Archive for the ‘Jukebox Regrets’ Category

Still In 1972

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

We’ll do one more bit of dabbling in the autumn of 1972; in our last two posts, we’ve looked at my dad’s habit of rousing me from bed at 6:42, which began in the autumn of 1972, and we’ve looked at my listening habits and checked out what was No. 72 in six consecutive weeks’ worth of the Billboard Hot 100 during that season.

So I thought we’d take a look this morning at the very top of the Billboard 200 released this week in 1972 and see what we find. The top ten albums in the chart released October 28, 1972 – forty-three years ago tomorrow – were:

Superfly by Curtis Mayfield
Carney by Leon Russell
Days Of Future Passed by the Moody Blues
Never A Dull Moment by Rod Stewart
Chicago V by Chicago
All Directions by the Temptations
Rock Of Ages by The Band
The London Chuck Berry Sessions
Honky Chateau by Elton John
Ben by Michael Jackson

I had none of those in my cardboard box of LPs at the time; five of them are on my LP shelves now. The first of them – the Moody Blues album – came into my collection just more than five years later, in late 1977, and it was joined during the late 1980s and early 1990s by the albums by Curtis Mayfield, Leon Russell, Elton John and The Band. The CD shelves have copies of Honky Chateau and Rock Of Ages.

The digital shelves have copies of those five albums plus the Rod Stewart, Chicago and Temptations albums; I’m fairly certain I have no need for any versions of the Chuck Berry or Michael Jackson albums.

It should be noted, I guess, that the Moody Blues’ album had originally been released in 1967 and hit the charts in 1972 after a re-release of the single “Nights In White Satin.” On its original release in 1968, the single bubbled under at No. 103; the re-released single peaked at No. 2 in November of 1972.

The odd thing, as I look at that list of ten albums this morning, is that none of them rank very high for me, not even The Band’s Rock Of Ages (which some might find odd, given my regard for the group). One track from these albums – “Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” from Honky Chateau – showed up here in the long-ago Ultimate Jukebox project. And some other individual tracks stand out: Leon Russell’s “Tightrope,” the Moody Blues’ “Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon),” the Temptations’ long jam on “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” and a track that probably should have been in that long-ago Ultimate Jukebox, Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead.”

(As I noted about seven years ago, I have to chuckle every time the Texas Gal and I stop at the local co-op. Some of the baked goods available at the co-op, as proclaimed by a sign on the front door, come from an establishment named Freddie’s Bread. Whenever we go in, I can’t help singing under my breath, “Freddie’s Bread . . . that’s what I said.”)

‘Violet’

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

As promised yesterday, we’ll continue today with the next installment of Floyd’s Prism, and when we search in the mp3 stacks for tunes with “violet” in their titles, we get a minimal result: only thirty-six titles.

And most of them have to be discarded, as is generally the case. First off the pile are a couple of singer-songwriter albums: Madison Violet’s Americana-tinged 2009 album, No Fool For Trying, and Sarah Alden’s 2012 effort, Fists Of Violets, which is more difficult to characterize.

Then, we lose some individuals tracks whose titles come close: “Violetta” from the 1962 album A Taste of Honey by exotica master Martin Denny; “Goodbye To the War; Goodbye To the Violets” from the 1973 album Weltschmerzen by the People’s Victory Orchestra & Chorus; “Violets for Your Furs” from Frank Sinatra’s 1954 album, Songs for Young Lovers; U2’s “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” from the 1992 album, Achtung Baby; and versions of Eric Andersen’s “Violets of Dawn” from the Robbs (1967), Rick Nelson (1969), Mary Chapin Carpenter (2009) and Andersen himself (1966, as noted here yesterday).

That leaves us with six tracks, which was our target. So on we go.

The British-based folk rock band Eclection recorded only one album during its two-year (1967-69) existence, but the self-titled album, released in 1968, is pretty good and not as Brit-centered as one might expect. In the liner notes for the 2001 reissue of the album, Richie Unterberger wrote, “The combination of male-female harmonies, optimistic lyrics with shades of romantic psychedelia, folk-rock melodies, acoustic-electric six- and twelve-string guitar combinations, and stratospheric orchestration couldn’t help but bring to mind similar Californian folk-pop-rock of the mid-to-late 1960s.” The track “Violet Dew” doesn’t quite cover all of those bases, but it covers a lot of them. Perhaps the most noticeable thing as I listen this morning is the remarkable voice of singer Kerrilee Male, who left the band later in 1968 to go home to Australia and seemingly, from anything I can find online this morning, never recorded again.

Shawn  Phillips’ work from the early 1970s has shown up frequently in this space (though perhaps not for a while), but his later work not so much. That’s unfortunate, as Phillips’ later work is worth hearing. The difference, I suppose, is that his work from the latter portion of the 1970s does not carry the same time-and-place weight for me as does his earlier stuff; I didn’t hear much of the later work at the time it came out. Still, nearly every time something pops up from his late 1970s albums, I’m glad it did so. Today, it’s “Lady in Violet” from his 1978 album Transcendence, about which I said in 2007: “It’s a pretty good album, of a piece with the rest of his work, although the lyrics don’t seem to stand up as well . . . . Musically, it’s enjoyable with a breath-taking moment or two.” Whether any of those moments show up in “Lady in Violet” is your call, I guess. I think they do.

Without doubt, the finest offering among the six surviving “Violet” tracks is “Violet Eyes” by Levon Helm. Found on his 1980 album, American Son, the track offers harmonies and an overall feeling that echo the best albums of The Band. According to All Music Guide, the track was recorded in Nashville: “While recording a few songs for the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, in which he played Loretta Lynn’s father, Levon Helm and friends just kept the tape rolling.” And as I listen this morning, I wonder why no solo tracks from Helm showed up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox. So, in what I imagine could be – perhaps should be – the last instance of Jukebox Regrets, I’ll acknowledge that “Violet Eyes” and “Even A Fool Would Let Go” (from Helm’s 1982 self-titled album) should have been part of the Ultimate Jukebox.

Maybe it doesn’t happen so much anymore (or maybe I just don’t see it), but a few years ago the simple mention of Coldplay at a forum or bulletin board – during a time when that band was perhaps the most popular band in the world – would spark arguments, dismissive comments and utter vitriol aimed at Chris Martin and his mates. I never understood that. I don’t count Coldplay among my favorites, but I don’t find the group’s music unlistenable. And I do like very much several tracks from the group, including “Violet Hill” from the 2008 album Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends.

To label something as “glossy Americana” might be a contradiction, but that’s what I hear when I listen to the 2011 CD Barton Hollow by the duo called the Civil Wars. The album by Joy Williams and John Paul White offers mostly rootsy ballads that seem to have been worked over until they shine, which is not an awful idea, but some part of me wants a few unsanded and unvarnished bits in my folk music. Still, I find Barton Hollow enjoyable, and that holds true for the instrumental “The Violet Hour” this morning.

I’m not sure how I got hold of Jeremy Messersmith’s 2010 album, The Reluctant Graveyard. There are a number of public relations firms that email me regularly, offering CDs or downloads, so I’m assuming that’s how I heard of Messersmith, who is based in Minneapolis. And having done some digging and some closer listening this morning, I have to add Messersmith – who’s gained a lot of critical acclaim in the past few years – to that long list of musicians to whom I should pay greater attention. As to this morning’s task, “Violet!” is one of the better tracks on The Reluctant Graveyard. Here’s the (rather quirky) official video:

‘Dancin’ With You, Baby. . .’

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

It was one of those “Huh! I never knew that!” moments. I was sorting and tagging mp3s the other day as the CD player over my left shoulder ran through the two-disc set Night Train to Nashville, subtitled “Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945-1970.” Deep into the second disc of the set borrowed from the local library, I’d already heard a lot of stuff I wish I’d heard long ago, much of it on the Excello label.

A new track began: a thrumming bass with two measures of eighth notes solo, then percussion on the backbeat for two more measures. And then: “Doooo, do-do doo. Do-do-do! Do-do-do! Do-do-do.” I jerked my head around, stared at the CD player as the verse began: “Dancin’ with you, baby, really turns the soulshake on. Yeah, groovin’ with you, baby, really turns the soulshake on.”

Knowing the song as “Soul Shake” but never having heard this version, I reached for the booklet. The track was by Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson, recorded in Nashville in 1969 and released early that year on SSS International.

The record did pretty well, reaching No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 and going to No. 13 on the R&B chart. The oddly twangy instrument is an electric sitar, played – the booklet notes – by Jerry Kennedy. Others at the session included Pete Drake, Charlie McCoy, Wayne Moss and Kenny Buttrey. (Four of those names – all except Drake’s – I recognized as having played on, among other things, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde; Drake’s I recognized from Dylan’s John Wesley Harding as well as other projects. A look at the credits of any of those gentlemen at All-Music Guide is instructive.)

But the names of Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson were not nearly as familiar. The duo, it turns out, met while recording in the mid-1960s at the Grits ’n’ Gravy studio owned by Huey Meaux in Jackson, Mississippi. (Meaux, a seemingly unavoidable figure in the history of R&B, popped up in this blog a few months back; a bit of his unsavory legacy was recounted in the comments at that time. If you need more, Google for it, but beware: Meaux was a nasty piece of work.) Scott and Benson signed with the SSS International label in 1968 and, into 1969, got four records into the Hot 100 and the R&B Top 40: “Lover’s Holiday” (No. 37 pop and No. 8 R&B), “Pickin’ Wild Mountain Blueberries” (No. 27 & No. 8), “Soulshake” (No. 37 and No. 13) and “I Want To Love You Baby” (No. 81 and No. 24).

(In addition, Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles lists two hits for Scott alone: “Every Little Bit Hurts” bubbled under at No. 126 in the spring of 1969, and “Bill,” credited to Peggy Scott-Adams, went to No. 87 in 1997.)

All that was interesting, and I may dig into the music of Scott and Benson, but what grabbed me – as regular readers might guess – was the song recorded by Scott and Benson as “Soulshake.” The first version I’d ever heard of the song was the 1970 cover by Delaney & Bonnie, who listed the tune as “Soul Shake” on their album To Bonnie From Delaney (an album I wrote about in early 2007; that post is here).

I’ve mentioned D&B’s version of “Soul Shake” three times here: I shared it once in a Baker’s Dozen in 2008, and later that year, I included it in a post remembering Delaney Bramlett. I also praised it when it popped up during a random search for a Saturday Single in early 2010, so my regard for the track is pretty well cataloged.

(It might be good to note the personnel on Delaney & Bonnie’s version of the tune: Listed as being involved with the album’s sessions at Miami’s Criterion were Charlie Freeman on lead guitar, Duane Allman on slide guitar, Jim Dickinson on piano, Bobby Whitlock on organ and vocals, Tom McClure and Jerry Scheff on bass, Ron Tutt and Sammy Creason on drums, Sam Clayton on congas, Alan Estes on percussion, and Andrew Love, Ed Logan, Floyd Newman, Wayne Jackson and Jack Hale of the Memphis Horns on horns.)

Having come across the original version of the song and having connected it with the D&B cover, I then went hunting for other covers. I found a few. The Angela Strehli Blues Band made the song the title track of a 1987 album; Bruce Willis included “Soul Shake” on his 1989 Motown album, If It Don’t Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger; and blues singer Kate Meehan included it on her 2002 album, Soulshaker. I also saw a listing for a live version by the Guild. I suppose there might be a few more out there, but that’s what I saw this morning.

I know nothing about Meehan or the Guild, and listening to the samples, I’m not inclined to dig further. Willis’ version is disposable, despite the generally good review that AMG gave the album, which was the actor’s second. As for Strehli’s cover, although I like several things I’ve heard from her, her cover of “Soul Shake” isn’t one of them. Despite its tempo, the track had an almost mechanical quality about it.

Which leaves the Delaney & Bonnie version as my favorite version of the tune. And I did some checking: Despite my regard for the Bramletts and the famous and talented friends they gathered around themselves, I failed to include even one track by D&B in my 2010 Ultimate Jukebox project. I should have included at least one track and perhaps more.

I wrote a while back about my solitary dancing in the kitchen, and I’ve noticed since then that no song that I currently have on my mp3 player makes me want to move more than does Delaney & Bonnie’s “Soul Shake,” so – without going back through the D&B catalog – I’m going to put “Soul Shake” into the category of Jukebox Regrets. It should have been there.

‘And In The Night, The Iron Wheels . . .’

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

I’ve been thinking about Judy Collins lately. She’s popped up on the RealPlayer a couple of times, and a long-term writing project I’ve been pondering lately name-drops her in a chapter that’s set in 1970. So her name – and her catalog – have been in the back of my mind on and off for the past couple of weeks.

Regular readers can see where this is going: I failed to include even one track by Collins in my massive Ultimate Jukebox last year. And when I think about a performer in that context, two questions arise: Is the performer significant enough in a historical context or – more importantly – a personal context to add to what I call my Jukebox Regrets, my list of records that I acknowledge should have shown up in that 228-record collection.

(Every once in a while, when I ponder that long project, I think to myself, “I knew I should have made it 240 records!”)

Historically, of course, Judy Collins shines brightly as one of the major interpreters of the folk catalog during the early-1960s folk boom. In the space of four studio albums from 1961 into 1965, she changed from a classic interpreter of the traditional folk catalog to one of the key interpreters of current folk music. Her first album, 1961’s Maid of Constant Sorrrow, is a collection of twelve folk tunes all credited as “traditional.” It seems that in the folk boom – just as happened in the concurrent blues revival – the lineages of some songs got lost as tunes went from one person to another, and at least one of the twelve songs on Maid – Ewan MacColl’s “Tim Evans (Go Down You Murderers)” – was mis-credited as traditional. In any case, it was an album of traditionally presented folk music.

That had changed by 1965, when the release of Fifth Album found Collins hewing to traditional folk for a few tracks – “So Early in the Morning” and “Lord Gregory” – but building the bulk of the album’s twelve tracks from the work of current singer-songwriters: Phil Ochs, Richard Farina, Eric Andersen, Gordon Lightfoot and, of course, Bob Dylan. A year later, In My Life would find her adding the names of Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel and John Lennon and Paul McCartney to the songwriting credits with not one of the eleven songs drawn from the traditional folk canon.

All-Music Guide ranks In My Life as Collin’s finest work, giving it 4.5 stars. Based on that benchmark, her second-best album is 1968’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes, which finds her backed by a stellar band – most notably Chris Etheridge on bass, Jim Gordon on drums, James Burton, Stephens Stills (whose “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” stems from this period) and Buddy Emmons on guitars, and Van Dyke Parks on keyboards.

From that point, according to AMG’s ratings, Collins’ work began to slowly decline, and I tend to agree. She had her second Top 20 hit in 1970 with “Amazing Grace” from Whales & Nightingales, a good but not great album that found her writing some of her own material for what I think is the second time, as well as drawing on familiar names like Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Brel and Dylan. Whales was less star-studded, with a good band whose most recognizable names were likely Dave Grisman and Richard Bell.

To me, her last real good work came in 1975 with Judith, an album that brought her another Top 40 hit in Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” which went to No. 36 in 1975 and to No. 19 upon a re-release two years later. Judith also included an idiosyncratic take on the standard “I’ll Be Seeing You” that I enjoy but that would likely be an acquired taste for those unfamiliar with the tune’s haunting popularity during World War II.

After that, I lost interest. I found Bread & Roses from 1976 to be dull, and 1979’s Hard Times for Lovers to be shrill, especially its title track, which got some airplay and went to No. 66. And then I quit listening.

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed a gap: I have not mentioned Wildflowers from 1967. Well, one does save the best for last. The question I have to deal with is whether I consider that 1967 album as Collins’ best solely on merit or because it’s undoubtedly the album of hers with which I am the most familiar. And I don’t know the answer.

After my health concerns in the summer and autumn of 1974 – a lung ailment and an auto accident – I found my stamina gone. The young man who a year earlier had racked up six to eight miles a day walking through Western Europe’s great cities was now exhausted when he got home from a day of college coursework. And I settled into a pattern for the rest of my years at the house on Kilian Boulevard: When I got home about four each afternoon, I’d head to the basement rec room, stack seven or eight LPs on the stereo and lie down on the green couch.

Sometimes I’d sleep until Dad flipped on the light switch at the top of the stairs, altering me that it was dinner time. Sometimes I’d just rest as the music washed over me: The Band, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, the Moody Blues, Mountain, Traffic, the Rolling Stones and so many more. And Judy Collins’ Wildflowers.

That last album was one of my sister’s, and it’s one she evidently didn’t take with her when she moved to her own place with her new husband in 1972. Because the songs on Wildflowers are incised deeply in me from those late afternoon hours in the darkened rec room: From the opening track of Joni Mitchell’s “Michael From Mountains” through the Side Two opener of Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” (which went to No. 8 in December 1968) and on to the closer of Cohen’s “That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” Wildflowers is one of those albums that I feel as if I’ve lived through more than listened to.

I should have made certain when I selected the tunes for my mythical jukebox that at least one Judy Collins track was there. Her absence isn’t the first puzzling oversight, of course, and I imagine it won’t be the last. But she should have been there. As I’ve written this, I’ve listened to and considered a number of Collins’ tracks I might have chosen: Dylan’s “Tom Thumb’s Blues” from 1966; Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” and Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon” from 1968; maybe even “Send In The Clowns.”

But the track should have come from Wildflowers. Its melodies are in my marrow. And the one embedded most deeply is Collins’ own “Albatross,” with its haunting “And in the night, the iron wheels rolling through the rain . . . Come away alone.”

‘Still I’m Glad For What We Had . . .’

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Last week, the Texas Gal and I watched the contestants on American Idol make their ways through the songs of Carole King. And as the evening moved on, I was reminded once again of the depth of King’s catalog.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise; one can’t dive too deeply into the history of pop music in the U.S. without running into the tunes that King has written, many of them with Gerry Goffin during the Brill Building era. That long list includes “Chains” by the Cookies (covered memorably by the Beatles), “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, “Up On The Roof” by the Drifters, “Goin’ Back” by the Byrds, “Every Breath I Take” by Gene Pitney and on and on. I looked at the list of recordings of her songs at All-Music Guide and after the first nine pages, I was only up to the letter “G”. It’s an astounding body of work.

As I watched American Idol, I wondered vaguely if any of the Goffin-King songs had been included among the 228 records that I discussed here during the Ultimate Jukebox project. Well, I know that the Gene Pitney record was there, but other than that, nothing obvious stands out. I’m not certain, given the depth of the Goffin-King catalog. But what came to me as I thought about that was the realization that not a single recording by Carole King herself was included in the project.

That startled me, given that the Ultimate Jukebox was as much an exploration of memory as a dissection of musical value. And when memory takes me back to my first year of college – 1971-72 – one of the primary sounds on my internal soundtrack is Carole King’s Tapestry. It seemed like any time I visited a lady friend in any of the women’s dorms that year, I heard Tapestry coming from behind door after door as I walked down the hallways. It might have been “Beautiful” or “I Feel The Earth Move” or any of the other tracks on the album, but Tapestry provided the backing track for a good chunk of that time of my life.

And King’s absence from the UJ made me stop and wonder if that was an error. It probably was. As with other explorations of my Jukebox Regrets, I’m not going to figure out which record of those 228 I’d pull out to make room for Carole King. But I do have to acknowledge that she should have had one in there.

So, which track? Given the strength of memory associated with the album, the tune will likely come from Tapestry. After that, King’s albums were inconsistent. There were a few strong tracks, but King never came close to matching that 1971 classic. Well, how could she? Tapestry was in the Billboard Top 40 for sixty-eight weeks and was No. 1 for fifteen of those weeks. Two double-sided singles hit the Top Twenty, with “It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move” spending five weeks at No. 1. So she couldn’t match Tapestry with her succeeding albums? If there’s a list of those who could, it’s a very short list.

(It should also be noted that sales and popularity are not the only criteria by which Tapestry was nearly unmatchable: King won four Grammy awards in 1972, including album of the year, record of the year [“It’s Too Late”] and song of the year [“You’ve Got A Friend”]. Note added August 14, 2013.)

Still, those later albums had some gems. Music, her 1971 follow-up to Tapestry, included the sweet regrets of “It’s Going To Take Some Time” as an album track. (It was covered nicely in 1972 by the Carpenters.) “Been to Canaan” was a No. 24 hit from 1972’s Rhymes & Reasons. I also like “Jazzman” from 1974’s Wrap Around Joy. It went to No. 2 and featured a sax solo by Tom Scott. And finally, I’d take a hard look at King’s own version of “One Fine Day” from her 1980 album, Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King. In 1963, the Chiffons took the song to No. 5 hit. King’s version went to No 12.

In the end, though, it’s impossible to resist the sirens’ sounds of Tapestry. But which track? “Smackwater Jack” and “You’ve Got A Friend” are easy to dismiss, the first because I’m not all that fond of it and the second because James Taylor did the definitive version. “Tapestry” drops out of the running because the story sometimes feels forced, and “So Far Away” gets trimmed because it reminds me of a place and time I’d rather not ponder too often.

That leaves eight tracks, and sorting through them, I come to the conclusion I thought was likely when I began writing this piece: There are few sounds that pull me back in time as potently as the piano figure that opens “It’s Too Late.” And its tale is universal; rare would be the person who hasn’t been on one end or the other of its sorrowful monologue. Given all that, it should have been among the tunes in the Ultimate Jukebox.

‘You’re The One Who’s Supposed To Know . . .’

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Last year, while sharing here on a weekly basis the records in my Ultimate Jukebox, I kept my pocket mp3 player loaded with only those two-hundred and twenty eight recordings, listening at odd times to the combinations and juxtapositions those songs created on random play.

Those tunes used up about two-thirds of the player’s memory, so when I was finished with the UJ project, I hooked the player up to the computer and loaded into it another one hundred recordings, stuff that I either forgot when I was compiling my list or that just missed the cut.

Among those additions were a couple of tunes from Glen Campbell, who’d been absent from the UJ. And as they’ve popped up now and then in the past few months, I’ve pondered Campbell’s place in the vague and mostly instinctual ranking of performers that whirls around in my head. He seems somehow absent when I think about singers and groups that I’ve enjoyed and respected over the years. But when I think about some of his individual records, there’s a lot there. Anyone who can pull off three records like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston” in less than two years has to be reckoned with.

It’s worth noting that all three of those – and much of the rest of Campbell’s extensive catalog – came from the pen of Jimmy Webb, a writer who I sometimes think has been forgotten.* The richness of the Webb/Campbell collaboration sometimes catches me by surprise, and I’ve spent some time trying to figure out why. And the answer, I think, is timing. Those three records mentioned above did in fact come out in less than two years:

“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” entered the Billboard Hot 100 in late October 1967 and went to No. 26. It went to No. 2 on the country chart.

“Wichita Lineman” entered the Hot 100 in early November 1968 and went to No. 3; it was No. 1 for two weeks on the country chart.

“Galveston” entered the Hot 100 in early March 1969 and went to No. 4. It was No 1 for three weeks on the country chart.

And I began listening seriously to the radio and paying attention to the charts in August of 1969. Although I knew of all three of those Campbell records when they were popular, they don’t seem to attach themselves to a particular time as do a lot of the hits that came along – many of them far less good than the trio by Campbell – during my radio/chart years.

In fact, thinking of Glen Campbell and radio at the same time brings up two later and, to my mind, lesser Campbell singles: “Rhinestone Cowboy” from 1975 and “Southern Nights” from 1977. Both of those went to No. 1 on both the pop and country charts, but I didn’t particularly care for either of them.

So when I was collating the records for the Ultimate Jukebox, Campbell’s work didn’t show up. A track or two likely should have. And one would guess that that track or two would be pulled from the three Campbell-Webb city songs. On the other hand . . .

I wrote a while back about my experiences around 1970 as a bugler for military funerals. The funerals were for members of the Disabled American Veterans, so the men being buried were generally veterans of World War I or World War II. A member of the organization by the name of Axel O. would call me and then drive me to the various cemeteries, where I’d stand some distance from the gravesites and then play “Taps” at the end of the service.

Axel knew I liked music, and one day as he picked me up, he handed me a shoebox full of cassette tapes. “Here,” he said. “These came to me, but I don’t listen to tapes. If you do, you can have them.” I’m guessing, but I imagine that the tapes came to him from the estate of one of the deceased veterans whose funerals Axel helped arrange.

Wherever the tapes came from, I was interested. I thanked him, went to the funeral and played “Taps” and then rode home. It wasn’t until I was home that I dug into the box. I don’t recall everything that was there, as most of it was stuff I wouldn’t listen to at the time: Traditional country and easy listening. But there was a two-cassette package of a Glen Campbell live performance, and one of the songs that Campbell performed during that show was a song I’d never heard before.

“Where’s the Playground Susie?” had entered the Hot 100 in early May of 1969 and peaked at No. 26, reaching only No. 28 on the country chart. I don’t recall ever hearing it on the radio, but when I heard Campbell’s live performance of what was another Webb gem, the sweep of its melody, the sadness and confusion in its words and the playground metaphor all made me sit up and take notice.

I do tend to forget the record sometimes amid the presence in Campbell’s catalog of the better-known city trilogy (and his version of John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind”), but I think that if I were to make room in that mythical jukebox for a record by Glen Campbell, it would be “Where’s the Playground Susie?”

*Not entirely forgotten: My friend Dan tipped me off earlier this year to Just Across the River, a collection of thirteen classic Webb tunes performed by a ridiculously rich list of performers, including Campbell and Webb himself.

‘Hey Tomorrow! Where Are You Goin’ . . .’

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Jim Croce popped up on the car radio as I took the short drive to the gym the other day, and I stayed in the car through the end of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” I’m not sure why. Maybe I was making certain that in these strange days the ending of the story hadn’t changed. (No worries: Leroy still gets his from the jealous husband.)

Or maybe I was just surprised to hear Jim Croce on the radio that morning. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard one of the late songwriter’s tunes coming out of the speaker. But I was pretty sure whenever it was, the record had been “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” or Croce’s other tale of urban comeuppance, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” Croce’s other hits – and he had a total of ten records in the Billboard Hot 100, with eight of those reaching the Top 40 – seem to be forgotten these days.

I’m guilty, too. When I assembled the Ultimate Jukebox last year, I failed to include even one record by Jim Croce among the two-hundred and twenty-eight sides I selected. I have no idea which record or records I’d have pulled from the long list to make room, but I acknowledge that I should have included at least one by the late Philadelphia native.

Croce’s career was brief, of course, and his time near the top of his profession was even shorter: “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” entered the Hot 100 in first week of July 1972, and a year and three months later – in October 1973 – Croce died in a Louisiana plane crash. Several posthumous hits kept his name on the charts for a few years, but still, by the summer of 1976, Croce was, in chart terms, no more than a memory.

The bulk of the eleven records listed in Top Pop Singles – ten records that reached the Hot 100 or better and one that Bubbled Under – come from the three albums that Croce released on ABC: You Don’t Mess Around With Jim in 1972, and Life & Times and I Got A Name in 1973. Two of the records in Croce’s chart – the last two, from 1976 – come from Down the Highway, a posthumous release on the Saja label. But the other nine records listed in Top Pop Singles come from the three ABC albums, and if I were going to include a Croce record in my list of missed opportunities, it would come from one of those three albums.

But which record? Well, I’d start by eliminating the tales of Leroy Brown the gambler and Jim the pool shark. They were fine rollicking records by themselves and big hits – “Jim” went to No. 8 in 1972 and “Leroy” topped the chart for two weeks in 1973 – but they’re overfamiliar at this point (and they’re really the same story with just a few details changed). I think Croce did his better work on the softer stuff, anyway, although I listened a few times this week to “Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues” just to make sure.

So we turn to the ballads. There are a few to choose from that hit the chart: “Operator” went to No. 17, “One Less Set of Footsteps” went to No. 37, “I Got A Name” went to No. 10, “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way” lagged at No. 64, “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song” reached No. 9, and “Time In A Bottle” spent two weeks at No. 1.

I like all of them, some a little less than others. But a large part of what I did with the Ultimate Jukebox was find songs to which I had emotional connections, and only two one of those records have that for me. One of those is “Time In A Bottle” (We’ll get to the other one presently.) “Time In A Bottle,” however, is one of the few songs with an emotional connection to my life that I prefer not to hear on a regular basis, so we’ll pass that by, too.

Which leaves us to album tracks. There is, for me, an odd thing about Croce’s softer album tracks: There are times when those bittersweet tunes pop up on the RealPlayer – say “Photographs and Memories” or “These Dreams” or “Lover’s Cross,” to pull one from each of the three ABC albums – and they often seem more like exercises in songwriting craft than anything organic and important to the performer.

There are at least a couple of those tunes on each of the three albums. They’re very well-done, from musical structure to lyrics to production, but they ultimately feel empty. Maybe it’s just me, but it frequently feels as if Croce were thinking to himself, “Let’s do something in a minor key with a geographic reference and a melancholy weather theme,” and out comes “Alabama Rain.” Whether I’m right or wrong about that makes no major difference, but it does affect how I hear several of Croce’s softer tunes, so I have to take that into account as I seek one Croce song for my list of jukebox regrets.

Ultimately, I come down to two tracks, both sounding genuine and both playing roles in my life ca. 1974-75. They are “Hey Tomorrow” from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim and “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way” from Life & Times. The latter of those two tracks sounded like I wanted my life to be in late 1974 as I arranged a coffee and talk date with a young woman with whom I’d shared some pleasant and not-so-pleasant times in Denmark the previous academic year. The record provided a few moments of hope as I prepared for the get-together, although I really didn’t think it likely that Croce’s song about reconciliation would be the tune I would be singing afterwards. I was right, but we parted on good terms, leaving “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way” to play a minor musical role in my life.

“Hey Tomorrow,” on the other hand, mattered. And I’d forgotten about it until Jim Croce came to mind the other day. That may seem odd, but when one considers the vast number of records that have provided me with solace, reinforcement and courage over the years, having one or two of them languishing on the back shelves for a while is not all that surprising. I told the tale some time ago of my trip to Finland and of the Quixotic long-distance relationship that ensued. During the months when I was deciding to propose by mail to a young woman I hardly knew, I heard “Hey Tomorrow” and really listened to it for the first time. And from then on, until I got the young lady’s regretful letter turning me down, “Hey Tomorrow” was my anthem, and I listened to it frequently as I spent evenings in our rec room waiting for news from Finland.

Beyond the emotional attachment, “Hey Tomorrow” is a good track with a strong melody, good lyrics and solid production. Unlike many of Croce’s other ballads, it feels real to me. So, for all those reasons, I likely should have found a place for “Hey Tomorrow” in the Ultimate Jukebox.

Chart Digging: December 28, 1968

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

As 1968 approached its ending forty-two years ago today, I don’t think I was doing anything remarkable. I know that, six days earlier, I’d watched the Minnesota Vikings in their first playoff game ever (a 24-14 loss to the Baltimore Colts). And I imagine that, as we were all out of school for the week, Rick, Rob and I spent some time playing tabletop hockey in our basement.

We also probably spent an evening or two that week over at St. Cloud State’s Halenbeck Hall watching college basketball. In the late 1960s (and into the early 1970s, I think), St. Cloud State hosted a holiday tournament, the Granite City Classic. (The tournament name lives on, but for many years, it’s been an event for high school teams, not college.) One of the draws for the 1967 and 1968 tournaments, if my memory serves, was the play of a team from Hiram Scott College, a small and short-lived (1965-70) school based in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. The Scotts, if I recall correctly, ran and pressed; I do remember that they played with an athleticism rarely seen on the floor of Halenbeck Hall and I think they won the two tournaments they played in St. Cloud. And I recall Rick, Rob and I marveling at the Scotts’ style of play.

But beyond those admittedly vague memories of watching college ball and an assumption of playing hockey in the basement, nothing pops out of my memory of the last days of 1968.

Perhaps the Billboard Top Ten from December 28, 1968 – forty-two years ago today – will help:

“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
“For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder
“Love Child” by Diana Ross & The Supremes
“Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell
“Stormy” by the Classics IV featuring Dennis Yost
“Abraham, Martin and John” by Dion
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”
      by Diana Ross & The Supremes & The Temptations
“Who’s Making Love” by Johnnie Taylor
“I Love How You Love Me” by Bobby Vinton
“Cloud Nine” by the Temptations

With the exception of the Vinton tune, that’s one hell of a Top Ten. There’s lots of Motown and a dash of Southern R&B; a couple of ballads, one written by Jimmy Webb; and the peak of Dion’s amazing career. This would be a great hour of radio.

And, as I looked at this Top Ten last evening, I realized that it holds the second third record that I’ll file under Jukebox Regrets. I have no idea how I managed to put together more than two hundred favorite records and not include “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” As I’ve noted before, I wasn’t actively listening to radio a lot in those days, but the Supremes and Temptations, like a number of other groups and performers, were inescapable. A soundtrack kid knew their tunes simply by breathing the same air as did his contemporaries. And “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” spoke to the budding romantic in me. I think I even attached the song’s pledge to a specific young lady, even though I had as much chance of keeping that pledge as I did of playing basketball for Hiram Scott College.

In any event, the record, which had leaped from No. 17 to No. 7 in the past week and was on its way to No. 2, probably should have been in the Ultimate Jukebox I put together this past year:

 

And, as always, there were some interesting sounds further on down in the Hot 100.

At No. 29, we find the Magic Lanterns and “Shame, Shame.”  The Lanterns were from Warrrington, England, and “Shame, Shame,” which would go no higher than No. 29, was their only Top 40 hit. Three other records by the group made the Billboard Hot 100, including “One Night Stand,” which went to No. 74 in 1971 (and which I believe I wrote about a few years ago).

From No. 29, we drop quite a ways further in the Hot 100, coming to rest at No. 67, where we find the last Hot 100 hit during the 1960s for Eric Burdon & The Animals. “White Houses” might not have been a great record, but it carried among its virtues, of course, Burdon’s amazing voice. The record went no higher than No. 67 and was the last of nineteen Hot 100 hits for the band in its original run; a 1983 reunion of the group – billed simply as the Animals – resulted in “The Night,” which went to No. 48.

From No. 67, we’ll drop deeper yet and spend the last half of today’s exploration in the nether regions of the Billboard chart. At No. 97, we find a trio from Memphis called the Goodees with their teenage romance drama, “Condition Red.” The single owes a great deal to the Shangri-Las’ 1964 epic “Leader of the Pack,” but whatever the Goodees – or more likely, their production team – got from listening to the Shangri-Las, the wittiness didn’t come along with it. The record, the trio’s only hit, peaked at No. 46.

During his nearly fifteen-year career, until his death at age thirty-seven in 1973, Bobby Darin put forty-eight singles into the Hot 100 and charted as well with a couple of EPs. And given the stylistic changes in Darin’s music during the last six or so of those years, one wonders if record companies – his singles in the last seven years of his life were on Atlantic, Direction and Motown – had any idea what to do with him. As All-Music Guide says: “There’s been considerable discussion about whether Bobby Darin should be classified as a rock & roll singer, a Vegas hipster cat, an interpreter of popular standards, or even a folk-rocker. He was all of these and none of these.” In 1968, Darin released Born Walden Robert Cassotto, a rock album laced, says AMG, with psychedelic touches. It didn’t do well. But a single from the album, “Long Line Rider,” got some attention, making it to No. 79. Forty-two years ago today, “Long Line Rider” was in the second week of its climb, sitting at No. 110 in the Hot 100’s Bubbling Under section. I couldn’t find a video of the single, but I found a clip of Darin performing the tune on the February 20, 1969, episode of The Dean Martin Show.

Finally, near the very bottom of the Billboard chart for December 28, 1968, we find The Fun and Games, which Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles describes as a bubblegum pop band from Houston, Texas. The group’s lone hit, “The Grooviest Girl In The World,” was bubbling under at No. 119, up eight places from the week before and on its way to No. 78.

And that’s it for today. Odd, Pop and I will be back here Thursday, and I think we’ll take a look at some of our favorite listens from the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Saturday Singles Nos. 215 & 216

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

I was doing a favor for the Texas Gal yesterday and came across two riddles. The favor had to do with the top 100 pop songs of 1979 – not my favorite year, but interesting – and I was looking at the Billboard list.

There, at No. 79, was Al Stewart’s “Time Passages.” The first riddle is: How the hell did I overlook that record last winter when I was putting together the Ultimate Jukebox? Not only did I overlook “Time Passages,” but there wasn’t one Al Stewart tune among the 228 I did include. That’s a big miss, given how much I’ve enjoyed Stewart’s work over the years.

The second riddle is how Billboard came to list “Time Passages” in its 1979 listing. I recall the album being a 1978 release, and I was pretty sure the title track was released as a single about the same time. So I checked the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, and, yep, “Time Passages” hit the Top 40 in the third week of October 1978, stayed in the Top Forty for thirteen weeks (which would have kept it there three weeks into January 1979), and peaked at No. 7, staying there for two weeks in late December 1978.

I’ve been looking at the Billboard year-end charts offered at Longbored Surfer, and what I can’t figure out is how “Time Passages” hit the Top 40 and peaked in 1978 but was listed as one of the top 100 songs in 1979. (For what it’s worth, Cashbox has “Time Passages” in its 1978 annual list, ranked at No. 89.) I’m sure there’s a reason, but it eludes me this morning. So we’ll let that one be.

Returning to the question of how I failed to include any of Stewart’s music on my long list of records, all I can say is I don’t know. I knew there would be omissions, and a few things have tugged at my sleeve in the past couple of months. But not including any Stewart at all is a big whiff. And as I think about it, there probably should have been two records by Stewart among those 228. (Don’t, however, consider this post as an addendum to the UJ. Rather, this is the first in what may become an occasional series of, oh, let’s call it “Jukebox Regrets.”)

One of those two Stewart tracks would have been, certainly, “Time Passages.” It’s got a beautiful melody, some of the great saxophone work of the last thirty-five years (by Phil Kenzie), wonderful production by Alan Parsons, and one of Stewart’s most evocative lyrics in a career full of such lyrics. For me, it doesn’t get any more stunning than the ending to the song’s second verse:

Time passages
There’s something back here that you left behind
Oh time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight

Having settled on “Time Passages,” we can consider which other Stewart track might have deserved inclusion. The obvious one, of course, is “Year of the Cat,” Stewart’s 1977 hit from the album released the previous year, which went to No. 8. But I’m a little tired of that one these days, so let’s look elsewhere.

The only Al Stewart track I recall posting here – there may have been others, maybe in a Baker’s Dozen, but there’s no easy way to tell – was “Roads to Moscow,” his long piece about a Russian soldier in World War II from his 1974 album, Past, Present And Future. That’s a worthy piece, but I wouldn’t have included it because of its length: It runs 7:59, and I’d set the limit for the UJ at 7:30. The same rule disqualifies the same album’s brilliant closer “Nostadamus,” which runs nearly ten minutes.

So we look on. As it happens, I don’t have all of Stewart’s work, though I have a great deal of it. I don’t even have all four of his hits in digital form. “Midnight Rocks,” a single that don’t recall all that clearly – it went to No. 24 in the autumn of 1980 – is missing from the files, although I have the vinyl of 24 Carrots, the album from which it was pulled. (I have, obviously, “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages.” And I also have “Song on the Radio” from the Time Passages album, which went to No. 29 in early 1979.) And as I wade this morning through the more than 120 Stewart tracks I do have in digital form, my mind keeps returning to the track that I might have heard more often than any other Stewart track save “Time Passages” and “Year of the Cat.”

These days, it pops up in the middle of the CD of Year of the Cat, but to me, it will always be the opener to Side Two, a tune titled “Flying Sorcery.” I’m not sure why it captivates me, but it does:

With your photographs of Kitty Hawk
And the bi-planes on your wall
You were always Amy Johnson
From the time that you were small.
No schoolroom kept you grounded
While your thoughts could get away
You were taking off in Tiger Moths,
Your wings against the brush-strokes of day.
Are you there?
On the tarmac with the winter in your hair,
By the empty hangar doors you stop and stare,
Leave the oil-drums behind you, they won’t care
Oh, are you there?

You wrapped me up in a leather coat
And you took me for a ride
We were drifting with the tail-wind
When the runway came in sight
The clouds came up to gather us
And the cock-pit turned to white
When I looked the sky was empty
I suppose you never saw the landing-lights
Are you there?
In your jacket with the grease-stain and tear
Caught up in the slipstream of the dare,
The compass roads will guide you anywhere,
Oh, are you there?

The sun comes up on Icarus as the night-birds sail away
And lights the maps and diagrams
That Leonardo makes
You can see Faith, Hope and Charity
As they bank above the fields
You can join the flying circus
You can touch the morning air against your wheels
Are you there?
Do you have a thought for me that you can share?
I never thought you’d take me unawares,
Just call me if you need repairs-
Oh, are you there?

And that’s good enough for me to share it today, and I may as well toss in a video of “Time Passages” and make the two songs today’s Saturday Singles: