There’s a house. If it’s real, it’s in an older neighborhood, one that was home to factory workers about a hundred years ago. When I stand on the wooden back steps and look at the sidewalk at the end of the plain dirt driveway, I sense the footprints of tired men walking home.
The house is tan, the window frames dark brown, and the paint is flaking badly. I turn to the back door and enter the kitchen. The old linoleum crackles under my tread. I know this place, can sense the faint aromas of hundreds of meals: chicken, maybe chops, and almost certainly some favorites from an old country left behind.
A plain table with two chairs is on my left as I enter, next to the window that overlooks the driveway, and I turn toward it. The kitchen appliances are somewhere to my right. They’re indistinct, but I know that like the paint outside and the linoleum underfoot, they are old.
There is a doorway beyond the table, and there is light in the room beyond the doorway. I hear the murmur of voices, perhaps conversation or maybe a radio. Through the doorway, I see the shape of a chair, perhaps a sofa, and just beyond, there is a flicker of movement and maybe the sound of footsteps.
And I see no more. The dream, one I’ve had dozens of times over the years, ends there as I stand by the table in the kitchen, looking into the next room with its yellowish light and its murmurs and its shadows. If that house exists, I do not know where it is, and yet, I’ve been there time and again.
Here’s “Theme From A Dream” by the Larry Page Orchestra. It’s a tune written and first recorded by Chet Atkins. Page’s version was first released on his orchestra’s 1970 album, Bridge Over Troubled Water.
We keep too much food in our freezer in the basement, and it’s not well organized. When we pull out, say, a bag of frozen corn, we have to be careful that we don’t have a bratwurst or a chicken breast avalanche. So Wednesday evening, when I had to dig into the back recesses of the freezer for a large tub of turkey stock, it became an adventure.
I found the turkey stock without moving too many things around. But because of their size and shape, two items were hard to replace in the freezer: a rack of pork ribs and a frozen pizza. As tried to find a place for the ribs, something else came sliding along the shelf toward me, and I thrust my left hand forward to stop it.
And I caught my thumbnail on something, either the edge of a hard frozen box or the end of the one of the metal rods that make up the shelf. The thumbnail cracked at the top of its arc and the right-hand portion of the nail bent backwards, tearing off of the quick for maybe a quarter of an inch. As cold as my thumb was at the moment, it didn’t hurt much and it didn’t bleed much, so I finished reorganizing the freezer and headed upstairs, where I expected the warmth to bring blood and pain.
And that was the case. Eventually, I got a Band-Aid over the thumb, and also eventually, the bleeding and most of the pain stopped. I kept the bandage on overnight and then went through the day yesterday without a bandage on it, as I will do today. But the thumb isn’t of much use right now, and when I forget and try to do something simple that requires pressure from that thumb, well, I change plans pretty quickly.
Even typing seems to go slowly. Even though my left thumb does no work at the keyboard, I have to be careful not to bump it, and that makes the work more halting than normal. (My typing style is idiosyncratic. Letter keys are the province of the forefingers and middle fingers alone. I shift only with my left pinky and space only with my right thumb; the ring fingers and the right pinky – like the left thumb – are just along for the ride.) So we won’t spend a lot of time here right now, and we’ll be skipping tomorrow’s Saturday Single, too. (I’d planned to get up early and get something done before we head out to our delayed celebration, but that’s not going to happen now.)
So we’re going to look for thumb music this morning. A search for the word in the RealPlayer brings us forty-five tracks. Some of them get dismissed early, like a 1976 album by Michael Dinner titled Tom Thumb the Dreamer. It’s a singer-songwriter thing, and seems to be a decent piece, based on a quick listen to a few tracks this morning. I have no idea how it came to be in the files.
We’ll also dismiss anything on the Blue Thumb label, which takes care of one Ike & Tina Turner single, two Pointer Sisters singles, and the Pointers’ 1975 album, Steppin’. And we also drop a version of “Witchi Tai To” by a performer using the name of Tom Thumb.
That leaves twenty-seven tracks, with that total made up almost entirely of versions of three tunes: Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb,” and “Ridin’ Thumb,” a tune originally recorded by Seals & Crofts. The one outlier is a Jackie Lomax track, “Thumbin’ A Ride.”
The original version of “Ridin’ Thumb” isn’t in the stacks, but we have versions from King Curtis (1971), Three Dog Night (1973) and It’s A Beautiful Day (also 1973). King Curtis also supplies us with a track called “Ridin’ Thumb Jam” (also 1971).
Intrigued by those tracks, I decided to go find the original version by Seals & Crofts. It was on the duo’s second album, Down Home, released in 1970 on the T-A label. There was also a single release, but it didn’t make the charts. And we’ll see you next week.
Well, today is opening day for Cabaret De Lune, the three-person show that my friends Lucille and Heather and I have been putting together since mid-summer. It’s just after 8 a.m., almost nine hours until we begin the first of our two shows today, and the butterflies are already busy in my gut.
If my performing past is any guide, they’ll stay that way until right about 5 p.m., when a little bit of recorded music stops and I noodle a few notes at the piano and then get up and begin the opening monologue. Once the show gets underway, I should be fine, finding the groove and just doing smoothly and naturally what the three of us have been doing every Saturday for the past couple of months.
There are really only two portions of the show that worry me. The first is a very brief selection of classical music that’s been added in the past week. How brief? Six to eight bars, and it’s a piece I’ve heard thousands of times. And it’s not all that difficult, but it is new, and it requires the precision of a classical pianist, which I am not.
(I took piano lessons for six years when I was in elementary school, then quit playing for four years to concentrate on horn and – for two of those school years – go out for wrestling. When I was a junior in high school, I heard “Let It Be” and decided to resume playing. In college as I’ve noted in another post here, I took five quarters of theory and began to focus my playing on chord charts instead of actually reading the notation. I acknowledged to my sister over lunch the other day that I am far from comfortable sight-reading musical notation, something she does very well, having taken piano lessons from the time she was seven or eight well into college. “Isn’t it interesting that we came up with such different skill sets,” she said. It is, I said, adding, “Just tell me ‘Blues in G,’ and I’m home free.” She shook her head. “No,” she said.)
The other portion of the show that worries me a little is a sixteen-bar section of our closer, a well-known tune that in its middle modulates from A minor, which no flats or sharps, to B-flat minor, which has five flats. That’s a lot of black keys to keep track of. Thankfully, after those sixteen bars, the tune modulates up another half-step to B minor, where I am much more at home.
Beyond those two spots, I’m feeling pretty good about the show, but then . . .
“How are you feeling about this?” Heather asked me one afternoon in late summer when the show was coming together in bits and pieces.
“Oh, boy,” I said. “I’m enjoying putting the bits together and then stitching them into a show, but the thought of actually performing is real scary. I just want to sit in a corner.”
“That’s the Virgo in you,” she said.
“I know,” I said, having done a little digging into my horoscope a few years ago (and finding that a lot of it fits whether I believe in it or not). “And I have the moon and about three or four other things in Leo.” Leos love being the center of attention as much as Virgos avoid it.
Her eyes widened. “Oh, my god,” she said. “You love performing. I can tell. But I bet it’s terrifying.”
I nodded. And she added, “But I also bet that once we get going, you’ll be fine.”
I think that’s true, and we’ll find out later this afternoon.
Given all that, only one song fits in this space today. Here’s “Stage Fright,” the title track to The Band’s 1970 album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
I’ve dithered long enough this morning, sitting here at the computer, looking vainly through Billboard charts and glaring at white space on the screen. Ideas come and go, none of them growing into fruit.
So I’m turning this morning’s exercise over to Odd and Pop. Odd’s instructions are to look at the Hot 100 (and its Bubbling Under section) from this week in 1970, our favorite radio year, and find the strangest title he can.
Pop’s job at that point is to tell us what he knows about the record.
And my job is to put it up on the website. So here we go.
Odd reports that he started at the bottom of the Bubbling Under section, thinking that less familiar titles might sound stranger than familiar ones. After all, he notes, “Many strange titles, like ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ for instance, no longer seem strange because we’ve known them for years.” (Pop interrupts, as he tends to do, to say that even though the Iron Butterfly single is clumsily edited, it works much better than the sleep-inducing album track.)
Odd pulls us back on track. Three titles stand out for weirdness from this week in 1970: “Money Music” by the Boys in the Band at No. 104; “Gas Lamps and Clay” by Blues Image at No. 95; and “Screaming Night Hog” by Steppenwolf at No. 72. “That last,” he says, “is of course about a motorcycle, but the words are a strange combination.” He shrugs. “Still, I think the strangest title is the Blues Image record: ‘Gas Lamps and Clay.’ So there you go.”
I turn to Pop, eyebrows raised.
“Well,” he says, “it was the second record in the charts for Blues Image, after they hit No. 4 with ‘Ride Captain Ride’ in the spring of 1970.” Pop pauses for a second. “Oddly enough,” he adds distractedly, “one of the members of Blues Image, Mike Pinera, had been in Iron Butterfly and bears some responsibility for ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’.”
“Focus!” says Odd.
Pop nods. “Okay,” he says. “Well, ‘Gas Lamps and Clay’ was around for just four weeks in September and October of 1970. It peaked at No. 81. And no one ever heard about Blues Image ever again.”
Odd asks “What’s it about?”
Pop shrugs. “The chorus is about being who you are, but how it gets to that, I have no idea. But face it, it was 1970. You can take a look at the lyrics. I think they’re right.”
I was out at the old mill pond A week ago today What I saw was a small gas lamp And pots made out of clay
When I wiped off a little dust Smoke began to rise Out of a cloud came a frightful sight Of people running, child
And they sang, la la la la . . .
When I sat down beside the lamp I couldn’t believe my eyes They were blowing a bubble pipe About two times the size
As they sang, la la la la . . .
It’s fun just to be Be what you are So we are singing a happy song
It’s fun just to be Be what you are So we are singing a happy song
It’s fun just to be Be what you are So we are singing a happy song
“I love it!” Odd says.
Pop nods a little glumly. “I knew you would.”
And that’s how “Gas Lamps and Clay” by Blues Image came to be today’s Saturday Single.
Just to show that I’m upright – and to celebrate that there’s a working handle on the door of the Versa – I thought we’d consider Bob Dylan’s “Open The Door, Homer” as covered by Thunderclap Newman.
Best known for the No. 37 hit “Something In The Air,” which was used in the 1969 movie The Magic Christian, Thunderclap Newman was a group assembled by the Who’s Pete Townshend in what Wikipedia says was “a bid to showcase the talents of John ‘Speedy’ Keen, Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman and Jimmy McCulloch.” (Townshend played bass for the group under the name of Bijou Drains.)
“Open The Door, Homer” showed up on the group’s 1970 album Hollywood Dream. I love Newman’s herky-jerky piano solo, similar to the one he supplies on “Something In The Air.” And not being interested in digging even lightly into Dylanology today, I’ll just say that I don’t know why the song title is addressed to Homer when the lyrics address Richard.
When the Texas Gal went to the car – our Nissan Versa – after a business appointment two days ago, she pulled the door handle like she and I have done thousands of times in the nine years we’ve had the car. And the handle came off in her hand.
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what it looked like. I know, though, what I would have looked like had it happened to me: I would have stood there for a second, looking dumbly from the black handle in my hand to the empty space on the car door. “Huh,” I would have thought, processing.
And then I, like she did, would have thought, “Well, it was going to happen sometime.”
As is the case with many cars these days – with key fobs that carry electronic openers – the driver’s door on the Versa is the only one with a lock that can be opened with the key. And about four to five months ago, the little plastic cowling around the keyhole started to break; it would come out of alignment a little, and we’d push it back in. And the handle was a little loose. We knew we were going to have to deal with it eventually, and we put it our agendas, but it was a littler lower on our lists than maybe it should have been.
This week, however, with the Texas Gal standing in the street in front of a client’s home holding a door handle that was no longer doing its job, it became a whole lot more important to get repairs done. As it happened, our other car, a Chevy Cavalier, was at the nearby tire place that day for an oil change and some minor other work, so when the Texas Gal – who got into the Versa via the passenger door, of course – came home, she and I headed down the street, picked up the Cavalier and dropped off the Versa to wait for parts.
I should hear sometime today that the Versa’s door is fixed, and I’ll walk the half- mile down to the tire place and pick it up. And we can hope that any more automotive ailments will wait a while longer.
A total of thirty-six tracks show up in the RealPlayer when I search for “handle.” Nine of them come from Gene Chandler, with the most famous of those, of course, being 1962’s “Duke of Earl.” There are also tracks from four lesser-known Chandlers: Dillard (“Rain and Snow,” a 1975 track from a 2002 Smithsonian Folkways collection), Howard (“Wampus Cat,” an originally unreleased track from a 1957 Sun session), Len (“Touch Talk,” a Columbia single from 1967) and Wayland (“Little Lover/Playboy” on the 4 Star label from 1958).
That leaves twenty-two tracks with “handle” in their titles, ranging along the time line from 1941’s “Panhandle Shuffle” by the Sons Of The West to Leon Russell’s 2013 version of “Too Hot To Handle.” We’ll stop somewhere near the middle for Tony Joe White’s 1970 cover of “Hard To Handle.”
The song was written by Allen Jones, Alvertis Isbell and Otis Redding and was first recorded by Redding. One of numerous releases that came after Redding’s death in December 1967, “Hard To Handle” was the B-side to “Amen” and, on its own, went to No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 38 on the magazine’s R&B chart during the summer of 1968. (“Amen” went Nos. 36 and 15, respectively.)
The song’s been covered numerous time – Second Hand Songs lists thirty-five covers – and two other versions charted along the way (at least through 2008, which is the last year in my copy of Top Pop Singles): Patti Drew’s 1968 cover went to No. 93 on the Hot 100 and to No. 40 on the R&B chart, and the Black Crowes released their cover twice, once in the autumn of 1990, when it went to No. 45 and then again during the summer of 1991, when it got to No. 26.
Some of the other covers of the tune have come from Tom Jones, the Grateful Dead, Brenda Lee, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Toots Hibbert, Gov’t Mule and – always one of my oddball favorites – the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
Here’s Tony Joe’s version, which was an album track on 1970’s Tony Joe:
Last evening, as I made dinner – a classic Midwestern meal of a sauce of cream soups, milk, canned chicken, onions and a few other things over elbow macaroni – the iPod chugged along atop the repurposed bookcase we call Pantry Boy. Among the twenty or so tracks the iPod offered as I chopped, mixed and stirred was Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” from 1968.
As has been my habit for some time now, I shared the lengthy list of tracks – divided this time into two portions – at Facebook last evening, highlighting first Joe Brown’s performance of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” from the 2002 Concert for George and later the Rascals’ 1969 hit, “People Got To Be Free.” The first post got little comment, but there was a lot of positive response to the second set. And then a friend of mine said she’d never gotten “MacArthur Park” and asked for insight.
I responded, perhaps a little pertly, “Surrealism, memory and regret.” She said she got those things from the tone of the music but she didn’t get the lyrics. I think the lyrics as well as the tone of the music carry all of that. So I wrote:
Well, unless I’m mistaken in what I remember this morning, the only part of the lyrics that needs any explication is the part about the cake, and my thought has always – well, since I became an adult – been that the cake represents the love of his life, now gone for reasons beyond their control, with the sweet things melting away in the rain of troubles. Otherwise, I don’t think the lyrics are all that obtuse; they tell a story of simple joys, loss, hope and grief: “After all the loves of my life, I’ll be thinking of you . . . and wondering why.”
And for good measure, I posted the comments I made more than five years ago when I included Harris’ version of the song in my Ultimate Jukebox:
I think “MacArthur Park” is one of those records that has no middle ground. Folks either love it or find it ridiculous. Obviously, I’m I the first group, and have been from the first time I heard it. (One day in the summer of 1968, my sister called me to the radio to hear “this stupid song that goes on forever about leaving the cake out in the rain.”) I recognize its flaws: Harris’ vocals are overblown. The lyrics – even without the cake in the rain – are overwritten. The backing, with its lengthy instrumental passages, is too big for the song. But you know what? From where I hear the record, every one of those things – the over-reaching vocal, the over-written lyrics, the overwhelming backing – is a virtue for a record that went to No. 2 during the summer of 1968. Baroque and excessive “MacArthur Park” may be, but it’s also brilliant.
My friend later thanked me for my comments, said she generally agreed with me about the tunes I list at Facebook, and added that this time, she agreed with my sister.
The exchange got me thinking about the song, of course, and went to the RealPlayer to see how times “MacArthur Park” showed up. Turns out it’s nineteen times. Three of those are from Harris: the original mono mix from the 45 and two copies of the album track, one from Harris’ 1968 release A Tramp Shining and the other from a box set of work by the famed session musicians called the Wrecking Crew.
The rest run the gamut from Ray Conniff & The Singers to Waylon Jennings with the Kimberlys; from Enoch Light to the Three Degrees; from Ferrante & Teicher and the 101 Strings to the Brazilian Tropical Orchestra and the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain. One major version missing from the digital stacks is Donna Summer’s cover of the tune, which spent three weeks at No. 1 in Billboard in November 1978. That’s a gap I will remedy soon, even though I’ve never been fond of Summers’ version.
I think over the next week or so, I’ll do some digging and find out what the hell Jimmy Webb was thinking about when he wrote the song. (I noticed a listing for a piece online in which Webb discusses the lyrics, and I’ll have to check that out.) And we’ll dig into some of the covers I have on the shelves. We’ll start that process with the instrumental version offered as an album track in 1970 by the Assembled Multitude, the group of Philadelphia studio musicians whose version of “Overture From Tommy (A Rock Opera)” went to No. 16 in Billboard that summer.
After another harsh week around portions of the world – terror in Nice, a failed coup in Turkey, political craziness here at home and who knows what else in other places – I was looking for something to make me feel better. Music works, more often than not, so I decided to take a look at what I was likely hearing on my radio during this week in 1970.
As I’ve noted before, that year was my one full calendar year of focused Top 40 listening. Until late summer 1969, I hadn’t cared much; come the autumn of 1971, I moved in the direction of albums and progressive rock. So it’s a year I look at as a touchstone. Given that, what did I find looking back at KDWB’s “6+30” from mid-July of 1970?
Well, as the link shows, a lot of familiar stuff, records I’ve heard over and over and over in the years since then. Not that I dislike them; some of the stuff on the survey from the week of July 20, 1970, is among my favorite music. But I don’t know that after nine years of blogging, I have much more to say about those favorites.
And then I spotted a listing of a record I’ve not heard in years. I don’t know that it was among my favorites back then, and I’ve not thought often of it since. It sat at No. 13, heading up from No. 20; it would peak on KDWB at No. 7 where it would spend the next two week: “A Song of Joy” by Miguel Rios. (It did better on KDWB than it did nationally in Billboard, where it peaked at No. 14.)
And the single – with music based on the Fourth Movement of Ludwig von Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and words (credited on the record label only to “Orbe”) that echo, if not exactly replicate Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” which Beethoven used for the chorale portion of the movement – is worth a listen this morning.
Two years after Rios’ single was a best-seller in much of Europe as well as here, an adaptation of Beethoven’s music was adopted as a European anthem. Given Europe’s travails in the past week – indeed in the past year – it’s an easy choice to make “A Song of Joy” this week’s Saturday Single.
I slept in today, a rare thing. But when the alarm went off at 6:54, I wasn’t feeling well, and four hours later, not much has improved. Sluggish mind in a sluggish body isn’t exactly the ideal the ancient Greeks had in mind. But we get what we get.
I’ve been following the ongoing plagiarism case against Led Zeppelin for allegedly nicking a piece of Spirit’s song “Taurus” for the famous riff in “Stairway To Heaven,” and I saw a piece on the Rolling Stone website that in its introduction pretty much summed up my thinking about the case brought by the estate of Randy California. Gavin Edwards writes:
Reasonable people can disagree on whether (and how heavily) Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” filches from Spirit’s “Taurus” – that’s why there’s a court case in progress. But the reason many people aren’t extending Led Zeppelin the benefit of the doubt on “Stairway” is because they have an extensive history of swiping songs from other people and giving credit only under duress.
And Edwards’ piece goes on to explore – with videos illustrating each example – ten cases of appropriation.
(Another cataloging of Zep’s indiscretions – with nifty illustrations – is found at the great blog Willard’s Wormholes. Look for “Zeppelin Took My Blues Away” in the blog archives.)
So I was thinking about Led Zeppelin, and I got to thinking about “Whole Lotta Love,” which had its genesis in Muddy Water’s “You Need Love.” And I got to pondering covers of “Whole Lotta Love” (and the Led Zeppelin single remains part of the remembered soundtrack of my junior year of high school, which makes it matter).
I have a few covers of the tune, and there are more out there, according to Second Hand Songs. But if my search function worked correctly this morning, I’ve never posted any of those covers here. That oversight ends now, and sometime soon – tomorrow? Tuesday? I will not promise a specific date, only an intention – we’ll dig into more covers of an appropriated tune.
Our starting point is one of the better versions we’ll find of “Whole Lotta Love,” a 1970 track from King Curtis & The Kingpins.