Archive for the ‘1986’ Category

‘East’

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

In our first two installments of our “Follow The Directions” adventure, we’ve hit “North” and “South” and for some reason bypassed “East” along the way. Today, we head that direction, looking for tunes for the eastward road.

A search for “east” on the RealPlayer gives us exactly 400 tracks, but as usual with these searches, many of those tracks will be dismissed. Anything recorded at the Fillmore East goes by the way, including the Allman Brothers Band’s astounding live album from 1971, a full concert by Leon Russell from 1970, and single performances by the Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

We also lose some entire albums (except title tracks, in some cases): Mandrill’s Beast From The East (1975), Don Henley’s Building The Perfect Beast (1984), Tower Of Power’s East Bay Grease (1970), Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers’ East Carson Street (2009), the Patti Smith Group’s Easter (1978), Badly Drawn Boy’s The House Of Bewilderbeast (2000) and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern (2010).

Gone, too, are any tracks by East of Eden, the Voices of East Harlem, Head East, the Beastie Boys, Skip Easterling, the Eastenders, the East Texas Serenaders, the East River Boys, the East Side Kids and a few singles on at least two labels from over the years: “East West” and “Eastwest.” And at least eighteen additional tracks with the word “beast” in their titles (and a few with “Easter” and “feast”) go by the wayside as well.

But, as almost always happens, we have enough tracks left for us to sort through, and we’ve found four good examples to accompany us as we head east:

We’ll start with a track from a friend of mine, the late Bobby Jameson. His “Girl From The East” is a song he wrote and recorded as Chris Lucey in 1965 for the album Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest. (Performer Chris Ducey came to a disagreement with the Surrey label after he’d recorded an album by that title; Bobby was hired to write songs with titles matching those that Ducey had recorded for the album, and the album cover – already printed – was altered to make the performer’s name “Lucey” instead of “Ducey.”) “Girl From The East” was also recorded by the Leaves and showed up as a B-side on some versions of the Mira label’s release of “Hey Joe.” Here’s the video Bobby made in 2010 for “Girl From The East.”

One of the delights of the CD age has been the unearthing of alternate takes and unreleased tracks offered as addenda to long-familiar albums. An example of that for our journey this morning is “East of Java” from the 5th Dimension’s sessions for the 1968 album Stoned Soul Picnic. As it happens, the track could easily have been called “Java Girl,” because to my ears “east of Java” doesn’t come into the mix until near the end of the record. And for those looking for something with a South Asian/Indonesian flair, well, sorry. The track is firmly rooted in the L.A. session sound that the 5th Dimension offered on its thirty hits in the Billboard Hot 100 (including seven in the Top Ten) between 1967 and 1976.

On my 35th birthday in 1988, I got some records (huge surprise, right), scoring LPs by Cream, the Grateful Dead, the Who and Van Morrison. But the best album I got that day was Folkways: A Vision Shared, subtitled “A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly.” The album offered fourteen tracks written by the two long-gone roots legends as performed by artists ranging from Little Richard, Brian Wilson and Sweet Honey In The Rock to John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. One of those taking part, of course, was Arlo Guthrie, who offered his version of his father’s “East Texas Red” to the proceedings. The tale of the railroad guard and the men who eventually take their revenge is classic Woody Guthrie.

Also in my listening mix during the difficult year of 1988 was lots of Gordon Lightfoot (and his presence in my playlists remains even as the years have gotten better). His 1986 release East Of Midnight was on the turntable on occasion but not as frequently as some of Lightfoot’s other work, most notably Sundown, Shadows and If You Could Read My Mind. Still, I found myself humming the title track at odd times, as lines like “For the things that might have been, I need no more reminders,” and “The ocean is where lovers meet again” wound their ways into my head and heart that year. It’s an oddly metered song and probably not high on a curated list of Lightfoot’s work (it was not one of the two Lightfoot tracks that showed up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox), but for at least a few seasons, it was part of my life.

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.

Saturday Single No. 335

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Having mentioned Mom’s stroke here a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d give a brief update. She spent three days in the hospital undergoing some tests, which showed – as I noted – that the only things that seemed to be affected were her left arm and left leg. As I also mentioned two weeks ago, within a couple of days after the stroke, her left arm was working as well as her right (although it was easily fatigued), and she was walking very short distances with the use of a walker.

For the last two weeks, she’s been in a care center where the staff is leading her through physical therapy designed to build up her strength and to get her left arm and her left leg to points where she can return to her assisted living apartment. She’s doing very well, she says, and her therapists agree. They moved her around in a wheelchair for the first week, but since then, she’s been moving greater and greater distances at least part of the time with a walker.

I stop in to see her most days, and she’s determined to get back home, which is good. And while no ailments at her age of ninety-one are minimal, it seems as if the effects of this one can be overcome. I’m not sure when she’ll be ready to move home – no one has said anything concrete yet – but I’m guessing that day will come.

And about the only other thing that I can say right now is that all of us – my family, her friends, and my mother – were very, very lucky.

In that vein, then, here’s Chris Rea’s tune, “My Lucky Day.” It’s from his 1986 album, Beaches, and it’s today’s Saturday Single:

A little bit of daylight shine on my pillow
Come through my window pane
Speak of the morning, hope is eternal
Better to look at it this way
This could be my lucky day

It’s crazy, I hear you say.
This could be my lucky day.

A glass filled with crystals, six million rainbows
Gifted to see with children’s eyes
Always a small chance shooting that rainbow
Bless this dawn with sweet surprise
This could be my lucky day

I know it’s crazy, I hear you say.
This could be my lucky day.

No inhibitions, naive forever
Better looking up than looking down
Don’t try to beat it, twist and defeat it
Leave those kind of complications, never to be found
This could be my lucky day

Going Random Through The Eighties

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Last week, I took a six-tune random walk through the Seventies. Today, with my creativity evidently in a waning rather than a waxing phase, it seems like a good idea to do the same with a decade I tend to ignore: the Eighties. There are about 4,500 tunes from that decade in the RealPlayer, so let’s see where we end up.

Our first stop is a track from Showdown!, an album released in 1985 by blues veterans Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins and the newcomer (at the time) Robert Cray. Trading guitar solos and vocal takes throughout the album, the three bluesmen put together a set that All-Music Guide calls “scorching.” This morning’s track – “The Dream” – finds Cray taking care of the vocal and Collins adding the solo guitar work.

Then it’s onto a Duke Ellington/Bob Russell tune as interpreted by a Sixties icon for an album that originally wasn’t available in much of the world: “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” was recorded by Paul McCartney for his album Снова в СССP, which was issued in 1988 only in the Soviet Union. According to Wikipedia, McCartney “intended Снова в СССР as present for Soviet fans who were generally unable to obtain his legitimate recordings, often having to make do with copies; they would, for a change, have an album that people in other countries would be unable to obtain.” The Soviet release contained eleven songs at first, with two tracks added for later pressings. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the album was released world-wide in 1991 with one more additional track.

One of the mainstays of my music collection – and this will likely be no surprise – is Gordon Lightfoot. While he didn’t issue albums in the 1980s with the frequency that he did in the previous two decades, his Eighties work includes some of my favorites, especially the1986  album East of Midnight. While the track “Anything For Love” doesn’t top the list of my favorites from that effort – the title track does – it’s still a good effort worth a listen, and it’s our third stop this morning.

Hailing from near Liverpool, China Crisis started as a duo, according to AMG. But when Virgin Records picked up the single “African and White” in 1982, Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon put together a full band. The group never made much headway in the U.S., with only two of their eight albums even making it into the lower half of the Billboard 200 and one single – “Working With Fire and Steel” – reaching No. 27on the Dance Music/Club Play list. But somehow, I came up with a copy of the group’s 1985 album, Flaunt the Imperfection, and “Bigger the Punch I’m Feeling” from that album is where today’s journey finds its fourth stop.

It’s Hard, the 1982 album by the Who, contains one tune that truly grabs me: “Eminence Front.” Other than that, the album – billed as the last by the group at the time and released in conjunction with what was called a final tour – is kind of blah. That album’s “Why Did I Fall for That” is the RealPlayer’s fifth stop this morning. It’s a tune that has always come off to me as an inferior remake of the brilliant “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from the similarly brilliant Who’s Next.

And we come at last to a track from one of the albums I had long included on what I call my hopeless list: Albums I wanted to hear but that I thought were lost for one reason or another. In early 2007, during the first incarnation of this blog, I wrote a bit about the late Tom Jans, mentioning his final album Champion, which was released only in Japan in 1982. Having cobbled together a collection of the rest of Jans’ brief oeuvre, I dug a bit for the album without result and then gave up the quest. But during 2009, fellow blogger Chun Tao at Rare MP3 came up with a copy of Champion, which was as good as I’d hoped it would be. Here’s the magnificently sorrowful “Mother’s Eyes,” the final track on the album.

A Note:
A little more than a year ago, after I landed here at my own place, I began to set up an archive of the posts from Echoes In The Wind during its Blogger and WordPress days. That effort flagged for several reasons, and when I returned to it over the weekend, I decided to start over again. So at Echoes In The Wind Archives, I’m working on reposting material – without any active music links – from early 2007 through January 2010. As I said once before, I’m not sure how much interest there might be in my archives, but the site will eventually allow me to see what I might previously have written (as it did today in the case of Tom Jans).

“And A Thousand Miles Behind”

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

My list is long and my tank is empty. But, as reluctant as I am to leave this space blank on those mornings when I normally offer something, I listened to the tune running in my head and went in search of cover versions. I might write about the tune in the future, but today’s a good time to start thinking about it. So here’s a cover of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings” from the 1986 album Heroes by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.

‘Shahdaroba’ Is The Word They Whisper Low . . .

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Last television season, one of my favorite shows, Mad Men, ended its season finale – as it does all its episodes – with a popular song framing the last moments. As ad man Don Draper’s wife, Betty, flew to Nevada with her lover to get a divorce, Draper found himself checking into a hotel, and the mournful music – though it had a positive final lyric – underlined the melancholy and uncertainty of the moment. As I watched, I recognized the voice: It was unmistakably Roy Orbison. But the song?

I had no clue. The melody and accompaniment were clearly based on Middle Eastern themes, as was the lyric:

Where the Nile flows
And the moon glows

On the silent sand
Of an ancient land

When a dream dies
And the heart cries
“Shahdaroba”
Is the word they whisper low

Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
Means the future is much better than the past
Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
In the future you will find a love that lasts

So when tears flow
And you don’t know
What on earth to do
And your world is blue

When your dream dies

And your heart cries
Shahdaroba
Fate knows what’s best for you

Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
Face the future and forget about the past
Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
In the future you will find a love that lasts

Shahdaroba

As soon as the show was over, I wandered to the record stacks and pulled out The All-Time Greatest Hits Of Roy Orbison, and on Side Three I found a song titled “Shahdaroba” and put it on the turntable. That was the tune. And it was just as haunting without the visuals of the television show.

I’ve seen the title spelled numerous ways. The listing inside the jacket of the two-LP set I pulled from my shelves listed the song as “Shahadararoba,” which I knew wasn’t right. The listing at All-Music Guide for the album I have has the title as “Shahadaroba,” while the CD version of the two-LP album I have now – listed at Amazon – spells the title “Shadaroba.” And on-line listings for merchants selling the record include several spellings, with “Shahdaroba” being the most frequent (although frequency in those precincts is certainly no guarantee of accuracy). The generally accurate folks at the Both Sides Now discography site have it as “Shahdaroba,” as does the label on the LP I have, so I’m going with that.

Whatever the spelling, the haunting recording used to close last season’s Mad Men was from 1963 and was released as the B-side of Orbison’s No. 7 hit, “In Dreams.” And although I know I’d heard it before – no LP goes into my stacks without being played at least once – it evidently didn’t leave much of an impression when I got the album in February 1998. (I do remember being intrigued by “Leah” on the same album and immediately using it in several mixtapes for friends; I wish now I’d paid more attention to “Shahdaroba.”)

I’m not entirely certain when the practice began of closing television shows with an entire popular song in the soundtrack continuing over the credits. Sometime in the 1990s, when I watched very little television? Or earlier? I don’t know. I do know that I’ve listed in recent weeks two songs from the 1960s that were brought to my attention in that way: “Shahdaroba” today and Richie Havens’ “Follow,” which I wrote about two weeks ago.

The virtues of “Shahdaroba” – written by one Cindy Walker – are clear and include a great vocal from Orbison, an eerie melody with what I think is an oboe providing the sinuous counter-melody, and an enigmatic yet hopeful set of lyrics. There’s clearly room for it in the Ultimate Jukebox.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 34
“Shahdaroba” by Roy Orbison, Monument 806 [1963]
“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” by the 5th Dimension, Soul City 772 [1969]
“Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band from The Band [1969]
“Minnesota” by Northern Light, Glacier 4501 [1975]
“Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band, Warner Bros. 8370 [1977]
“Mandolin Rain” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range from The Way It Is [1986]

I’ve written before about the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” and its place as the first musical 45 I ever bought with my own cash. (Long-time readers will remember my discovery of Dickie Goodman’s “Batman and His Grandmother” in a box and my memory of that being my first 45 purchase of any kind.) Why does “Aquarius” belong here? First, having been pulled from the musical Hair, the two songs that were merged to form a medley reflect a good portion – some of the most positive portions – of the spirit of the late 1960s. Second, the 5th Dimension’s pop-soul sounded good then and still sounds good today, with production by Bones Howe and backing provided by a large cast of session stars that included Larry Knechtel and Hal Blaine. Third, and most importantly, I guess, I just like it.

I was out on an errand with my mother sometime in January 1970, and I had the radio tuned to KDWB, one of the Twin Cities’ Top 40 stations. I remember exactly where we were – I drive past the spot on St. Cloud’s North Side on occasion – when the strains of The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” came out of the radio. I’d been listening to Top 40 for a few months, and I’d heard the song before, but for some reason, this was the first time I’d really listened. I took in the drum and guitar riff introduction, Levon Helm’s countryish vocal with its sly “hee-hee” along the way, the ensemble choruses and Garth Hudson’s twangy fills that sounded like a jew’s harp (I had one of those at home and twanged it on occasion), and I wondered why I hadn’t paid the song any attention before. Every evening from then on, I listened for “Up On Cripple Creek” as I tuned into WJON, just down the street and across the tracks. Why I just didn’t go out to Musicland and buy the single or the album, I have no idea. I wouldn’t buy any LPs until May of that year, when I would get stuff by the Beatles and Chicago. By that time, I’d likely forgotten about The Band.  “Up On Cripple Creek” peaked at No. 25 in early January 1970, and by the middle of the month, the record had dropped out of the Top 40 and consequently faded from the airwaves and, evidently, my memory. That Christmas, in 1970, Rick brought The Band back into my life when he gave me The Band, the group’s second album. I loved most of it, and made a vow to look into the group’s other work. I did so eventually, and The Band is still my all-time favorite group. And “Up On Cripple Creek” is about as good a track as that talented group ever recorded.

Every state should have its own popular song. Sorting through songs whose titles refer to states – just off the top of my head – maybe the best would be “Georgia On My Mind.” In the spring of 1975, Minnesota got its own popular song when the group Northern Light released “Minnesota.” With its harp glissandos, Beach Boys-inspired harmonies, a great blues harp solo and its iconic opening of a loon calling across the water, “Minnesota” reeled me in right away. I don’t have access to any Twin Cities charts from that spring, but the record, as you might expect, got a lot of airplay here. It did get a little bit of national attention, peaking at No. 88 in the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-May and reaching No. 77 on the Cashbox chart a few weeks later. I was lucky enough to find a near-mint copy of the 45 at a garage sale here in St. Cloud a few years ago, so I can hear the tune whenever I want, but I feel even luckier when I’m in the car and I hear the call of the loon and the rest of the single on the oldies station.

(For more on “Minnesota” and Northern Light, check out the post my friend jb put up at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ in May.)

A true one-hit wonder, “Smoke From A Distant Fire” came from the first, self-titled album by the Sanford/Townsend Band. And nothing else on the group’s first album or on its two follow-up albums was ever quite as good as that single. Bursting from the speakers with a drum intro followed by a bluesy guitar solo, the record grabbed one’s attention from the start. Add the solid vocal and great guitar and saxophone solos, and you have a hit single. The record went to No. 9 in the late summer of 1977 and was a vital part of the soundtrack to my life as I was finally finished with school and tentatively began to find my place in the working world.

Sanford/Townsend Band – “Smoke From A Distant Fire [1977]

The gorgeous piano introduction to “Mandolin Rain” pulls me back to a place of refuge. During the winter of 1986-87, I made a number of poor life decisions, and for several months, the only place I felt I could relax was in my teaching office at St. Cloud State, a tiny space in the offices of the Performing Arts Center. I had a cassette player there, and I’d retreat there for lunch, eating the same thing every day for most of those months: egg salad on wheat bread and black coffee. A friend in the public relations office frequently loaned me music from his large tape collection, and one day he handed me The Way It Is, the first release from Bruce Hornsby & The Range. I liked most of it but loved “Mandolin Rain.” The record went to No. 4 early in 1987, but it was No. 1 on my list, and I listened to that side of the cassette two or three times a week that winter and early spring. Late in the spring of 1987, I emerged from my cocoon, thirty pounds lighter, a little bit wiser, and ready to live again. I’ve never been certain what the lyrics of the song are really about, but to me they sound like a tale of necessary and welcome transformation.

Bruce Hornsby & The Range – “Mandolin Rain” [1986]

 

(“Shahdaroba” © Combine Music Corporation)

(Chart error corrected since first posted,)

Getting Used To Being 57

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

I’ve been fifty-seven for a little more than a week now, which is long enough to get used to it. Just like it used to take a week or so to remember to write the correct year on a check every January, it now takes about a week for me to internalize my new age every September. (It never used to; back when age and birthdays were of huge importance, my age was always at the forefront of my mind.) Of course, the simile tends to underline the fact that – year by year – I’m out-growing many of the little things that used to be day-to-day realities: paper checks are now an item almost ready to be relegated to the same place where one finds dial phones, home-delivered milk and so much more.

But that’s okay. It’s better to be fifty-seven and know the world has changed immensely than it would have been to not get to fifty-seven at all. And in the absence of anything more compelling today, I thought I’d take a look at a few of the records that have been at No. 57 at mid-September, the time when these days I begin remember to include the additional year when someone asks my age.

We’ll start with 1956 – as the Billboard data I have seems to indicate that as the first year there was a No. 57 slot for a record – and then hit every six years from there.

On this date in 1956, the No. 57 record was “Mama, Teach Me To Dance” by Eydie Gorme. The record was Gorme’s second Top 40 hit, having peaked at No. 34 earlier in the month. She’d have five more Top 40 hits, the last two with husband Steve Lawrence. The duo, it seems to me, were regulars on many talk shows throughout the 1960s.

In 1962, one of the great Fifties rockers had a single at No. 57: Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover” was heading up the chart toward its peak of No. 48 (No. 21 on the R&B chart). The video I’ve linked to is from a television performance (evidently in New York, according to other versions I’ve seen of the clip), and it kicks, Bo Diddley beat and all.

On this date in 1968, the Vogues’ “My Special Angel” was sitting at No. 57. A week later, the record would enter the Top 40 en route to No. 7. The record – which would spend two weeks atop the Adult Contemporary chart – would be the sixth of the group’s eight eventual Top 40 hits.

In 1974, one of Edgar Winter’s three Top 40 hits was perched at No. 57 on its way down the chart, having spent two weeks at No. 33 in mid-August. “River’s Risin’” was Winter’s last Top 40 hit and – to these ears – wasn’t quite as good as the two 1973 hits credited to the Edgar Winter Group: “Frankenstein” (No. 1) and “Free Ride” (No. 14).

Edgar Winter – “River’s Risin’” [1974]

I pretty much missed the Split Enz, although I listened to a fair amount of Crowded House, the group the Finn brothers formed after the Split Enz broke up. Around this time in 1980, the Enz’ record “I Got You” was at No. 57. It would climb just four more spots before peaking at No. 53. And although I never sought the record out, I recognize – like almost anyone else, I imagine – the song’s hooky chorus.

When mid-September 1986 rolled around, the No. 57 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 was occupied by “Emotion in Motion,” a single from Rick Ocasek of the Cars. The record would enter the Top 40 a month later and peak at No. 15, taking the top spot on the Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts. Even twenty-four years later, the video is, if a bit much, still fun to watch:

Our wanderings have brought us to 1992, and we’ll run through the remaining years quickly, as they’re years we don’t often deal with. The No. 57 record in mid-September that year was “Jump!” by the Movement, which went only to No. 53 in the Hot 100 but went to No. 2 on the Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales and to No. 1 on the Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart. I missed it entirely.

The Wilkinsons, a country trio, occupied spot No. 57 during the third week in September 1998. Three weeks earlier, “26 Cents” had peaked at No. 55 on the Hot 100, but the record it to No. 3 on the Country Singles chart, the first of seven records the group got into the country chart, though none of the others did as well as “26 Cents.” I missed this one, too, but I may have to go back and check into the Wilkinsons. I likely won’t do the same with the Movement.

The data I have in my files ends with July 2004, so I don’t know what was at No. 57 that September, but to bring things up to the current time, I glanced at the Billboard Hot 100 available online for this week. The record currently at No. 57 is “Fancy” by Drake featuring T.I. and Swizz Beatz. I listened to about a minute of it. Wasn’t quite my thing.

I’ll be back tomorrow, I hope, with a new installment of the Ultimate Jukebox.

(One title corrected since first posted; thanks, Yah Shure.)

‘. . . And The Red Light Was My Mind’

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

The first bit of a Robert Johnson song I ever heard, I once theorized, was the short excerpt of “Come On In My Kitchen” that started off “49 Bye-Byes” on the album Crosby, Stills & Nash. I can’t put a specific date on when I heard it, but I know I got the album in early May of 1971.

Nor, it turns out, can I put a precise date to the first time I heard one of Johnson’s song performed in its entirety. I do, however, remember the circumstances. It was a Friday in the spring of 1972, almost certainly April. I headed out for some record shopping that evening, no doubt beginning at Axis, the store on St. Germain – St. Cloud’s main street – that stocked a good selection of new and used LPs as well as leather coats, hats and other goods. I went pretty quickly to the used records.

It should be remembered that in the spring of 1972, I was still catching up on about eight years of pop and rock history. I’d listened pretty consistently to Top 40 music during my last two years of high school, and had caught up then on some things I’d missed. I’d spent a good deal of my first year of college hanging around the campus radio station, and now I was digging into albums, trying again to catch up at least a little, this time with my radio station colleagues and my buddies in the dorms.

And in the bins at Axis, I found a record with a strange cover: It showed a flat landscape, and in the foreground there was a leaping, grinning man dressed in white, a guitar in each hand and an absurd Uncle Sam hat topping things off. To his right was a donkey laden with a drum set and another guitar. The record was, of course, ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out’, subtitled The Rolling Stones in concert.

Well. I knew of the Rolling Stones, of course. Like the Beatles, the Supremes and a few other performers and groups, they’d been an inescapable portion of the musical landscape through the years when my peers listened to Top 40 and I had my ears still tuned elsewhere. I might not have known the names of all the Stones’ hits from the years before I began listening, but I knew the records. And I knew “Honky Tonk Women,” the single that had been No. 1 for the first four weeks of my tenure as a football manager during my junior year of high school.

Intrigued, I turned the record over and scanned the titles. There was “Honky Tonk Women” on the second side. Other than that, I sheepishly admit, I recognized only one title: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” But I didn’t know the Stones’ version well. My best knowledge of the song came through Leon Russell’s performance of it during the Concert for Bangladesh; I’d gotten that box set for Christmas. Given those two bits of familiarity – and my knowledge that the Rolling Stones were important and thus it was important for me to know more about them – I took the record to the counter. The price tag is still on the front of the record, some thirty-eight years later. I paid $1.99 for it.

Anxious to show off my find to a buddy or two, I stopped at St. Cloud State’s Stearns Hall on my way home. I found my pal Dave and his girlfriend hanging around in his room, and they chuckled when they saw “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” listed on the back; I’d made no secret of my admiration for Leon Russell’s performance. Dave cued up the record, and we listened to that track, the first on the record. After that, as it was obvious I’d interrupted something that Dave and his girl wanted to resume, I took my record and headed home.

And in the basement rec room, I cued up the record once again and listened to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Chuck Berry’s “Carol” and “Stray Cat Blues.” I was pleased but puzzled. This wasn’t the Rolling Stones that I remembered from the radio. Keep in mind, first, that I only vaguely recalled the Stones’ studio version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and that I’d not heard the album tracks from Beggar’s Banquet. Secondly, since no singles from it had reached the Top 40, I’d likely never heard anything from Let It Bleed. And there was no way that “Honky Tonk Women” – the only Stones’ song I knew at all well – could have prepared me for this earthy and bluesy music.

Then came the introduction to “Love In Vain.” And I heard an entire Robert Johnson song for the first time. I stared at the floor as Mick Jagger bit off the desolate words and I stared at the stereo across the room as Mick Taylor took his slide solo, and then I heard Jagger sing about the blue light and the red light, all of it pulling me along into the blues.

I didn’t stay there long that time; I was eighteen. In later years, of course, I’d delve deeply into the blues and wander through all the genres, including blues rock. Much of that later exploration opened another world to me – especially the larger-than-life work of Howlin’ Wolf – but I’m not sure I’ve ever been pulled into a song as deeply as I was that evening when I heard “Love In Vain” for the first time.

(I should note that when I first heard the Stones’ live version of “Love In Vain,” it wasn’t listed as a Robert Johnson composition; the album credits said the song was “Traditional arr. Jagger/Richard.” I’m not sure when the songwriting credit was changed – I’d guess the early 1990s – but the 2002 reissue of the CD credits the song to Johnson.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 33
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White from Black and White [1969]
“Love in Vain” by the Rolling Stones from ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out’ [1970]
“Love Train” by the O’Jays, Philadelphia International 3524 [1972]
“December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the 4 Seasons, Warner/Curb 8168 [1976]
“Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen from Darkness on the Edge of Town [1978]
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House from Crowded House [1986]

Talk about another world! The swamp rock of Tony Joe White was unlike pretty much anything else in the Top 40 during the last weeks of August 1969, when “Polk Salad Annie” went to No. 8. (Creedence Clearwater Revival had two songs in the Top 40, but I think Tony Joe came from a little deeper in the swamp.) The bluesy tale of the gal whose mama was workin’ on a chain gang intrigued me whenever I heard it coming out of the radio speakers, especially White’s growled introduction and his spoken interjections. Of course, I didn’t do anything about it: I never bought the single, and I didn’t get the album that was home to the single – Black and White – until sometime in the 1990s. But I still love the record. “Polk Salad Annie” brought White his only hit, although he continues to perform and record; his most recent album, The Shine, came out earlier this year.

When the O’Jays called us out to the station in 1972, I’m not sure that anyone who heard the infectious “Love Train” didn’t want to get on board. As I detailed the other day when I wrote about “Back Stabbers,” the group had seen singles move into the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B chart for years before Top 40 success arrived. And arrive it did: “Love Train” went to No. 1, and was No. 1 for four weeks on the R&B chart as well. The group would hit the Top 40 seven more times before the string of hits ended in 1980. (The hits on the R&B and related charts continued, and as recently as 2004, the O’Jays had a track – “Make Up” – get to No. 74 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.)

I was sitting at The Table at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center in early 1976 when the 4 Season’s “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” came on the jukebox. My friend Stu shook his head. “Man,” he said, “what a great bass line. One of the best ever.” I took that judgment under advisement, and over the years, I’ve polished it to the point where I credit the 4 Seasons’ hit – it was No. 1 for three weeks – with having the best pop music bass line ever. And it is the bass line that moves the song along as it tells its tale of a one-night stand. The 4 Seasons had thirty Top 40 hits between 1962 and 1976 (with a dance remix of “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” going to No. 14 in 1994 for a thirty-first hit). But “December 1963” is the only one that does anything at all for me.

“Badlands” was the first Bruce Springsteen song I recall hearing. As I’ve noted before, I was aware of the hoopla surrounding Born To Run when it came out in 1975, but I don’t recall ever hearing the title track on the radio (which is odd, as it went to No. 23). I suppose I heard it but didn’t pay much attention. But I do remember hearing “Badlands” one day when I was working for the Monticello newspaper. My boss had a new Suburban, which we used to bring the 3,000 or so copies of each weekly edition back from the printer in a town ten miles away. One Wednesday during the summer of 1978, it was my job to drive to Buffalo, put the final touches on the newspaper and then bring back the finished product. One of the benefits of driving the Suburban was the FM radio, something my vehicle did not have. So after I started the Suburban, I tuned it to KQRS, an album-rock station in the Twin Cities, and the first thing I heard was Max Weinberg’s brief drum riff and then – I had the volume turned up high – the crash of “Badlands,” with its stinging, octave-jumping guitar riff and Clarence Clemons’ own defiant solo. Over the years, because of that moment and because of its musical and lyrical toughness, “Badlands” has remained one of my favorite Springsteen songs. It just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 42 in the Billboard Hot 100, but it deserved better, if for no other reason than the line: “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”

We’d had a spat one day, the Texas Gal and I. It was the summer of 2000: She was still living and working in the Dallas area, and I was living in my apartment on Minneapolis’ Bossen Terrace, a half-block from the international airport. I don’t recall what the argument was about, but troubled, I tried to think of a way to apologize without interrupting her during a busy afternoon. I wasn’t quite certain she wanted to talk to me at the moment, anyway. As I sat at my computer, my RealPlayer settled on a Crowded House tune, one that I liked a fair amount. It had been a No. 2 hit in early 1987, but I recalled it from my second year in Minot; one of the young women who edited the Minot State yearbook brought mixtapes in for the yearbook production sessions, and the sounds of those mixtapes came unavoidably through my door into my office. Happily, I’d liked most of the tunes I’d thus heard, including the Crowded House record that was now playing. As the song went on and I worried about how the Texas Gal felt after our argument, I opened my Yahoo! messenger and changed my status to: “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” I knew that the program – which she also had on her computer at work – would alert her to my change of status. A few moments later, I got an alert that her status had also changed. I don’t recall the exact wording – and neither does she – but her message was reassuring. And since that day, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” – a beautifully written, performed and produced piece of pop music – has been one of our favorite songs.

A Concert Dim In Memory

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Even during my student and young adult years – the years 1970 to 1983 – I never went to a large number of concerts. I saw acts as they came through St. Cloud – most of those at St. Cloud State – and on occasion went to the Twin Cities for a show.

In St. Cloud during that time, my concerts began with the Fifth Dimension in the autumn of 1970 and closed with Leon Russell in the autumn of 1977. My Twin Cities concert list during those years started with a Joe Cocker show in April 1972 and ended with a Jackson Browne performance during the summer of 1980.

I remember pretty well almost every concert I went to during those years. That’s why it sometimes surprises me when I realize that I once saw the San Francisco band It’s A Beautiful Day in concert and don’t recall much about the show. The concert took place in St. Cloud State’s Halenbeck Hall gym, and it was sometime in early 1973, I think, most likely in the spring. But not much of it stuck with me.

(As it turns out, as indicated in the note below from the St. Cloud State University archivist, the concert actually took place in the autumn of 1971 during St. Cloud State’s Homecoming celebration. So most of the following reasons as to why the concert is dim in my memory do not apply. It may simply be, as I note a couple paragraphs below, that I was unfamiliar with most of the band’s music so not much stuck with me. Note added September 29, 2015.)

I suppose it might have been 1972, but I don’t think so, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the major spring concert at St. Cloud State in 1972 was by Elton John, and I recall that show well. And it makes some sense that a concert by It’s A Beautiful Day in spring 1973 might be dim in memory:

First of all, that was the spring when I was preparing to spend my next school year in Denmark, and planning for that adventure took up a lot of time and a lot of my mental energy. Second, that spring followed the winter during which I discovered The Table at the student union, and the sudden influx of a large number of friends into my life took a lot of my attention, too. Not that I began to ignore the friends who’d gotten me that far; I think I saw It’s A Beautiful Day with Rick. But my social life was more full and diverse than it had ever been, and it’s possible that the concert – instead of being a major event – became just one tile in the mosaic that was my life at the time.

Finally, I think the concert has faded from my memory because I really didn’t know the band’s music all that well. I had none of the group’s five albums, and there was only one recording by the band that I was truly aware of. It’s the same recording that I think everyone thinks of at first when It’s A Beautiful Day is mentioned: ‘White Bird.”

And I do recall the murmur in the crowd followed by applause when David LaFlamme began to pick the song’s opening riff on his five-string violin. And he and singer Patti Santos and the rest of the band gave us about ten minutes of “White Bird.” (Linda LaFlamme, who shares the vocal with her husband of the time on the original 1969 recording, had long since left the group by the time of the St. Cloud concert.) I also have a vague visual memory of David LaFlamme going all gypsy on his violin during an extended solo. But that one song is all I remember.

There’s no doubt that “White Bird” is a haunting piece of music, one that got a tremendous amount of FM airplay during 1969 and the first years of the 1970s. There were other tracks on the band’s albums that likely deserved some attention, too, but as it’s turned out, “White Bird” somehow sums up at least one portion of the San Francisco musical ethos of the era. And that’s why it’s one of the tunes on the Ultimate Jukebox. 

White bird
Dreams of the aspen trees with their dying leaves turning gold.
But the white bird just sits in her cage growing old.

White bird must fly or she will die.
White bird must fly or she will die.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 6
“White Bird” by It’s A Beautiful Day from It’s A Beautiful Day [1969]
“O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps, Buddah 165 [1970]
“Out In The Country” by Three Dog Night, ABC/Dunhill 4250 [1970]
“What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, Tamla 54201 [1971]
“T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia),” by MFSB featuring the Three Degrees, Philadelphia International 3540 [1974]
“The Captain of Her Heart” by Double from Blue [1986]

As I wrote once before, hearing the Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child” always reminds me of the morning I pulled into a parking lot and jumped from my car to call a oldies station’s trivia line – this in the days before cell phones – and then watched my car begin to roll back into the street as I was hanging up. I was lucky twice that morning: First, there was no traffic heading my car’s direction as I ran to it and found the brake, and second, I won a free pizza for identifying the record just from its introduction. And you know what? I still like the record, which went to No. 8 during the summer of 1970. Key lines:

Some day, yeah, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun.
Some day, when the world is much brighter.

“Out In The Country” fits into a couple of categories as a pop song. It falls right into the clutch of songs and records that I call “get back to the land” tunes. It’s hard to tell whether the narrator – the song was written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols – is heading to the country forever or just for the afternoon, but it still holds the idea that things are better away from the city. And it is, I think, one of the earliest-charting pop songs to have a clear ecological bent; we’d call it a “green record” these days. The record was Three Dog Night’s seventh Top 40 hit, rising to No. 15 during the late summer and early autumn of 1970. Key lines:

Before the breathin’ air is gone,
Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime.
Out where the rivers like to run,
I stand alone and take back somethin’ worth rememberin’.

In The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh wrote: “‘What’s Goin’ On’ is the matrix from which was created the spectrum of ambitious black pop of the seventies: everything from the blaxploitation sounds of Curtis Mayfield to Giorgio Moroder’s pop-disco. Not bad for a record whose backing vocalists include a pair of pro football players.” The football players were Mel Farr and Lem Barney of the Detroit Lions, and according to Songfacts.com, the pair and Gaye used the phrase “What’s goin’ on?” as a frequent greeting, providing Gaye with the title for not only his socially conscious song but for his equally aware album. The record – as beautiful as it is powerful – spent three weeks at No. 2 on the pop chart and five weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart. (The album went to No. 6, with two more songs hitting the Top 40: “Mercy Mercy Me” went to No. 4, and “Inner City Blues” went to No. 9.) Key lines (that sadly still resonate today):

Mother, mother,
There’s too many of you crying.
Brother, brother, brother,
There’s far too many of you dying.

Turning to Dave Marsh once again, he said that “T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia)” was what disco sounded like in the test tube. And he’s right. It would still be a couple of years before disco would take over the airways and the dance floors, but when you listen to MFSB and the Three Degrees, you can hear what was the future – or a good-sized slice of the future, anyway – in the grooves. Most disco music, as it turned out, eventually bored me (and I don’t think I was alone in that reaction), and only two true disco records will show up in this feature as we move along, but “T.S.O.P.” was something fresh and new and exciting when it hit the airwaves and went to No. 1 for two weeks in the spring of 1974. It may no longer be fresh and new, but on those rare occasions when it pops up, it’s still exciting. And the record’s only real lyrics were nevertheless right on message:

People all over the world: It’s time to get down!

Some records simply sound like a certain time of the day or night, no matter when one hears them, as I alluded to not long ago when I wrote about the Church’s “Under The Milky Way.” To me, Double’s moody “The Captain of Her Heart” is two in the morning. It’s a cold cup of coffee and a window and a city street with maybe one car passing by in an hour’s time. But it’s still a beautiful piece of work. The single edit of the record went to No. 16 in the late summer and autumn of 1986. The group produced two videos for the record: one evidently intended for the European market based on the single and the one embedded below that used the album track and was tagged as the “United States version.” And I guess the opening lines remain the key lines:

It was way past midnight,
And still she couldn’t fall asleep.
This night the dream was leaving
She tried so hard to keep.