Archive for the ‘1957’ Category

Let’s Go To Town

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Every once in a while, you just gotta go to town and find out what’s there for you.

So you need an invitation? Okay, you’ve got one from Joe Therrien & His Rockets, who recorded “Hey Baby Let’s Go Downtown” on the Brunswick label in 1957. The rockabilly invitation turned up a few years ago on That’ll Flat Git It, a massive (twenty-six volumes) collection of generally obscure country and rockabilly singles.

So, once we’re in town, we need to find out what’s going on. That means we need to listen to the “Small Town Talk” as offered by Rick Danko from his 1977 self-titled album. The tune, written by Danko and Bobby Charles, was first released on Charles’ 1972 self-titled album (which Danko co-produced with John Simon). It’s since been covered on occasion, most recently by Boz Scaggs on the album A Fool To Care, released in March.

If we’ve been gone a while, well, we might find it kind of hard to fit back in, even after several years. That’s what happened to Percy Mayfield (or at least he imagined it did) to inspire the song “Stranger In My Own Home Town.” There are a few versions of the tune out there, but the one that gets me going is Elvis Presley’s, recorded in Memphis in February 1969 and originally released on the 1970 album, Back In Memphis.

And of course, there might be some folks in town that we’re not all that happy to see, as the Tokens noted in “He’s In Town” in 1964. The record, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, made it to No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100. If he’s back in town, and she’s thrilled about it, it might be kind of hard to stay.

We might stay anyway, but I have a sense that we’d be wandering the streets late at night, murmuring to ourselves about “Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” just like Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes were back in 1977. The track, written by Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt, was originally released on the album This Time It’s For Real.

But you know, if we get past all that and hang around town for a while, we might find ourselves in a place where we belong, and someone else might come along from somewhere else who needs what we have to offer. In that care, we’d be the “Home Town Man” that Terry Garthwaite and the rest of Joy Of Cooking were thinking about on their Castles album in 1972. And we’d be home.

‘That Dirty Little Coward . . .’

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

The jukebox across the way in the Atwood Center snack bar was playing Elton John. Sitting at The Table, I heard the puzzling title phrase, “I feel like a bullet in the gun of Robert Ford.”

It must have been a Monday morning in early 1976, about the time John’s record entered the Top 40. Why a Monday? Because that was the quarter when I was an intern at a Twin Cities television station, and the only times I was at The Table in Atwood that quarter was on the occasional Monday morning when I checked in with my adviser before heading back to the Twin Cities and my sports reporting work.

Anyway, I looked over at the jukebox across the way and wondered out loud, “Who’s Robert Ford?”

The answer came quickly from my friend Sam, one of whose passions was the American West. “He’s the dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard,” he said.

I looked blankly at him. “Okay,” I said. “That must mean something.”

He laughed and said, “Robert Ford was the man who shot Jesse James.”

I imagine I nodded, and the conversation went elsewhere and after a while, I headed to my adviser’s office and then back to the Twin Cities. And it’s entirely possible that until I picked up Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to The Long Riders in 1989, I never heard the folk song “Jesse James,” the song that Sam quoted to me that morning. Cooder’s version – which I sadly cannot embed here – plays over the end credits of the Walter Hill movie.*

The song is an old one, written soon after James’ death in 1882 by Billy Gashade (or perhaps LaShade) and first recorded in 1920 by a typewriter salesman named Bently Ball, according to the blog Joop’s Musical Flowers. Until I ran across that citation, the earliest version I knew about – but one I’ve not heard – came from Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1924. Digging around at YouTube in the past few weeks, I’ve found versions by the Kingston Trio from 1961, the South Memphis String Band (a group made up by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and the Black Crowes; Jimbo Mathus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Alvin Youngblood Hart) from 2010 and Van Morrison (from a 1998 performance with Lonnie Donegan and Chris Barber).

(Joop’s Musical Flowers lists many more versions, some dating to 1924, and has video or audio links for some of them.)

The shelves here also include versions by Bob Seger, from his 1972 album, Smokin’ O.P.’s, and by Bruce Springsteen, from his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and from the 2007 release Live In Dublin.

All of those are worth hearing (well, I’m not sure about the Kingston Trio’s version, which is why I did not link to it), but one of the best is the version by Pete Seeger from his 1957 album, American Favorite Ballads.

* Walter Hill’s film is also notable for the casting of four sets of acting brothers – Keach, Carradine, Quaid and Guest – as, respectively, the historical brothers James, Younger, Miller and Ford.

What’s At No. 27?

Friday, February 27th, 2015

So, with today being February 27 and Odd, Pop and I being short of ideas this morning, we’re going to look at a few Billboard charts released on this date over the years and check out what’s hiding at No. 27. Along the way, we’ll check out the No. 1 records of the times, too. There are four such charts during the span of years that tends to interest us here. We’ll start in 1957.

One of the odd things about the earlier charts in the files I have is that records are often tied for a spot. In the Top 100 for February 27, 1957, two records are tied at No. 26, which means there really was no record at No. 27. So we’ll look at both records at No. 26. The first listed is “Lucky Lips” by Ruth Brown. The record, which went no further on the Top 100 but went to No. 25 on two of the other main charts Billboard issued at the time, is the first listed under Brown’s name in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, where the listings start in 1955. Brown was a force long before that, of course; her listings on the magazine’s R&B chart start in 1949. “Lucky Lips” went to No. 6 on that chart.

The other record at No. 26 on this date in 1957 was a pairing of artist and song that seems incongruous from a distance of nearly sixty years: “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” by Jerry Lewis, whose image in my mind starts at goofy comedian and ends at smarmy telethon host and doesn’t come close to hit singer at all. (The combination evidently seemed so bizarre to the anonymous person who transcribed my collection of Billboard charts that he or she credited the record to Jerry Lee Lewis, which caused me a bit of confusion.) Lewis offers the song over a Vegas-style big band arrangement that serves it well although the whole thing sounds odd to me. Listeners liked it, though; the record peaked at No. 10 on the store sales list. Lewis had one other hit: “It All Depends On You” went to No. 68 on the Top 100 later in 1957.

Sitting at No. 1 on this date in 1957 was “Young Love” by Tab Hunter, by far the most successful single the actor ever had to his credit. (I recall Hunter’s smiling visage on the front of a comic book that told the tale of one of Hunter’s movies. I forget which movie, and a look at Hunter’s credits this morning doesn’t help.)

The next time Billboard released a pop chart on February 27, it was 1961, and the chart was called – as it would be past the turn of the century – the Hot 100. Parked at No. 27 was “What A Price” by Fats Domino. The slow, sad record, which was the forty-fourth of an eventual seventy-seven Domino placed in or near the Hot 100, was on its way down the chart after peaking at No. 22 (No. 7, R&B). Should it have done better? Well, yes, because Fats Domino should always be in the Top Ten.

The No. 1 record as February approached its end in 1961 was Chubby Checker’s “Pony Time.”

It took only another four years before a Billboard Hot 100 touched down on a February 27, and the No. 27 record on this date in 1965 was the first track on one of the first pop LPs I ever owned. My sister gave me Herman’s Hermits On Tour (which was made up of studio recordings, not the live recordings that the album’s title might have implied), and “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” led off the album. As a single, “Heartbeat” went to No. 2, the first of nine straight Top Ten hits for Peter Noone and his group. (The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles tells me that the Hermits’ single was blocked from the top spot by the Supremes’ “Stop! In The Name Of Love.”)

The No. 1 record fifty years ago today was “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & The Playboys.

And the last of the February 27 Billboard charts that we’re concerned with today came out in 1971. (There were charts on February 27 in 1982, 1988 and beyond, but that gets us into years we are not all that enthusiastic about.) The No. 27 record at the end of the last February of my high school days was “Help Me Make It Through The Night” by Sammi Smith, written by Kris Kristofferson. Smith’s plaintive performance was on its way to No. 8; it would go to No. 1 on the country chart and to No. 3 on the easy listening chart. I’m not sure I had much regard for “Help Me Make It Through The Night” when I was a high school senior, but now I think it’s pretty great stuff.

And to finish this off, the No. 1 single during on this date in 1971 was the Osmonds’ “One Bad Apple.”

Here’s Smith’s single:

Six At Random

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

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.

Saturday Single No. 404

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Sometimes you just luck into stuff. In 1957, Cliff Records in Shreveport, Louisiana, released “Flatfoot Sam,” by Oscar Wills, who recorded under the name of TV Slim because he was a skinny television repairman. The tale of the luckless Sam, says All Music Guide, got enough attention to merit a release on the Chicago-based Checker label. But, says AMG, “its ragged edges must have rankled someone at the Chicago label enough to convince Slim to recut it in much tighter form in New Orleans with the vaunted studio band at Cosimo’s.”

And it’s that New Orleans version that popped up in the RealPlayer this morning. Released as Argo 5277, with Robert (Barefootin’) Parker on sax, the record was, AMG says, Slim’s biggest seller. I’m not sure what that means, but I know the record didn’t make the R&B Top 40.

So how did I luck into “Flatfoot Sam” this morning? Well, I found the track some time ago on anthology of lesser-known Chess gems, where the notes indicated that the Argo session in New Orleans took place on July 26, 1957. And when I searched the RealPlayer for today’s date – July 26 – up popped “Flatfoot Sam.”

So here, recorded fifty-seven years ago today, is TV Slim’s “Flatfoot Sam,” today’s Saturday Single.

Flatfoot Sam bought an automobile
No money down, it was a real good deal
Didn’t wanna work, just ride around town
Finance company put his feets on the ground
Oh, Flatfoot Sam, you’re always in a jam

Flatfoot Sam stole a ten dollar bill
He told the judge, he did it for a thrill
He got sixty days suspended fine
He thanked judge for being so kind
Oh, Flatfoot Sam, you’re always in a jam

Flatfoot Sam, he got him a job
The very same day the place got robbed
The cats got away, they couldn’t be found
They picked up ol’ Sam and they dragged him down
Oh, Flatfoot Sam, you’re always in a jam

Flatfoot Sam playin’ a chuck-a-luck game
The dice got switched, Sam got the blame
He pulled a gun, shut out the light
Everybody hollered, run for your life
Oh, Flatfoot Sam, you’re always in a jam

Flatfoot Sam went on a spree
He married a gal weighed 603
She spent all his money, sold all his land
Next thing she did, she got another man
Oh, Flatfoot Sam, you’re always in a jam

‘Another Man Done Gone . . .’

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

So, what do we know about “Another Man Done Gone”? The tune has led me on a merry chase (well, maybe not so merry, considering the subject matter of the song) since I posted the version of the song that Jorma Kaukonen recorded for his 1974 album Quah. The first item on my list was to find out where the song came from.

In the notes to the 2003 CD reissue of Quah, Jeff Tamarkin writes that “Another Man Done Gone” is “another one of those ancient blues standards whose origin is shrouded in mystery. Although credited on Quah to Ruby Pickens Tart, Vera Hall and folklorists John and Alan Lomax, other versions have assigned its authorship to any number of persons, among them Johnny Cash, Sonny Boy Williamson, C.C. Carter and Woody Guthrie – or Public Domain.”

The earliest version I’ve been able to find of the tune is the one performed by Vera Hall that was recorded by John Lomax in Livingston, Alabama, on October 31, 1940.

I believe that’s the Lomax recording. According to the information at Discogs, Alan Lomax also recorded two versions of the tune during visits to prisons in the south around the same time, but I’ve not heard those or seen the documentation. Someday, maybe.

In the meantime, we have Hall’s haunting a capella version as a starting point. Odetta offered a similar version on her 1957 album Odetta Sings Ballads And Blues. I was puzzled by the last verse of Hall’s version of the song, which sounds like “I’m going to walk your log.” A discussion at the Southern music board WeenieCampbell.com, where folks better informed than I share their ideas, seemed to come to no conclusions as to what the verse means. The phrase “walk your log,” the discussion said, sometimes appears in blues and folk songs as meaning “I’ll get the better of you” (perhaps from log-walking and -rolling contests, one poster theorized), while another poster thought the line might be “a tribute from a fellow prisoner, who will pick up the workload/log of his departed comrade.”

As versions of the song multiplied during the folk/blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, some other lyrical elements showed up along the way. The spare version that Johnny Cash offered on his 1963 album Blood, Sweat and Tears includes the additional lines “They hung him from a tree/ they let his children see” and “When he was hangin’ dead/ the captain turned his head.” By the time Kaukonen recorded “Another Man Done Gone” for Quah, the lines “They set the dogs on him/they tore him limb from limb” had become part of the song.

As I wandered through discography websites and versions of the tune this week, I came across a couple of head-scratchers. The spooky and somewhat weird 1959 version by Lorrie Collins turns the tune into a song of lost love and credits Johnny Cash as the writer. (Lyrically, it is a different song, though the melody remains the same.) I don’t know who Cash originally credited in 1963, but the current listing for Cash’s version at AllMusic Guide now credits the quartet of Tart, Hall and the Lomaxes. (Tart, if you’re wondering, was an Alabama folklorist whose work was similar to that of the Lomaxes and who assisted them during their travels in that state.) The other puzzle I found came from the credits of Harry Belafonte’s 1960 album, Swing Dat Hammer, on which the writing credit goes to Anita Carter of the Carter Family, which I find odd, as the Carters never recorded the song, as far as I can see.

Well, anyway, it’s a haunting song still, and versions of it keep showing up. The bluesman Sugar Blue included a nice version on his 1979 album Cross Roads; Irma Thomas added some lyrics for a post-Katrina version that was included in the Paste Magazine Sampler Issue 24 in September 2006; the Mercy Brothers, a Boston duo, recorded an intriguing version of the song for their 2008 album, Strange Adventure; and there are no doubt others out there worth hearing that I missed.

One of my favorite current versions of the tune hews pretty closely to Hall’s version from 1940. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group from Durham, North Carolina, described by Wikipedia as “an old-time string band,” included the song on their 2007 album, Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind.

A Bunch Of ‘Sorry’ Songs

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

The Texas Gal and I have a friend who’s been looking for a used printer, and I told that friend Sunday that I’d send her the phone number and email address of Dale the Computer Guy down on Wilson Avenue.

I forgot.

I sent the info yesterday in an apologetic email, and this morning, I got back a kind email saying my delay was not a problem. But it got me to wondering how many recordings among the 75,000 currently logged into the RealPlayer have the word “sorry” in their titles.

I was surprised. There are only thirty-eight such recordings (and one album: the Gin Blossoms’ 1996 effort Congratulations I’m Sorry). Those recordings span the years, however, starting with the 1935 single “Who’s Sorry Now” by Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies and ending with a 2013 version of the same song recorded by Karen Elson for the HBO show Boardwalk Empire.

Here’s the western swing version from Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies:

It’s worth noting that “Who’s Sorry Now” seems to be a pretty sturdy song. Written by Ted Snyder, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, it was first recorded in 1923 by a number of folks including Isham Jones (whom we met here last autumn when we were listening to versions of “I’ll See You In My Dreams”), and according to the information at SecondHand Songs, it’s been recorded several times in every decade since then except the 1930s (and I’ll bet there are recordings from that decade that have not yet been listed at the website). The most recent version noted there before Elson’s 1920s-styled take on the tune is one from Mary Byrne, a 2010 contestant in the United Kingdom’s version of the singing contest, The X Factor.

But what else did we find when searching for “sorry”? Well, the second-oldest recording stashed here in the EITW studios with “sorry” in its title is from 1951, when Johnny Bond saw his “Sick, Sober & Sorry” go to No. 7 on the Billboard country chart. And the second most-recent is from quirky singer-songwriter Feist, whose “I’m Sorry” was released on her 2007 album, The Reminder.

Looking chronologically, and picking one track from each decade from the 1950s on, we find some gems: “I’m Sorry” by the Platters went to No. 11 on the Billboard jukebox chart and to No. 15 on the R&B chart in 1957. (And yes, we doubled up on the 1950s, considering we’d hit the Johnny Bond record, but it’s worth it for the Platters.) From 1962, we find “Someday After Awhile (You’ll Be Sorry)” by bluesman Freddy King (a departure from his normal “Freddie” spelling).

In the 1970s, we find the funky “Both Sorry Over Nothin’” from Tower of Power’s 1973 self-titled album. The pickings in the files from the 1980s are pretty slender, so we’ll skip over one track each by the Moody Blues and the Hothouse Flowers and head to the 1990s. And that’s where we find the atmospheric “Not Sorry” by the Cranberries from their 1993 album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?

And we have one more stop with “sorry,” heading back to 1968 and the regrets expressed by the HAL 9000 computer in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

‘White’

Friday, January 31st, 2014

And so, after several delays, we land on “White,” the last of nine chapters in Floyd’s Prism, looking at songs whose titles feature the seven colors of the spectrum plus black and white.

As with nearly all of the previous entries, when we sort the tracks in the RealPlayer, we get a total of 766. That’s many more than we need, but many of them, we cannot use. Some show up, as I noted the other day, because they’re tagged with the notation, “Ripped from vinyl by whiteray.” But others, equally unuseable, show up for other reasons.

Some have words in their titles that are close to “white,” including eleven versions of “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” And we’ll also pass on “Whitestone Bridge,” a 1973 tune from the Irish band Tír na nÓg; “Whitewash,” a 1976 outing by the Gin Blossoms; and two versions of Curtis Mayfield’s 1971 offering, “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey).”

Out goes everything by the Average White Band, Tony Joe White, country singer Joy Lynn White, vintage singers Bukka White, Josh White and Georgia White, harp legend Charlie Musselwhite, Edgar Winter’s White Trash, current performer Jack White and country singer Lari White. We also dismiss the great “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead, a few vintage tracks by Paul Whitehead & His Orchestra and two tracks from Lavelle White, one on Duke from 1958 and the other from her 2003 album, Into the Mystic. And we pass by every track in the collection by Barry White; we could have kept his “Rhapsody in White,” but we decided against it.

What else? Three albums titled Black & White, by the BoDeans, the Pointer Sisters and the previously mentioned Tony Joe White, fall by the wayside, as do Shawn Phillips’ 1973 album Bright White (we posted the title tune here the other week), Michael Omartian’s 1974 effort White Horse, most of David Gray’s 200 album White Ladder and Gene Clark’s 1971 offering White Light. We also pass by the Cowboy Junkies’ 1986 album Whites Off Earth Now!! and numerous singles on the White Whale label.

So we take what’s left, which turns out to be plenty for our purposes this morning.

I mentioned David Gray’s 2000 album White Ladder above. It’s a CD that’s truly not strayed far from our player during the years since it came out, a tuneful and literate album. The best-known track on the record is no doubt “Babylon,” which made seven different Billboard charts, reaching No. 57 on the Hot 100 and No. 8 on the Adult Top 40. While the title track is nowhere near as well-known (and doesn’t have nearly as great a hook as “Babylon,” to be honest), “White Ladder” is still a good track from an artist whose body of work has sometimes been uneven (and sometimes gets a little repetitive, to be honest).

Nearly seven years ago, during the first weeks of this blog’s existence, I told the tale of my grandfather and his buying a birthday present for my sister, a 45 rpm record that turned out to be the tales of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood written by Steve Allen and then told by Al “Jazzbo” Collins in early 1950s jazz and hipster lingo. The 1953 record was an unlikely hit, and it spun off more such performances. Today’s selection is “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs” as told by Collins later that same year. The story came from the pen of Douglas Jones, whose ear for the hipster argot was, to my own ears, not as sharp as was Allen’s. Still, it’s a fun trip through the woods to the dwarves’ rib shack.

There’s not a lot more for me to say about the late Levon Helm. Today’s sorting brought up Helm’s take on the Carter Stanley tune “White Dove,” from Helm’s 2009 album, Electric Dirt. The album went to No. 36 on the Billboard 200 and was awarded a Grammy as the Best Americana Album in 2010.

From 2009 we drop back sixty-eight years to what is certainly the most sentimental song in this set of six. But then, wartime can do that, and “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” is one of the quintessential songs of World War II. Written in 1941 by Walter Kent and Nat Burton, the tune reflects the unease of Britons facing Nazi Germany alone and expresses hope for a return to normal life after the war. Though other versions might have become better known on this side of the Atlantic, especially the version by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the version by Vera Lynn – the original, I believe – is the one that the Brits loved, despite the sad fact that bluebirds are not indigenous to the British Isles and have never flown over the tall white cliffs. Lyricist Burton, notes Wikipedia, was an American who seemingly didn’t know any better, but no matter: Since 1941, “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” anyway.

Chad Mitchell was, as his name reminds us, the founder of the Chad Mitchell Trio, a folk group that placed eight albums in the Billboard 200 between 1962 and 1965 (the last two charting after Mitchell left and the group was renamed just the Mitchell Trio (and included among its members at that time John Denver). Mitchell at that point embarked on a solo career, and one of the artifacts of that rather unsuccessful effort is the 1969 album Chad. The album, writes Richie Unterberger at All Music Guide, was “an odd match of Mitchell’s crooning folk vocals with covers of then-recent folk-rock-ish songs by Joni Mitchell (‘Both Sides Now’), Dino Valente (‘Let’s Get Together’), and far more obscure titles like Tim Buckley’s ‘Goodbye & Hello,’ H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The White Ship,’ Jim & Jean’s ‘What’s That Got to Do with Me,’ and the Association’s ‘Bus Song’.” It’s the Lovecraft tune that draws us in this morning. The album-opener, “The White Ship” is, in its weird and unmarketable (but oddly compelling) way, 1969 summed up in three minutes and thirty-eight seconds.

From 1969’s folk-rock self-indulgence, we head to 1957 and a concise country anthem, “A White Sport Coat & A Pink Carnation” by Marty Robbins. The tale of the young fellow all spiffed up for the dance only to have his gal waltz off with someone else was No. 1 on the Billboard country charts for five weeks in mid-1957. It was one of a remarkable eighty-three records Robbins placed in the country Top 40; the record also went to No. 2 on the Hot 100, where Robbins had thirty-six records in or near the chart over the years.

‘Black’

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

As we continue Floyd’s Prism and look for six good tracks with the word “black” in their titles, we have lots of material to work with, as a search through the more than 72,000 mp3s on the digital shelves brings up a total of 665 results. There is, however, the normal winnowing that takes place.

Whole albums (except the occasional title track) must go, including three albums titled Black & White, one each from Tony Joe White (1969), the Pointer Sisters (1981) and the BoDeans (1991). We also lose, among others, Black Cadillac by Rosanne Cash (2006), Black Cat Oil by Delta Moon (2012), Black Eyed Man by the Cowboy Junkies (1992), Black Moses by Isaac Hayes (1971), Long Black Train by Josh Turner (2003), Long Black Veil by the Chieftans (1995), Young, Gifted & Black by Aretha Franklin (1972), and the soundtracks to the films Black Swan, Black Snake Moan and The Black Dahlia.

Three singles on the Black & White label are cast aside, two by T-Bone Walker and one by Ivie Anderson & Her All Stars. Single tracks from two albums titled Black & Blue go by the wayside; the albums came from Lou Rawls in 1963 and the Rolling Stones in 1976. I have two tracks that Long Cleve Reed & Little Harvey Hull recorded in the 1920s for the Black Patti label; those are set aside. One track each from Ruby Andrews’ 1972 album Black Ruby and XTC’s 1980 effort Black Sea miss the cut, too. One of my favorite Danish tracks, “Mød Mig I Mørket” (which translates to “Meet Me In The Dark”) came from Malurt’s 1982 release Black-out, so that goes away, too. And we lose the great “My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” recorded in 1922 by Trixie Smith & The Jazz Masters on the Black Swan label.

Groups and performers must be winnowed as well. We lose, among others, the Black Crowes, Black Heat, the Black Keys, Black Uhuru, Blackburn & Snow, the Blackbyrds, Margaret Johnson & The Black & Blue Trio (who recorded “When a ’Gator Holler, Folks Say It’s A Sign Of Rain” in 1926), Otis Blackwell and Willie “61” Blackwell, eight of whose 1941 sides for Bluebird showed up in the box set When The Levee Breaks: Mississippi Blues (Rare Cuts 1926-1941).

But we have plenty of records left.

We start with a guide to a cool wardrobe in the summer of 1957, when “Black Slacks” from Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones went to No. 17:

Black slacks. I’m the cat’s pajamas.
I always run around with crazy little mamas.

Well, all the girls look when I go by.
It’s what I wear that makes ’em sigh.

Black slacks: I wear a red bow tie.
Black slacks: They say “Me, oh my.”

Later in 1957, the quartet from Spartanburg, South Carolina, followed “Black Slacks” with another single of fashion advice, “Penny Loafers and Bobby Sox,” but that one only went to No. 42, and – reading between the lines in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – ABC-Paramount dropped the group. Bennett & The Sparkletones got one more shot, on the Paris label, but “Boys Do Cry” bubbled under at No. 125 in September 1959.

I took a stab at the history of the song “Long Black Veil” in 2009 (in a Saturday post that has yet to show up at our archival site), but I have sixteen versions of the song on the digital shelves, so it was almost inevitable that one of them would show up today. I’ve settled on the album track the Kingston Trio released on The New Frontier in late 1962. The album went to No. 16, but as good as that sounds, it was only the second of the trio’s twelve charting albums between 1958 and 1962 to miss the Top Ten. The trio’s time was passing, notes Bruce Eder of All Music Guide: “The Kingston Trio’s 14th album for Capitol Records appeared at a time when folk music was changing around them in ways that no one could have predicted just a couple of years earlier. Bob Dylan had not yet charted a record, but he was at Columbia Records and he was writing serious, topical, angry songs that would soon start getting attention; and a rival folk group called Peter, Paul & Mary was starting to make headway with the public doing songs that had a political and philosophical edge.”

Nor could I ignore “Baby’s In Black” by the Beatles. The track came to my sister and me as part of Beatles ’65, an album cobbled together by Capitol by taking some U.K. non-album singles and B-sides, one track from A Hard Day’s Night and several tracks from the British release Beatles For Sale. While my CD collection and the mp3’s digital tags reflect the track’s origins as an album track on Beatles For Sale, my memory will always have it as part of Beatles ’65, especially since I know there is a 1964 picture somewhere in our family archive – as yet still unfound – of me wearing my Beatle wig and plugging my ears with our copy of Beatles ’65 propped in my lap. Beyond that, “Baby’s In Black” remains a good early Beatles track.

There’s not a lot of information out there – at least readily available information – about soul singer Billy Thompson. He had no hits in the Billboard Hot 100 or on the R&B chart. The bare bones are there at Discogs.com: He was born in Indianola, Mississippi, and he “went to the New England Conservatory of Music at Boston, where he majored in musical composition, and arranging.” That’s it. That, and the 1965 single “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye/Black Eyed Girl” on the Wand label, which is the only thing I can find listed at Soulful Kinda Music, which is pretty comprehensive. I’ve never heard “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” but if that Wand single is the only record Thompson made then “Black Eyed Girl” is a hell of a resume by itself.

As regular readers have no doubt realized over the years, I love pretty much anything ever recorded by Big Maybelle Smith. From her work on King Records in the 1940s through her time at Savoy in the 1950s and at Rojac in the 1960s, I find something to like in almost anything she did. And among my favorites are the quirkily selected covers found on Got A Brand New Bag from 1967. Among them is “Black Is Black,” which Los Bravos took to No. 4 in 1966. That was a great single, but Big Maybelle’s take on “Black Is Black” is, to my ears, just as good.

And we’ll close today with one of the most evocative songs of 1990: “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles. According to Myles’ YouTube channel, the record was originally released in Canada in 1989 and then hit the U.S. in 1990. Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles says “Black Velvet” entered the Hot 100 during the first week of January that year; in March, the record was No. 1 for two weeks and topped the Album Rocks Track chart for two weeks as well. In addition, Myles’ performance earned her the 1990 Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocalist.

‘Only Say That You’ll Be Mine . . .’

Friday, November 1st, 2013

When one wanders through the vast field of American folk songs – the songs that arose here in the years before recorded music, that folks sang at home and passed on via oral traditions, and that provide at least part of the foundation of today’s popular music – one finds mayhem of all sorts. Take a listen to numerous entries, for example, in Harry Smith’s massive Anthology of American Folk Music, and you’ll find jealousy, robbery, rape, accidental death, murder and more.

At least two of those are present in “Down On The Banks Of The Ohio” as recorded in 1936 by the Blue Sky Boys. The song wasn’t included in Smith’s original three volumes in 1952 (reissued in 1997 in a six-CD box), but it showed up in a 2000 release of a fourth volume Smith never completed. In that song – released on the Bluebird and Montgomery Ward labels (and used in 1973 in the soundtrack to the movie Paper Moon) – the Blue Sky Boys sing:

Come my love, let’s take a walk,
Just a little ways away.
While we walk along, we’ll talk,
Talk about our wedding day.

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

I drew my knife across her throat,
And to my breast she gently pressed.
“Oh please, oh please, don’t murder me,
For I’m unprepared to die you see.”

I taken her by her lily white hand.
I let her down and I bade her stand.
There I plunged her in to drown,
And watched her as she floated down.

Returning home ’tween twelve and one.
Thinking of the deed I done.
I murdered a girl I love, you see,
Because she would not marry me.

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

Next day as I returning home
I met the sheriff standing in the door.
He said “Young man, come with me and go,
Down to the banks of the Ohio.”

Only say that you’ll be mine,
And in our home we’ll happy be.
Down beside where the waters flow.
Down on the banks of the Ohio.

The song, according to Wikipedia, comes from the 19th century, and many versions with different verses have arisen since. In the first recorded version of the tune, performed in 1927 by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers, the young lady confesses that she loves another, and that spurs the narrator to murder. In that 1927 version, however, the sheriff makes no appearance, leaving the murderer to grieve on the banks of the river.

Okay, so jealousy and murder were not uncommon in song (and still are not, perhaps especially in county music, the most direct descendant of the folk songs Smith collected), but it was still startling to see earlier this week in the Billboard Hot 100 from October 30, 1971, that Olivia Newton-John had a hit with a gender-flipped version of “Banks Of The Ohio.” The single went only to No. 94 here in the U.S. (No. 34 on the Adult Contemporary chart), but it was No. 1 for five weeks in Australia. Here’s a 1971 television appearance:

Newton-John’s version trims out the verses that provide motive for the murder, that tell of the drowning and that bring in the sheriff, yet it’s still a jarring song for 1971 when one listens to the story. Well, maybe not; 1971 was also the year that the Buoys hit No. 17 with “Timothy,” a barely disguised tale about a cave-in and cannibalism. But I wonder how many folks who sang along with the pretty chorus of Newton-John’s hit shook their heads when they realized that things were not as pleasant as they seemed along the banks of the Ohio.

Newton-John’s version of the song is the only one that’s hit the Billboard Hot 100 and AC Top 40. No version has ever reached the R&B or Country Top 40s. Finding it in the R&B listings would have surprised me, but a greater surprise was its absence from the country chart. In the years before and after Newton-John’s cover of the song, there have been plenty of other countryish covers, both as “Banks Of The Ohio” and “Down On The Banks Of The Ohio.” (Wikipedia notes a couple other titles, too: Henry Whittier recorded the song in the 1920s as “I’ll Never Be Yours,” and the song has sometimes been titled “On the Banks of the Old Pedee.”)

As I wandered through numerous covers of “Banks Of The Ohio” in the past few days (and I won’t note all of them; you can go to Second Hand Songs and find the list I used as a starting point if you’re so inclined), a few stood out. I liked the version by Howard & Gerald with the Starlite Mountain Boys that was released in 1970 on Mountain Doer (or Mo Do) Records of Marion, West Virginia. The same was true of the version the Kossoy Sisters included on their 1956 album, Bowling Green and Other Folk Songs from the Southern Mountains. And a current artist named Tom Roush recorded a very lush take on the song for his album My Grandfather’s Clock: More Music of 19th Century America, released just this year.

But the most fascinating version of the old song I’ve found in the past few days comes from a very familiar artist. The person who posted it on YouTube called it “the creepiest version” of the song, and I can’t disagree. Here, from his 1957 album, Come Sit By My Side, and studded with dissonance, is Glenn Yarbrough’s take on “Banks Of The Ohio.”