Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

Some Friday Songs

Friday, June 8th, 2018

When I sort the 72,000 tracks in the RealPlayer for “Friday,” the returns are not encouraging: I get twenty-two tracks. Two of them are set aside immediately: They’re performances of “Remedy” and “Willie McTell” by The Band during 1994 on the NBC show Friday Night Videos.

The other twenty tracks, however, provide an interesting mix, though I think we’ll pass by the theme from the television show Friday Night Lights by W.G. “Snuffy” Walden. So what we’ll do is sort the other nineteen tracks by their running time, set the cursor in the middle of the stack and find four tracks.

And we start with a churning, loping and somewhat dissonant boogie decorated by one of those odd lyrical excursions typical of Steely Dan: “Black Friday” from the 1975 album Katy Lied:

When Black Friday comes
I fly down to Muswellbrook
Gonna strike all the big red words
From my little black book

Gonna do just what I please
Gonna wear no socks and shoes
With nothing to do but feed
All the kangaroos

When Black Friday comes I’ll be on that hill
You know I will

I’m not an expert on Steely Dan, though I enjoy the group’s music almost any time I hear it and recognize the skill and talent on display. But the artistic visions of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen almost always leave me a little off-kilter, as if – to use an idea I think I’ve expressed at other times describing other artists – I’m suddenly living in a world of eighty-nine degree angles.

The first moments of the next track are oddly similar to “Black Friday,” but then the tune slides into the familiar jangly sound of “Friday On My Mind” by the Easybeats, a 1967 hit that peaked at No. 16 in the Billboard Hot 100. The tune has its own moments of dissonance as it tell the tale of a fellow enduring another week of work or school, looking for the weekend so he can get to the city and spend time with his gal: “She’s so pretty!”

So were the Easybeats a one-hit wonder? It depends on how you define the term. I’ve seen some chartheads define a one-hit wonder as a group that had only one record reach the Hot 100. I tend to think that’s a bit stringent, and use the qualifier of only one hit in the Top 40. Why discuss that here? Because the Easybeats had one other record in the Hot 100: a 1969 release titled “St. Louis” that spent one week at No. 100 and then dropped off the chart.

By my terms, then, the Easybeats – who hailed from Sydney, Australia – are definitely a one-hit wonder. Their hit is a record I’m not particularly fond of, but there it was at No. 16 during the spring of 1967.

Larry Jon Wilson, who died in 2010, was a Southern storyteller whose songs never seemed to hurry, even when they clipped right along. “Friday Night Fight At Al’s” fits into that style very well. I found it on an album titled Testifying: The Country Soul Revue, a 2004 sampler put out in the United Kingdom by the Casual Records label. (Among the other artists on the album were Tony Joe White, Bonnie Bramlett and Dan Penn.)

The track starts with Wilson’s laconic explanation that Al’s Beer Depot was a bar out near the bomb factory, a place where he went for a banquet one Friday when things went as they normally did at Al’s:

The Friday night fights at Al’s place: The situation was grim and I was forced to face
The extreme possibility of no one ever seein’ me alive again
When the night was over, chairs are busted, tables are flyin’
Get me out of here, Jesus, I’m afraid of dyin’
It’s the Friday night fights at Al’s place . . . We didn’t have no referee

Wilson’s body of work is a little thin: Four albums between 1975 and 1979, another in 2008, and a few other things here and there, two of which are included on Testifying. I like his stuff a lot.

Our fourth stop today brings us the Tulsa sound of the late J.J. Cale, a shuffling tune titled simply “Friday,” a track from a 1979 album titled, with equal simplicity, 5. I’ve loved Cale’s work since I came across his first album, Naturally, back in 1972, a year after it came out. There is a sameness to his work, yes, but it’s a comfortable sameness, if that makes any sense.

In any case, just lean back and listen to “Friday.”

‘How’

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

So, today we finish our project titled Journalism 101, combing the digital stacks for tunes that have in their titles the various one-word questions that make up the foundation of reporting: Who, what, where, when, why, and how.

It’s finally time to look at ‘how,” and when we sort the 72,000 or so tracks currently in the RealPlayer for that word, we have 1,164 of those tracks remaining. Many, of course, must be discarded.

That includes more than 160 tracks by Howlin’ Wolf, more than 100 tracks from the Old Crow Medicine Show, the soundtracks by Howard Shore from all three films in The Lord of the Rings series, two full albums – Howlin’ and Howlin’ at the Southern Moon – by a group called Delta Moon, the 2005 album titled How To Save A Life by the Fray (except for the title track), full albums by Howdy Moon, Jan Howard, Howie Day, Catherine Howe and Steve Howe, and the wonderful album Showdown! by bluesmen Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland.

And that’s maybe half of the chaff we have to discard. Still, there’s plenty of grain, and we’re going to let the RealPlayer decide, ordering the tracks by time, setting the cursor in the middle and going random four times.

We start with a track from one of the two acclaimed country rock albums Gram Parson recorded in the early 1970s. (He called his stuff “Cosmic American Music”). “How Much I’ve Lied” come from the 1973 release GP, and it’s a weeper, with Parsons telling the object of his affections that he’s an unworthy and dishonest rascal:

A thief can only steal from you, he cannot break your heart
He’ll never touch the precious things inside
So one like you should surely be miles and miles away from me
Then you’d never care how much I’ve lied

I’ve never liked a lot of Parsons’ stuff. With the Byrds, with the Flying Burrito Brothers and on his own, he got all the notes right, but seemed to miss the feel of the music more often than not. Maybe if I’d heard his work back when it came out, if the music Parsons made with those two groups and on his own had been my introduction to the genre, I’d feel differently. But from where I listen, the music of the short-lived and admittedly tragic Parsons falls short of country glory.

We leap ahead to the 1990s and a far different aesthetic: “How Will You Go” by Crowded House, with the close harmonies and musical production values that meant that nearly every review of the group’s work during the late 1980s and early 1990s included the word “Beatlesque.” The track comes from the group’s 1991 album Woodface, one that I had on cassette about the time it came out. I don’t know it as well as the group’s self-titled 1986 debut album, but I recall liking Woodface on those 1990s evenings on Pleasant Avenue when I turned to the stack of cassettes on my bookshelf instead of the bins of LPs on the floor. I can’t say I noticed “How Will You Go” back then, but it’s pleasant enough listening, though the lyrics seem a bit uncertain in direction. The track includes a surprise tack-on of about a minute of “I’m Still Here,” not noted on early track listings.

And courtesy of the massive Lost Jukebox project we get a nifty, poppy 1970 tune called “Teach Me How” by the Harmony Grass. The record, according to the notes at a site that catalogs all 170 volumes of the LJ (each with, I would guess, more than twenty-five tracks), was a United Kingdom release on RCA Victor. It’s got a nice backing track, it’s got tastefully stacked vocals with some Four Seasons flourishes, and its tale is one of a young man imploring his loved one to teach him how to survive when she leaves him: “You are my shoulder to lean on. What will I do when you’re gone?” Written by Neil Sedaka and Carol Bayer (before she appended the Sager), the record is a gender-flipped cover of a Chiffons B-side from 1968. Today, we’d call the tale one of dysfunction and co-dependence, I suppose, but I would have liked it if I’d heard it come from the speakers of my old RCA radio in 1970.

Our last stop is a familiar one: “You Don’t Know How It Feels” by Tom Petty. Pulled from the 1994 album Wildflowers, a single release went to No. 13 in the Billboard Hot 100 and won a Grammy for Rock Male Vocal. I’ve never written much about the late Mr. Petty, though I like a lot of his work, including this one. So let’s just listen:

‘Why’

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

We pick up on our project of Journalism 101 with “why,” the penultimate of the six basic questions any reporter keeps in his or her figurative pocket. Those six are, of course, who, what, where, when, why and how.

And when we sort the 72,800-some tracks currently in the RealPlayer, well, the first thing we note is that we have been relatively diligent here in working on rebuilding the stacks. After last autumn’s external drive crash, we had a bit fewer than 60,000 mp3s on the digital stacks. We’ve made progress, but there is still much work to do: We still have about four years’ worth of CD purchases to restore to the stacks, and after that, there will be much work to get tags correct.

But I digress.

When we sort those 72,800-some tracks for the word “why,” we are presented with 289 tracks. Interestingly, most of them are useful to us. We do lose some, like the entire 1993 album by the Cranberries, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (And we pause a moment to remember the recently departed Dolores Riordan.) We also lose full albums by blueswoman Rory Block (Lovin’ Whyskey, 2009) and by the Button Down Brass Featuring The Funky Trumpet Of Ray Davies (Why Can’t We All Get Together, 1972­), as well as most of the tracks from an album by Little Big Town (The Reason Why, 2010).

But that leaves more than 250 tracks, a trove of riches that we can’t entirely grasp. So we’re going to let the RealPlayer do the work. We’ll sort the tracks by running time, set the cursor in the middle, and go random. The only things we’ll skip are those that are not currently available on YouTube.

And we start with “Why, Oh Why” from Little Big Town, one of the two tracks we can use from the group’s 2010 album. Released as a digital single, it showcases very well the tight harmonies and power pop/country backing that’s made the foursome so successful. The album debuted in 2010 at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and eventually topped the magazine’s country chart. I’m of two minds about Little Big Town; I have four of their albums in the stacks – their earlier work, generally – and I don’t mind when it shows up randomly. But a steady diet of it tends to bore me. It seems to be music custom-made for the playlist era.

Then we get a track from Maria Muldaur, a singer whose work has always attracted me but whom I’ve never really called a favorite, if that makes any sense. I’ve enjoyed her intermittently and gathered a fair number of her LPs and CDs, from her self-titled 1973 debut through 2011’s Steady Love, which is where “Why Are People Like That” shows up. It’s a bluesy tune written by Bobby Charles and first recorded by Muddy Waters for his 1975 Woodstock album. Muldaur’s version showcases her strengths as an interpreter even as one hears a little raggedness around the edges of her vocals (the effects of aging, I would guess).

And we fall into a dose of 1958 rockabilly: “Why Did You Leave Me” by Lou Josie & The Spinners. Josie, according to Discogs, was an Ohio-born performer who – as well as heading up those particular Spinners – was a member of B. Bumble & The Stingers (whose name I first heard in Reunion’s 1974 hit “Life Is A Rock [But The Radio Rolled Me]”). The website Black Cat Rockabilly has an extensive piece about Josie, noting his many songwriting credits for other, better-known, performers. Among those, he received partial credit for the Bar-Kays’ “Soul Finger” and, on his own, wrote “Midnight Confessions,” which the Grass Roots took to No. 5. “Why Did You Leave Me” came my way through the massive rockabilly/country collection That’ll Flat Git It.

Having messed up my randomness through re-sorting the useful files, I’ll choose the last of our four stops today: “Don’t Know Why” by the Rutles, selected to mark – a little late, but never mind – the fortieth anniversary of the spring 1978 televising of All You Need Is Cash, which introduced the U.S. to the Prefab Four. It was all a lark, of course, an affectionate tweaking of the Beatles, with incredibly accurate sound-alike songs and performances. “Don’t Know Why,” with its delightful late-period Lennonisms (and an overt lyrical reference to “Norwegian Wood”), came from the 1996 release Archaeology.

Six at Random

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

My iPod currently holds a total of 3,930 tracks, which – as iTunes helpfully tells me – is enough for ten days of listening. We’ll not run that type of marathon here; instead, we’re going to let iTunes supply us with six random tracks of music this morning, and we’ll see what we know and think about those six tracks.

First up is a lilting clarinet tune by Mr. Acker Bilk that went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1962. “Stranger on the Shore” was originally titled “Jenny” but was renamed for the BBC television show that used it as a theme. I have vague memories of hearing the tune in 1962: I would have been eight, and it’s the type of record that would have found a good home on the Twin Cities’ WCCO as well as on St. Cloud’s local stations. I’ve heard it (and liked it) so many times over the years since that it’s impossible to say if I heard it back then, but I do know that when I started during the late 1980s to dig into the music of the early 1960s, “Stranger on the Shore” was familiar.

Our second stop is a track I first heard across the street at Rick’s house in early 1971. “Two Years On” by the Bee Gees was the title track to the album that was home to their No. 3 hit “Lonely Days.” The album was also the first since Robin Gibb had reunited with his brothers after a spat of two or so years, and we speculated that the title track was a reference to that time. It’s a good track, one that reminds me of the pleasant hours I spent across the street listening to albums, playing pool and pinball, and generally cementing a friendship that remains a vital part of my life after more than sixty years. (I also recall the bemused smile I got from Rick maybe a dozen years ago when he discovered Two Years On among my CDs.)

And we stay in that era, listening to a record that puts me in my own room with the sound of the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” coming from my old RCA radio. It’s probably an evening in early 1970 – the record went to No. 7 that March – and I’m holed up in my room after surviving another day of my junior year of high school. It’s a good record (despite the mournful intro) and not a bad memory, and I know it instantly, as I do most Top 40 hits from that season. But the record wasn’t a big deal to me then and it’s not now. Having come across it this morning, I’m likely going to pull it from iTunes and the iPod and replace it with a record that means something to me.

While restocking the iPod after last autumn’s external drive crash, I tried to include records from a wider time frame than I previously had. Since I’ve tended to slight the 1980s over the years, I consciously dropped more tracks from that decade into the playlist this time around. And this morning we fall on “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, a one-hit wonder* that went to No. 8 in 1982. So I look at the other tracks in the iPod from 1982 and think that including the mechanical-sounding cover of Sharon Jones’ 1964 record was a mistake. And I realize that having to stop and think about the tracks as they come up, rather than just letting them roll by in the background as I cook dinner or do some other task, makes me a great deal more critical. There might have been a time when I liked the Soft Cell track, but that time is past.

And iTunes offers us the sharp and somewhat dissonant intro to “Home At Last” from Steely Dan’s 1977 album, Aja. Last September, noting the death of the Dan’s Walter Becker, I selected “Home At Last” as my salute to his passing: “I know that Steely Dan and a romantic notion seem as odd a pairing as cognac and Cheez Whiz, but it would be nice to think that Becker is – in whatever way he might have wished – home at last.” And my friend jb – who blogs at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and understands more about Steely Dan than I ever will – left a trenchant comment:

“Home at Last” seems like a good choice for him, as it’s not so much about finding an idealized home with Mom and chocolate chip cookies as it is getting past the place with the monsters that want to kill you and into a somewhat safer harbor. And if you’re not as free as you’d like to be (“still I remain tied to the mast”), who is?

And we end with one of the records of my life, one of those whose introductions make me take a sharp, short breath as memories instantly cascade. With some of those – and there may be hundreds in that category of “Records of My Life” – it’s the record alone; there is no tale from my years attached to them. Most, though, have a connection with my times, with my joys or sorrows, my roads and my homes. Jackson Browne’s “Late For The Sky” is one of the latter. The title track of his 1974 album, the song depicts a pairing once filled with hope gone hopelessly awry, a scene sadly familiar to me (as it no doubt has been to most of the folks who’ve listened to that tune and the other sad songs the album offers). Even as I live now in a better and sweeter time, the memories of those other times are potent, and I sometimes need those memories to remind myself how far the grace of my life has brought me.

Four At Random From ’68

Friday, February 9th, 2018

Since we’re in a 1968 mood around here these days (and will be for the remainder of the year), I thought we’d let the RealPlayer give us four at random from that long-ago year this morning. I might not have much to say about them, though, as the vast majority of my reference library is currently in boxes, waiting for the move to the North Side.

But we’ll pull four titles from the 2,800-or-so that pop up. (I’m imprecise here because some of the tracks in the RealPlayer come from albums like The History Of U.K. Underground Folk Rock 1968-1978, which puts them into the results of a search for “1968” even though the tracks aren’t from that year.) So let’s see what pops up and then we’ll see how much we have to say.

“I Think Of You” by James Hendricks
“Indian Lake” by the Cowsills
“Take A Look” by Gary Walker & The Rain
“Meadowland Of Love” by Afterglow

James Hendricks’ name is found these days on the margins of the pop side of Sixties folk-rock: He was a member, with Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty and Sal Zanovsky, of the Mugwumps, and was married to Elliot for a time (although AllMusic Guide says the marriage was designed to allow Hendricks to avoid the Vietnam-era draft). Elliot and Doherty went on to become half of The Mamas & The Papas, Zanovsky went on to join the Lovin’ Spoonful, and Hendricks went on to a pretty quiet solo career. “I Think Of You” is from his album Songs Of James Hendricks, released on Johnny River’s Soul City label. Like the album it comes from, the track is pretty bland country rock. The album itself – in these precincts, anyway – is memorable only because Rivers recorded two of the tunes – “The Way We Live” and the brilliant “Summer Rain” for his own 1968 album, Realization.

The Cowsills’ record could not, of course, be released today, what with the war whoops and all. But during the summer of 1968, the idea of cultural sensitivity and appropriation wasn’t on many folks’ minds, and the record went to No. 10. I remember the single well, as it was one of those I heard during my four days of working that summer at the trapshoot, with the radio keeping me company as I placed clay targets on the whirring trap machine for eight to ten hours a day. So even recognizing the record’s failings when measured by today’s cultural standards, I still give a nod of pleased recognition and have relatively pleasant memories when “Indian Lake” pops up anywhere. (“Relatively pleasant” because working in the trap bunker was a little scary, what with the throwing arm of the trap machine occasionally releasing while the clay target was barely out of my hand, and because four days of sitting in the tar dust created by the targets would make the skin on my face basically burn and peel off in the week after the trapshoot.)

Before forming his own group, Gary Walker was the drummer and sang for both the Standells and the Walker Brothers. “Take A Look,” from Album No. 1 by Gary Walker & The Rain, owes a little bit more to the Standells’ garage rock than to the Walker Brothers’ lush pop, but it’s still pretty undistinguished to these ears. I’m not at all sure how Gary Walker & The Rain came into the vaults here – probably from one blog or another ten years ago or so – but I think the tracks stay there through inertia and my tendency not to throw things out. (Remember the post a little bit ago about finding the darts I got when I was maybe 10?) Not that there’s anything wrong with Walker and his group, but from the few listens I’ve given their work, there’s not all that much that’s notable, either. Dissenting opinions, of course, are welcome.

The Oregon-based group Afterglow released one album, a self-titled piece. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AMG writes: “Each song on Afterglow sounds as if it could have been written by different bands . . . It’s not particularly coherent, and it isn’t particularly good – the group isn’t just derivative, but also doesn’t have a sharp sense of melody – but its sampler nature makes Afterglow a charming psychedelic relic.” So that’s the album, but what about the track “Meadowland Of Love”? Well, it’s pleasant Farfisa-laced pop with garage overtones and a slight aftertaste of the Swingle Singers. And I have no idea how Afterglow landed in the digital stacks.

Saturday Single No. 527

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

It’s time for a four-track random walk through the 3,805 tracks on iTunes to find ourselves a Saturday Single:

First up is Muddy Water’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” the first single the blues musician released after making his way in 1943 from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. The track was recorded in December 1947 and released on Aristocrat – a precursor of Chess Records – in 1948. It didn’t hit the Billboard R&B chart, but in September of 1948, Waters’ “I Feel Like Going Home” went to No. 11 on R&B chart. From what I can tell this morning, in more than ten years of blogging here, I have mentioned “I Can’t Be Satisfied” only twice, once in passing and once as one of the records played daily in my mythical roadhouse.

Up pops a Bob Dylan B-side: “Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar,” released on the flip of “Heart of Mine” in 1981 and then released on the Biograph box set in 1985. A different version of the tune showed up on the Shot of Love album in 1981, but I think I’d have to do a side-by-side, second-by-second comparison to find the differences. In the notes to Biograph, Dylan basically says that he and the band lost their ways in the version that went out as the B-side. I have to admit that I was unaware that “Heart of Mine” was released as a single in 1981; I never heard it, and it never even bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100.

And we stay with Mr. Dylan, moving back fourteen years from Shot of Love to the quiet and understated John Wesley Harding from 1967 and its meditative track “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine.” With just a guitar and a harmonica and an understated voice, Dylan tells of the saint “tearing through these quarters” and offering the cryptic words

No martyr is among ye now
Whom you can call your own
So go on your way accordingly
But know you’re not alone.

Next comes the sweet love story of “1927 Kansas City” as told by Mike Reilly, who became a member of Pure Prairie League after a brief solo career. The only remnant of that solo career in the charts is “1927 Kansas City,” which tumbled around the lower levels of the Hot 100 for six weeks, peaking at No. 88 (and at No. 38 on the Adult Contemporary chart). It’s a little gooey, maybe, but it’s got some nice production touches and some nice lyrical turns, and since I’m a sucker for sweet love stories, it’s a favorite.

Well, we’ve got two Dylans, a classic blues and a sweet love story on the table. I’m tempted by the love story, of course, but I featured it here not quite three years ago. I’m also limited by the fact that Dylan’s originals do not stay on YouTube very long at all, and although some nice covers of “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” are available there (including one from last year by Eric Clapton), it was the original that popped up in iTunes this morning. So pretty much by default, we’re going to have to go with Muddy Waters. (That’s not a bad default position to have, you might note.)

Here’s Muddy Water’s 1947 recording of “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 512

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

As of this morning, the RealPlayer holds 89,711 clips, most of them music. (As I’ve noted before, I do keep about twenty spoken word clips in the player; most of those are dialogue from movies, as it amuses me to have, say, Dean Wormer from Animal House pop up between, oh, Hank Snow and Wishbone Ash to tell me, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”)

Over on the other side of the music systems here, the iPod currently has 3,649 tracks (or about 4 percent of the overall sorted and tagged files), most of those music as well. I added a few things to both players yesterday. When I add music, I add it into the alphabetical file folders that feed the RealPlayer first and then cherry-pick for the iPod, usually just grabbing a few tracks off a new album, but sometimes adding the entire new album.

Yesterday’s additions to the iPod included one new album, And Still I Rise by the Heritage Blues Orchestra, related to the quintet that Rob and I saw a couple of weeks ago at the nearby College of St. Benedict. On the CD, the basic quintet – which has three of the same musicians that we heard – is supplemented by horns, so the sound is not quite as spare, but the repertoire is the same and the music is very, very good. I also brought into the iPod this morning a few tunes by Rita Coolidge. I’d needed to listen to her version of “Fever” for a musical project scheduled for November, and I tossed a couple more tunes by the Delta Lady into the iPod at the same time.

Readers can see where this is going, I’m sure, given that it’s Saturday: I thought I’d see what five random tracks the iPod/iTunes throw to us this morning as a source for a featured single.

First up: “Lorena” by Jimmy LaFave, who’s shown up here a few times. The track came from a 2011 collection titled Dark River: Songs of the Civil War Era. “Lorena,” says Wikpedia, “is an antebellum song with Northern origins. The lyrics were written in 1856 by Rev. Henry D. L. Webster, after a broken engagement. He wrote a long poem about his fiancée but changed her name to ‘Lorena,’ an adaptation of ‘Lenore’ from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem ‘The Raven.’ Henry Webster’s friend Joseph Philbrick Webster wrote the music, and the song was first published in Chicago in 1857.” Here’s the final verse:

It matters little now, Lorena,
The past is in the eternal past;
Our heads will soon lie low, Lorena,
Life’s tide is ebbing out so fast.
There is a Future! O, thank God!
Of life this is so small a part!
’Tis dust to dust beneath the sod;
But there, up there, ’tis heart to heart.

From there, we jump to The Band and “Right As Rain,” a track from the group’s final 1970s studio album, Islands, from 1977. The album was seen as a contract-closer, packaged by the group for Capitol so that the group’s grand finale as envisioned by Robbie Robertson, The Last Waltz, could be released on Warner Bros. Islands isn’t a great album, by any means, landing far away from the quality of The Band’s first two albums. But it’s always going to sit on my shelves as part of the oeuvre of one of my favorite groups, and “Right As Rain” was probably the best track on the album.

The third spot this morning falls to “The Road,” the second track to the second album by the group that started as Chicago Transit Authority. Often called Chicago II, the silver-covered double album is actually just titled Chicago, as the group changed its name when the real Chicago Transit Authority balked at sharing the name. “The Road” is a decent horn-driven track, but it’s one that I have a hard time assessing critically: Chicago was one of the first two rock albums I bought with my own money, yearning for “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon,” the nearly side-long suite I’d heard via a cassette taped from the Twin Cities’ KQRS. When I got the album, I restrained myself from jumping immediately to Side Two and started at the top. Thus, “The Road” was one of the first tracks I heard when the album was mine, and although the suite that begins with “Make Me Smile” will always be my favorite Chicago piece, “The Road” reminds me of those long-ago days when I began to explore rock beyond what I was hearing on Top 40 radio. That means I love the track and am likely deaf to whatever its drawbacks may be.

Speaking of Top 40, we’ll slide back a few years from Chicago to 1967 and one of the singles that even a dorkish ninth-grader who listened to Al Hirt knew about: “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band. The record – with its title gently mocking the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” – popped into the Billboard Hot 100 in November of 1967 and spent sixteen weeks in the chart, two of them at No. 1. And this morning, even with the sound turned off for a few moments to focus on writing, I can hear every turn of the record in my head, meaning that I’ve either listened to it too many times over the course of these forty-nine years or it’s a brilliantly constructed and produced pop record. I vote for the latter.

And we close our brief trek with a track from Tower of Power that carries with it potent memories both good and bad. “So Very Hard To Go” by Tower of Power was one of the songs that I played during my days with Jake’s band out in Eden Prairie back in the 1990s and early 2000s. Found on the 1973 Tower of Power album, the classic ToP track – it went to No. 17 on the Hot 100 and to No 11 on the Billboard R&B chart – reminds me of the joy and camaraderie I found playing with Jake and the guys, but it also reminds me of the grief I felt when Jake and the guys decided they could move on without me. As I wrote some years ago, I’ve consciously forgiven Jake and the guys for that rejection, but some days I’m still vulnerable to those memories and the feelings they evoke. This is one of those days.

So. My head says “Lorena,” but my heart, well, it calls for Tower of Power. Both songs, of course, are bittersweet, and it should be no surprise that I love that flavor. “Lorena” is lovely, and maybe we’ll get back to LaFave’s version of it someday, but this morning, it’s Tower of Power that pulls me in, and that’s why – even though it was featured here a few years ago – the 1973 track “So Very Hard To Go” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Thunder’

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Well, it’s seven in the morning and the weather forecast calls for a sunny day with no chance of precipitation. But it’s darker than December outside, the thunder is rumbling, and the weather radar shows a green blob with yellow highlights heading this way from the northwest.

But that’s not ruining my day. Instead, it moves me to offer a random selection from the RealPlayer, where the tracks on the digital shelves now total more than 89,000. (I have about the same amount of music from various sources – friends, libraries, dark corners of the ’Net – sitting unsorted in folders on my external hard drive. If I were so inclined, I could work on sorting and tagging that for days.)

Anyway, here are three about thunder:

First up is “Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder)” from the Brian Setzer Orchestra. One of the first CDs I owned – obtained through a record club in 1999 – was the group’s 1998 effort The Dirty Boogie, which featured a cover of Louis Prima’s “Jump Jive an’ Wail” that went to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. (The album itself went to No. 9 on the Billboard 200.) After a while, I tired of the group’s work and traded the CD for something else; Setzer’s approach to the jump blues he so obviously loves didn’t – for some reason – settle into my system well. “Drive Like Lightning” is from the group’s 2000 album Vavoom!, and it’s got a sound more rooted in a mythical late 1950s aesthetic (with some 1960s surf guitar tossed in), and like 1940s jump blues, that’s another interesting place to be. But even though I have a fair amount of music by the former Stray Cat front man and his group on the digital shelves – including another copy of The Dirty Boogie – Setzer’s work remains only of passing interest to me. Whenever I listen to more than one track at a time, I get the sense that Setzer and his mates are more interested in mugging at the audience than focusing on the groove.

From there, we bounce back to the late 1970s and some sessions that Bobbie Gentry did, evidently, for Warner Brothers. “Thunder In The Afternoon” and a few other tracks wound up on an early 1990s best-of release in the United Kingdom and were the subject of some discussion on a music board I stumbled upon about a year ago while putting together a post about Gentry’s version of Patti Dahlstrom’s “He Did Me Wrong But He Did It Right.” Likely recorded in 1977, “Thunder In The Afternoon” fits in nicely with the rest of Gentry’s oeuvre, though perhaps with a little less tang than her Delta-tinged early stuff. The question of what happened to Bobbie Gentry is one that music fans and writers return to from time to time. One of the latest writers to take on the topic was Neely Tucker of the Washington Post. Tucker’s piece, from June of this year, includes this teasing passage near the top: “Gentry spoke to a reporter, for this story, apparently for the first time in three decades. We caution you not to get too excited about that. It’s one sentence. Could be two. Then she hung up.”

The track that made me focus on “thunder” in this morning’s exercise instead of “rain” is, happily, our third random track today: “You’ll Love The Thunder” by Jackson Browne. Found on Browne’s 1978 live album Running On Empty, the track has long been one of my favorite Browne tracks, certainly my favorite from the live album. I think I just got tired of hearing “Running On Empty” and “The Load-Out/Stay” when they were overplayed on radio back in 1978. (The title track went to No. 11, and “Stay” – with “The Load-Out” on the B-side – went to No. 20.) The track still seems fresh almost forty years after I first heard it, and – as happens every time one of Jackson Browne’s early pieces pops up – I think briefly that maybe I should dig more deeply into the music he’s done in recent years. But even minor excavations into Browne’s later work always seem to leave me luke-warm. Why? I dunno, and I no longer try to figure out why. I have better ways to spend my time, like cuing up “The Late Show” or “Here Come Those Tears Again” or even “That Girl Could Sing.” Or “You’ll Love The Thunder.”

Loss Leader Treasures

Friday, March 4th, 2016

A while back, I was tipped off by one or more of my blogging friends of the treasures waiting for me at Willard’s Wormholes, a music (and more) blog that seemed to have a vast trove of stuff to divert me as well as take up space on my external hard drive.

Chief among those attractions was what appears to be a complete set from 1969 into 1980 of the Warner Bros. and Reprise loss leaders, promotional albums – usually two records – that gathered tracks from the labels’ recently released or upcoming albums. Sometimes the stuff didn’t actually show up on the promoted album, as in the case of Fats Domino’s cover of the Beatles’ “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey,” discussed here, but generally, the tracks on the loss leaders showed up elsewhere.

I happily spent an afternoon gathering and opening zip files and then sorting the albums into their own folder on my digital shelves. There were a lot of repeats: I already had maybe thirty-five percent of the tracks from the loss leaders elsewhere in the large collection of mp3s, but I didn’t delete anything; I felt as if I should keep the packages whole and separate.

I’ve bought a few of the loss leaders over the years as I’ve come across them in used record shops or at flea markets and so on. I kind of wish I’d been paying attention when they were first offered (generally in Rolling Stone, I think). But I have the music now, and on occasion, I sort the loss leaders out in the RealPlayer and let it roll on random.

And that’s what I decided to do this morning for this brief post: Roll on random and offer up the tenth track that comes by. And we land on “Move With Me” by Tim Buckley, which was offered as part of the 1972 loss leader The Days of Wine and Vinyl and was originally taken from Buckley’s 1972 album Greetings From L.A. The album was Buckley’s seventh, and Wikipedia has an interesting note about it:

“Like most of his other albums, Greetings from L.A. did not sell well, but got substantial airplay in the Twin Cities on the Minneapolis FM station KQRS and sold very well at the independent record shops in Minneapolis-St. Paul until it was deleted by Warner Brothers.”

That’s something I didn’t know, but then, I was always a few steps behind in my listening (I likely still am), and I didn’t catch up to Buckley’s work until 1992, when I was living in south Minneapolis and the years of vinyl madness were beginning. (Oddly enough, the first Buckley album I found, most likely at Cheapo’s just up Grand Avenue, was Greetings From L.A.)

Ned Raggett of All Music calls the album “a fairly greasy, funky, honky tonk set of songs,” and “Move With Me” seems to fall neatly into that description, with some nice saxophone work by Eugene Siegel. Would I have listened to it in 1972? Well, maybe, but probably not very often.

Anyway, here’s “Move With Me.”

Saturday Single No. 484

Saturday, February 13th, 2016

Because we landed on the 1976 hit “Tangerine” by the Salsoul Orchestra yesterday, and because that year came to our full attention only three times during 2015, I thought we’d run a four-tune random 1976 draw this morning as we look for a single for the day.

We start with “You’re The Best Girl In The World” by Johnnie Taylor, a B-side from his album Eargasm. The A-side, “Disco Lady,” was the big single from the album, spending four weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 and six weeks on top of the magazine’s R&B chart. The album went to No. 5 on the Billboard 200. As to the track itself, it’s got chunky guitar, lots of cymbals, sweet strings, a good vocal, a nice saxophone break in the middle, some unexpected chord changes, and a tempo guaranteed to get you and your sweetie out onto the dance floor for a while. That’s a pretty good mix of stuff, and it’s a nice way to begin our search today.

We get a quick organ break followed by a chorus of doleful horns (with a bit of light single-string guitar on top) and then a weary voice:

Workin’ your whole life away
Hopin’ to get ahead some day
Tryin’ to keep what we got
and Lord knows we ain’t got a lot
Still, we’re doin’ alright.

“Doin’ Alright” comes from Tower Of Power’s album Ain’t Nothin’ Stoppin’ Us Now, and the weary vocal from Edward McGee, punctuated with back-up from singers Melba Joyce, Pat Henry and Ivory Stone and laid on the controlled work of the band’s renowned horn section, is honey to my ears this morning. The album had some success, reaching No. 42 on the Billboard 200.

“Sunshine Holiday” is a light, tropical excursion by Carolyn Franklin (sister of Aretha) from her last album, If You Want Me. Flutes, island rhythms on the bass, and light strings (and probably guitar) in almost a pizzicato style all give Franklin a sweet foundation for a frothy lyric that seems to do little more than list the benefits of such a vacation and invite the listener to come along. It’s over in a little more than two minutes, leaving the froth behind. Other tracks on the album were likely more substantial (I don’t know the record well), but from what I see online, the folks at RCA Victor didn’t hear a single, and the album didn’t make the Billboard 200.

The Faragher Brothers were in fact brothers from Redland, California. (Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles lists six brothers, but Wikipedia clarifies that by noting that four brothers began the group and recorded two albums; two other brothers joined in for the last two albums the group recorded.) Our stop this morning, “In Your Time,” is a track from the first of those four albums, the group’s self-titled debut. In one of two times I’ve mentioned the band before this, in 2007, I wrote, “It’s inoffensive pop rock with mellow vocals and a few horn flourishes, kind of a Pablo Cruise meets James Pankow of Chicago.” That still sounds about right, only “In My Time” seems to lack the horn flourishes. The album did not chart, nor did the first single from the album, “It’s All Right.” A second single, “Never Get Your Love Behind Me,” went to No. 46 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.

We’ll dispense with the Carolyn Franklin and Faragher Brothers tracks right off the top. Long-time readers might think at this point that I’m going to pull the Tower Of Power track as our feature, and it’s true that I like “Doin’ Alright” a lot. But Tower of Power has been featured here at least fifteen times over these nine years (with the last half of 2009 and January 2010 to still be filed, and thus be easily searched, at the archives site), and Johnnie Taylor has been mentioned only four times and featured only once.

If the record weren’t a good one, I’d go with “Doin’ Alright.” But Taylor’s record has all of the virtues I listed above, and those are more than enough to make Johnnie Taylor’s “You’re The Best Girl In The World” today’s Saturday Single.