Archive for the ‘1980’ Category

Saturday Single No. 683

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

Once a year during three of the four school years I worked for the Eden Prairie News, I taught an informal class in songwriting. And it was, sort of, Bill Withers’ fault.

Well, it was my fault. But it all came about because of Withers, who died this week at the age of 81, leaving behind a catalog of nine albums of R&B that crossed a lot of boundaries (and found a wide audience). Sadly, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Withers’ music when he was active. (His first album, Just As I Am, came out in 1971, and his last, Watching You Watching Me, was released in 1985.)

I knew and liked the major tunes, of course: “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Use Me,” “Just The Two Of Us,” and “Lean On Me” chief among them. And it was that last song that sparked my awkward and very limited turns as a teacher of songwriting.

It was early on a Monday, if I recall things rightly, and I was at Eden Prairie High School to shoot some photos of the concert choir as it prepared for a performance sometime in the next few weeks. The members of the choir were milling around the room and gabbing, and I stood waiting off to the side, camera slung around my neck, not far from the piano.

Then one of the young men in the choir said to another, “Hey, listen to this song I heard!” And he sat at the piano and sang the first verse to “Lean On Me.” But instead of underscoring every note of the melody with a chord, he played chords under only the first and last words of phrases.

His buddy nodded and said something nice about the song. And I couldn’t help myself. I went to the piano and told the first young man it was a good song, but he really needed to play all the intermediate chords for the song to sound right. He was puzzled, so I sat at the piano and played the song pretty much like Withers does, a chord for almost every note.

As I played, other students gathered around the piano, and when the choir director – a woman named Julie Kanthak – came in, one of the students said, “Hey, check this out!” She came to the piano as I played a bit more of the song. I’d been reporting for the paper for a year-and-a-half by that time, and I guess I’d never mentioned that I was a musician, and she looked surprised.

And when she learned that I also wrote songs, she asked me to come back on another day – when the choir was not deep into preparation for a concert – and talk to the students (many of whom I knew from having covered them in other school activities) about songwriting.

I did so a few weeks later, having given at least some thought to my process. I talked about the challenges of starting with lyrics, which I generally do, and the very different challenges of starting with the music, which I have done only rarely. And as I talked about that, I was surprised to realize something that I then shared with the students: Even though I’ve only written three or four songs by starting with the music, those three or four are among my best.

And I performed one or two of those songs, and a few of my others, talking between songs – sometimes between verses – about the process of putting each of those songs together.

I was in Eden Prairie for two more school years after that, and during each of those, I spent an hour with the concert choir, talking about songwriting and, I expect, learning more each time than did the students I was supposedly teaching.

And here, I imagine, I’m supposed to share Withers’ “Lean On Me.” But despite its small role in my very limited time as a teacher of songwriting – a memory I do cherish – it was never my favorite piece from Withers. I much prefer the album version of “Just The Two Of Us,” his collaboration with saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. It’s found on Washington’s 1980 album Winelight, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 678

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020

Here’s a piece I ran in this space ten years ago today. It’s been edited slightly.

One of the classic small-town fund-raisers is the fish fry. During the years I lived in Monticello, the Other Half and I would occasionally make our way to the American Legion club at the west edge of town and join our friends and neighbors at long tables. The menu was always deep-fried fish – probably haddock, maybe cod – with french fries and cole slaw.

We’d nibble on our dinners, sip coffee and chat with whoever ended up sitting nearby. Occasionally, I’d field questions or complaints about something the newspaper had published that week. Otherwise, we’d maybe talk about the city’s plans to redevelop downtown, the upcoming school board election or the prospects for the high school’s teams – still called, amazingly enough, the Redmen – in the coming winter tournaments.

But as we sat at the tables for the Rotary Club’s annual fish fry forty years ago this evening, we talked about none of that. All anybody wanted to talk about was a bunch of college kids, kids with names like Broten, Johnson and Eruzione; Callahan, Craig and Pavelich; Morrow, Verchota and Suter and eleven more. And we talked about Herb Brooks, the hockey coach who’d molded those twenty American college kids into a hockey team that had defeated the legendary team from the Soviet Union 4 to 3 in an Olympic medal-round game late that afternoon.

I’ve never asked anyone, but I’ve always wondered how sparse the crowd was for the first hour or so of the fish fry that evening. The hockey game began at four o’clock Central Time – officials for the ABC network, which was broadcasting the Olympics from Lake Placid, N.Y., tried to have the game switched to seven o’clock, but Soviet officials refused – and was likely over a little after six o’clock. That’s when we made our way to the Legion club for dinner, as I’d been listening to the game on a distant radio station, struggling to make sense of the play-by-play through a forest of static.

I imagine that many others had done the same, as it seems in memory that we were among a large group of diners who showed up about the same time. Those already dining were already talking about hockey or related topics, like why ABC – which planned to air a tape of the game that evening – didn’t show the game live at four o’clock. And there were grumbles at the Soviet officials who refused to allow the game to be moved from late afternoon to the evening. (Wikipedia notes that such a shift would have meant a four a.m. start for the game in Moscow.)

But most of the time, it seems – in the soft light of a memory now forty years old – we were shaking our heads and marveling at what those twenty American kids and their coaches had done that afternoon. After all, the Soviet team had won five of the six gold medals in hockey since 1956 (with the U.S. winning in 1960 in Squaw Valley, Calif.). Since those 1960 games, the Soviets had gone 32-1-1 over the next four Olympic tournaments and the preliminary round at Lake Placid. Games between the Soviet teams and the professionals of the National Hockey League had started in 1972, and during the two most recent series, the Soviets were 7-4-1 against the NHL’s best. In addition, in the last exhibition game for the U.S. Olympic team before the competition at Lake Placid, the Soviets had defeated the U.S. team in New York City by a 10-3 score.

So I don’t recall talking to anyone during the preceding days who thought that the U.S. boys – who’d won four and tied one of their preliminary round games – could beat the Soviets. Watching the five earlier games had cued us – hockey fans and those who were only vaguely familiar with the sport alike – that the U.S. team might be something special. And it was, advancing to the medal round with what seemed like a good chance for silver or at least bronze.

But those American kids surprised everyone: the experts in the sporting world who’d conceded the gold medal to the Soviet team from the start; the delirious crowd in the Lake Placid arena that afternoon; and those of us all across the country who would sit in their living rooms and watch the taped game that evening. The kids probably even surprised their own coach, Herb Brooks. And there’s no doubt that they surprised the supremely talented members of the Soviet Union’s Olympic hockey team.

There were overtones to the hockey game, of course: The general sense of unease in the U.S. at the time and the international rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union – heightened by the Soviets’ 1979 invasion of Afghanistan – all made the U.S team’s victory a template for something more than a hockey game. But even as only a hockey game, it was enough. And that’s what we chewed on that evening at the Rotary fish fry, forty years ago tonight.

And here’s a video of the last minute of the game and the celebration that followed.

‘Dance Into May!’

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

Here’s a piece that ran here ten years ago. I’ve edited it just a bit. Happy May Day!*

It’s May Day again

No one has left a May Basket at my door this morning. I’m not surprised: How long has it been since anyone actually left a May Basket anywhere? I suppose there might be places where that sweet custom lingers, but that’s not here.

I do recall spending hours with construction paper, blunt scissors and schoolroom glue at Lincoln Elementary School, painstakingly putting together May Baskets with my classmates. I was not an artistic child. My skills were such that my baskets – year after year – were lopsided creatures with little gaps and clots of dried white glue all over. And the May Baskets I made over the years never got left on anyone’s doorstep.

May Day has long been marked as International Workers Day, but on this May Day I do not know of any workers who will march in solidarity today. In Europe, certainly (and perhaps in other places as well), there will be such marches. I do wonder how relevant those marches and those marchers are in these times. How lively is the international labor movement these days? Probably not all that lively, and these may be days when a more vital labor movement would be useful, as societies and priorities are being reordered.

As to specifically celebrating May Day, though, I recall the days of the Soviet Union: May Day was one of the two days a year when there were massive parades across the expanse of Moscow’s Red Square, past the Kremlin and Lenin’s Tomb. It would have been a spectacle to see, of course. One thing the Soviet Union could do well was put on a parade.

Looking further back into May Day history, Wikipedia tells me that the “earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian [times], with the festival of Flora the Roman Goddess of flowers, [and] the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane.” May Day, in pagan times, the account continues, marked the beginning of summer.

Current celebrations still abound in the land of about half of my ancestors, according to Wikipedia: “In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of Pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: ‘Tanz in den Mai!’ (‘Dance into May!’). In the Rhineland, a region in the western part of Germany, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the maypole, though the males are still allowed and encouraged to do so.”

Well, there is no dancing here today, at least not around maypoles (possibly around the kitchen if I am bored while waiting for the toaster). If I look real hard in the refrigerator, I might find a bottle of Mai Bock from one of the area’s breweries. That would be cause enough to celebrate.

Happy May Day!

A Six-Pack For May Day
“First of May” by the Bee Gees, Atco 5567 (1969)
“For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” by Glenn Yarbrough, from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her (1967)
“May Be A Price To Pay” by the Alan Parsons Project from The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980)
“Mayfly” by Jade from Fly on Strangewings (1970)
“Hills of May” by Julie Felix from Clotho’s Web (1972)
“King of May” by Natalie Merchant from Ophelia (1998)

I imagine I’m cheating a little bit with two of those. But to be honest, I thought I’d have to cut more corners than I did. I was surprised to find four songs in my files with the name of the month in their titles.

How could I not play the Bee Gees’ track? It was, I think, the only single pulled from the Gibb brothers’ sprawling album Odessa, but it didn’t do so well on the chart: It spent three weeks in the Top 40, rising only to No. 37. Clearly out of style in its own time, what with the simple and nostalgic lyrics, the sweet, ornate production and the voice of a singer seemingly struggling not to weep, it’s a song that has, I think, aged better than a lot of the singles that surrounded it at the time. Still, I think “First of May” is better heard as a part of Odessa than as a single.

Speaking of out of style at the time, in 1967 Glenn Yarbrough’s honeyed voice was clearly not what record buyers were listening for. His For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her was a brave (some might say desperate, but I wouldn’t agree) attempt to update his sources of material, if not his vocal and background approaches: Writers whose songs appear on the album include Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan, Buffy Ste. Marie, Phil Ochs, the team of Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley and, of course, Paul Simon, who wrote the enigmatic and beautiful title track. I don’t think the new approach boosted Yarbrough’s sales much – at least one single was released to little effect in Canada and the UK; I don’t know about the U.S. – but the record enchanted at least one young listener in the Midwest. The album remains a favorite of mine, and Yarbrough’s delicate reading of the title song is one of the highlights.

The Alan Parsons Project track “May Be A Price To Pay” is the opener to The Turn Of A Friendly Card, the symphonic (and occasionally overbearing) art-rock project released in 1980. Most folks, I think, would only recognize it as the home of two singles: “Games People Play” went to No. 16 in early 1981, and the lush “Time” went to No. 15 later that year. The album itself was in the Top 40 for about five months beginning in November 1980 and peaked at No. 13. That success paved the way for the group’s 1982 album, Eye In The Sky, which peaked at No. 7 in 1982, with its title track becoming a No. 3 hit. As overwhelming as The Turn Of A Friendly Card can be, I think it’s Parsons’ best work.

I don’t know a lot about Jade; I came across the trio’s only album – rereleased on CD with a couple of bonus tracks in 2003 – in my early adventures in the world of music blogs. All-Music Guide points out the obvious: Jade sounded – right down to singer Marian Segal’s work – very much like early Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny. That’s a niche that a lot of British groups were trying to fill at the time, and Jade filled it long enough to release one album. “Mayfly” had more of a countryish feel than does the album as a whole.

According to AMG, “Julie Felix isn’t too well-known in her native United States, but since 1964 she’s been a major British folk music star and has been compared over there with Joan Baez.” Well, that seems a stretch to me, based on Clotho’s Web, the album from which “Hills of May” comes. The album is pleasant but has never blown me away.

One album that did blow me away when I first heard it in, oh, 1999, was Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia. Supposedly a song cycle that traces the character of Ophelia through the ages, the CD was filled with lush and melancholy songs, some of which were almost eerie. Repeated listening only made the CD seem better, if a bit more depressing. It’s a haunting piece of work, and “King of May” is pretty typical of the entire CD.

*The information at Wikipedia may have altered over these past ten years. If this were a newspaper piece, I’d check. But it’s a blog post and not a very important one, either, so I’m leaving that stuff as it was ten years ago.

Saturday Single No. 593

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

So my little music history game on Facebook has made its way to 1980, and this morning, I offered the No. 38 record in the Billboard Hot 100 from thirty-eight years ago, which turned out to be “Love Stinks” by the J. Geils Band.

Well, it could have been a lot worse. Looking at the Top Ten from that week in 1980, we find:

“Funky Town” by Lips, Inc.
“Coming Up/Coming Up (Live at Glascow)” by Paul McCartney & Wings
“Biggest Part of Me” by Ambrosia
“Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer” by Kenny Rogers with Kim Carnes
“Call Me” by Blondie
“The Rose” by Bette Midler
“Against The Wind” by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
“Hurts So Bad” by Linda Ronstadt
“Cars” by Garu Numan
“Little Jeanie” by Elton John

For me, that’s a dismal assortment, with eight records that I wouldn’t miss if I never heard them again. The two keepers, the only two of those ten that show up among the 3,938 tracks on the iPod, are “Funkytown” (mostly because it’s a Minnesota production) and “Call Me.”

As I wander further down that Hot 100 from the first week of June 1980, I see the time when I began – as I’ve noted here before – to look for a different format to satisfy my musical appetite. I eventually found it partly in the adult contemporary format offered by the Twin Cities station KSTP-FM, but the next few years found me listening to country and pop jazz and a few other things on the radio. On the turntable, I listened to my old favorites and some recent stuff that was rapidly heading into the oldies category.

Then there were a few months sometime around 1980 when the Other Half’s boss loaned us a stack of LPs from her husband’s extensive collection of Big Band music. For most of a summer, when we weren’t watching TV or listening to the radio (even the AC format wore on both of us at times), the house was filled with the sounds of the 1930s and 1940s. We were surprised how much we liked it, and we bought a few LPs – hits packages from Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Duke Ellington – and they went into an informal rotation on the stereo.

But to get back to that 1980 Hot 100: As I scroll down I do see some things I liked then and still like, records by Boz Scaggs, Pure Prairie League, the Manhattans, Carole King, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and a few more. And I see a lot of stuff I’m not sure I’ve ever heard.

So I’m going to just drop to the bottom of the Bubbling Under portion of the chart, where we find “Into the Night” by Benny Mardones at No. 110. The record, which would eventually peak at No. 11, is one I have never mentioned, just as I’ve never mentioned Benny Mardones during these past eleven-plus years. (“Into the Night” was re-released in 1989 and went to No. 20 on both the Hot 100 and the Adult Contemporary chart.)

It’s not a bad record, as I listen to it this morning, and it’s today’s Saturday Single:

‘West’

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Today, finally, we go west, sorting through the digital shelves for four tracks that use the word “west” in their titles.

Sorting in the RealPlayer for the word, we get 613 tracks, but as I suspected, we have some winnowing to do. Numerous tracks have been labeled “West Coast” in the genre slot, and they fall by the wayside, Jackson Browne’s For Everyman, the City’s Now That Everything’s Been Said, and Walter Eagan’s Not Shy among them. Anything titled or tagged as having been recorded at the Fillmore West will be ignored, as will numerous blues joints that came out of West Helena, Arkansas (many of them by Howlin’ Wolf).

Most of Alfred Newman’s soundtrack to the 1962 movie How The West Was Won is lost, as are Ray Charles’ two volumes from 1962 of Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music. The same holds for anything by Cashman & West (with and without Pistilli), and for a group called West, which gets double-docked for its 1968 self-titled album.

We also throw out the fight song from Western Illinois University, and numerous singles, starting with those on the Westbound and EastWest labels. Among the lost singles are “Linda’s Gone” by the West Coast Branch, “Fairchild” by Willie West, “Rave On” by Sonny West, “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” by Tex Williams & His Western Caravan, “Tennessee Toddy” by Billy Gray & His Western Okies, “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)” by Kim Weston, “500 Miles” by Hedy West, “Take What You Want” by West Point, and “The Ballad Of Paladin” by Johnny Western.

Still, we have enough to work with.

Trying to tap into the spirit of the music they’d made a decade earlier, the Allman Brothers Band offered “From The Madness Of The West” on its 1980 album Reach For The Sky. In its six-plus minutes, the jam gave the listener the expected: parallel guitar lines playing arching melodies, a percussion solo, modal progressions and a technically precise guitar solo. What it could not offer, of course, were those people and things the Allman Brothers Band lost along the way: the departed Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, the bypassed Jaimoe, and the ability to do things no other band could. “From The Madness Of The West” is decent listening but no more than that. If you let it roll by in the background without thinking about it, it’s pleasant music, but when you stop to think about the arc of the Allman Brothers Band, the track – and in fact all of Reach For The Sky – feels like the part in a novel where you pause and wonder if in fact there can be any revival.

In 1987, when the Grateful Dead released the album In The Dark and pulled from the album the single “Touch Of Grey,” I wonder if Jerry Garcia and the rest of the band were baffled by the result. The album went to No. 6 on the Billboard 200, and the single went to No. 9 on the Hot 100. The group had reached the Top 20 of the album chart a few times before – Blues For Allah had done the best, going to No. 12 in 1975 – but never before had a Dead single hit the Top 40, much less the Top Ten. The group’s highest charting single before “Touch Of Grey” had been 1971’s “Truckin’,” which topped off at No. 64. As it happened, the Dead’s burst of popularity coincided with the rebirth of my interest in buying tunes, and In The Dark became the first Grateful Dead album on my shelves. And one of my favorite tracks from the album – “West L.A. Fadeaway” – qualifies for today’s exercise, bringing along a blues verse that more often than not makes me chuckle: “I met an old mistake walkin’ down the street today/I didn’t wanna be mean about it, but I didn’t have one good word to say.”

With a spare accompaniment – guitars and few strings – Nanci Griffith sings:

Wash away the tears
All the angry times we shared
All the feelings and the sorrows come and gone
We have let them slip away
Because I’m standing here today
And I’m smiling at your old West Texas sun

I remember times
When you’d weathered out my mind
But you always had a peaceful word to say
And you could always bring a smile
With the mischief in your eyes
Still, I’m glad the miles keep me separate from your games

You know you’re still as wild
As those old west Texas plains
Standing by the highway do you still call my name?
Lord, I can’t believe it’s been such a long, long time
Since I’ve seen that Texas boy smile

Well, I’ll be heading out of town
I may stop by next time around
Hell, it’s raining, but at least that’s something real
I came shackled down with fears
About our dreams and wasted years
And now I know exactly how to feel

Wash away the tears
All the angry times we shared
All the feelings and the sorrows come and gone
We have let them slip away
Because I’m standing here today
And I’m smiling at your old West Texas sun

The track is “West Texas Sun” from Griffith’s first album, the 1978 release There’s A Light Beyond These Woods. As one might expect for a first album, it’s a little tentative; the confident story-teller that I discovered in the early 1990s has yet to show up. (I think of “Love at the Five & Dime” from The Last of the True Believers in 1986 and “Trouble In The Fields” from Lone Star State Of Mind a year later, just to highlight two great songs that came along very soon.) But even early Griffith is worth a stop this morning.

And we close this morning with a recent version of a song that’s been around for nearly ninety years: “West End Blues.” Written by Clarence Williams and King Oliver and first recorded in 1928 by King Oliver & His Dixie Syncopators, “West End Blues” was one of the tunes that New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint selected for his 2009 album The Bright Mississippi. In his review of the album at AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that “although straight-out jazz is uncommon in Toussaint’s work, this neither feels unfamiliar or like a stretch,” adding, “Upon the first listen, The Bright Mississippi merely seems like a joyous good time, but subsequent spins focus attention on just how rich and multi-layered this wonderful music is.” As I listened to the most recent cover of “West End Blues,” I noted that the digital shelves also hold a copy of one of the earliest covers of the song: A 1928 release by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five.

Saturday Single No. 521

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

There is a temptation as we get to the end of a calendar year to offer something here to sum up the twelve months ending today and then offer good cheer as we head into another trip around the Sun. That’s not an attractive idea this morning.

Why? Well, things are unsettled both here along Lincoln Avenue and in the world at large, and I wouldn’t know what to say about any of that right now. Resolution of our local concerns may come in the first few months of the coming year, and that would be welcome. Resolution of my concerns about the world at large will take longer, and I’m not particularly hopeful.

So we’re going to leave all that alone. Instead, I’m going to carry on today on the path I’ve taken here for the last three days: Offering a tune original to the date, and today that means finding a track recorded on December 31. There are a few candidates on our digital shelves:

On this date in 1973, the Allman Brothers Band played the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and I have recordings of the entire concert, which went on for nearly four hours. I also have one track – “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” – from the Allmans’ gig a year earlier in New Orleans.

In 1963, a girl group called the Gems gathered at the Chess studios in Chicago and laid down a peppy version of a near-novelty tune: “That’s What They Put Erasers on Pencils For.” It was released as Chess 1882. The record didn’t chart, nor did it make it onto any of the 1964 surveys collected at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive.

We find two tracks recorded on this date in 1955 by Marty Robbins: “Mean Mama Blues” and “Tennessee Toddy.” They’re decent country tunes, and they were released on Columbia 21477 but did not chart.

The last of the December 31 recordings in the digital stacks (and recording date information is attached to maybe 10 percent of the nearly 90,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer) comes from a familiar source. On New Year’s Eve 1980, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band played Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Two of that evening’s performances showed up not quite five years later as tracks on the massive Live/1975–85 box set: “Held Up Without A Gun” and “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).”

Regular readers, I’m sure, already know where things are headed here. Here, recorded thirty-six years ago this evening and offered as both our year-end marker and our regular Saturday Single, is “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).”

Time Out

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

One of the wisest things anyone ever said to me was “If you don’t take care of yourself first, you can’t take care of anything or anyone else.”

So I took this week for me. I’ve been sleeping late, reading a bit more than usual, enjoying the World Series and generally recharging my batteries. I’ve had a few errands to run and regular things to do around the house, but otherwise, it’s been a pleasantly light week.

One of the books I’ve been reading is Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen’s recently published autobiography. It’s well written, and Springsteen is sometimes surprisingly frank about his shortcomings as well as his successes. Maybe I’ll pull it apart a bit more cogently than that for a post here when I’d finished with it.

In the meantime, I’ve gotten to the point of the book when, in the period of 1979 and 1980, Bruce and the E Street Band are recording track after track for the album The River. Bruce notes that a lot of good stuff was left behind. Some of that stuff that was left behind came out not quite a year ago on the set The Ties That Bind: The River Collection. I dug into those outtakes again this week, and here’s one I’m liking a lot: “The Time That Never Was.”

See you Saturday!

Random In The ’80s

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Simply because we don’t visit the decade very often around here, we’re going to make a four-stop trip through the 1980s this morning. When I sort for the decade, the RealPlayer offers us somewhere around 6,200 tracks. (I have to estimate because of things like catalog numbers – Buddy Holly’s “Rave On,” Coral 61985, for example – and releases from box sets and other re-releases that note a date in the 1980s for things recorded earlier.) So here we go:

First up is Wynton Marsalis with “Soon All Will Know” from his 1987 album Marsalis Standard Time, Vol. 1. Modern jazz is not a territory I know well or travel in confidently, but a while back – after Marsalis and Eric Clapton recorded a live blues album – I grabbed some Marsalis CDs from the library and dropped them into our mix here, figuring I might learn something. I’m not sure I have so far, but I keep letting the tracks fall here and there as I roll on random. After seeming to wander around for a while, “Soon All Will Know” grabs a decent groove and offers a nice intro to today’s wanderings.

Steve Forbert’s music has been for years on the margins of my interest. Folks might recall that his 1979 single “Romeo’s Tune” showed up in my Ultimate Jukebox six years ago, but that was more a consequence of its getting radio play at a time when I wasn’t hearing much I liked on the radio. This morning, we land on “Laughter Lou (Who Needs You)” from Forbert’s 1980 album Little Stevie Orbit, a work whose tracks pop up on occasion but on which I’ve not focused much attention. The album went to No. 70 on the Billboard 200, clearly following on the success of 1979’s Jackrabbit Slim, which hit No. 20. But there was no interest in any singles from the album, even though Nemperor released “Song For Katrina” as a promo. As to “Laughter Lou (Who Needs You),” the lyrics have some nice putdowns for poor Lou and the music drives along quite nicely. I probably wouldn’t have changed the station if it had come on the radio back in 1980, but I don’t know that I would have anxiously waited to hear it again.

We move on to “Crazy Feeling” a track from The “West Side” Sound Rolls Again, a 1983 album by Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers, the guys who years earlier were the heart of the Sir Douglas Quintet and its hit, “She’s About A Mover.” Sahm has shown up in this space a number of times over the years (as has Meyers, though almost always unmentioned while Sahm’s music played), and “Crazy Feeling” is a remake of a 1961 Sahm single that hews very, very close to the original; the major difference seems to be that the 1961 version doubled up on the crazy and was titled “Crazy, Crazy Feeling.” As to the album, there’s not a lot out on the Interwebs about it (and I’m not at all sure how it came to be in the digital stacks), but I do note this morning that a copy of the LP is going for $219 at Amazon. (That’s the asking price, of course; how much it actually sells for could be an entirely different matter.)

Anyone trying to keep track of the various unreleased works by Bruce Springsteen that end up bootlegged in the corners of the ’Net would have an impossible task. I don’t try to keep track; I just listen to the boots when they show up and keep some of them (well, most of them). One of the tracks that I’ve come across that way is “Sugarland,” which showed up on a board somewhere as part of a collection called Unsatisfied Heart, a group of outakes from the Born In The U.S.A. sessions in 1983 and 1984. According to Setlist.fm, Springsteen has performed the song live twice, two days apart in Ames, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska in November 1984. It’s a plaint about the prospects of a farmer (and that makes sense of the locales of its performances):

Grain’s in the field covered with tarp
Can’t get a price to see my way clear
I’m sitting down at the Sugarland bar
Might as well bury my body right here

Tractors and combines out in the cold
Sheds piled high with the wheat we ain’t sold
Silos filled with last year’s crop
If something don’t break, hey, we’re all gonna drop

Plugged In For Jackson

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

I’ve mentioned it before, but I was pretty disappointed during the summer of 1980 when Jackson Browne’s Hold Out was released. The Other Half and I had gone to St. Paul to see Browne in June of that year, just after the album came out, and I’d been underwhelmed by the new stuff I’d heard at the concert. The music was fine but the lyrics had seemed a bit lacking.

(The same was true for Jon Bream, who reviewed the show for the long-departed Minneapolis Star. In a review that I clipped and stuck inside one of my music books, Bream wrote: “Oddly, the tunes from Browne’s new album, Hold Out, were more noteworthy for their musical adventurousness than their meaningful lyrics, something he usually has been self-conscious about in the past.”)

Still, I bought the album and learned to at least like it. Not so the Other Half. She’d rather have had silence. And it wasn’t just Hold Out. That had been the case for some time for Browne’s earlier work as well as work of many other artists and groups I loved. So she bought me a gift, probably in 1979 when I got the first major stereo system ofIn Monticello, ca. 1980
my life, and here I am using it in a photo found in the old scrapbook that I pulled apart recently.

I have no idea what I was listening to when she took that picture. It might have been a record. It could have been the light jazz radio station in Anoka that got my attention for a while around 1980. But let’s assume that I’d just laid Hold Out on the turntable. Here’s the opener, “Disco Apocalypse,” a track that seems better now, thirty-five years on, than it did that summer.

‘That’s The Way . . .’

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

I’m tired, but I have housework to do, what with company coming Saturday. So I better get off my duff – as my dad used to say – and get on with it. Nothing’s getting done unless I get up and do it.

So while I go clean the kitchen, here’s Herb Alpert’s cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “That’s The Way Of The World.” It’s from his 1980 album Beyond.