Archive for the ‘Repeat Post’ Category

‘Sometimes In Winter’

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

Here’s a piece from the past that came to mind this morning. It ran here in a slightly different form almost ten years ago, in late February 2009.

I spent eight winters living in Minneapolis, three of them working downtown amid the unsurprising mix of a few modern skyscrapers, some other glass and steel buildings, and the older brick and stone edifices that had to that point survived the city’s occasional efforts at urban renewal.

While the canyons of downtown Minneapolis are slight shadows of those in the major cities – I think of Chicago and New York, obviously – there still was a wintertime melancholy there that one doesn’t find in smaller cities. Even away from downtown – maybe in the blocks around the trendy Uptown area not far away, or in the far southern reaches of the city, where I lived during my last urban seasons – the city can be a dreary place in the later afternoon of a winter day.

It was downtown Minneapolis on a wet winter day that popped into my head this morning. The RealPlayer was on random as I read the newspaper. One song ended and the next began: a familiar woodwind riff over a bed of muted brass and then some subdued percussion. It was Steve Katz’ evocative song, “Sometimes In Winter,” from Blood, Sweat & Tears’ second, self-titled album. And I sang along softly:

Sometimes in winter,
I gaze into the streets
And walk through snow and city sleet
Behind your room.

Sometimes in winter,
Forgotten memories
Remember you behind the trees
With leaves that cried.

By the window once I waited for you;
Laughing slightly you would run.
Trees alone would shield us in the meadow,
Makin’ love in the evening sun.

Now you’re gone, girl,
And the lamp posts call your name.
I can hear them
In the spring of frozen rain.

Now you’re gone, girl,
And the time’s slowed down till dawn.
It’s a cold room, and the walls ask
Where you’ve gone.

Sometimes in winter,
I love you when the good times
Seem like mem’ries in the spring
That never came.

Sometimes in winter,
I wish the empty streets
Would fill with laughter from the tears
That ease my pain.

As I sang, I could see the cold afternoon streets, the lights of the stores and the bars reflecting off the damp pavement. I could see the downtown workers huddled and hunched against the wind and snow, seeking the shelter of those stores and bars or maybe the havens of busses to take them home, away from the gray. And some of those who fled, just like some of those who stayed behind, would know well about Katz’ cold room with its questioning walls.

I first heard the song in 1969, when Blood, Sweat & Tears was the first cassette I got for my new tape player, and the song’s gentle grief has always felt right to me. For years, I envisioned Katz or his alter ego wandering the chill streets of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Today’s vision of Minneapolis doesn’t negate that; it adds to it. For I think all of us – even those in warmer climes – carry our own winter cities with us.

Saturday Single No. 623

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

We continue our increasingly frequent wandering through the EITW archives in search of posts that might have some interest. Today’s it a meandering look at the song I first heard from the Beatles about a city where you can hang around Twelfth Street and Vine. The piece first ran here in October 2008. I’ve made some minor changes.

For a time around 1969-70, the evening deejay at WJON, the radio station just down the street and across the railroad tracks from our house, was a fellow who used the name Ron P. Michaels (his initials were then RPM, you see). And one evening during the summer of 1970, he put on a special show.

From seven o’clock to (I think) midnight one weekday evening, Michaels played nothing but the Beatles. From the hits like “Hey Jude,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to tracks from deep in the group’s catalog, WJON was all-Beatles for one five-hour stretch that summer night.

I was a fledgling Beatles fan, just beginning to learn about the Fab Four’s music. I had – and knew well – the Let It Be and Abbey Road albums. I owned – with my sister – Beatles ’65, one of the albums of bits and pieces that Capitol had created in the early days of the group’s American success. Later that summer, I would buy Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Hey Jude, a package of hits and B-sides (also known as The Beatles Again).

There was still plenty I did not know about the Beatles’ music. I was determined to learn, however. So I stationed myself in my bedroom with my Panasonic cassette recorder and carefully stopped and started the tape to edit out commercial breaks. My recording technique was brutal: The radio was on the bed, with the microphone set down nearby, but the sound quality was good enough. I ended up with three-and-a-half hours of music, which was nothing near the group’s entire output on Capitol/Apple (During their active recording years, from Please Please Me through Let It Be, I estimated ten years ago that the Beatles released about eleven hours of music), but it was certainly a place to start learning about the deeper places in the group’s catalog.

I recall that some of the songs I heard for the first time that evening weren’t, to be honest, high points in the Beatles’ career: “Devil In Her Heart,” “Yes It Is,” “Act Naturally” and “Blue Jay Way” come to mind. On the other hand, that was the evening I was introduced to “In My Life,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” the last of which remains one of my favorite recordings by anyone, ever.

Another song that I heard for the first time that evening was titled at the time “Kansas City.” It started, “I’m goin’ to Kansas City, bringing my baby back home.”

Released on Beatles For Sale in 1964, the song was the Beatles’ cover of Little Richard’s version of the tune written in the early 1950s by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Little Richard’s indelible contribution to the song – beyond his lethal performance of “Kansas City” itself – was the “Hey, hey, hey hey” coda, which was his own creation. From what I’ve read, the Beatles were unaware of Little Richard’s addition; they called the song simply “Kansas City” and listed only Leiber and Stoller as the writers. (Eventually, the title of the Beatles’ recording was changed; it’s now called a medley of “Kansas City” and “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey” with Little Richard given a writing credit [as Richard Penniman].)

Looking a little bit deeper, there was no way the Beatles really could have known. After all, when Little Richard’s recording was released as Specialty 664 after it was recorded in 1955, its title was simply “Kansas City,” with only Leiber and Stoller listed as writers. As was the case with the Beatles’ omission, that error has since been corrected. The 1991 CD The Georgia Peach, a Little Richard hits package, lists the song as “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” and lists Penniman as a writer along with the team of Leiber and Stoller.

Anyway, that night was the first time I’d heard “Kansas City” with or without the Penniman addition. I thought it was a pretty good song, but I didn’t bother in those days to dig too deeply into the history of the music I was listening to. I was having a difficult enough time keeping track of current groups and their catalogs. So I didn’t know for years that “Kansas City” – sometimes listed as “K.C. Lovin’” – had been around since before I was born.

As noted above, the song came from the duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, a duo credited with writing hit after hit during the Fifties and early Sixties, including “Hound Dog,” “Young Blood,” “Yakety Yak,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Stand By Me” (with Ben E. King), “Ruby Baby” and many more, including the very odd No. 11 hit for Peggy Lee in 1969, “Is That All There Is?”

Originally recorded in 1952 by Little Willie Littlefield, “Kansas City” is without doubt one of the most-covered R&B songs of all time. The listings at Second Hand Songs show more than 160 versions of “Kansas City” and fourteen additional versions of “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey.” The most famous cover of “Kansas City” is most likely Wilbert Harrison’s 1959 version, which was No. 1 for two weeks. (As good as Little Richard’s version on Specialty was, it did not reach the Top 40.)

Other covers of the song that I have in my collection are from Joe Williams, Muddy Waters, Paul McCartney (on his 1988 album Снова в СССР, originally released only in the Soviet Union) and Albert King. It’s not a song in which I’ve invested a lot of time.

I’ve since added more versions by artists including bluesman David “Honeyboy” Edwards, guitarist Billy Strange, Big Bill Broonzy, and Jan & Dean.

But there is one fascinating version I do have. In 1977, Libby Titus – who I think is generally forgotten today – recorded a version of the song that she titled “Kansas City (K.C. Lovin’)” and released it on her self-titled album. The album is pretty good, but is, I think, of additional interest because Titus was once in a relationship with Levon Helm of The Band (and is the mother of musician Amy Helm, who’s been mentioned here a few times). Helm’s former bandmate Garth Hudson shows up on one track, and Robbie Robertson produced two tracks and plays on one. (Producing the remaining tracks were, in various combinations, the intriguing trio of Paul Simon, Carly Simon and Phil Ramone.)

Among the other highlights of the album – which used to be pricey on both CD and vinyl but has since been re-released on CD and is now available in both formats for reasonable prices – are Titus’ work on the classic song “Love Has No Pride,” which she co-wrote with Eric Kaz, and the slightly odd “The Night You Took Me to Barbados in My Dreams.” But “Kansas City (K.C. Lovin’),” with its own odd moment in the introduction, is likely the best thing on the album and one of the slinkier covers of the song I’ve ever heard.

And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 622

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

While wandering through the archives this morning, I came across this meditation on Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” from December 2007. I think it still holds some interest, and while I may have heard additional versions of the song in the intervening years, my conclusion remains the same as it was eleven years ago. I’ve made a few modest changes.

The first time I heard Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” it was in an interesting setting. Not in terms of physical place: The basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard was a pleasant place to spend some hours, but its decor was pretty standard for the early 1970s. I was thinking about its musical setting, as I heard the song, one of Dylan’s earliest recorded tracks, dropped in between two of his later tracks on his Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, a 1971 release.

The album opener was Dylan’s recent single, “Watching The River Flow,” produced by Leon Russell, and the third track on Side One of the new hits album was “Lay, Lady, Lay,” Dylan’s 1969 hit from his countryish Nashville Skyline. Nestled between the two tracks was “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” released in 1963 on Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. It was, as I wrote above, an interesting place to find one of the longest surviving songs of Dylan’s career – a career just less than ten years old at the time but already lengthy give the standards of the era, a time when the idea of creating a career out of being a pop/rock musician was just being invented.

(It’s worth recalling that Elvis Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, maneuvered Elvis into his long string of mediocre movies because he could not envision any performer creating a lengthy career in rock ’n’ roll or its antecedents. Simplifying a good deal, until the Beatles and Dylan, no mainstream pop/rock performer had really done that.)

I’ve always found “Don’t Think Twice” to be one of Dylan’s prettiest songs and one of the gentlest among his songs that chronicle and catalog the myriad ways we treat and deal with the ones we love. In Dylan’s written universe, the subject and object of love can be savaged, can be adored with reservations, can be worshipped and can be dismissed without hesitation. I’m sure there are other instances that one can find in the Dylan oeuvre, but “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is one of the few lyrics in which the loved one is forgiven with gentleness and (perhaps sardonic) grace as the singer heads down the road:

I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You coulda done better, but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time,
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

The only other Dylan love lyric that comes immediately to mind with that level of grace expressed is “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. In that case, however, the singer is the one who will be left behind, while the singer of “Don’t Think Twice” is the one who is leaving. There’s a difference there, subtle though it may be.

Hearing the song for the first time bracketed by two recent hits for Dylan – “Watching The River Flow” barely missed the Billboard Top 40, peaking at No. 41 during the summer of 1971, and “Lay, Lady, Lay” reached No. 7 during the summer of 1969 – instead of in its original setting on Freewheelin’, gave the song a different sensibility that I might otherwise not have found in it. I didn’t fully appreciate Dylan’s folkie origins at the time, but the context in which I heard “Don’t Think Twice” placed it squarely into the singer/songwriter milieu of the early 1970s. And it became one of my favorite tracks on the two-disc Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, both for its wordplay and for Dylan’s gentle performance.

It’s a song that’s been covered many times. Second Hand Songs lists more than two hundred covers in English and a few more in other languages. Among those who have covered the song are Joan Baez, Bobby Bare, Brook Benton, Johnny Cash, Bobby Darin, Nick Drake, José Feliciano, Bryan Ferry, the Indigo Girls, Waylon Jennings, Melanie, Elvis, Billy Paul, Jerry Reed, the Seekers and the Four Seasons. I’ve heard some of those versions, but not nearly all of them.

Still, I doubt that any performance of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” will grab me as much as does the version that Eric Clapton provided in 1992 during the celebration of Dylan’s thirty years in the recording industry. With a house band made up of the surviving members of Booker T & the MG’s, guitarist G.E. Smith and drummers Jim Keltner and Anton Figg, Clapton pulls the song apart and puts it back together as the blues. All Music Guide rightly calls it “one of the most electrifying performances of his life.”

That performance is today’s Saturday Single.

Turning The Corner

Friday, December 21st, 2018

This piece first appeared here ten years ago tomorrow, and I think it’s been reposted at least once before. But it’s here today because it’s one of my favorite pieces from nearly twelve years of blogging. It’s been revised slightly.

We’re about to turn the corner.

Late this afternoon – at 4:23 p.m. – the sun will venture as far south in the sky as it goes, and it will begin to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good news for those of us who find the lack of sunlight during this season grim and gloomy. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that I think is a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic and Germanic forebears. The science of our modern life tells us that the days of longer light will return, bringing us to springtime. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, however, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen. The sun will reverse its course this afternoon, and after tonight’s full moon sets, tomorrow will bring slightly more daylight than we’ll get today. And the day after that will bring more than will tomorrow. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’re about to turn the corner toward the light.

The solstice also marks the formal start of winter, of course, and I have many “winter” songs on the digital shelves. Here’s one that I sometimes like and sometimes don’t. It’s Sarah McLachlan’s take on Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter’s Night.” It’s on McLachlan’s 2006 album Wintersong.

First Wednesday: November 1968

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

One of the television pundits in the past few days – I do not recall which one it was – told us that the revival of the presidential campaign of John McCain from its doldrums of the summer of 2007 was the most remarkable political resurrection in recent American history.

That depends on how you define “recent,” of course.

But to me, the most remarkable political resurrection in recent American history culminated with the election of Richard Nixon as president in 1968. Eight years earlier, as a sitting vice-president, Nixon had been defeated for the presidency by Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy. Two years after that, he’d lost a bid for the governorship of California. As Wikipedia notes, “in an impromptu concession speech the morning after the [California] election, Nixon famously blamed the media for favoring his opponent, saying, ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.’”

Six years later, on November 5, 1968, Nixon was elected president of the United States in a three-way race. The election was not only the culmination of Nixon’s retreat, rehabilitation and resurrection (covered in detail by Wikipedia here), but the culmination of an arc of stunning and tragic events that have come to define the entire American year of 1968:

The Tet Offensive in Vietnam, which showed Americans at home that the path to victory in that Southeast Asian nation was not as smoothly laid as politicians and military officials had told them.

The near-defeat of a sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, by Senator Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, a result that spurred Johnson to withdraw from the Democratic presidential campaign, a decision that threw the race into chaos.

The assassinations – in April and June respectively – of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis and Senator Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles. The horror and sorrow of the two murders – coming two months and two days apart – increased the sense of a nation crumbling under the strain of blow after blow, grief after grief.

The upheaval during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August. As millions watched on television, the Democrats wrangled inside the convention hall, unable to unite, while outside, police and demonstrators fought in what was later judged to be “a police riot.” The sight of counter-cultural demonstrators battling police was certainly one of the factors that doomed the chances of Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey in November’s election.

In that election, Humphrey and his running mate, Edmund Muskie of Maine, were facing Republicans Nixon and Governor Spiro Agnew of Maryland. In addition, the campaign included one of the few viable third-party candidacies ever in United States’ history, with former Alabama Governor George Wallace and his running mate Gen. Curtis LeMay heading the American Independent Party, running on a generally anti-Washington platform, especially where it concerned civil rights and the federal government’s efforts toward desegregation.

According to Wikipedia (and this echoes what I recall hearing as a fifteen-year-old at the time), Wallace’s hope for the election was to win enough states and their electoral votes to deny both Nixon and Humphrey the presidency and move the presidential decision into the U.S. House of Representatives (where each state would cast one vote as determined by its delegation of representatives). Presumably, the delegations of the states Wallace had won in the election would follow his lead there and allow him the role of power broker as the House decided the election.

That was Wallace’s goal. The reality was that he won five states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi – with a total of forty-five electoral votes. But those weren’t enough to forestall Nixon’s victory, as the Republican ticket accumulated 301 electoral votes to 191 for the Humphrey-Muskie ticket. Richard Nixon, six years after proclaiming that he was done with politics, won the presidency.

Folks who play the sometimes fascinating game of Couldabeen have long noted that according to the polls of the time – not nearly as many as there are today – the race between Nixon and Humphrey had tightened in the week before the election. That has prompted some to conclude that had the campaign been one week longer, Humphrey would have overtaken Nixon and won the election. Perhaps. Maybe the movement would have been just enough to throw the election into the House of Representatives (something that has happened only twice before, from what I can tell, in 1800 and 1824).

[Note from 2018: In late October, a plan negotiated in Paris to bring the war in Vietnam to an end was sabotaged by the Nixon campaign, which, through intermediaries, told the government of South Vietnam that a Nixon administration could get South Vietnam a better deal than the one that the U.S. had negotiated for it with North Vietnam. (According to Wikipedia, the South Vietnamese government refused to negotiate directly with the revolutionary guerilla movement known as the Viet Cong, and the government of North Vietnam refused to recognize the legitimacy of the government of South Vietnam. Thus, the U.S. and North Vietnam negotiated for themselves and for their partners.) Whether a peace agreement in late October would have lifted the Humphrey-Muskie ticket to victory is another game of Couldabeen, but revelations over the past fifty years – as reported here in this 2017 piece at the website of the Smithsonian Institution – have confirmed the interference by the Nixon campaign and seem to imply strongly that the candidate directed the interference.]

In any event, the presidential election in November 1968 was when Richard Nixon’s revival peaked (it would move on a downward arc – a seeming inevitability, seen historically – soon enough) and the sad story of 1968 in the United States reached its climax. There was still a good chunk of time left in the year come November 6, the day after the election, but for most of those eight weeks, the nation, I think, was simply exhaling in exhaustion. The list of November events at Wikipedia includes a couple of things happening in Vietnam; one of them is the start of Operation Commando Hunt, a less-than-successful attempt to block the movement by guerillas of men and supplies along the Ho Chi Mihn trail in the supposedly neutral national of Laos.

But looking at the list of November’s events, once past the election, the month seems tranquil, which is not a word that could be used often during 1968. There was one other important event, in retrospect: On November 14, Yale University announced it would admit women. And there was one not-so-important event that nevertheless has an impact today: On November 17, NBC cut away from the last 1:05 of a football game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders to begin its special broadcast of a movie version of the tale Heidi. The Raiders scored two late touchdowns to win 43-32. Thousands of outraged fans protested, and NBC and other networks that air sports programming have since then stayed with sporting events to the very end regardless of the dislocation of the following schedule.

So what was it we were listening to as the votes were being counted on Election Day? Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for November 2, 1968:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin
“Little Green Apples” by O.C Smith
“Fire” by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
“Midnight Confessions” by the Grass Roots
“Elenore” by the Turtles
“Over You” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
“Hold Me Tight” by Johnny Nash
“Love Child” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“White Room” by Cream
“Suzie Q.” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf
“Piece of My Heart” by Big Brother and the Holding Company
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions

That’s a pretty good mix. I have to admit I’m not familiar with the Johnny Nash single. Maybe it didn’t get airplay here. I dunno. I know the rest well and like most of them. The Gary Puckett single is a little slight. On the other hand, “Fire” is about as powerful a song as you can find in the Top Fifteen, and “Love Child,” “White Room,” “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Piece of My Heart” are top-line singles. I also have a fond spot for “Midnight Confessions.” So when others had the radio on, I was beginning my slow modulation into pop/rock fandom and enjoying much of what I heard.

(I am a bit bothered by never having heard the Johnny Nash track, as far as I know.)

[Note from 2018: I now know the single, and it’s just okay.]

Here’s what Billboard listed as the Top Ten albums on Election Day:

Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Time Peace/The Rascal’s Greatest Hits by the Rascals
The Time Has Come by the Chambers Brothers
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
Crown of Creation by Jefferson Airplane
Wheels of Fire by Cream
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

This was a pretty good week: It was the fourth week in a row that Big Brother and the Holding Company had held the top spot, buoyed by Janis Joplin’s vocals. The Chambers Brothers’ mix of funk and psychedelia had re-entered the album chart on the strength of a single edited from the album’s title track; the single had peaked at No. 11 in mid-October. And beyond those, there’s a little bit of something for everyone in this Top Ten: Some pop country, some Latin influence, some bluesy psychedelia, some blue-eyed soul, some folk-rock in the quieter moments of the Jefferson Airplane album, and a freak-out or two.

The album I’m sharing today from 1968 is a fairly somber affair. David Ackles’ self-titled debut is one of those records that slowly insinuates itself. It’s subtle, and I’m not sure that consciously listening to it is the way to get into it. I’m probably wandering off into hippie stream of the universe territory here, but David Ackles is an album that – to the extent I know it (and I need to know it better) – I’ve begun to appreciate by having it play when I’m not aware of it.

The next time it plays, the increasing familiarity is pleasing, and even when only one track at a time pops up, a subtle learning of the album brings moments of unexpected recognition.

I dunno. Maybe that’s just the way I need to listen to it. Maybe focusing on 1968 for all these months has tipped me over the edge of perception. [That’s intended to be funny. You can chuckle.] I guess what I’m saying is that conscious listening – as in ‘Oh, what’s he doing with the guitar part and the parallel melody there?” – seems not to get me close to the center of whatever it is Ackles is aiming for. Osmosis seems to work better, and that may be because Ackles’ album is somber.

Here’s what Richie Unterberger of All-Music Guide had to say about David Ackles:

Ackles’ self-titled debut LP introduced a singer/songwriter quirky even by the standards of Elektra records, possibly the most adventurous independent label of the 1960s. Ackles was a pretty anomalous artist of his time, with a low, grumbling voice that was uncommercial but expressive, and similar to Randy Newman’s. As a composer, Ackles bore some similarities to Newman, as well in his downbeat eccentricity and mixture of elements from pop, folk, and theatrical music. All the same, this impressive maiden outing stands on its own, though comparisons to Brecht/Weill (in the songwriting and occasional circus-like tunes) and Tim Buckley (in the arrangements and phrasing) hold to some degree too. This is certainly his most rock-oriented record, courtesy of the typically tasteful, imaginative Elektra arrangements, particularly with Michael Fonfara’s celestial organ and the ethereal guitar riffs (which, again, recall those heard on Buckley’s early albums). As a songwriter, Ackles was among the darkest princes of his time, though the lyrics were delivered with a subdued resignation that kept them from crossing the line to hysterical gloom. “The Road to Cairo,” covered by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, and the Trinity is probably the most famous song here. But the others are quality efforts as well, whether the epics tell of religious trial, as in “His Name Is Andrew,” or the mini-horror tale of revisiting an old home in “Sonny Come Home.”

Beyond the tracks mentioned there, I’d also recommend “Blue Ribbon,” “Laissez-Faire” and “Be My Friend.” And keep an ear out for the organ/piano interplay. Without having the same sonic results, the pairing of those instruments seems to have drawn on similar approaches by Procol Harum and The Band.

Tracks:
The Road To Cairo
When Love Is Gone
Sonny Come Home
Blue Ribbons
What A Happy Day
Down River
Laissez-Faire
Lotus Man
His Name Is Andrew
Be My Friend

David Ackles – David Ackles (1968)

The link above is to a YouTube playlist of the entire album.

‘Raise Your Voice . . .”

Monday, October 29th, 2018

Today’s lesson – offered in December 2007 in what was an earlier translation from the Dead Air Scrolls – comes from the Book of Onehit, Chapter One:

And in those days when AM Radio ruled the youth of the land of Usa, those young ones heard strange and wondrous sounds come from the speakers. Sundered into small tribes as they were, the youth of Usa listened carefully for their various leaders, waiting to hear what wisdom those leaders sent to them through the little speakers in their plastic appliances.

Messages of music came frequently to those who were members of the greater tribes, the tribes of Beatle and Dylan and Rolling Stone, the tribes of Who and Clapton and Chicago and Beegee, and also the tribes of the place called Motown, the Wonder and the Franklin and the Supreme Temptation. And those who heard these AM messages went to their temples and laid down their offerings, and they came away from the temples with their vinyl. And when they played it on their turning tables, lo, it rocked!

There were those whose messages were clearly heard but once. Later messages would not wake their tribes. Their tribes were of lesser size, and though the members of those tribes listened intently to the first messages, few found need to listen again. And soon no more messages were inscribed for those tribes in the Scroll of Top Forty. These were the tribes of Greenbaum, of Robin of the McNamaras, of Lemon Pipers and Blue Cheer, the tribes of Smith and Steam and Spiral Starecase, of Flying Machine and Bubble Puppy, of Jaggerz and Edison Lighthouse, of White Plains and Tee Set, the tribes of R. Dean Taylor and the Pipkins. And the world at large rejoiced at the silence of the Pipkins.

Many members of those tribes went to their temples and laid down their offerings. They took home with them their vinyl, most of them wiser and taking only the smaller pieces of vinyl with the original message, the one that AM radio had already sent them. And lo, they ignored the flipside.

Others would commit the sin of over-enthusiasm, offering more at the temple for the larger pieces of vinyl, those with the original message set amid the horror. For when they laid those albums on the turning tables, lo, they sucked. And no one came to their parties evermore. And tomorrow is a long time, indeed.

Those tribes dwindled, their members becoming more careworn and manic as the numbers around them decreased. They would utter pronouncements that were more and more ignored: “Crabby Appleton matters!” “Mock not the Ides of March!” “All hail Daddy Dewdrop!”

And the vinyl turned, and AM radio sent them no more messages. Many of them turned from their leaders, who had fallen silent. They sought new leaders, and lo, some of them heard from Climax. And some heard from Sailcat. And some from Miguel of the Rios. And they learned not and would not change their ways.

When the end of their days came, their boxes of vinyl were filled with album after album of Onehit and much horror, and those boxes were sent into exile at the thrift stores. Some in later days would avidly seek those Onehit messages and would gain them for small offerings. They would place them on their turning tables, and only those who liked irony would come to their parties.

And some would come to notice in those later days the greater messages amid the dross of Mouth & MacNeal and Skylark and Bullet, of Apollo 100 and Coven and Ocean, of Tin Tin and Bloodrock and Cymarron and Christie. “Wonders,” they called them. And so prospered the cult of Onehit. They sought the odd, the curious, the utterly weird and even the profane, as long as it was the only celebrated message from one tribe. Among the slightly odd but treasured remnants on vinyl was the work of Teegarden and Van Winkle of Westbound, whose message of “God, Love and Rock & Roll” had been heard by its adherents in the long-ago autumn of 1970 (reaching something called No. 22 in the Scroll of Billboard).

Long years later, as no other of their tribal messages had been celebrated enough to be in the Scroll of Top Forty, Teegarden and Van Winkle of Westbound were among those whose names were celebrated by the cult of Ohehit.

And the world at large still rejoiced at the silence of the Pipkins.

Hear now, all of you, the message of “God, Love and Rock & Roll.” It brought Teegarden and Van Winkle of Westbound into the Scroll of Top Forty in the autumn of 1970. And in years to come it would bring them to the attention of the cult of Onehit, whose parties must be odd indeed.

An Hour At Tom’s Barbershop

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018

I haven’t been down Wilson Avenue on the East Side recently – I don’t get back to the East Side very often – so I don’t know if the little square building where Tom had his barbershop is still vacant. Tom hung up his clippers on the advice of his doctor about two years ago, and I wonder how he is. I also sometimes wonder where his other customers head for their haircuts now. And then I think of this piece from October 2008 when Tom’s place was pretty busy.

I spent a pleasant hour late yesterday morning at Tom’s Barbershop, waiting behind three other guys as Tom trimmed their hair and then mine. We waited on two long benches along the wall, gazing at Tom’s collection of model cars and nodding in approval as classic country songs came and went from the CD player: Hank Williams (the original one, not the son or grandson), Johnny Cash, Ferlin Husky and some we didn’t recall.

“Don’t remember who did that one,” one of the fellows across the way from me said as the music played. “Heard it for the first time back in about ’48, I think.” One of the other two waiting men nodded.

“Yeah,” said the white-haired fellow next to me, as he headed for the now-empty barber chair, “country was what there was back then. We didn’t have all this rock and roll.”

“Not in my house, either,” said the fellow who’d heard music in 1948. “It was country music at home.”

“And polkas,” said the customer now easing his way into the chair.

Four other heads, including Tom the Barber’s and mine, nodded. I’ve never listened to polka music voluntarily, but down at Grampa’s farm, there was often a polka program playing on one of the two television channels available.

“Yah,” said the dark-haired guy sitting across from me, near the CD player. Up to now, he’d only nodded. “I remember Whoopee John. And the Six Fat Dutchmen.”

The guy in the chair spoke as Tom trimmed his hair: “Used to be lots of those ballrooms around, where those bands would play on Saturday night,” he said, talking carefully so as not to disturb Tom’s work. “Not many of them left, you know.”

Heads nodded again. Tom held his clippers in the air as the man in the chair began to talk with a little more animation. “We used to go up to the ballroom at New Munich on Saturday nights, there.” (New Munich is a burg of about 350 souls forty miles northwest of St. Cloud, smack in the middle of Stearns County, doncha know?) “There’d be all them Stearns County farm boys standing around the edge of the dance floor ’til, oh, close to midnight, each one of ’em holdin’ a bottle of beer.

“Finally, around midnight, just before the band was gonna shut ’er down for the night, them boys would get out on the dance floor and find some gal to dance the polka with.”

We all laughed. “They had to have some Dutch courage, huh?” I asked him.

He nodded. “Yah,” he said, “right out of the bottle.”

I spoke up, told them I’d seen the same things – reluctant guys holding drinks ringing the dance floor until it got late – in the bars in downtown St. Cloud when I was in college thirty years ago. “Take away the drinks,” I said, “and I saw the same thing in the junior high cafeteria as the records played during our dances!”

They laughed.

“Boy,” said the fairly quiet fellow sitting by the CD player, “thirty years ago, I’d have been there, too. Might dance, might not, but just past midnight, it’s ‘See you next week,’ and on out the door.”

“For a while in college,” I said, “it was ‘See you tomorrow.’”

“Yah,” said one of them, amid general laughter, “I done some of that, too!”

The fellow in the chair stood, his white hair now trimmed. The dark-haired guy near the CD player rose, about to take his turn. “Boy,” he said, “I remember when Whoopee John and his band come to town. They used to come in three, four new Chevrolets. They got a bus a little later on, but when they come into town in those shiny new Chevies, boy, that was somethin’!”

The CD changed, with the classic country being replaced by Tom’s beloved country-tinged gospel music. The white-haired fellow headed to the door. “See you boys later,” he said as he opened the door. “Don’t go dancin’ too much now.”

We all laughed as the door closed. And then the only sounds in the barbershop were the strains of “Amazing Grace” coming from the CD player, the buzz of Tom’s clippers, and the very faint sound of Tom singing along under his breath.

Even though they might have preferred a polka, here’s a suitable track for the guys who were at Tom’s that morning: “Put Your Dancing Shoes On” by Danny Kortchmar, a guitarist who’s been one of the best-known session musicians for years. It comes his 1973 album Kootch.

Edited slightly on reposting.

First Wednesday: October 1968

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

In October of 1968, the world’s focus – or much of it, anyway – shifted to Latin America.

The main event of the month was the 1968 summer Olympic games, which took place in Mexico City, Mexico, from October 12 through October 27. The games provided, in my memory, two iconic moments: The first is U.S. long jumper Bob Beamon collapsing in disbelief after breaking the world record for the long jump by an astounding 21 inches (55 cm). The second, and likely more well known, is the human rights protest by African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their black-gloved hands during the awards ceremony for the 200-meter run.

But several other major events of the month took place in Latin American, the most important of which might have been the Tlatelolco Massacre, as it’s come to be called.

During the night of October 2, military personnel and other men with guns shot at five thousand students and workers who had gathered [to protest] in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City. Ten years ago, Wikipedia noted: “The death toll remains controversial: some estimates place the number of deaths in the thousands, but most sources report between 200 and 300 deaths. The exact number of people who were arrested is also controversial.”

Notes from 2018: The report on the massacre at Wikipedia has changed over the past ten years. Regarding the death toll, the site now says: “According to US national security archives, Kate Doyle, a Senior Analyst of US policy in Latin America, documented the deaths of 44 people; however, estimates of the death toll range the actual number from 300 to 400, with eyewitnesses reporting hundreds dead.”

Beyond that, I am deleting from this post several additional paragraphs about the massacre, as the Wikipedia report has changed substantially in the past ten years, and I cannot be certain of the accuracy of what I wrote a decade ago. That post from ten years ago can be found here, and the current Wikipedia page on the massacre can be found here.

Elsewhere in Latin American that month, Juan Velasco Alverado took power via an October 3 revolution in Peru; in Panama, a military coup d’état led by Col. Boris Martinez and Col. Omar Torrijjos on October 11 overthrew the democratically elected government of President Arnulfo Arias.

There was also unrest in other portions of the world that month: On October 5, police in Derry, Northern Ireland, used batons to subdue civil rights demonstrators, an event often cited as the beginning of that country’s years of violence called The Troubles. In Jamaica, riots broke out on October 16 in response to the government’s banning from the nation the Guyanese author and activist Walter Rodney.

In the U.S., the Defense Department announced on October 14 that the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marines planned to send 24,000 soldiers and marines back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours. Also relating to the war in Vietnam, by the end of the month, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that peace talks in Paris had progressed well enough that he was ordering a cessation of air, naval and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam, effective November 1.

(Cynics in the room might note that Johnson’s announcement and action came days before the U.S. presidential election, which was being contested by Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat; Richard Nixon, a Republican; and George Wallace of the American Independent Party. The announcement seemed to help Humphrey, as polls in the days before the November 5 election showed him gaining ground on Nixon. Political pundits and writers have theorized for [fifty] years that Humphrey would have won the presidency had the election been a week later or had Johnson announced the bombing halt a week earlier.)

So, in the midst of politics and blood and war, what did we hear that month when we sought solace in music?

Here are the top fifteen records in the Billboard Top 40 for October 5, 1968:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C Riley
“Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
“Little Green Apples” by O.C. Smith
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions
“Slip Away” by Clarence Carter
“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” by the Bee Gees
“1, 2, 3, Red Light” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“I Say A Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin
“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers
“Revolution” by the Beatles
“The Fool On The Hill” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
“Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud” by James Brown
“The House That Jack Built” by Aretha Franklin

Boy, that’s about as representative (and maybe as good) as a top fifteen can get, I’d guess. You’ve got the mainstream rock of the Beatles, the country cross-over from Riley (O.C. Smith’s record might have gotten some country play, too, I think), straight R&B from Aretha and Clarence Carter and some psychedelic R&B from the Chambers Brothers. There’s Arthur Brown’s powerful rock. You’ve got some blue-eyed soul from the Rascals, pop from the O’Kaysions and the Bee Gees, and a little bit of bubble-gum from the 1910 Fruitgum Company. And then there’s James Brown’s uncompromising and funky proto-rap. Wow!

A note from 2018: O.C. Smith’s “Little Green Apples” did not make the country Top 40 in Billboard, which I find a little surprising. The record did, however, go to No. 2 on the magazine’s R&B chart and to No. 4 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.

For those who bought their music via albums, it was also an interesting month. Here are the Billboard top ten albums for October 5, 1968:

Waiting For The Sun by the Doors
Time Peace/The Rascals’ Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & The Holding Company
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell
Realization by Johnny Rivers
Wheels Of Fire by Cream
Steppenwolf by Steppenwolf
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly

There are a number of interesting records and names on that list. What might be most interesting, however, are titles and a name that aren’t there. In the previous week’s listing, the soundtrack to the film The Graduate had been in tenth place, featuring songs by Simon & Garfunkel as well as incidental music from the movie. When that album slipped out of tenth place, it marked the first time since March 16, 1968 – six-and-a-half months – that there was no mention of Simon & Garfunkel on the top ten albums list. Between the soundtrack to The Graduate and their own two albums, Bookends and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel had dominated the albums list as much as anybody during 1968.

The records that did make up the top ten as October 1968 started are a pretty good bunch themselves. I would say that the only one that hasn’t aged very well at all is the Iron Butterfly, which to me is pretty much a dead end. (I should admit here that I purchased a copy of the group’s Live when it came out in 1970; the incessant noodling on the side-long live version of the group’s hit was even less accomplished than the side-long studio version, so I sold the album to a used record store within days.)

There might be a few quibbles about the quality of the rest of that albums list: Janis Joplin did far better on her own, with better backing musicians, than she did on the Big Brother album, but the record is still an interesting look at her development, as well as an acid-drenched product of its time. As I’ve noted here before, I always have some reservations about the Doors, but Waiting For The Sun has some good work on it, especially the single “Hello I Love You” and a few other tracks, including “The Unknown Soldier” and the pairing of the bluesy “Summer’s Almost Gone” and the awkward waltz of “Wintertime Love.”

Note from 2018: I’m startled that I didn’t single out the Johnny Rivers album for a comment. Any listing I make of my favorite ten albums of all time will, I think, always include Realization.

With those caveats, that’s a pretty good list of albums. And the album I’m posting today comes from the list: José Feliciano’s Feliciano!

As October 1968 began, Feliciano’s version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” had been in the Billboard Hot 100 for eleven weeks. It had peaked at No. 3, and the album from which it came, Feliciano!, was in its seventh week in the Billboard Top Ten, with seven weeks to come. (It would peak at No. 2 for two weeks in December 1968.) Feliciano, then twenty-three, was a big enough star in October 1968 that he was invited to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium before a World Series game. The performance – a Latin-tinged interpretation – was loved by some and criticized by many. (A single was issued and went to No. 50 during a five-week stay in the Billboard Hot 100.)

There’s no controversy in Feliciano! It’s a solid set of covers, in a style that All-Music Guide tabs as “soulful easy listening,” with Feliciano – who was blinded since birth by glaucoma – working his way through songs by the Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas, Bobby Hebb, Tom Paxton and others, including, of course, the Doors’ “Light My Fire.”

Even with a singer as distinctive as Feliciano, though, performing such well-known songs as “Light My Fire,” “California Dreamin’,” “In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere” can be awkward, if not actually risky. It’s difficult to cover such well-known material and not remind listeners of the originals. Feliciano managed that with “Light My Fire,” I think, and he battles “California Dreamin’” to a draw, but other than those tracks, the best tracks on the album are the lesser-known songs, especially Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing On My Mind” and Fred Neill’s “Just A Little Bit Of Rain.” (The latter song is likely more familiar in the version recorded in the mid-1970s by the Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys.)

Still, Feliciano! is a good, if not great, album and it’s pleasant listening. It was Feliciano’s commercial peak, as only one other single and two of his succeeding albums – and he’s recorded prolifically – reached the Top 40. He continues to record, frequently in Spanish, and released his most recent album, Con Mexico en el Corazon, earlier this year.

Note from 2018: According to Wikipedia, Feliciano has released seven more albums in the past ten years, one in Spanish and six in English (including two that were offered only as digital downloads). His most recent listed is the 2017 album As You See Me Now, recorded with Jools Holland.

The credits for Feliciano! at All-Music Guide are slender and, I think, are incomplete. They do list Ray Brown on bass, Milt Holland on percussion and Jim Horn on flute, alto flute and recorder.

Tracks:
California Dreamin’
Light My Fire
Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying
In My Life
And I Love Her
Nena Na Na
(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me
Just A Little Bit Of Rain
Sunny
Here, There and Everywhere
The Last Thing On My Mind

José Feliciano – Feliciano! [1968]

The link above goes to a playlist of the full album at YouTube.

Everywhere & Nowhere

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

If I were asked to name my ten favorite pieces from more than eleven years of blogging, this would be one of them. It was originally published on July 7, 2007, and it’s crossed my mind recently, so here it is.

It’s the roadhouse of dreams.

Where is it? It’s nowhere and it’s everywhere, depending on the season and the memories and hopes of those sitting inside.

If you look out the window during the baking summer, you might see the flat fields and arrow-straight roads of the Delta, the humid air vibrating like a steel guitar string. The melancholy of autumn might find you near a lake in the North Woods, with the maniac cry of the loon joined by the honks of the geese leaving you behind as they head home. In winter, the roadhouse – probably named Times Gone, but we’ll see – welcomes you in from the gloom and grit of some city’s aging industrial neighborhood. Maybe it’s Gary, Indiana, or someplace on Ohio’s Lake Erie shore. The spring? Well, I think we’re in the mountains of Wyoming, or at least a place where spring comes late, making its days all the more precious and the roadhouse itself brighter inside than the windows and the lights can account for.

This is no slick place with light-colored wood finished to the texture of silk. The wood here is dark – except in those places where the varnish has been worn away – and you can feel the grain through the stain. It’s honest wood with rough-edged comfort. You know that when you slide into one of the booths on the far side of the room. And you know it even more when you lay your hands on the bar, nodding as your fingers read the nicks and dents in the bar top like a blind man reads a good story.

The bar stools are just that: bar stools, not chairs on long legs. They’ve all been reupholstered at one time or another, but always with the same red leather and brass nails. Hook your feet on the timeworn rungs if you have to anchor yourself, and don’t lean back because all you’ll find is empty air. That’s okay, though. It’s always better to lean forward, elbows on the bar, especially if you’re lost in thought, lost in memories or just lost.

In the center of the place is a dance floor, not large but big enough, with a stage off to the left end. We’ll come back there later.

On the right end of the dance floor, as you step inside the place – it seems that Times Gone is the right name for the place – is a pool table under a shaded light fixture, and on the wall, two pinball machines set back-to-back. These are pinball machines, not computers on legs. They’re old, but they still work, and they still give out that satisfying, solid “thwack!” when you win a free game. Some days – or nights, for that matter – there aren’t a lot of sounds better than that one.

Just the other side of the pinball machines is a jukebox, a real mechanical jukebox with records in it. It’s packed with songs from before 1980 – a few after that time, but just a few. There’s lots of R&B from the Fifties and the Sixties, and one or two Al Green songs for the slow dances. You’ll find some rock, mostly the blues-based stuff. There are a few country records, some to dance to and some to cry along with. There’s also a little bit of pop, mostly because it brings smiles to the folks in the crowd, some for the memory and some for the irony.

And there’s the blues. From Chicago and the Delta. From Texas, Los Angeles and the Piedmont. You come into Times Gone with the blues, and we can find the right song for you. In fact, the day always starts with the blues, a fact we hope isn’t matched by life. Every morning at eleven, as Times Gone opens its door, the jukebox plays Muddy Water’s 1948 single “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” That’s not a comment on life; we just like the song.

There are a couple other songs you’ll hear every day. At five in the afternoon, the jukebox plays “Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors. And just before we close the doors sometime in the early morning, Ringo Starr and his three friends bid us “Goodnight.”

We don’t rely entirely on the jukebox, as well stocked as it is. Remember the dance floor and the stage? Weekend nights, we’ve got live music. I suppose that Muddy and his old rival, Howlin’ Wolf, stop by now and then, since this is the roadhouse of dreams. And Brother Ray and Aretha must come by here too, every once in a while. But a lot of the time, the stage belongs to Delbert McClinton, a roadhouse singer if ever there was one. He’s got some records in the jukebox, to be sure, but there’s nothing like hearing him in person. The way he takes over the stage and holds the attention of the crowd on the floor, he could own the place.

It sure would be nice if somebody, somewhere, did.

Here’s a taste of Delbert McClinton on stage. “Going Back To Louisiana” is a track from the 2006 album Live From Austin TX, a release that offers McClinton’s 1982 performance on the Austin City Limits television show.

Edited slightly on reposting.

First Wednesday: September 1968

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

The month of September was a fairly quiet one in 1968, an intermission of sorts. As one looks at the listings of the month’s events at Wikipedia (which is where I start as I examine 1968), only six events are listed, and five of them are:

The African nation of Swazliand became independent on September 6. A September 11 plane crash in the French Mediterranean killed a prominent French general and ninety-four others. A tour of South Africa by England’s Marylebone Cricket Club was canceled September 17 because South Africans “refused to accept the presence” of Basil D’Oliveira, who was of African descent, on the Marylebone team. Marcelo Caetano became prime minister of Portugal on September 27. And a September 29 referendum in Greece gave more power to the ruling military junta.

The sixth event listed, however, becomes a bit more significant with a second look. On September 7, 1968, Wikipedia says, “150 women protest against the Miss America Pageant, as exploitative of women. It is one of the first large demonstrations of Second Wave Feminism.” (First Wave Feminism, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, earned women in the U.S. and the U.K. the right to vote, Wikipedia reports in a different entry, adding that the term “First Wave” was coined retroactively during the 1970s.)

An interesting account of the 1968 protest in Atlantic City is posted at JoFreeman.com, the website of an American feminist, political scientist, writer and attorney. She writes:

The 1968 protest originated with New York Radical Women, one of the earliest women’s liberation groups in the country. About 150 feminists from six cities joined them to show how all women were hurt by beauty competitions. They argued that the contest declared that the most important thing about a woman is how she looks by parading women around like cattle to show off their physical attributes. All women were made to believe they were inferior because they couldn’t measure up to Miss America beauty standards. Women’s liberation would ‘attack the male chauvinism, commercialization of beauty, racism and oppression of women symbolized by the Pageant.’

The Atlanta City (sic) convention center opens onto a vast boardwalk between it and the beach. The large expanse of boards easily seen from the entrance makes it a great place for demonstrations. Women’s liberation took advantage of this to stage several guerilla theater actions. A live sheep was crowned Miss America. Objects of female oppression – high heeled shoes, girdles, bras, curlers, tweezers – were tossed into a Freedom Trash Can. A proposal to burn the can’s contents was scuttled when the police said that a fire would pose a risk to the wooden boardwalk. Women sang songs that parodied the contest and the idea of selling women’s bodies: ‘Ain’t she sweet; making profits off her meat.’ A tall, Miss America puppet was auctioned off.

Sixteen feminists bought tickets to the evening’s entertainment. They smuggled in a banner reading WOMEN’S LIBERATION. Sitting in the front row of the balcony, they unfurled it as the outgoing Miss America made her farewell speech, while shouting ‘Freedom for Women,’ and ‘No More Miss America.’ The pageant continued as though nothing had happened. This action was quickly followed by the release of two stink bombs on the floor of the hall. All protestors were removed from the hall; five were arrested, but later released.

The outrageousness of challenging the Miss America icon brought the press out in droves, putting women’s liberation on the front pages all over the country. From this, women learned that a new feminist movement was emerging and flocked to join.

The 1968 demonstration also saddled women’s liberation with the myth of bra burning. Forevermore the press would repeat that women burned their bras. They never remembered where this was supposed to have occurred, let alone that it never happened.

One could argue, I think, that of all the events of 1968, that cluster of demonstrations at Atlantic City had the greatest long-term impact, starting with American society and Western culture. Those demonstrations certainly caught folks’ attention. I recall the derision and bafflement my pals and I and our parents expressed toward the women who dared to interrupt an American institution like the Miss America pageant with their complaints and demands concerning things we’d never questioned.

But those complaints and demands triggered a slow process in much of the industrialized world. My friends and I and our parents watched in the coming years as our world was changed by feminist ideas, and most of us changed along with it. As a historian of sorts, I know how things have changed over the past forty years, but I’m of utterly the wrong gender to truly gauge the long-term impact of what those women began at Atlantic City in September of 1968.

So I turned to my wife, the Texas Gal, whose mother was a working mom in the 1960s, when there weren’t many such moms around. “She was a feminist by necessity,” the Texas Gal says of her mother. That functional feminism, the Texas Gal says, “made me always assume that I would work and that I would be able to fend for myself.”

Beyond her mom’s example, the Texas Gal adds: “The other thing that feminism did, long-term, was make it possible to be a career woman and still be a woman. For a long time, a career woman had to act like a man. Now a career woman can act like a woman: she can wear jewelry and dress femininely, she can like animals and quilting and cooking, and she can still be respected in the boardroom.”

With that in mind, it’s interesting to take my customary look at the Top Fifteen records of the time and see the Rascals’ “People Got To Be Free” riding at No. 1 for the fourth week in a row on September 7, 1968 (with one more week at No. 1 yet to come). While writers Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati and the rest of the Rascals had their hearts in the right places, it’s worth noting that after singing “People everywhere just wanna be free,” the Rascals later proclaim, “It’s a natural situation for a man to be free,” with no mention of women. One wonders if Cavaliere and Brigati would be so gender-specific were they writing today.

Exclusionary language aside, “People Got To Be Free” is a great single, and it sat atop a good set of singles. Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen from September 7, 1968:

“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“Light My Fire” by José Feliciano
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
“Hello, I Love You” by the Doors
“The House That Jack Built” by Aretha Franklin
“1, 2, 3, Red Light” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co.
“You’re All I Need To Get By” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“I Can’t Stop Dancing” by Archie Bell & the Drells
“Stay In My Corner” by the Dells
“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
“You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by Vanilla Fudge
“Hush” by Deep Purple
“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues
“Love Makes A Woman” by Barbara Acklin

Actually, that’s not just a good set of singles, that’s a great set. Feliciano’s Latin-inflected “Light My Fire” was an eye-opener, and there’s some solid soul/R&B with the sides by Aretha, Marvin & Tammi, Archie Bell and his boys, the Dells and Barbara Acklin.

And there’s some good rock, too, with Steppenwolf, the Doors, Cream, Vanilla Fudge (the pace of the group’s version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” is about as glacial as rock gets) and Deep Purple (covering a song written by countryish singer-songwriter Joe South).

The only bit of froth that might have made me push the button for another station is “1, 2, 3, Red Light.” The Vogues’ single is pretty light, yeah, but, as I’ve written before, it’s one of those songs that remind me how I felt about a certain young lady (and it doesn’t seem possible that it’s been forty years).

Let’s see if the Billboard top ten albums from the first week of September provided listening as good as the radio did that week:

Waiting For The Sun by the Doors
Time Peace/The Rascals’ Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Wheels of Fire by Cream
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Realization by Johnny Rivers
Steppenwolf by Steppenwolf
Aretha Now by Aretha Franklin
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel

That’s a list that holds up pretty well forty years later. The Johnny Rivers’ album is, as I’ve related here before, one of my favorites and a resident in my all-time Top Ten Albums list. Nothing else here quite approaches that level, but the two records by Cream are superb, as are the albums by Aretha, Feliciano, the Experience and Simon & Garfunkel.

Steppenwolf is pretty good, and the Rascals’ record is a solid collection of their hits (most of which came from the years when the group was called the Young Rascals). And I have fewer problems with Waiting For The Sun than I do with most other albums by the Doors. (It ranks second to Morrison Hotel for me.)

The album I’m sharing today never got to those heights when it came out in 1968, but to me – as I listen in 2008 – it provides an aural landscape that captures that strange, tumultuous, freaky and tragic year as well as anything can.

Sweetwater was an odd band, but that fit right in with the times. As All-Music Guide notes: “An unusual rock group in both the size of their lineup (which numbered eight), the instrumentation employed, and the eclectic scope of their material, Sweetwater didn’t quite get the first-class songs or breaks necessary to make them widely known. Lead singer Nansi Nevens was backed not just by conventional guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, but also flute . . . conga . . . and cello.”

The group’s first release was all over the stylistic map as well. To cite AMG again: “Their self-titled debut album was the kind of release that could have only been the product of the late ’60s, with the music flying off in all directions, and a major label willing to put it out. Sweetwater blended Californian psychedelia with jazzy keyboards and a classical bent, especially in the flute and cello, but did not cohere into a readily identifiable aesthetic, or write exceptional songs, although they were okay. Perhaps Reprise was willing to give such a hard to market and classify band a shot, figuring that in the midst of psychedelic rock scaling the charts that would have seemed unimaginably weird just a couple of years before, who knew what would sell now?”

All of that is true, yet I find a charm in the album as it wanders all over the landscape. I particularly like the opener, an extended take on the traditional “Motherless Child.” Other highlights for me are “Here We Go Again,” with its swirling vocal and harpsichord-like keyboard; “Come Take A Walk” with its mellow flute (and its hippie-ish lyric, too); “My Crystal Spider,” with its odd shifts in style; and “Why, Oh Why” with its frenetic violin.

The only track that’s not particularly complelling, actually, is “What’s Wrong,” a classic 1960s litany of the ails of society, but then, overt preaching is never as fun to listen to as is subtle persuasion.

Overall, Sweetwater is a pretty good listen, if a bit derivative: listeners will notice a very clear sonic resemblance to Jeffeson Airplane. Sweetwater’s not as good as the Airplane, of course, but not many bands were. And Sweetwater was plagued by bad luck: In December 1969, four months after the band was the first group to take the stage at Woodstock, lead singer Nevins was in an auto accident. Her vocal cords were damaged and she had severe brain injuries; she was in a coma for weeks and needed therapy for years. The band’s second album – for which Nevins had recorded a couple of tracks before the accident – was completed without her and did not sell well. After a third album in 1971, the band broke up.

AMG notes: “The surviving trio of Nevins, keyboardist Alex Del Zoppo and bassist Fred Herrera reunited Sweetwater in 1997, and two years later – to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Woodstock – cable network VH1 produced and broadcast a film about the group, with Felicity co-star Amy Jo Johnson cast as Nansi Nevins; the picture sparked a considerable resurgence of interest in the group, and that same year Rhino released Cycles, a limited-edition retrospective of their work for Reprise.”

Tracks:
Motherless Child
Here We Go Again
For Pete’s Sake
Come Take A Walk
What’s Wrong
In A Rainbow
My Crystal Spider
Rondeau
Two Worlds
Through An Old Storybook
Why Oh Why

Sweetwater – Sweetwater [1968]

(The link is to a YouTube playlist of the full album.)