Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

Saturday Single No. 649

Saturday, July 13th, 2019

We’re still in 1971 today, pulling four tracks from that year at random out of the RealPlayer. As noted earlier this week, those tracks number about 3,900. We’ll sort them by running time, then we’ll drop the cursor in the middle and go.

And our first stop is a brief – 2:15 – piece of easy listening titled “Portrait Of Nancy” from an album titled The Rhythms, Sounds and Melodies of Jean Bouchéty. According to discogs, Bouchéty, a French composer and bass player, released ten or so albums of easy listening music between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s and worked on several soundtracks. It was one of those soundtracks – 1967’s The Game Is Over, written with fellow Frenchman Jean-Pierre Bourtayre – that brought me indirectly to his music. John Denver took the music from one track of the soundtrack, added English words, and offered the resulting tune, “The Game Is Over,” on his 1970 album Whose Garden Was This. Denver’s track led me to the soundtrack, which led me to more of Bouchéty’s work. “Portrait Of Nancy” is a sweet tune with, as one might imagine, a slight Gallic flair.

We move on to “Show Me The Way” from the album One Fine Morning by the Canadian band Lighthouse. The album’s title track was, of course, a hit, reaching No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Show Me The Way” is a mid-tempo ballad, with the singer asking for direction in being a better man: “Take my hand. Gotta show me the way.” It’s not at all clear if the singer is talking to a lover or to God. It could easily have been the latter, given that the record came out in the era of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s not a bad track, and it has some tasty horns in the background. But it’s not “One Fine Morning.”

It’s our day for instrumentals, as we fall on “Madelin,” a gentle plucked tune by the British folk group Tudor Lodge, found on the group’s self-titled debut album (rereleased in recent years on an Italian label). The group’s music, notes Jo-Ann Greene of AllMusic, is nothing but pastoral:

[T]heir music is the sound of a summer’s day in centuries past, where “grey-backed squirrels run to safety,” (“Forest”), ladies “disappear into the sunset, shrouded in organdie and wine” (“Willow Tree”), and even bloody battlefields become a place for quiet contemplation (“Help Me Find Myself”). And, all the while, clarinets twinkle, violins sigh, and cellos call to one another across the verdant fields.

And since British folk music scratches one of my major itches, I’m quite content to let the intricate string work carry me away to Merrie Olde England.

Returning to 1971, we find another example of religion in pop music with Noel Paul Stookey’s cover of Arlo Guthrie’s “Gabriel’s Mother’s Hiway Ballad #16 Blues.” Stookey was, of course, the Paul in Peter, Paul & Mary, and the track can be found on his solo album Paul and. The rather lengthy tune is simple, made up of four-line verses, with the musical backing going from relatively simple piano chording and guitar plucking to a more complex (and somewhat intrusive) backing as the end of the track approaches.

Mellow is the mood today, with four understated tracks found along the way. And we’re going with the last of them. Here’s “Gabriel’s Mother’s Hiway Ballad #16 Blues” by Noel Paul Stookey. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

A Stop In 1975

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

We’re going to scan the digital shelves here today and play around in 1975, checking out five tracks from that long-gone but fondly remembered year. We’ve got a little more than 1,800 tracks to play with, so we’ll sort them by time, put the cursor in the middle of the column, and go.

Our first stop is a track titled “Thirty-Piece Band” by guitarist and singer Ellen McIlwaine from her third album, The Real Ellen McIlwaine. Recorded in Montreal and released on the Canadian Kot’ai label – after her first two albums came out on Polydor – the album is generally a decent mix of covers and originals. She’s not well-known – never having hit any chart that I’ve ever seen – but her records from the 1960s and 1970s were nice additions to a collection. According to Wikipedia, she released a couple albums in Japan in the early 2000s. “Thirty-Piece Band” is two-and-a-half minutes of churning solo guitar work topped off in the middle by some vamping and less than coherent lyrics. It’s not one of McIlwaine’s best moments.

On we go, landing on Linda Ronstadt’s “Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox” from Prisoner In Disguise, an album that went to No. 4 in the Billboard 200 after being released in September 1975. Ronstadt’s cover of James Taylor’s 1971 album track has always been my favorite track from Prisoner; her restrained vocal and the light steel guitar are far more effective than anything else on the album, including the hits (“Love Is A Rose,” “The Tracks Of My Tears” and “Heat Wave”). From this point on (with just a few exceptions), Ronstadt seemed a lot more vehement and got a lot less interesting.

The late Larry Jon Wilson pops up here from time to time with his southern wit. This time, it’s “The Truth Ain’t In You” from his debut album New Beginnings. A mostly spoken tale of an early 1960s college-age pursuit of a young woman, the track rambles on nicely, winding around three times to the chorus: “You don’t love Jesus and the truth ain’t in you.” Fun, like much of Wilson’s work was.

In 1975, Gordon Lightfoot followed up the mega-success of 1974’s Sundown – buoyed by two Top Ten singles (“Sundown” and “Carefree Highway”), the album was No. 1 for two weeks during the summer of 1974 – with Cold On The Shoulder, an album similar in approach but, to my ears, less distinctive. Part of that judgment, certainly might be that I know Sundown better, having listened to it more frequently. The tune we fall on today is “Now & Then” from Cold On The Shoulder. It’s your basic softer Lightfoot song, a tuneful reverie of love now gone that slips on occasion into cliché, backed with chiming guitars and perhaps a few too many strings. Pleasant listening, but not as satisfying as his best work.

Albert Hammond has popped up here from time to time, at least once for his hit “It Never Rains In Southern California” and one other time for his “99 Miles From L.A.” Today, we get “Lay The Music Down” from the 99 Miles From L.A. album. A song of lost love told in the context of musicians and their songs, “Lay The Music Down” is backed, says Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic, by “mild disco rhythms.” I don’t get that, but okay. It’s a decent track but no more than that.

Saturday Single No. 639

Saturday, April 27th, 2019

As a follow-up to Tuesday’s post, which dug into the “Now 30” survey put out by WHBQ in Memphis fifty years ago – in April 1969 – I thought I’d sort the 77,000-some tracks in the RealPlayer and see how many tracks from that year reside on our digital shelves here.

It turns out to be around 3,800. (It’s hard to get an accurate count because many of the tracks on the shelves are tagged with two dates, a recording date and a release date, which confuses things. So I estimate.) Those 3,800-some range alphabetically by artist from a single – “Catwoman/Life & Death In G. & A.” – by a group called Abaco to the self-titled album by the group Zephyr.

By title, the tracks go from “(Come On Little Child) Talk To Me” – parentheses always show up first – by a group called 49th Parallel to “Zig Zag Man” by the group Dangerfield. If we ignore parentheses and numerals, the track topping the stack is “Abalony” by the group Love. (In my stacks, the words “A” and “The” at the beginning of a title are appended to the end of the title, just like in the library.)

Running time? The briefest, at nine seconds, is Mississippi Fred McDowell’s statement “My name is Fred McDowell. They call me Mississippi Fred McDowell . . . And I do not play no rock ’n’ roll, y’all. I just play the straight, natch’l blues . . .” The briefest musical entry is “Willie’s Concern,” found on the collection of Robert Cobert’s soundtrack work for the late-1960s soap opera Dark Shadows. The longest is “Bitches Brew,” the twenty-seven minute piece that was the title track to Miles Davis’ acclaimed album.

And to find a tune for Saturday morning, I’m going to put the cursor in about the middle of the stack, among the tracks that run 3:09, and click five times. And barring complications (being overly familiar is considered one of those, as is not finding the tune at YouTube), our fifth click will give us a tune.

And that’s how “Polar Bear Rug” by Ten Wheel Drive with Genya Ravan – from the album Construction #1 – came to be today’s Saturday Single.

One From 1969

Friday, November 9th, 2018

The RealPlayer has been offering tunes from 1969 as I looked at some news online this morning, pondering at the same time what I might write about today. With nothing really shiny coming to mind, I guess I’m going to click through at random and when we land on the tenth click, that’s our tune for the day. Here we go!

And we land on Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” from her second album, Clouds:

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I heard
Was a song outside my window, and the traffic wrote the words
It came a-reeling up like Christmas bells and rapping up like pipes and drums
Oh, won’t you stay
We’ll put on the day
And we’ll wear it till the night comes

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I saw
Was the sun through yellow curtains, and a rainbow on the wall
Blue, red, green and gold to welcome you, crimson crystal beads to beckon
Oh, won’t you stay
We’ll put on the day
There’s a sun show every second

Now the curtain opens on a portrait of today
And the streets are paved with passersby
And pigeons fly
And papers lie
Waiting to blow away

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I knew
There was milk and toast and honey and a bowl of oranges, too
And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses
Oh, won’t you stay
We’ll put on the day
And we’ll talk in present tenses

When the curtain closes and the rainbow runs away
I will bring you incense owls by night
By candlelight
By jewel-light
If only you will stay
Pretty baby, won’t you
Wake up, it’s a Chelsea morning

Mitchell was not the first to record the song: According to Wikipedia, the first recording of “Chelsea Morning” was likely “its interpretation by Dave Van Ronk on his 1967 album Dave Van Ronk & The Hudson Dusters.” Fairport Convention included the song on the group’s self-titled 1968 debut album, and – again from Wikipedia – Jennifer Warnes recorded it for her 1968 release, I Can See Everything. That version was released as a single, but did not chart.

Clouds was released in May 1969. It went to No. 31 and earned Mitchell a Grammy for Best Folk Album. Reprise released a promo single of Mitchell’s version of “Chelsea Morning” (with “The Fiddle & The Drum” on the B-side), but the record failed to chart. The only charting single of “Chelsea Morning” came from Judy Collins, whose version went to No. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1969 (and to No. 25 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart).

Four At Random

Friday, July 27th, 2018

We’re going to let iTunes do the work today, pulling four tunes at random from the 3,900-some I keep in the program. (I only pull as many tunes into the program as it takes to fill my iPod Nano; I’m pondering increasing the memory in the iPod, but for now, the 3,900-odd tunes – ten days’ worth of music, says iTunes – do me fine.)

The tunes in the program run alphabetically from 1970’s “ABC” by the Jackson 5 to “Zou Bisou Bisou,” a French release by Gillian Hills from 1962. There are nearly forty tracks loaded into the program with titles that start with numerals, and iTunes sorts those tracks at the end of its listings, which seems odd. Those tracks start with three different versions of “007,” the James Bond action theme that John Barry wrote for the 1962 Bond film From Russia With Love, and end with “99 Red Balloons,” the English language version of Nena’s 1984 hit.

Traced in history, the 3,900-some tracks in iTunes span 229 years. They start with the First Movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor (K. 550), which the intemperate genius (if one is inclined to believe Peter Shaffer’s play and the ensuing film Amadeus) composed in 1788, and end with “The Observatory,” a track from Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights, a 2017 album from the White Buffalo.

In terms of length, the tracks run from two seconds – Roy Scheider’s utterance, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” from the 1975 movie Jaws – to the thirty-three-plus minutes the Allman Brothers Band invested in “Mountain Jam” during a concert at the Fillmore East in March of 1971.

So here are four from iTunes (excluding tunes we’ve written about during, oh, the last year):

During the first month or so of this blog’s existence – in February 2007 – I described the music of Jimmie Spheeris as having a “California post-hippie singer-songwriter vibe.” Nothing I’ve heard from the late singer-songwriter – he was killed in a 1984 traffic accident – has changed that view. On all four albums he released during his lifetime, and on the tracks I’ve heard from the posthumous Spheeris (recorded in 1984 and released in 2000), we get wandering, mellow tracks, leavened by the occasional tune that’s (a little) more up-tempo.

This morning, we hear “Long Way From China” from Jimmie’s 1973 album The Original Tap Dancing Kid. And, as always happens, Spheeris’ music reminds me at least a little of some of Shawn Phillips’ stuff. Spheeris, as I wrote in 2007, offers “odd misty melodies topped with poetic and sometimes cryptic lyrics adding up to a lush romanticism that one almost never hears anymore.” It’s a fine way to start the day.

“Starin’ at the sun. Been stoned since half-past none,” sings Bob Darin to start out our second track. The tune is “Jive” from Darin’s 1969 album Commitment.

How many versions were there of the man we know most often as Bobby Darin? There was the novelty singer who took “Splish Splash” to No. 3 in 1958, and the Rat Pack-ish singer who topped the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks in 1959 with “Mack the Knife.” There was the folkie whose version of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter” went to No. 8 in 1966.

And this morning’s Darin calls himself “Bob,” as if to say, “Serious artist at work here, folks,” or perhaps to distance himself from his other work and fit into the ethos of 1969. And “Jive” certainly fits into those hippie-ish times in both its attitude and its vagueness:

I got a cloudy-day woman to make my bed and cook for me
When I’m gone a year too long she knows not to look for me
Coz I’ll be back when evenin’ comes
Sleepin’ through them crashin’ drums
Jive’s alive from nine to five my main man.

My favorite Darin track is “Mack the Knife,” but I do truly love “Jive” and the other stuff on Commitment.

And here comes some mid-Seventies sadness, courtesy of Dorothy Moore and her 1976 hit “Misty Blue.” The record went to No. 3 for four weeks on the Hot 100, No. 2 for two weeks on the magazine’s R&B chart and to No. 14 on the Easy Listening chart. (I honestly thought it would be much higher on that last chart.) But chart performance isn’t why “Misty Blue” matters around here. I mean, we’ve all been where Moore is here:

Ooh baby, I should forget you
Heaven knows I tried

Baby, when I say that I’m glad we’re through
Deep in my heart I know I’ve lied I’ve lied, I’ve lied

From the opening piano cascades and Moore’s first “Ooooooooh” through the last “My whole world turns misty blue” three-and-a-half minutes later, this record reminds anyone who hears it exactly how it was, at least once, maybe twice, maybe three times in a lifetime. Anyone who’s truly lived has been in that misty blue world. And it’s a good thing to be reminded of that once in a while.

Our last stop today kicks off with a buoyant banjo riff, joined after a moment by bass and percussion, and then by the vocals:

Well, I’m on my way
To the city lights,
To the pretty face
That shines her light on the city nights
And I gotta catch a noon train, I gotta be there on time.
Oh, it feels so good to know she waits at the end of the line.

The record is, of course, “Sweet City Woman” by the Stampeders, and for three-and-a-half minutes, we’re just fine, hearing the tale of a man whose woman can “make a man feel shiny and new” as she feeds him “love and tenderness and macaroons.”

The Stampeders were from Calgary, Alberta, and their 1971 hit went to No. 8 on the Hot 100 and to No. 5 on the Easy Listening chart. And even after forty-seven years, it’s a record that can still make me smile.

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.