Archive for the ‘2009’ Category

‘You Can Hear The Whistle Blow . . .’

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

A week ago, as I explored tunes buried in the deeper portions of the Billboard chart in mid-January 1972, I shared the version of “500 Miles” by a group billed as Heaven Bound with Tony Scotti. In doing so, I called the tune a “folk song,” vaguely remembering it sung around campfires somewhere, perhaps at the Shores of St. Andrew, where I attended Bible camp during the summer of 1968.

But I also recalled it from one of the first pop-rock albums I ever owned: Look At Us by Sonny & Cher. It was a Christmas gift from my sister in 1965, one of her occasional attempts to encourage me to listen to the same music that my peers did. I liked the album well enough, and “500 Miles” – if not the heart of the album – was a pretty good track:

As I listened to Sonny & Cher this week for the first time in years, I still liked it, but it came to mind that Sonny Bono’s Spectorian folk-rock likely pulls “500 Miles” away from its roots as a folk song, whether those roots are in the literal folk tradition as a song that evolved over time or in purposeful composition during the folk boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s. And I wondered where the tune had come from.

It came, as it turned out, from the pen of Hedy West, a folk singer and performer from Georgia who recorded a few albums of traditional folk music in the early 1960s and 1970s. She wrote only a few songs, and “500 Miles” was by far her most famous composition. The song, according to Wikipedia, “was put together from fragments of a melody she had heard her uncle sing to her back in Georgia.” In her own performance of the tune from her 1963 self-titled album, she offers more verses than are usually sung.*

West’s version of her song wasn’t the first released, however. The Journeymen – a folk trio made up of John Phillips (future founder of the Mamas & the Papas), Scott McKenzie (of future “San Francisco” fame) and Dick Weissman – recorded “500 Miles” for their 1961 self-titled album.

From there, covers of the song multiplied. The Kingston Trio included the song in a live recording done in late 1961, and folk icons Peter, Paul & Mary included the song as an album track on their 1962 debut album. Other covers in the early and mid-1960s came from the Brothers Four, Johnny Rivers, Peter & Gordon, Jackie DeShannon and more. And in 1963, Bobby Bare released a reworking of the song with an expanded title – “500 Miles Away From Home” – and additional lyrics that went to No. 10 on the pop chart and No. 5 on the country chart.

I have no idea how many performers have covered the tune, then or since. The listing at AMG shows 237 CDs with the tune “500 Miles” on them, and nearly a hundred more with the title “500 Miles Away From Home.” Many of those are duplicates, of course, so there may not be as many cover versions as I once thought, maybe thirty at a guess.

One of the most recent came from a group called the Innocence Mission, which included “500 Miles” on its 2000 release Christ Is My Hope. In its review of the album, AMG notes the “childlike humility and translucence of Karen Peris’ voice” as contributing “to a kind of wide-eyed wisdom that seems to gaze into the everyday and illuminate its elusive spiritual core.” I didn’t necessarily get that, but I thought casual listeners could be forgiven if they thought that the performance came from 1970s folkie Melanie. It’s a nice version with a decent if simple arrangement.

I should also note that Rosanne Cash did an excellent cover of Bare’s version of “500 Miles” on her 2009 release The List, an album whose contents were drawn from a literal list of essential American songs compiled for Cash in the early 1970s by her famous father, Johnny.

But the most interesting cover of the song I found as I dug around the past few days – one that’s far removed in approach from Hedy West’s spare rendition – came from an unexpected source. In 1989, the Hooters, a pop-rock band from Philadelphia best remembered, AMG says, for the No. 21 hit “And We Danced” (or perhaps for being Cyndi Lauper’s backing band on She’s So Unusual),  adapted “500 Miles” – adding lyrics evidently inspired by that year’s events in and near Beijing’s Tienanmen Square – on its album Zig Zag.

The haunting, atmospheric arrangement works very well, and the Hooters’ version, which went to No. 97, has the added attraction of including background vocals from Peter, Paul & Mary along the way.

*Some compilations of West’s work are available on CD and through downloads at Amazon, as is a CD version of Getting Folk Out Of The Country, the 1974 album she recorded with folk musician Bill Clifton. There’s some vinyl out there, too, both at Amazon and through GEMM.

Bootlegs & Buckets

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Unlike a lot of music fans, I’ve never done much with bootleg recordings, either pursuing or listening to them. There are a few rattling around in the external hard drive, stuff that I’ve stumbled into while wandering the wilds of the ’Net or that friends have pointed me toward. But gathering bootlegs has never been a large part of my musical obsessions.

What I mean is that I don’t go on journeys online in search of, say, a specific Allman Brothers Band performance from 1970, or Bob Dylan’s performance at St. Paul’s Riverfest in 1989. (There are plenty of the former out there, I think, most of which would make compelling listening; as to the Dylan show at Riverfest, that’s less likely, and I’ve never actually looked for it. But it would be fun, as I was there.)

On those days when I wander the web with no particular destination in mind, however, I sometimes run into bootlegs that interest me. For the record, I’m defining “bootleg” here as an officially unreleased recording or performance. Most bootlegs, I imagine, would be illicit although that definition would also include all the audience tapes of the Grateful Dead done with the band’s encouragement and even assistance.

Whatever the definition, I do have a few. One bootleg in my collection that’s among the most interesting actually hasn’t made it to the hard drive yet. It’s something the Texas Gal found and bought for me as we dug into boxes at a huge record store in Arlington, Texas, back in December of 2001: The Band Live at the Hollywood Bowl, 7-10-70. Having been thinking about bootlegs for the past day or do, I pulled it from the shelves this morning and I’ll likely rip it to mp3s in the next week or so. (Not only might it be the most interesting bootleg I have in any format, it’s certainly the most expensive; she laid out fifty bucks for the two-LP set.)

Not all boots are buried deep in the niches of the ’Net, of course. One of the better-known sources is roio, with a broad assortment of riches. My pal jb pointed me there after he found a December 1970 performance by Leon Russell that’s turned out to be quite a treat. Some digging there can be rewarding.

But most of the bootlegs I have in my collection are things I found by accident. There are a few favorites: Delaney & Bonnie & Friends at the Fillmore West in 1970. Bob Dylan’s outtakes from Blood on the Tracks. The Rolling Stones in Brussels, Belgium, October 17, 1973 (just thirteen days after I saw them in Denmark).

And I have one excruciating oddity: Four tracks by Tiny Tim with The Band from 1967.

So why have I been thinking about bootlegs for much of the past twenty-four hours? Because of one of those happy accidents. I was working on the Echoes In The Wind Archives yesterday morning, reposting the piece that contained my music bucket list. (An aside: After I added Glen Campbell performing “Wichita Lineman” to my list last month, jb provided some bucket list tales of his own at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ .) As I prepared to repost my bucket list, I decided to add a note, detailing a few updates about the topic, including the fact that I’d added another figurative check mark to the list after seeing Bruce Springsteen perform “Born To Run.”

Just to make certain of the date of the concert, I Googled “Springsteen St. Paul 2009.” I verified from the first link that the show took place on May 11 and then idly looked at the next few links. And did a double-take.

I wrote above that I don’t often look for bootlegs. And I don’t. But now and then, for a little more than two years, there is one Springsteen bootleg I’ve looked for: The May 11, 2009, show at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. And there it was.

The sound’s not as good as bootlegs sometimes are. But still, it’s my show. And here’s how it sounded that night as my bucket got a little bit more full:

‘Tom, Get Your Plane Right On Time . . .’

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

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” [2001]

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” [2010]

We’ll see you Saturday.

Saturday Single No. 217

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

There’s been precious little commentary over the nearly four years I’ve been writing this blog about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve made a comment here or there, perhaps noticing one group or performer’s induction. But I’ve not made a big deal out of it, and I don’t pay nearly as much attention to the Hall as I used to during the Hall’s early years. So it took me a couple of days to notice earlier this week when the Hall announced its 2010 inductees.

They are performers Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Darlene Love and Tom Waits; record executives Jac Holzman and Art Rupe; and, in the category of “Award for Musical Excellence,” Leon Russell. (That last category used to be called Sidemen, and I think changing it was a mistake; “Award for Musical Excellence” makes it sound like a lifetime achievement award or something that’s of lesser merit than the performers’ category, and a “Sidemen” honor – at least to me – did not sound as it if diminished the individual’s contributions.)

I can’t really speak to the careers of the executives; I know Holzman was the founder of Elektra Records, which was a good label, and I recognize the name of Art Rupe but don’t know anything else about him. So I’ll pass on comment there.

But I can speak to the list of performers. I think it’s a good group. I don’t necessarily know a lot of work by all of them – I’ve never been a fan of much that Alice Cooper did, and Waits can be a challenging listen – but I don’t think this is a group of performers that caused a lot of cringing among fans and critics when it was released this week.

For me, it was difficult to sort out which name on the list was most pleasing: Neil Diamond provided solid radio fare during my few years of devoted Top 40 listening, and after a few years when I paid little attention, his work in the past few years has pleased me as well. Dr. John and Leon Russell are unique musicians who bring with them expressions of their roots and individual visions; those are roots and visions I happen to like a great deal.

But probably the name on this year’s list that made me smile widest was that of Darlene Love. A member of the Blossoms and a solo artist for Phil Spector when that mad genius was perfecting his Wall of Sound, Love was – as a blogging friend once told me – Spector’s “go-to girl when the vocal had to get done right now.” Along with her work with the Blossoms and on her own, she also sang lead vocals on Spector’s “He’s A Rebel,” which was credited to the Crystals. She was – along with Ronnie Bennett of the Ronettes – the female voice of the Wall of Sound.

And she gets some extra affection here for providing me with one of the three Christmas recordings I offer here each year. On the 1963 album, A Christmas Gift For You, Spector had Love sing what is in my mind the greatest pop song ever written or recorded about the holiday season: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

I’m not the only one who thinks so. The song and recording receive pretty much the same accolades each December when Love performs the song on David Letterman’s late-night television show, a performance that has been an annual event since 1986. (A writer’s strike in 2007 resulted in a tape of her 2006 performance being offered, according to Wikipedia.) This year’s performance will take place next Thursday, December 23.

So, because only a few posts remain until Christmas and to honor Darlene Love on her selection for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, here is last year’s performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”on the Late Show with David Letterman. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Well, It’s Sugar For Sugar And Salt For Salt . . .’

Monday, August 16th, 2010

A couple of days ago, my mom and I were out running some of her errands, including a stop at the tailor shop at the far end of Waite Park, the city west of St. Cloud. Now, the St. Cloud area is not all that large, and the tailor shop is really not all that distant; when we were in the Twin Cities, the Texas Gal and I would drive that far for a quart of milk. But during the nearly eight years of living once more in the small scale of the St. Cloud metro area, my sense of distance has shifted back, and going to something “all the way on the other end of town” seems like a longer trip than it used to.

And on this trip, as we left the tailor shop with a few more stops left, the sky gave us the rain it had been promising all morning. As we wended our way east, we did so to flashes of lightning, the rumble of near-constant thunder and the heavy splash of rain on the car as it came down almost faster than the windshield wipers could deal with it. I drove slowly, but was never forced to stop as we made our way back to the East Side and her home in Sauk Rapids. The rain eased a little as we got near her place, and I realized I was half-humming, half-singing a Bob Dylan tune under my breath: “Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood).”

The first time I heard the song was on Dylan’s second greatest hits package, which included an informal version of the tune recorded with Happy Traum. Here’s how the song sounded on New Year’s Eve 1971, when Dylan joined The Band at the New York Academy of Music near the end of the concert that wound up being released by The Band as Rock of Ages. (This performance and three others featuring Dylan with The Band were released in 2001 as part of a remastered and expanded version of Rock of Ages.)

Video deleted

At All-Music Guide, one can find listings for about a hundred CDs that contain versions of the song, whether it’s called “Down In The Flood” (as it was on that second Dylan hits set in the early 1970s), “Crash on the Levee” or “Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood),” as it’s currently listed on Dylan’s website. And there are some interesting versions of the song out there. One of them comes from what seems to me an unlikely source: Blood, Sweat & Tears covered the song for the opening track of its New Blood album in 1972. It’s an odd arrangement. I don’t think the horn parts work, but there’s a nice groove that would otherwise have worked nicely if it had been left alone.

Another performer who covered the song early was British folksinger Sandy Denny, who included it on her 1971 album, The North Star Grassman And The Ravens. Here’s Denny performing the song as a member of Fairport Convention. I believe the performance is from May 4, 1974, at the Sanders Theater on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Thanks to The Night Owl Presents for some information.)

I wrote the other week about current bands I listen to, and I missed one: The Derek Trucks Band. Trucks is, of course, the nephew of Butch Trucks, long-time drummer for the Allman Brothers Band; that association brought the younger Trucks an apprenticeship that would be hard to match anywhere, and the Derek Trucks Band has been recording and releasing music since 1997. Last year’s Already Free led off with a blistering performance of “Down In The Flood.”

That should do it for today. Have a good Monday, and I’ll most likely be back here Wednesday with another installment of the Ultimate Jukebox.