As noted here before, I read a lot. My reading time is generally lunch time and an hour or so before bed, and as I’ve also mentioned here before, I generally have bookmarks in three or four books at a time and move among those book pretty much on whim.
But every now and then, a book comes along that grips me enough that it’s the only thing I read, and as I get into it, I find myself squeezing out another ten or fifteen minutes of reading time here and there. And when I read late at night, I find myself reluctant to stop, moving my bedtime back bit by bit, just to absorb another twenty pages or so.
That’s what happened last week with A Life In Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII by Sarah Helm (2005). In Britain during World War II, Atkins climbed from a clerk’s position to near the top of the Special Operations Executive, the organization that sent agents behind the lines into Nazi-occupied Europe to work with local resistance movements. Atkins’ work focused on France, the most important of the occupied nations in the view of the SOE. Many of the agents Atkins sent into France were women, a fact that caused some consternation among British officials, who ended up classifying the women agents as non-military because, you know, we can’t have people thinking we sent women into dangerous combat-like situations.
Many of those agents were captured by the Nazis, and when the war ended, no one took the responsibility to look for the missing women. Except Atkins. After the liberation of France and on through the aftermath of the war, Atkins went looking for clues and information to solve the mysteries of her missing agents.
All that in itself would make for a gripping tale. But Atkins herself was mystery. No one who knew her – and Helms managed to interview a fair number of folks who knew Atkins before, during and after World War II – seems to have known her well at all. A trove of documents left with a relative seems to leave more questions than it answers. But by putting together bits and pieces from those and other documents and from interviews – and talking the reader through the process as she does – Helms assembles a story that takes us places as widely scattered in place and time as the Pale of Settlement in 19th century Russia, Bulgaria before World War I and Canada after World War II.
Along the way, it becomes clear that Vera Atkins had her own secrets, some of which Helms uncovers and some of which Helms can only offer as speculation (although with evidence that seems persuasive).
Atkins doesn’t come across as likable; she seems to have been unable – to name just one of several noted flaws – to admit to being wrong, either personally or professionally. There are several indications of the latter but only a few of the former, as Atkins seems to have let very few people very far into her life. Helms, however, isn’t interested in liking Atkins. She’s interested in solving Atkins’ mysteries. In the end, Helms seems to have solved them, which is quite a feat for a writer working sixty or more years after the fact, researching a subject who seems to have worked hard at not leaving any clues behind.
One of the things that first drew me to A Life In Secrets was the speculation I saw somewhere that Vera Atkins was the model for Ian Fleming’s Miss Moneypenny, secretary to M and gentle foil to James Bond. It’s possible, Helms notes, but unlikely, and in the end, it doesn’t matter. None of the tales Fleming created for 007 were as complex and intriguing as Vera Atkins’ own story.
As noted in a couple of recent posts, the lovely Isham Jones/Gus Kahn song “I’ll See You In My Dreams” first showed up in 1925, recorded by Jones with the Ray Miller Orchestra, with Frank Besinger handling the vocal. According to Joel Whitburn in A Century Of Pop Music, the record was No. 1 for seven weeks starting the first week of April and wound up as the No. 3 record for the year (behind “The Prisoner’s Song” by Vernon Dalhart and “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” by Gene Austin).
Covers naturally followed. While I don’t think that “I’ll See You In My Dreams” is necessarily one of the most-covered songs of all time, it’s nevertheless a song that’s stayed in the public ear: The list of covers at Second Hand Songs – a listing that’s not necessarily comprehensive but which probably provides a good cross-section and starting point – shows versions of the song from every decade since but the 1940s, and I’m not sure if there’s a reason for that gap or not. Add to those versions the other covers I’ve found at YouTube, and the song is clearly one that’s remained popular.
Since the middle of last week, I’ve been wandering through many versions of the song, and I’ve found quite a few I like. My pal Larry, who hangs his hat at the fine blog, Funky 16 Corners, recommended the 1930 cover by Ukulele Ike, otherwise known as Cliff Edwards. (Edwards, perhaps better known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney’s Pinnochio, covered the song again in 1956 on his album, Ukulele Ike Sings Again.) Another early cover that caught my ear was the 1937 version by Guy Lombardo. And jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt gave the song a whirl in 1939.
Perhaps the most surprising of the covers I found was the nimble-fingered instrumental version by Jerry Lee Lewis, recorded during a session for Sun Records in 1958; the take was finally issued on a Sun collection LP in 1984 and since then on CD. Other versions I generally like from the 1950s and 1960s included covers by Henri René & His Orchestra (1956), the Mills Brothers (1960), The Ray Conniff Singers (1960), Cliff Richard (1961), the Lettermen (1963) and my man Al Hirt (1968).
The only version of the song to hit the modern charts was an unsurprisingly bland take from Pat Boone, whose 1962 cover went to No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 in and No. 9 on what is now called the Adult Contemporary chart.
Some versions baffle me (and you can easily find these – and others mentioned but not linked – at YouTube). I mean, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (1980)? Then there’s some very odd percussion and production in a 1965 effort by Vic Dana. And in 1975, the Pearls took the song to the disco.
There were some other interesting versions. I found a cover by the Paul Kuhn Orchestra that was released on LP in 1980, but it sounds very much like something Bert Kaempfert would have released in 1965 or so. (Kuhn passed on in September, and his death inspired one of the great headlines: “Paul Kuhn, German jazzman who lamented Hawaii’s lack of beer, has died.”) Chet Atkins, recording with Merle Travis, did a nice cover for the 1974 album, Atkins-Travis Traveling Show, although the linked video offers what seems to be a shorter version of the tune, as included on a later compilation.
Howard Alden did a very nice guitar version of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” ghosting for Sean Penn’s character Emmet Ray – a 1930s jazz guitar player – in Woody Allen’s 1999 film, Sweet and Lowdown.
And finally, one version that I like among the more recent covers is the faux-vintage and slightly rough-edged take from 2005 by folk singer Ingrid Michaelson along with singer (and ukulele player) Joan Moore.
It’s time for a random walk through the more than 70,000 mp3s that have somehow gathered on the digital shelves in the past thirteen years. We’ll set the RealPlayer’s cursor in the middle of the pack, hit the forward button and check out the next six tracks.
Tell Automatic Slim, tell razor-totin’ Jim, Tell butcher knife-totin’ Annie, tell fast-talkin’ Fanny, We gonna pitch a ball down to that union hall. We gonna romp and tromp till midnight, We gonna fuss and fight till daylight. We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long. All night long, all night long, all night long.
The song, written by Willie Dixon, might be better known from Koko Taylor’s 1966 version, which went to No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the R&B chart, but the Wolf’s version is the original. According to Wikipedia, neither Dixon nor the Wolf thought much of the song, with the Wolf quoted there as calling it a “levee camp” song. “Wang Dang Doodle” hit the charts again in 1974, when the Pointer Sisters’ cover went to No. 61 on the Hot 100 and to No. 24 on the R&B chart.
Eternity’s Children was a four-person pop group that evolved out of a group first formed in 1965 in Cleveland, Mississippi. The group’s self-titled debut album from 1968 has achieved some prominence over the years due to the co-production from sunshine pop gurus Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen, although All Music Guide notes that the album “does not rank among the Boettcher/Olsen duo’s crowning achievements – both producers were distracted by other concurrent projects.” “Sunshine Among Us” is the album’s closing track; released as a single, it bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 117.
In her lengthy career in the Hot 100 – from 1962 into 1980 – Jackie DeShannon hit the Top 40 three times, and all three records had the word “love” in their titles: “What The World Needs Now Is Love” went to No. 7 in 1965, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” went to No. 4 (No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary chart) in 1969, and “Love Will Find A Way” went to No. 40 (No. 11 AC) later that same year. Given the ubiquity of love as a topic for song, that might not be unique, but I thought it was interesting. The record we chance on this morning is the third one of those. “Love Will Find A Way” isn’t overwhelmingly good, and I don’t know that I heard it back in 1969, but it would have sounded nice coming out the radio between, say, the Beatles and Three Dog Night.
Chris Rea’s Blue Guitars is a 2005 release that consisted of eleven CDs, a DVD and a book that included liner notes, lyrics and Rea’s own paintings. “The album,” notes Wikipedia, “is an ambitious project with the 137 songs recorded over the course of 1½ years with a work schedule – according to Chris Rea himself – of twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Initially the project was inspired by Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey and can be called an ‘odyssey’ in its own right, for depicting a journey through the various epochs of Blues Music, starting at its African origins and finishing with modern-time Blues from the 60s and 70s.” We land this morning on “Ticket For Chicago,” a track from the Country Blues disc of the massive album. Complete with the crackle and hiss of an old 78 at its start, the track is a pleasant stop along the way and a reminder that I need to dig far deeper into Blue Guitars than I have so far.
Our fifth stop is a cryptic B-side to a Top 20 hit on the Apple label: Mary Hopkin’s “Sparrow” seems to be a tale of melancholy confinement and the hope of escape, with that famed Apple producer Paul McCartney framing Hopkin’s crystal voice with bells and choirs and – at the end – a meandering saxophone. The track – written by Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle in their roles as songwriters for Apple – was the flip side to Hopkin’s “Goodbye,” which went to No. 13 (No. 6 AC) in 1969. While it’s doubtful that “Sparrow” could have been a hit as the A-side, I like it much better than I do “Goodbye” or Hopkin’s two other Top 40 hits, “Those Were The Days” (No. 2 pop and No. 1 AC in 1968) and “Temma Harbour” (No. 39 pop and No. 4 AC in 1970).
And we end our brief journey this morning on a front porch somewhere in the Louisiana bayous with Tony Joe White’s “Lazy” telling us that he’s just not going to get much done today:
Today you know I feel so dog gone lazy.
I believe my get-up-and-go has done gotta be gone.
Today I just can’t get it on.
The mellow and bluesy track comes from White’s 1973 album Home Made Ice Cream, which is a decent enough piece of work. It’s an album with a nice, generally laid back groove, very much like, say, something from J. J. Cale. But only occasionally does it approach the swampiness of “Polk Salad Annie,” White’s No. 8 hit from 1969.
As I noted yesterday, and as was the case for a couple of other sturdy songs I’ve written about in the past ten days or so, it was Glenn Yarbrough’s 1967 album, For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, that introduced me to “Tomorrow,” which I’ve long thought to be one of Bob Dylan’s most beautiful songs.
The first released version of the song was recorded by Ian & Sylvia for their 1964 album, Four Strong Winds. Regular reader David Leander noted in a comment yesterday that “at one point Dylan told them he’d written it for them to record, but I think he told anybody that might record one of his songs that he’d written it for them.” I’ve read in a number of places that the song was inspired by Dylan’s early 1960s relationship with Suze Rotolo (the young woman shown with Dylan on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan), but that doesn’t mean that he might not have had Ian & Sylvia – or Judy Collins (from her Fifth Album in 1965) or someone else or no other performer at all – in mind when he wrote the song.
As I also noted yesterday, Dylan has officially released two versions of the song: The first recorded, a demo, was officially released in 2010 as part of the ninth volume of Dylan’s ongoing Bootleg Series, and – according to Wikipedia – has been available as a bootleg for years. The second version he recorded, a live 1963 performance of the song in New York City, was released in 1972 as a track on Dylan’s second greatest hits album. Wikipedia also notes that a “studio version of the song, an outtake from the June 1970 sessions for New Morning, has also been bootlegged.”
The first Dylan version I heard of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” was on that second greatest hits package. (The only video I can find at YouTube with that 1963 live version is from an episode of The Walking Dead. Zombies and a love song don’t match well for me.) By that time, of course, I’d absorbed the Yarbrough version from his For Emily album:
Over the years, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” has been a generally popular song for covers. Second Hand Songs lists a total of thirty-one English-language versions, and more (I didn’t bother to count) are listed at Amazon. I imagine that iTunes and other similar sites would have more yet. As is generally the case, the list of folks and groups who’ve covered the song include the unsurprising and the surprising alike: Among the first category are the Brothers Four, the We Five, the Kingston Trio, Linda Mason, Chris Hillman, Bud & Travis, the Silkie, the Earl Scruggs Revue and Sandy Denny. Less expected (or even unknown in these parts) are Hipcity Cruz, Deborah Cooperman, Barb Jungr, Sebastian Cabot, Magna Carta and Danielle Howell.
I’ve heard at most bits and pieces of those covers in the above paragraph, but over the years, I’ve listened to many other covers of the song, and I’ve tracked down even more in just the past couple of days. One version that’s been mentioned here at least twice in the past six years is the version by Elvis Presley that showed up in his 1966 movie Spinout. Regular reader Porky noted yesterday that Elvis “supposedly learned it from Odetta’s version,” which was on the 1965 album, Odetta Sings Dylan. I like Elvis’ version more than I used to, but the austere dignity which Odetta brought to her music doesn’t seem to work for the song.
I was surprised to find the name of Hamilton Camp among those who’d covered “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” Camp, a mid-1960s folkie, released the song on his 1964 album Paths of Victory. That album is likely better known for his version of Dino Valente’s “Get Together,” which became a No. 5 hit for the Youngbloods in 1969 (after being a No. 31 hit for the We Five in 1965).
Another, far more recent name that surprised me was that of the country-folk group Nickel Creek, which put the song on its 2005 album, Why Should the Fire Die? I enjoyed the group’s self-titled debut in 2000, but wasn’t at all pleased with the follow-up, This Side, in 2002. I may have to give the group another try.
The most enjoyable version of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” that I came across this week came from a one-off album from 1973. Several blogs have featured the album Refuge by the duo calling itself Heaven & Earth, and one of my favorite blogs, hippy-djkit, calls the album a “psych folk funk beauty from the early 70’s featuring the gorgeous voices of Jo D. Andrews & Pat Gefell.” There are a couple of other notable covers on the album, specifically takes on Stephen Stills’ “To A Flame” and the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic, “60 Years On,” but the best thing on the album – and maybe the prettiest version I’ve ever heard – is Heaven & Earth’s take on “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”
Reference to “Get Together” corrected June 8, 2013.
In the early autumn of 1987, as I was settling into my new digs in Minot, North Dakota, I got a call one Saturday from my ladyfriend in St. Cloud. She’d to the record store the night before and – knowing my affection for The Band – had picked up The Best of The Band, a 1976 anthology.
“It’s all good,” she said, “but there is one song that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.”
What was the title? She’d paid no attention. Nor did specific lyrics come to mind. All she knew was that the track was gorgeous and she’d lost herself in it for a few minutes.
And I was stumped. My regard for The Band at that point was based on three albums’ worth of music – Music From Big Pink, The Band and Stage Fright – and my awareness that The Band had been Bob Dylan’s back-up unit for a good length of time. I’d heard Cahoots – the album that followed Stage Fright – and had been underwhelmed, and the only attention I’d paid to the group after that came in the context of its work with Dylan: the live Before The Flood and the studio album Planet Waves.
I was aware that the group had released a few more albums before calling it quits with The Last Waltz, but I’d paid no attention. As my interest in music – like my interest in life itself – had been renewed earlier in 1987, I’d put The Band on a list of performers whose work I wanted to explore further, but time was short and the list was long. So I wasn’t thinking at all about the group’s 1975 album Northern Lights-Southern Cross, which was on my want list, and I wasn’t even aware of “It Makes No Difference,” one of two truly great tracks on that 1975 album. (The other one? “Acadian Driftwood.” As for “Ophelia,” I like it but don’t see it as quite on the same level as the other two tracks.)
By the end of that long-ago weekend, my ladyfriend had made a note of the title of the track that had so impressed her. Not long after that, I got hold of a copy of the two-LP Anthology of The Band’s work released on Capitol on 1982, and I concurred with her opinion of “It Makes No Difference.” (I also, between that Saturday in 1987 and early 1989, completed a collection of The Band’s original albums from its first incarnation, leaving for later years my own copy of The Best of The Band, the anthology that began this tale.)
My friend called “It Makes No Difference” the “most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” and there’s no doubt here of its beauty. But is it the most beautiful track recorded by that first version of the group? I lean toward saying yes, with the only other contenders being “I Shall Be Released” from Music From Big Pink and “Whispering Pines” and perhaps “King Harvest Has Surely Come” from The Band. And here it is:
There’s a reason “It Makes No Difference” came to mind recently. Among the performers who have come to light in the past few years, one of my favorites is Ruthie Foster, who performs blues, R&B, gospel and the wide swath of what’s come to be called Americana about as well as can be imagined. And when I had a chance to take a listen to her newest album, the recently released Let It Burn, here’s one of the tracks I found:
Intrigued and impressed, I started to look for other covers. I’d already heard – and was unimpressed by – the version that My Morning Jacket had recorded for the 2007 tribute, Endless Highway: The Music of The Band. But things got better pretty quickly. The late country-rock guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow recorded the tune for his 2001 album Meet Sneaky Pete, and another departed legend, soul singer Solomon Burke, also covered the song, recording a stirring version for his 2005 album Make Do With What You Got.
There were some I didn’t track down: Cajun performer Terrance Simien covered the song for his 2001 album The Tribute Sessions, and I heard snippets of numerous other covers of the song by folks with unfamiliar names as I wandered through the mp3s available at Amazon. That’s where I came across the cover version by South of Nowhere, which I like very much, that I shared here the other day.
But the most interesting cover I found – not necessarily the best; I think that title might go to Foster – was by a group of Norwegian musicians calling themselves Home Groan. The group’s performance of “It Makes No Difference” comes – if I’ve figured this out correctly – from a Norwegian radio program called Cowboy & Indianer (translating to Cowboys & Indians) that celebrates Americana music. A collection of performances from the radio show was released in 2007 as Cowboy & Indianer Sessions Vol. 1, and that’s where I found Home Groan’s performance:
A couple of weeks ago, I promised a look at some covers of “one of the greatest songs ever recorded by The Band.” That’s still coming, and I hope it will be soon. But it ain’t gonna be today and probably not tomorrow.
As a preview, though, here is one of the covers I found while preparing that post. When an obscure Texas group called South of Nowhere released an album titled 78016 in 2005, one of the tracks was a cover of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference.” I think it’s quite nice.
Down on East St. Germain – the main street here on the East Side – there’s a pawnshop. It’s right around the corner from Tom’s Barbershop, and I pop in from time to time. Granite City Pawn Shop, it’s called. It’s kind of dusty, and it’s well-stocked with tools and outdoor sports equipment.
And in the middle of the shop, sometimes guarded by a gantlet of other merchandise – a telescope tripod the other day – is an alcove filled with CDs, all priced at $1 apiece. Over the past couple years, I’ve made a few interesting finds there – probably the best was Blue & Sentimental by 1950s sax player Ike Quebec – and filled some gaps, most of them in my country collection.
I stopped by there the other day and found three CDs from the 1990s by country singer John Berry, about whom I’d read a few nice things. They’re all pretty good, and it turns out that one of them – Saddle the Wind – was an album Berry recorded and released in 1990, before he was signed to Liberty Records. Liberty released it in 1994, and that’s the version I found. And when the CD got to the fifth track, here’s what I heard:
He sings it well, but to my ears, the track hews far too closely to Bruce Springsteen’s version to make it more than interesting. But for the last ten days or so, I’ve had “Thunder Road” running through my head as Berry’s cover inspired me to make my way through various versions of one of Springsteen’s greatest songs.
Along the way, I’ve been wondering if the harmonica and piano that lead off “Thunder Road” on Born to Run might not be the very first things that lots of folks ever heard from Bruce Springsteen. My reasoning: It was with Born to Run, of course, that Springsteen made the leap from regional favorite to national artist, and I figure a lot of folks picked up the album on the basis of the national noise without having heard anything from Springsteen before, even the single “Born to Run.” The album reached the Billboard chart on September 13, 1975, showing up at No. 84, a week before “Born to Run” jumped into the Hot 100 at No. 68. And “Thunder Road” leads off the album. So that introduction could have been the introduction to Springsteen for a lot of people.
Well, it’s an interesting thought (to me, anyway), but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that “Thunder Road” is one of the sturdiest songs Springsteen’s ever put together. Wikipedia notes that in 2004, the song was ranked No. 86 in Rolling Stone magazine’s assessment of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” And, as Wikipedia notes, the song has shown up highly ranked on several similar lists.
Like all sturdy songs, it’s been covered fairly frequently. Among those who’ve tackled the song are Badly Drawn Boy, Frank Turner, Tori Amos, Mary Lou Lord and Bonnie “Prince” Bill with Tortoise. I’ve heard some of those, and I’ve come across a few more. Melissa Etheridge sang the song in concert at least once after Springsteen performed the song with her at an earlier show. (Her solo performance of the song is listed as being in 2009, but I don’t know when the duet took place.) I also found a few studio covers that I thought were interesting: Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners recorded the song for his 1999 album My Beauty, but – according to a comment at YouTube – the track was held back because Springsteen thought Rowland took too many liberties with the lyrics. I thought the Cowboy Junkies did a nice version; it was released on the bonus CD that came with their 2004 album One Soul Now.
And I came across this version by a string quartet calling itself the Section; it came from the 2002 CD Hometown: The String Quartet Tribute to Springsteen:
There are other covers out there, but my energy waned. Of the covers I found, I think I like the Cowboy Junkies’ version best; Margo Timmins can do little wrong from where I listen. But the best version of the song I found on YouTube isn’t really a cover at all.
In 2005, Springsteen toured as a solo artist after the release of Devils & Dust, and for that tour, he shelved a lot of the songs he normally performed live. But he did “Thunder Road” once, backing himself on the piano. And it’s neat to know that the performance took place in Minneapolis, at the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium on October 12, 2005. (No, I wasn’t there, but I sure wish I had been.)
I fully intended to retire early last evening. But you know how plans go.
Even with the sleep aid that has become an essential portion of my life in the past few years, I struggled last night. I could not settle, and I remained awake – if not entirely alert – way past the midnight target I’d set for last night’s curtain.
I’ll sneak in an hour of sleep sometime early this afternoon, but the rest of the day has tasks that call me. The Texas Gal and I will host our second End of Summer picnic Sunday and the house is not yet entirely in order. And Odd and Pop, the two little imaginary tuneheads who advise me about musical taste, do no dusting. So it’s up to me to get things done.
Here, then, are a few songs with “midnight” in their titles:
The 1978 film Midnight Express detailed the ordeal of an American sentenced to prison after being caught trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey. Its soundtrack came from Giorgio Moroder, and the opener, “Chase,” went to No. 33, providing Moroder with the only Top 40 hit of his career. I much prefer the soundtrack’s second version of “Theme from Midnight Express” with vocals from Chris Bennett:
When I was checking the next “midnight” tune, I was surprised to learn that I’ve not even mentioned the duo of Ferrante & Teicher since the time this blog moved to its own space in January of last year. (Not that the easy listening duo had a major presence in the blog’s earlier locations; I’ve posted the archives through October 2008, and up to that point, I’d written about Ferrante & Teicher once.) I honestly thought the duo would have showed up her more frequently, given my occasional predilection for mid-1960s easy listening. Anyway, here’s their take on the theme from the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, which went to No. 10 in January 1970:
From that mellowness, we head into rougher territory: In 1998, Buddy Guy invited Jonny Lang into the studio to join him on a duet on “Midnight Train” with results that were satisfying and wound up on Guy’s album Heavy Love:
I spent my post-midnight hour early this morning catching up on Sport Illustrated, and as I did, I found a remarkable piece about young Lyndon Baty, a sports fan from Texas who has a robot go to school for him. This morning, our fourth tune finds Delbert McClinton, still one of my favorites, singing about how he and his pals spend their post-midnight hour: at “midnight communion down on Second Avenue.” The tune is unsurprisingly titled “Midnight Communion” and comes from McClinton’s 2005 CD Cost of Living, which the reviewer at All-Music Guide liked very much.
Well, Odd and Pop didn’t show up this morning here at Echoes In The Wind. I think they’re outside playing in the rain that will soon freeze and turn St. Cloud into one large skating rink. And as I have errands to run today and don’t want to slide into the side of the drug store while running them, I’ve split what was a one-day idea into a two-day project, which it seems I will have to complete without any help from the two little tuneheads.
My thought was to look at some of my favorite music from the last ten years, the first ten years of the 21st Century, but as I waded through thousands of titles, it got more and more difficult to decide on favorites, so I thought I’d just mention a couple of titles from each year. And I dithered and dithered and then realized I was going to have to do this over two posts, which means a rare Friday post tomorrow, the last day of the decade.
Well, all right. So, what do I like to hear from these years? Well, lots of stuff, as it turns out. But if I had to pull one album and one track from each of the ten years, here’s how the first half of the list would look today:
From 2001, I’d end up with Bob Dylan’s album Love and Theft, a ramble through various styles of American music: folk, blues, rock and some other genres that might not have labels unless one uses a lot of hyphens. Among my favorite tracks are “Mississippi” and the great “High Water (For Charley Patton).”
I got into Texas singer Pat Green when he hit with “Wave on Wave” in 2003. (I’ve listened to and learned more about country music and Texas music in the past decade than ever before; the Texas Gal obviously gets grateful credit for that.) Anyway, liking “Wave on Wave” as much as I did, I got the CD and then began to dig into Green’s earlier stuff. And I discovered “Southbound 35” from his 2001 effort, Three Days. Another version is on the same year’s Dancehall Dreamer. I’m unable to find a video of either of the studio versions, so we’ll have to go back to the last century and a version of the song on Green’s 1999 release Live At Billy Bob’s Texas.
It took me a couple of years to catch up to it, but this morning, my favorite album from 2002 is Jorma Kaukonen’s Blue Country Heart. The former guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane (and cofounder of Hot Tuna) put together what All-Music Guide called “his most summertime-afternoon, front-porch-pickin’ album.” My favorite track? Probably Kaukonen’s take on Jimmie Rodgers’ classic “Waiting For A Train.”
One of the other musical highlights of 2002 was the massive memorial Concert for George in London on November 29. Recorded for release in 2003, the concert featured a gathering of friends who’d played and recorded over the years with the quiet Beatle, including his old bandmates Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney along with Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and more. The least well-known performer on this side of the Atlantic, I’d guess, was Joe Brown, who closed the concert with a heart-tugging cover of a very old tune, “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” I couldn’t find a video of the live version from the concert, but here’s a studio version on which I’ve been unable to put a date.
Another album I caught up with a couple years late was by another alumnus from Jefferson Airplane and the other co-founder of Hot Tuna: bassist Jack Casady. His 2003 effort, Dream Factor, was an intriguing tour through blues, folk and Southern rock, featuring a strong list of guest vocalists and Casady’s always supple work on bass. My favorite tracks are likely “Paradise” and the closer, “Sweden.”
Country music pulled me in more during 2003. The Texas Gal and I spent a fair amount of time on quiet evenings watching country videos on cable and keeping track of CDs we wanted to hear. One of those videos was a Brooks & Dunn piece, and it led me to a CD that still shows up in the CD player around here. Here’s the official video for Brooks & Dunn’s “Red Dirt Road.”
The 2004 CD Original Soul was credited simply to Grace Potter, but the album was actually the first ever heard of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, a band out of Vermont that has since released three more well-received CDs, all of which have places on my shelf. If I had to choose one track from Original Soul, I’d probably go with the slow groove of “Go Down Low,” but that’s a default choice; the album is too good to pull just one track as a favorite.
Continuing in a rootsy vein (no surprise there, I imagine), one of the other highlights of 2004, at least looking back, was the release of 40 Days, the first full-length CD by the Wailin’ Jennys, a trio of women formed in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Texas Gal and I have seen the Jennys twice, and both times, one of the highlights was “Arlington” from 40 Days.
Choosing an album from 2005 was easy, and the choice might be seen as an odd one. Through my blog-created connection with Patti Dahlstrom, I was also linked to long-time musician Don Dunn, who – among his many accomplishments – was the cowriter of one of my favorite tunes ever, “Hitchcock Railway.” And through that connection, I got hold of Don’s Voices From Another Room, an album recorded unexpectedly in Odessa, Ukraine. It’s a CD I often pop into the player late in the evening. My favorite track? Probably “Two Tanyas.”
What else from 2005 has kept my attention? Well, I still listen to all four CDs by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and my featured track from 2005 comes from the album Naturally, which finds Jones and her amazingly tight band offering an inventive – and somewhat doleful – revision of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
Finally, for today, one of the most memorable records of the the first five years of the decade is one that I cannot place accurately. Gary Jules’ cover of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” first showed up, I think, on the soundtrack to the 2001 film Donnie Darko. Jules later released it on his own Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets in 2004. So I don’t know where it fits temporally. But it doesn’t matter, really, as the recording is one of the best things I recall hearing from those first five years of this century.
I’ll be back tomorrow – perhaps with Odd and Pop – to look at music from the years 2006-2010.
As I was getting going this morning – putting together a lunch for the Texas Gal and getting the rinsed dishes from last evening into the dishwasher – I had my mp3 player pushing its tunes through the radio speakers. And as I focused on the mundane, there came from the speakers the unmistakable – to me, anyway – ringing of Richie Havens’ guitar and the introduction to “Follow,” my favorite recording of his.
The morning got brighter right away. And, with my tasks done, I leaned against the kitchen counter sipping the day’s first cup of coffee and listening. Now, I’ve written about Havens’ version of “Follow” at least twice before – once long ago and then during this last year when I included it in my Ultimate Jukebox. But I got to thinking about the song itself. And about other versions of the song.
(I consider Havens’ version to be the original version of the song, which was written by Jerry Merrick. Havens’ version was first on Mixed Bag, which was released in 1967, and Merrick’s version was first released on Follow in 1969. Which puts Merrick in the odd position of covering his own composition.)
Based on the tale Merrick tells in the single entry at his blog, Jerry Merrick, the entire process of recording his album for Mercury in 1968 was at best disappointing. He writes: “As so often was the case during that time period, the label, seeking to make an acoustic singer/writer fit into the then popular radio music format, released a heavily orchestrated album, which though quite nice in its musicality, proved to perhaps not be the most compatible vehicle for [my] intricate lyrics and intimate performances.”
Merrick repaired those flaws with the recording and the release in 2002 of Suddenly I’ll Know You, which includes “Follow” the way he originally envisioned it. I listened to a sample of Merrick’s new version of “Follow” this morning, and it sounded good; Merrick’s voice isn’t as robust as it was forty-some years ago, but that’s time for you. The album, for those interested, is available here.
So that’s two cover versions. Who else has taken on “Follow”? I turned to All-Music Guide, knowing that first, the listings there are not comprehensive, and second, there are errors: AMG lists groups called Chomsky and Android Lust as having covered Merrick’s song. Not so. Chomsky’s tune is a pleasant pop-folkish ballad, and Android Lusts’ “Follow” is also a different composition, an avalanche of sound in a style called “industrial dance.” There are probably other errors in the listings, but those popped out at me.
So who has covered Merrick’s tune in the last forty-some years? Here are some of the names I found: Chad Mitchell. Hedge & Donna. Jerry Jeff Walker. Mick Sterling. All That Remains. Evan Teatum. Susan Tedeschi.
(According to AMG, All That Remains gives Merrick a co-writing credit on its 2002 CD Behind Silence and Solitude, but if there’s any of Merrick’s “Follow” inside All That Remains’ slashing metal attack, I can’t hear it.)
Some of those names shine brighter than others, of course, and a few of those versions are – to my ears, anyway – more worthy of a listen than others. Hedge & Donna Capers were a folk-rock duo that released five albums from 1968 through 1970. They’re still around – you can find them on Facebook – and several of their tracks are available at YouTube. Here’s their version of “Follow” from 1968’s Hedge & Donna:
One name that surprised me was that of Mick Sterling. He’s long been known in the Upper Midwest as the leader of the blues and R&B band Mick Sterling & The Stud Brothers. The band is no longer together – there are annual December reunions at a Minneapolis nightspot that are reported to be very well-attended – and Sterling is now pursuing a solo career. His version of “Follow” shows up on his 2007 CD Between Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. I grabbed the track at Amazon this morning, and I think I’m going to have to get the entire album. It’s good.
Another surprising name in the listings at AMG was that of country outlaw/individualist Jerry Jeff Walker. I’ve not listened to a lot of Walker’s stuff over the years; I don’t know if that’s going to change, but he did a pretty good job on “Follow.” It’s on his 1978 album, Jerry Jeff.
But the best cover I’ve heard of Merrick’s song – the best version outside of Richie Havens’ original – comes from a source that surprised me. I’ve listened to a fair amount of Susan Tedeschi’s music over the past decade, finding her pretty well settled into the blues, a place that I think was reinforced in my mind with her 2001 marriage to Derek Trucks, a member of the Allman Brothers Band and the leader at the time of his own Derek Trucks band (now the Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band).
But in 2005, Tedeschi released Hope and Desire, an effort on which, says AMG, she “digs deep into the soul and R&B fakebook for inspiration and comes out a winner.” Among the songs she tackles on that CD – and I agree with AMG’s assessment; it’s a great CD – is “Follow.” And to my ears, only Havens’ original version of the song is better than Tedeschi’s take on Jerry Merrick’s song.
“Follow” – Susan Tedeschi
Let the river rock you like a cradle.
Climb to the treetops, child, if you’re able.
Let your hands tie a knot across the table.
Come and touch the things you cannot feel,
And close your fingertips and fly where I can’t hold you.
Let the sun-rain fall and let the dewy clouds enfold you,
And maybe you can sing to me the words that I just told you,
If all the things you feel ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.
The mockingbird sings each different song.
Each song has wings. They won’t stay long.
Do those who hear think he’s doing wrong?
While the church-bell tolls its one-note song,
And the school-bell is tinkling to the throng,
Come here where your ears cannot hear,
And close your ears, child, and listen to what I’ll tell you:
Follow in the darkest night the sounds that may impel you,
And the song that I am singing may disturb or serve to quell you.
If all the sounds you hear ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.
The rising smell of fresh-cut grass,
Smothered cities choke and yell with fuming gas.
I hold some grapes up to the sun,
And their flavor breaks upon my tongue.
With eager tongues, we taste our strife
And fill our lungs with seas of life.
Come taste and smell the waters of our time,
And close your lips, child, so softly that I might kiss you.
Let your flower perfume out and let the winds caress you.
And as I walk on through the garden, I am hoping I don’t miss you.
If all the things you taste ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.
The sun and moon both arise,
And we’ll see them soon through days and nights;
But now silver leaves are mirrors, bring delights,
And the colors of your eyes are fiery bright.
While darkness blinds the skies with all its light,
Come see where your eyes cannot see,
And close your eyes, child, and look at what I’ll show you.
Let your mind go reeling out and let the breezes blow you,
And maybe when we meet, then suddenly I will know you.
If all the things you see ain’t quite what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.
And you can follow.
And you can follow.
Follow . . .