Archive for the ‘1990’ Category

‘Eddie J No More’

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Here’s another piece of fiction from the folder in the file cabinet. This one was written in November 1990 in Columbia, Missouri, so as you read it, put yourself in the early 1990s. I likely got some things wrong about the music business, but so it goes when you’re writing to please yourself. Anyway, I hope you like “Eddie J No More.”

My guitar needs a new E string. I found that out last night. When the urge to play a few tunes hit me and I opened the case, I saw that the string – the high one – was loose and curled up like a nylon snake, right at the top of the neck. In my mind, I could hear the sound it made when it broke, kind of an idiot “ping” followed by the whispery sound of the long portion of the string curling up toward the neck, seeking its old circular shape just like water seeks lower ground.

I never heard it when it happened. No reason I should have. I keep the guitar case in a spare room between the box filled with my old music notebooks and the box that holds my old records. I suppose I hadn’t touched the guitar for, oh, three months. Maybe not that long, but it’s been a while since I had the urge to play.

But I wanted to last night. And when I saw the broken string, all I could do was look across the spare room to where my old Stratocaster sits. All its strings were intact, and all I needed to do was plug that baby into the amplifier of the sound system in the living room. A little bit of tuning and one quick flick across the strings for orientation, and I’d jump back on the rails and make that fucker howl!

But no. I haven’t played the Stratocaster for a long, long while. I haven’t wanted to howl since, well, since maybe ’85 or ’86. All I wanted last night . . . well, it’s kind of like something I saw Bruce Springsteen do in a solo acoustic show a few years ago.

When Bruce is out with the E Street Band and they get to “Born To Run,” it’s all guitars and drums roaring and the saxophone wailing as the road goes by and the lonely rider and Wendy aim their motorcycle toward whatever tomorrow will bring them because they know it has to be better or at least no worse than what they have right now and the roar of the imagined cycle gets mixed in with the roar of the crowd at the Boss’s feet and the music pounds and thunders with a noisy momentum that carries the E Street Band and its Boss and the crowd toward some wonderful place, and baby, we were all born to run.

But when Bruce did some solo gigs a few years ago, toward the end of the night, he’d play it slow, just him and an acoustic guitar. It was almost thoughtful and almost sad, and the crowd was quiet and just about ready to go home. And it was right to do it like that: We have what we have, even if it isn’t everything we dreamed of finding out there. And none of us were running anymore.

And that’s what I wanted to do last night, play the music that comes after the running is over, the quiet stuff that can fill the air when you are where you are and you’re not looking for the next turn. I just wanted to strum my acoustic and maybe hum along a little, then maybe sing out and let my voice carry the weight of the song. I haven’t wanted to make the fuckers howl for years. I don’t think I could anymore. And I don’t think I want to, even if I could.

But my E string was broken and curled up, so I closed the guitar case and found something else to do last night. I read a book. And the Stratocaster stayed in the spare room.

You know, it’s funny that I think of Bruce and the way he changed “Born To Run” on that tour when I think about last night. From what my manager always told me, I was supposed to be where Bruce is, be what Bruce is.

I should introduce myself, I suppose. My name is Eddie Jopp. Never heard of me, right? Or if you did, you’ve pretty much forgotten me. Fair enough. I never really believed you’d remember. Maybe if I had, maybe if I’d believed, then I’d be more than a faint whisper in your memory. My manager believed, or at least that what he said. What he really believed, I think, was that anything or anyone can be packaged and sold, and I know he believed in ten percent. Anyway, I’m Eddie Jopp, also known as Eddie J for a while. No period after the “J,” please. Eddie J was the name.

When I say I keep my old records in a box in the spare room, I’m not talking about my high school copy of Saturday Night Fever or my copy of The Wall. I’ve got those – and Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles and Supertramp and all the others – in the living room. No, the records in the spare room are my records: A Free Man In Greenland, Take The Wheel, my favorite Let The Spring . . . and a few others. Those are my records, the ones that Mick Pelzer produced in Kansas City at the start and then in L.A., the ones that were supposed to be on the list of everyone’s essential sounds of the ’80s. Eddie J on guitar, Eddie J on keyboard, Eddie J on vocals, and then it was Eddie J on the remainder racks and eventually Eddie J on the all-time favorite show, “Whatever the fuck happened to . . . ?”

It’s a good question, really. “Whatever the fuck happened to Eddie J?” I’m not sure I know, and I lived it. Oh, I haven’t forgotten it or lost it in some chemically induced paranoid haze. No, I stayed straight, most of the time anyway, but you can figure out how it is when you’re on tour and you’re only twenty-four. And I never got rid of the people who were there at the start only to find out I needed them later. No, the guys who started with me were there when it ended: Parker Stram on drums, Bobby Lippner on bass, Stu Kelsey on rhythm guitar, Jana Hall and Linda Camino on back-up vocals. They were on the first track we laid down in K.C. (“The Baker’s Dozen,” I think), and the last one in L.A. (“Inside Slide”). That’s when it ended, even though we didn’t know that for a while. But they were there.

So whatever the fuck happened to Eddie J? Life, I guess. The way it’s supposed to. Just because I’m not what I was expected to be doesn’t mean I’m not what I’m supposed to be.

It’s funny. I remember, back in the summer of ’81 when it looked like everything in front of us was gold or platinum, we were all sitting in a huge suite in downtown Milwaukee. We’d played a show at the arena there the night before, and we had two days before we had to be in St. Paul, so we were taking a day off. A show must have been canceled somewhere, I guess, but I don’t remember.

Anyway, Cal Mellon, my manager – our manager, really, because Parker, Bobby, Stu, Jana and Linda were just as much a part of Eddie J as I was; I just gave it my name – Cal was talking about what he saw. He was waving a bottle of Heineken in the air, proclaiming that he saw Eddie J as the latest in the line of what he called “authentic American voices.” He had Elvis, and Buddy, and Bob, and then Bruce, of course. And at the end of the line (for the moment, anyway, because someone always tacks another car onto the Mystery Train, right?) came me. Or us. Eddie J, anyway.

Like I said, it’s funny. It’s the modern nobility, kind of the twentieth century version of white rock ’n’ roll knights: Here’s Elvis of Tupelo with “Love Me Tender,” ‘Jailhouse Rock” and so many more. Here’s Buddy of Lubbock with “Rave On” and “Peggy Sue” and the dreams of would’ve been. Here’s Bob of Hibbing with – oh, shit, which ones? The first time I saw him was in Wichita, and he sang for ninety minutes, and an hour’s worth of stuff he didn’t sing would have made the fucking best greatest hits package anyone would want to hear. But just to keep the monologue moving, let’s say “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Forever Young.” And here’s Bruce of Asbury Park with (same problem here, but what the fuck) “Born To Run” and “The River.”

And then, says Cal, comes Eddie of Olathe with . . . with what? Oh, maybe “Sailor Serenade” and “Let The Real Game Roll.” Never heard of them? Fair enough. Not a lot of people did. Well, more than I figured would on those days back in high school when I started writing songs, but not nearly as many as Cal – and the rest of us, too – had plans for. Never heard of Olathe, either? That’s cool, too. It’s in Kansas, for those who don’t recognize it. But I imagine there are lots of folks who wouldn’t know much about Tupelo or Lubbock or Hibbing or Asbury Park without those other guys being able to connect to some kind of magic that Eddie J never found.

And that’s okay. Even as Cal was waving his beer bottle in the air and declaiming his vision, I didn’t buy it. It was kind of like one of those old intelligence tests. You know, the ones that ask “Which one is different?” Well, when it’s Elvis and Buddy and Bob and Bruce and Eddie, I didn’t have too much trouble figuring it out. Neither, as it turned out, did the people who buy the tunes. And after they figured it out, the folks at Kappa Delta records got the word pretty fast. And by 1985, Eddie J was gone.

Oh, I’m still around, and I’m doing okay. And most of the rest of the gang is okay, too. Bobby’s gone. He had a heart attack on the tennis court a few years ago. But Parker and Stu are still in L.A. doing session work. Jana married a guy who worked at the studio in K.C. where we first recorded, and I hear she’s got a kid now and sings jingles in the studio. Linda went back east and got a job as a deejay, and she’s part of the top morning team in Annapolis, I think.

Me? Oh, I’m going to school here in Wichita. I’ve got a teaching degree in mind. Yeah, I’m lots older than most of the others in my classes, and nobody recognizes me. At least if they do, they’ve never said anything. That’s not surprising – they all listen to CDs and none of my stuff ever got there. They don’t even look in the remaindered record racks, which is the only place you’re going to find Eddie J these days.

And Cal? Well, there’s always someone new to promote, someone else to put into that line of voices. He’s got a kid on the road now, a guy named Custer Barnes. The kid’s good – I’ve heard a few of his tracks – and maybe he’ll make Cal’s dreams come real. I couldn’t do it for Cal, but my dreams became real.

Hey, they really did. All I wanted was a chance to play, to get my stuff down on tape and onto vinyl. Now, I suppose that sounds like the kind of noble bullshit that you hear all the faded stars spout, those that survive, anyway. But it’s not. I got what I wanted. I played my music, and for a while, a lot of people listened. My dreams weren’t Cal’s though. He wants more than that, And like I said, he believes in ten percent. But he’s an okay guy anyway.

He called the other day. Wanted to know if I would come out to L.A. and put some stuff on tape with Parker and Stu, see what came out of the headphones. Well, I’ve got some new things – I may not play a lot, but I’ve never really stopped writing – but it’s my stuff, and I’m not sure anyone would want to listen to it. I said so. He said he was sure it would go, and that he’d already booked the studio time. Had he called Parker and Stu? Not yet, he said.

Something wrong with Custer Barnes? “No,” he said, “I just want to get your stuff out where it belongs, with the listeners.” I thought for a minute. Shit, maybe he was right. Maybe it’s worth another shot. But then I figured that if the listeners really wanted to hear me, I wouldn’t need my old agent to tell me so.

I asked him what date he had the studio time reserved. He told me, and I said, “Sorry, I’ve got a mid-term that day.”

Aced the fucker, too. And tomorrow after class, I’m going to get a new E string. Hell, maybe I’ll get a whole new set of strings. Or I could sell the Strat and get a new electric . . . No, a new set of strings for the acoustic will do just fine. Let the words carry the weight as far as I want it to go.

GPE
November 15, 1990
Columbia, Missouri

‘Our Love’s Got No Reason . . .’

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

When I started digging into the song “Even A Fool Would Let Go,” I figured I’d find more versions out in the world than I did. It’s a great song, I thought, with a catchy hook musically and lyrically. (In a post last week, I featured the 1974 original by Gayle McCormick and the 1982 cover by Levon Helm that brought the song to my attention.)

But it’s a song that’s never gotten much attention – I’ve found eight more covers so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the well is dry after those eight – nor has it had any presence that I could find on the major Billboard charts.

Nor, among the few covers I’ve found, have I found anything that grabs me very hard. Three years after McCormick first recorded the song, Kerry Chater – one of the song’s co-writers – released his version on Part Time Love, but the album got little attention. (A single release of the title track got to No. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

Sporadic covers showed up for a little more than a decade. Among those I’ve listened to without much interest are versions by Kenny Rogers (1978), Dionne Warwick (1981) the Marshall Tucker Band (1982), Gloria Gaynor (1982) and Joe Cocker (1984). The worst of that bunch is the lifeless take on the tune by the Marshall Tucker Band, although Rogers’ cover was dull, as well.

Was there anything good? Well, I found a few covers that piqued my interest. Dolly Parton did a nice take on the tune on her Dolly, Dolly, Dolly album in 1980, and I find myself intrigued by the version country singer John Anderson offered on his 1985 album Tokyo, Oklahoma.

Finally, I took a listen – not for the first time – to the cover of the song offered in 1990 by the British folk-rock duo Clive Gregson and Christine Collister on their album Love Is A Strange Hotel. It doesn’t blow me away, but the duo’s very spare approach offers another way into the song than I’d heard elsewhere.

Saturday Single No. 390

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

This is a season of busy Saturdays. There are normal errands to run, and yard chores call. Now that the snow has melted once more – for the final time this spring, one hopes – we can attend to the thick layer of last autumn’s leaves covering most of the lawn.

If it were up to me, I’d call our landlord and mention that we need the leaves removed, and without complaint, he’d have Steve the Yard Man come by and clear the lawn. But last weekend, the Texas Gal raked a good portion of the upper part of the lawn, the areas where we sit in the evenings, where the bird feeder is and where our guests join us during our annual August picnic (an event we regretfully canceled last summer but hope to revive this year). Her effort left piles of leaves around the lawn, piles that need to be cleared so as not to kill the awakening grass beneath them. (We let such a pile go too long last spring, and the resulting bare spot was a reminder all summer long that grass waits for no one.)

As she raked last weekend, I wandered down with a glass of juice. She drank it thirstily, and I asked, “Why not just call the landlord and tell him we need the leaves cleared.”

“We could,” she said, “but I like raking.”

We’ve had the conversation before, likely every spring we’ve lived here under the oaks. I guess I start the conversation each spring because I think she might have come to her senses. Of all the chores I did while growing up over on Kilian Boulevard, the one I likely detested the most was raking and bagging leaves in the spring. Those spring Saturdays when the four of us Ericksons raked and bagged were among the least pleasant Saturdays I can remember, and that’s coming from a man who tries, and generally succeeds, at finding the good parts in most things.

The Texas Gal knows I hate raking. She doesn’t ask me to do it. But she does ask me to help her bag the leaves. And I do. And I will do so this afternoon, when both of us return from errands. She’s already left on hers, which include a couple of hours clearing the community gardens at church. I need to leave on mine soon. And that means finding some music.

I was going to wander randomly through six tracks and choose one for this morning, but the first track up made me change my mind. It comes from Darden Smith’s 1990 album Trouble No More. Having listened closely to Smith’s work from the late 1990s on (and having backtracked to the beginning of his career in the mid-1980s), I think I can safely say that it was with Trouble No More that Smith left straight country music and moved down the musical road to that intersection of country, folk and pop I mention frequently.

Because it’s never really been featured here – it was part of a download six years ago – and because it speaks to me, “Listen To My Own Voice” is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 377

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Back in 2007, I spent the month of January ripping lots of vinyl to mp3s with my new turntable, a Christmas present from the Texas Gal. At her suggestion, I opened a Blogger account and started sharing the resulting album rips at a blog I called Echoes In The Wind.

It wasn’t much of a blog. Oh, the music was fine: In the first few weeks I shared four albums by Bobby Whitlock and four by Levon Helm, none of them in print at the time, and I got around that month to work by Don Nix, Eric Andersen and a few others.

But I wasn’t saying anything beyond a few general comments. I began to pull reviews of the albums, when they were available, from All Music Guide (always being careful to credit the source). As the end of January came in sight, I wrote a little bit more than that about a couple of Ronnie Hawkins albums, and then, on the first Saturday of February 2007, I wrote a bit about what the Danish single “Rør Ved Mig” by Lecia & Lucienne meant to me.

At about the same time, I chanced upon a blog whose writer talked about music and memory and how the two were for him forever entwined. And as I dug into the blog archives at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, I thought, “I can do this. Maybe not as well, but I can do this.” (Not long after that, I left a note at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, inviting the blog’s author, jb, to stop by my place. He did, and in the intervening years he and I and our wives have become good friends.)

So I began to write about my life and music and memory during that first week of February 2007. I’ve told how music has pervaded my life, whether that music be the horn work of Al Hirt and Herb Alpert, the soundtracks of John Barry, the still-cherished sounds of the Beatles and Bob Dylan; the later-discovered artistry of Duane Allman, Richie Havens and Bruce Springsteen; or the earthiness and odd dissonance of Bulgarian folk music; and so much more in between and around those sounds.

I’ve told the tales of my life, sharing in memory and in the present the joyful moments, the grief-laden moments and the ordinary moments, writing – as my friend Rob once agreed – my autobiography, one post at a time.

And along the way, I’ve found friends. Many of them remain known only through their comments here and their profile pictures at Facebook. But some – most notably jb and his Mrs.; Jeff of AM, Then FM; and frequent commenter Yah Shure – have become friends in that scary place beyond blogging called the real world.

All of that will continue. I think I have tales yet to tell, and I know there is still music both familiar and new to write about. But today, which is more or less the seventh anniversary of the true beginning of this blog, is a day to look back and think, “Not bad. Not bad at all.”

And this morning I read the words to “Seven Turns,” the title track to a 1990 album by the Allman Brothers Band, and thought again, “Not bad at all.”

Seven turns on the highway,
Seven rivers to cross.
Sometimes you feel like you could fly away,
Sometimes you get lost.

And sometimes, in the darkened night,
You see the crossroad sign.
One way is the mornin’ light,
You got to make up your mind.

Somebody’s callin’ your name.
Somebody’s waiting for you.
Love is all that remains the same,
That’s what it’s all comin’ to.

Runnin’ wild out on the road,
Just like a leaf on the wind.
How in the world could you ever know,
We’d ever meet again?

Seven turns on the highway,
Seven rivers to cross.
Sometimes, you feel like you could fly away,
Sometimes, you get lost.

Somebody’s callin’ your name.
Somebody’s waitin’ for you.
Love is all that remains the same,
That’s what it’s all comin’ to.

Somebody’s callin’ your name.
Somebody’s waitin’ for you.
Love is all that remains the same,
That’s what it’s all comin’ to.

So here is “Seven Turns” by the Allman Brothers Band, and it’s your seventh-anniversary Saturday Single:

‘Black’

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

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

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

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

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

But we have plenty of records left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Cast Your Dancing Spell My Way . . .’

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

So how many covers are out there of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”? Who knows?

There are sixty versions – including Dylan’s – listed at Second Hand Songs. There are more than 500 mp3s – with much duplication – offered at Amazon. Beyond that, I’ve found covers at YouTube not listed in either place.

(I checked at both BMI and ASCAP, as I’m not sure which organization administers Dylan’s songs. I found no listings for Dylan at either place, which eithers means I’m doing something wrong while searching or his compositions are administered elsewhere. Either way, it’s no help.)

The listing at Second Hand Songs starts with Dylan’s original and the Byrds’ ground-breaking cover in 1965 and goes on to the 2012 version by Jack’s Mannequin, which was included in the four-CD set Chimes of Freedom – The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. The first cover listed after the Byrds’ cover is a 1965 misspelled offering of “Mr. Tambourin Man” from a group called the Finnish Beatmakers. Except for the Finnish accent – which I kind of like – it’s a copy of the Byrds’ version, starting right from the guitar introduction.

And that’s the case for many of the covers I’ve listened to this week: they’re warmed-over fowl. One of the few with an original sound came, interestingly, from Gene Clark, one of the members of the Byrds when they recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man.” His version of the Dylan tune – with a reimagined (and very nice, to my ears) introduction – was included on his 1984 album, Firebyrd.

The originator of the Byrds’ classic guitar lick, Roger McGuinn, shows up on a 1989 version of the tune recorded live in Los Angeles with Crowded House. As might be expected in that circumstance, it’s pretty much a copy of the Byrds’ version, with the Finn brothers et al. backing McGuinn.

Other early versions of note came from the Brothers Four and Johnny Rivers in 1965, from a young Stevie Wonder (with, one assumes, the Funk Brothers behind him), the Lettermen, the Beau Brummels and Noel Harrison in 1966, and from the Leathercoated Minds and Kenny Rankin in 1967. Versions from 1966 that I’d like to hear came from Billy Lee Riley and Duane Eddy. Odetta, as might be expected, offered an idiosyncratic and austere take on the tune in 1965.

Easy listening folks got hold of the tune, too. Billy Strange is listed at Second Hand Songs as having recorded a cover in 1965; I haven’t found that one (though my digging is not yet done), but I did find an easy listening version – with banjo, no less – recorded in 1965 by the Golden Gate Strings. And Johnny Harris & His Orchestra recorded the tune for the Reader’s Digest’s Up, Up & Away collection, which seems to have been released in 1970.

Speaking of banjo, the bluegrass/country duo of Flatt & Scruggs took on the song for their 1968 album, Changin’ Times. It’s nicely arranged with some nice harmonica in the background, but they’re too, well, square for the song, and that’s true right from the start, when they drop the “ain’t” and sing “there is no place I’m goin’ to.”

We’ll look at a few more versions of the tune – some of them quite nice – next week, but we’ll close today with a foreign language version of the tune. (Did you honestly think I would not drop one of those in?) Titled “Hra tampuurimies,” it’s a 1990 version from the irresistibly named Finnish group Freud, Marx, Engels & Jung.

‘Eight’

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

The integers march again . . .

Sorting the 67,000-some mp3s on the digital shelves for the word “eight” brings up 194 titles, most of which we cannot use. Anything about a freight train goes by the wayside, as does Nanci Griffith’s “White Freight Liner.” The entire output of a 1970s band named Jackson Heights is crossed off our list, as is Michel Legrand’s soundtrack to the 1970 film Wuthering Heights.

And we also have to discard twenty-nine versions of the Robbie Robertson song, “The Weight.”

Still, we’re left with enough tunes to be able to pick and choose a little bit, starting with one of eight versions – how appropriate! – of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High.” The one I settled on is a 1969 cover of the tune from the Canadian band Lighthouse. Still two years away from having a hit with “One Fine Morning” – it went to No. 24 in 1971 – the band covered the Roger McGuinn song on its first, self-titled album, and an edit was released as a single. As far as I can tell, Lighthouse’s take on “Eight Miles High” never showed up on any chart anywhere although I’m not sure about Canada. Nor am I certain the video to which I’ve linked is the single. I think it is. In any case, it’s a decent enough cover but nothing amazing.

The Walkabouts’ “Train Leaves at Eight” is the title track of an album released in 2000 by the sometimes dark but always intriguing Seattle band. The album serves as a tour of European music, and “Train Leaves at Eight” takes the listener to Greece: The song was written by Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis and came from Ta Laika, or The Popular Songs, a project Theodorakis and Greek poet Manos Eleftheriou completed in 1967 but which went unreleased after a military coup in Greece that year. The work was released in 1975 after the military government fell.

David Castle’s 1977 single “Ten to Eight” was the first single released on the Parachute label and went to No. 68 (No. 45 on the AC chart). That was the first of two times Castle broke into the Billboard Hot 100: “The Loneliest Man on the Moon” went to No. 89 in early 1978. Both singles were pulled from Castle’s 1977 album Castle in the Sky. Castle’s website says a third single, “All I Ever Wanna Be Is Yours,” made the Easy Listening chart, but I can find nothing about the record in Joel Whitburn’s Top Adult Songs. “Ten to Eight” was originally recorded by Helen Reddy and released on her 1975 album No Way to Treat a Lady, leaving Castle in the well-populated but nevertheless interesting position of covering his own song.

Steve Goodman’s “Eight Ball Blues,” is not a blues at all, at least in its musical construction. Pulled from his self-titled 1971 album, it’s nevertheless the plaint of a man who wishes he and life were different and does so with regret: “I wish I had the common sense to be satisfied with me.” And the chorus tells us a bit more:

Is this the part where I came in?
I’ve heard this song before.
Had a couple too many
But I think I can find the door.
And I do not know your name, my friend
But I’ve seen that face before.
Well, I saw it in the jail house
And I saw in the war,
And I saw it my mirror,
Well, just a couple of times before.

This was 1971, and the war was in a place called Vietnam, but it could just as well be 2013 and places called Iraq and Afghanistan.

O.V. Wright came out of the gospel music circuit before going secular in the mid-1960s, eventually ending up in the 1970s with Willie Mitchell at Hi Records in Memphis. That’s maybe where Wright did his best work, but his mid-1960s singles for Backbeat are superb. “Eight Men, Four Women” from 1967 is likely the most atmospheric. It went to No. 4 on the R&B chart – one of eight singles Wright placed in the R&B Top 40 between 1965 and 1974 – and to No. 80 on the pop chart.

On its third album, 1990’s A Different Kind of Weather, the English trio Dream Academy included a tune called “Twelve Eight Angel.” A year later, the group released its final single before disbanding. That single was “Angel of Mercy,” and from what I can tell, the single was simply “Twelve Eight Angel” renamed. The single failed to chart, and the band called it quits. Dream Academy is best-known, of course, for the shimmering “Life in a Northern Town,” which went to No. 7 in 1986. (Those sharp of ear might notice the voice of the single’s producer, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, in the background during the instrumental break.)

‘Seven’

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

And the March of the Integers goes on, this morning reaching “Seven.”

Having looked ahead, as all good tour guides do, I see that the march is likely to end after “Ten.” Titles with numbers in them are pretty slender from “Eleven” through “Fifteen.” “Sixteen” would work (I’ll bet readers can think of six songs with “sixteen” in their titles in less than sixteen seconds), but the flow ebbs to a trickle after that.

This morning’s search through the RealPlayer for “seven,” however, turns up more than two hundred records. That total is trimmed a fair amount when we take into account the Allman Brothers Band’s 1990 album Seven Turns, French singer Françoise Hardy’s 1970 album One Nine Seven Zero, Etta James’ 1988 album Seven Year Itch, Bettye LaVette’s 1973 release Child Of The Seventies and a few other albums. We also have to ignore the two songs recorded in March 1930 in Atlanta, Georgia, by A. A. Gray & Seven-Foot Dilly and everything listed by the John Barry Seven, Louis Armstrong & His Hot Seven, the Society of Seven, Sunlights’ Seven and numerous titles with the words “seventh” and “seventeen” in their titles. (No Willie Mabon, Johnny Rivers or Janis Ian today.) Still, we have enough to play with.

And we start with a Fleetwood Mac record from 1987. “Seven Wonders” was the second single released from the group’s 1987 album, Tango In The Night. It went to No. 19, which was not as high as the two singles from the album that bracket it in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: “Big Love” went to No. 5, and “Little Lies” went to No. 4. Because of that bracketing and because of the massive overall success of that era’s Fleetwood Mac on both the singles and album charts, I think “Seven Wonders” has been a little obscured. I suppose that for some folks, a little of Stevie Nicks’ mysticism can be more than enough, and “Seven Wonders” does follow that path lyrically as well as in Nicks’ vocal delivery. That’s no problem for me, though.

We’ll stay in 1987 for a bit yet, as that was the year that Terence Trent D’Arby released Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent d’Arby, an album on which the precocious D’Arby – as noted by Rob Bowman of All-Music Guide – “wrote virtually every note, played a multitude of instruments, and claimed that this was the most important album since the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper.” Now, it’s not that good, though it did spin off a couple of Top Five hits: “Wishing Well” went to No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts, and “Sign Your Name” went to No. 4 pop and No. 2 R&B. Given our focus this morning, “Seven More Days” is our landing spot. It’s an atmospheric track with intelligent lyrics and a good vocal.

When one seeks out songs using the word “seven,” then Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road” becomes one of the obvious choices. First released on Young’s 1969 album Rock, Salt & Nails, the song was covered memorably by the Eagles, as well as by groups and performers ranging from Mother Earth and Ian Mathews to Rita Coolidge and Dolly Parton. The song’s genesis is interesting, and in 2007 the now-dormant blog pole hill sanatarium presented Young’s comments on the song, as found at a website that evidently no longer exists:

I lived in Montgomery, Alabama, in the early ’60s and had a group of friends there that showed me the road. It led out of town, and after you had crossed seven bridges you found yourself out in the country on a dirt road. Spanish moss hung in the trees and there were old farms with old fences and graveyards and churches and streams. A high bank dirt road with trees. It seemed like a Disney fantasy at times. People went there to park or get stoned or just to get away from it all. I thought my friends had made up the name “Seven Bridges Road.” I found out later that it had been called by that name for over a hundred years, that people had been struck by the beauty of the road for a long time.

The Bee Gees’ 1969 album Odessa has popped up in this space before, at least once as an album and once as a source for a tune in my Ultimate Jukebox. Sprawling and at times beautiful, Odessa remains a favorite, one that I don’t pull out of the CD shelves and listen to in its entirety nearly often enough. Among its seventeen tracks are three instrumentals, two of which don’t seem to work all that well, as if the Bee Gees’ ambitions were larger than their abilities in 1969 (and if that were the case, well, the Bee Gees weren’t the only performers in that time – or any time – to fall into that category). The instrumental that works for me, however, is “Seven Seas Symphony” with its gentle and lightly accompanied piano figure leading into full-blown orchestration and back to (mostly) piano again and then again.

And we jump to 1990 and the sessions that took place after Bruce Springsteen famously fired the E Street Band. Recorded in Los Angeles during the sessions that resulted in the lightly regarded 1992 albums Human Touch and Lucky Town, “Seven Angels” has Springsteen handling guitars and bass as well as vocals. The only other musicians listed in the credits – “Seven Angels” is found on the 1998 box set Tracks – are Shawn Pelton on drums and E Streeter Roy Bittan on keyboards. Even taking into consideration Springsteen’s propensity for recording tracks and then stashing them in the vault because they don’t fit the vision he has for an album, one wonders how a track as good as “Seven Angels” was passed over for some of the stuff that was used on those two 1992 albums.

For those who were television watchers during the 1960s, Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven does not raise visions of a Western (in both senses of the word) version of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic The Seven Samurai. Rather, we see the Marlboro Man, rugged in his sheepskin coat and cowboy hat, as he herds cattle and rides the mountain ridge before pausing to light up a Marlboro. Sometimes I think that all we need to know about American advertising culture – the joys of Mad Men notwithstanding – is that Bernstein’s sweeping and heroic theme became identified with Marlboro cigarettes and that Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was better known to kids of my age as the Puffed Wheat song. I could, of course, cite many more uses of classical pieces, orchestral movie themes and popular songs for advertising, but I’d rather just sigh and listen to Bernstein’s majestic theme and try to remember John Sturges’ tale of heroism, loyalty and sacrifice.

‘One’

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

As I did something inconsequential the other day, the RealPlayer kept me entertained with a random selection. And then, in the space of five songs, it played two with the same title: “One,” first by U2 and then by Three Dog Night.

That got me to wondering how many tunes I have with the word “one” in the title, so I went looking this morning. I have no answer. The sorting function on the RealPlayer finds every instance of the letters “one” occurring. So I’ve had to bypass multiple versions of “Black Cat Bone” and “Another Man Done Gone” as well as every song with the word “lonely” in its title and the entire catalogs of the Rolling Stones, the Freddy Jones Band and C.W. Stoneking.

But even if I have no specific count, there were plenty of titles to choose from. Here’s a selection:

As has been mentioned before in this space, Neil Young’s 1978 album, Comes A Time, is my favorite album by that changeable and often enigmatic performer. On that album, “Already One” tells the tale of a love that’s difficult yet essential, a story that I’d think most of us have experienced along the way, even if the configuration was a little different than the one in Young’s song.

The Wilburn Brothers – Doyle and Teddy – were from Hardy, Arkansas, and performed at the Grand Old Opry and for a similar radio program, Louisiana Hayride, during the 1940s into 1951, before either of them was twenty. Between 1954 and 1970, they placed twenty-eight records into the Country Top 40. One of those came in late 1964, when “I’m Gonna Tie One On Tonight” went to No. 19.

Marva Whitney is a singer from Kansas City, Kansas, who toured between 1967 and 1970 as a featured performer in the James Brown Review. She recorded a fair number of singles during that time and on into the 1970s, with most of them released on the King label. Three of her singles reached the R&B Top 40; the best-performing was “It’s My Thing (You Can’t Tell Me Who To Sock It To),” which went to No. 19 in 1969. “He’s the One” was not one of those charting three, but it’s a great piece of 1969 R&B nevertheless.

The Sundays released three CDs between 1990 and 1997 in a style that All Music Guide says owes a lot to “the jangly guitar pop of the Smiths and the trance-like dream pop of bands like the Cocteau Twins.” For whatever reason – probably memories of hearing “Here’s Where the Story Ends” on Cities 97 during the early 1990s – I have all three Sundays CDs. Jangly and romantic, “You’re Not The Only One I Know” comes from the first one, 1990’s Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

The James Solberg Band spent a lot of time during the 1990s touring as the backing band for bluesman Luther Allison. Still, Solberg and his mates found time to record a couple of pretty good albums (for some reason, AMG calls the group the “Jim Solberg Band,” while the CDs themselves credit the James Solberg Band), and Solberg himself put together a few good solo albums starting in the late 1990s. In our search this morning, we come across “One of These Days” from the 1996 album of the same name.

Almost every time Al Stewart pops up on the radio or on the mp3 player, I find myself admiring his songcraft and performance. With his smart and literate lyrics and his generally accessible and atmospheric music, Stewart almost always casts a spell. I’ve no doubt heard “One Stage Before” from Year of the Cat hundreds of times since the album came out in 1976, but I’m not sure I’ve really listened to it. I did this morning, and all can do is admire it:

It seems to me as though I’ve been upon this stage before
And juggled away the night for the same old crowd.
These harlequins you see with me, they too have held the floor
As here once again they strut and they fret their hour.
I see those half-familiar faces in the second row
Ghost-like with the footlights in their eyes,
But where or when we met like this last time, I just don’t know.
It’s like a chord that rings and never dies
For infinity.

And now these figures in the wings with all their restless tunes
Are waiting for someone to call their names.
They walk the backstage corridors and prowl the dressing-rooms
And vanish to specks of light in the picture-frames.
But did they move upon the stage a thousand years ago
In some play in Paris or Madrid?
And was I there among them then, in some travelling show?
And is it all still locked inside my head
For infinity?

And some of you are harmonies to all the notes I play;
Although we may not meet, still you know me well,
While others talk in secret keys and transpose all I say
And nothing I do or try can get through the spell.
So one more time we’ll dim the lights and ring the curtain up
And play again like all the times before,
But far behind the music, you can almost hear the sounds
Of laughter like the waves upon the shores
Of infinity.

‘It’s A Thin, Thin Line . . .’

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

While looking for tunes with “rest” in their titles this morning, I came across several entries for the song “Tougher Than The Rest” by Bruce Springsteen. Now, that’s not the kind of rest I had in mind, but it’ll do for today.

The song comes from Springsteen’s 1987 album, Tunnel of Love, and it’s sparked a few covers. I dug into some of those this morning – not as many as I usually sample when I’m exploring covers – and found some interesting versions. Emmylou Harris included the tune on her 1990 album, Brand New Dance, and I saw some commentary this morning that ranked her version higher than others, so I went and bought the mp3, which I evidently can’t share in a video.

Well, I liked what I heard from Emmylou more than I did most of the covers I found. I was surprised by the tepid version from Everything But The Girl on that group’s Acoustic from 1992, as I generally like the album. And I didn’t hear much in the seemingly standard country styling from Chris LeDoux on his 1994 album Haywire. On the other hand, I did enjoy the version released on a two-song disc in 2009 by the Scottish group Camera Obscura.

As it turned out, the best version of the Springsteen tune I came across today is from a source that surprised me. Travis Tritt pulled the song into his hybrid of southern rock and Nashville twang on No More Looking Over My Shoulder in 1998, and the results were pretty good:

I’ll be back Thursday, either writing about Chef Boy-Ar-Dee or about covers of one of the greatest songs ever recorded by The Band.