I’m not optimistic. I am, frankly, scared.
Here is all I have today: Elliott Murphy & Iain Matthews with their cover of the Youngbloods’ “Darkness, Darkness.” It’s from the 2001 album La Terre Commune.
I’m not optimistic. I am, frankly, scared.
Here is all I have today: Elliott Murphy & Iain Matthews with their cover of the Youngbloods’ “Darkness, Darkness.” It’s from the 2001 album La Terre Commune.
I “upgraded” overnight to Windows 10.
I write it that way because this morning, everything on my computer looks blurry, and it wasn’t last night.
As to the main features of 10, I imagine I’ll learn them soon enough. I’ve learned enough to get this piece posted. And I’ve found out how to move files from one folder to another. Given my daily sorting of mp3s, it’s maybe the function I use the most as I sit here, and it’s a function that’s seemingly put in a different place every time the operating system changes, so this is the fourth time I’ve had to figure out where it is: Windows 98, XP, 7 and now 10.
But I’ve learned that, and I managed to get the weather tile on the start menu changed from Washington, D.C., to St. Cloud. So we’re making progress.
As to the blurriness, I recall that when I switched from my old ungainly tube monitor to my wide flat sceen about eight years ago, things looked funny for a while. Eventually my eyes will adjust, I suppose. Or I’ll find a fix hidden somewhere deep in the workings of Windows 10.
Or I’ll go blind.
So here are the Blind Boys of Alabama with “Just Wanna See His Face,” a 2001 cover of the Rolling Stones’ tune that I found on the collection The I-10 Chronicles/2. (The songwriting credit is Mick Jagger/Keith Richards although I’ve read some comments from Bobby Whitlock that dispute those credits.)
The vocals are from Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and Joey Williams, and it’s worth noting the backing musicians on the track: John Hammond on guitar, David Lindley on slide guitar, Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, Michael Jerome on drums and Danny Thompson on double bass.
With all of that, here’s today’s Saturday Single:
We’re going to put the cursor about in the middle of the 78,829 mp3s in the RealPlayer and see where we go on a random six-track trip. Here we go!
First up is “When She Loves Me” from the 1977 album Mama Let Him Play by the Canadian musician Jerry Doucette. It’s a sweet tune, and I wouldn’t have known it or anything about Doucette without the help of my blogging pal jb, who hangs out at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. He asked me one morning if I had Doucette’s album, needing – I think – the title track. I didn’t, so I went and found it in the wilds of the Internet. It’s a decent late Seventies album, offering kind of a Canadian version of Pablo Cruise, and it got to No. 159 on the Billboard 200. I don’t often seek the album out, but when a track from it pops up on random, I hum along.
From there, we move back to 1957 and “Love Roller Coaster” by Big Joe Turner. “I ain’t never comin’ down to earth,” he sings. “I’m gonna stay up high, long as I’m up here with you.” The record wasn’t one of Turner’s greatest hits, and it came near the end of his charting days – it was the next-to-last record he placed in the R&B Top 40 – but it got to No. 12, and it sounds pretty much like a Big Joe Turner joint. In other words, you know what you’re gonna get when the record starts, and when it ends, you’re not disappointed.
Coldplay first came to my attention in 2001 when “Yellow” showed up on the playlist of Twin Cities radio station Cities 97. I remember looking askance at the radio the first time I heard it, wincing at some of the lyrics, which seemed not so much haunting (which I think was the goal) as vague. But “Yellow” brought Coldplay to my attention, which is good, as I’ve liked a fair amount of the band’s work since then. I know there are many who detest the band, and I don’t quite get that. But then, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t get, so I don’t spend much time worrying about Coldplay haters.
I paid no attention to T. Rex back in the day, except that there was no way anyone could ignore “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” during early 1972. But I missed out on everything else the band did, including “Jeepster” from 1971’s Electric Warrior album. The record went to No. 2 in the U.K. but was not released as a U.S. single. I’m not entirely sure what “Girl, I’m just a Jeepster for your love” means, but the track is catchy. And it’s very similar to Howlin’ Wolf’s 1962 single “You’ll Be Mine.” Wikipedia notes that T. Rex’s Marc Bolan acknowledged of “Jeepster” that he “lifted it from a Howlin’ Wolf song.” (Regular reader Yah Shure has since told me that “Jeepster” was in fact released as a single in the U.S., though it did not chart. My source for my statement was The Great Rock Discography, another volume that I have either misread or whose data I must now salt liberally.)
The late Larry Jon Wilson has showed up in these pages a few times, and I’m glad to see him pop up today as we wander randomly. “Loose Change” is a panhandler’s tale, the title track from Wilson’s 1977 album, and he tells the tale as he seemingly always does, with affection, with respect, and with an acute eye for detail. He released five albums – four in the 1970s and one in 2008 – and every one of them is a quiet gem. And as I write this morning, I feel as if I should listen to his music more than I do, because every time Wilson’s music pops up randomly, I’m drawn into it by his craft and his warm voice.
Among my musical idiosyncrasies is an affection for the music of Julie London, the 1950s and 1960s chanteuse who’s perhaps known for two things: her 1955 recording of “Cry Me A River” and her role as nurse Dixie McCall in the 1970s police drama Emergency! Today’s random jaunt brings up London’s performance of “I’m Glad There Is You” from her 1955 album Julie Is Her Name. It’s a quiet track, maybe not among her best, but if you want to know what the adults were listening to in 1955, it’s a pretty good example.
Maps fascinate me. From the time I could unfold the bulky road maps of the early 1960s – free in those years at nearly every gas station – I’d trace routes from city to city, look for rivers and lakes and wonder what it would look like and feel like to, say, drive south along U.S. Highway 71 from the Canadian border at International Falls all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. (I’ve never done that, and the drive would be much less interesting now than it would have been in the 1960s because it appears that much of that highway’s route now follows the Interstate highways.)
Along with my fascination with maps came a love for place names. Whether they come from Native American traditions or from the names of places left behind by settlers or even from the less-than-fertile imaginations of suburban developers – a trail that leads figuratively here in Minnesota from Wabasha to New Prague to Woodbury – I’m captivated by the names of places every time I look at a map.
And that captivation finds its way into my life in a lot of ways. Most pertinent to this space is that I find myself listening to and collecting records and digital music files that use place names in their titles. I walked briefly through titles that include “Memphis” a couple of years ago. That may be the most popular of place names in my collection, but it’s not necessarily the most fun. Shortly after I began collecting mp3s in 2000, I came across the track listing of country singer Yearwood’s 1995 album Thinkin’ About You.
When I looked at that track listing, one song title stood out: “On A Bus To St. Cloud.” I’d never seen my hometown mentioned in a song, and I wondered if the city in question were instead St. Cloud, Florida. I got hold of a copy of the song and learned, happily, that it was my St. Cloud that was referenced. So I did a little bit of research. I found an interview with writer Gretchen Peters in which she said the inspiration for the song came when she was looking idly at a map and noticed St. Cloud, Minnesota. The name of the city intrigued her and provided the inspiration for what turned out to be a pretty decent song.
Yearwood was the first to record it, according to Second Hand Songs, with Peters recording her version a year later for her album The Secret of Life. Other covers listed at Second Hand Songs have come from John Joseph Nolis and the duo of Neyman & Willé. At Amazon, one finds versions by Leah Shafer, George Donaldson and other names that are unfamiliar (at least to me). One familiar name there is Jimmy LaFave, an Austin-based singer-songwriter whose work I enjoy; he put his version of “On A Bus To St. Cloud” on his 2001 album Texoma. And there are other covers out there, I’m sure.
But as I look for what sounds and feels definitive, I go back – as I often do – to the original. I’m astounded that it’s taken me this long – more than six years of blogging – to write about the song, but here’s Yearwood’s version of a tune that name-checks my hometown.
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:
As I was wasting time on Facebook last evening, I posted – for no particular reason except I like the song – a link to a video of Everything But The Girl’s recording of “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” from 1988.
The video played as I posted the link, and as Tracey Thorn eased her way through the tune, I thought to myself that I needed to dig into the tune’s genesis. I knew about Rod Stewart’s version from Atlantic Crossing, and I thought I had a couple of other versions in the files, but where had the song come from?
I figured it was something I should know – or maybe something I’d learned a while back and forgotten. If it was the latter – if I’d forgotten – I also figured I’d be at least a little chagrined when I was reminded of what I’d forgotten.
So I clicked a few links, and – as it turned out – I wasn’t chagrined. I just felt stupid.
The song was written, of course, by the late Danny Whitten, a member of Crazy Horse and a friend to not only Neil Young but also to Bobby Jameson, whose career I’ve written about numerous times (and with whom I still share emails and Facebook messages and links). If I’ve never known the origins of the song, I should have. The tune was included in 1971 on Crazy Horse’s self-titled album:
But as I listened to Crazy Horse’s version of the tune – the original version, as it were – I knew I’d heard another version. I searched the RealPlayer and found nothing, which didn’t make sense. I knew I had another version of the tune in the files. Puzzled, I went to All-Music Guide to see who else had covered the tune.
As I knew he would be, Rod Stewart was listed. His version was released as a single in late 1979 and went to No. 46. (I find the four-year gap between the release of Atlantic Crossing in 1975 and the release of the single a little odd.) Others listed as having covered the tune were Rita Coolidge, Ian Matthews, Nils Lofgren, a U.K. singer named Dina Carroll, Steve Brookstein (who was the first winner of the television contest Pop Idol in the U.K.), and a few other names.
The Matthews listing intrigued me, as I have a fair amount of his music from his time in Fairport Convention, in Matthews Southern Comfort, in Plainsong, and under his own name. The album he released in 2000 with Elliot Murphy, La Terre Commune, is one of my favorite albums (though with all the music in the nooks and crannies here, it gets less play than it should). On that album, Matthews’ first name was presented as “Iain,” so I searched for the tunes I have under that name.
And I found the version of the tune I’d been recalling, a live performance from 2001. It was listed, however, as “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It.” Using that spelling, I did some more searching. I found a good performance of the song by the Indigo Girls from the soundtrack to the film Philadelphia. And AMG informed me that Matthews had first recorded the song for his 1974 album Some Days You Eat the Bear and Some Days the Bear Eats You, which is one of the few Matthews’ albums from that era that I’ve not heard.
Others listed as recording the tune with the “Wanna” spelling were the pop group Smokie, performers named Michael Ball, Alexander Murray, Emmerson Nogueira and clarinetist Mr. Acker Bilk.
As I noted, I’ve not heard many versions of the song, but of those I have heard, I lean toward the Crazy Horse take as the definitive version. (I’ve never cared much for Stewart’s version.) Other than that, I enjoy the live version I alluded to earlier, the one that Murphy, Matthews and Olivier Durand recorded June 1, 2001, during a performance at the Cornish Pub in Solingen, Germany. It was released as a part of the Official Blue Rose Bootleg Series.
There’s a new auto commercial that’s popped up in the past few weeks. I’ve seen it numerous times during the football playoffs the past two weekends. But even so, I don’t recall which brand of automobile the commercial is promoting. That’s because the music selected to back the commercial distracts me every time. So maybe I should say I’ve heard it numerous times. And here’s what I’ve heard:
I recognized it the instant I first heard it, whenever that might have been, maybe three weeks ago. It’s a passage from “The Only Living Boy In New York,” a recording that first saw the light of day in 1970 on Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water album.
Here’s the track in a video. The excerpt used for the auto commercial runs from about 1:16 to about 1:46.
It’s a beautiful track, one that I’ve always thought kind of got lost behind the album’s hits: The title tune, which spent six weeks at No. 1; “Cecelia,” which went to No. 4; “The Boxer,” which reached No. 7 and “El Condor Pasa,” which went to No. 18. “The Only Living Boy In New York” wound up on the B-side of “Cecelia,” but I think those positions should have been reversed and that “The Only Living Boy . . .” would have done very well as a single on its own. (I’ve never much cared for “Cecelia,” or for “El Condor Pasa,” as far as that goes.)
But the song remained an album track, and over the years, as I’ve put together mixtapes and then CD mixes for friends and for myself, it kind of got lost. I don’t recall using it very often in those mixes, and I should have. And I don’t often drop Bridge Over Troubled Water into the player these days, so I hadn’t heard “The Only Living Boy . . .” for several years or more until part of it showed up hawking cars the other weekend. Thus reminded, I went back and listened to it, and realized anew how good it is. (I think it’s generally accepted that the song was Paul Simon’s way of encouraging Art Garfunkel to pursue his developing acting career at a time when their musical partnership was nearing its end.) Having listened, I then did some digging, wondering about cover versions.
There were a few covers of the tune before 2000, but the pace of covers increased after that, and I’m not sure why. If the shift had occurred a few years later, I’d ascribe it at least partly to the use of the original recording in the soundtrack to the 2004 movie Garden State that year. But a couple of years before that, the song began to pop up for some reason.
But let’s start back in the 1990s. The covers of the song that are listed at All-Music Guide (probably not a complete list) include a straightforward folkish version from the New Zealand band Random Thoughts, included on the 1992 anthology Out from the Cold (1964-72) and a delightful cover of the tune by Everything But The Girl, included on the 1995 anthology Acoustic Rock. Then there was the version done by Larry Kirwan on his 2001 album Kilroy Was Here, which used an energetic jazzy arrangement behind an idiosyncratic vocal performance from Kirwan, the lead singer and songwriter for the band Black 47.
One of the more odd versions of the tune came on a 2001 release by a group called Avscvlate: Mystical Chants: The Songs of Simon & Garfunkel, an album that includes “The Only Living Boy . . .” and eleven other Simon & Garfunkel tunes in faux Gregorian chant settings. It’s an interesting listen but not one that compels repeated plays:
Avscvlate – “The Only Living Boy In New York” 
I can’t find any trace – not at iTunes, at Amazon or anywhere else – of a version of “The Only Living Boy . . .” by a group called The Trouble With Sweeney. It’s included on a 2002 EP titled Play Karen and Others, but it doesn’t show up anywhere. I did find a nice, almost Celtic, arrangement of the tune on Undercover Agents, a 2003 CD from a group called Hobnail Boots (or perhaps just Hobnail), but I can’t find anything else about the band. Based on discographies, it does not seem to be the New Zealand band called Hobnail Boots, but I’m not certain about anything except that the band covered the tune pretty well.
Other covers came along after “The Only Living Boy . . .” was used in Garden State: Kevin Laurence, Dandelion Snow and Sin Fang recorded the song, and at about the time the movie came out, David Mead recorded a unremarkable version of the tune for the television show Everwood, which ran from 2002 to 2006 without my seeing a single episode.
I came across two other versions of “The Only Living Boy In New York” that I thought I’d share here. The first is by Swedish singer Montt Mardié, who released the tune in a Swedish translation on his 2009 EP Direkt till Svenska. I realize it’s not everyone’s deal, but I’m fascinated by other-language recordings of songs I love.
Finally, the best cover of “The Only Living Boy In New York” that I’ve heard while digging around this week can be found on a CD released last summer by Marc Cohn of “Walking In Memphis” fame. His Listening Booth: 1970 album has him covering twelve hit songs from 1970, and I think he generally does a good job of it. His cover of “The Only Living Boy In New York” shines:
Marc Cohn – “The Only Living Boy In New York” 
We’ll see you Saturday.
My list of things to accomplish today is longer than I would like, and following an early morning trip to the dentist – no major problems but the usual admonition to floss more frequently – I am short of time.
So I thought I would supply two looks back and one look forward today.
I wrote Tuesday about the beginnings of the metamorphosis of Paul Summers – whom I knew in Eden Prairie – into Paul LaRoche of the Lower Brulé Lakota Tribe and the music he now creates as Brulé with the band American Indian Rock Opera. I’ve been listening a fair amount in the past few days to their music, and I thought I’d toss another selection out there.
Here’s “Buffalo Moon” from Brulé’s first CD, the 1996 release We the People.
Since that release, as I mentioned this week, Paul LaRoche’s two children, Nicole and Shane, have joined in his musical efforts, and Nicole has released several CDs of her own. Here’s “Beyond the Trail of Tears” from her 2001 CD, Passion Spirit.
And, as I plan tomorrow to take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1970 – my favorite musical year – here’s “Back to the River” by the oddly named The Damnation of Adam Blessing, which was at No. 107 in its first week in the Bubbling Under section of the Hot 100. (I may have posted this tune when I was at one of my other two locations on the Intertubes, but if so, it’s been a while and it’s a good tune.) From what I can tell, the record hung around the Bubbling Under section for four weeks in November and December 1970 and then disappeared for a bit before coming back for three more weeks of Bubbling Under in January 1971.
And I’ll be back tomorrow.
Summer has laid its heaviest weight on us this week, the kind of hot, sticky weather that makes one long for the frozen joy of January. All week long, it’s been fog and mist at daybreak followed by hot air so humid that making one’s way through it feels like walking in glue. There have been no quiet evenings on the little patio this week; if we haven’t needed to be outside, we’ve stayed in.
We are hoping that the cool front that came through yesterday – heralded by a line of wild storms that advanced across the Upper Midwest like an avenging army – will bring some relief from the humidity, if not the heat. Hey, it’s August. It’s going to be hot. We know that. But it would be nice to be able to sit outside for half an hour in the evening without feeling as if we’re wearing four layers of clothes just pulled out of a washing machine.
There are some advantages to the warm and wet weather: We have been overloaded already this summer with wax beans, green beans and zucchini, and any current spare room in the fridge is now taken up by tomatoes and cucumbers. We also have extra eggplant, and the watermelon vines that we thought were a lost cause at the end of June have taken over the northwestern corner of our gardening space and are beginning to battle with the second crop of pole beans for possession of the fence. The vines are also home to four or five good-sized melons to go with the one already in the house that we plan to open on Sunday.
So there are many things can thrive in the warm and wet days we’ve been having; that includes bugs as well as fruit and vegetables. As the evening light fades, the gnats and mosquitoes make the yard their own. We wandered out the other evening shortly after dark to see some celestial phenomenon that we’d read was visible shortly after sunset in the northwestern sky, and we stayed outside no longer than ten minutes before fleeing inside, both agreeing that whatever it was we’d thought to see in the night sky was in no way worth a thousand bites.
This is a much warmer summer than was last year’s, and despite the discomforts I chronicle here, I’m nevertheless pleased, as it feels like a real summer in ways that last year’s cool and dry season did not. A year ago, we waited and waited for summer to truly arrive, and it never did. So this year’s damp heat is welcome, maybe more in the abstract than the concrete and no doubt partly because we can avoid the worst of its attendant discomfort.
And our ability to avoid that discomfort makes me think: This is the first home I’ve ever lived in with central cooling, and I wonder if that’s somehow insulating me more this year than ever from the true nature of summer, both good and bad. And I wonder if I’ve lost something, some visceral connection to the season. (Do I ever think about a similar relation between central heat and the chill of winter? Only vaguely, and with little regret for any connection I might have lost with Arctic cold.)
Having pondered the question for a few days, I do not think the connection between me and summer is entirely sundered; it may be minimized by my ability to avoid the worst of the heat and the damp. But I do not live my entire life indoors, nor would I want to, in summer or in any season. I can, through technology, choose when to immerse myself in summer heat and when to shelter in the artificial coolness inside. And, spoiled child of technology that I am, I would not have it any other way.
Summer is, of course, a more-than-frequent topic of song. I have something like three hundred mp3s with “summer” in the title. (It’s hard to know for sure at a glance because the search function also draws in those recordings found on albums with “summer” in their titles, as well as the odd outliers like the performances by a Seventies group named Summer Wine.) And as I was rummaging through them this morning, I came across an instrumental performance of “Some Summer Day,” a song written and recorded by Delta musician Charley Patton sometime in 1930.
It’s difficult to know exactly what Patton was singing, given the poor quality of the surviving audio (a glance at the comments in a long-ago thread devoted to the lyrics of the song will demonstrate the difficulty). But it’s clear that the melody is essentially the same as the tune “Sitting On Top Of The World,” a familiar song written by two members of the Mississippi Sheiks (a folk/country blues string band). The song was first recorded by the Sheiks, also in 1930, and has been covered by many musicians – including Cream, Bob Dylan and Howlin’ Wolf, to name just three – over the ensuing eighty years.
It’s a lovely melody, no matter where Patton got it, and one of the best performances of it I’ve ever heard is the one fronted by Kid Bangham, a one-time member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. That version, recorded as “Some Summer Day,” was included on a 2001 collection titled Down The Dirt Road: Songs Of Charley Patton. And that performance is today’s Saturday Single: