Archive for the ‘1964’ Category

‘Go Now!’

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

So what have I been doing lately, besides misreading data and taking away a No. 1 hit from Paul McCartney and Wings by saying “Listen To What The Man Said” peaked in Billboard at No. 13?

(In my defense, well, I’m battling my annual summer sinus infection, and the files I have for the weekly Hot 100 are not always clear. But I really have no defense, as within ten feet of where I sit as I write, there are at least five reference books that would have given me the correct information; and there’s always Wikipedia. I just blew it.)

Other than making stupid mistakes, I’ve been sorting CDs that have come in the mail. As I noted the other day, I’m expanding my collection of the Moody Blues in hopes that I can craft a series of posts assessing the band’s work, probably in three different temporal segments. Those would be the band’s beginnings as a British R&B band in the mid-1960s, the evolution from that phase into pop culture’s mystics and seers from 1967 into 1972, and the less mystical and sometimes less complex music the Moodies released from 1978 through 1999, when Strange Times was released.

(The group released December in 2003, and as I’ve noted over the years, I don’t really do Christmas music, but I’m pondering at least adding the album to the stacks and making a comment or two about it. I don’t know.)

I said I was sorting CDs. All the albums I ordered last week have arrived. The last to get here came yesterday. The Magnificent Moodies CD release has lots of bonus material, offering the group’s 1965 album as it was presented in the U.K. as well as various singles and B-sides that, as I had hoped, include the material that was slipped onto the group’s first U.S. album in place of some of the tracks from the U.K. edition.

So I have lots of listening to do as well as some research. I also have to keep my regular appointments with my physical therapists (and continue to find time to do my home exercises so my visits with those therapists are not wastes of my time or theirs). So let’s get started! We’ll begin at an obvious place: The Moody Blues’ first hit, “Go Now!”

Written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett, “Go Now” was first recorded by R&B singer Bessie Banks in 1963 and, Wikipedia says, released in early 1964 on the Blue Cat label, the R&B and soul imprint of Red Bird, owned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Banks’ original reached No. 40 on the Billboard R& B chart.

The Moody Blues recorded “Go Now!” – adding an exclamation point to the song’s title – during the summer of 1964. (An unreleased first version of the song, dated to July 24, 1964, is included in the bonus material on the CD of The Magnificent Moodies.) The single was released in the U.K. in in November 1964 and in the U.S. in January 1965, says Wikipedia.

The website notes, without citation, that “[i]n contrast to other songs from their debut album The Magnificent Moodies, ‘Go Now!’ contained many early elements of what later would become progressive rock, such as the lush instrumentation, the innovative variations of the Fifties Progression, as well as strong baroque elements that would later become hallmarks of progressive rock.”

The so-called “Fifties Progression” is, of course, the I-vi-IV-V pattern (C-Am-F-G in the key of C) used in many songs over the years, perhaps most notably in doo-wop. And maybe it’s me, but I don’t hear much of that in the Moodies’ “Go Now!” I hear more of a partial reliance in both verses and choruses on a descending bass pattern and the resulting chord progression that comes from that. The rest of that quote from Wikipedia makes sense, though.

The single was a major hit in the U.K. reaching No. 1 in late January 1965; in the U.S., it entered the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-February and peaked at No. 10. Here’s “Go Now!”

‘Beatles ’65’ & The Long-Ago Photo

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

Here I am in December 1964, sporting my Beatle wig and offering my mock assessment of Beatles ’65, which my sister and I had just received for Christmas. This long-sought photo, with “Christmas 1964” written on the back in my dad’s handwriting, answers a question that had been hanging in the air for more than ten years.

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In October of 2008, I wrote:

One of our family traditions at Christmas during my childhood was that just before we left St. Cloud for the three-hour drive to my grandparents’ home, either my mom or my dad would go back into the house to check on something. While in the house, Mom or Dad would pull from a closet two additional gifts, unwrapped, and place one on my bed and one on my sister’s bed, evidence we’d find when we came home from Grandpa’s that Santa Claus had not overlooked us just because we’d been out of town.

The gifts we found on our beds were generally toys and games, standard 1960s childhood fare. Twice, my sister and I shared gifts: One year, we each found the end of a ribbon on our beds, and found the ribbons attached to the game Geography, a game we enjoyed for many years. In December of 1965, we each found an envelope, containing pieces of a note that had been cut up. We quickly realized we each had only half a note and combined our pieces. The note read:

“We come to thee from across the sea
“With melodies quite rare.
“Which you will find if you look
“There or there.”

We looked at each other, digesting the meaning of Dad’s bit of doggerel.

“It’s a record!” we said, nearly simultaneously, and we ran downstairs to the living room, where the RCA stereo and our household’s few LPs were kept. There, in the front of the stack of records, was a crisp, new copy of Beatles ’65. As soon as we unpacked a little, we were allowed to open the record and play it for the first time.

Beatles ’65 was one of those records that Capitol – which issued Beatles’ recordings in the U.S. – created piecemeal, in this case by pulling some songs from Beatles For Sale, one track from the British version of A Hard Day’s Night and adding the single “I Feel Fine/She’s A Woman,” which was not released on an album in the UK at the time.

I don’t know how well my sister liked the record. She never seemed to be too interested in the Beatles. As for me, I was still a few years from being a rock ’n’ roll boy. But I liked some of it: the opener “No Reply,” the feedback-triggered “I Feel Fine,” the sweet folk rock of “I’ll Be Back” and “I’ll Follow The Sun.” But my favorite track of all – and thus the first rock ’n’ roll cover I loved – was the Beatles’ take on [Chuck] Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music.”

Sharp-eyed Beatles fans among my readership noted a potential problem: The album Beatles ’65 had been released in December 1964, with its title anticipating the coming year. I acknowledged that we might have gotten the album in 1964. A year later, in August 2009, after I wrote about the acquisition of the album in the context of my albums database, I wrote about the discrepancy:

Memory is a slippery creature. I read or heard somewhere about recent research into memory, and the theory was – and this is necessarily a paraphrase – that when we remember an event, our brain overlays the original memory with our new memory of that event, so the next time we recall that specific moment, we’re processing a second-generation memory and creating a third-generation memory. (Without any irony, I have to say that I cannot at all remember where I read or heard that bit of information.)

That seems to make some sense, even though it means our memories eventually become thinner and possibly distorted, like a favorite recording that’s seven generations removed from the original tape.

I got to thinking about this after Wednesday’s Vinyl Record Day post about the development of my LP database. Art D., a reader in Michigan, emailed me that afternoon and asked if I had the right date for Beatles ’65, after I said my sister and I received it for Christmas in 1965. He said the record had been released in December 1964. I nodded to myself, having verified that date at All-Music Guide that morning. I emailed back.

I said, in part, about Beatles ’65, that my sister and I got the record in 1965, about a year after it came out. I added:

“That’s what the red ink on it says, and that inscription dates from the day I began marking my LPs in 1970, and I suppose I could have erred then, and we actually got the album in 1964. At this point, we’ll never know for sure. I think, though, that I would have remembered – given the way I recall odd details – the paradox of getting a record titled Beatles ’65 when it was still 1964.”

And writing those words – “I think, though, that I would have remembered . . . the paradox of getting a record titled Beatles ’65 when it was still 1964” – triggered another memory, a recollection of a very young whiteray looking at the record jacket that December night and wondering about that very paradox. It’s not the kind of memory that jumps up and says, “Here I am and here you were!” It’s more like it’s dancing on the edge of clarity, so I’m not sure about trusting it . . .

I imagine that on that summer day in 1970, I looked at the title of the album and just assumed it came out in 1965 and thus showed up in our house that December. I might have been wrong; the record might have been there a year earlier.

But I’m going to be gentle with the kid I was back then. I examined the record and its jacket this morning, and there’s no copyright date on either, no hint of the year of issue. Beyond that, I would have had no idea in 1970 where to go to find out when Beatles ’65 was released. As I think of it today, I probably could have gone out to Musicland at the mall or to the library at St. Cloud State and learned something in either one of those places. Knowing the correct release date might have changed my mind about when we got the record. But at sixteen, I didn’t think of that. I did the best I could.

There is one thing I do know for certain about that December night when we found Beatles ’65 next to the stereo. I’ve seen the photographic evidence: Somewhere among all the slides in Mom’s storage unit is a slide showing me sitting in Dad’s chair, wearing my Beatle wig, holding Beatles ’65 in my lap and quite possibly putting my fingers in my ears as a jest.

I wrote to Art D. that “we’ll never know for sure.” But we might. If I ever find that one slide among the thousands in the storage unit, and if Dad wrote the date on the cardboard, we’ll know. I do have a hunch that, if I ever find that picture of me and it has a date on it, I’ll be changing the acquisition year in my database to 1964. But that’s just a hunch, so I’ll leave it for now.

And yesterday, just more than ten years since I wrote those words, I received a package from my sister, who’s been going through boxes of my parents’ stuff. Among the genealogical folders and assorted school pictures, I found that photo of me from December 1964 shown at the top of this post. It wasn’t a slide; it was a print. My fingers-in-ears assessment of the album was, of course, a joke. As I noted in the first post I quoted above, I liked the album. I still like it. And I uploaded it to YouTube this morning with the audio recorded from my 1964 Christmas gift, but that video was blocked worldwide. So I went and found a playlist of the album.

Here are the tracks and their origins:

“No Reply” (From Beatles For Sale)
“I’m A Loser” (From Beatles For Sale)
“Baby’s In Black” (From Beatles For Sale)
“Rock & Roll Music” (From Beatles For Sale)
“I’ll Follow The Sun” (From Beatles For Sale)
“Mr. Moonlight” (From Beatles For Sale)
“Honey Don’t” (From Beatles For Sale)
“I’ll Be Back” (From A Hard Day’s Night)
“She’s A Woman” (British single)
“I Feel Fine” (British single)
“Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby” (From Beatles For Sale)

No. 55, Fifty-Five Years Ago

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

We’ll play a game of Symmetry today, moving one year further into the past than we have before. We’re going to take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from fifty-five years ago tomorrow – June 27, 1964 – and see what was sitting at No. 55.

As we customarily do, though, we’ll start at the top of that long-ago chart. Here were the top three records as June was about to turn into July during the summer I was ten years old:

“A World Without Love” by Peter & Gordon
“I Get Around” by the Beach Boys
“Chapel Of Love” by the Dixie Cups

Every once in a while this happens: A selection from the top of a chart fails to move me. There’s nothing wrong with these records, really. But they’re not records that I want to hear on a regular basis, and none of them are among the 3,900 in the iPod, which reflects my regular listening. And none of those three will be added to the playlist after I finish this post.

So what’s lower down? What do we find when we drop down the chart to No. 55?

Well, we get a sweet, broken-hearted single from Brook Benton: “It’s Too Late To Turn Back Now.” And it’s one that I’m certain I haven’t heard before this morning (although being an easy listening kid back then, I think I would have liked it).

I don’t think I need to go into detail about Benton (whom I first heard, I’m sure, in early 1970 when “Rainy Night In Georgia” went to No. 4). The raw numbers are fifty-eight records in or near the Hot 100, with eight of them making the Top Ten. And he placed thirty-seven records on the Billboard R&B Top 40, with twenty-one of them reaching the Top Ten.

As to “It’s Too Late To Turn Back Now,” it didn’t do much more on the Hot 100, peaking at No. 43, but it went to No. 8 on the R&B chart.

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.