Archive for the ‘1986’ Category

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.