Archive for the ‘1968’ Category

First Wednesday: August 1968

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

For years, just to confound people, when bull sessions turned to politics and to the public upheaval that frequently accompanied politics in the 1960s and 1970s, I’d nod and say quietly, “I was in Chicago in ’68.”

The other folks would get quiet, look at me – I’ve always looked younger than I am, a genetic trait that I now cherish in my mid-fifties – and wonder. Some asked me if things had been as bad as they saw on TV, and I could honestly say they were worse. Some might ask if I had been in danger.

And I’d laugh and then ’fess up: I was fourteen and was actually in the suburb of Morton Grove that week in August 1968, spending one night in the Chicago area with my parents as we headed east on vacation. Nevertheless, as my parents and I watched the events inside and outside the International Amphitheatre on the north end of Chicago that evening, we were less than fifteen miles from the absurd, troubling, heartbreaking and utterly unnecessary confusion and violence that surrounded the Democratic National Convention during its four-day run in the Windy City.

The confusion of the Democrats inside the amphitheater and the continued confrontations between police and protestors outside made the convention another one of those touchpoints of 1968, a year that continued to lay trouble upon trouble, grief upon grief. By the time the convention ended on Friday, August 30, the angry confrontations between the authorities and the protestors – the Youth International Party (Yippies), the Black Panthers and numerous other protest groups, some serious and some less so – had degenerated into what an investigating commission later termed a “police riot.”

(Along that line, in one of the few moments of levity to come from the Chicago convention, Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley, frequently conversationally challenged, defined the role of law enforcement in his city thusly: “Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all – the policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”)

Watching the televised chaos that evening in a motel room so very close to the scenes we were seeing was – as was so much that year – confusing and dismaying. I stared at the scenes of bitter argument and confrontation inside the amphitheater and I stared at the scenes we saw of confrontation and violence outside the amphitheater. We saw on television, I am sure, less than what went on, but the news anchors and reporters for whatever network we were watching made frequent reference to the violence taking place in the streets of Chicago. And I do recall wondering, as I sat in our hotel room: Is this how grown-ups solve things?

But I also saw on television something that gave me hope. One of the heroes of the convention – and there were few of those in retrospect – was Georgia’s Julian Bond, who had led a civil-rights based challenge to the regular delegation sent by the Georgia Democratic Party. The challenge succeeded. As a token of respect (and I believe this took place during the evening my parents and I were in Morton Grove, fifteen miles away), Bond’s name was placed in nomination for the office of vice-president of the United States. He was forced to withdraw as he was only twenty-eight, seven years shy of the constitutional age requirement of thirty-five, but that evening, forty years ago, Julian Bond became the first African American man to be nominated for a national office by a major party.

The Democratic National Convention in Chicago might have been the largest news event of the month, and, as it came at the end of the month, it tended to wash over those events that had come before. But there were at least two other events worth nothing:

The Republican National Convention took place in Miami, Florida, during the first week of August. The Republicans nominated former vice-president Richard Nixon for president and Spiro Agnew, governor of Maryland, for vice-president. Nixon’s nomination was one more step in one of the most remarkable political resurrections in American history, and Agnew’s nomination was an utter surprise and puzzle. “Spiro who?” was the reaction of many news producers and news consumers. (Both were elected twice, of course, and both resigned in disgrace, Agnew in October 1973 and Nixon in August 1974.)

The other event worth noting was the crushing of what was known as the Prague Spring in the now dismantled nation of Czechoslovakia. In his book In Europe, Geert Mak writes:

“In January, orthodox Communist Party leader Antonín Novotný was replaced by the amiable Alexander Dubček, who immediately loosened reins: press, radio and television were allowed to criticise the regime freely, persecuted writers and intellectuals were granted amnesty, and plans were made to reform the economy along Western lines. The impending thaw became visible in the streets of Prague, in the length of men’s hair, the cautious miniskirts, the screening of Western movies . . .”

An opposition newspaper published an essay about true democracy by playwright Václav Havel: “Democracy is not a matter of faith but of guarantees” that allow “a public and legal competition for power.” Mak notes that all 250,000 copies of the newspaper sold out in a few hours.

But the changes were short-lived. On the night of August 21, a half-million soldiers from the Soviet Union and four other members of the military Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia and ended the experiments. New leader Gustáv Husák reversed almost all of Dubček’s reforms.

(Dubček managed to survive, not a minor accomplishment, and after communist rule over the country ended, served in Czechoslovakia’s Federal Assembly as a member of the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia before dying in 1992 from injuries sustained in an auto accident. Havel, the writer quoted above, was imprisoned during the late 1970s for his work for human rights; after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989, Havel was elected the last president of Czechoslovakia and – in 1992 – the first president of the Czech Republic.)

On a personal level, August 1968 brought one major first: I earned a substantial sum of money for the first time by working at the first of three annual state trap shoots at a nearby gun club. As I wrote some time back, I earned $40 that first summer and learned that the tarry powder from the trap targets did nasty things to my skin. My face turned brown and its skin turned leathery for a few days before peeling off in large hunks. But the $40 seemed worth it, and the drudgery of spending nine to ten hours a day in a little blockhouse halfway underground was tempered by the songs on the radio I brought with me. Looking at the top fifteen records in the Billboard Hot 100 from August 3, 1968, I can remember hearing every one of them many times during the trap shoot:

“Hello, I Love You” by the Doors
“Classical Gas” by Mason Williams
“Stoned Soul Picnic” by the 5th Dimension
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela
“Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones
“Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
“The Horse” by Cliff Nobles
“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues
“Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“Pictures of Matchstick Men” by the Status Quo
“People Got to Be Free” by the Rascals
“Sky Pilot (Part 1)” by Eric Burdon & the Animals
“This Guy’s in Love With You” by Herb Alpert

Generally, when I cite Top Tens or Top Fifteens here, I have a quibble or two. But not this time. I imagine that some might find the Vogues’ entry a little slight, but for me it’s a cherished song, and that’s a great Top Fifteen.

So let’s take a look at the top ten from the album chart from that week and see if we stay as lucky.

The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Wheels of Fire by Cream
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel/Dave Grusin
Aretha Now by Aretha Franklin
Time Peace/The Rascal’s Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Honey by Andy Williams

Well, I could live without the Andy Williams, but other than that, it’s pretty good. I do have two caveats: I think that the Jimmy Webb/Richard Harris opus “MacArthur Park” is one of those records people either love or hate, so that would determine the fate of A Tramp Shining. For my part, I like the single and the album. And maybe the Herb Alpert/TJB album is a little soft once you get past “This Guy’s in Love With You.” But in general, that’s a good bunch of albums.

The album I’m sharing today actually came out in October 1968 and quickly became a classic of its type. Jackie DeShannon’s Laurel Canyon didn’t sell well enough to make the Billboard Top LP’s chart (now the Billboard 200), but as a snapshot of 1968 life in southern California, the record loomed larger than its sales, an assessment that Jason Ankeny, writing for All-Music Guide, agreed with:

Laurel Canyon wonderfully captures the natural, idyllic vibe of its titular setting, the creative nexus of the late-’60s Los Angeles music scene. Swapping the polished pop approach of Jackie DeShannon’s past hits for an appealingly rough-edged country-soul sensibility, the record celebrates a place and time that transcended the physical world to signify a virtual Garden of Eden for the flower-power generation. Featuring extensive contributions from pianist Mac ‘Dr. John’ Rebennack and guitarist Russ Titleman, Laurel Canyon boasts a swampy, lived-in charm that perfectly complements DeShannon’s sexily gritty vocals. Her soulful reading of the Band’s ‘The Weight’ anticipates Aretha Franklin’s like-minded cover, but most impressive are originals like ‘Holly Would’ and the title cut, which eloquently articulate the rustic beauty of their creator’s environs.”

Beyond those three tracks mentioned there, which are stand-outs, I’d also recommend “She’s My Best Friend” (written by Don MacAllister), “Bitter Honey” (written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols) and the album’s closer, DeShannon’s own “L.A.”

Musicians on Laurel Canyon were: Mack Rebbenack on piano, Harold R. Batiste Jr. on electric piano, Russ Titleman on acoustic guitar, Craig Tarwater on electric guitar, Ray Trainer on bass and Paul Humphrey and Abe Mills on drums. Background vocals were by Barry White (yes, that Barry White), Brendetta Davis and Don MacAllister. The album was arranged by Battiste; Charles Greene & Brian Stone were the producers.

(In the years I’ve been collecting vinyl, I’ve only seen one copy of this album, the one in poor condition that I bought in September of 1999. The only available CD of the album is a British import [though these days, I’m not certain that’s a major distinction as far as availability is concerned]. This rip is from that CD; I found it online about two years ago. If you like the album, go find the CD if you can. Another note: The artist’s name is spelled both “De Shannon” and “DeShannon” on the record itself. I’ve gone with the latter spelling.)

Ten years later, getting a physical copy of the album is a hard buy: At Amazon today, a used vinyl copy of Laurel Canyon will run almost twenty-seven bucks, and a new copy will cost you $199.99. A used CD will cost at least $86.92. But the album is available in mp3s for $8.99. If one goes that route (or goes for the expensive CD), the album comes with eight bonus tracks, four written and produced by Bobby Womack.

Tracks and writers:
Laurel Canyon (Jackie DeShannon)
Sunshine of Your Love (Jack Bruce-Peter Brown-Eric Clapton)
Crystal Clear (Ray Trainer)
She’s My Best Friend (Don MacAllister)
I Got My Reason (Barry White)
Holly Would (Jackie DeShannon)
You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me (William Robinson)
The Weight (Jamie Robertson)
Bitter Honey (Paul Williams & Roger Nichols)
Come and Stay With Me (Jackie DeShannon)
L.A. (Jackie DeShannon)
Too Close (Jackie DeShannon, Charles Greene & Brian Stone)

The link below goes to a playlist of the remastered Laurel Canyon (with the above mentioned bonus tracks) at YouTube.

Jackie DeShannon – Laurel Canyon [1968]

Chart Digging: Four Julys

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

It’s time to dig into some Billboard Hot 100s from a few different Julys. We’re going to play some Games With Numbers and turn today’s date – 7/11/18 – into 36, and check out the No. 36 record on four charts, starting in 1976 and heading back four years at a time.

As we customarily do when we play these games, we’ll check out the No. 1 record for those weeks at the same time.

The second week of July 1976 found the country recovering from its Bicentennial celebration, the climax of what seemed at the time to have been about five years of preparation and marketing. If you didn’t have something Bicentennial themed in your house, you were either unpatriotic or worse, a spoilsport. Anyway, just less than a week after the hoopla reached its climax, the No. 36 record in the Hot 100 was a discofied version of one of the greatest and most familiar pieces of classical music: “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band, which was heading up the charts to No. 1. (It would reach No. 10 on the magazine’s R&B chart and No. 13 on what was then called the Easy Listening chart.)

It was the only Top 40 hit for Murphy, who had been an arranger for Doc Severinsen and the orchestra for The Tonight Show. (That means there’s only one degree of separation, as folks say, between me and Murphy, as I’ve met Doc Severinsen twice.). Two other releases, “Flight ’76,” based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” and 1982’s “Themes from E.T. (The Extra-terrestrial),” went to Nos. 44 and 47 respectively. And Murphy’s condensed and discofied take on George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 102 in early 1977.

The No. 1 record during the second week of July 1976 was “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band.

Heading back four years from that puts us in the summer of 1972, when I was working half-time as a janitor and planning a trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, with my pals Rick and Gary. (The ease with which we crossed from the U.S. into Canada that summer now astounds me. We showed the Canadian officials our driver’s licenses and the hand-written letter my dad had supplied that gave us his permission to take my 1961 Falcon – which Dad technically owned – across the border. Returning to Minnesota a few days later was just as easy. Simpler times.) Anyway, the No. 36 record as our plans for our trip were taking shape was a pairing of song and singer that itself echoed a time a decade earlier that in 1972 seemed much simpler: “Sealed With A Kiss” by Bobby Vinton.

Vinton’s version doesn’t stray far from the feel of Brian Hyland’s 1962 version that went to No. 3, and both are appreciably less mournful – to my ears, anyway – than the non-charting 1960 original by the Four Voices. Vinton’s version was on its way to No. 19 (No. 2, Easy Listening) during the second week of July. It was the thirty-eighth record Vinton had in or near the Hot 100 in a ten year period. He’d add eleven more through 1981 before the hits ran out.

Parked at No. 1 that week in 1972 was Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”

We’ve dallied a lot in recent months in the memorable year of 1968, but a four-year retreat from 1972 finds us there once again. And – as I’ve noted here many times before – it was likely around this time that I spent four days working at the state trap shoot, getting dirty with tar dust and listening to the radio for eight or so hours each day. Nevertheless, I don’t recall KDWB offering me Wilson Pickett’s “I’m A Midnight Mover” during those four days. It was sitting at No. 36 fifty years ago this week, and if I heard it then, if just didn’t make an impression, which – based on a listening this morning – seems unlikely.

The record peaked at No. 24 on the Hot 100 (and at No. 6 on the R&B chart), one of the forty-three records Pickett placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1963 and 1973 (with forty of his records reaching the R&B Top 40).

The No. 1 record during that week in July 1968 was “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert.

Whatever I may have been doing during in early July 1964, it hasn’t stuck in my memory. I was ten, with sixth grade at Lincoln Elementary on the horizon, and I was probably just finishing up summer school. That might have been the year my summer classmates and I were featured in the Shopping News for building a fake igloo for our studies on Alaska. In any case, I’m sure I spent a lot of time with Rick, both of us lazing away summer days in a way that I’m certain kids these days are not allowed to do. We didn’t really listen to pop music then, but we no doubt heard it when we were around older kids. Still, I would guess that Terry Stafford’s “I’ll Touch A Star” – the No. 36 record fifty-four years ago this week – was something we missed.

The record was Stafford’s follow-up to his No. 3 hit, “Suspicion,” and like that record, it was a bit of traditional pop in a time when the charts were mixing traditional pop and R&B and English hits and surf sounds and light jazz in such a way that listening to a Top 40 station would have been an adventure. “I’ll Touch A Star” peaked at No. 25 (No. 4 Easy Listening, where, surprisingly, “Suspicion” had failed to chart). Stafford had only one more record tickle the Hot 100: “Follow The Rainbow” bubbled under at No. 101 later that summer in 1964. He went on to place a few records in the bottom half of the country Top 40 in the 1970s.

The No. 1 record during the second week of July in 1964 was “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys.

(It’s interesting to note that – based on a little bit of digging – this post marks the first time that I’ve ever featured the music of Terry Stafford, Bobby Vinton or Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band. I’ve mentioned Vinton frequently and Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band a few times. Until today, I’ve never mentioned Terry Stafford over the course of some 2,100 posts.)

First Wednesday (Friday): July 1968

Friday, July 6th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month

(The first Wednesday of July 2018 turned out to be, of course, Independence Day, and that distracted me, and the next day, yesterday, the Texas Gal was not feeling well. All of that means that the post intended for the first Wednesday of July now shows up on the first Friday. So it goes. In ten years, no one will know the difference.)

It seems as if the world took a deep breath in July 1968.

The first six months of the year had brought blow after blow, especially for those who lived in the United States: The growing and bitter debate over the Vietnam War, the capitulation of a sitting president, the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. And even events that didn’t directly affect the U.S. – one of those being the general revolt in France in May – came into American homes through increasingly immediate news coverage, which brought with it images that made many, I’m sure, feel as if the entire world had gone mad.

The listing of events of July 1968 at Wikipedia is fairly slender, and nothing that is listed triggers gut-wrenching memories, as do so many of the events listed there for the first half of the year. Still, in the bright glare of hindsight, there is at least one event that intrigues:

On the first day of the month, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency inaugurated its Phoenix program in Vietnam. Coordinated with the security apparatus of South Vietnam, the program was designed to “identify and ‘neutralize’ (via infiltration, capture, or assassination) the civilian infrastructure supporting the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam.” That organization – the National Liberation Front – was better known as the Viet Cong, the guerillas operating in South Vietnam in support of North Vietnam.

According to the entry at Wikipedia – which pulled information from the March/April 2006 edition of Military Review and from a paper written by a U.S. Army colonel at the U.S. Army War College – the Phoenix Program was half a success. Between 1968 and 1972, South Vietnamese militia and police forces, using data gathered by CIA operatives “neutralized 81,740 NLF members, of whom 26,369 were killed.”

The matter-of-fact language chills me. Some would say, I imagine, that war is war and one does what one has to. But the CIA was (and is) not military, and – as government investigations in the mid-1970s revealed – was essentially accountable to no one for many of its 1960s operations.

And the Phoenix program, notes Wikipedia, was not fully successful. First, the wrong people were sometimes “neutralized,” having been purposely mis-identified as Viet Cong by rivals. Second, by 1968, the Viet Cong were well established throughout South Vietnam; the organization had won, to use a phrase that became a cliché in later years, the hearts and minds of many South Vietnamese.

The words “Phoenix program” are for many, I imagine, a memory of the Seventies rather than the Sixties, for it was in the mid-1970s that Congress investigated years of intelligence activities. That was when Phoenix and all the other shadowy efforts – some tragic, some laughable – came to light. But that particular effort began on a Monday at the start of July 1968.

A few other things happened that month, some of which echo to this day:

Saddam Hussein became vice chairman of Iraq’s ruling Revolutionary Council on July 17 after a coup d’état.

Pope Paul VI published his encyclical Humana Vitae (On Human Life) on July 25. The encyclical bans birth control.

Mount Arenal, a volcano in Costa Rica that was presumed extinct, erupted July 29 for the first time in four hundred years, destroying the town of Arenal and killing eighty-seven people. The eruption caused three new and active craters to form, and the volcano has been active ever since, with minor eruptions taking place every five to ten minutes.

In Cleveland, Ohio, police surveillance of African-American militant Fred (Ahmed) Evans and his followers – they were suspected of purchasing illegal weapons – resulted in a July 23 shootout in the city’s Glenville neighborhood. Six or seven people were killed (Wikipedia says that newspaper accounts differ) and fifteen were wounded. In addition, the confrontation sparked arson and looting throughout the six square miles of the neighborhood that continued until police and the National Guard restored order July 28.

Even in those days, at the age of fourteen, I followed the news fairly closely, and I have no recollection at all of those events in Cleveland, which came to be known as the Glenville Shootout. I’m sure accounts were in the news and on television, and in hindsight, it seems like a fairly major event. But for some reason, it didn’t stick.

Then again, not a lot of things have stuck with me from that month. I guess I had a pretty standard American Midwest summer: a few chores in the mornings, orchestra practice (and occasional performances) on Monday evenings, lots of time spent knocking about the neighborhood with Rick.

The only thing that was really new that summer of ’68 was that I worked out at the trap shoot for the first time, most likely in mid-July. As I wrote more than a year ago, there were a number of songs I heard so frequently on the radio in the trap pit that they immediately take me back to that dirty and loud place.

But as July started, here’s what the Billboard Top 15 looked like:

“This Guy’s in Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“The Horse” by Cliff Nobles
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones
“The Look of Love” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela
“Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
“Angel of the Morning” by Merilee Rush & The Turnabouts
“Here Comes the Judge” by Shorty Long
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris
“Reach out of the Darkness” by Friend and Lover
“Yummy Yummy Yummy” by the Ohio Express
“Mony Mony” by Tommy James & The Shondells
“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Think” by Aretha Franklin
“Indian Lake” by the Cowsills

That’s an okay Top 15. It could rock a little more, yeah, as only the Stones’ single and “Think” have much bite. As I noted when I wrote about June 1968, I can definitely get along without “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and “Mony Mony.” And “Here Comes the Judge” is a novelty that’s funny on occasion but doesn’t wear especially well. (It was inspired by a running gag on the television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.)

But even if it’s a pretty mellow top 15, there’s some nice stuff there. The Alpert and Mendes singles are sweet, and “Angel of the Morning” is one of the great one-hit wonders of all time. “Lady Willpower” is a nice – if a little bombastic – period piece. “Mrs. Robinson” was a great single, now heading down the charts after hitting No. 1 for three weeks. And – speaking of bombast – for some reason, I’ve always had a fondness for “MacArthur Park.”

Then there was “Indian Lake” with its unremarkable-for-its-time war whoops, which I would guess would be unthinkable today. I wonder if the record – which went as high as No. 10 in late June – is on any oldies playlists anywhere. I don’t recall hearing it on radio for years.

Over on the Billboard album chart during the first week of July 1968, the top spot was occupied for the fourteenth straight week by an album with Simon & Garfunkel on it. For five of those weeks – including this first week in July – that album had been Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends. The top album for the other nine weeks had been the soundtrack to The Graduate, which featured four previously released songs by Simon & Garfunkel as well as snippets of an early version of “Mrs. Robinson.” (The full and final version was on Bookends.)

The two albums had switched places for a couple of weeks, but from April 6 through July 6, the top two spots on the chart belonged to Simon & Garfunkel. And on July 6, 1968, here’s how the Top 10 looked:

Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack
The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Disraeli Gears by Cream
A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris
Look Around by Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66
The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees by the Monkees
Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel

Movement on the album chart was close to glacial. Seven of those albums had been in the Top Ten during the first week in June. The three that hadn’t were the Richard Harris, Sergio Mendes and Jimi Hendrix albums, and Are You Experienced had been bouncing in and out of the Top Ten for months.

I would have no time for the Goldsboro, and there would be better Monkees albums to own if one wanted to go beyond the singles. (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. and Headquarters come to mind.) With those exceptions, it’s not a bad Top Ten: Some pretty robust rock, some folk rock, some Latin sounds and some instrumentals that aren’t utterly soporific.

The album I’m sharing today didn’t come near the Top Ten, peaking at No. 30 during a five-week stay on the album chart in February and March of 1969. But it’s still an interesting album: I can’t be absolutely sure, but I think that Joan Baez’ Any Day Now was the first album made up entirely of covers of songs by Bob Dylan.*

And who better than Baez to do it? She was the reigning queen of folk when Dylan shambled onto the world’s stage in 1962 and 1963; her support and her recordings of some of his early work gave him exposure and legitimacy. Lovers for a few years, the two of them were linked inextricably and permanently by their pre-eminence in the folk movement of the early 1960s. So if anyone had a claim on covering Bob Dylan for an entire album, Baez did.

And for the most part, Baez does well. The decision to record the album in Nashville was probably the crucial decision regarding the entire project. Using many of the same musicians that Dylan had used for Blonde on Blonde in 1966 (two of whom also played on Dylan’s John Wesley Harding in 1967), Baez puts Dylan’s songs into a country-ish context. The sessions for Any Day Now took place in September or October 1968 (sources I’ve seen differ), shortly after the release of the Byrds’ landmark album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and it seems pertinent to wonder how much influence the Byrds’ sound had on Baez.

Highlights? The most obvious is “Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word,” a song that Dylan has seemingly never recorded. In addition, her recording of “The Walls of Red Wing,” was, it seems, the first ever released: Dylan’s version was released in 1991. (The song, maybe not one of Dylan’s best, is of interest here because “The Walls of Red Wing” surrounded Minnesota’s penal institution for boys in the 1960s, a place of rumor and dread back in my grade school and junior high days even for generally well-behaved boys.)

Another highlight is “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which surfaced for the first time on Sweetheart of the Rodeo but gets a warmer and more relaxed reading here.

One of the chief assets of Any Day Now is in Baez’ vocal approach. On many of her folk recordings of the early 1960s, there was little interpretation, with every folk song presented almost as a jewel to be admired and not to be tampered with. By the time she got to Any Day Now, Baez was becoming an interpreter, leaning on some words and phrases and sliding past others, telling tales with the songs rather than presenting them as museum pieces. That makes Any Day Now one of Baez’ most accessible albums. (The same holds true for Baez’ next release, 1969’s David’s Album, which was recorded at the same time as Any Day Now.)

Musicians listed for the Any Day Now sessions at All-Music Guide are: Harold Bradley, Jerry Kennedy, Grady Martin, Jerry Reed, Harold Rugg, Stephen Stills and Pete Wade on guitar; David Briggs on keyboards; Kenny Buttrey on drums; Fred Carter on mandolin; Pete Drake on steel guitar; Johnny Gimble, Tommy Jackson and Buddy Spicher on violin; Junior Husky and Norbert Putnam on bass; Bill Pursell on piano; and Hargus “Pig” Robbins on keyboards.

Tracks: Love Minus Zero/No Limit
North Country Blues
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Drifter’s Escape
I Pity The Poor Immigrant
Tears of Rage
Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
The Walls of Red Wing
Dear Landlord
One Too Many Mornings
I Shall Be Released
Boots of Spanish Leather
Walkin’ Down the Line
Restless Farewell

Joan Baez – Any Day Now [1968]

The link above leads to a YouTube play list of the album that includes two bonus tracks: “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “It Ain’t Me Babe.”

*Any Day Now was not the first album made up entirely of covers of Bob Dylan tunes. In a later post, I passed on information from readers citing an album by Odetta and I noted in the same post an album by Linda Mason cited at All-Music Guide.

Saturday Singles Nos. 596 & 597

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

Sometime in the late summer of 1969, my sister came home from a shift of waitressing in the Woolworth’s restaurant at the Crossroads mall on the west end of St. Cloud, and she brought me a gift: Blood, Sweat & Tears’ 1968 self-titled album on cassette.

I’d recently spent the money I’d earned working at the state trapshoot – a three-time experience I’ve written about numerous times here – for a Panasonic cassette tape recorder, but I had yet to get myself anything to listen to. Rick and I had spent some time and giggles recording things around our two households and the neighborhood, but that was it. And then my sister spotted Blood, Sweat & Tears on sale at the mall, possibly at J.C. Penney but more likely at Musicland.

I knew the group, sort of. I think I’d heard “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” the previous spring, when it went to No. 2, and I know I’d heard “Spinning Wheel” during the early summer, when it also went to No. 2, but that was about it. So with a fair amount of curiosity, and grateful to have something to listen to in my tape recorder that didn’t feature my own voice, I popped the cassette in and hit “Play.”

I liked what I heard (and still do; seven of the album’s ten tracks are on the iPod). And I listened to the album enough in those long-ago days that its sequence and solos and turns are still ingrained in my head. When “Smiling Phases,” the album’s real opener (I tend to discount the Erik Satie pieces as filigree) fades out on the iPod, I expect to hear “Sometimes In Winter.” And when that one fades out, I expect to hear this:

And so on through “Blues – Part II” (followed by a reprise of Erik Satie and the sound of footsteps and a slamming door – more filigree). I’ve liked the album enough over the years that it’s one of two that I’ve owned as cassette, LP and CD. (The Beatles’ Abbey Road is the other.)

Fast-forward to this morning: I was heading downtown for a stop at the bank and then a haircut. Little Milton’s Greatest Hits – a 1997 Chess/MCA release – was in the CD player. And along came this, originally released in 1967 as Checker single 1189:

I’ve listened to it several times since then: on the way home from the barbershop and then a couple times as I’ve written this post. I have to admit that – even though I frequently dig into covers and their origins, I’ve never spent any time wondering where Blood, Sweat & Tears found the song. And that’s okay. There are a lot of tunes and covers to write about. This morning, it’s enough to say that Little Milton’s original “More and More” and Blood, Sweat & Tears’ 1968 cover of the tune are today’s Saturday Singles.

One Chart Dig: June 15, 1968

Friday, June 15th, 2018

A few days ago, I featured by default the No. 100 record in a Billboard Hot 100 from 1971. As I was scrolling down the screen toward the bottom of that chart, I was concerned that I’d find a dismal record, or at best, mediocrity.

I got lucky, stumbling into a Stephen Stills record that I’ve always liked. And this morning, I thought, “Well, that’s a strategy that might work on a frequent basis. So let’s try it again.”

So we – Odd, Pop and I – cast our line into the depths of the Hot 100 from June 15, 1968, fifty years ago today. And we weren’t quite as lucky. But we’ll get to that in a bit. First of all, let’s look at the Top Ten in that long-ago chart:

“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“Mony Mony” by Tommy James & The Shondells
“Yummy Yummy Yummy” by the Ohio Express
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells
“Think” by Aretha Franklin
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra and Chorus
“The Look Of Love” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66

That’s a pretty good Top Ten. I can do without “Mony Mony” and “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” and I’ve gotten a bit tired of “Tighten Up” over the years, but the other seven are fine, and if together those seven tilt the list toward easy listening, well that’s okay here.

As usual when writing about stuff before the summer of 1969, I should note that I only heard any of these by default, when either my friends or my sister were listening to the radio while I was around. But all of these records – save perhaps “Think” – were familiar to me during that summer between junior high school and high school.

But I don’t think I’d ever heard that week’s No. 100 record until I sought it out this morning. It’s “Congratulations” by Cliff Richard, an artist whose stardom baffles me.

I know he was a big deal in England, with – says Wikipedia – sixty-seven Top Ten singles, second only to Elvis Presley. And he didn’t do badly here, with twenty-one records in or near the Hot 100 between 1959 and 1983. Three of those hit the Top Ten: “Devil Woman” in 1976 and “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and “Dreaming,” both in 1980. I liked “Devil Woman,” but the other two did very little for me, just like anything else I’ve ever heard from Richard.

I especially don’t get the appeal of “Congratulations,” which went to No. 1 in the United Kingdom and in five other European nations. If I weren’t in a generally good mood this morning, I’d label it “insipid.” As it is, I’ll settle for “unpleasant.” But fishing on the bottom of the ocean – something we will do again – can be risky. So here’s “Congratulations.”

First Wednesday: June 1968

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

As 1968 entered June, nearing its halfway mark, the body blows kept coming.

June 5 was a Wednesday, one of the first days of summer vacation, so I slept in, as did my mom. We weren’t sluggards, but neither of us had risen with Dad as he left for the college before seven o’clock, which was his custom. Instead, we wandered downstairs about eight o’clock.

And there was a note on the kitchen table, in Dad’s distinctive hand, sharing the news he’d heard on the radio as he had his breakfast: Senator Robert F. Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles after winning the previous day’s California primary. He was in critical condition. I’m not sure if it actually said so, but the note at least gave the impression that Kennedy’s survival was unlikely.

I was not necessarily a supporter of Bobby Kennedy; I had some parochial pride that two of the Democratic candidates for president – Eugene McCarthy and Hubert H. Humphrey – were Minnesotans. I was, however, beginning to pay some attention to Kennedy’s message, and so – I think – was my father. My mother’s political sympathies, I know, were on the other side of the aisle. But those preferences and differences were unimportant at that moment.

I remember standing there, next to my mom, looking at the note, reading it a second time. Its content was, as had been so much already that year, difficult to grasp, to process. To a boy of fourteen – even to a fairly bright boy who kept up pretty well with current events – it was one more piece of an adult-sized puzzle, a mystery that seemed further and further from solution as every bit of new information came to light. The import of the morning’s news and its insanity – there is no other word for it – tumbled through my mind as I ate breakfast and went out to take care of my only chore of the day.

And I remember clearly that as I pushed the lawn mower that morning, I was distracted. It struck me as strange, as somehow wrong and disrespectful, to be doing something so ordinary, so mundane, while in a distant hospital room a life, a family and – yes, I thought this – maybe even the country hung on the edge of tragedy. And early the next morning, Robert Kennedy died.

The next days felt unhappily familiar and unreal: The ceremonies of grief and farewell, the funeral in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the slow train ride from New York to Washington, D.C. with crowds of mourners lining the tracks. My attention wandered; I was tired of grief, conflict and anger, and that seemed to be all the adult world was offering. So I paid less attention to those ceremonies than I otherwise might have.

And when those events ended, the rest of the month went by with little notice. In an odd bit of cosmic timing, James Earl Ray, the suspected killer of Martin Luther King, Jr., was arrested in London on the day of Robert Kennedy’s funeral. And with that, the major news of June pretty much ended.

The days lengthened, at least for a couple more weeks, and turned warmer. For all the sorrow that 1968 had brought so far, there was a summer. And I think a lot of us moved toward that warm season numbly, wondering “What next?”

During those moments we sought comfort from music, as many of us always have done, what did we hear that month? Here’s the top fifteen from the Billboard Hot 100 for June 1, 1968:

“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
“The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Yummy Yummy Yummy” by the Ohio Express
“Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells
“Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“Do You Know The Way To San Jose” by Dionne Warwick
“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris
“Think” by Aretha Franklin
“Love Is All Around” by the Troggs
“She’s Lookin’ Good” by Wilson Pickett

Well, that’s about seventy percent okay. Of the top four, I can imagine a large number of people looking askance at the Hugo Montenegro single, but I’ve always loved it for some reason. So the first four on that list are just fine with me. The bottom eight are fine, too: “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” was one of best things Marvin and Tammi did during their too-brief time as partners; the Intruders’ track is pleasant, if a little slight; and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” might be the third best thing among these fifteen, challenged for that spot only by the Marvin and Tammi duet, “Mrs. Robinson” or “Think.” As to the top two for me, the Alpert single and “MacArthur Park” have always been favorites of mine.

But those other three, from No. 5 through No. 7! They look like a bad tongue twister. Of the three, the Goldsboro is the worst, but I’ve never cared much for the other two, either. Those three singles would create a ten-minute segment on the oldies countdown when I’d find a reason to leave the room, maybe change the furnace filter or take out the recycling.

You’ll note that even the good singles there are all pretty light. There are some R&B grooves in “Tighten Up” and hints of that in “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” and “Cowboys to Girls,” but this is a pretty soft Top Ten. Maybe the album chart was a little tougher.

Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel and Dave Grusin
The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees by the Monkees
The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
The Good, The Band And The Ugly soundtrack by Ennio Morricone
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Music From “A Fistful of Dollars” & “For A Few Dollars More” & “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro

Again, those are pretty light, with only the Cream and the Aretha entries having much weight, although it should be noted that Simon & Garfunkel were always a good listen. The soundtrack to The Good, The Band And The Ugly had originally been released with the film in 1966 and popped back into the album charts after the success of Montenegro’s album of covers.

I’m not sure when the album I’m sharing today was released, beyond the fact that it was 1968. And it’s an odd album, even though there are portions of it that I enjoy very much.

Fever Tree came out of Houston, Texas, and recorded and released four albums between 1968 and 1970 without drawing much attention. In fact, I’d wager that the group is better known these days as a result of its music having been released on CD than it ever was back in the Sixties.

Still, there is some interesting music in Fever Tree’s catalog, especially on the first, self-titled album from 1968. The song that most folks know is “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native),” which has popped up on a number of anthologies over the years, including one of the highly regarded Nuggets collections in the 1980s. It’s a track that, if not great, is at least fun to listen to and worthy of some attention because of, All-Music Guide notes, its “dramatic melody, utopian lyrics, and searing fuzz guitar.”

(Ten years ago, my music library was in process, so I was unable to report that a single release of “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)” had spent six weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 but never got any higher than No. 91. It was Fever Tree’s only chart entry. As to the album, it went to No. 156 on the Billboard 200. I should also note that when it came time to compile the records in my Ultimate Jukebox in early 2010, “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)” was one of the 240 records included.)

The rest of the album? Well, it’s all over the musical map. The opening track – “Imitation Situation 1 (Toccata and Fugue)/Where Do You Go?” – begins with a Bach quote and a snippet of what sounds like a lift from an Ennio Morricone soundtrack before settling into a swirling song that alternates harsh vocals and lilting flute. On my first listening some time ago, that first track reminded me of a review of another musician I once read, noting that the performer in question “never threw away any idea.” That’s kind of the sense I got about Fever Tree and its producers, Scott and Vivian Holtzman (who wrote or co-wrote all of the original material on Fever Tree).

Elsewhere on the records, the Wilson Pickett cover “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do),” doesn’t work all that well as a psychedelic freakout, but a couple other covers connect: A medley of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out” includes sly brass quotes from “Norwegian Wood” and “Eleanor Rigby,” and the cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” is simply beautiful.

Of the originals, beyond “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native),” the two closers come off best. The other originals are not bad, but “Unlock My Door” and “Come With Me (Rainsong)” are mellow, maybe sentimental, and close very nicely an album that seems to have wandered all over the map before coming home at last.

Tracks:

Imitation Situation 1 (Toccata and Fugue)/Where Do You Go?
San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)
Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)
Man Who Paints The Pictures
Filigree & Shadow
Sun Also Rises
Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out
Nowadays, Clancy Can’t Even Sing
Unlock My Door
Come With Me (Rainsong)

Here’s a link that will take you to the entire album as an automatic playlist at YouTube: Fever Tree (1968).

Historical error corrected after first posting.

Saturday Single No. 591

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

We’re off to the eye doctor!

Both the Texas Gal and I have noticed in the past couple of weeks that things are getting a bit blurry, especially when we’re driving and most especially when we’re driving after dark. So we checked our records, and for both of us, it’s been a few years since we had our eyes checked.

So later this morning, we’re off to the regional big box store on the East Side, where we’ve had our eyes checked since we moved to St. Cloud almost sixteen years ago. We’ll also likely look for a hose attachment we can use to clean the winter gunk from the garage floor and for a couple other necessities as well. And lunch at one of our former East Side haunts might be on the agenda, too.

But it’s our eyes that are the main part of the agenda. So here’s a tune that’s never shown up here before: “Meagan’s Gypsy Eyes.” It’s from Child Is Father To The Man, the 1968 debut album for Blood, Sweat & Tears, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

First Wednesday: May 1968

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

When one looks back at the major events of 1968 – or of any year, for that matter – there is generally a kind of storybook quality about them: They happened, they got attention, but they didn’t really affect us or the people around us.

What I mean is: No matter how awful – or in rare cases, beneficial – an event might be that is large enough to attract the attention of the world, simply because of sheer numbers, it rarely affects us or someone we know. To put it in the perspective of an event I mentioned in my look at March 1968, very few of us in the U.S. knew someone involved with the massacre at My Lai. As horrible as it was, when the tale of the massacre became public, very few of us had our revulsion augmented by the fact that we knew someone who had pulled a trigger or knew someone who was murdered or had a loved one murdered. And as powerful and terrible as the events of 1968 had so far been as we entered May, most of us were still spectators, gaping at the display.

But in May, as obliquely as it might have been, a major news story touched down at our home in St. Cloud. It wasn’t tragic, it could have had a far greater impact than it did, but it was there.

What became known as mai 68 in France began, says Wikipedia, as a series of student strikes that broke out in May at universities and schools in Paris, “following confrontations with university administrators and the police.” The French government, led by President Charles de Gaulle, attempted to end the strikes with more police action, but that only made matters worse.

There were street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter of Paris, followed by “a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by ten million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached such a point that de Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for June 23.”

Wikipedia further notes: “May ’68 was a political failure for the protesters, but it had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment that saw the replacement of conservative morality (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) with the liberal morality (equality, sexual liberation, human rights) that dominates French society today. Although this replacement did not take place solely in this one month, the term mai 68 is used to refer to the shift in values, especially when referring to its most idealistic aspects.”

In St. Cloud, at my home, we watched the events of about four thousand miles away with great interest. I remember seeing students at the barricades in the streets of Paris, both on television and in photos in newspapers and magazines. Why did it matter? Because my sister, three years older than I and about to graduate from high school, was scheduled to spend six weeks in France that summer – near Paris, I believe – studying French language and culture.

Her six weeks would begin in July, but as the events of May wore on, I seem to remember my sister and my parents being kept informed by the sponsoring agency. There was some concern that the program might have to be canceled. Now, a Midwestern girl not getting her chance to go to France pales, I know, when compared with many of the wounds that the year of 1968 was inflicting. But it would have saddened her greatly, and grief is grief. As it happened, the furor in France died down as the summer came, and the sponsoring agency found a place to host the program in the city of Narbonne, just off the Mediterranean Sea. My sister got her time in France.

The uncertainty, though, had a point, as I look back at it. It was a lesson, as if the universe were pointing out that large events are more than tales on a storyboard: They touch people’s lives.

Beyond the upheaval in France, May of 1968 was a relatively tranquil month, according to the list of events at Wikipedia, almost as if the world were catching its breath for what was to come. Still, relatively tranquil is not tranquil.

There were increasing protests in the United States against the war in Vietnam. In Catonsville, Maryland, a group that came to be called the Catonsville Nine went to the local draft board on May 17. Two brothers who were Catholic priests, Fr. Daniel Berrigan and Fr. Philip Berrigan, headed the group. At the draft board office, Wikipedia says, the nine protestors “took 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured homemade napalm over them, and set them on fire.” They were tried in federal court in October and found guilty of “destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967.”

The breakaway Nigerian province of Biafra was surrounded by the Nigerian army. This contributed, Wikipedia notes, “to a humanitarian disaster as the surrounded population was already suffering with hunger and starvation.” Efforts to relive the privation were launched around the developed word. Wikipedia once more: “It has been argued that by prolonging the war the Biafran relief effort (characterized by Canadian development consultant Ian Smillie as ‘an act of unfortunate and profound folly’), contributed to the deaths of as many as 180,000 civilians.”

The images we saw from Biafra in the news were truly horrible. If the name of the province/nation is unfamiliar to you, Google it and click on the image search.

There’s no way to write a paragraph of transition from starving Biafrans to the Top 40 without seeming utterly callous. So let’s just acknowledge, I guess, that some folks could play while some starved. It’s always been so, and – unhappily – it will likely always be so.

Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for the week of May 4, 1968:

“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap Featuring Gary Puckett
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells
“I Got The Feelin’” by James Brown & The Famous Flames
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra and Chorus
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers
“If You Can Wait” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
“Dance to the Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Take Time To Know Her” by Percy Sledge
“Summertime Blues” by Blue Cheer
“The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde” by Georgie Fame

Not a bad batch, with the exception of Bobby Goldsboro and the Irish Rovers. “Young Girl” might be a little creepy, given today’s point of view, but I’m not sure we thought about it like that back then. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the Intruders’ record. I might recognize it, but I’m not sure.

Here are the Top 10 albums in Billboard from that first week of May 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly soundtrack
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With by Bill Cosby
The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

A couple things jump out. First, it was a very good spring for Simon & Garfunkel. In its second week on the charts, Bookends had jumped from No. 71 to No. 4, and it would stay on the album chart for another thirty-eight weeks. The soundtrack to The Graduate was in its fifth week at No. 1 with four weeks to go during a forty-seven week stay on the chart. And Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme ,which came out in 1966, had re-entered the Top Ten in early April and would stay until late June, eventually cataloging sixty weeks in the Top 40.

The other thing I noticed is that Are You Experienced had popped back into the Top Ten after falling out. The last week in April, the first album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience had been at No. 13. The first week in May, it was at No. 10, in its thirty-eighth week in the Top 40. The record had done the same thing in February, popped into the Top Ten and then out again, as well as twice in 1967, in October and December. (Its peak position had been No. 5, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums and it would be in the Top 40 for a total of seventy-seven weeks.)

And from the vantage point of fifty years later, I wince as I see one of Bill Cosby’s comedy albums on the chart. I had one of them, Wonderfulness, which I bought in 1967. Does that also make me wince? Only a little. I was fourteen. My copy of Wonderfulness, which I would guess hadn’t been played since the late 1960s, went out the door during the Great Vinyl Selloff a little more than a year ago. Did I sell it because of the allegations of criminal sexual behavior (now, in one case, found to be true) or because I no longer wanted it? A little of both, I’d guess.

The album I’m sharing today would enter the Top 40 during the second week of May. It would be a short stay – just six weeks – and the album would peak at No. 29, but in terms of quality and in terms of influence, Jerry Butler’s The Ice Man Cometh would shine as brightly as anything released in 1968.

Butler came out of Chicago and joined the Impressions in the late 1950s, hitting with, among others, “For Your Precious Love,” which, in 1958, went to No. 11 on two of the Billboard pop charts of the day and to No. 3 on the magazine’s rhythm and blues chart. He then left the group and moved to the Chicago-based Vee-Jay label in 1960. Six Top 40 hits followed through 1963, the biggest of them being “He Will Break Your Heart,” which went to No. 7 on the pop chart and spent seven weeks on top of the R&B chart in 1960.

In 1967, Butler signed with Mercury, and after one Top 40 hit – “Mr. Dream Merchant” went to No. 38 (No. 23, R&B) – went into the studio with two producers being allowed to helm an album on their own for the first time: Leon Gamble and Kenneth Huff. The resulting record threw off four Top 40 hits and started Gamble and Huff along the way to their near-domination of the charts in the 1970s with their Philadelphia International label, which had a roster that included Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, the O’Jays, the Three Degrees, MFSB and more.

That’s not to say The Ice Man Cometh serves only as an appetizer, as a preview of coming attractions. It’s a great album on its own, as Butler’s combination of smooth and gritty is echoed by Gamble and Huff’s setting the blues-based rhythm section to work against pop-based strings and background vocals. The four singles that came from the record were “Never Give You Up” (which went to No. 20 pop, No. 4 R&B), “Hey, Western Union Man,” (No. 16 pop, No. 1, R&B), “Are You Happy” (No. 39 pop, No. 9 R&B) and the record’s single best track, “Only the Strong Survive,” which topped out at No. 4 on the pop chart and at No. 1 for two weeks on the R&B chart.

(Lovers of Elvis Presley will recall that the King covered “Only the Strong Survive” during his sessions in Memphis in early 1969. When they listen to Butler’s version, they’ll see where Elvis got his ideas. Don’t get me wrong: Elvis’ version of “Only the Strong Survive” is a great record. It’s just not as good as the original.)

Track list:
Hey Western Union Man
Can’t Forget About You, Baby
Only The Strong Survive
How Can I Get In Touch With You
Just Because I Really Love You
Lost
Never Give You Up
Are You Happy?
(Strange) I Still Love You
Go Away – Find Yourself
I Stop By Heaven

Video unavailable.

Saturday Single No. 587

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

Set off kilter with an incipient cold – I can feel it coming on, like a weather system a few days out – and tasked later this morning with recording music at a friend’s home for a dance performance for another friend, I’m sort of punting today.

I’m going to head to the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1968 – fifty years ago – and play some quick games with numbers, adding today’s date – 4/21/18 – together to get 43. Then, whatever was No. 43 in that long-ago chart will be today’s feature.

And we run into a record that not only has never been mentioned in this space in more than eleven years of blogging but a record that I only vaguely remember hearing: “Jennifer Eccles” by the Hollies. It’s kind of frothy but that’s okay:

White chalk, written on red brick
Our love, told in a heart
It’s there, drawn in the playground
Love, kiss, hate or adore

I love Jennifer Eccles
I know that she loves me
I love Jennifer Eccles
I know that she loves me

La la la la la la la
La la la la la la
La la la la la la la
La la la la la la

I used to carry her satchels
She used to walk by my side
But when we got to her doorstep
Her dad wouldn’t let me inside

One Monday morning,
Found out I’d made the grade
Started me thinking,
Had she done the same?

La la la la la la la
La la la la la la
La la la la la la la
La la la la la la

One Monday morning,
Found out I’d made the grade
Started me thinking,
Had she done the same?

I hope Jennifer Eccles
Is going to follow me there
Our love is bound to continue
Love, kiss, hate or adore
Singing

I love Jennifer Eccles
I know that she loves me
I love Jennifer Eccles
I know that she loves me

La la la la la la la
La la la la la la
La la la la la la la

“Jennifer Eccles” didn’t do much more on the charts, edging up three more places to reach No. 40, becoming the seventh Top 40 hit of an eventual twelve for the Mancunian group. And all that makes it today’s Saturday Single.

First Wednesday: April 1968

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

Forty years ago this evening, I went into the living room to watch something on television. It was just after dinner and dishes, so it was somewhere between six and half-past six. Or maybe it was nearly seven o’clock. I’m not sure, and I have no idea what it was I was planning to watch that Thursday evening.

The television schedule for that evening shows nothing I’d have been interested in: Batman, The Flying Nun, Cimmaron Strip and Daniel Boone occupied the hour between half-past six and half-past seven. I’m sure I was planning to watch as much as I could that evening of a Minnesota North Stars playoff game from Los Angeles, but that would be later. When I turned the television on that evening, it was still light outside.

But almost as soon I turned the television on, it was dark. One of the national newscasters – I do not recall which one – told me and millions more that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed that evening in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been shot while on the balcony of his motel room, preparing for another evening of supporting the sanitation workers’ strike that had brought him to the city.

I was fourteen but already had – as I’ve noted before – a sense of news and a sense of history. I imagine I went and told my parents the news, but I know I sat in front of the television for a couple hours as the white men employed by whatever network I was watching tried to make sense of the assassination of a black leader. Except they couldn’t make sense of it, of course. It was one more brick of insanity falling in place in the mad wall that 1968 was building.

Campaigning in inner city Indianapolis that evening, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy found himself relating the news of Dr. King’s assassination to a crowd of black supporters. “It fell to Kennedy,” writes Tom Brokaw in his book, Boom!, “to deliver the news, which was so shocking and unexpected that it took everyone a few moments to absorb the enormity of the fact.”

Brokaw goes on:

“As he stood in the darkness, illuminated only by the lights of news cameras, Kennedy talked gently but intensely about the need to resist ‘hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction . . .’ he said, ‘or we can make an effort as Martin Luther King did to . . . remove that stain of bloodshed that spread across our land’.”

In what Brokaw calls “one of the most powerful speeches of Kennedy’s career, delivered extemporaneously,” the senator told the crowd:

Aeschylus once wrote: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country; whether they be white or whether they be black. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.

There was no violence in Indianapolis that night, but riots broke out starting that night and over the next few days in more than a hundred U.S. cities in response to Dr. King’s murder, including – according to Wikipedia – Baltimore, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. In an event that may or may not have been related but that added to the tension in the country, two days after Dr. King was murdered, a shootout in California between Oakland police and members of the Black Panthers resulted in several deaths, including that of Panther Bobby Hutton, who was sixteen.

Racial tension continued to spark riots through the spring, as in Louisville, Kentucky, in late May, where rumors that white authorities were intentionally delaying a plane that was bringing black leader Stokely Carmichael to Louisville triggered two days of rioting in the city’s west end. A year already bad was getting worse.

Also that month, Rudi Dutschke, the head of APO, a German left-wing student organization opposed to the sitting government, was attacked and injured April 11 (he would die eleven years later from his brain injuries). The same day, German left-wing students blockaded the Berlin headquarters of the Springer Press. Many of them were arrested, including Ulrike Meinhof, who in the next few years would organize the Red Army Faction, a German revolutionary organization.

From April 23 through April 30, protestors at Columbia University in New York took over administration buildings and shut down the university. Wikipedia says the “protests erupted . . . after students discovered links between the university and the institutional apparatus supporting the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, as well as their concern over an allegedly segregatory gymnasium to be constructed in a local park.”

From where I sat in the American Midwest, the world was falling apart. That wall of insane bricks the year was building, seemingly of its own accord, was getting larger. At the end of the month, there was an event that, looking back, provides a smile. At the time, though, it did nothing more for people of my parents’ generation than provide another bit of confirmation that the world was indeed going mad: On April 29, the musical Hair – with its songs about drugs and sex and its on-stage nudity – opened on New York City’s Broadway.

Within a year, despite its depravity, Hair would spin off four Top Ten singles for four different groups or performers: “Hair” by the Cowsills (No. 2), “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by the 5th Dimension (No. 1), “Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver (No. 3) and “Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night (No. 4).

But those hits came in 1969. What was it we were listening to during the first week of April 1968, when the bricks began to fall faster?

Here’s the Top 15 from Billboard for the first week of April 1968:

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Valleri” by the Monkees
“La-La Means I Love You” by the Delfonics
“(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” by Aretha Franklin
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” by Georgie Fame
“Love is Blue” by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)” by Manfred Mann
“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co.
“Scarborough Fair/Canticle” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Dance To The Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Kiss Me Goodbye” by Petula Clark

If nothing else, it was a great time to seek solace with a radio (with the probable exception of “Honey”; I can live with “Simon Says”). Some folks, of course, liked their music in long form. Here’s what the Top Ten album chart looked like during the first week of April 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/Soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Valley of the Dolls by Dionne Warwick
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack

If one were looking at that as a shopping list, there are only a couple of hitches. One could get by without The Graduate for the most part as long as he or she had three Simon & Garfunkel albums: Sounds of Silence; Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; and the forthcoming Bookends. That would give the listener all the S&G songs from the movie except for one version of “Mrs. Robinson.” Completists, of course, would need The Graduate.

Other than that, the only album that’s not essential to get a musical sense of 1968 would be the Dionne Warwick record. The album’s two hits – the title song and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” – don’t gain anything by being heard in the context of the album, which has otherwise always seemed extraneous to me. The Paul Mauriat album, on the other hand, has always been enjoyable, from the hit title song on down, a remnant of the times – not all that far gone – when the album charts were dominated by pretty music and not by rock.

The album shared here today, Tom Rush’s The Circle Game, was not nearly that large a seller. I’m not sure where it ranked in sales when it was released in 1968; all I can safely say is that it did not reach the Top 40 album chart. Nor did its creator ever have a Top 40 hit.

[Ten years later, with a larger reference library, I can say that The Circle Game peaked at No. 68 on the Billboard 200 during a fourteen-week run in the spring and early summer of 1968. It was the best chart performance of any of Rush’s albums. And the best any single of his did was in early 1971, when “Who Do You Love” bubbled under for five weeks, peaking at No. 105.)

Rush, a native of New Hampshire, came to public attention through the folk scene in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the early 1960s. His early work, according to the first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, “placed him squarely in the folk-blues vein of contemporaries John Hammond and Koerner, Ray & Glover.”

A move to Elektra Records for 1965’s Tom Rush brought some experimentation with song choices and performing styles. The 1966 follow-up, Take A Little Walk With Me, which featured one side of rock-styled performances and one side of country/folk blues, was well-received.

It was in 1968, with The Circle Game, that Rush hit his high-water mark, according to the Rolling Stone guide. Rush’s choice of songs is impeccable: The record draws from the catalogs of the then-unknown trio of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and Rush provides a couple of good originals, with one of them – “No Regrets” – being one of those songs a writer hears once and immediately wishes he had written.

Beyond “No Regrets,” the record’s highlights include two of the Mitchell compositions – the title song, which Mitchell released on Ladies of the Canyon in 1970, and “Urge for Going,” which she placed on the B-side of “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” in 1972. The Rolling Stone guide says Rush’s take on “Urge For Going” sums up the atmosphere of The Circle Game, saying that the song’s “low-key, spare arrangement characterizes the educated, wistful and warm style Rush had evolved.”

Rush’s performance of Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves” is also effective. If I have a quibble about the album, it’s that sometimes the arrangements behind the songs are a bit lush. It’s a mood that works for the most part, but sometimes I’d like something a little more spare. But that’s a minor quibble about a very good record.

Tracks
Tin Angel
Something in the Way She Moves
Urge for Going
Sunshine, Sunshine
The Glory of Love
Shadow Dream Song
The Circle Game
So Long
Rockport Sunday
No Regrets