Archive for the ‘1952’ Category

Saturday Single No. 503

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

Forty years ago today, I woke up calling a new place “home” for the first time I could remember. The previous day – July 1, 1976 – I’d moved most of the stuff I owned from my folks’ place on Kilian Boulevard to a ramshackle house in a working class neighborhood just a few blocks from the railyard on what I call the Near North Side of the city.

Hadn’t I lived other places? Well, yes, I’d lived in two places in Denmark, but those had been temporary; I knew I was going to back to Kilian Boulevard in the spring. And the same held true for the three months I’d spent in a Twin Cities’ apartment during a television internship. This time, however, I did not see myself heading back to Kilian Boulevard. And I did not remember the only other permanent move in my life, which had come when we left Riverside Drive for Kilian Boulevard in February 1957.

So as I awoke that long-ago July morning – a Friday, which means I’d have had some sort of obligations at St. Cloud State, maybe a class, a workshop or a half-day of work – what was I feeling and thinking?

I likely felt a little out of place. I know, as I wrote a few years ago, that later in the day, “there was the odd feeling that arose . . . when going home in the afternoon took me on a different route, not across the Mississippi to the East Side but west past downtown and the Polish Church and then north to just short of the railroad yard.”

Was I worried about being out on my own? I doubt it. Maybe I should have been, and maybe if the new place had been, oh, fifty miles from Kilian Boulevard instead of just two miles, I would have been. But being twenty-two, not yet knowing much about life and being just across the river from Mom and Dad, I had no major concerns.

What did concern me? Well, I did wonder how I’d get along with the other three guys in the house. Two of them, though, had been in Denmark at the same time as I had, and although we hadn’t been close there, we knew and respected each other well enough. The third guy, I didn’t know at all, but it turned out he was rarely home. He worked for a railroad and often rode the trains. I got along fine with that group, but as guys moved out upon graduation and new guys moved in, I wasn’t all that fond of the other folks in the house, and my stay there was only nine months.

I suppose I was also wondering, as I woke that first morning on the North Side, when my girlfriend would be able to come for a visit. She was working as a housekeeper at a summer theater near Alexandria, seventy miles northwest of St. Cloud. I didn’t have to wonder long; she showed up sometime that first weekend.

And life chugged along. I finished my summer work at St. Cloud State and started and abandoned a graduate program. I started work at a music store in a mall and shortly after that got fired for the only time in my life. I got two cats, and the three of us shivered through the winter in the inadequate heat provided by an oil-burning stove in the living room. I went back to school in the spring in search of a print journalism minor, and midway through that quarter, I moved to a mobile home owned by my friend Murl in the little burg of Sauk Rapids.

The house on the North Side still stands, looking more ramshackle than ever. We had an errand nearby the other day, so as we headed toward home, I drove by. Based on the toys in the tiny front yard, a family lives there now. I know that the place now has central heating, which went in shortly after I left, but I have no idea what else may have happened inside. And I really don’t need to know. It’s not like I loved the place during those nine months.

But the house on the North Side nevertheless has a grip on me that’s – how do describe it? – maybe not horribly tight but still tenacious. It was the first place, after all. And though I did not love it as I have loved other places I have lived over the years – with the most-loved place on that list being our current digs here on the East Side – it was for a time my home.

So, pulled not quite at random from about 1,500 tracks with the word “home” in their titles, here’s Big Maybelle with “Way Back Home” from 1952. The tale it tells has no relation to my musings above, but so what? It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Wise Shall Be The Bearers Of Light’

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

The Texas Gal and I are taking some time for ourselves this week; the past few weeks have been busier than normal. Her garden did very well this year, and we’ve been busy picking and canning the result (numerous jars of green beans, of chili base, of stewed tomatoes in both Italian and Mexican seasonings, of pickle relish, of pickles both sweet and dill and of carrots). We also spent time last week preparing for our Second Annual End of Summer Picnic, which came off Sunday with a fine afternoon for all involved and without a raindrop for anyone.

But the busyness of the past few weeks has left us a little drained, so we’re going to ease back on the throttle a little bit this week as she takes a few days off from work. There are plenty of tomatoes ripening in paper bags and yet on the vine; we’ll need to do something with them, but otherwise, we’ll sleep late, relax, maybe take a drive to an antique shop or two and maybe a dinner out.

Included in that is my writing briefer posts here than has been my custom over the years. I know that a few recent posts have been slender, but that reflected how busy things have been. We’ll let this week’s pickings be a little slight, too, as we slide through what is – culturally, at least – the last week of summer. My regular verbosity will return – as inspiration warrants – in about a week.

This morning, I’m pondering the last days of August 1983, the time when I was settling into my new surroundings in Columbia, Missouri, and preparing for a two-year stint in graduate school. I recall the night before fall semester began, sometime during the last days of August. I was anxious about how things would go in my classes and in my part-time work as an assistant editor at the Columbia Missourian (and in my social life, too, as I was living alone again). The University of Missouri’s School of Journalism has a long and bright history, and I wondered if I could measure up. So the evening before classes began, I drove into downtown Columbia and wandered around the portion of the campus near the journalism school and the Francis Quadrangle.

Along the way, I passed under the arch that connects Walter Williams Hall to Neff Hall and saw the inscription above the arch: “Wise Shall Be The Bearers Of Light”.

Wise? I thought. Wise? Me?

Still shaking my head at the thought of my being the holder of wisdom in any way, I got into my car and drove back home. Whatever happened in the next two years was going to happen, and I would have a lot of smart people around me. Maybe some of them would have some wisdom to share with me, and – long shot that it was – maybe some of the things I would share would come off to them as wise.

I imagine the radio was on in the car as I drove home that evening pondering wisdom. I have no idea what I heard, but I’m certain it wasn’t “Wise Man’s Blues” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, a tune recorded in Memphis in 1952.

‘You Ain’t Never Caught A Rabbit . . .’

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

At last, we come to the end of this particular line: Today, we look at the final six selections in my Ultimate Jukebox, the last six of the 228 records I’d have set to play in my living room, if – as I wrote much earlier this year – my living room were part malt shop, part beer joint, part crash pad and part heaven.

If I were fool enough to start this project all over again, I’m sure that the list of songs would be very different. I imagine that about half of the records that showed up here would show up here again. The others? Well, over the past nine months, I’ve frequently heard a record on the radio or during random play on the RealPlayer and wondered why I didn’t choose it for the UJ. I didn’t keep track of those moments, but had I done so, I estimate that they were frequent enough to replace half of the tunes I put into the UJ.

One constraint I might ignore on a second go-round is length. I set a limit of 7:30 for a record, knowing that a 45 could handle that much, and I hit that limit with Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park.” (I came close, relatively, with Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” and Buddy Miles “Down by the River” and maybe a few others that don’t come to mind right now.) If I were to do the project over, I’d ignore that limit and include longer pieces.

Some of the worthy longer pieces that come immediately to mind are the Side One suite on Shawn Phillips’ Second Contribution, the Allman Brothers Band’s performance of “Whipping Post” from At Fillmore East, Bob Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” from Blood on the Tracks, “Beginnings” by Chicago from Chicago Transit Authority, Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Leon Russell’s take on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” from The Concert for Bangla Desh and Boz Scaggs’ “Loan Me A Dime” from his self-titled album. I suppose those and a few others might show up in a complementary project. We’ll see.

When I wrote the second installment of this project, I mentioned Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” as the final two records trimmed to get to 228. And I said that one of the selections set for this final installment was there on probation, as it were: If something else along the way seemed more compelling or more deserving, there was one record that I would pull out of the list to make room.

Well, as good as a lot of the records I thought about along the way might have been – and “Baker Street” came to mind several times – that final record has come off probation and remains in the Ultimate Jukebox:

While Willie Mae Thornton’s version of “Hound Dog” – written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – was recorded in 1952, it was the next year when the record did its damage on the air and in the charts: “Hound Dog,” according to All-Music Guide, held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard chart for seven weeks in 1953.

Thornton’s version was the first recorded of the oft-covered song, with the session taking place at Radio Recorders in Los Angeles on August 13, 1952, according to Wikipedia. The session was in fact produced by Leiber and Stoller themselves “because their work had sometimes been misrepresented, and on this one they knew how they wanted the drums to sound.”

Wikipedia notes that Johnny Otis was supposed to produce the session, but Leiber and Stoller wanted Otis on drums. Evidently in exchange, Otis received a writing credit on all six of the 1953 pressings, Wikipedia says. The first release was on a 10-inch 78 rpm record, according to Wikipedia, but there’s no indication when the 45 rpm releases first came out.

And although I’ve included a player for the song above, I could not resist offering this video – I think it’s from 1965 – of Big Mama Thornton performing “Hound Dog” with a band that includes guitar legend Buddy Guy.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 38
“Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton, Peacock 1612 [1952]
“Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla 54188 [1969]
“Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” by Elton John from Honky Château [1972]
“I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” by England Dan & John Ford Coley, Big Tree 16069 [1976]
“Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” by Fire Inc. from the soundtrack to Streets of Fire [1984]
“Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge, Island 858028 [1994]

In one of the last posts before I decided to put together the Ultimate Jukebox, I wrote about the mournful and beautiful “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” and its impact on me no matter when or where I hear it. It’s an exercise in nostalgia, not only in its lyrics but in its arrangement, with its decidedly old-school chorus in the introduction and choruses (a description borrowed from a comment left by jb, the proprietor of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’). Wonder makes the unlikely combination work, as he has done so many times through his career. And whenever it comes on the radio or the player, if there’s not a twinge of regret for all the things left behind, well, you’re at the wrong blog.

One of the amazing things to me about the early Elton John – from say 1970 through 1976 – was his ability to take the frequently opaque lyrics of Bernie Taupin and craft songs around them that made them sound cryptically wise or at least reasonable. I mean, after hundreds of listenings, I’m still not sure what the lyrics to “Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” mean:

And now I know
Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say
I thought I knew
But now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City

Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true
You stand at the edge while people run you through
And I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you
I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light

Wikipedia says that the lyrics were inspired partly by Ben E. King’s recording of “Spanish Harlem” and partly by Taupin’s having heard a gun go off near his hotel during his first visit to New York City. Okay. In any case, they sound good, and John crafted around them one of his better melodies. Add the production of Gus Dudgeon, and you have an album track that hangs around, sounding better every time it pops up in the player.

Paul Evans of the 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide didn’t much care for England Dan & John Ford Coley. He called “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” “ingratiating, smug and coy” and labeled the duo’s body of work as “truly repellent,” capping his review off by saying that they “sound like oafish bores [not “boars,” sorry] breaking their backs to be ‘sensitive.’” Well, okay. I’ll acknowledge that “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” isn’t going to be on everyone’s good list. But I don’t hear those flaws when I hear “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” which was the duo’s biggest hit (two weeks at No. 2 and one week atop the Adult Contemporary chart). I hear the summer of 1976, which was a reasonably good season. I was taking some post-graduate courses at St. Cloud State, I had a steady girlfriend whom I saw most weekends, I had friends for evenings downtown or at one of our homes: Life was good. Along the way, I occasionally heard “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” coming through the speakers at home, in the car and – early in the morning before the place got too noisy – in the snack bar at Atwood Center. And the record has become a reminder of a pretty good summer, and that’s good enough for me.

A while back, I came across the movie Streets of Fire as I walked the remote up the channels. As I almost always do when that happens, I watched the rest of the movie. And I made a note at Facebook about it, calling it a bad movie. I was corrected by my blogging pal Jeff, who keeps house at AM, then FM. He called it a guilty pleasure, and I guess that’s a better label. Either way, I do like the movie, and I still love the soundtrack, especially the two Jim Steinman epics that open and close the movie. “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” is the closer, with the studio group Fire Inc. providing the backing and lead vocals coming from Holly Sherwood with other vocals from Laurie Sargent, Rory Dodd and Eric Troyer, according to Wikipedia. One notable name on the roster of Fire Inc. is that of Roy Bittan, piano player for the E Street Band. “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” spent five weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 80.

When I started this project, I devised a way to split the 228 records I had selected into random groups of six, and each week, I listed that week’s six songs chronologically. Back in Week One, the first song listed was The Mamas & The Papas’ “Look Through My Window.” This week, the last song listed – the last entry in this project – is Melissa Etheridge’s “Come To My Window,” a record that went to No. 25 in 1994. I guess that confluence is fitting, as what I’ve tried to do in these thirty-eight weeks is provide a window into the music that moves me and in doing so, a window into me as I’ve been shaped by music over the years. As I thought might happen, I’ve probably learned as much about myself as has anyone else who’s read my words and listened to the tunes offered here over the past eight-plus months. The mystery of how some songs attach themselves to our lives is one I’ll be exploring for the rest of my days. I doubt I’ll ever completely know how some songs – “Cherish” and “We” come to mind in my case – become major pillars of our internal lives and how others like “Come To My Window” – a good record to me, but nothing more than that – are perhaps the equivalent of artwork hung on the internal walls supported by those other, more vital records. In the end, I doubt I’ll find a perfect answer, and I suppose it might be better if all that remains a mystery. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop listening.