Archive for the ‘1990’ Category

‘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.

‘One Last Chance To Make It Real . . .’

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Down on East St. Germain – the main street here on the East Side – there’s a pawnshop. It’s right around the corner from Tom’s Barbershop, and I pop in from time to time. Granite City Pawn Shop, it’s called. It’s kind of dusty, and it’s well-stocked with tools and outdoor sports equipment.

And in the middle of the shop, sometimes guarded by a gantlet of other merchandise – a telescope tripod the other day – is an alcove filled with CDs, all priced at $1 apiece. Over the past couple years, I’ve made a few interesting finds there – probably the best was Blue & Sentimental by 1950s sax player Ike Quebec – and filled some gaps, most of them in my country collection.

I stopped by there the other day and found three CDs from the 1990s by country singer John Berry, about whom I’d read a few nice things. They’re all pretty good, and it turns out that one of them – Saddle the Wind – was an album Berry recorded and released in 1990, before he was signed to Liberty Records. Liberty released it in 1994, and that’s the version I found. And when the CD got to the fifth track, here’s what I heard:

He sings it well, but to my ears, the track hews far too closely to Bruce Springsteen’s version to make it more than interesting. But for the last ten days or so, I’ve had “Thunder Road” running through my head as Berry’s cover inspired me to make my way through various versions of one of Springsteen’s greatest songs.

Along the way, I’ve been wondering if the harmonica and piano that lead off “Thunder Road” on Born to Run might not be the very first things that lots of folks ever heard from Bruce Springsteen. My reasoning: It was with Born to Run, of course, that Springsteen made the leap from regional favorite to national artist, and I figure a lot of folks picked up the album on the basis of the national noise without having heard anything from Springsteen before, even the single “Born to Run.” The album reached the Billboard chart on September 13, 1975, showing up at No. 84, a week before “Born to Run” jumped into the Hot 100 at No. 68. And “Thunder Road” leads off the album. So that introduction could have been the introduction to Springsteen for a lot of people.

Well, it’s an interesting thought (to me, anyway), but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that “Thunder Road” is one of the sturdiest songs Springsteen’s ever put together. Wikipedia notes that in 2004, the song was ranked No. 86 in Rolling Stone magazine’s assessment of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” And, as Wikipedia notes, the song has shown up highly ranked on several similar lists.

Like all sturdy songs, it’s been covered fairly frequently. Among those who’ve tackled the song are Badly Drawn Boy, Frank Turner, Tori Amos, Mary Lou Lord and Bonnie “Prince” Bill with Tortoise. I’ve heard some of those, and I’ve come across a few more. Melissa Etheridge sang the song in concert at least once after Springsteen performed the song with her at an earlier show. (Her solo performance of the song is listed as being in 2009, but I don’t know when the duet took place.) I also found a few studio covers that I thought were interesting: Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners recorded the song for his 1999 album My Beauty, but – according to a comment at YouTube – the track was held back because Springsteen thought Rowland took too many liberties with the lyrics. I thought the Cowboy Junkies did a nice version; it was released on the bonus CD that came with their 2004 album One Soul Now.

And I came across this version by a string quartet calling itself the Section; it came from the 2002 CD Hometown: The String Quartet Tribute to Springsteen:

 There are other covers out there, but my energy waned. Of the covers I found, I think I like the Cowboy Junkies’ version best; Margo Timmins can do little wrong from where I listen. But the best version of the song I found on YouTube isn’t really a cover at all.

In 2005, Springsteen toured as a solo artist after the release of Devils & Dust, and for that tour, he shelved a lot of the songs he normally performed live. But he did “Thunder Road” once, backing himself on the piano. And it’s neat to know that the performance took place in Minneapolis, at the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium on October 12, 2005. (No, I wasn’t there, but I sure wish I had been.)

Corrected and edited slightly after posting.

Some Townes & Willie To Tide You Over

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

As I wait for the landlord to come over and take care of a few minor business matters, I’m a little distracted as I keep an eye on the door. So I’m going to put off a major post until tomorrow, when I’ll have time to dig into something.

In the meantime, here’s one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard. “Marie,” performed by the late Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson, comes from a series of duets Van Zandt recorded in the early 1990s. All-Music Guide says the recordings were intended for a Van Zandt box set.  Among the others with whom Van Zandt sang during the project were Kathy Mattea, Jerry Jeff Walker, Emmylou Harris, Freddy Fender and Doug Sahm.

The box set never came to be, but Texas Rain, a collection of twelve tracks from those sessions, was released in 2001, four years after Van Zandt’s death. There are a lot of other posthumous Van Zandt releases out there; I’ve dug into a few, but I keep going back to the spare sounds of Texas Rain. And “Marie” is the best thing on the CD.

We’re Twenty-Six Days Into Summer

Friday, July 16th, 2010

The summer’s been quiet so far. The Texas Gal has had a break from her studies for the last three weeks, so she’s been focused on those things she does not get to do while school is in session, quilting chief among them. And we’ve spent a few more evenings sitting out on the little concrete patio this year than we managed to do in the first portion of the season last year.

We’ve been more active in the garden this year, as it’s demanded more of our attention. That’s good. If the garden needs work, then the plants are growing. So far, we’ve pulled from the garden four zucchini, about two quarts of broccoli cuttings, maybe three quarts of wax beans, more butterhead lettuce than we could eat and enough peas for a side dish with dinner the other evening. All of those plants except the peas will continue to produce, and we are hopeful about the cucumbers, green beans, carrots and our second try at radishes. And when the tomatoes begin to ripen, we will have more of that red fruit than we will know what to do with.

Then there’s my own eccentric project: eggplant. Four of the plants seem to be thriving, and each of those has at least one of the purplish fruits that will sometime late this summer become participants in my attempts at ratatouille and mousakka. So things will get busier yet in the garden. Along the way, we’ll have to make certain our low fence is maintained, as we’ve both seen a small rabbit in the area; as cute as he is, he needs to learn that there truly is no such thing as a free lunch.

The summer will soon become busier for us beyond the garden fence as well. Our kitchen whiteboard lists several events – friends’ visits, a trip to the Twin Cities, a backyard barbecue – that will begin to fill the summer weekends remaining. And even though the Texas Gal’s coursework resumes Sunday evening, I think we’ll still find numerous evenings when we spend an hour or so on the patio, sipping a beverage and listening to the evening going on around us: the cars whirring by on Lincoln Avenue at the bottom of the driveway, the shouts of neighborhood kids at play, the chatter of a squirrel scolding us because we’re sitting near the flowerpot where he and his kind have lately begun to dig in the dirt, and sometimes, the sound of popular music carried on the wind from a not-too-distant radio.

Sitting quietly and listening to the evening is something my friends and I did at times during summers past, and if the music we heard on the air was different, the rest was pretty much the same on Kilian Boulevard as it is these days on Lincoln Avenue. And as today, July 16, is the twenty-sixth day of summer this year, I thought I’d dig into the charts and find a Six-Pack of records that were ranked at No. 26 on July 16 during some of the years this blog generally covers:

In 1960, the Skyliners’ “Pennies From Heaven” was at No. 26 on its way to No. 24. The song was the third and final Top 40 hit for the doo-wop quartet from Pittsburgh.

 

In 1965, the twenty-sixth spot on the chart on July 16 was occupied by the Dave Clark Five’s cover of a 1961 hit by Chris Kenner. Kenner’s version of “I Like It Like That” had reached No. 2; the cover by the Dave Clark Five peaked three weeks later at No. 7.

In the third week of July 1970, the No. 26 record was “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. We’ll skip past that one, as we only share that record on May 4.

At this time in July 1975, the slightly scandalous – to some, anyway – “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” by Major Harris held down spot No. 26 with passionate coos and moans along with a slick R&B melody. The record, Harris’ only Top 40 hit, had peaked earlier, spending three weeks at No. 5 in late June and early July; the record also spent one week atop the R&B chart.

In mid-July of 1980, Mickey Gilley’s cover of Ben E. King’s classic, “Stand By Me,” was at No. 26. The record, from the soundtrack of the movie Urban Cowboy, would spend the first three weeks of August at No. 22 before falling back down the chart.

In 1985, the No. 26 record in mid-July was Madonna’s sixth Top 40 hit, “Angel,” which had peaked at No. 5 three weeks earlier.

And we’ll close this exercise with a look at 1990: The No. 26 record in mid-July that year was “Jerk Out” by the Time, which would spend the last week of August and the first week of September at No. 9. I couldn’t find a working video of the single edit, but here’s the track from the album Pandemonium.

And we’ll see you tomorrow with a Saturday Single.

‘I Go Out Walkin’ . . .’

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

As I’ve mentioned several times over the past three years – and yeah, the third birthday of Echoes In The Wind went by without comment sometime around February 1, the date of the first post here – for many years country music and I were strangers.

My dad listened to country music on the radio by his basement workbench and in his old ’52 Ford, but he wasn’t a music fan, as such. I doubt that he knew the names of many of the artists he heard as the music on WVAL took him through an afternoon of tinkering in the basement. And I never really knew anyone whom I can recall from childhood whose family listened to country music at home.

I learned a very little bit about classic country from the soundtrack to The Last Picture Show, which I saw one evening during the mid-1970s at the student union at St. Cloud State, but I never followed up. Country music was the choice for about half of my first set of in-laws – during the late 1970s and the early 1980s – but none of what I heard during visits really stuck.

It wasn’t until 1990, during my brief stay on the Kansas prairie, that I began to dig much into country music. As brief as it was, the music finally reached me, and during my years of record collecting overkill during the mid- to late 1990s, country music – especially in those areas where it intersected with folk and rock, as it frequently does – was one of the genres I dug into at least a little. (That digging intensified with the arrival of the Texas Gal in my life; as much as she loves rock and pop, she’s also a country fan, and I now listen to – and know more about – more country music than I ever have.)

All that said, I was reminded this week that I learned about one of the classic songs of country music from a television commercial:

The tune used in the 1997 spot for AT&T – featuring a young Larisa Oleynik – was, of course, Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.” (The spot is interesting for its depiction of what was cutting edge technology thirteen years ago.) I didn’t know that I’d ever heard the song before I saw the commercial. I imagine I must have, but whenever that might have been, it certainly didn’t make an impression. But once I heard it, I wanted to hear it again, so I did a little bit of crate-digging at Cheapo’s and a few other places, eventually finding a 1973 LP titled Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits, which had “Walkin’ After Midnight” as its leadoff. I think I used the tune on a few mixtapes I made for friends in the last years of the 1990s.

With the advent of CDs and then mp3s into my musical life, I soon learned that there are several – I really have no idea how many – versions of “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Many of them are resettings of Cline’s vocal into new arrangements that probably date from the years after her death in a 1963 plane crash. When I set out to create the Ultimate Jukebox, I knew that I wanted “Walkin’ After Midnight” in it. I wasn’t certain which version I wanted, but after a moment’s thought, I decided to use the original, the tune that was a huge country hit  in1957 and went to No. 12 on one of the four main pop charts of the the time (reaching Nos. 17, 21 and 22 on the other three).

But which was the original? After doing some digging, I learned that the version I first heard in the 1997 commercial – with the vocal “bompa-bompa” backing – was a re-recording that Cline did for her 1961 album Patsy Cline Showcase. I checked the other Patsy Cline anthology I have on vinyl and found an ill-advised revision in which the 1961 vocal is backed with an arrangement that pulls out the vocal parts and adds some horns. Then, deep in the files of stuff I had yet to listen to, I found what I think is an mp3 of the original 1957 recording, a record with a classic country feel to it.

So do I hold to my original thought and use the 1957 version? Or do I go with the first version I heard?  I like the 1961 version – the one used in the commercial – a great deal. But I also enjoy the original with its twang. And it was the original that spent eleven weeks in the pop chart, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. So it’s the 1957 version of “Walkin’ After Midnight” that starts this fourth selection of tunes from the Ultimate Jukebox.

(A note: I’ve seen the song’s title presented as both “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Walking After Midnight.” The two LPs I dug out of my stacks use the latter, but I’ve gone with the title as listed by Joel Whitburn in the Billboard book.)

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 4
“Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline from Patsy Cline [1957]
“You’re All I Need To Get By” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Tamla 54169 [1968]
“Temptation Eyes” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4263 [1970]
“Night Moves” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4369 [1976]
“Kiss This Thing Goodbye” by Del Amitri, A&M 1485 [1990]
“Mysterious Ways” by U2, Island 866188 [1991]

“You’re All I Need To Get By” was the fifth of seven Top 40 hits for the pairing of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell before her death at age twenty-four in 1970. It wasn’t their biggest hit in the pop chart – “Your Precious Love” went to No. 5 – but “You’re All I Need To Get By,” still went to No. 7 and spent five weeks on top of the R&B chart. And to my ears, it’s the most enduring of their chart hits. I’m not sure why, but there really doesn’t have to be a reason. I just know that the two singers’ version of the song written Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson never gets old for me.  (Ignore, if you can, the silliness of the Mulder/Scully video; just listen to the tune.) Key line: “I know you can make a man out of a soul that didn’t have a goal.”

As has been noted here before, the Grass Roots were actually several different groups of musicians over the years, but whoever they were, for a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they provided a steady offering of tasty radio fare, with fourteen Top 40 hits between 1966 and 1972.  Why “Temptation Eyes” instead of “Midnight Confessions” or maybe “Sooner or Later”? Because the first time I heard it coming out of the radio back in early 1971, the intro to “Temptation Eyes” grabbed my collar and didn’t let go until the record was over. Did it speak to circumstances in my life? Not really. But I still liked the record enough that I enjoyed hearing it whenever it came onto the radio as it headed toward No. 15. Key lines: “But she lets me down every time. Can’t make her mine. She’s no one’s lover.”

Bob Seger was looking back to 1962 when he sang about high school lust in 1976. The distance between us and the record is now more than twice the distance Seger was looking at then. But the song still resonates here and in lots of places, mostly because the tendency to look back, if only for an instant, is one that’s almost universal. Those of us fascinated with memory and memoir – and I obviously am one – no doubt let our rearward gazes linger on those long-ago teenage games longer than do others. And those backward glances might be tinted by tenderness, regret, satisfaction, bewilderment or simply affection. Does any of that help us make any more sense out of it all? I dunno. Making sense out of memory isn’t the point, I don’t think. Stuff happened, and then more stuff happened, and some will always remain, in Seger’s words, “mysteries without any clues.” The single went to No. 4 in 1976, the first of seven Top Ten hits for Seger. Key lines: “Ain’t it funny how the night moves when you just don’t seem to have as much to lose. Strange how the night moves . . . with autumn closing in.”

There’s a disconnect between the jaunty music and the resigned lyric of Del Amitri’s “Kiss This Thing Goodbye.” But then I guess that knowing when to quit is a good thing, if matters have gotten as bad as the song’s lyrics indicate, and if one knows when to quit, one might as well be upbeat about it. Back in the days when I was learning the relationship dance, I never knew when to quit. Hearing this record – which went to No. 35 in 1990, the first of three Top 40 hits for the Scottish band – might have helped. But probably not. Key lines: “Now I’m watching the fumes foul up the sunrise. I’m watching the light fade away.”

There are times when I truly enjoy U2, and there are times when I find myself wearied by the group’s efforts. I liked The Joshua Tree for a while, and as frustrating as the group’s experimental phase of the early 1990s sometimes was, at least the band’s output in those years was distinctive and didn’t all blend together, as the more recent releases do for me. And if the lyrics to “Mysterious Ways” are self-consciously cryptic, at least they’re not as pretentious as a lot of the band’s songs have been over the years. The record went to No. 9 after entering the Top 40 midway through December 1991. Key line: “You’ve been running away from what you don’t understand.”

– whiteray