Archive for the ‘1968’ Category

Some 1968 Easy Listening

Friday, October 6th, 2017

A little twitch in the universe reminded me this morning of an easy listening hit from 1968 and a moment during the autumn of 1973. If I can figure out a way to tell the tale gently, I will do so in the next few days (perhaps even tomorrow). In the meantime, I thought I’d look at 1968 from a new direction, a direction that I’ve surprisingly never considered.

Here are the thirteen records that reached No. 1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart in 1968:

“Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Harpers Bizarre
“In The Misty Moonlight” by Dean Martin
“Am I That Easy To Forget” by Engelbert Humperdinck
“The Lesson” by Vikki Carr
“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro
“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“Classical Gas” by Mason Williams
“The Fool On The Hill” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
“My Special Angel” by the Vogues
“Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin
“Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell

Right off the top, it looks a little odd for Harpers Bizarre to land in the Easy Listening chart, but then, the group was always in the soft pop-rock business, and their take on Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo” fits right in with that aesthetic. And you can probably add to that a nostalgia factor among the easy listening audience. I mean – and I was doing the arithmetic as I listened to the track this morning – in 1968, my dad turned 49 and my mom turned 47. Glenn Miller’s original was released in 1941, when my folks were young adults. Mom and Dad weren’t really record buyers, but a lot of folks their ages were, so I’m going to guess that a lot of the popularity of the Harpers Bizarre record came from middle-age nostalgia

(Perhaps worth noting is that the Harpers Bizarre record wasn’t a huge success on the pop chart: It went to No. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

I don’t recall hearing the Harpers Bizarre record, and that holds true for the next three of the Easy Listening chart-toppers in 1968. All three had some success in the Hot 100 – the Englebert Humperdinck record peaked at No. 18, the Vikki Carr at No. 34 and the Dean Martin at No. 46 – but given my listening preferences in 1968, I would have been more likely to hear them on a station that programmed Easy Listening, probably either WJON or KFAM in St. Cloud or the Twin Cities’ WCCO rather than on a Top 40 station. I suppose I might have heard any of them but evidently not often enough for them to be familiar this morning.

The rest of that list of 1968 easy listening, however, is more than familiar. With the exception of the treacle-laden Bobby Goldsboro single, that’s a great group of records. All of them hit the Top Ten over on the Top 40 chart, and three spent multiple weeks at No. 1: “Love Is Blue” and “Honey” topped the Top 40 chart for five weeks each, and “This Guy’s In Love With You” spent four weeks on top of the pop chart.

So, of the nine records in that list that I recall hearing that year – the Vogues’ “My Special Angel” was likely the least familiar of them back in 1968 – which did I like best? Well, it’s not the one I love the most today – and the tale from the autumn of 1973 I hope to tell here soon is tied in with the record that is now my eternal favorite from that list above – but back in 1968, I sure was pleased when I heard Hugo Montenegro’s “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” coming out of the radio speakers:

Chart Digging: September 28, 1968

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

Combing through the weekly files of the Billboard Hot 100 during the years that I consider my sweet spot – 1968 through 1975 – I find two charts released on today’s date: September 28. One is from 1968, when I wasn’t really listening to Top 40 but was nevertheless surrounded by it at friends’ homes and at my own home when my sister was listening; the other is from 1974, after my peak Top 40 years had ended but when I was still surrounded by the music at friends’ homes, in the student union at St. Cloud State, and in my car.

I noticed a third Hot 100 from September 28, this one from 1963, and that intrigued me for a moment as I wondered: What did the world sound like in the weeks before history took its left turn? Then I decided that’s a topic better dealt with during a week closer to November 22.

So we’ll look a little bit at either 1968 or 1974 today, and the choice is made easier by this week’s watching of the first few episodes of The Vietnam War, the ten-part documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. I have the series recorded, and I’m watching the episodes in between other shows that the Texas Gal and I watch. And although I haven’t quite gotten there in the film, 1968 feels right today.

Here’s the Top Ten from forty-nine years ago today:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“Hush!” by Deep Purple
“Fire” by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
“Fool On The Hill” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
“1, 2, 3, Red Light” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co.
“I’ve Got To Get A Message To You” by the Bee Gees
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions
“Slip Away” by Clarence Carter

That’s a decent half-hour of listening. I’m not a fan of the Arthur Brown record, but the rest of it would sound great coming out of my old RCA radio. A quick glance at the iPod shows finds four of those ten: “Hey Jude,” “The Fool On The Hill,” and “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You,” and “People Got To Be Free.” If I were to add another, it would likely be “Slip Away.”

(I’m pretty sure there are some Top Ten charts from the years 1969-71 that come close to having all ten records tucked into the iPod. But it seems to me that four out of ten from a time before I was listening closely is pretty good.)

So what was I doing when “Hey Jude” was in the first of its eventual nine weeks at No. 1? I was learning the ropes as a sophomore at St. Cloud Technical High School. I’d missed the first week of school for a family trip out east. My sister had spent the last six weeks of the summer on a study program in France. Her return flight came into Philadelphia on Labor Day, and that provided a reason for my folks and me to head east to visit relatives in Pennsylvania and do some touring as we picked up my sister.

That meant I was a little behind in learning the ins and outs of high school. (St. Cloud’s school district still had ninth-graders in junior high school at the time.) I wasn’t yet a sports manager; that would start at the beginning of November, and I’m not certain what I was doing with my space time except for practicing on my cornet.

So let’s move a little further down the Hot 100 from this week forty-nine years ago and see if we find anything that sparks a memory or two. And what I find is not a personal tale; none of the records I see in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section trigger anything like that. But I find an listing that turns out to be the last entry for a performer whose name summons another era.

Margaret Whiting was one of the top female vocalists in the 1940s. In Top Pop Singles, Joel Whitburn notes that Whiting had thirty-two charted records between 1942 and 1952, including two No. 1s (“A Tree In The Meadow” and “Slipping Around” [with Jimmy Wakely]) and two that peaked at No. 2 (“Far Away Places” and “Now Is The Hour”).

Top Pop Singles starts in 1955, so I’m not sure what Whiting might have done between 1952 and 1955, but she had a couple of records hit in the latter portion of the 1950s, with “The Money Tree” reaching No. 22. Then there’s a gap of a few years until 1966, when “The Wheel Of Hurt” went to No. 26 (and to No. 1 for four weeks on the Easy Listening chart). Top Pop Singles lists six more singles in the next two years; five of the six bubbled under the Hot 100, and the only one that actually reached the chart was a cover of Gene Pitney’s 1962 hit, “Only Love Can Break A Heart” that went to No. 96 (No. 4, Easy Listening).

Her last appearance anywhere near the Hot 100 is what I found today. Forty-nine years ago, Whiting’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” entered the chart bubbling under at No. 130. It would bubble under for two more weeks, peaking at No. 124 (and at No. 11, Easy Listening). She had a few more hits on the Easy Listening chart in 1969 and 1970, giving her a total of twelve records there. But “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind,” which is a pretty good record, closed her pop chart career.

Being a fan of 1960s easy listening, her work that charted in that world intrigues me, and we may re-visit Margaret Whiting’s career in days to come. But for now, we’ll mark her last appearance on the pop chart. Here’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind.”

A Look At The Standings

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

I was loading some mp3s into the RealPlayer the other evening when I began to get an error message that shut down the program. I rebooted, loaded the collection – one of the Nuggets collections of mid-1960s stuff – in smaller batches but still had problems and eventually ran into a wall. The program would not work.

I wondered if I’d hit the program’s limits with more than 90,000 mp3s, given that I was using a version of the player from a few years ago. (When I got my most recent computer eighteen months ago, I installed the newest version but found it clunky, so I went to the site oldversion.com and grabbed, well, an older version of the program.) And as I retired for the night, I wondered what to do next, assuming that I had hit a limit.

By morning, I decided that I’d go back to oldversion and check out what was available for RealPlayer and, if I found a different release that had good reviews, I’d uninstall the version I had, download the new older version and then spend a few hours reloading the mp3s in the main collection. That worked, and as a bonus, it gave me an accurate count of the mp3s in the main collection. (I’ve learned over the seventeen years I’ve been using various versions of RealPlayer that after a while, it can duplicate mp3s and its arithmetic can then get fuzzy.)

As of this morning, the total number of mp3s on the main digital shelves is 93,499. And here are the totals for the fifteen most popular artists:

Top 15

(In compiling that chart, I’ve tried to include the various pairings and combinations, both frequent and infrequent. The obvious ones are Springsteen with the E Street Band and the Sessions Band and Dylan with The Band, but there were lots of one-offs on the digital shelves, like – to give one example – Clapton on a track by Buckwheat Zydeco. I might have missed a few.)

And in that list of fifteen, we find rock, jazz, soundtracks, Danish folk/pop/rock, blues, Americana, easy listening and more. The only genre that I listen to on a regular basis that is unrepresented there, I think, is country. Still, not all of those musicians show up here regularly. Organist Jimmy Smith has been mentioned three times over the ten-year span of this blog and has been featured once. Fellow organist McGriff has been mention three times and featured twice.

That obviously means we need to listen to more jazz organ around here. We’ll start today with Jimmy Smith, to pull him even with his fellow organist McGriff and to mark his ascension into third place in the RealPlayer standings. So, chosen not quite at random but without much digging into the files, here’s Smith’s stellar version of “I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts of Town.” It’s from his 1968 album Stay Loose.

Saturday Single No. 525

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Wandering through the digital stacks this morning, I found a few tracks tagged as having been recorded on January 28 over the years. (I have session date information for perhaps five percent of the 90,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer.) Let’s take a look at them.

The oldest comes from Frank Hutchison, who recorded “Stackalee” in New York City in 1928. An early version of the tale of bad man Stagger Lee that Lloyd Price turned into a No. 1 hit in 1959, Hutchison’s spare take on the song – with his guitar on his lap and a harmonica in a rack – came to me through the CD box set of the legendary Anthology of American Folk Music compiled by Harry Smith and released in 1952.

Next along the timeline for January 28 are a couple of western swing tracks laid down in Chicago in 1935 by Milton Brown & His Brownies. “Crafton Blues” is an instrumental composed by the band’s Ocie Stockard, and “Who’s Sorry Now” is a cover of the 1920s standard first recorded and released in 1923 by Bob Thompson. The two tracks came my way on Western Swing, a three-CD set that billed itself as “The Absolutely Essential” collection.

On January 28, 1953, most likely in Los Angeles or Hollywood (a judgment based on the fact that the arrangements and backing were from Nelson Riddle), Nat King Cole recorded “Almost Like Being In Love.” The track was released that year on Nat King Cole Sings For Two In Love, an eight-track, ten-inch LP. I found “Almost Like Being In Love” on the compilation CD The Very Best of Nat King Cole.

Big Joe Turner had a busy day on January 28, 1955, in New York City, and four tracks from that day’s session have made their ways to my stacks: “Morning, Noon and Night,” “Ti-Ri-Lee,” “Flip Flop and Fly” and “Hide and Seek.” Of the four, “Ti-Ri-Lee” is a little less frantic but still nowhere near a slow dance, and the other three are your basic (but still enjoyable) Joe Turner joints. I found “Morning, Noon and Night” and “Ti-R-i-Lee” on a Turner compilation titled Big. Bad & Blue, and the other two came from the CD The Very Best of Big Joe Turner (which I happened to be playing in the car this week).

Jumping ahead in the timeline a little bit, two Johnny Cash-related tracks show up. On January 28, 1971, Tammy Wynette appeared on The Johnny Cash Show on ABC. Her performance of “Stand By Your Man” showed up on The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show. And on January 28, 1974, in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Cash recorded “Ragged Old Flag,” which was released as a Columbia single and was later included in the CD collection The Essential Johnny Cash.

Heading back a few years from that, in 1969, George Harrison brought Billy Preston to a Beatles session at the Apple studios on January 28. Among the results was the single version of “Get Back,” on which Preston provides an electric piano solo and became, if I recall things correctly, the only non-Beatle credited on a Beatles record. The track was included in the Mono Masters CD package.

And last, we’ll head back another year to 1968 and a recording session for the Moody Blues at the Decca Studios in the West Hampstead area of London. The group was working on In Search of the Lost Chord, and among the results of the session was an early version of “What Am I Doing Here?” The track got left off the album, and in November of that year, it was given some overdubs and a new mix. Still, “What Am I Doing Here?” was unreleased until 1977, when the November version was included in the Caught Live + 5 collection.

I found the original version of “What Am I Doing Here” on the expanded CD release of In Search of the Lost Chord, and I prefer it to the overdubbed November version. At any rate, a November track doesn’t meet our requirements today, so the January 28, 1968, recording of “What Am I Doing Here?” is today’s Saturday Single.

Chart Digging: October 12

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

It’s time for some Games With Numbers. We’re going to take today’s date – 10-12-16 – and turn it into 38, and then we’ve going to see what was at No. 38 on some Billboard Hot 100 charts on October 12 from the years we like best around here, the 1960s and 1970s.

Because of the way the calendar works, we have only three charts to work with, those from 1963, 1968 and 1974. But that’s okay, because those three years are parked in very clear and different eras. Along the way, as well as listening to No. 38 from those three specific charts, we’ll check out the No. 1 singles from those weeks.

First up: October 12, 1963, a little less than four months before Beatlemania and the first British Invasion. So what was at No. 38 in that long-ago week? We find “The Kind Of Boy You Can’t Forget” by the Raindrops. And it turns out that the Raindrops were only the song-writing team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (who were married at the time). Their credits include “Be My Baby,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Chapel of Love,” “River Deep-Mountain High” and many, many more as a team and as individuals. Sadly, “The Kind Of Boy You Can’t Forget” isn’t a classic. It was, however, the best-performing of the six records the Raindrops got into or near the Hot 100, peaking at No. 17. (Oddly, the record covers shown on the official videos for the Raindrops at YouTube show three members; I don’t know who the second woman is, and she’s not mentioned at Wikipedia or in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles.)

The No. 1 record in the Hot 100 for October 12, 1963, was “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs.

Moving ahead to 1968, we find “Hold Me Tight” by Johnny Nash parked at No. 38. And that’s coincidental, as last evening, I was reviewing some long-ago posts and came across the 2008 post titled “First Friday: November 1968,” looking at the news and music of that month. The post had included a look at the Top 15 as the month began, and I had noted that Nash’s single – sitting at No. 8 by that time – was one I did not remember ever hearing. It’s still not all that familiar; it doesn’t say “1968” to me. But it’s a sweet reggae-influenced record, and it peaked at No. 5, making it the second-most successful single of Nash’s long career. (He placed twenty-three records in or near the Hot 100 over a span of nearly twenty years, from 1957 to 1976.) His most successful record, of course, was “I Can See Clearly Now,” which spent four weeks at No. 1 in November 1972.

Topping the Hot 100 during the second week of October 1968 was the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” in the third of its eventual nine weeks at No. 1.

Lastly, we look at the Hot 100 from October 12, 1974. The No. 38 record that week was one of my favorites from the year, “Everlasting Love” by Carl Carlton. The Detroit native had first reached the charts in 1968 when he was 15 and “Competition Ain’t Nothin’” went to No. 75 (No. 36 on the R&B chart). “Everlasting Love” was by far the best-performing of Carlton’s singles, peaking at No. 6 (No. 11, R&B), and it’s one of those records that say “1974” to me, bringing back a welter of memories from that tumultuous autumn. I like it so much, in fact, that I’m tempted to resurrect the category of Jukebox Regrets and stuff it into the overcrowded Ultimate Jukebox I constructed back in 2010. But no; I’ll just make sure it’s in the iPod so it can show up sometime during one of my Dishwashing Music posts on Facebook.

The No. 1 record during this week in 1974 was Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You.”

‘Put The Load Right On Me . . .’

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Well, the signs were there: On Friday evening, when my pal Rob and I headed out to the College of St. Benedict in nearby St. Joseph for a performance by the Blues Heritage Orchestra Quintet (an excellent choice for a good evening; I’ll perhaps write about the group in the future), I had a sore throat, which I ignored. Not a good decision, as it turned out.

The next morning – when I wrote about our busy Saturday – I had a few body aches, which I generally ignored. Again, not a good decision.

When I awoke Sunday, I had no energy, my head felt like concrete, my throat was raw, and I was coughing. I canceled plans and stayed home. And here I am three days later, still at home. I’ve talked to Mom several times, but I’m not visiting right now. And the doctor says I should be fine by Friday, as long as I continue to lay low until then.

So I’ll lay low. But with Mom in rehab for at least another two weeks, and now me unable to do much this week, I swear it feels as if someone put the load right on me.

That’s a quote from “The Weight,” of course, so here’s Jackie DeShannon’s version of the tune. It’s from her great 1968 album, Laurel Canyon. I’ll be back when I’m back.

‘East’

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

In our first two installments of our “Follow The Directions” adventure, we’ve hit “North” and “South” and for some reason bypassed “East” along the way. Today, we head that direction, looking for tunes for the eastward road.

A search for “east” on the RealPlayer gives us exactly 400 tracks, but as usual with these searches, many of those tracks will be dismissed. Anything recorded at the Fillmore East goes by the way, including the Allman Brothers Band’s astounding live album from 1971, a full concert by Leon Russell from 1970, and single performances by the Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

We also lose some entire albums (except title tracks, in some cases): Mandrill’s Beast From The East (1975), Don Henley’s Building The Perfect Beast (1984), Tower Of Power’s East Bay Grease (1970), Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers’ East Carson Street (2009), the Patti Smith Group’s Easter (1978), Badly Drawn Boy’s The House Of Bewilderbeast (2000) and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern (2010).

Gone, too, are any tracks by East of Eden, the Voices of East Harlem, Head East, the Beastie Boys, Skip Easterling, the Eastenders, the East Texas Serenaders, the East River Boys, the East Side Kids and a few singles on at least two labels from over the years: “East West” and “Eastwest.” And at least eighteen additional tracks with the word “beast” in their titles (and a few with “Easter” and “feast”) go by the wayside as well.

But, as almost always happens, we have enough tracks left for us to sort through, and we’ve found four good examples to accompany us as we head east:

We’ll start with a track from a friend of mine, the late Bobby Jameson. His “Girl From The East” is a song he wrote and recorded as Chris Lucey in 1965 for the album Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest. (Performer Chris Ducey came to a disagreement with the Surrey label after he’d recorded an album by that title; Bobby was hired to write songs with titles matching those that Ducey had recorded for the album, and the album cover – already printed – was altered to make the performer’s name “Lucey” instead of “Ducey.”) “Girl From The East” was also recorded by the Leaves and showed up as a B-side on some versions of the Mira label’s release of “Hey Joe.” Here’s the video Bobby made in 2010 for “Girl From The East.”

One of the delights of the CD age has been the unearthing of alternate takes and unreleased tracks offered as addenda to long-familiar albums. An example of that for our journey this morning is “East of Java” from the 5th Dimension’s sessions for the 1968 album Stoned Soul Picnic. As it happens, the track could easily have been called “Java Girl,” because to my ears “east of Java” doesn’t come into the mix until near the end of the record. And for those looking for something with a South Asian/Indonesian flair, well, sorry. The track is firmly rooted in the L.A. session sound that the 5th Dimension offered on its thirty hits in the Billboard Hot 100 (including seven in the Top Ten) between 1967 and 1976.

On my 35th birthday in 1988, I got some records (huge surprise, right), scoring LPs by Cream, the Grateful Dead, the Who and Van Morrison. But the best album I got that day was Folkways: A Vision Shared, subtitled “A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly.” The album offered fourteen tracks written by the two long-gone roots legends as performed by artists ranging from Little Richard, Brian Wilson and Sweet Honey In The Rock to John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. One of those taking part, of course, was Arlo Guthrie, who offered his version of his father’s “East Texas Red” to the proceedings. The tale of the railroad guard and the men who eventually take their revenge is classic Woody Guthrie.

Also in my listening mix during the difficult year of 1988 was lots of Gordon Lightfoot (and his presence in my playlists remains even as the years have gotten better). His 1986 release East Of Midnight was on the turntable on occasion but not as frequently as some of Lightfoot’s other work, most notably Sundown, Shadows and If You Could Read My Mind. Still, I found myself humming the title track at odd times, as lines like “For the things that might have been, I need no more reminders,” and “The ocean is where lovers meet again” wound their ways into my head and heart that year. It’s an oddly metered song and probably not high on a curated list of Lightfoot’s work (it was not one of the two Lightfoot tracks that showed up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox), but for at least a few seasons, it was part of my life.

‘North’

Friday, March 11th, 2016

When we sort the 88,000 or so mp3s on the digital shelves for the direction “north” – beginning, as we do so, our “Follow the Directions” journey promised a few weeks ago – we run into several obstacles.

First of all, numerous mp3s have been tagged by their rippers over the years as “Northern Soul,” a designation that, as I’ve noted before, tends to baffle me because it’s more reliant on the reaction of the listener than it is to anything intrinsic to the music. But never mind. We’ll have to ignore those.

We also lose tunes by those performers and groups that have “north” as part of their names, like Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers, a 1920s string band; the North Mississippi Allstars, a current blues ’n’ boogie band; Northern Light, the band that released “Minnesota” in 1975; Canadian singer-songwriter Tom Northcott (without intending to, I’ve gathered eleven of his recordings); and a current folky group called True North.

Then we have to cross off our list a live 1982 performance by Jesse Winchester in Northampton, Massachusetts; and almost every track from many albums, including the Freddy Jones Band’s 1995 album North Avenue Wake Up Call, the Michael Stanley Band’s North Coast (1981), Dawes’ North Hills (2014), Sandy Denny’s The North Star Grassman & The Raven (1971), The Band’s Northern Lights/Southern Cross (1975) and Ian & Sylvia’s Northern Journey (1964). But we still have enough to choose from to find four worthy tunes pointing us to the “N” on the compass.

Regular readers know my regard for the late Jesse Winchester, and I think I know his catalog fairly well, but every now and then, his whimsy surprises me all over again, as happened with his tune “North Star” this morning. It starts like a serene, folky meditation:

Heaven’s got this one star that don’t move none
And that’s the place you want to aim your soul
Set you on a spot that knows no season
And be satisfied just to watch old Jordan roll

And then Winchester leaps:

Now, does the world have a belly button?
I can’t get this out of my head
’Cause if it turns up in my yard
I’ll tickle it so hard
’Til the whole world will laugh to wake the dead

Surprises me every time. It’s on Winchester’s 1972 album Third Down, 110 To Go.

If the North had ever had a poet/musician laureate, for years that place would have been filled by Gordon Lightfoot, and just three of his songs would have cemented him there: “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and “Alberta Bound.” And it seems to me that Lightfoot summed up all of his Canadian lore in one last good Northern song: “Whispers of the North” from his 1983 album Salute:

Whispers of the north
Soon I will go forth
To that wild and barren land
Where nature takes its course
Whispers of the wind
Soon I will be there again
Bound with a wild and restless drive
That pulls me from within
And we can ride away
We can glide all day
And we can fly away

Back in the late 1980s, a ladyfriend and I included Lightfoot on our list of essential musicians; even so, I’ve never been driven to pull together a complete Lightfoot collection, as I’ve done with Bob Dylan (with the exception of his Christmas album). The urgency wasn’t there, I guess, although the shelves – both wooden and digital – hold plenty of Lightfoot. And “Whispers of the North,” though it might not rank with the other three Canadian anthems I mentioned above, is pretty high on my list. The loon call at the start doesn’t hurt, of course.

The song that shows up most frequently – twenty-two times – in my sorting of “north” is Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country.” Beyond five versions by Dylan himself and four by Leon Russell (one of those with Joe Cocker and one with the Tedeschi Trucks Band), I have versions by the Country Gentlemen, Hamilton Camp, Howard Tate, Margo Timmins, Rosanne Cash, Mylon Lefevre, Jimmy LaFave, Leo Kottke and several other folks, including the previously mentioned Tom Northcott. A Vancouver native, Northcott had several charting singles in Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s and got into the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. once, when his cover of Harry Nilsson’s “1941” went to No. 88 in early 1968. (A cover of Donovan’s “Sunny Goodge Street” had bubbled under at No. 123 during the summer of 1967.) His pleasant take on “Girl From the North Country” went to No. 65 on the Canadian charts in 1968.

And we end today with “Lady Of The North” by Gene Clark, the closer to his 1974 album No Other. According to the tales told at Wikipedia, Clark – after some years of indulgence – was sober when wrote the bulk of the album’s songs at his home in Mendocino, California. After heading to Los Angeles to record, though, he more than dabbled in cocaine, and his wife, Carlie, took the couple’s children back to Northern California. Whether it was a direct response, I’m not certain, but Clark, with help from Doug Dillard, wrote “Lady Of The North” for Carlie and used it as the album’s closer. Wikipedia notes that the album was a “critical and commercial failure,” that the time and resources used to record were “seen as excessive and indulgent,” and that Asylum did little to promote the album. Two CD releases of the album in recent years have been met with better critical and commercial response.

George Martin, 1926-2016

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

From the string quartet on Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” to finding the sonic equivalent of chanting Tibetan monks on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” George Martin – as many have already written in the wake of his death yesterday – deserved the title of “the fifth Beatle” more than anyone else.

I could say that Martin, who was 90, guided the Beatles through the bulk of their recording years together, but I then wonder how one guides the equivalent of a revolution or an earthquake? But however you want to categorize it, for much of their time as Beatles, the group told Martin how they wanted their music to sound and Martin – with huge assists from Geoff Emerick and other engineers, of course – figured out how to do that.

Sometimes, of course, it was the other way around, with one good example coming near the very start when Martin insisted that “Please Please Me” be a fast rock number instead of the ballad that John Lennon and McCartney had planned.

And sometimes, Martin’s influence on the greatest band of all time wasn’t directly involved with the sound at all: I’ve read in several places that after the disaster of the Get Back sessions and Phil Spector’s ham-handed production on the album that was eventually released as Let It Be, McCartney asked Martin if he’d work with the band and produce another album. Despite his reservations after the Get Back/Let It Be debacle, Martin agreed. And the brilliant Abbey Road was the result.

During his long career with EMI and then on his own, Martin worked, of course, with many other musicians and groups, but his name will always be linked most closely with the four young men from Liverpool whose aural visions and dreams he helped make real.

(I’ve seen a lot of good pieces online about Martin and the Beatles since yesterday. One of the best came from Justin Wm. Moyer of the Washington Post. It’s here.)

As a musical capstone to this inevitably insufficient post, I thought for moment about Sean Connery’s recitation of the lyrics to “In My Life,” a piece that closed the 1998 album Martin intended to be his last production. But I’ve offered it before, and In My Life turned out not to be the last: Martin and his son Giles remixed and combined numerous Beatles’ tunes for the soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil’s 2005 show Love.

So I poked around the shelves and found something a little more obscure: A 1968 album titled By George! Credited to George Martin & His Orchestra, it included covers of a few Beatles tunes. From that album, here’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Saturday Single No. 471

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

As I write, the Texas Gal is in the living room, watching television coverage of yesterday’s carnage in Paris. After I finish here, I will likely read what the Minneapolis Star Tribune brought to my doorstep this morning and later, I will probably read more up-to-date accounts online, maybe at the sites of the New York Times or Washington Post.

It was as I wrote that opening paragraph that I realized what is bothering me this morning. First, of course, is that carnage in Paris, with more than a hundred dead and scores more injured in the service of an ideology I have no chance of understanding. As I said above, when I am done here, I will likely go learn as much as I can about what is actually known about what happened yesterday evening in a city I visited long ago and loved.

But there’s another thing bothering me this morning.

The Texas Gal and I first heard of the attacks in Paris from Scott Pelley on his evening broadcast on CBS. The reporting was sober and the analysis was careful, and the topic took up most of the program’s allotted half-hour. After that, we watched a few things we had recorded, and then I took my leave and watched a football game in my study. The Texas Gal switched to CNN to continue gathering information.

And on my occasional trips through the living room what I heard from CNN sounded shrill and breathless and sensational. I have no doubt that the same would hold true for the coverage of other twenty-four-hour news networks, Fox News and MSNBC. And that annoys and bothers me. After a massive event like yesterday’s, the truth about what actually happened, as well as the truth about who was responsible and why, rises from the chaos in its own time.

Time, however, is the enemy of any television station running live coverage of an event. When the facts available take, oh, fifteen minutes of air time and there are forty-five minutes left in the hour, then “What do we know?” is replaced by “What do we think we know?” Then comes “What do we think might have happened?” The answers to those three questions can easily become woven into a fabric of suppositions, and when that fabric is stretched to cover the time that needs to be filled, then the truth of what actually went down in Paris yesterday might be stretched as well.

There are, I’m certain, no malign conspiracies among those who work at those news networks (well, maybe except for Fox News), but reporting can be a messy and tedious business, and trying to do it live on the air and make it look polished is a risky thing. The result, as I noted above, is coverage that can sound – and does to my ears – breathless, sensational and shrill.

And those are not qualities I want in my news.

Having wandered far afield from what we usually do here on a Saturday morning, I’m in need of a little bit of mellowness. Here’s a suitable track that I heard on the CD player in the car yesterday evening as I waited for the Texas Gal to leave work. It’s Fairport Convention’s cover of “The Ballad Of Easy Rider” with Sandy Denny on lead vocal. It was recorded in October 1968 during the sessions for Fairport’s 1969 album Liege & Lief, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.