Archive for the ‘1963’ Category

‘Who’

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

After a couple of previews six months ago, we finally get around to beginning the project called Journalism 101. Today, we’ll be sorting the 95,000 tracks in the RealPlayer for titles that contain the word “who,” the first of the five W’s of reporting. (I doubt this needs stating, but those W’s are who, what, when, where, and why. And we’ll include “how” in the project as well.)

That sorting brings us 740 tracks, twenty-six more than we found when we announced the idea back in February. As is usual when we do these types of searches, many of the tracks aren’t suitable for our purposes. Tracks from the Who, the Guess Who, a late Seventies group called 100% Whole Wheat, the novelty project Dylan Hears A Who, and more go by the wayside, as do some albums, including Kate Rusby’s 2005 effort The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly and the Warner Brothers loss leader from 1972, The Whole Burbank Catalog. We also have to discard eighty-one tracks with the word “who’s” in the title and four tracks with titles that carry the word “whoever” (I thought there’d be more). But we still have enough to find four worthy titles.

Given the alphabetical nature of the player’s search, the first track that shows up is “Who To Believe” by the Allman Brothers Band. It’s from the 2003 album, Hittin’ The Note, which turned out to be the group’s last studio release. It’s also the first album not to include guitarist Dicky Betts (and the first to include guitarist Derek Trucks). I’ve had the CD since not long after it came out, but I’ve not listened to it very often, which is too bad. Many of the pieces I’ve read since the recent death of Gregg Allman said that Hittin’ The Note was good work, and “Who To Believe” sounds very much as if it could have been recorded in 1970.

The digital shelves here hold six versions of “Who Will The Next Fool Be,” ranging from the original 1961 release by Charlie Rich (who wrote the song) to versions from 1975 by the Amazing Rhythm Aces and from 2003 by Janiva Magness. Those are only a taste of the number of times that very good song has been recorded, of course. The website Second Hand Songs lists forty-five versions (though there are likely more), with the most recent being a 2013 take on the song by jazz singer Tina Ferris. And though the bluesy versions by Bland and Magness call to me this morning, I think I’ll stick with the song’s country roots and offer Rich’s original version.

Then we come to the melodramatic “I (Who Have Nothing),” which comes up twice in our listings: the 1963 version by Ben E. King and a 1972 cover by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. King’s release was the first English recording of the song, and it went to No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100, to No. 16 in the magazine’s R&B chart, and to No. 10 on what is now called the Adult Contemporary chart. Based on the information at Second Hand Songs, the tune was first recorded in Italian in 1961 by Joe Sentieri; the English lyrics are credited to songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. I’m a little surprised that I don’t have more versions of the tune in the stacks, especially the 1970 version by Tom Jones, which went to No. 14 on the Hot 100 (as well as to No. 2 on the AC chart). I could go wandering for other versions as well, but we’ll stick with King’s version of “I (Who Have Nothing)” this morning.

And what would a trek through the digital shelves here be without some 1960s easy listening combined with a theme from a spy movie? I have four versions on the shelves of the theme from The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the 1965 movie based on the novel by John le Carré. I think I saw the movie when it came out. (That would have been on one of those Saturday nights out with my dad that remain a bit puzzling, as I wrote a few years ago.) Oddly, Sol Kaplan’s moody soundtrack is not on the shelves here, an absence that needs to be corrected. But the four versions I have of the disquieting theme are all pretty good (with that assessment coming, of course, from one who loves spy themes and mid-1960s easy listening), with the sources being the well-known trio of Billy Strange, Roland Shaw and Hugo Montenegro as well as the blandly named Jazz All-Stars. That last is a group of what I assume was studio musicians; they’re identified at Discogs as Bobby Crowe, Ernie Royal, J.J. Johnson, Joe Newman, Johnny Knapp, Larry Charles, Milt Hinton, Mundell Lowe and Sy Saltzberg, though I do not think all of those men played on the version of the theme I have. That version was included on Thunderball & Other Secret Agent Themes, a 1965 album on the Design label that came to me during my James Bond obsession.

Grieving

Friday, June 9th, 2017

Mom died Monday. The hospice nurse called me about 3 that afternoon and said that Mom had been attentive and chatty during their visit. The nurse said she’d left the room for a few moments, and when she came back, she said it was obvious Mom had had another stroke, this one pretty big: She was slumped over in her chair and was generally unresponsive.

The care attendants and the nurse put her in bed and checked on her every hour, and they said she stirred when they changed her position, but that’s all. (I kept in touch by phone because the memory care unit where Mom lived during her last days has been putting new laminate flooring into its rooms, and the fumes that the flooring is off-gassing made me very ill every time I visited.) And about 9:30 Monday evening, the hospice nurse called and told me Mom had passed.

The funeral is Tuesday. Weekend events long-scheduled in Chicago for my niece and her family necessitated a delay in services, and maybe that’s a good thing. After a whirlwind two days putting plans in place, it’s good to have some downtime, some time to feel and to grieve.

I last talked to Mom on Sunday. It was a brief conversation about problems with her cable TV and her newspaper delivery.

I last saw her on June 1, the day she turned ninety-five-and-a-half. We met, along with my sister, at Dairy Queen, where she had a hot fudge and caramel sundae. She’d had a whirlpool bath and a massage that morning, and she was alert and talkative, but she was moving very slowly and uncertainly with her walker. That evening, the attendants at Prairie Ridge wheeled her over to the adjacent Ridgeview Place for a musical performance, a pretty good end to a good day.

My last sight of her was when she got into my sister’s car at Dairy Queen. She was clearly weary, but she was smiling as she waved goodbye to me.

She died just three days after the fourteenth anniversary of my dad’s death. And wherever she went Monday night, Dad was there to greet her. So here’s the lovely “Mom and Dad’s Waltz,” by Hugo Montenegro. It was on the 1963 album Country and Western.

Meeting The Maestro

Friday, March 24th, 2017

A while back – four years ago – I wrote about the Civic Music concerts my sister and I attended with my mom for maybe five years during the mid-1960s: About five times during each school year, we’d put on our Sunday clothes – nice dresses for Mom and my sister and dress shirt and pants with a sport coat and (clip-on) tie for me – and head over to St. Cloud Tech High School for a classical performance.

Those performances were almost always concerts, though once or twice the Civic Music organization offered a performance by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to end the season. Several times the last concert of the season was by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra). And as I wrote four years ago, I recall the piano duo of Stecher & Horowitz and the Robert Shaw Chorale, and there are a few other performers whose names do not come immediately to mind but whose programs are tucked into my old scrapbook.

(In that piece four years ago, however, I ascribed performances by pianist Van Cliburn and by the Vienna Boys Choir to Civic Music; after some thought and some digging, I’ve decided those two concerts likely took place at St. Cloud State.)

I’ve noted several times in various posts here that among the performers who came through St. Cloud was Mantovani, who brought his orchestra to Tech High sometime during the 1965-1966 season, when I was twelve. I don’t have the program from that concert, but I do have an autographed postcard, one that I found a while back as I dug through that scrapbook. As was customary after the concert, Mantovani spent some time onstage while a cluster of urchins and some older folks gathered to talk and to get autographs. Mantovani, ca. 1965 As you can see, the maestro was not at all concerned with legibility. That was okay, though. I have a very clear memory of the man – his full name was Annunzio Paolo Mantovani – standing in his tuxedo near the piano, sweat beading his face as he smiled, chatted and scrawled his name on card after card.

I doubt if Mantovani said anything to me as I got to the front of the cluster of folks at the piano. From what I remember, he was smiling as he chatted with others in that cluster. (Performers weren’t always genial during meet ’n’ greet sessions after Civic Music concerts; I recall a few who seemed downright surly as they dealt with after-concert duties.) But I do not remember that I got any particular attention from Mantovani other than a smile as he handed me the signed postcard.

Even though I’ve always been a fan of easy listening music from the 1960s and 1970s, Mantovani and his cascading strings have never been among my favorites. Ray Conniff and Paul Mauriat were my easy listening guys, more or less, when I was buying vinyl. (I’m not certain if Al Hirt and Herb Alpert fall into easy listening or not, but there was a lot of their stuff on the shelves, too.) Since the advent of digital music, I’ve added Percy Faith, Enoch Light, Larry Page, Franck Pourcel and a lot of others to the list of folks whose music I seek out and whose music I listen to when I need to remember how the Sixties often sounded on Kilian Boulevard.

I have collected a little bit of Mantovani’s stuff, too, but just a bit: fifty-five tracks out of the 91,000 that now clutter the RealPlayer. It’s not that hard to find, and I imagine I’ll get some CDs from the public library and see if I want to add any more. But as I noted above, the cascading strings – Mantovani’s signature sound – isn’t my favorite.

Every once in a while, thought, it’s a nice change of pace. One of the pieces I like most among the Mantovani tracks I have in the collection is one that we very likely might have heard that evening more than fifty years ago. The concert was, if I recall correctly, mostly classical pieces as filtered through Mantovani’s arrangements, and his take on Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dance No. 2” would have fit right in. It was first released, I think, on the 1963 album Classical Encores.

Chart Digging: October 12

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

It’s time for some Games With Numbers. We’re going to take today’s date – 10-12-16 – and turn it into 38, and then we’ve going to see what was at No. 38 on some Billboard Hot 100 charts on October 12 from the years we like best around here, the 1960s and 1970s.

Because of the way the calendar works, we have only three charts to work with, those from 1963, 1968 and 1974. But that’s okay, because those three years are parked in very clear and different eras. Along the way, as well as listening to No. 38 from those three specific charts, we’ll check out the No. 1 singles from those weeks.

First up: October 12, 1963, a little less than four months before Beatlemania and the first British Invasion. So what was at No. 38 in that long-ago week? We find “The Kind Of Boy You Can’t Forget” by the Raindrops. And it turns out that the Raindrops were only the song-writing team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (who were married at the time). Their credits include “Be My Baby,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Chapel of Love,” “River Deep-Mountain High” and many, many more as a team and as individuals. Sadly, “The Kind Of Boy You Can’t Forget” isn’t a classic. It was, however, the best-performing of the six records the Raindrops got into or near the Hot 100, peaking at No. 17. (Oddly, the record covers shown on the official videos for the Raindrops at YouTube show three members; I don’t know who the second woman is, and she’s not mentioned at Wikipedia or in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles.)

The No. 1 record in the Hot 100 for October 12, 1963, was “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs.

Moving ahead to 1968, we find “Hold Me Tight” by Johnny Nash parked at No. 38. And that’s coincidental, as last evening, I was reviewing some long-ago posts and came across the 2008 post titled “First Friday: November 1968,” looking at the news and music of that month. The post had included a look at the Top 15 as the month began, and I had noted that Nash’s single – sitting at No. 8 by that time – was one I did not remember ever hearing. It’s still not all that familiar; it doesn’t say “1968” to me. But it’s a sweet reggae-influenced record, and it peaked at No. 5, making it the second-most successful single of Nash’s long career. (He placed twenty-three records in or near the Hot 100 over a span of nearly twenty years, from 1957 to 1976.) His most successful record, of course, was “I Can See Clearly Now,” which spent four weeks at No. 1 in November 1972.

Topping the Hot 100 during the second week of October 1968 was the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” in the third of its eventual nine weeks at No. 1.

Lastly, we look at the Hot 100 from October 12, 1974. The No. 38 record that week was one of my favorites from the year, “Everlasting Love” by Carl Carlton. The Detroit native had first reached the charts in 1968 when he was 15 and “Competition Ain’t Nothin’” went to No. 75 (No. 36 on the R&B chart). “Everlasting Love” was by far the best-performing of Carlton’s singles, peaking at No. 6 (No. 11, R&B), and it’s one of those records that say “1974” to me, bringing back a welter of memories from that tumultuous autumn. I like it so much, in fact, that I’m tempted to resurrect the category of Jukebox Regrets and stuff it into the overcrowded Ultimate Jukebox I constructed back in 2010. But no; I’ll just make sure it’s in the iPod so it can show up sometime during one of my Dishwashing Music posts on Facebook.

The No. 1 record during this week in 1974 was Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You.”

Depression

Friday, September 9th, 2016

I’ve been gone from here a lot lately, with my latest absence – six days – the second longest since I began this blog in early 2007. The longest was during a 3,000-mile trip to Texas and Arkansas that spring during which the Texas Gal and I kept a count of the roadkill we’d seen and were oddly enough able to include a llama in our tally.

But this has been no road trip and no dead llamas. This absence I have to ascribe to my own biochemistry and the resulting depression with which I’ve struggled my entire adult life.

I take my medication, at least most of the time. There are days I forget, but I do pretty well. For example, the current bottle of pills within reach here at my desk is one I got on June 4. I should have taken the last pill of those ninety around September 3. I have a pill left in the bottle for tomorrow, September 10, so I’ve missed seven pills in the last three or so months. That’s not too bad.

But one of the features of my particular depression is that sometimes it doesn’t care if I’ve taken my medication. Every four to six weeks, I head into a deep ditch of sadness, whether I’m medicated or not. My time in the ditch varies, from one or two days to – as I’ve been learning in recent days – as long as a week. I’m still there, and I see no way out of the ditch. (But then, it seems to me that I never really see the way out; I just find myself one morning back on the highway).

One of the worst things about depression – and I’ve been dealing with it for more than forty years, although I’ve had medication for it for only the last twenty or so – is that it not only settles a layer of sadness on life, it also makes joyless those things that would otherwise bring relief. Thus, in the last week, I’ve found far less satisfaction than I normally would have in sorting things and memories at my mom’s storage unit; celebrating my birthday; and anticipating the beginning of the pro football season, as it brings with it fantasy football and my ongoing (since 1970) attempts to predict the winners of each game.

And other things that I cherish have gone undone, things like digging into genealogy, playing table-top baseball, cooking, and yes, writing this blog.

Not even the Texas Gal can slice through the darkness. All I can do is tell her where I’ve found myself and trust that she and her love will be there for me when I find my way out.

As I indicated above, I don’t know when this particular stretch of dismal days will end. I just have to trust that they will, and I’ve decided to pick things up and truck on. I’ll likely call Dr. Julie or her nurses and talk about upping the dosage of my medication (or adjusting another medication that was recently altered, come to think of it). And in the meantime, I’ll get back to the things that enrich my life, trusting too that sometime soon they will be joyful pastimes instead of just things to do.

Depression is a tough thing to write about because our culture tends not to want to think about it or sometimes even recognize that it exists. I think we’re better in dealing with it, culturally and personally, than we were, oh, forty years ago. And that’s good, but we still have a distance to go. Lastly, I’m not looking for sympathy. I just wanted to explain what seems to me to be a long absence from this place where I share my life and the music I love.

So when I went looking through the digital stacks for some joy, well, I found lots of it. Here’s Howlin’ Wolf with his 1963 Chess single, “Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy.”

‘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.

‘The Roses, They Can’t Hurt You . . .’

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

Sorting through a pile of CDs in the living room the other day, I came across four discs of assorted tunes that I’d burned for the Texas Gal about ten years ago. The fact that they weren’t with the CDs she finds essential means that either she lost track of them when we moved more than seven years ago or she didn’t find my choices compelling and set them aside. I’m not sure.

I didn’t remember what was on them, so I tossed them in the car to check out over the next few days. The first one went into the player as I ran some errands yesterday and then drove to a meeting at church last night. Deep into Disc 1, came this:

The odd and spooky “Sally, Go ’Round The Roses” came from the Jaynetts, a group of four young women from the Bronx put together by Zell Sanders of J&S Records (though there are more than four voices on the record, perhaps as many as ten, according to Wikipedia). Sanders and Lona Spector wrote the song, and the record was produced by Abner Spector. (Neither of the Spectors, a married couple, was related to Phil.) It was released on the Tuff label in 1963 and went to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the magazine’s R&B chart.

I’m not sure when I first heard the record. It certainly wasn’t in 1963. But I knew about the record long before I heard about it. The lyrics to “Sally, Go ’Round The Roses” were included in Richard Goldstein’s 1968 book The Poetry Of Rock, a copy of which I found and devoured sometime in 1970, at about the same time I began writing my own lyrics. Here’s what Goldstein had to say about the song:

You’re about to encounter one of the most mystifying lyrics in rock. Its ambiguous refrain almost seems cribbed from an obscure corner of Waiting For Godot. Those who like to ponder meaning can choose between a gaggle of interpretations, including one which alleges that Sally experiences a religious epiphany, and another that asserts that the whole thing is about a lesbian affair. But it’s far more meaningful to grasp the song’s essential sadness than to clutch at interpretive straws. Sally’s situation is the oldest cliché in rock, but the melancholic lyricism in which her scene is set is unique. It is that quality of soft despair which attracted all the explicators in the first place.

Well, when I was seventeen, I knew little about religious epiphanies and less about the affairs of lesbians, but I caught Goldstein’s sense that it was the melancholy that mattered. Still, even though I was intrigued by his assessment, I didn’t run out and find a copy of the record. But Sally came to me eventually on one anthology or another, and when she did, I recall pulling Goldstein’s volume from the shelf and scanning his words again. Further thought came from Dave Marsh, who placed the single at No. 377 in his 1989 book The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. After examining the record’s genesis, and calling it the “[s]pookiest and most exotic of all girl group discs,” Marsh notes:

Zell Sanders’ song operates as a metaphor, but its message is as murky as week-old gossip. Superficially, Sally’s friends are just warning her against going downtown, because there she’ll find the “the saddest thing in the whole wide world,” her baby with another girl. But the mix and arrangement and the odd metaphor of the endlessly repeated chorus (“Sally, go ’round the roses / They won’t tell your secret”) lend the entire production an ominous air, as if some deeper tale waits to be told . . . A quarter century later, after endless spins, it’s no closer to being revealed.

And there things stood. I didn’t entirely understand the record, but then neither did Goldstein, one of my earlier guides to lyric significance, and neither did Marsh, whose book had opened to me entire universes of rock, pop and more. But that didn’t matter; sometimes there is no answer.

The record would pop up on occasion. I recall including it on various mixtapes for friends in the early 1990s when the LP collection was of manageable size. And I clearly thought enough of the track to include it on one of the earliest CD mixes I made for the Texas Gal. But the Jaynetts and their friend Sally have faded from view since then: In more than 2,000 posts for this blog over the course of almost nine years, I haven’t mentioned the record at all, not even in passing, until today.

Sometime soon, we’ll look at covers of the Jaynetts’ record. But for now, let’s just stay with Sally with her hair hanging down and the secrets that the roses won’t tell.

Saturday Single No. 479

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

My library bag was getting full. I’d already picked up the items I had on hold – five CDs, four by the Native American artists who record as Brulé and a posthumous release of music by Pops Staples – and had added three or four novels.

Then, in the new non-fiction section, I saw Coventry: November 14, 1940 by Frederick Taylor, an account of the German air attack against Coventry during World War II. I’ve read and enjoyed Taylor’s accounts of the Allied attack against the German city of Dresden in 1945 and of the history of the Berlin Wall, so I tucked Coventry into my bag and moved on.

And then I saw The Man With The Golden Typewriter, subtitled Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters. I pulled the book from the shelf, replaced a couple of the novels on the new fiction shelf and headed home to begin reading Ian Fleming’s letters. Fans of James Bond – and I am one, as I’ve noted here several times – will have caught the title’s reference immediately: Fleming’s final Bond novel was the 1965 title, The Man With The Golden Gun. And I learned very early in the book – edited by Fergus Fleming, the late author’s nephew – that Ian Fleming did indeed have a golden (actually gold-plated) typewriter, purchased in 1952, when his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, had been accepted for publication by the Jonathan Cape firm.

That was almost too good an alignment of life and art, and I dove into the nearly four-hundred page book, rarely coming up for air in these past few days. (I in fact got so involved in Fleming’s letters that I found myself not reading the Thursday and Friday editions of the Minneapolis Star Tribune until late Friday evening.)

The book is arranged in chapters corresponding to the thirteen Bond novels Fleming published between 1953 and 1965, so any letters from the author about, say, Casino Royale are collected in the first chapter even though the letter might have been written in 1957. There are some side trips, as well. Chapter Four is titled “Notes From America,” and includes letters Fleming wrote to and from American friends as well as missives written during several trips stateside, during which he did research for the novels Live And Let Die (1954), Diamonds Are Forever (1956) and Goldfinger (1959).

I get the sense that America in the 1950s both appalled and fascinated Fleming, who moved in generally rarified circles in England – not quite the top shelf of that very stratified society, but not too far below that level either. Our loud and busy cities, especially New York and Las Vegas, seem to have both attracted and repelled him at the same time. A portion of Live And Let Die takes place in the Florida city of St. Petersburg, which Bond and his American companion, Felix Leiter, find an unpleasant place. That was how Fleming found it, as well; comments in Fleming’s letters and in his nephew’s commentary make clear his great disdain for the city. The younger Fleming notes that the author “wrote on the flyleaf of his personal copy, with an ill-disguised shudder, ‘St. Petersburg is just like I say it is’.”

Another “side trip” chapter in the book is Chapter Seven, titled “Conversations with the Armourer,” which details a lengthy correspondence between Fleming and Geoffrey Boothroyd, a firearms expert from Glasgow, Scotland. Boothroyd noted in a letter that Bond’s choice of guns was poor. The .25 Beretta pistol was not powerful enough and, given its design, could become caught on Bond’s waistband or shoulder holster. Boothroyd suggested several alternative weapons for 007 to use.

Boothroyd’s letters to Fleming – some of which are also included in the book – began in early 1956, when Fleming was working on revisions to From Russia With Love. At the end of the book, which came out in 1957 (and any Bond fans who are reading this are smiling or at least nodding their heads, for they know where this is going), Bond’s Beretta pistol does get snagged on his waistband, and he nearly dies from the effects of Rosa Klebb’s poisoned shoe stiletto.

And in the opening portions of the next book, 1958’s Doctor No, Bond is lectured on proper armament by M, the head of the Secret Service, and one Major Boothroyd, the Secret Service’s armourer. Even though it’s been at least thirty years since I re-read Doctor No (and I first read it after Christmas 1964, when it showed up in my stocking), as soon as I saw the name “Boothroyd,” I remembered the scene. I especially remembered Bond reaching to take his Beretta with him at the end of the meeting, and I recalled M’s curt “Leave it.”

I’m about halfway through the book, and there have been a few other little treats like that, moments when I recognize a name, place or event in Fleming’s letters that then showed up in Bond’s adventures It’s been a treat so far, and I have no doubt that the remaining half of the volume will be, as well.

I do know, though, that as the 1960s dawned and Fleming found himself and his creation becoming world-famous, the author became a bit weary of telling the tales; his letters even before 1960 occasionally worry about how fresh the novels could remain, given the fact that the tales were in many ways the same story: grand villain in an interesting location with the addition of at least one beautiful woman who falls for the hero. (Bond fans will recall that there is at least one exception to that last; Gala Brand of Moonraker remains loyal to her fiancé even after she and Bond save England from a nuclear missile.)

It will be interesting to see if Fleming’s later letters reflect his weariness with his creation. I imagine they will. I know Fleming tried to kill Bond in the 1964 novel, You Only Live Twice, even offering Bond’s obituary as one of the final chapters (perhaps the final chapter; it’s been years since I read the book). As was the case with another British literary favorite, Sherlock Holmes, the reaction by Bond fans around the world resulted in Fleming finding a means to resurrect his creation for the 1965 book The Man With The Golden Gun.

That was Fleming’s last novel. He’d survived a 1961 heart attack, but a second one in 1964 was fatal. I remember reading at the time – perhaps in Time magazine, which we got at home – that Fleming’s final words were “It’s all been a tremendous lark.” I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, and I’m not sure that I’ll find out in the second half of The Man With The Golden Typewriter.

As I’m only up to 1960, I’ve yet to read anything from Fleming on how he viewed the Bond films – only Doctor No and From Russia With Love has been released by the time of his death. Both of those hewed fairly close to the source novels, unlike some of the later films, so I think he might have been pleased. I’ll find out.

Anyway, it is a Saturday, and here, from John Barry’s soundtrack to 1963’s From Russia With Love, is a bit called “James Bond With Bongos,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Edited slightly after first posting.

‘Hi Ho, Nobody Home . . .’

Friday, December 18th, 2015

When our small band of church musicians looked ahead to Sunday’s scheduled celebration of the season and of holiday traditions from around the world, we dug into our songbooks and memories and our collections of LPs, CDs and mp3s for some inspiration.

And one of the tunes that my friend (and co-musician) Tom came up with was “A’Soalin’,” recorded in 1963 by Peter, Paul & Mary for their Moving album:

Tom told us (and will tell our fellowship members Sunday) that the song arises from the English Christmas tradition of handing out goodies on the day after Christmas. It’s far more likely that the song arose from the tradition of handing out what were called soul cakes on All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) and that Peter, Paul & Mary turned it into a quasi-Christmas song by appending a verse from “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” to the ending. But never mind. It’s a good tune.

(But the spelling puzzles me: How did “soul” become “soal”? I suppose we’d have to ask the writers, who are Noel Paul Stookey, Elaina Mezzetti and Tracy Batteste for the song. I have no idea who Tracy Batteste is; the only time I seem to find her name online is in collection with “A’Soalin’.” Mezzetti, according to the official Peter, Paul & Mary website, is Peter Yarrow’s sister; Yarrow said she was given writing credit on “A’Soalin’” and some other PP&M tunes to provide her some income. So if anyone knows why the spelling changed, I imagine it’s Stookey. If I ever get the chance, I’ll ask him.)

Anyway, the odd thing about “A’Soalin’” was that when Tom introduced us to the song, I knew the first verse. Long ago, as I wrote about cover versions, I told the story of my dad’s gift to me in early 1965 of an album titled Ringo, featuring the spoken-word tale made famous by Lorne Greene. The 1964 album, however, was by a group called the Deputies, and that disappointed me. Still, I listened to the album, unhappily comparing the Deputies’ lame version of “Ringo” to the one I heard on the radio. But I also heard for the first time “Big Bad John” and versions of other songs in the public domain: “Shenandoah,” “Darling Nelly Gray,” “(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey” (offered as just “Bill Bailey”) and a few others.

And I heard an odd track with melancholy lyrics and a melody offered at points as a round and studded with abrupt ascending key changes. It got a trifle manic at points. The Deputies called it “Hi Ho.” And I liked it well enough.

It is, of course, the first verse of what PP&M had recorded in 1963 as “A’Soalin’.” I’d once considered digging the Deputies’ album from its place on my country shelf, but I’d been thinking at the time about their versions of “Big Bad John” and “Shenandoah.” I’d not thought about “Hi Ho” for years, until Tom shared the PP&M track with us.

So I listened to the Deputies again and realized it’s not as neat to me in 2015 as it was fifty years ago. And that’s okay.

Busy Times

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Things got a bit busy around here over the past few days. I missed a Saturday post for maybe the fifth time – I’ve never bothered to count – in more than eight years of blogging. Friday, when I should have written the post, was filled with errands and some quiet time in the evening with the Texas Gal.

And Saturday, I was off early to Rob’s place in St. Francis, and then he and I headed off to Dan’s in the suburb of Plymouth for a nine-team Strat-O-Matic tournament. I brought the 1998 Cubs (with Sammy Sosa’s 66 home runs), and Rob brought the 1936 Yankees. Nine teams make for unwieldy divisions, so Dan organized a double-elimination tournament.

Rob’s Yanks won the whole thing, taking a winner-take-all game from the 1972 Athletics. My Cubs were the first team out, followed quickly by the 1975 Reds, captained by a fellow named Dean. He and I decided to play another game, which I dubbed the Small Consolation Championship. The Cubs won that one, 9-8, and Dan said that consolation play may be a regular feature in the future.

Anyway, that was Saturday: Baseball, old tales, laughter, snacks, beer and friendship. And then I spent the bulk of Sunday at the hospital with my mom. Some discomfort she’d been feeling seems to have a relatively simple solution, but it took some time at the hospital to figure that out. By the time I got her home – having gone back and forth between the hospital, her place and ours a few times during the day – the day was gone.

I spent yesterday doing laundry. And as far as today goes, my body and my soul both are saying I need to rest. So nothing will happen here in this space except this impromptu narrative of the past four days in our lives. I hope to be back at the keyboard tomorrow and offer something more substantial, but we’ll see what life brings.

Speaking of life, I told the RealPlayer to sort out the tracks for the word “life,” and among the tracks that showed up was Toots Thielemans’ 1967 take on the song “The Good Life.” The website Second Hand Songs tells me that the tune was written with the title “Marina” by French singer and guitarist Sacha Distel for a 1962 film titled Les Sept Péchés Capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins). We may dig into that original and the more than fifty covers of the tune (with the English lyrics by Jack Reardon) on another day.

For now, though, here’s the 1963 version of the tune by Tony Bennett; it went to No. 18 in the Billboard Hot 100.