Archive for the ‘1964’ Category

Chart Digging: Four Julys

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

It seems that there were only four times during the years that interest us here that Billboard published on July 25: 1960, 1964, 1970, and 1981. The gaps between years – one remarkably short and another remarkably long – came for two reasons. First, I think that the magazine shifted its publication date from Monday to Saturday, creating the four-year gap between the first two charts we’ll look at; and then, the insertion of Leap Year Day – February 29 – into 1976 shifted days, so that July 25 moved from a Friday in 1975 to a Sunday in 1976.

All of that leads us to confirm an idea hatched here some years ago that anything that happens because of February 29 does nothing but cause trouble. Anyway, we have four instances of a Billboard Hot 100 to examine this morning, and we’re going to play some Games With Numbers, turning today’s date, 7-25, into No. 32 and see what treasures may lie at that spot in those four charts. We’ll also, as we customarily do, check out the No. 1 record for each of those weeks. So let’s get underway:

During this week in 1960, when a six-year-old whiteray was wandering through the summer before second grade, he and his pals were probably unaware of anything on the Hot 100 except perhaps Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polkadot Bikini” because the title was fun to sing and it was a little bit daring. I’m not certain what my pals knew beyond that fifty-eight years ago, but I certainly was unaware that “Pennies From Heaven” by the Skyliners was sitting at No. 32.

In Top Pop Singles, Joel Whitburn describes the group from Pittsburgh as a doo-wop outfit, and that certainly held true for 1959’s “Since I Don’t Have You,” but the group’s cover of “Pennies From Heaven” sounds more like Vegas and the Rat Pack than an East Coast serenade from a brownstone’s step. The record had peaked the week earlier at No. 24 and was on its way down the chart. It was the last of three Top 40 hits for the Skyliners, although they kept trying, releasing singles into the late 1970s.

I wasn’t listening to KDWB at the time, of course, but from what I can see at Oldiesloon, “Pennies From Heaven” never reached the station’s survey.

The No. 1 record in the Hot 100 fifty-eight years ago today was Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry.” (And in my head, I hear Golden Earring.)

We jump ahead four years to the summer of 1964, when sixth grade (and an intense crush on a young lady who lived about ten blocks south on Kilian Boulevard) was approaching but still out of sight. Parked at No. 32 fifty-four years ago today was the classic “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups, heading toward a three-week stay at No. 1. Do I remember it from then or just from repeated hearings over the years since? I have no idea (and that’s true of many records from before, oh, 1967 or so). Over the next year, the Dixie Cups placed five more records in or near the Hot 100, including the classic “Iko Iko,” which went to No. 20 in 1965. (That record, Whitburn notes, was a reworking of “Jock-O-Mo,” written and recorded in 1953 by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford & His Cane Cutters.)

At KDWB, “Chapel of Love” peaked at No. 3, parking there for three weeks.

The No. 1 record in the Hot 100 fifty-four summers ago this week was “Rag Doll” by the Four Seasons.

By the summer of 1970, the next time Billboard released a Hot 100 on July 25, I was a dedicated Top 40 listener, so one would expect familiarity at No. 32. And that’s just what we get with “In The Summertime” by Mungo Jerry. The record came from a skiffle band from England, with Ray Dorset on vocals, and it was seemingly everywhere that summer, reaching No. 3 in the Hot 100. (It also went to No. 30 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.) But I’m not altogether sure where I heard it, as the record never made the KDWB 6+30 survey, according to the lists at Oldiesloon. Well, no matter where I heard it, it seemed to be everywhere, and the lines “If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal. If her daddy’s poor, just do what you feel,” seem now to be awful advice.

As it happens, “In The Summertime” is a perfect one-hit wonder, as the group never had any other records reach the Hot 100 or even bubble under.

(As the note below from faithful reader Yah Shure makes clear, “In The Summertime” did get plenty of air play on KDWB, which is what I recalled. I clearly messed up the search somehow and did not trust my memory and look again. Note added August 7, 2018.)

The No. 1 record in the July 25, 1970, Hot 100 was “(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters.

And from 1970, we jump to July 25, 1981, smack in the middle of one of the six summers I spent as a reporter for the Monticello Times. As I’ve noted many times more than once here, I was listening less and less to Top 40 during those days, first because I had less leisure time and also because I liked what I was hearing less and less. Still, I do remember that week’s No. 32 record, “America” by Neil Diamond.

One of three Top Ten hits from Diamond’s movie The Jazz Singer, “America” had peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100 and spent three weeks on the top of the Adult Contemporary chart. (The other two hits from the movie were “Love On The Rocks,” which went to No. 2, and “Hello Again,” which peaked at No. 6.) Diamond, of course, had a lengthy list of records in the Billboard charts, with the 2009 edition of Top Pop Singles showing fifty-six records in the Hot 100.

There are no 1981 surveys from KDWB at Oldiesloon, nor are there any from WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other Top 40 station.

Sitting at No. 1 thirty-seven years ago today was “The One That You Love” by Air Supply.

Chart Digging: Four Julys

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

It’s time to dig into some Billboard Hot 100s from a few different Julys. We’re going to play some Games With Numbers and turn today’s date – 7/11/18 – into 36, and check out the No. 36 record on four charts, starting in 1976 and heading back four years at a time.

As we customarily do when we play these games, we’ll check out the No. 1 record for those weeks at the same time.

The second week of July 1976 found the country recovering from its Bicentennial celebration, the climax of what seemed at the time to have been about five years of preparation and marketing. If you didn’t have something Bicentennial themed in your house, you were either unpatriotic or worse, a spoilsport. Anyway, just less than a week after the hoopla reached its climax, the No. 36 record in the Hot 100 was a discofied version of one of the greatest and most familiar pieces of classical music: “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band, which was heading up the charts to No. 1. (It would reach No. 10 on the magazine’s R&B chart and No. 13 on what was then called the Easy Listening chart.)

It was the only Top 40 hit for Murphy, who had been an arranger for Doc Severinsen and the orchestra for The Tonight Show. (That means there’s only one degree of separation, as folks say, between me and Murphy, as I’ve met Doc Severinsen twice.). Two other releases, “Flight ’76,” based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” and 1982’s “Themes from E.T. (The Extra-terrestrial),” went to Nos. 44 and 47 respectively. And Murphy’s condensed and discofied take on George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 102 in early 1977.

The No. 1 record during the second week of July 1976 was “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band.

Heading back four years from that puts us in the summer of 1972, when I was working half-time as a janitor and planning a trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, with my pals Rick and Gary. (The ease with which we crossed from the U.S. into Canada that summer now astounds me. We showed the Canadian officials our driver’s licenses and the hand-written letter my dad had supplied that gave us his permission to take my 1961 Falcon – which Dad technically owned – across the border. Returning to Minnesota a few days later was just as easy. Simpler times.) Anyway, the No. 36 record as our plans for our trip were taking shape was a pairing of song and singer that itself echoed a time a decade earlier that in 1972 seemed much simpler: “Sealed With A Kiss” by Bobby Vinton.

Vinton’s version doesn’t stray far from the feel of Brian Hyland’s 1962 version that went to No. 3, and both are appreciably less mournful – to my ears, anyway – than the non-charting 1960 original by the Four Voices. Vinton’s version was on its way to No. 19 (No. 2, Easy Listening) during the second week of July. It was the thirty-eighth record Vinton had in or near the Hot 100 in a ten year period. He’d add eleven more through 1981 before the hits ran out.

Parked at No. 1 that week in 1972 was Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”

We’ve dallied a lot in recent months in the memorable year of 1968, but a four-year retreat from 1972 finds us there once again. And – as I’ve noted here many times before – it was likely around this time that I spent four days working at the state trap shoot, getting dirty with tar dust and listening to the radio for eight or so hours each day. Nevertheless, I don’t recall KDWB offering me Wilson Pickett’s “I’m A Midnight Mover” during those four days. It was sitting at No. 36 fifty years ago this week, and if I heard it then, if just didn’t make an impression, which – based on a listening this morning – seems unlikely.

The record peaked at No. 24 on the Hot 100 (and at No. 6 on the R&B chart), one of the forty-three records Pickett placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1963 and 1973 (with forty of his records reaching the R&B Top 40).

The No. 1 record during that week in July 1968 was “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert.

Whatever I may have been doing during in early July 1964, it hasn’t stuck in my memory. I was ten, with sixth grade at Lincoln Elementary on the horizon, and I was probably just finishing up summer school. That might have been the year my summer classmates and I were featured in the Shopping News for building a fake igloo for our studies on Alaska. In any case, I’m sure I spent a lot of time with Rick, both of us lazing away summer days in a way that I’m certain kids these days are not allowed to do. We didn’t really listen to pop music then, but we no doubt heard it when we were around older kids. Still, I would guess that Terry Stafford’s “I’ll Touch A Star” – the No. 36 record fifty-four years ago this week – was something we missed.

The record was Stafford’s follow-up to his No. 3 hit, “Suspicion,” and like that record, it was a bit of traditional pop in a time when the charts were mixing traditional pop and R&B and English hits and surf sounds and light jazz in such a way that listening to a Top 40 station would have been an adventure. “I’ll Touch A Star” peaked at No. 25 (No. 4 Easy Listening, where, surprisingly, “Suspicion” had failed to chart). Stafford had only one more record tickle the Hot 100: “Follow The Rainbow” bubbled under at No. 101 later that summer in 1964. He went on to place a few records in the bottom half of the country Top 40 in the 1970s.

The No. 1 record during the second week of July in 1964 was “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys.

(It’s interesting to note that – based on a little bit of digging – this post marks the first time that I’ve ever featured the music of Terry Stafford, Bobby Vinton or Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band. I’ve mentioned Vinton frequently and Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band a few times. Until today, I’ve never mentioned Terry Stafford over the course of some 2,100 posts.)

Saturday Single No. 586

Saturday, April 14th, 2018

We’re in a pocket of quiet as I write, with only a few flakes of snow drifting past the downstairs window. According to the Weather Channel and the folks at one of the Twin Cities television stations, though, sometime soon the snow will pick up and we’ll be getting maybe an inch an hour for the rest of the day and on into the night.

But I wonder. All of the radar projections I see have us on the north edge of the storm. It might not be as heavy a load as those folks are saying. We may have escaped the wrath of Winter Storm Xanto.

Xanto?

Yep, that’s the name that the Weather Channel slapped on this storm. According to a piece at Wikipedia, the cable channel has been naming storms since the winter of 2012-2013. Since we’re down to “Xanto” for this winter, that means that the storm that’s swirling around the Midwest today and tonight and then heading east is the twenty-fourth named storm of the season.

And the list of this winter’s storm names looks to me – with a few exceptions – like the class list for a Kindergarten teacher five or six years hence: Aiden, Benji, Chloe, Dylan, Ethan, Frankie, Grayson, Hunter, Inga, Jaxon, Kalani, Liam, Mateo, Noah, Oliver, Polly, Quinn, Riley, Skylar, Toby, Uma, Violet, Wilbur, Xanto, Yvonne, and Zoey.

The only two of those I doubt will show up in a Kindergarten class somewhere are Wilbur and Xanto. Well, you never know. But Wilbur seems too . . . Well, it reminds me of our rat and of the 1960s television show about a talking horse, Mister Ed. I hated the show, and I loved our rat. And according to the chart at babycenter.com, it’s not that popular a name these days, ranking No.11,685 (in the U.S., I assume) among baby boys’ names in 2017 and No. 10,312 among baby girls’ names in 2016 (with no data listed for 2017).

Then, Xanto. The website babycenter.com has no information on the name. Over at Baby Names, we learn that “The meaning of the name Xanto is ‘Golden’. The origin of the name Xanto is Italian.” And the name is not ranked in lists of births in the U.S. Still, I imagine some parent somewhere in the U.S. has – or soon will – name a child Xanto.

And as I’ve wandered among the names of winter storms and babies, Xanto’s wind and snow has returned. It looks unpleasant out there. So let’s celebrate Xanto and look through the digital stacks for something Italian and golden.

Well, it’s a stretch, but sometimes we must be elastic. Wikipedia informs us that conductor and arranger Don Costa was of Italian heritage, and in 1964, Costa released an easy listening album titled The Golden Touch. And to my ears, the best track on the album is Costa’s cover of Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity.” So in honor of Winter Storm Xanto, from Don Costa’s album The Golden Touch, “Town Without Pity” is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 548

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

So, San Francisco songs . . .

One that shows up eleven times here on the EITW digital shelves is “San Francisco Bay Blues,” originally recorded in 1954 by Jesse Fuller and released the next year on Working On The Railroad, a 10-inch vinyl release. It doesn’t sound at all like the blues, as you likely know, being much more jaunty with a more complex chordal structure.

I could probably write several posts about Fuller, who was born in Georgia in 1896 and died in Oakland, California, in 1976. After years of working numerous jobs – many of those years spent working for the Southern Pacific Railroad (according to Wikipedia) – he began working as a musician in the early 1950s. Here’s what Wikipedia says about his music:

Starting locally, in clubs and bars in San Francisco and across the bay in Oakland and Berkeley, Fuller became more widely known when he performed on television in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles. In 1958, at the age of 62, he recorded with his first album, released by Good Time Jazz Records. Fuller’s instruments included 6-string guitar (an instrument which he had abandoned before the beginning of his one-man band career), 12-string guitar, harmonica, kazoo, cymbal (high-hat) and fotdella. He could play several instruments simultaneously, particularly with the use of a headpiece to hold a harmonica, kazoo, and microphone. In addition, he would generally include at least one tap dance, soft-shoe, or buck and wing in his sets, accompanying himself on a 12-string guitar as he danced. His style was open and engaging. In typical busker’s fashion he addressed his audiences as “ladies and gentlemen,” told humorous anecdotes, and cracked jokes between songs.

The fotdella mentioned in that passage is what most folks remember about Fuller beyond “San Francisco Bay Blues.” The instrument was basically a foot-operated bass instrument, with bass piano strings struck by the use of pedals. (See photo below.)

Jesse Fuller

As for “San Francisco Bay Blues,” the website Second Hand Songs lists 55 recorded versions. There’s at least one more out there (most likely more than that), but that’s a good place to start. The first cover listed there came from Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in 1957. The Journeymen, the Weavers, Tom Rush, the New World Singers, Joe & Eddie, and Burl Bailey & The Six Shooters all followed in 1963. The most recent cover listed there is from Tommy Thomsen in 2015.

The versions here include one by Elliott from 1961, one by Fuller live at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, and versions by Richie Havens, Glenn Yarbrough, Hot Tuna, Phoebe Snow, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Peter, Paul & Mary. I also have a version by a group called the Nomads. That one was released on the Pharos label in 1964 (with “Oh, Jennie” on the flip), and the record label as shown for both tracks at Discogs notes something intriguing: “Produced by Jackie DeShannon.”

That version of the Nomads – one of at least twenty-seven groups with that name whose records are cataloged at Discogs – had already released “Last Summer Day/Icky Poo” on the Prelude label in 1963 (both available on YouTube). And a cursory bit of searching brings nothing more about the group this morning than a mention in a biography of DeShannon of her producing the group, which we already knew.

I might dig for more as time moves on, but what we know – along with the record’s traditional kazoo solo – is good enough for me: “San Francisco Bay Blues” by the Nomads is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 536

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

So, a chance to breathe. And to rewind to two weeks ago today, when I headed over to my recently discovered barber shop, Barbers on Germain, where Russ has been clear-cutting my scalp since sometime early this year.

On the way over – not far; just across the Mississippi and west about a mile – I slid into the CD player a Time-Life anthology of hits from 1964, and as I drove, up popped Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” I knew the record, but only a little, not nearly as well as I know his 1950s work that was a major part of the foundation of rock ’n’ roll, the records like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and the rest.

And I realized – not for the first time – that I’d not offered anything here to note Chuck Berry’s passing on March 18. Over the years here, I’ve noted the passing of many artists, but I imagine that if I were to take the time to track out the subjects of those pieces, my choices of which artists’ passings to note might seem idiosyncratic. That’s likely no surprise. But to ignore Chuck Berry?

So I thought, as I headed up the sidewalk to Barbers on Germain with the strains of “You Never Can Tell” running through my head – “C’est la vie,” say the old folks. “It goes to show you never can tell.” – that I should probably do something here about the man and his music. Well, c’est la vie, indeed. The following Monday was the start of two weeks of dealing with changes in my mom’s life, as I noted here yesterday.

I’m not going to say that Chuck Berry’s music, life and passing are now old news: The edition of Rolling Stone that came into my mailbox yesterday has Berry on the cover. But I’ve read too many tributes to the man at too many blogs and online publications in the past month to have any assurances that whatever I offer here would be anything other than echoes of those pieces.

So I think back to that drive to the barber shop. As “You Never Can Tell” came out of the speaker, I thought about Dave Marsh’s comments in his 1989 ranking of the top 1,001 singles, The Heart of Rock & Soul. He ranked “You Never Can Tell” at No. 341, writing:

Chuck returned from doing time on his trumped-up Mann Act charge in 1964 as if his flow of hits had never been interrupted. The new batch included two of his finest, “Promised Land” and “You Never Can Tell.”

“You Never Can Tell” makes an obvious break with Berry’s earlier format, not so much by prominently featuring Johnny Johnson’s piano as by using it with a New Orleans-style beat.

Had prison altered Chuck’s gifts in any way? Nah, he was bitter and hostile before he went in. And still a poet when he came out. How else explain: “They furnished off an apartment with a two-room Roebuck sale / The coolerator was crammed with teevee dinners and ginger ale.” It may not read as great as it sings, but then, neither does the rhythm of everyday life.

So here, to catch up and to offer my respect and thanks to Chuck Berry, is “You Never Can Tell.” It went to No. 14 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

(Quotation corrected after first posting.)

‘Another Shipment’

Friday, November 18th, 2016

One of the things I didn’t mention earlier this week about last weekend’s cabaret performances was my voice: As Friday and early Saturday passed, I had a persistent frog in my throat. The only thing that seemed to keep it at bay was a decongestant, and even then, my voice felt rough.

As showtime approached Saturday, my voice was raspy, and a new package of decongestant – a different brand than my usual – wasn’t working well. So on my way to StudioJeff, I stopped at the nearby grocery store and wandered over to the cough drops. I was looking for the store brand to save a few dimes, but every package of the store brand contained menthol, which I dislike at least a little.

So I went to the brand names, and there were the Luden’s wild cherry flavored drops. I bought a bag, and in the car, I popped one of the drops in my mouth. And the flavor took me back more than fifty years.

At Lincoln Elementary School in the mid-1960s, neither chewing gum nor candy was allowed in class. (The same would hold true when we headed off to South Junior High, although at St. Cloud Tech High School, students could chew gum. I have no idea what’s restricted or allowed these days.) There were, however, what one could call medical exceptions. A student with a sore throat was allowed to chew Aspergum, an orange-flavored gum that contained aspirin and actually did soothe the soreness. It wasn’t much of a treat, however, as the orange flavor did not last long, and the gum quickly became a grainy glob in one’s mouth. Another exception was cough drops; whether cough drops had any medicinal value, I don’t know, but they did tend to soothe raspy throats.

And some of them tasted pretty good. Cherry was the preferred flavor among the twenty or so students in my sixth grade class during the 1964-65 school year, but there was some dispute about brand preference: Some of the kids preferred the Smith Brothers brand, while others held to Luden’s. One of the Luden’s fans in my class was a kid named Mike.

And one morning when he had a nagging cough from a cold, Mike ran out of cough drops. Knowing that I walked home for lunch each day and knowing as well that my five-block route took me right past the little grocery store on Fifth Avenue Southeast, Mike asked if I could pick up a box of cough drops for him on the way. The drops cost fifteen cents, or about a penny each, if I recall correctly (as opposed to the $2.50 or so I paid for a bag of thirty last weekend), and Mike gave me a quarter. He said I could keep the dime.

And from then on for about a month, I was Mike’s cough drop runner. Two or three times a week, he’d hand me a quarter during morning recess and say, “I need another shipment,” and shortly before one o’clock that afternoon, I’d hand him a box of Luden’s cherry cough drops. It didn’t take long before Miss Hulteen – our sixth grade teacher and the principal of Lincoln Elementary – figured out that Mike’s cold and resulting cough had gone away and he no longer needed his cough drops. And after a little further observation on her part, we were busted.

I don’t think the disciplinary outcomes were too severe. I imagine our parents were called, but I truly don’t remember, which tells me that there were no major penalties. I just stopped buying cough drops for Mike. And I had to quit buying whatever it was that I bought with the ten cents I’d netted from each shipment (most likely Sour Grapes bubble gum, one of my favorites of the time).

And just to throw some music out there that has a temporal (and flavorful) connection to my tale, here’s “Up Cherry Street” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. It’s from the 1964 album South of the Border, and it wound up as the B-side of the “South of the Border” single in 1965. The single didn’t hit the Billboard charts, but the album went to No. 6.

‘Tougher’

Friday, September 16th, 2016

I don’t remember the product – probably Excedrin – but I remember the commercial:

A thirty-something woman dressed in her best Eighties office clothes strides along the street and tells the camera (and those of us who were watching): “Life got tougher.”

And she catalogs all the ways life in 1982 (I think) was so much harder than it had been, oh, maybe ten years earlier. And then tries to sell us something to ease the resulting headache.

Back in its day, I used a reference to that commercial as a lead paragraph for an editorial at the Monticello Times, writing about how we cope with the harsh realities of life and how we sometimes don’t. And it came to mind the other day. My mom was in the hospital for a few days this week with pneumonia. She’s recovering, and she’s been transferred to a short-stay care facility for some physical therapy with the hopes of rebuilding her strength and balance so she can return to her apartment in her assisted living center.

I think she’s going to be okay. But my week has been a little stressful: getting her to the hospital and then to the short-stay facility; talking to doctors, nurses, physical therapists, social workers and case managers at both facilities; making decisions about her preferred location on the fly; keeping my sister informed about it all; taking care of some things for church; and keeping our house running as smoothly as possible. It’s been wearying. And during one of these days as I was driving from one place to another, I thought about that 1982 commercial.

And I thought, “Lady, if you thought life was tough thirty-four years ago when you were in your thirties, just wait.”

Then I thought for a bit more as I drove, and I realized that had that fictional woman in the commercial actually been living a big city, power-suit life, going home to a husband and kids in the suburbs, she’d now be – like me – in her early sixties. She’d probably be thinking about retirement and Medicare, worrying about her adult children and maybe indulging her grandchildren, and very possibly caring in one way or another for an elderly parent or two.

So, yeah, life got tougher.

But you know, maybe it’s always been this tough, and we Baby Boomers – the vast majority of whom, if we’re honest, had it pretty good and were pretty sheltered for our first twenty or so years – just didn’t know. That would explain the surprise and frustration proclaimed in that 1982 commercial, a proclamation that echoed what we were feeling out there in consumer-land, for the ways in which things are sold to us is a good a mirror of who we are.

You want tough? Consider my folks’ early years: Wall Street crashed and triggered the Great Depression during the year my dad turned eleven and my mom turned nine. Dad went into the army in the late 1930s, about the time my mom was teaching elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse with a woodstove for heat and no running water. Then came World War II. And then things got better, but it still took a lot of hard work.

So yeah, in 1982, life probably got tougher for us as we were dealing with the realities of the adult world that maybe surprised us as a generation. But you know, I have a sense that life has always been tough and we learn that as we mature and grow older; and we need to remember that there are times that are not as tough as others.

So all of that is what I’ve been pondering as I make my way from one task to another this week, aware through the worry, the frustration and the fatigue that maybe life got tougher for me, yeah, but I’m coping, as most of us find a way to do.

And here are Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men with “Times Are Getting Tougher Than Tough” from 1964.

The Other Ray Charles

Friday, August 5th, 2016

As has been noted here several times over the years, my dad wasn’t a big music fan. He’d listen to the radio some – mostly in his old 1952 Ford or when he was puttering at his workbench in the basement – with the dial tuned either to WCCO from the Twin Cities or to the country sounds of WVAL from nearby Sauk Rapids.

And after we got the portable RCA stereo in mid-1964 – it sat awkwardly on the floor in the living room or on a shelf in the dining room until the rec room in the basement was finished in 1967 – Dad bought a few records, but not many. When we cleared stuff out of the house on Kilian in 2004, I brought home fifty-some records, most of them classical recordings Dad got through the Musical Heritage Society, the ones he said that my sister and I would be glad to have someday. (He was right.)

Along with those came a number of easy listening albums, several of which I recalled clearly from the mid-1960s. I even knew where he bought them.

If you were to ask anyone who lived through the 1960s in St. Cloud where the center of downtown was, I’d guess most folks would answer “Dan Marsh Drugs.” Opened in the 1930s at the corner of St. Germain – St. Cloud’s equivalent of Main Street – and Sixth Avenue, Dan MarshDan Marsh Drugs cropped was where we – and a lot of other Cloudians – went for prescriptions and other health aids; for cigarettes and pipe tobacco and smoking accessories, for soap and perfume and similar sundries; for cameras, film and flashbulbs; for school supplies; for gifts for any occasion; and, especially after the store expanded in the mid-1960s, for Hallmark greeting cards and similar ephemera.

When you tired of shopping, you could grab refreshments in the coffee shop. (For decades, until the store closed during the 1980s, the coffee shop was also the place for many students from two nearby high schools – St. Cloud Tech and Cathedral – to gather after school for cherry cokes and French fries.)

And you could buy records there, too.

There weren’t a lot of LPs at Dan Marsh, and they were generally on what I’d consider second-line labels. I wrote long ago about Dad buying an album called Ringo at Dan Marsh, knowing I liked the Lorne Greene single; that album, and a couple others I remember, were on the Wyncote label. Another that I pulled off the shelf this morning – covers of themes from spy movies – was on the Design label.

And one day he brought home an album that sounded promising, titled Young Lovers In Far Away Places by the Ray Charles Singers, this one on the Somerset label. Now, I would have been eleven or twelve at the time, but for as little as I cared about pop music, I knew about Ray Charles. I’d likely seen him on television one time or another, and I although I couldn’t have identified his music as soul or R&B, I knew I liked what he did. So I was prepared to like the record.

(I already liked the jacket, with its minimalist design and the photo of the pretty and clearly sophisticated blonde giving her companion an unmistakably sultry look.)

Dad put the record on the stereo. The first track was “Far Away Places,” and it was soft and sweet with pretty voices and pretty backing and not at all what I would have expected – even with my limited musical awareness – from Ray Charles. And the whole record was like that, soft and pretty. I was confused, but I did nothing to clarify things. I just ignored the record. I doubt that I put it on the turntable again, or even thought much about it until Dad’s records came to me in 2004.

And then, as I went through Dad’s records, I looked at the jacket and the pretty blonde and the name of the group, and I nodded. By then, I’d become aware that there was another Ray Charles, one who wasn’t a soul and R&B singer but who was instead a songwriter, arranger and conductor, mostly for television. His Ray Charles Singers, according to Wikipedia, had performed on Perry Como’s television show (and on Como’s records, too), and began recording their own albums in 1959. “Due to advances in recording technology,” says Wikipedia, “they were able to create a softer sound than had been heard before and this was the birth of what has been called ‘easy listening’.”

Well, I think there were more midwives to the birth of easy listening than the Ray Charles Singers. I think of 101 Strings, formed in 1957, and of the Ray Conniff Singers, which began recording in 1959. Jackie Gleason’s orchestra was releasing records in the mid-1950s, and Mantovani’s recording career began in the late 1940s. And those are just off the top of my head. But there’s no doubt that the work of the other Ray Charles and his singers fit right into the easy listening music that a good chunk of the American public liked to hear at home.

And I like Young Lovers In Far Away Places today far more than I did in 1965. (And, of course, I still like the other Ray Charles, too, the one who sang “I’ve Got A Woman” and all that soul and R&B stuff.)

Here’s “Far Away Places” by the Ray Charles Singers.

Saturday Single No. 500

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

Ah, that’s a nice round number, 500 is. And I thought of finding a special tale to go with it, but all we’re going to do here today is talk about a box of records, which is appropriate enough.

Actually, we’ll start with ten boxes of records, the ten that the Texas Gal and I hauled down to Minneapolis about a week ago. I’d spent some hours sorting, as I noted some weeks earlier, and was running out of room in which to work. So we decided that I’d box up the records I’d already pulled off the shelves for sale and head down to Cheapo in Minneapolis.

The records in those ten boxes generally included work from artists starting with Abba and ending with Chuck Jackson. I kept about a third of them, including lots of Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin and Jackson Browne as well as stuff by more obscure artists and groups. I also sorted a couple of crates of box sets, ranging from Fillmore: The Last Days to Cocktail Piano Time, one of seven Reader’s Digest collections I inherited from my dad; I kept all seven.

I should note that even though my first batch of sorted albums covered the main stacks from A to J, I keep the Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Band on a separate shelf. And to paraphrase the Bard of Hibbing, they ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Anyway, a little more than a week ago, we made our way into south Minneapolis, to the new Cheapo location. Tony, the record buyer, said he remembered me from my more slender days when I was in the old location two or three times a week, and he said he’d try to get back to us with a total sales figure in a day or two.

We weren’t sure what to expect. I knew Tony and Cheapo would be fair; I’d done enough business there over the years to trust him and the company. I also knew that there were quite a few things in those ten liquor boxes that would be nice finds for a digger: Some Jimi Hendrix albums bought new and played only once. The same with Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, Cream, Creedence, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead and Earth, Wind & Fire. There were about 650 records altogether in those ten boxes,and I was estimating we’d get maybe $300, not quite fifty cents per LP.

The Texas Gal wasn’t so sure. “I was thinking,” she told me, “that you tend to over-value your collection, so I was expecting maybe $150 overall.”

By the time we got back to St. Cloud, Tony had called, asking me to give him a call. I did, and he told me that he’d mail us a check for $405. Thrilled, I posted the news on Facebook. One of those who saw the post was my sister, and she called me a couple of days ago and asked if we were going to make another trip to Cheapo anytime soon. Yeah, I told her, as soon as I get another ten boxes ready to go; the records heading out are in bins on the floor waiting to be boxed.

She said she was coming to St. Cloud to see our mom the next day and wondered if she could drop off a box of records for me to include in the next batch we sell. “You’re welcome to anything in the box, of course,” she added. “There’s some easy listening stuff, lots of Ferrante & Teicher.”

“Oh, good!” I said

There was a moment of bemused bafflement and a chuckle. “Anyway,” she went on, “just use what you can and sell the rest.”

She dropped off the box the next day while we were at a doctor’s appointment, and I happily went through it. Some of the records I recognized as LPs she’d owned before she got married and moved away from Kilian Boulevard in 1972: A record titled Gaité Parisienne with music by Offenbach and Gounod, a recording of “The 1812 Overture” by the London Symphony, and albums by Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, the Lettermen and Ray Conniff.

And there was a lot of stuff that I can trace back to my brother-in-law’s tastes during the late 1960s and early 1970s: the aforementioned Ferrante & Teicher albums (seven of them), and albums by Paul Mauriat, Tony Mottola, Tommy (Snuff) Garrett, the Ventures, Billy Strange, Roger Williams, Andy Williams, Frankie Carle and the pairing of Glen Campbell and Bobbie Gentry.

(I’ve written several times about my sister’s album collection as it existed in early 1972, and there are a fair number of albums I recall from that time that did not end up in the box left at our doorstep. She held on – understandably – to albums by Glenn Yarbrough, Leo Kottke and Cat Stevens, among others. And, also understandably, she kept her copy of Traditional Jewish Memories. And that’s fine. I have all of those in one form or another, and I understand how we sort the cherished and loved from the simply liked.)

I’ll keep some of the records my sister left here – Gaité Parisienne, the Streisand, the Conniff, “The 1812 Overture” and a few others. The rest will go to Cheapo, but before they do, I’m going to rip a lot of them to mp3s, including several of the Ferrante & Teicher albums and a lot of the other easy listening. That project started yesterday, when I pulled the 1967 compilation The Best Of Billy Strange from the box.

It was in very good shape for being nearly fifty years old, and it was a lot of fun. Maybe my favorite track was the final one, Strange’s take on the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run.” It was included on his 1964 album The James Bond Theme, and along with some nifty surf guitar runs, it includes a few fitting Bondian flourishes. And for all that, it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 493

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

Wandering about the wilderness this morning in search of inspiration, I made my way to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, often a good place to find a nugget that points the way to a vein to be mined.

And I found something. It’s not the mother lode, but it’s something, and it leads the way to a group with a couple of Top 40 hits that has nevertheless managed to remain unmentioned during the nine-plus years I’ve been throwing stuff at the walls in this space.

I decided to scan the lengthy list of weekly surveys issued by the Twin Cities’ WDGY over the years. As I’ve noted before, KDWB was the Cities’ station where I got my fix. The only time I ever heard WDGY was when I wandered by the station’s booth during my youthful trips to the Minnesota State Fair, as we couldn’t hear the station in St. Cloud. The differences between the two stations’ playlists, as I’ve learned from other excursions to ARSA, are generally negligible, but it’s fun to have a doughnut from a different bakery once in a while.

So I scanned the list of WDGY’s survey dates and No. 1 records for early 1964, and saw what would be called an anomaly:

1964-02-01 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-02-08 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-02-15 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-02-15 Beatles / I Saw Her Standing There
1964-02-22 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-02-22 Beatles / I Saw Her Standing There
1964-02-29 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-02-29 Beatles / I Saw Her Standing There
1964-03-07 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-03-07 Beatles / I Saw Her Standing There
1964-03-14 Beatles / I Want To Hold Your Hand
1964-03-14 Beatles / I Saw Her Standing There
1964-03-21 Beatles / She Loves You
1964-03-28 Beatles / Twist And Shout
1964-04-04 Beatles / Twist And Shout
1964-04-11 Serendipity Singers / Don’t Let The Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man)
1964-04-18 Beatles / Can’t Buy Me Love
1964-04-25 Beatles / Can’t Buy Me Love
1964-05-02 Beatles / Can’t Buy Me Love
1964-05-09 Beatles / P.S. I Love You
1964-05-09 Beatles / Love Me Do
1964-05-16 Beatles / Love Me Do
1964-05-16 Beatles / P.S. I Love You
1964-05-23 Beatles / Love Me Do
1964-05-23 Beatles / P.S. I Love You

The fact that the Beatles dominated the top spot in WDGY’s survey at the time is not remarkable; that was happening all over the country. The fact that a record came along and broke the chain is not remarkable, either. That was bound to happen.

But the Serendipity Singers? Described by Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles as a “pop-folk-novelty group” that hailed from Boulder, Colorado, the Singers, in 1964 and 1965, had two records reach the Billboard Top 40 and three more bubble under the Hot 100. Their music was slickly produced commercial folk, similar to – if less good than – the stuff that the New Christy Minstrels and the Seekers were putting out during pretty much the same time frame.

It’s not bad music, but that’s not the point. It’s just that the band’s appearance in the above list – as the breakers of the streak, as it were – is so unlikely. Given what I know and remember about the early months of 1964, if I’d been asked which record would butt into the Beatles’ long stretch, I’d have offered Louis Armstrong’s “Hello, Dolly!” And if I’d been looking at KDWB’s surveys, I’d have been correct: Armstrong ended a twelve-week Beatles’ streak there in the first week of May 1964.

The other thing that struck me – and that took a bit of digging – was that WDGY was one of the few stations that saw “Don’t Let The Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man)” reach the top spot in their surveys. From what I could tell this morning – and this ain’t a dissertation, so my research might have missed something – the Serendipity Singers’ record topped surveys that season at just three other stations: WAKY in Louisville, KQV in Pittsburgh and the mighty WLS in Chicago.

As to the national charts, “Don’t Let The Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man)” went to No. 6 in the Hot 100. (The Singers’ only other Hot 100 hit was “Beans In My Ears,” which went to No. 30 later that same spring.)

So here are WDGY’s Beatle-beaters, the Serendipity Singers, whose “Don’t Let The Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man)” is today’s Saturday Single.