Archive for the ‘1968’ Category

First Wednesday: March 1968

Friday, March 9th, 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 (except for this month, when my schedule and memory failed me, delaying the post by two days. But we’re still calling it “First Wednesday”).

As had been the case for many of the months preceding it, and as would be the case for many of the following months, the month of March 1968 was dominated – at least in the U.S. – by news of the Vietnam War and of the presidential campaign just getting under way.

During the month’s first week, what is now called the First Battle of Saigon ended. The battle had started in January as part of the Tet, or New Year’s, offensive of the army of North Vietnam and the guerrilla Viet Cong. During the First Battle of Saigon, thirty-five battalions of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces attacked six specific targets in the capital of South Vietnam, then called Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City.

As I’ve mentioned before, the fighting – in Saigon and elsewhere in South Vietnam – ended in a clear military defeat for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, but those forces won the war of perception, as U.S. military and civilian leaders had been telling us here in the U.S. for some time that the enemy no longer had the ability to mount major military operations. Oops.

Back in the U.S., the war was the major topic of conversation in the presidential election, then just getting underway. President Lyndon Johnson won the Democratic side of the March 12 primary election in New Hampshire, the first in the nation. But the president’s slender victory – 49 percent to 42 percent – over anti-war candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy was received by the president as a repudiation of his policies, especially in Vietnam. Consequently, on the last day of March, he announced to a nation-wide television audience that he would not seek re-election.

Between the end of the Tet Offensive and the end of President Johnson’s presidential campaign came one of the U.S.’s darkest days in Vietnam. On March 16, a battalion of American soldiers was told to enter the villages Sơn Mỹ and find the hamlets called My Lai 1, 2, 3 and 4, where Viet Cong and North Vietnamese sympathizers had been reported. Their orders, according to Wikipedia, were to “burn the houses, kill the livestock, destroy foodstuffs, and perhaps to close the wells.” The battalion’s Charlie Company was told by its commander, Captain Ernest Medina, that nearly all the civilian residents of the village would have left for the market that morning by seven o’clock, meaning that anyone in the village when the company arrived was almost certainly an enemy.

Wikipedia says that, in a later court martial, some of the soldiers in Charlie Company testified that they understood their orders as being “to kill all guerilla and North Vietnamese combatants and ‘suspects’ (including women and children, as well as all animals), to burn the village, and pollute the wells.”

And that’s what they did. The toll? Even today, fifty years later, it’s unclear. Wikipedia says that the number of civilian deaths at My Lai was either 347 (according to the U.S. military) or 504 (according to a memorial at the site in Vietnam). The consequences? The U.S. military quickly initiated a cover-up of the massacre, a cover-up that eventually unraveled, thanks largely to a whistle-blower in the U.S. Army and to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Eventually, the U.S. Army tried one general for the cover-up and one soldier – Lt. William Calley – for the massacre. The general was acquitted; Calley was convicted and would up serving four and one-half months in a military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, during which time he was allowed routine and unrestricted visits by his girlfriend, according to a book by Aryeh Neier on war crimes and their effects.

By utter coincidence, on the same day as the massacre, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the presidential race.

Also in March 1968, according to Wikipedia:

A demonstration against American policies in Vietnam took place March 17 in London’s Grosvenor Square, site of the U.S. Embassy, and turned violent. A total of ninety-one people were injured and 200 were arrested.

On March 19, student protests began at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C. The protests were marked by “the first building takeover on a college campus,” which Wikipedia says marked “a new era of militant student activism on American college campuses.” For five days, students staged a sit-in of the university’s administration building, temporarily shutting down the school. The impetus for the demonstration, according to Wikipedia, was the punishment of thirty-seven students who had disrupted the university’s Charter Day celebration on March 1. Additional causes of the protests were “the school’s ROTC program and military recruitment; the disproportionate number of African-Americans being sent into combat in the Vietnam War; and the lack of curriculum of African-American studies.”

In Nanterre, France, on March 22, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and seven other students “occupied the eighth-floor faculty lounge in the administration building at University of Paris X Nanterre, commonly referred to as the University of Nanterre,” an action whose consequences eventually brought France into a state of revolution in the month of May.

Even during a grim month in a grim year, there was always music for solace, though any kind of solace was becoming more difficult to find. Still, we listened, and in the first week of March, these were the top fifteen songs on WDGY in Minneapolis:

“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“Valley of the Dolls” by Dionne Warwick
“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by the First Edition
“Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz
“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite” by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart
“I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Everything That Touches You” by the Association
“I Can Take Or Leave Your Loving” by Herman’s Hermits
“Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by the Lettermen
“Too Much Talk” by Paul Revere & the Raiders
“Baby, Now That I Found You” by the Foundations
“Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
“We’re A Winner” by the Impressions

That same week, the top albums in the U.S. were:

Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Herb Alpert’s Ninth by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Greatest Hits by Diana Ross and the Supremes
Disraeli Gears by Cream

The top fifteen singles are not bad, maybe a little gooey in spots, especially the top spot. The albums are a great set, except for one. And no, it’s not the Paul Mauriat I dismiss. That’s still a pretty good album, for what it is. It’s the Rolling Stones’ record that doesn’t fit. I have digital versions of eight of those ten albums, and I have a Supremes anthology that includes the tunes on Greatest Hits. The only one of those ten albums unrepresented on the digital shelves is Their Satanic Majesties Request. Even when I had the vinyl, I never listened to it. It’s a mostly inconsequential album, with only “She’s A Rainbow” and, maybe, “2000 Light Years From Home” having any weight.

The album I’m sharing here today wouldn’t be released until September, so it doesn’t at all reflect the upheaval and anguish of April. But today’s album does represent a trend in pop music of the merging and mingling of styles.

The 5th Dimension first hit the charts in February 1967 with the single “Go Where You Wanna Go,” a No. 16 cover of the Mamas & the Papas song. Four months later, “Up-Up And Away” went to No. 7 while the album from which the singles had been pulled, Up, Up and Away, went to No. 8. (And no, I have no idea why the song title and the album title are punctuated differently; it’s bothered me for years.) The album and the singles were all produced by Johnny Rivers and released on his Soul City label.

The sound of the 5th Dimension has been described as what would happen if the Mamas and the Papas sang in Motown. That’s a little harsh and not quite right. Yes, the sound is at least partly a blending of California pop and R&B, and it’s true that the 5th Dimension’s music is not as gritty as were the sounds coming out of Detroit and Memphis. But rather than trying to create a Motown-Lite sound, I think what Rivers and the members of the 5th Dimension were trying to do was to bring several things – including Motown grit – into L.A.-based pop.

The three male members of the 5th Dimension hailed from blues- and R&B-drenched St. Louis, while Marilyn McCoo came from Jersey City and Florence LaRue Gordon was from Pennsylvania. Add that Johnny Rivers was born John Ramistella in New York City, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to hear bits of Philly-Jersey-New York girl groups and echoes of street-corner crooning in the 5th Dimension’s music, combined with a pop-soul sensibility and all laid over a bed of L.A. session work by musicians who clearly had been listening to Motown and Stax.

The group’s third album, Stoned Soul Picnic, came out in August 1968. (The group’s second album, 1967’s The Magic Garden, spun off the minor singles “Paper Cup” and “Carpet Man” but otherwise failed to make much of an impact.) Three singles from Stoned Soul Picnic charted: “Stoned Soul Picnic” (No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the magazine’s R&B chart) and “Sweet Blindness” (No. 13 on the Hot 100) were both written by Laura Nyro, while the song-writing team of Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson created “California Soul,” which went to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album itself went to No. 21 on the Billboard 200.

Those who pore over studio credits on the backs of album jackets found much to celebrate when they looked at the back of Stoned Soul Picnic. On guitars were Tommy Tedesco, Mike Deasy and Ray Pohlman. Joe Osborn and Pohlman handled bass. Larry Knechtel and Jimmy Rowles were on keyboards. Larry Bunker handled marimba, vibes and other percussion, and the drum work came from Hal Blaine. (Just listen to the fills and you’ll know that.) Also credited were the Sid Sharp Strings and the Bill Holman Brass. Marc Gordon, who was credited with Johnny Rivers as producer on Up, Up and Away a year earlier, was credited with “co-ordination,” while Rivers was called a “realizor” on Stoned Soul Picnic.

The album is a good one, falling into the genre that I call pop-soul rather than R&B: Lighter than a lot of things I listen to and certainly lighter than a lot of things that were being listened to in 1968. Heavy times need some lightness once in a while, though, and I think that’s what the 5th Dimension provided.

(The video includes a bonus track, “East of Java,” which one can only assume came from the same sessions.)

Tracks:

Sweet Blindness
It’ll Never Be The Same Again
The Sailboat Song
It’s A Great Life
Stoned Soul Picnic
California Soul
Lovin’ Stew
Broken Wing Bird
Good News
Bobbie’s Blues (Who Do You Think Of?)
The Eleventh Song (What A Groovy Day!)
East of Java (bonus track)

Not What I Expected

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Here’s what the Top Fifteen in the Billboard Easy Listening chart looked like fifty years ago this week:

“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat
“(Theme From) Valley Of The Dolls” by Dionne Warwick
“Love Is Blue” by Al Martino
“To Each His Own” by Frankie Laine
“If You Ever Leave Me” by Jack Jones
“Don’t Tell My Heart To Stop Loving You” by Jerry Vale
“Winds Of Change” by Ray Conniff & The Singers
“Cab Driver” by the Mills Brothers
“We Can Fly” by the Cowsills
“Ame Caline (Soul Coaxing)” by Raymond Lefevre & His Orchestra
“In The Sunshine Days” by Tony Sandler & Ralph Young
“Kiss Me Goodbye” by Petula Clark
“Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” by the Lettermen
“Mission-Impossible” by Lalo Schifrin
“L. David Sloane” by Michele Lee

As this is the first time I’ve actually dived into a weekly round-up of the Billboard charts now called Adult Contemporary, I chose one from 1968 for a reason. I thought that, given the fact that most of the music I heard around the house during my youth came from the Twin Cities radio giant WCCO, I would recognize all or nearly all of the records at the top of what was then called the Easy Listening chart.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

Of those fifteen records, I would have – before this morning – recognized only four well enough to cite both title and performer: Those would be the records by Paul Mauriat, the Mills Brothers, the Lettermen and Lalo Schifrin.

I would have known, obviously, that the Martino record was a cover of the Mauriat tune; I would have recognized Warwick’s voice; I would have recognized the songs offered by Lefevre and Clark and recognized Clark’s voice; and I likely would have recognized Conniff’s work while admitting I’d never heard the song before, even though I collect his work when I find it.

(There’s a reason for that last. I’ve never heard “Winds Of Change” because it was never on one of Conniff’s albums; it was on the soundtrack album to the movie How To Save A Marriage And Ruin Your Life.)

Titles for those records mentioned in that paragraph would likely have eluded me. And the other records in that list of fifteen would have brought shrugs. (In the case of Michele Lee’s “L. David Sloane,” a very baffled shrug.)

This first experiment, then, in digging into one of the weekly Adult Contemporary charts has left me wondering how much I actually know. Did I just choose a bad week? Or do I know far less easy listening music – and far less about that music – than I thought?

Those questions hang in the air and will be answered as I try this experiment a couple times more in the months to come. In the meantime, let’s listen to the record that was probably my favorite out of those I knew at the top of the Easy Listening chart fifty years ago this week: The Lettermen’s live performance of “Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” It went to No. 2 on the Easy Listening chart and to No. 7 on the pop chart.

A note: As we are still emptying and moving boxes, I lost track of the fact that yesterday was the first Wednesday of March. Thus, my monthly look back at 1968 via my monthly posts of ten years ago went missing. It will run tomorrow.

Four At Random From ’68

Friday, February 9th, 2018

Since we’re in a 1968 mood around here these days (and will be for the remainder of the year), I thought we’d let the RealPlayer give us four at random from that long-ago year this morning. I might not have much to say about them, though, as the vast majority of my reference library is currently in boxes, waiting for the move to the North Side.

But we’ll pull four titles from the 2,800-or-so that pop up. (I’m imprecise here because some of the tracks in the RealPlayer come from albums like The History Of U.K. Underground Folk Rock 1968-1978, which puts them into the results of a search for “1968” even though the tracks aren’t from that year.) So let’s see what pops up and then we’ll see how much we have to say.

“I Think Of You” by James Hendricks
“Indian Lake” by the Cowsills
“Take A Look” by Gary Walker & The Rain
“Meadowland Of Love” by Afterglow

James Hendricks’ name is found these days on the margins of the pop side of Sixties folk-rock: He was a member, with Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty and Sal Zanovsky, of the Mugwumps, and was married to Elliot for a time (although AllMusic Guide says the marriage was designed to allow Hendricks to avoid the Vietnam-era draft). Elliot and Doherty went on to become half of The Mamas & The Papas, Zanovsky went on to join the Lovin’ Spoonful, and Hendricks went on to a pretty quiet solo career. “I Think Of You” is from his album Songs Of James Hendricks, released on Johnny River’s Soul City label. Like the album it comes from, the track is pretty bland country rock. The album itself – in these precincts, anyway – is memorable only because Rivers recorded two of the tunes – “The Way We Live” and the brilliant “Summer Rain” for his own 1968 album, Realization.

The Cowsills’ record could not, of course, be released today, what with the war whoops and all. But during the summer of 1968, the idea of cultural sensitivity and appropriation wasn’t on many folks’ minds, and the record went to No. 10. I remember the single well, as it was one of those I heard during my four days of working that summer at the trapshoot, with the radio keeping me company as I placed clay targets on the whirring trap machine for eight to ten hours a day. So even recognizing the record’s failings when measured by today’s cultural standards, I still give a nod of pleased recognition and have relatively pleasant memories when “Indian Lake” pops up anywhere. (“Relatively pleasant” because working in the trap bunker was a little scary, what with the throwing arm of the trap machine occasionally releasing while the clay target was barely out of my hand, and because four days of sitting in the tar dust created by the targets would make the skin on my face basically burn and peel off in the week after the trapshoot.)

Before forming his own group, Gary Walker was the drummer and sang for both the Standells and the Walker Brothers. “Take A Look,” from Album No. 1 by Gary Walker & The Rain, owes a little bit more to the Standells’ garage rock than to the Walker Brothers’ lush pop, but it’s still pretty undistinguished to these ears. I’m not at all sure how Gary Walker & The Rain came into the vaults here – probably from one blog or another ten years ago or so – but I think the tracks stay there through inertia and my tendency not to throw things out. (Remember the post a little bit ago about finding the darts I got when I was maybe 10?) Not that there’s anything wrong with Walker and his group, but from the few listens I’ve given their work, there’s not all that much that’s notable, either. Dissenting opinions, of course, are welcome.

The Oregon-based group Afterglow released one album, a self-titled piece. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AMG writes: “Each song on Afterglow sounds as if it could have been written by different bands . . . It’s not particularly coherent, and it isn’t particularly good – the group isn’t just derivative, but also doesn’t have a sharp sense of melody – but its sampler nature makes Afterglow a charming psychedelic relic.” So that’s the album, but what about the track “Meadowland Of Love”? Well, it’s pleasant Farfisa-laced pop with garage overtones and a slight aftertaste of the Swingle Singers. And I have no idea how Afterglow landed in the digital stacks.

First Wednesday: February 1968

Wednesday, February 7th, 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.

One of the most indelible images of the Vietnam War was captured forty years ago this month. Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams was working in the streets of Saigon during the Tet Offensive when, on February 1, he came upon South Vietnamese police and soldiers detaining a man named Nguyễn Văn Lém, who has most often been described over the years as a member of the Viet Cong guerillas. Whatever he was, Nguyễn was executed in the street by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, the chief of the national police. Adams was there, as was NBC television cameraman Vo Suu. Adam’s photo of the execution won a Pulitzer Prize, but his photo and Suu’s footage earned world-wide criticism for the executioner and the South Vietnamese forces and government.

That’s where it becomes important to know exactly who Nguyễn Văn Lém was. Wikipedia says that Nguyễn Văn Lém, according to South Vietnamese sources, “commanded a Viet Cong insurgent team, which, on February 1, 1968, the second day of the Tet Offensive, had targeted South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their place, the police officers’ families. Corroborating this, Lém was captured at the site of a mass grave that included the bodies of at least seven police family members. Photographer Adams confirmed the South Vietnamese account, although he was only present for the execution.”

Wikipedia also says that “[t]he execution was explained at the time as being the consequence of Lém’s admitted guerrilla activity and war crimes, and otherwise due to a general ‘wartime mentality’.”

(I have read a few times over the years that Nguyễn Văn Lém was a member of the North Vietnamese army operating in Saigon in civilian clothes; in that case, the Geneva Conventions allow for summary execution. From what I can tell, that claim is historical revisionism intended to justify Nguyễn Ngọc Loan’s administration of summary justice.)

It should also be noted that Wikipedia states that some of its sources for its entry on Lém “may not be reliable.” Whatever the truth fifty years later, I remember the revulsion the photograph and the film footage caused at the time. There was the usual yipping of approval from some quarters, but I think that even most of those still supporting the U.S. efforts in Vietnam were sickened by the brutality of this one incident.

Elsewhere in February 1968:

The Winter Olympics took place from February 6 through 18 at Grenoble, France. With loads of coverage on ABC – though not nearly as much coverage as the Olympics get these days – we were able to watch a fair amount of the action. The two leading personalities of the Games – as defined, I suppose, by ABC and other media – were ice skater Peggy Fleming, who won the only gold medal for the U.S., and French skier Jean-Claude Killy, who won all three men’s downhill events. A side note: The Grenoble games marked the first time that ABC used the now-familiar tympani- and brass-laden musical theme for its production; the work’s title is actually “Bugler’s Dream,” and it was composed by Frenchman Léo Arnaud.

Here in the U.S., there was a civil rights protest at a bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina, with officers of the state Highway Patrol firing into the crowd of protestors, killing three and wounding twenty-seven. Civil rights protests also took place that month at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

And the month ended on a tragic note in the music world, as Frankie Lymon of Frankie & the Teenagers was found dead of a heroin overdose February 27 in Harlem. He had been scheduled to begin recording for Big Apple records the next day.

The top ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first week of February 1968 were:

“Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers
“Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band
“Chain Of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“Bend Me, Shape Me” by the American Breed
“Woman, Woman” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat
“Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz
“Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by the Lettermen
“I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations

And the top ten albums that week were:

Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Greatest Hits by Diana Ross & The Supremes
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. by the Monkees
Herb Alpert’s Ninth by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Golden Hits by the Turtles
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Farewell to the First Golden Era by The Mamas & the Papas
The Last Waltz by Engelbert Humperdinck

Today’s featured album came from much later in 1968. (As I said in January, it would be nice if I could share one album from each month as the year goes along, but I’m not that organized.) The hit single that came from the album actually didn’t chart until 1969. The record is Introspect by Joe South. (I called the album little-known ten years ago; in the era of reissues, I’m not sure that’s the case now.)

It’s an odd record, in that it didn’t exist long in its original form. A long-time writer and session guitarist in Nashville and Muscle Shoals, South wrote “Hush” for Deep Purple and several songs for Billy Joe Royal, including “Down in the Boondocks.” And in 1968, South went into the studios and came out with Introspect, arranging and producing the album himself. (Some sources say the album was released in 1969, but the Rolling Stone Record Guide and All-Music Guide say it was 1968, so I’m going with that.)

When Introspect was released in November 1968, the album track “Games People Play” began to get some air play, if I’m reading between the lines correctly. Capitol released “Games People Play” as a single, and the record entered the Top 40 in February of 1969, going as high as No. 12 during a nine-week chart run. And at that point, Capitol pulled Introspect from the shelves. Three songs from the record were included on a new album, Games People Play, with the rest of the new record made up of South’s versions of songs he’d written for others and a few new things.

Capitol’s quick yank of Introspect made it a little bit of a collector’s item over the years. Amazon currently lists a U.S. CD set for release at the end of March 2018, with the pre-order price set at $38.99. The website also offers a Japanese issue on CD and vinyl, with streaming and mp3s available as well (prices vary). And a two-fer CD of Introspect paired with Don’t It Make You Wanna Go Home, South’s 1969 album, is available new for the tidy price of $245.22, with used copies starting around $35 and going up from there.

So what do you get for your money? Well, the eleven songs on Introspect kind of collide together with a mixture of country, pop, soul, a touch of gospel and even a little bit of Indian raga. It’s an odd mixture, an idiosyncratic blend that fits perfectly with South’s maverick persona. (AMG calls him a “prickly character” and relates that, after his brother’s suicide in 1971, South moved to Maui, Hawaii, and lived in the jungle.) The hit, as mentioned above, was “The Games People Play,” and “Rose Garden” was a hit in 1971 for Lynn Anderson.

Along with those tracks, I hear the album’s high points as its opener, “All My Hard Times,” the biting “These Are Not My People” and the closer “Gabriel.” But the entire album is well worth hearing (as is almost any of South’s work).

Track list
All My Hard Times
Rose Garden
Mirror of Your Mind
Redneck
Don’t Throw Your Love to the Wind
The Greatest Love
Games People Play
These Are Not My People
Don’t You Be Ashamed
Birds of a Feather
Gabriel

Saturday Single No. 575

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from January 27, 1968, a date that’s somehow managed to slip fifty years into the past:

“Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band
“Chain Of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers
“Woman, Woman” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Bend Me, Shape Me” by the American Breed
“Hello Goodbye” by the Beatles
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“Daydream Believer” by the Monkees
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

Did I know those at the time? Most of them, probably. Maybe not the two bits of R&B at the bottom of that Top Ten. Did I know the artists? Probably not, except in the case of the Beatles, inescapable as they were.

And just for the fun of it, I head to the very bottom of the Hot 100 from that date fifty years ago, and I find an artist with whose work I was very familiar: Al Hirt. But I don’t recall the single, a cover of Jay & The Techniques’ “Keep The Ball Rollin’.”

I have to acknowledge that by the time 1968 rolled around, I wasn’t buying any more of Hirt’s albums, though I still listened to the three I already had. But with the stereo still in the living room – Dad’s work on the basement rec room wasn’t quite finished in January 1968, if my memory serves me – listening to records wasn’t the daily occurrence it would soon be.

And it wouldn’t have mattered if I had been buying Hirt’s albums: From anything I can find on the ’Net this morning, Big Al’s version of “Keep The Ball Rollin’” didn’t show up on an LP until 1970, when Al’s Place came out on the RCA/Camden label.

Additionally, had I heard Hirt’s new single on the radio, I likely would not have been impressed: My love for his music came from his work on the standards of what we now call the Great American Songbook and his work on show tunes and movie themes. (There were a few exceptions to those sources on the three albums of Hirt’s I had at the time, and those were my least favorite tracks. Even “Java,” Hirt’s biggest hit, and the track that had led me to Hirt’s music in 1964, was to me one of the lesser tunes on Honey In The Horn, the first Hirt album I owned.) And to hear Hirt cover a pop single from the previous year – a tune I would have recognized – would have made me think that Al was pandering to the masses (though I would not have had those words in 1968).

As it turned out, the masses didn’t notice. Hirt’s music no longer had much popular appeal. His take on “Keep The Ball Rollin’” is one of those Hot 100 rarities: It spent one week at No. 100 and then disappeared. It was his last Hot 100 hit, although two later releases bubbled under.

The record still seems slight, fifty years later. Nevertheless, Al Hirt’s cover of “Keep The Ball Rollin’” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Shooting Star’

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

I was glancing this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from the second week of 1968, staying in our recent mode of fifty years ago. I was thinking about doing a post about the Bottom Ten from that list, a selection of records that would start with “United (Part 1)” by the Music Makers and end with “Funky Way” by Calvin Arnold.

(Joel Whitburn tells me in Top Pop Singles that the Music Makers evolved into M.F.S.B., which is not a surprise after seeing that the record, which Whitburn notes is an instrumental version of the Intruders’ “(We’ll Be) United,” was written and produced by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff and was released on the Gamble label. As to “Funky Way,” Whitburn has less information, noting only that Arnold was a Detroit-based performer. Neither record did much, with “United (Part 1)” peaking at No. 78 and “Funky Way” getting to No. 72.)

But one of the records in that Bottom Ten diverted my train of thought. I was pretty sure I’d written before about the record at No. 93, “A Little Rain Must Fall” by the Epic Splendor. And, in fact, I had, in a Chart Digging post in late January 2011. Having refreshed my memory about the Epic Splendor, I idly clicked past that post down to the next post, one written a couple days earlier, and I found myself re-reading my tale of some college friends who claimed to have gone into a bar in a rural area west of Minneapolis during the autumn of 1975 and encountered Bob Dylan, who got on stage and sang a few songs with a local performer.

In that post, I pondered what song I’d want to sing with the Bard of Hibbing if I ever got such an unlikely opportunity. I settled on “Shooting Star,” a melancholy memoir from the 1989 album Oh Mercy.

Still looking for a topic for this morning, I checked out my post from January 9, 2008, ten years ago today, a post in which I looked at what the world had been listening to in 1989 and what I was listening to that same year. The two lists were markedly different, which should be no surprise to anyone who knows me or who’s read even a few things here. And one of the tracks listed in my version of 1989 in that post was “Shooting Star.”

Bemused, I wondered how often I’ve mentioned “Shooting Star” in the nearly eleven years I’ve been throwing stuff at the wall here. It turns out to be three times. The third time was in a March 2009 post as I considered which ten tracks I’d play as my first ten if I had a radio show. For what it’s worth, here’s that list:

“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult
“Don’t the Moon Look Sad and Lonesome” by Joy of Cooking
“You Don’t Have To Cry” by Crosby, Stills & Nash
“Bare Trees” by Fleetwood Mac
“Valdez In The Country” by Cold Blood
“Anyday” by Derek & the Dominos
“A Woman Left Lonely” by Janis Joplin
“Blue River” by Danko/Fjeld/Andersen
“Shooting Star” by Bob Dylan
“The Promised Land” by Bruce Springsteen

So in the course of 2,000-and-some posts, I mention “Shooting Star” three times, and this morning, looking for other stuff, I stumble on two of those mentions. Clearly the universe is at work.

I went to YouTube. As might be expected, Mr. Dylan keeps a tight rein on his music, and only two tracks from Oh Mercy are available there: “Political World” and “Most Of The Time.” There’s no point in my making a video for “Shooting Star” and putting it up; it will be taken down shortly and I’ll get a little note from the website.

So let’s look at covers. The website Second Hand Songs lists four. I only checked out one of them, finding a pleasant take on the tune by the duo of Andy Hill & Renée Safier. It’s from their 2001 album of Dylan covers, It Takes A Lot To Laugh.

Before we listen, though, remember that I called the song a melancholy memoir? Here are the lyrics:

Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you
You were trying to break into another world
A world I never knew
I always kind of wondered
If you ever made it through
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you

Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me
If I was still the same
If I ever became what you wanted me to be
Did I miss the mark or overstep the line
That only you could see?
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me

Listen to the engine, listen to the bell
As the last fire truck from hell
Goes rolling by
All good people are praying
It’s the last temptation, the last account
The last time you might hear the sermon on the mount
The last radio is playing

Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away
Tomorrow will be
Another day
Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away

And here are Hill and Safier:

Saturday Single No. 572

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

Having set myself a year-long project of looking back at 1968 earlier this week, I thought I’d end this first week of the year by looking at the top ten albums in the Billboard 200 from January 6, 1968, fifty years ago today:

Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. by the Monkees
Diana Ross & The Supremes Greatest Hits
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Dr. Zhivago soundtrack
The Sound Of Music soundtrack
Farewell To The First Golden Era by the Mamas & the Papas
Strange Days by the Doors
Love, Andy by Andy Williams

That’s kind of a mixed bag for me, and that’s borne out by checking for those albums in the vinyl database. I’ve owned six of them: The two Beatles albums, the Supremes’ hits album, the Doors’ album, the Mamas & the Papas’ album and the soundtrack to Dr. Zhivago. The database also shows a copy of the soundtrack to The Sound Of Music, but that one belongs to the Texas Gal and moved onto the shelves only after she brought it back from Texas in 2004.

I had one Andy Williams album on the vinyl shelves, Born Free, because I love the title track. Given my penchant for 1960s easy listening, I likely would have liked Love, Andy, but it never made its way home with me.

The more interesting absences are those of the Stones and Monkees albums. I’ve heard Their Satanic Majesties Request several times over the years, and once was enough. I found it silly and overbaked, so I never bothered to acquire it. As to the Monkees’ album, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it, and that’s because I’ve never paid much attention to the group. I had Headquarters and a greatest hits album on the vinyl shelves, and neither one of those survived the sell-off a year ago.

Moving forward to the CD racks, only four of those albums show up: The two Beatles albums and the two soundtracks, although I do have a more extensive collection of hits by the Supremes, with and without Diana Ross. The digital shelves have most of that stuff – again, The Sound Of Music is the Texas Gal’s deal – as well as the Doors’ album, the Monkees’ album and the albums by the Mamas & the Papas that were the sources of the hits on Golden Era. Still absent are the albums by the Rolling Stones and Andy Williams.

Trying to sort out which of those albums matters most by looking at what shows up on the iPod, as I’ve done here before, is uninformative. About half of Sgt. Pepper shows up, as does about half of Magical Mystery Tour. There are four tracks from Strange Days, seven hits by the Mamas & the Papas, twelve hits from the Supremes, and one hit – “Pleasant Valley Sunday” – from Aquarius et al. I find nothing from either of the soundtracks, although versions of “Somewhere, My Love” pop up from Ray Conniff and Roger Williams.

So which of the albums in that Billboard Top Ten matters most to me? Probably Sgt. Pepper, but there’s no point in posting anything from it here. So I turn to a track from the Doors that I first ran across in late 1971, when I bought their hits collection, 13, after hearing The Soft Parade every time I visited my friend Dave in his St. Cloud State dorm room. “Moonlight Drive” from Strange Days – released in September 1967 – became one of my favorites on that compilation, and it turns out that I’ve never mentioned the track even once here in nearly eleven years of blogging.

That’s why it’s today’s Saturday Single.

First Wednesday: January 1968

Wednesday, January 3rd, 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 make notes 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.

Looking at the list Wikipedia presents of events that took place in January 1968, one wonders if the year started with a sense of foreboding. Probably not.

We have the advantage of hindsight, of course, so – to take one example – when we see in a list of events the notation, “January 5 – Prague Spring: Alexander Dubček is elected leader of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia,” we know that the Prague Spring, the easing of social and political repression in that small corner of Eastern Europe, was doomed. We remember the news footage from August showing Soviet tanks in Prague and in other cities. We recall the reports of students and other protestors shot or arrested as a new and much more repressive government took over, one whose approach continued for another twenty-one years, until the Communists in Prague fell in the series of mostly peaceful revolutions of 1989-90.

If there was no sense of foreboding, of tense anticipation as the year’s events began to spin out in January, there is now, forty years later, when one reads the list. It reminds me of something film director Alfred Hitchcock said once. He described a scene in which a woman comes in off the street, climbs a staircase and finds a dead body. The best way to show the scene, he said, is not to follow the woman and show her finding the body, but to show the body in its place and show the woman entering the building. Then, Hitchcock said, keep the camera on the street. The audience knows what the woman will find, and the anticipation of her discovery will heighten the tension and horror.

So when one reads the list of the events of January 1968, it’s like watching the first moments of that scene, like we’re watching the world enter the building of 1968. We know the building is full of bodies.

On January 23, North Korea seizes the U.S. ship The Pueblo, claiming that the ship violated its territorial waters, with more than eighty U.S. sailors and officers taken prisoner. The crew was moved twice to POW camps during the ensuing months, and – crewmen said after their release in December – was systematically starved and tortured. That treatment was said to have worsened, Wikipedia notes, when the North Koreans realized that the sailors were flipping the camera off during the taking of propaganda photos.

On January 30, the Tet (or New Year’s) offensive, an attack by the People’s Army of [North] Vietnam and Viet Cong guerillas, began in Vietnam. As I wrote in an earlier post, Americans had been assured time and again by military and political leaders that the opposition was were no longer strong enough to mount major operations. Oops! During the Tet offensive, some of the fighting took place on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in the city that was then called Saigon.

It was not an auspicious start to the new year. There were, of course, some more pleasant events during the month. The NBC network aired the premiere of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Johnny Cash recorded his live album, At Folsom Prison. In Super Bowl III on January 12, the New York Jets, in what has been described as one of the two most important professional football games ever played (the 1958 NFL title game is the other), defeated the Baltimore Colts 16-7.

(And that bit about the New York Jets and Super Bowl III is wrong, of course. The championship game played in 1968, as faithful reader Steve reminded me in a comment, “was Super Bowl II, where the Vince Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers repeated as champions, defeating the Oakland Raiders.” Thanks, Steve!)

Here are the Top 15 records from the Billboard Hot 100 released on January 6, 1968:

“Hello Goodbye” by the Beatles
“Daydream Believer” by the Monkees
“Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“Woman, Woman”by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
“I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
“Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“Bend Me, Shape Me” by the American Breed
“Boogaloo Down Broadway” by The Fantastic Johnny C.
“Skinny Legs And All” by Joe Tex
“Honey Chile” by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
“Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers
“If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers
“Incense & Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock

Sitting at No. 50 was “Dear Eloise” by the Hollies, and “Born Free” by the Hesitations was at No. 100.

And the record at No. 14, Johnny Rivers’ “Summer Rain,” leads perfectly into the album I shared here ten years ago, Rivers’ Realization. Here’s what I wrote about it then:

While the album’s single, “Summer Rain” is well-known – it went to No. 14 during the winter of 1968-69 – and is a great song, it’s quite likely not the best track on the album. The entire album is full of sparkling performances, but if I had to select three that stand above the rest, I’d go with “Look To Your Soul,” written by James Hendricks (who also wrote “Summer Rain”), “Brother, Where Are You,” written by Oscar Brown, and Rivers’ own composition, “Going Back to Big Sur.”

It’s difficult, though, to separate out those tracks, as the entire album is truly great. Among the eye-openers are three covers: The album’s first track, “Hey Joe,” credited here to William M. Roberts and Rivers; “Whiter Shade of Pale,” released only a year earlier by Procol Harum; and Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street.”

Personnel on the record included Hal Blaine on drums and percussion, James Burton on guitar, James Hendricks on rhythm guitar, Joe Osborn on guitar and bass and Marty Paitch in charge of the strings and the horns. Rivers produced the album.

There’s nothing there I disagree with now, ten years later. Back then, I knew that the story of the origins of “Hey Joe” was a complicated one, so I just listed the credits as they were on the LP (and eventually got around to touching on the writing of “Hey Joe” in another January 2008 post about the Indigo Girls’ cover of “Get Together”).

I suppose I should note that over the years, I have included Rivers’ “Summer Rain” in the list of my four favorite singles of all time. It remains there.

The tracks on Realization are:

Hey Joe
Look To Your Soul
The Way We Live
Summer Rain
Whiter Shade Of Pale
Brother, Where Are You
Something’s Strange
What’s The Difference
Going Back To Big Sur
Positively 4th Street

Crash!

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

It was late morning yesterday when things started to go sideways. I was trying to move a file into the folders where I keep my mp3s, on my external hard drive. It wasn’t working, and I thought that the computer was just being slow, so I tried an alternate route, and that didn’t work either.

And as I puzzled over things, I heard soft little clicks coming from behind my flat screen, where the speakers and the modem and the external drive hang out. I rose and leaned over the screen, and I determined that the little clicks were coming from the external drive.

Seated again, I tried to get to the main mp3 folder on my external drive, and the computer said that it couldn’t find the drive. Seriously concerned now, I unplugged the drive and plugged it back in, and the computer told me that the drive needed to be reformatted (adding helpfully that doing so would erase anything on the drive). I decided quickly not to do that, and called Dale, the computer guy down on Wilson Avenue.

“It’s making little clicks?” Dale asked. Yep. I told him. “Well,” he said, “folks call those ‘The Clicks of Doom’.”

I didn’t like the sound of that.

He told me the drive was likely lost. “It’s possible to get the data back,” he said, “but you’d have to pay someone a lot of money.”

“So it’s all gone?”

“I think so,” he said. “I’m really sorry.”

So was I, thinking about what was on the drive: 98,000 sorted mp3s, about 590 gigs’ worth. About the same total of unsorted mp3s scavenged from various places. The scans of my slides from my college days in Denmark, as well as about a hundred scans from Dad’s slides. All gone, from what Dale had to say.

Any bright spots? Well, in a strongbox upstairs sits my old external drive, a 500-gig piece that I stored away when I got my three-terabyte drive a few years ago. It should have about 450 gig of music on it, I think. And there may be a way to salvage some data from the three-TB drive.

A Facebook friend of mine told me that freezing the drive overnight might allow me to get some of the data back. From what I’ve read at various websites and boards over the last twenty-four hours, it might be worth a shot. I don’t quite understand why that would work – something about minor contraction of the drive and its innards due to cold – but I’ll think about that later. If it doesn’t work, I’m no worse off.

So I think tonight, I’ll nest the drive in two freezer bags and set it in the freezer. Tomorrow morning, we’ll see what happens. I have enough room on my main drive for the sorted mp3s, should I be able to salvage them. And I’ll retrieve the 500-gig drive from the strongbox and see what that holds.

And we’ll go from there. Sometime in the next week, I’ll go shopping and get two external drives: one for main use and one to use as a back-up once a month or so.

There is one bit of good news: At the computer, as I’ve mentioned before, I listen to my music through a program called RealPlayer. Right now, all of my 98,000-some sorted mp3s are still listed in the program menu, but they all have a little red X denoting that RealPlayer cannot find the file. That means that I have a list of everything I lost, should the freezer gambit fail. I can then make note of things that I gained elsewhere that I would have to go find again, if they are still around to be found.

I still have the CDs that were the source of maybe 75 percent of the mp3s. The thought of re-ripping something like 1,000 CDs is daunting, as is the thought of re-researching the release numbers and dates to re-tag the mp3s of all of the vintage music I have on CD. But that’s how things are when things crash.

Here’s Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs with their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Down In The Flood.” It’s on the duo’s 1968 album Changin’ Times.

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: