I was pondering this morning the transition during the 1960s of the place of record albums: If you look at the weekly Top Ten in the Billboard 200 from 1963 to, oh, 1969, you’ll see the top-selling albums went from being mostly the province of folk, easy listening and soundtracks to the land of pop, rock, R&B and soul.
That in itself is pretty old news, and I was trying to cobble together something interesting by comparing the top ten album charts from mid-August of 1963, 1966 and 1969. But as I examined the top ten albums from this week in 1963, I got sidetracked.
The top album that week was Little Stevie Wonder/The 12 Year Old Genius but as I had expected, most of the albums listed – seven of the ten – were soundtracks, comedy, folk or easy listening. One of the other exceptions was the immortal Live At The Apollo by James Brown.
The third outlier was Shut Down, a collection released by Capitol of tunes mostly about cars and motorcycles by various artists. That album offered two tracks by the Beach Boys, a bunch of tracks by groups with short shelf lives (the best of those might be the “Brontosaurus Stomp” by the Piltdown Men) and one track from actor Robert Mitchum. And it was that last track that grabbed my attention. Here’s “The Ballad of Thunder Road” by Robert Mitchum:
The scenes used in the video are from the 1958 film Thunder Road, which Mitchum co-wrote and produced (and perhaps partly directed, according to Wikipedia). Mitchum also co-wrote – with Don Raye – the song. But Mitchum’s version was not used in the movie. Instead, a folky version of the tune was recorded for the movie by Randy Sparks, who a few years later would be the founder of the New Christy Minstrels. Here’s Sparks’ version of the tune, which was titled “The Whippoorwill.”
As “The Ballad of Thunder Road,” Mitchum’s version of the theme was released as a single in 1958 and went to No. 62 in the Billboard Hot 100. Capitol tried again in early 1962, and the single topped out at No. 65. And then it showed up in 1963 on Shut Down, which was at its peak at No. 7 in that Billboard album chart from this week in 1963. (Mitchum would hit the Hot 100 one more time: “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me” went to No. 96 during the summer of 1967.)
As to the 1958 movie, I’ve read in various places that it’s a cult classic, and beyond Mitchum’s single, it does have a place in music history: During a 1978 concert, Bruce Springsteen said that the poster for the film was the source of the title for his song “Thunder Road” although Springsteen evidently never saw the movie.
My library bag was getting full. I’d already picked up the items I had on hold – five CDs, four by the Native American artists who record as Brulé and a posthumous release of music by Pops Staples – and had added three or four novels.
Then, in the new non-fiction section, I saw Coventry: November 14, 1940 by Frederick Taylor, an account of the German air attack against Coventry during World War II. I’ve read and enjoyed Taylor’s accounts of the Allied attack against the German city of Dresden in 1945 and of the history of the Berlin Wall, so I tucked Coventry into my bag and moved on.
And then I saw The Man With The Golden Typewriter, subtitled Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters. I pulled the book from the shelf, replaced a couple of the novels on the new fiction shelf and headed home to begin reading Ian Fleming’s letters. Fans of James Bond – and I am one, as I’ve noted here several times – will have caught the title’s reference immediately: Fleming’s final Bond novel was the 1965 title, The Man With The Golden Gun. And I learned very early in the book – edited by Fergus Fleming, the late author’s nephew – that Ian Fleming did indeed have a golden (actually gold-plated) typewriter, purchased in 1952, when his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, had been accepted for publication by the Jonathan Cape firm.
That was almost too good an alignment of life and art, and I dove into the nearly four-hundred page book, rarely coming up for air in these past few days. (I in fact got so involved in Fleming’s letters that I found myself not reading the Thursday and Friday editions of the Minneapolis Star Tribune until late Friday evening.)
The book is arranged in chapters corresponding to the thirteen Bond novels Fleming published between 1953 and 1965, so any letters from the author about, say, Casino Royale are collected in the first chapter even though the letter might have been written in 1957. There are some side trips, as well. Chapter Four is titled “Notes From America,” and includes letters Fleming wrote to and from American friends as well as missives written during several trips stateside, during which he did research for the novels Live And Let Die (1954), Diamonds Are Forever (1956) and Goldfinger (1959).
I get the sense that America in the 1950s both appalled and fascinated Fleming, who moved in generally rarified circles in England – not quite the top shelf of that very stratified society, but not too far below that level either. Our loud and busy cities, especially New York and Las Vegas, seem to have both attracted and repelled him at the same time. A portion of Live And Let Die takes place in the Florida city of St. Petersburg, which Bond and his American companion, Felix Leiter, find an unpleasant place. That was how Fleming found it, as well; comments in Fleming’s letters and in his nephew’s commentary make clear his great disdain for the city. The younger Fleming notes that the author “wrote on the flyleaf of his personal copy, with an ill-disguised shudder, ‘St. Petersburg is just like I say it is’.”
Another “side trip” chapter in the book is Chapter Seven, titled “Conversations with the Armourer,” which details a lengthy correspondence between Fleming and Geoffrey Boothroyd, a firearms expert from Glasgow, Scotland. Boothroyd noted in a letter that Bond’s choice of guns was poor. The .25 Beretta pistol was not powerful enough and, given its design, could become caught on Bond’s waistband or shoulder holster. Boothroyd suggested several alternative weapons for 007 to use.
Boothroyd’s letters to Fleming – some of which are also included in the book – began in early 1956, when Fleming was working on revisions to From Russia With Love. At the end of the book, which came out in 1957 (and any Bond fans who are reading this are smiling or at least nodding their heads, for they know where this is going), Bond’s Beretta pistol does get snagged on his waistband, and he nearly dies from the effects of Rosa Klebb’s poisoned shoe stiletto.
And in the opening portions of the next book, 1958’s Doctor No, Bond is lectured on proper armament by M, the head of the Secret Service, and one Major Boothroyd, the Secret Service’s armourer. Even though it’s been at least thirty years since I re-read Doctor No (and I first read it after Christmas 1964, when it showed up in my stocking), as soon as I saw the name “Boothroyd,” I remembered the scene. I especially remembered Bond reaching to take his Beretta with him at the end of the meeting, and I recalled M’s curt “Leave it.”
I’m about halfway through the book, and there have been a few other little treats like that, moments when I recognize a name, place or event in Fleming’s letters that then showed up in Bond’s adventures It’s been a treat so far, and I have no doubt that the remaining half of the volume will be, as well.
I do know, though, that as the 1960s dawned and Fleming found himself and his creation becoming world-famous, the author became a bit weary of telling the tales; his letters even before 1960 occasionally worry about how fresh the novels could remain, given the fact that the tales were in many ways the same story: grand villain in an interesting location with the addition of at least one beautiful woman who falls for the hero. (Bond fans will recall that there is at least one exception to that last; Gala Brand of Moonraker remains loyal to her fiancé even after she and Bond save England from a nuclear missile.)
It will be interesting to see if Fleming’s later letters reflect his weariness with his creation. I imagine they will. I know Fleming tried to kill Bond in the 1964 novel, You Only Live Twice, even offering Bond’s obituary as one of the final chapters (perhaps the final chapter; it’s been years since I read the book). As was the case with another British literary favorite, Sherlock Holmes, the reaction by Bond fans around the world resulted in Fleming finding a means to resurrect his creation for the 1965 book The Man With The Golden Gun.
That was Fleming’s last novel. He’d survived a 1961 heart attack, but a second one in 1964 was fatal. I remember reading at the time – perhaps in Time magazine, which we got at home – that Fleming’s final words were “It’s all been a tremendous lark.” I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, and I’m not sure that I’ll find out in the second half of The Man With The Golden Typewriter.
As I’m only up to 1960, I’ve yet to read anything from Fleming on how he viewed the Bond films – only Doctor No and From Russia With Love has been released by the time of his death. Both of those hewed fairly close to the source novels, unlike some of the later films, so I think he might have been pleased. I’ll find out.
Anyway, it is a Saturday, and here, from John Barry’s soundtrack to 1963’s From Russia With Love, is a bit called “James Bond With Bongos,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
I’m not sure what happened with the iPod the other week. Maybe I disconnected it from the computer and iTunes before it was ready to leave. Maybe I did something else. Maybe it was just being cantankerous. But when I turned it on one day and set it to random shuffle, it began rolling through the songs, showing the info for one after another for about three seconds each and never stopping to play them.
Nothing I tried would change its behavior. So I reformatted the little thing and was left with an empty iPod. And because I’d been foolish when I’d first selected tracks from my external hard drive to load into iTunes (and thus become the iPod’s library), I had to reselect my iTunes library. That mean going through each of the main music folders on my external hard drive, scanning the subfolders for the names of artists whose music I might want to include in my new iPod library, and then dipping into those subfolders to copy mp3s to iTunes.
It’s a long process, essentially combing through about 85,000 tracks to see which 3,500 or so I want on the iPod. I’m into the “S” folder (having just selected a couple of tracks by the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band). Along with completing the “S” folder and folders for the rest of the alphabet from there, I’ll also have to dig into the massive “Various Artists” folder, which is where I’ll find the mp3s from the bulk of the many compilations in my collection. Those will require closer combing than has been needed so far.
Anyway, I currently have in the iPod a total of 2,521 tracks. They range numerically from three versions of John Barry’s “007” theme (one each from the films Goldfinger and Thunderball and a cover by French easy listening master Franck Pourcel) to Albert Hammond’s “99 Miles From L.A.” and alphabetically from Doc Severinsen’s “Abbey Road Medley” to the Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.”
In terms of running time, the music tracks start at the fifty-six seconds of “North Platte,” a piano meditation from One To The Heart, One To The Head, a moody 2009 Western album by Gretchen Peters & Tom Russell, and end at the 18:17 running time of Side Two (in its original vinyl configuration) of Shawn Phillips’ 1970 album, Second Contribution.
(If one starts at the very shortest pieces, however, the first up is “He shoots, he scores!” by Al Shaver, who called games for the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League from the team’s birth in 1967 to its final game before the team moved to Dallas in 1993. Shaver’s exclamation is the shortest of twenty-four brief interjections, most of them taken from movies. The longest is the fourteen-second rant by Ned Beatty’s Arthur Jensen to Peter Finch’s Howard Beale in the 1976 film Network: “And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature! And you will atone!”)
As one might expect, there are many tracks from Al Hirt, The Band, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Richie Havens, Darden Smith, Danko/Fjeld/Andersen, and others who are favorites in this neighborhood. There are also the one-offs, like Candi Staton’s “Young Hearts Run Free” (although I’ll likely add more Candi as I back-fill after my first run-through) and the Stories’ “Brother Louie.” New stuff? Some. Old stuff? Lots of it.
And here’s a tune that’s neither as old as most of the stuff on the iPod nor as new as the most recent stuff. It was one of the one-offs that was an easy choice because I’ve liked it since I heard it used in the 1991 film Thelma & Louise. It’s Glenn Frey’s “Part Of Me, Part Of You,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
Being not nearly as iconic as Monday, Wednesday gets short shrift – and I wonder, not for the first time, what in the hell shrift is – when it comes to being the subject of songs. Out of 82,000-some tracks in the RealPlayer, only five have “Wednesday” in their titles:
“A Wednesday In Your Garden” by the Guess Who, 1969.
“Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” by Simon & Garfunkel, 1964.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday” by Wild Silk, 1968.
“Wednesday’s Child (Main Theme)” by John Barry, 1966.
“Wednesday’s Child (Vocal)” by John Barry/Matt Monro, 1966.
Those last two entries come from the soundtrack to The Quiller Memorandum, a 1966 spy flick set in Berlin that had a pretty good cast (George Segal, Alec Guinness and Max von Sydow among others). I’ve never seen the film, but the soundtrack came to my attention, of course, because it was written by John Barry.
It’s a moody and atmospheric soundtrack, which one might expect, and even without a zither (as far as I can tell), it reminds me vaguely of Anton Karas’ work for the 1949 thriller The Third Man. I think that comes from the presence of a lot of plucked strings, which distinguishes the Quiller soundtrack from the three scores Barry had written for James Bond films by 1966 (From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball). One odd bit that must have been scored as source music in the film – from a radio or in a club, I suppose – is a saxophone arrangement of Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” and there’s a suitably Teutonic track titled “Autobahn March,” but the bulk of the score is quiet, sometimes melancholy, sometimes foreboding and occasionally sweet.
I’m not sure how well Mack David’s lyrics for “Wednesday’s Child” reflect the film, but like much of the score itself, they’re suitably sad:
Wednesday’s child is a child of woe. Wednesday’s child cries alone, I know. When you smiled, just for me you smiled. For a while I forgot I was Wednesday’s child.
Friday’s child wins at love, they say. In your arms, Friday was my day. Now you’re gone. Well, I should have known. I am Wednesday’s child, born to be alone.
Now you’re gone. Well, I should have known. I am Wednesday’s child, born to be alone.
Wednesday’s child, born to be alone.
Monro, who did vocals for several Barry themes – “From Russia With Love” and “Born Free” among them – does a decent job with the tune, which makes it a fine selection for a Wednesday:
It’s been a busy week around here already: There was an event at church that took a good chunk of Monday, and yesterday, I took my mom to an eye appointment and out on some errands. And nobody really wants to go outside much at all these days, as the Polar Vortex spins out of control and pushes the temperature and the wind chill lower and lower. (The temperature as I write is -7 with a wind chill of -23.)
So I’m tending today to things that should have been done two days ago. But I did take a look back this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from February 26, 1975, thirty-nine years ago today. The top slots were filled, as can be expected, with familiar records from familiar names; Average White Band, Eagles, Grand Funk, Doobie Brothers, Olivia Newton-John and so on.
But there were several unfamiliar titles as I made my way down the chart, and many of them could have reasonably been highlighted here. I kept going, though, all the way to the bottom of the chart, to No. 110 in the Bubbling Under section. And there I found “Swing Your Daddy” by Jim Gilstrap.
Gilstrap, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, is an R&B singer from Texas who did some backing vocals along the way for Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones. “Swing Your Daddy” is kind of odd, with a churchy organ intro and a faux-Fifties background chorus behind Gilstrap’s smooth vocal. Ah, well, it was 1975, and we listened to some odd things. The record went to No. 55, the best performance of three records that Gilstrap got into the Hot 100 (all in 1975), and it went to No. 10 on the R&B chart.
As it happens, I had a track by Gilstrap on my mp3 shelves without even knowing it: I learned from Gilstrap’s entry at Wikipedia that he provided the vocals for “I’ve Got You Where I Want You,” about thirty seconds of which was used in the soundtrack to the 1975 spy flick Three Days Of The Condor. I remember seeing the film in Alexandria, a small town about seventy miles northwest of St. Cloud, and I’ve had the soundtrack for a while, but Gilstrap’s track – offered in full in the soundtrack recording – was unfamiliar to me this morning. It’s nothing deep, but I like it.
Today is one of those days. All I can do is supply a pretty good preview of what we’ll run into when we sort out “Black,” the eight portion of Floyd’s Prism. I’m hoping we’ll get to the full post tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s Mark Lanegan with his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Man in the Long Black Coat” from the soundtrack of the 2007 film, I’m Not There.
Despite being aware every day that I can always learn something, on occasion the things I learn make me sit back in my chair and murmur, “Whoa! I had no clue!”
Looking for inspiration – or at least a good hook – this morning, I sorted the 68,000 mp3s for the word “June.” I thought I might chronicle recordings made in June over the years, and if I were very fortunate, there would be something very good recorded on a June 8 in the past. (I have recording dates for maybe ten percent of the mp3s in the digital stacks; that still gives me enough to play with, at least when looking for months if not specific dates.)
So I sorted the “June” results chronologically and began going down the years, familiarizing myself with the 400 or so listings. How about “Little Old Cabin in the Lane” by Fiddlin’ John Carson, recorded in Atlanta on either June 13 or 14 in 1923? Or any one of four sides by Ma Rainey recorded in Chicago during June 1928? I moved on.
Charlie Patton had a busy day in Richmond, Indiana, on June 14, 1929; I have eleven tracks he recorded that day. Eight Junes later, in 1937, Robert Johnson had a busy two days in Dallas, recording twenty tracks (some of which were alternate takes), including “Hell Hound on My Trail,” “Love in Vain” and “Stop Breakin’ Down.”
I wandered through the 1940s and the 1950s, noting recordings by Blind Boy Fuller, Memphis Minnie, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Hank Williams, Muddy Waters and Eddie Bo. And as I reached the midpoint of the 1960s, I scrolled past “Slow Down” and “Matchbox” from the Beatles’ 1964 Long Tall Sally EP. And I stopped, seeing a track I’d not noticed before.
In 1978, Bear Family Records released Johnny & June, a collection of tracks recorded mostly in 1964 and 1965 by Johnny Cash, some of them with his wife, June Carter Cash. A rip of the album came my way some time ago, and I didn’t dig into it very much as all. I dropped it in the files and let the tracks come up when they might. I did dip into it when I looked at covers of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings,” but beyond that, I let it sit.
But because I sorted for the word “June,” the entire album showed up in today’s sort, and I saw a title that startled me: “Thunderball,” recorded May 12, 1965. My 007 detector started to ping. And through a little bit of digging, I learned that Cash either offered or was invited to – it’s not entirely clear which from a little bit of research this morning – provide a title tune for the fourth James Bond film, Thunderball, which came out in 1965. In any case, Cash’s version – which describes the story – wasn’t used. The “Thunderball” theme that was used – sung by Tom Jones – had lyrics from Don Black that equated “Thunderball” with the film’s villain. John Barry wrote the music.
I imagine that had I heard Johnny Cash’s tune as I watched the film’s opening sequence in 1965, it would have long been the norm when I thought about the film and its soundtrack, and the Barry/Black composition would have been an interesting curiosity when it showed up on the expanded soundtrack CD. But having seen the film at least a few times and having heard the Barry/Black/Jones version many times more than that, it’s the Johnny Cash version that seems a bit out of place. Nevertheless, it’s interesting, and thanks to YouTube user BYWPodcast, who paired it with the opening sequence from Thunderball, Johnny Cash’s take on “Thunderball” is today’s Saturday Single.
“The Shadow of Your Smile” is one of those songs that to me sounds like life in the mid-1960s. I have no idea what version I heard back then, but I’ve known the song since it was released on the soundtrack to the 1965 movie, The Sandpiper. (And my knowledge of the song certainly came through hearing various versions on the radio, as there was no way at the age of eleven or twelve that I would have ever been allowed to see a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.)
It’s a great song, a judgment supported by several things. The first is that the song earned composer Johnny Mandel and lyricist Paul Francis Webster both the Academy Award for Best Song and the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. Another indicator is that as soon as the song came out, covers began to proliferate and have continued to do so in the forty-eight years since, with the most recent listed cover at Second Hand Songs coming last year from Glen Frey.
Here’s what the song sounded like on the movie soundtrack:
Among the first covers of the song released was a decent performance by Barbra Streisand, off her My Name Is Barbra, Two . . . album, released in 1965. Other early covers that I’ve heard came from Peggy Lee and Astrud Gilberto, neither of which grabbed me much. Among my favorite artists, King Curtis covered the song for his album That Lovin’ Feeling in 1966, and a single by Lou Rawls went to No. 33 on the R&B chart in mid-1966. (I haven’t heard either version; the King Curtis album is supposed to be here somewhere, but I can’t put my hands on it this morning, and the single version by Lou Rawls seems to have been supplanted anywhere I look by a live version from 1966.)
Two versions of the song, those by Tony Bennett and Boots Randolph, made the Billboard pop and AC charts. Bennett’s cover of the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1965 and went to No. 95 there while reaching No. 8 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Bennett’s version – which was released on his 1966 LP The Movie Song Album – is notable in that it’s one of the few I’ve heard that begins with the song’s verse, which serves as a prologue. Most versions of the song jump right into the portion that begins with the song’s title.
Randolph’s version of “The Shadow of Your Smile” hit the charts a year later, entering the Hot 100 in December 1966 and reaching No. 93 while going to No. 28 on the AC chart. The cover was also released in 1967 on Randolph’s Boots with Strings album.
Others who covered the song in the first couple years after it came out were Nancy Sinatra, Nancy Wilson, Maynard Ferguson, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Billy Vaughn, Jack Jones, David McCallum (better known for his role as Ilya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Ahmad Jamal, Johnny Mathis, Johnny Rivers, Ferrante & Teicher, Barbara Lewis, Mary Wells, Trini Lopez and Shirley Bassey. I don’t know all of those, but one of the interesting versions of those I do know is McCallum’s cover, which showed up on his 1966 album, Music – A Bit More of Me. As a classically trained musician, notes Wikipedia, McCallum “conceived a blend of oboe, English horn, and strings with guitar and drums” for arranger H.B. Barnum.
Here’s McCallum’s version of “The Shadow of Your Smile,” which to me seems to have some John Barry-ish/James Bond-ian flourishes at the start. Whether those came from McCallum or from Barnum, they’re entirely appropriate for one of the men from U.N.C.L.E.
And we’ll stop there for today. I’m likely to pick up Thursday with more covers, unless something else grabs my attention.
It’s not very important, not after forty-seven years, but I’m still puzzled. For about five weeks in January and February of 1966, my dad and I went out and did stuff on Saturday evenings.
Oh, I didn’t mind at all. I liked spending time with Dad. I was twelve, and a Saturday evening with Dad was a pretty good weekend treat. And we did some fun stuff.
At least once during that stretch we spent the evening at St. Cloud State, watching the men’s basketball team – the college’s only basketball team in 1966 – take on another team from the Northern Intercollegiate Conference. The Huskies had one of the better small college teams at the time, routinely contending for the NIC championship and a spot in the national tournament of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), kind of a small college version of the better known NCAA.
We sat on the side, where our family always sat, but this time it was just Dad and me, three rows up from the Huskies’ bench, close enough to the press tables that I could listen in as a sportscaster named Peter Jay called the game for KFAM, one of the two radio stations in town. Being fascinated with radio and sportscasting, I likely greeted Mr. Jay before the game, as I often did when our whole family went to games. As always, he would have taken time to talk briefly to me, time that most surely could have been spent studying statistics, memorizing numbers or checking his connection to the radio station.
Then the game started, and I cheered for the Huskies, taking a break to get some popcorn from the concession stand at halftime. I don’t recall who St. Cloud State played that night; they likely won, as they did most nights. And it’s entirely possible that Dad and I went to two games during that five-week winter stretch, with me listening to the pep band play the “SCS Rouser” and taking my cues from the cheerleaders in their red and black uniforms. (The cheerleaders and the players – and their college-age fans, for that matter – seemed so much older than I was. It’s a shock this morning to realize that they were only ten or so years my senior. That gap now is minuscule; as I sail through my late fifties, they would now be pretty much my contemporaries.)
What else did we do on those Saturday evenings during that five-week slice of January and February in 1966? We went to at least two movies, maybe three. I think that’s why those Saturday nights linger in my mind. Just the two of us going to a basketball game at Halenbeck didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary. That happened occasionally. But movies were a family thing (unless my sister and I went with friends). So a movie with Dad but without my mom and my sister was different.
What did we see? I recall The Sands of the Kalahari, about the survivors of a plane crash in that African desert trying to put together an escape craft from the wreckage of the plane that brought them there. I think we might have seen The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, a 1965 film based on the John le Carré novel and starring Richard Burton. And I know we saw The IPCRESS File, another spy flick from 1965, this one based on a novel by Len Deighton and starring Michael Caine. Why am I sure we saw that one? Because the music was by John Barry, whose name I knew from the James Bond films. I never got the soundtrack to The IPCRESS File, but I remember liking the music a lot.
Whatever we did on each of those Saturday nights, we found ourselves heading back to our car about nine o’clock. That was a late night out for a twelve-year-old kid in 1966. But our evenings weren’t over yet. On each of those four or five Saturday nights, after we got back to the East Side, Dad pulled the car over in the parking lot of the Ace Bar & Cafe.
We had dinner occasionally at the Ace, and I loved it when we did, as the Ace was one of the few places I ever knew that served liver pate as a part of its relish tray, and I loved liver pate on rye crackers. (I still do, though it’s more rare these days. So are relish trays, for that matter.)
But in the winter of 1966, Dad and I were walking into the Ace sometime after nine in the evening, and the character of the place was different. The dining room was nearly empty. Actually, I imagine that on a couple of those Saturday nights, Dad and I were the only customers in the dining room. The Saturday night action was in the adjacent bar, and the sound of weekend revelry came down the hall and around the corner
I’d been in the bar portion of the building only once, and that was by accident when I took a wrong turn from the restroom. Feeling very small, I’d ducked past big and loud people as I retreated to the familiar dining room. So during the winter of 1966, sitting at a table with my dad in the nearly empty dining room and hearing the sound of the drinkers in the bar made me feel a little vulnerable, a little lonely, a little bit how I often feel these days when I see the works of Edward Hopper. (Check out Nighthawks.)
However I felt, we’d order hamburgers, and Dad would have a Hamm’s beer. During our first stop at the Ace in that stretch of Saturday nights, I noticed something – a sign, an ad on the table, I don’t know what – that reminded me of a soft drink I’d recently heard of and never tried. So I ordered a Mountain Dew, and for the rest of that four or five week stretch, that was our order at the Ace: two burgers, one with raw onions, a Hamm’s beer and a Mountain Dew.
And after those four or five weeks, it stopped. Saturday nights went back to being nights spent mostly at home. Oh, we’d go see the Huskies play, but it was all four or us, not just Dad and me. And if I saw a movie, it was with the whole family or else with Rick or some kids from school.
I don’t know what was happening during that time. Did Mom and Dad decide for some reason that I needed more Dad-time? Maybe Mom needed time for herself, or with my sister, who was fifteen. Maybe Mom and Dad had their own issues – every couple has them from time to time, I know now – and my Saturday evenings with Dad were the result. I remember being puzzled, and I know that whatever I thought at the time, I came to no conclusions.
So there the minor mystery lies, forty-seven years later. I never asked Dad about it, and I have no idea what he’d have said. He was a pretty private man, my dad was, and I know very little about what he thought or felt about his life, or if he even spent time pondering how that life had unreeled for him. But I still think of him every time the RealPlayer falls on a couple of records by Frank Sinatra. I wrote a little about “Summer Wind” once, and that still brings Dad to mind.
But so, too, does one of Sinatra’s greatest performances, “It Was A Very Good Year.” If anyone was, Frank Sinatra was the voice of my father’s generation, and Dad might have found himself nodding to Sinatra’s interpretation of Ervin Drake’s song and its reflective nostalgia. So as I think about my Saturday nights with Dad during early 1966 and wonder why they happened, I find it fitting that “It Was A Very Good Year” was the No. 1 song on the Billboard Easy Listening chart forty-seven years ago this week.
The public fascination with vampires over the past few years has baffled me. From Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books and the films that have resulted from them through the HBO series True Blood to the recent film Dark Shadows, the vampire fetish that’s taken hold in American pop culture mystifies me. And I’ve purposely missed most of it. I watched the first episode a few years ago of True Blood and found it less than compelling, and that’s all the vampiring I’ve done.
I suppose there’s an explanation somewhere for the fascination, probably something about how pop culture reflects the times, frightening and uncertain as they are, and about the need to escape. And it’s certainly less stressful to watch horrible, scary (and occasionally romantic) films and movies (or to read the corresponding books) than it is to reflect on the very real tales of homelessness, hunger, murder, drought and flames (and all the rest) that wait for us when the entertainment is over. When we watch and read, we know it’s all fictional and temporary, unlike the worries outside our doors, and we know that we can get up and leave or turn off the TV or close the book, and thus get rid of our fears.
The same thoughts probably hold true for the recent parallel fascination with zombies. And those thoughts have held true for many years in American pop culture (as well as other pop cultures, too, as evidenced by Godzilla rising from the ashes of nuclear holocaust in Japan in the 1950s). When we worry and are frightened, our worries and fears find their ways into our books, onto the big and small screens and – to an extent – into our music.
This year’s movie isn’t, of course, the first time that the vampires of Dark Shadows have been offered to the public. The original Dark Shadows was a TV soap opera on ABC from 1966 into 1971. A year after the show went on the air, it was ripe for cancellation. Then the writers introduced the character of Barnabas Collins (played by the recently deceased Jonathan Frid), whom Wikipedia describes as a “200-year-old vampire in search of fresh blood and his lost love, Josette.”
Viewers went nuts, and the show prospered. Wikipedia says: “Dark Shadows was distinguished by its vividly melodramatic performances, atmospheric interiors, memorable storylines, numerous dramatic plot twists, unusually adventurous music score, and broad and epic cosmos of characters and heroic adventures. Now regarded as something of a classic, it continues to enjoy an intense cult following.”
And, as pop culture phenomena often do, Dark Shadows crossed over media lines. In mid-June 1969, a single titled “Quentin’s Theme” – credited to the Charles Randolph Grean Sounde – entered the Billboard Hot 100. “Quentin’s Theme” was named for Barnabas Collins’ brother (played by David Selby), and the music had been used in numerous episodes of the series, according to a Dark Shadowswiki. In August, the record peaked at No. 13 (No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart).
Back in June, however, shortly after the “Quentin’s Theme” single entered the chart, an episode of Dark Shadows had once again featured the same tune, this time accompanied by Selby’s recitation of the lyrics. Shortly thereafter, a single including Selby’s recitation was released. Titled “Shadows of the Night (Quentin’s Theme)” and credited to the Robert Cobert Orchestra, it entered the Billboard Hot 100’s Bubbling Under section at No. 135 on August 16, 1969, forty-three years ago today.
A week later, the record moved up to No. 125 and then it fell out of the chart, so despite the popularity of Dark Shadows, not a lot of folks were impressed. But the record did impress someone who worked at KRCB radio in Council Bluffs, Iowa. In the station’s Big 15+6 survey from August 16, 1969, the record “Shadows of the Night (Quentin’s Theme)” was one of the six singles listed (without ranking) under the Big 15.
For that, KRCB stands alone: Of the more than one hundred surveys from August 1969 available at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, that one edition of KRCB’s Big 15+6 is the only survey to list “Shadows of the Night (Quentin’s Theme).”
Despite the single’s lack of success, however, things weren’t entirely dire on the Dark Shadows musical front: On August 23, 1969, an LP of Cobert’s music from the series entered the Billboard album chart and peaked at No. 18 in an eight-week run. And as the year neared its end, Cobert was nominated for a Grammy for his work on “Shadows of the Night (Quentin’s Theme).”