Archive for the ‘1962’ Category

Six at Random

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I’ve Seen Trouble . . .’

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

I’m finding it hard to lift my head and get anything done that’s not essential. Why? Most likely a combination of my revulsion at the turns our national life seems to be taking these days and the depressive effects of my own cyclical biochemistry, along with, no doubt, grief.

My goal in the midst of that this morning was to write a bit about the fortieth anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, but I found little to say. So I let that go, and that’s okay, for as important as Elvis Presley was to the music that I love, I was never more than a casual fan. Others can testify far better than I.

Instead, I went looking for “sorrow” in the RealPlayer and found – among other titles – sixteen versions of the tune “Man of Constant Sorrow,” some with different titles. Wikipedia tells me that the first version of the song was published in 1913 “by Dick Burnett, a partially blind fiddler from Kentucky” under the title “Farewell Song.”

The first recorded version, according to Second Hand Songs, was a release on Vocalion by Emry Arthur in 1928. The website lists fifty-six additional versions of the tune, ranging from a 1951 cover by the Stanley Brothers with the Clinch Mountain Boys to a 2015 cover by Dwight Yoakam.

In the midst of that bit of digging, I ran a search in this blog’s archives and found that I’ve never featured any version of the tune and have mentioned it just once in passing, in a 2007 meditation on the definition of “folk music.”

So here are Peter, Paul & Mary with my favorite version of that oft-covered tune. It was titled simply “Sorrow” and was on their self-titled debut album in 1962.

Saturday Single No. 547

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

A week ago, I wrote about San Francisco and its “lasting and perhaps pre-eminent place in American culture as a destination where one can alternately find or lose or sell or buy one’s self all with the purpose of being the best self one can be.”

Okay, so I was being a bit glib by the end of the sentence, perhaps not wanting to get too weighty on a Saturday morning. But it’s true, I think, that San Francisco has long been used by songwriters (and writers of all type, for that matter) as an ideal. And, as I noted last week, songs about San Francisco abound. I’m not sure how many sit on the digital shelves here, because when I sort the RealPlayer for “San Francisco,” I also get tracks recorded there.

But there are lot of them, starting with eleven versions of “San Francisco Bay Blues” and eleven versions as well of the tune that may be the quintessential song about the city, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” Now, eleven versions aren’t very many, and I was surprised that there weren’t more versions of the latter tune. After all, Second Hand Songs list 135 versions of the tune, and I’m sure there are some that are unaccounted for there. But eleven is what we have.

The first release is probably, to re-use a word, the quintessential version of the song: Tony Bennet’s 1962 release, which went to No. 19 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 7 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart. Elegant and controlled, Bennet’s vocal glides above an understated accompaniment, and as I listen to it this morning, I marvel – not for the first time – at Bennet’s voice and delivery.

We’ll take a look at some of the covers of the tune in the near future, but the only thing we need to listen to this morning is Tony Bennett’s 1962 version of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” today’s Saturday Single.

Struggling

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

I’m not doing all that well right now. Understandable, I suppose. I posted at Facebook yesterday:

“My home phone number when I was a kid was BLackburn 1-5557. When exchanges were dropped, it became 251-5557. Mom once told me that they got the number sometime before we moved from our apartment on Riverside Drive to our house on Kilian Boulevard in February 1957. So that was Mom’s phone number for more than sixty years. Sometime this afternoon, it will be disconnected. . . . I’ve been closing accounts and cancelling subscriptions for a week now. This one hurts.”

I’ve got nothing else to say right now, and too many sad tasks ahead of me yet.

Here’s “Samba Triste” – or “Sad Samba” – by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd. It’s from their 1962 album Jazz Samba.

‘Let Me Tell The Story . . .’

Friday, August 19th, 2016

I was pondering this morning the transition during the 1960s of the place of record albums: If you look at the weekly Top Ten in the Billboard 200 from 1963 to, oh, 1969, you’ll see the top-selling albums went from being mostly the province of folk, easy listening and soundtracks to the land of pop, rock, R&B and soul.

That in itself is pretty old news, and I was trying to cobble together something interesting by comparing the top ten album charts from mid-August of 1963, 1966 and 1969. But as I examined the top ten albums from this week in 1963, I got sidetracked.

The top album that week was Little Stevie Wonder/The 12 Year Old Genius but as I had expected, most of the albums listed – seven of the ten – were soundtracks, comedy, folk or easy listening. One of the other exceptions was the immortal Live At The Apollo by James Brown.

The third outlier was Shut Down, a collection released by Capitol of tunes mostly about cars and motorcycles by various artists. That album offered two tracks by the Beach Boys, a bunch of tracks by groups with short shelf lives (the best of those might be the “Brontosaurus Stomp” by the Piltdown Men) and one track from actor Robert Mitchum. And it was that last track that grabbed my attention. Here’s “The Ballad of Thunder Road” by Robert Mitchum:

The scenes used in the video are from the 1958 film Thunder Road, which Mitchum co-wrote and produced (and perhaps partly directed, according to Wikipedia). Mitchum also co-wrote – with Don Raye – the song. But Mitchum’s version was not used in the movie. Instead, a folky version of the tune was recorded for the movie by Randy Sparks, who a few years later would be the founder of the New Christy Minstrels. Here’s Sparks’ version of the tune, which was titled “The Whippoorwill.”

As “The Ballad of Thunder Road,” Mitchum’s version of the theme was released as a single in 1958 and went to No. 62 in the Billboard Hot 100. Capitol tried again in early 1962, and the single topped out at No. 65. And then it showed up in 1963 on Shut Down, which was at its peak at No. 7 in that Billboard album chart from this week in 1963. (Mitchum would hit the Hot 100 one more time: “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me” went to No. 96 during the summer of 1967.)

As to the 1958 movie, I’ve read in various places that it’s a cult classic, and beyond Mitchum’s single, it does have a place in music history: During a 1978 concert, Bruce Springsteen said that the poster for the film was the source of the title for his song “Thunder Road” although Springsteen evidently never saw the movie.

And all of that is enough for today.

‘Do It’

Friday, September 25th, 2015

I took a look yesterday at the Billboard Hot 100 that was released this week in 1975, and since yesterday’s date – 9/24 – added up to thirty-three, I took a close look at No. 33. It turned out to be “Do It Any Way You Wanna” by the People’s Choice, a Philadelphia-based R&B dance group.

The funky boogie chant went to No. 11, the best performance of the three Hot 100 hits for People’s Choice. (“I Likes To Do It” went to No. 38 in 1971, and “Nursery Rhymes [Part I]” went to No. 93 in 1976.) And I thought I should see how many titles on the digital shelves start with the words “do it.”

There are twenty-four of them. The simple “Do It” shows up three times at the top of the alphabetical list: Once in 1971 from Aphrodite’s Child, the Greek progressive rock band of the late 1960s and early 1970s, once in 1969 from the Doors, and once in 1972 from Jesse Winchester. At the other end of the alphabetical listing we find “Do It, Fluid,” a 1974 offering by the Blackbyrds. None of those four grip me very hard.

Sorting the tracks by year, we follow a path from Richard “Groove” Holmes’ “Do It My Way” from 1962 to Keb Mo’s “Do It Right” from 2014. Both of those are pretty good, but if we have to choose one, we’ll listen to Holmes’ track:

The most frequent title is “Do It Again,” which shows up five times. I have two copies of the Beach Boys’ “Do It Again,” one tagged as a single and the other tagged as coming from the album 20/20. I’m not sure there’s any difference. I also have Steely Dan’s 1972 track “Do It Again,” Richie Havens’ 1976 cover of the Steely Dan tune, and a passable 1996 country tune with that title by singer Lari White.

Beyond those, here’s the “do it” harvest:

“Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied)” by B.T. Express, 1976.
“Do It All Over Again” by J. Vincent Edwards, 1970
“Do It For Mother” by Whistler, 1971
“Do It Good” by Bill Withers, 1971
“Do It In The Name Of Love” by Candi Staton, 1972
“Do It In The Rain” by Buster Benton, 1977
“Do It Just For Me” by Genya Ravan, 1978
“Do It Now” by Bessie Banks, 1963
“Do It Now” by Ingrid Michaelson, 2012
“Do It Right” by Bobby Womack & Peace, 1972
“Do It To ’Em” by the Big Town Boys, 1968
“Do It To Me” by the South Side Movement, 1975

There are some good ones among the twelve tracks in that last list. (There are also some that leave me cold.) Here’s one of the good ones, chosen for no reason other than that I like it: “Do It In The Name Of Love” by Candi Staton from her self-titled 1972 album.

Taking A Few Days

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

Summer’s dealt us an incredibly busy week, so Odd, Pop and I are going to take a few days away from the studios. See you Saturday.

In the meantime, here’s Connie Francis’ “Vacation” from 1962. It went to No. 9 in the late summer, and it’s got a sax solo from Boots Randolph right about the 1:20 mark.

Offenbach With Bongos

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

So there I was this morning, sipping my coffee and thinking about possible blog posts. As I thought, I was wandering through Easy and Wonderful, one of the blogs that satisfies my itch for easy listening music, and I came across an album titled Champagne & Bongos by the Irving Fields Trio.

How could I resist?

I knew nothing about Irving Fields, though I’ve since learned that, according to Wikipedia, he’s had a lengthy and successful career as a soloist, with his trio and with the Irving Fields Orchestra. Along with a review of his career, the page about him at Wikipedia – updated this year – notes that Fields, now 99, “currently plays six nights a week at Nino’s Tuscany, an Italian restaurant in New York City.” (A quick check at the website for Nino’s Tuscany confirms that Fields still plays there.)

Champagne & Bongos, a 1962 album, turned out to be a collection of tunes from or about France with, in fact, some bongos adding rhythmic touches. It was one of several bongo-backed albums Fields released with his trio around the same time: Pizza & Bongos (1958) featured Italian tunes, Bagels & Bongos (1959) and More Bagels & Bongos (1961) featured traditional Jewish music, and Bikinis & Bongos (1962) featured Hawaiian tunes. I may have to seek out of few of those and take a listen as well to some of Fields’ work without the bongos.

And just as I couldn’t resist grabbing the album, neither can I resist sharing a portion of it here. So, from Champagne & Bongos, here’s the Irving Fields Trio’s “Can Can Merengue,” based at least mostly (if not entirely; I’m not certain) on themes from Jacques Offenbach’s compositions, as presented (again, as far as I understand it) in orchestrations by the composer’s nephew in the 1938 ballet Gaîté Parisienne.

Clarification added after initial posting.

Another Discovery

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

So up pops the name of another artist whom I do not recognize but absolutely need to learn more about.

Glancing this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 for January 27, 1962 – forty-five years ago today – I recognized a title bubbling under at No. 103: “Drown In My Own Tears” by Don Shirley.

I know the song, certainly. In 1956, Ray Charles’ version went to No. 1 on a couple of the pop charts of the time and on the R&B chart. Written by Henry Glover and – according to Second Hand Songs – first recorded by the Sonny Thompson Orchestra in 1952, the song has been covered many, many times. My first hearing of the song was likely as part of the “Blue Medley” on Joe Cocker’s live Mad Dogs & Englishmen from 1970, and just by accident, I’ve gathered ten other versions of the song.

So who was Don Shirley? Well, we’ll start with the version of “Drown In My Own Tears” that he released as the title track to a 1961 album. (Is this the single version? I doubt it. A label I saw for the single shows a running time of 2:16. As I implied the other day, we all know how unreliable running times on single labels are, but still, that 2:16 is about forty seconds shorter than the album track, and that’s a big difference to hide.) The single peaked at No. 100, and on its B-side, “The Lonesome Road” bubbled under at No. 116.

It turns out that Shirley was a well-known and well–regarded composer and pianist, working in jazz but with influences from other forms as well. As Wikipedia notes, “Don Shirley’s music is hard to categorize. As an arranger-composer he treated each piece of music as a new composition, not just an arrangement. Shirley played standards in a non-standard way. He was a virtuoso, playing everything from show tunes, to ballads, to his personal arrangements of Negro spirituals, to jazz, and always with the overtone of a classically trained musician who has utmost respect for the music he is playing.”

His biography is – to use a word I likely have overused in this space – fascinating, from studying music theory in Leningrad at age nine, to playing with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops and performing at Milan’s La Scala, to becoming a psychologist and then falling back into a musical career and recording a series of jazz albums from the mid-1950s through the 1960s.

His chart presence was minimal: In 1955, his album Tonal Expressions went to No. 14 on the Billboard chart, and in mid-1961, a cover of the traditional work song “Water Boy” by the Don Shirley Trio went to No. 40 on the Hot 100 and to No. 10 on the Easy Listening chart. Neither of the two singles – “Water Boy” or the earlier mentioned “Drown In My Own Tears/The Lonesome Road” – showed up in the R&B Top 40.

There’s plenty of Don Shirley’s stuff out there. I saw numerous CDs listed and there’s some stuff in the wilds of the ’Net, too, I imagine. What I’ve heard so far, I like, and I’m no doubt going to find more.

‘That Big Eight-Wheeler . . .’

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

So what other covers did I run across this week as I dug into Hank Snow’s 1950 classic song “I’m Movin’ On”? Well, using the list at Second Hand Songs and the list of performers available at BMI, I found a bunch that I thought were interesting and a couple that I really liked.

My favorite? Well, that can wait for a bit, but second place goes to the version that Leon Russell released in 1984 recording as his alter ego, Hank Wilson. Here’s that rollicking cover, from Hank Wilson Vol. II.

As I dug, I was particularly interested in giving a listen to the first cover listed at SHS, a performance by Hoagy Carmichael, but I think that’s an error, maybe a different song with the same (or a similar) title, as Carmichael is not included in the BMI list of performers who’ve recorded the song. Given that, it seems – and I’m not at all certain, as the BMI listings don’t include dates – that the first cover of “I’m Movin’ On” came in 1955 from Les Paul and Mary Ford.

In 1961, a rockabilly musician named Dick Hiorns – whose resume included a couple of daily performances during the early 1950s on WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin – recorded a version of Snow’s song for the Cuca Record Company of Sauk City, Wisconsin. A year later, Jerry Reed – at the time a session guitarist in Nashville – teamed up with some background singers who were called the Hully Girlies for a version of Snow’s tune, and a few years after that, in 1965, the Rolling Stones took on the tune and released it on the EP Got Live If You Want It!

Genius organist Jimmy Smith took a whack at the tune in 1967, and two years later, Elvis Presley included it on his From Elvis in Memphis album. In 1978, New Orleans’ Professor Longhair (aka Henry Byrd) took Snow’s song, altered the verses and made it into a Crescent City shuffle. It’s included on Big Chief, a 1993 Rhino album. (And I have no idea if the fourteen tracks on Big Chief were released during the intervening fifteen years).

There were others, of course: Versions that I didn’t track down or that didn’t grab me came from, among other, Del Reeves, Clyde McPhatter, Timi Yuro, Connie Francis, Johnny Nash, Burl Ives, the Box Tops, Sammy Kershaw, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Mickey Gilley, Loggins & Messina and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

But after all of that, I think my favorite cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” that I found this week was actually a rediscovery. Rosanne Cash included the tune on her 2009 CD The List, an album of songs pulled from a list her famous father once gave her of essential American music. I’ve often thought that too many versions of the song – Snow’s included – have sounded almost celebratory. Not Cash’s. She pulls the tempo back, and amid a nest of atmospheric guitars and percussion, she makes the song something closer to a dirge, and that fits.