventually up the driveway toward my dual havens, the warm lights of home and the love of my Texas Gal.
So instead of thinking, as I’d originally planned, about a melancholy man, let’s think about a song I no doubt heard during those dark winters on Pleasant Avenue, a track that might have provided some hope and solace to brighten the gloom. It’s the tentatively hopeful “Love Will Come To You,” a 1992 track by the Indigo Girls, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.