Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

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.

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

Six From The ’70s

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

So we’ve sorted the tracks in the RealPlayer and found about 24,000 from the 1970s. Let’s go find six at random to think about this morning.

“In the corner of my eye, I saw you in Rudy’s. You were very high.” So starts “Black Cow” from Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja, one of two Steely Dan albums I had before the 1990s (when I, as is well-known around here, went a little mad and bought more than 1,800 LPs over those ten years). My memory, aided by a look at the LP database, tells me that I won Aja for answering a trivia question on WJON while I lived in St. Cloud in late 1977, but there was a delay on the radio station’s part in getting the album, and then there was a delay on my part in getting to the station after I moved to Monticello. The delays didn’t bother me because Steely Dan wasn’t really in my sights at the time. I had Pretzel Logic on the shelves because of the presence of “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (and I liked the rest of the album), but the work of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker wasn’t high on my list. Still, I wasn’t going to pass up a free album, so I took Aja home, and I liked it okay. But it’s probably not on my Top 200. So, “Drink your big black cow and get out of here.”

Canny marketers as well as classically trained musicians, the duo of Ferrante & Teicher rarely missed a trend in the 1960s and 1970s, and as the world hit the dance floor in the late 1970s, Ferrante & Teicher followed, providing us in 1979 with Classical Disco, one of the stranger albums of the duo’s nearly forty-year recording career. Covering pieces ranging from composers Rachmaninoff and Khachaturian to Grieg and Tchaikovsky, the album closes with a thumping version of Felix Mendelssohn’s famed “Wedding March” (cliché that it is). Given the move in recent years toward massively choreographed wedding processionals and recessionals (some staid, many not), I can see a couple and their friends putting together a disco processional to the beat of the Ferrante & Teicher track. If it were my wedding and up to me, I’d save it for the reception.

Head On was a late 1975 release from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and its relative failure in the charts portended the end for the rockers from Canada. The group’s previous three albums of new music had all gone Top Ten in the Billboard 200, but Head On stalled at No. 23. A single from the album, “Take It Like A Man” (with a backing vocal from Little Richard) went to No. 33 in early 1976, but the band’s moment had passed. Fittingly, then, the track titled “It’s Over” is the one that pops up from Head On. It’s a decent enough track, not unlike most of the stuff in the group’s catalog, but its unsubtle pleasures didn’t offer listeners anything new as 1975 was turning into 1976.

As an object lesson that one can find almost anything online these days, we move next to “Tiffany Case” from John Barry’s soundtrack to the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. When the RealPlayer offered the track to me this morning, I winced, but not because of the music. (It’s a decent bit of quiet and pretty musical fill for the movie, nicely portraying the soft side of Ms. Case, played in the film by the lovely Jill St. John.) The wince was for an expected difficulty in finding the track at YouTube. (I’d already made and uploaded one video this morning.) But there it was, and a quick click on the #JohnBarry hashtag shows me that what appears to be the vast majority of Barry’s work is now officially available at YouTube. I will have to do some digging there soon.

Whenever I write anything about Bobby Womack, I always feel as if I don’t know enough about the man or his work to write anything substantial. Today is no different, even though I know more about him and have heard more of his stuff now, thanks to a little bit of concentrated effort in the past few months. Anyway, what we have this morning is “Natural Man” from Womack’s 1973 album Facts Of Life. It’s a gender-flipped version of the Gerry Goffin/Carole King song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” best known for the 1967 hit version by Aretha Franklin. It doesn’t seem to work, but then covering a classic is risky territory, and doing so with a gender-flip seems to make things all the more awkward. Womack’s delivery is fine, as usual. But it just feels, well, odd.

Speaking of covers of classic records, we close our expedition this morning with Ellie Greenwich taking on “Chapel Of Love” from her 1973 album Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung. Greenwich, of course, wrote the song with Jeff Barry and Phil Spector, and the Dixie Cups had a massive hit with it in 1964, with the record sitting at No. 1 for three weeks. For her own album, Greenwich and co-producers Steve Tudanger and Steve Feldman take the song in an interesting direction, with bare-bones instrumentation and layered and entwined vocals, coupled with some ringing bells in the middle. It works for me.

Six At Random

Friday, June 5th, 2015

I’m gonna fire up the iPod and let it do the work this morning. Many of the 2,000 or so tunes in the device are familiar, but sometimes the familiar tends to get ignored around here. So off we go:

First up is “Be Easy” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, a 2007 joint that, like most of Jones’ catalog, sounds as if it could have come out of Memphis forty years earlier. The track comes from 100 Days, 100 Nights, Jones’ third release and the first one I ever heard. Six of her albums with the Dap-Kings are on the shelves here along with a couple of one-off recordings. One of those one-offs, a cover of the First Edition’s 1967 hit, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” caught the ear of my pal Schultz when he was here a few weeks ago, and he spent a few moments jotting down the titles of Jones’ CDs for future reference.

Then we jump back in time to 1971, when Ten Years After’s “I’d Love To Change The World” went to No. 40. When this one popped up on the car radio a couple of years ago, I wrote, “I was once again bemused by the ‘Tax the rich, feed the poor, until there are no rich no more’ couplet. I also considered – not for the first time – about how unacceptable the reference to ‘dykes and fairies’ would be today. Social change happens glacially, but it does happen.” Even with those considerations, it’s still a pretty good record.

And we do get some Memphis R&B: “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” by the Staple Singers from 1973. The slightly funky and sometimes propulsive record went to No. 9, one of three Top Ten hits for the singers, and it spent three weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart. I didn’t really get the Staple Singers back then – too much other stuff crowding my ears, I guess – but they’re well-represented these days on both the vinyl and digital files, and “If You’re Ready” is one of my favorite tracks of theirs.

From there, we head into the mid-1990s and find a cover of Billie Holliday’s version of “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance (With You)” as performed by the late Etta James. The track comes from James’ 1994 album Mystery Lady – Songs of Billie Holiday. I can’t find any fault with the song selection, with the classic pop arrangements on the album, or with James’ performances, but there’s something about the entire project that leaves me a little cold. It’s a little odd: It’s like the parts are all fine but just don’t fit together. “I Don’t Stand . . .” is probably the best track on the album, and it’s nice and all, but ultimately kind of empty. That one may not stay on the iPod too much longer.

Somewhere along the line, I came across a huge pile of work by the late Lee Hazlewood, ranging from the early 1960s all the way to 2006, a year before his death. One of the more idiosyncratic folks in the pop music world, Hazlewood kind of fascinates me. And this morning, we get Hazlewood and Ann-Margret gender-flipping and covering Waylon Jennings’ No. 2 country hit from 1968 with “Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line” from the 1969 album The Cowboy & The Lady. Despite my affection for Hazlewood’s work, the limp performance by Ann-Margret means that this is another track that’s likely not going to remain long in the iPod. Linda Ronstadt’s superior version from the same year is already in the device, and that one should be the only one I need.

And we close with one of my favorite melancholy tracks, “Scudder’s Lane,” by the New Jersey band From Good Homes. Found on the group’s 1993 album, Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya!, the song tells a tale familiar and yet unique. I’ve posted the lyrics here before, but they’re worth another look:

Scudder’s Lane

me and lisa used to run thru the night
thru the fields off scudder’s lane
we’d lay down and look up at the sky
and feel the breeze, thru the trees
and I’d often wonder
how long would it take
to ride or fly to the dipper in the sky

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

I stayed with my love lisa
thru the darkness of her days
she walked into the face of horror
and I followed in her wake
and I often wonder
how much does it take
’til you’ve given all the love
That’s in your heart
and there’s nothing in its place

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

i’m afraid of the momentum
that can take you to the edge of a cliff
where you look out and see nothing
and you ask
it that all there is

still I drove back out of hainesville
and I asked myself again will there ever come a day
when you drive back home to stay
could you ever settle down and be a happy man
in one of the houses that they’re building thru the fields
off scudder’s lane

Four At Random

Friday, April 10th, 2015

I’m going to fire up the RealPlayer this morning and let it do the work for me.

Right off the top we get some easy listening: “Emmanuelle” by Italian sax player Fausto Papetti, which turns out to be an instrumental version of the theme to the 1974 soft-core film Emmanuelle. The film was the first of seven chronicling the adventures of the character created in 1959 by French writer Emmanuelle Arsan (a pseudonym for Thai-born Marayat Bibidh Krasaesin Rollet-Andriane) and portrayed in four of the films by Sylvia Kristel. (All of that according to Wikpedia.) The song and the soundtrack for the first film were written by Pierre Bachelet. Papetti, who passed on in 1999, was known, Wikipedia says, for both his saxophone work and the covers of his albums, many of which featured attractive women in little or no clothing. Papetti’s 1977 version of the theme came to me in a 2009 collection titled 100 Hits Romantic Saxophone.

And then we head back to 1944 for “Opus One” by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra. The fox trot – as it’s described on the Victor label – was written by Sy Oliver, who became, says Wikipedia, “one of the first African Americans with a prominent role in a white band” when he joined Dorsey’s band in 1939. It’s not my favorite track from Dorsey; that would be his theme song, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” from 1935. As it happens, any of the 1930s and 1940s big band tunes remind me of the summer of 1991, when I was reporting and writing a lengthy piece about life in Columbia, Missouri, during World War II. On a lot of evenings at home that summer, as I sat at my desk and planned my next day’s work, I stacked some big bands – Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and more – on the stereo and tried to get my head at least a little into an era that I never knew.

From there, it’s another dip into the easy listening pool with Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” as filtered through the sound of Frank Chacksfield & His Orchestra. The late Chacksfield was an English composer and conductor who is estimated, Wikipedia says, to have sold more than 20 million albums world-wide. Two of those albums reached the Billboard 200: Ebb Tide went to No. 36 in 1961 and The New Ebb Tide went to No. 120 in late 1964 or early 1965. Chacksfield and his orchestra had one single reach the magazine’s charts: “On The Beach,” the title song to the 1959 film, went to No. 47 in early 1961. Chacksfield’s take on Simon’s tune was a track on a 1970 album titled Chacksfield Plays Simon & Garfunkel & Jim Webb. It came to me in a 2005 collection titled The Lounge Legends Play Simon & Garfunkel.

Then up pop the Bee Gees with “Sun in My Morning” from 1969. The not terribly interesting track was the B-side to the group’s single “Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” which doesn’t make my list of vital Bee Gees’ tunes, either, even if it went to No. 54. There’s not a lot more to say as the tune plays itself out and this post limps to an end.

And there we see clearly the risk of letting random chance decide things.

Saturday Single No. 434

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

Having been roused early by at least one cat looking for either attention or food, I got up just after six this morning. After brewing a pot of coffee and scarfing down my customary breakfast of a peanut butter and apple butter sandwich, I looked around the kitchen, plugged my iPod buds into my ears and got the dishes out of the way.

While I cleaned, the iPod offered me six tunes from which we can select today’s feature. So let’s be off!

First up are Gladys Knight & The Pips with their second Top Twenty single, “Letter Full Of Tears,” written by the recently departed Don Covay. The single went to No. 19 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 3 on the R&B chart in early 1962. (“Every Beat Of My Heart,” credited to simply the Pips, had gone to No. 6 in the Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1961.) It would be more than five years before Knight and the Pips got that high in the charts again, with “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” going to No. 2 (No. 1, R&B) in late 1967.

I’ve told the tale before: Rummaging in a record shop in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield during the summer of 1989, I came across an arresting album cover. The album was Avalon by Roxy Music. Not knowing much about the group except the names of Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno (who by that time had long since left the group) but intrigued by the cover, I grabbed the album for something like three bucks, blundering my way into a decent album with two great tracks. This morning, it’s “Avalon” that makes its warm and inviting way into my ears.

Much of the music of the 1980s sounds a lot better now than it did when I heard it coming out of my radio speakers thirty years ago. Is that a product of my having wider musical horizons than I had back then? Or is it simply the result of radio familiarity, with the hits of the 1980s now being packaged for niche radio along with the remnants of the 1970s and 1960s? I’m not sure, but I do know that I’ve almost always been behind the musical curve. Anyway, Pat Benatar’s “We Belong,” which went to No. 5 in early 1985, sounds a lot better to me this morning than it did when I was finishing up my grad school stay in Columbia, Missouri.

Speaking of being behind the curve, it took me many years to dip into the catalog of Led Zeppelin, puzzled as I was in the early 1970s by the few Zep tracks I did hear. “Whole Lotta Love,” “Stairway To Heaven” and “Immigrant Song” seemed, well, excessive to me. So it took years before I heard and appreciated “The Battle Of Evermore” from the band’s untitled fourth album, with its mandolins and its haunting vocal help from Sandy Denny. But however I got there, the song brings a nod and a smile this morning as I rinse the silverware.

Taj Mahal has showed up regularly in this space over the years, a tacit acknowledgment of how much I enjoy the man’s wide-ranging music and perhaps of how much that music had influenced my listening, especially with his explorations of vintage blues. This morning, I get the song “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Bond,” which, with a slightly differing title, was either a traditional gospel song or was written by Texas musician Blind Willie Johnson. Wikipedia notes that Johnson recorded the song first in 1930 but that in 1929, Delta musician Charley Patton had recorded a similar tune titled “You’re Gonna Need Somebody When You Die.” In any case, Taj Mahal covered the Johnson tune on his 1969 album Giant Step, and that’s the version that the iPod gives me this morning.

Mary Fahl’s voice on her solo work is exquisite and haunting, just as it was when she was the lead singer for October Project, one of my favorite groups from the 1990s and beyond. When her music pops up at random, whether it’s from the 2,000 or so tunes on the iPod or the more than 80,000 on the computer, I almost always stop what I’m doing for at least a moment to marvel at the richness of her voice. That was the case again this morning, when the iPod gave me “Going Home” from Fahl’s 2003 album The Other Side Of Time. The stunning track was also used that same year in the soundtrack to the film Gods and Generals. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Six At Random

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

We’re going to put the cursor about in the middle of the 78,829 mp3s in the RealPlayer and see where we go on a random six-track trip. Here we go!

First up is “When She Loves Me” from the 1977 album Mama Let Him Play by the Canadian musician Jerry Doucette. It’s a sweet tune, and I wouldn’t have known it or anything about Doucette without the help of my blogging pal jb, who hangs out at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. He asked me one morning if I had Doucette’s album, needing – I think – the title track. I didn’t, so I went and found it in the wilds of the Internet. It’s a decent late Seventies album, offering kind of a Canadian version of Pablo Cruise, and it got to No. 159 on the Billboard 200. I don’t often seek the album out, but when a track from it pops up on random, I hum along.

From there, we move back to 1957 and “Love Roller Coaster” by Big Joe Turner. “I ain’t never comin’ down to earth,” he sings. “I’m gonna stay up high, long as I’m up here with you.” The record wasn’t one of Turner’s greatest hits, and it came near the end of his charting days – it was the next-to-last record he placed in the R&B Top 40 – but it got to No. 12, and it sounds pretty much like a Big Joe Turner joint. In other words, you know what you’re gonna get when the record starts, and when it ends, you’re not disappointed.

Coldplay first came to my attention in 2001 when “Yellow” showed up on the playlist of Twin Cities radio station Cities 97. I remember looking askance at the radio the first time I heard it, wincing at some of the lyrics, which seemed not so much haunting (which I think was the goal) as vague. But “Yellow” brought Coldplay to my attention, which is good, as I’ve liked a fair amount of the band’s work since then. I know there are many who detest the band, and I don’t quite get that. But then, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t get, so I don’t spend much time worrying about Coldplay haters.

I paid no attention to T. Rex back in the day, except that there was no way anyone could ignore “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” during early 1972. But I missed out on everything else the band did, including “Jeepster” from 1971’s Electric Warrior album. The record went to No. 2 in the U.K. but was not released as a U.S. single. I’m not entirely sure what “Girl, I’m just a Jeepster for your love” means, but the track is catchy. And it’s very similar to Howlin’ Wolf’s 1962 single “You’ll Be Mine.” Wikipedia notes that T. Rex’s Marc Bolan acknowledged of “Jeepster” that he “lifted it from a Howlin’ Wolf song.” (Regular reader Yah Shure has since told me that “Jeepster” was in fact released as a single in the U.S., though it did not chart. My source for my statement was The Great Rock Discography, another volume that I have either misread or whose data I must now salt liberally.)

The late Larry Jon Wilson has showed up in these pages a few times, and I’m glad to see him pop up today as we wander randomly. “Loose Change” is a panhandler’s tale, the title track from Wilson’s 1977 album, and he tells the tale as he seemingly always does, with affection, with respect, and with an acute eye for detail. He released five albums – four in the 1970s and one in 2008 – and every one of them is a quiet gem. And as I write this morning, I feel as if I should listen to his music more than I do, because every time Wilson’s music pops up randomly, I’m drawn into it by his craft and his warm voice.

Among my musical idiosyncrasies is an affection for the music of Julie London, the 1950s and 1960s chanteuse who’s perhaps known for two things: her 1955 recording of “Cry Me A River” and her role as nurse Dixie McCall in the 1970s police drama Emergency! Today’s random jaunt brings up London’s performance of “I’m Glad There Is You” from her 1955 album Julie Is Her Name. It’s a quiet track, maybe not among her best, but if you want to know what the adults were listening to in 1955, it’s a pretty good example.

Saturday Single No. 392

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

It’s time to be random. We’re going to fire up the RealPlayer this morning and land on four random selections. After that, we’ll choose from those four a single for the day. We’ll ignore anything from before 1940, but weirdness will be embraced.

First up is “I Am Not A Poet (Night Song)” by Melanie from her 1972 album Stoneground Words. “I am not a poet, living is the poem. I am not a singer, I am in the song,” Melanie sings. It sounds like standard Melanie in her seventh charting album of new material since 1969, but the album is well-regarded by All Music Guide, which calls it “mature, intelligent and ambitious” and an “under-heard classic” on which Melanie Safka “effectively shed her cuteness but didn’t get cynical, either.” “I Am Not A Poet” is a pleasant song, mainly about the struggle to be heard and understood – “I’ve found a tearful language that translates what I am/And I cried out loud, but you didn’t understand” – and from more than forty years down the pike, its simplistic hippie mysticism, and its long mid-point vamp with its gradual sonic build-up and drop-out, still have their attractions.

We stay in that era for our second stop this morning, landing on “Watermelon” from guitarist Leo Kottke’s 1971 album on John Fahey’s Takoma label, 6- and 12-String Guitar. I often get this album confused with 12-String Blues, an album released in 1969 on Oblivion, and when tunes from either one of them pop up, I have to stop and sort them out. Also confused is Wikipedia, which has 6- and 12-String Guitar on the correct label but in 1969. Someone should correct that, I suppose, but it’s not going to be me this morning. I’m just listening to Kottke’s rhythmic thrumming as he makes his way through the instrumental. I know from having heard him three times in concert that his pieces can eventually all sound numbingly similar, but taken one at a time, the artistry and singular style is evident, and “Watermelon” is no exception.

Moving on, we don’t move far, staying in the Woodstock era with a visit to “Sons Of” from Judy Collins’ 1970 album Whales & Nightingales. Written by the imposing quartet of Eric Blau, Gérard Jouannest, Jacques Brel and Mort Shuman (Jouannest and Brel wrote the original French version and Blau and Shuman crafted the English lyrics), the song is one I’ve not noticed before (despite occasional listens to Whales & Nightingales). It’s an affecting piece:

Sons of tycoons, or sons from the farms
All of the children ran from your arms.
Through fields of gold, through fields of ruin,
All of the children vanished too soon.

Collins’ voice and delivery and the understated accompaniment work brilliantly, making the song something that draws on both her folk roots and on her late-1960s art song period. (Its sound reminds me very much of Wildflowers, the Collins album I know best.) It is folk? Is it art song? Is it pop? Who cares? It’s beautiful.

And we break from the late 1960s/early 1970s era in style if not in actual time by landing on “Winnie Widow Brown” by one of my R&B faves, Big Maybelle. The thumping tale of the woman with ball and chain who is “a widow ’cause she shot her man” chugs along with a blues harp riding high in the background. I’m not sure when the track was recorded, but it showed up in 1973, a year after Maybelle Brown passed away, on a collection called The Last of Big Maybelle. Some of the tracks on the album – which I found on CD – were from an entire 1969 album, and some were listed in the notes as having been released as singles over a period of ten years, from 1963 through 1973. Six of the tracks, however, were less well-documented, and sadly, “Winnie Widow Brown” is one of those. Its style is of a kind with Big Maybelle’s other work, and it’s a lot of fun, but I’d be happier if I knew more about it. If I don’t know where something comes from, I’m not very happy about sharing it.

And it’s really no contest this morning. The beautiful “Sons Of” by Judy Collins is today’s Saturday Single.

Six At Random

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Well, being a little tired from shoveling the first portion of a six-inch or so snowfall, and with the second portion waiting on the sidewalk for my attention, I’m going to let the RealPlayer do the work today and walk us through six tunes at random. (I will skip stuff from before, oh, 1940, as well as the truly odd). So here we go:

First up is “Treat Me Right” from Nothing But The Water, the 2006 album from Grace Potter & The Nocturnals that was, I think, the first thing I heard from the New England group that’s become one of my favorites. The slightly spooky groove, the organ accents and Potter’s self-assured vocal remind me why I’ll listen to pretty much anything that Ms. Potter and her bandmates offer to the listening public. I have five CDs, some EPs, and some other bits and pieces of the band at work, and I find that all of that scratches my itch in the way that only a few groups and performers – maybe ten, maybe fifteen – have since I started listening to rock and its corollaries in late 1969.

I came across the North Carolina quartet of Chatham County Line via County Line, their 2009 collaboration with Norwegian musician Jonas Fjeld. Today, we land on the cautionary “Sightseeing” from the group’s 2003 self-titled debut album. In reviewing the album, Zach Johnson of All Music Guide writes: “Centered around a single microphone, the band plays acoustic bluegrass instruments in the traditional style, but there’s a sly wink in the music – like in the trunk of their 1946 Nash Rambler there may be some Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers records underneath the Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs LPs. Any nods to rock & roll are successfully stifled in their songwriting though, as the band specializes in purely honest and irony-free honky tonk bluegrass, earnestly sung and expertly picked as if ‘marketing strategies’ and ‘the 18-24 demographic’ never existed.”

The 1980s country group Southern Pacific featured a couple of ex-Doobie Brothers – guitarist John McFee and drummer Keith Knudson – and by the time the group got around to recording its second album – the 1986 effort Killbilly Hill – one-time Creedence bassist Stu Cook joined the group. Still, on “Road Song” and the rest of the group’s output (and there were a few more membership changes along the way), there’s less of a rock feel and more of a 1980s country polish that doesn’t always wear well nearly thirty years later. That would be more of a problem if we were listening to full albums here; one song at a time, it’s easy to overlook. And the group was relatively successful: Thirteen records in the Country Top 40 between 1985 and 1990, four of them hitting the Top Ten.

In early 1967, the Bob Crew Generation saw its instrumental “Music To Watch Girls By” go to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune, written by Sid Ramin, originally came from a commercial for Pepsi-Cola and was popular enough in that arena that it quickly attracted recording artists. Second Hand Songs says that the first to record the tune was trumpeter Al Hirt, whose version bubbled under the chart at No. 119, while Andy Williams saw his version – with lyrics by Tony Velona – go to No. 34. Other covers followed, one of them from a studio group called the Girlwatchers. Their version was the title track to a quickie album in 1967 that also included titles like “Tight Tights,” “Fish-Net Stockings,” “Tiny Mini-Skirt” and so on. “Green Eyeliner” is the track we land on this morning. I’m not sure how the album found its way onto my digital shelves, but it’s an interesting artifact, and I imagine I’d recognize the names of quite a few of the studio musicians who helped put it together.

Speaking of members of the Doobie Brothers, as we were earlier, during one of the band’s quieter times, guitarist Patrick Simmons released a solo album, Arcade, in 1983.To my ears, it sounds very much like early 1980s Doobies, with a glossy blue-eyed soul sound that – like the glossy country of Southern Pacific mentioned above – works fine as individual tracks go by but tends to work less well as an entire album. Simmons released two singles from the album: “So Wrong” went to No. 30, and “Don’t Make Me Do It” went to No. 75. A pretty decent record titled “If You Want A Little Love” was tucked on the B-side of “So Wrong,” and that’s where our interest is this morning.

And we close our morning wanderings with a tune from Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! That’s a 1956 effort that sometimes finds its way into the CD player late at night here in the Echoes In The Wind studios. The album came from the classic sessions that paired Sinatra with arrangements by Nelson Riddle, and “It Happened In Monterey” is pretty typical of those sessions: brass and percussion accents, the occasional swirling strings and more, all in service of one of the greatest voices and one of the greatest interpreters of song in recording history.