Archive for the ‘1963’ Category

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.

All In Texas

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

As we drove down the Interstate Saturday en route to meet friend and regular commenter Yah Shure for lunch, the radio offered us ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.” I wondered out loud whether I should have included the record or the group’s “Legs” in this blog’s long-completed Ultimate Juke Box or the following series of posts called Juke Box Regrets.

Having decided that including ZZ Top’s “La Grange” in the long project was likely enough Texas boogie, I told the Texas Gal that one of my goals in life is still to drive through the streets of La Grange, Texas, with my car audio blaring out “China Grove.”

“Or the other way around?” she asked with a chuckle. That would do, too, I told her. And then she asked “But what about Luckenbach?” I said I wasn’t sure what to do about any visit to that city, and we began listing song titles that include the names of cities in Texas. It didn’t take us long to come up with a good list, and I’ve continued the work this week. So here’s a six-stop musical tour of the Lone Star State.

We’ll cross into the state from the Oklahoma panhandle, probably because someone told us to get of out Dodge City, just a ways north and east in Kansas. So the first major city we come to, smack-dab in the middle of Texas’ own panhandle is Amarillo. And it’s “Amarillo” by Emmylou Harris that starts off our musical tour. She’s lost her fellow, but not to another woman: “Oh I lost him to a jukebox and a pinball machine,” she sings.

The song, written by Harris and Rodney Crowell, was the opening track to Harris’ 1975 album, Elite Hotel. The album went to No. 1 on the Billboard country chart and to No. 25 on the Billboard 200. And we’re on our way south, noting that we could have listened to a couple of other tunes instead: “Midnight In Old Amarillo” by Cindy Cashdollar (2004) or “Amarillo By Morning” by George Strait (1982).

But we head south to Lubbock and then make our way southeast to Abilene, which George Hamilton IV said, in his 1963 cover of Bob Gibson’s 1957 song, was “the prettiest town I’ve ever seen.” Hamilton’s “Abilene” was a pretty major record, sitting on top of the country chart for four weeks and reaching No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary chart and No. 15 on the Hot 100.

The record was one of thirty-one that Hamilton got into the country Top 40 between 1960 and 1973. I have to admit that his work is mostly unfamiliar to me, and I may correct that. While in Abilene, we could also have listened to Bobby Bare’s 1963 cover of the same song, Dave Alvin’s similarly titled but entirely different song from 1998 or Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Way Out In Abilene,” which showed up for me on a 1973 album titled Legacy of the Blues, Vol. 12.

We head east along Interstate 20, now getting into parts of Texas I’ve seen, even if I don’t know them well. Eventually, we make it to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and the first tune we come across is the 1984 single “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” by George Strait. His gal has gone to Dallas, not far away in miles, but far enough in culture. My take on the two cities – and the Texas Gal generally agrees – is that Dallas is a city that mixes Eastern and Southern cultures in a kind of uneasy truce, while Fort Worth, just thirty or so miles away, is a Western city, and the gap between the two is greater than the distance.

Strait’s record went to No. 1 on the country chart, one of an incomprehensible number of country hits in his column. (My copy of the Billboard Book of Top Country Hits goes through 2005, and Strait’s total at the time the book came out was eighty; All Music lists at least twenty country hits for Strait since then.) As we leave Fort Worth, we’ll skip Dallas and head south, but as we do, we can listen to Lee Hazlewood’s ‘Fort Worth” from 1968 and what seems to be an obscure single by Steely Dan from 1972 titled “Dallas.”

About ninety miles out of Fort Worth, we reach Waco and the Brazos River, where Billy Walker’s bandito was urging himself on in 1964’s “Cross The Brazos At Waco.”

The record went to No. 2 on the country chart and bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 128. “Cross The Brazos . . .” was one of thirty-eight records Walker put into the country Top 40 between 1954 and 1976. As we cross the Brazos and prepare to leave Waco, we can listen to Ronnie Dunn’s “How Far To Waco” from his 2011 solo album.

The road bends slightly to the southwest, and 180 miles later, we find ourselves in San Antonio. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys released two versions of one of his most famous songs: “San Antonio Rose” in 1938 had a traditional string band arrangement, while “New San Antonio Rose” in 1940 added horns and some odd vocal embellishments, but the two were essentially the same song.

As we head through San Antonio, we choose the instrumental “San Antonio Rose” by pianist Floyd Cramer. The 1961 single was the most successful of the records we’re listening to today: It went to No. 8 on both the country and pop charts and to No. 3 on the adult contemporary chart. There are no doubt other tunes about San Antonio, but they’re not on the digital shelves here, and as we drive southwest out of town, we listen to versions of Wills’ tune by Patsy Cline and Leon Russell.

Our last stop today is another 150 or so miles to the south: Laredo, right on the Rio Grande, celebrated in one of the great traditional American songs. The version of “Streets of Laredo” that we hear today is by Willie Nelson, found on his 1968 album Texas In My Soul. Oddly enough, no version of the song has hit the country Top 40, but a version by Johnny Cash bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 124 in 1965. (The tale of “Streets of Laredo,” as gathered at Wikipedia, is quite interesting.)

And if we’re in a mood for some different Laredo music as we reach the Rio Grande, there’s always the “Nuevo Laredo Polka” by Gilberto López, a 1950 track. And casting regretful thoughts toward records about El Paso, Houston, Brownsville, Galveston and more, we come to a stopping place.

‘Another Man Done Gone . . .’

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

So, what do we know about “Another Man Done Gone”? The tune has led me on a merry chase (well, maybe not so merry, considering the subject matter of the song) since I posted the version of the song that Jorma Kaukonen recorded for his 1974 album Quah. The first item on my list was to find out where the song came from.

In the notes to the 2003 CD reissue of Quah, Jeff Tamarkin writes that “Another Man Done Gone” is “another one of those ancient blues standards whose origin is shrouded in mystery. Although credited on Quah to Ruby Pickens Tart, Vera Hall and folklorists John and Alan Lomax, other versions have assigned its authorship to any number of persons, among them Johnny Cash, Sonny Boy Williamson, C.C. Carter and Woody Guthrie – or Public Domain.”

The earliest version I’ve been able to find of the tune is the one performed by Vera Hall that was recorded by John Lomax in Livingston, Alabama, on October 31, 1940.

I believe that’s the Lomax recording. According to the information at Discogs, Alan Lomax also recorded two versions of the tune during visits to prisons in the south around the same time, but I’ve not heard those or seen the documentation. Someday, maybe.

In the meantime, we have Hall’s haunting a capella version as a starting point. Odetta offered a similar version on her 1957 album Odetta Sings Ballads And Blues. I was puzzled by the last verse of Hall’s version of the song, which sounds like “I’m going to walk your log.” A discussion at the Southern music board WeenieCampbell.com, where folks better informed than I share their ideas, seemed to come to no conclusions as to what the verse means. The phrase “walk your log,” the discussion said, sometimes appears in blues and folk songs as meaning “I’ll get the better of you” (perhaps from log-walking and -rolling contests, one poster theorized), while another poster thought the line might be “a tribute from a fellow prisoner, who will pick up the workload/log of his departed comrade.”

As versions of the song multiplied during the folk/blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, some other lyrical elements showed up along the way. The spare version that Johnny Cash offered on his 1963 album Blood, Sweat and Tears includes the additional lines “They hung him from a tree/ they let his children see” and “When he was hangin’ dead/ the captain turned his head.” By the time Kaukonen recorded “Another Man Done Gone” for Quah, the lines “They set the dogs on him/they tore him limb from limb” had become part of the song.

As I wandered through discography websites and versions of the tune this week, I came across a couple of head-scratchers. The spooky and somewhat weird 1959 version by Lorrie Collins turns the tune into a song of lost love and credits Johnny Cash as the writer. (Lyrically, it is a different song, though the melody remains the same.) I don’t know who Cash originally credited in 1963, but the current listing for Cash’s version at AllMusic Guide now credits the quartet of Tart, Hall and the Lomaxes. (Tart, if you’re wondering, was an Alabama folklorist whose work was similar to that of the Lomaxes and who assisted them during their travels in that state.) The other puzzle I found came from the credits of Harry Belafonte’s 1960 album, Swing Dat Hammer, on which the writing credit goes to Anita Carter of the Carter Family, which I find odd, as the Carters never recorded the song, as far as I can see.

Well, anyway, it’s a haunting song still, and versions of it keep showing up. The bluesman Sugar Blue included a nice version on his 1979 album Cross Roads; Irma Thomas added some lyrics for a post-Katrina version that was included in the Paste Magazine Sampler Issue 24 in September 2006; the Mercy Brothers, a Boston duo, recorded an intriguing version of the song for their 2008 album, Strange Adventure; and there are no doubt others out there worth hearing that I missed.

One of my favorite current versions of the tune hews pretty closely to Hall’s version from 1940. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group from Durham, North Carolina, described by Wikipedia as “an old-time string band,” included the song on their 2007 album, Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind.

‘You Done Your Daddy Wrong . . .’

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Back when I was a little horn-playing sprout, listening to my Herb Alpert and Al Hirt records on our RCA stereo, I found myself wanting to dance every time the needle got to the last track on Hirt’s 1963 album, Honey In The Horn. With its rapid tempo, its lip-rippling horn riffs, and its background singers chants of “Go along, go along,” I loved Hirt’s cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On.”

Of course, at the age of twelve or so, I had no idea it was a cover. I had no idea who Hank Snow was. And I had no idea that Snow’s 1950 original had topped the country chart for a record-tying twenty-one weeks, matching the performance of Eddy Arnold’s 1947 release, “I’ll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms).” (In 1955, Webb Pierce tied Arnold and Snow when his “In The Jailhouse Now” was No. 1 for twenty-one weeks, and in 2013, notes Wikipedia, the three records were dropped from their record-holding positions when “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line spent twenty-four weeks at No. 1.*)

I’m not sure when I learned about Snow’s original – sometime between 1965 and 2000, I guess – but it’s without a doubt one of the classics of country music:

The record came to mind the other day when I heard a version of “I’m Movin’ On” by Johnny Cash with Waylon Jennings that was recently released on Out Among the Stars, a collection of recently discovered Cash recordings from 1981 and 1984. And I wondered what other covers might be out there, expecting the list to be lengthy.

And I was right: Second Hand Songs lists more than fifty covers of the Snow song, and there are others at Amazon (though many of those listings are the Rascal Flatts song with the same title). And Wikipedia references a few other covers. I don’t entirely trust that list, however, as it cites covers by Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin, and I can find no indication that either Dylan or Zep recorded the song. (Dylan’s official website does note that he performed the song in concert nineteen times between 1989 and 1993.)

Some of the covers have hit the various charts. On the country chart, Don Gibson took the song to No. 14 in 1960, and a live version by Emmylou Harris went to No. 5 in 1983. (The Harris version linked here is from an anthology, and I believe it’s the single version from the live Last Date album, though I imagine the single might have had the introduction trimmed. If it’s the wrong performance, I’d appreciate knowing about it.)

Three versions of the tune have also hit the pop chart: A jaunty cover by Ray Charles went to No. 40 (and to No. 11 on the R&B chart) in 1959, singer Matt Lucas took the song to No. 59 in 1963 in his only appearance on the chart, and John Kay saw his Steppenwolf-ish cover of the tune go to No. 52 in 1972.

And that’s enough for today. We’ll be back later this week with some more.

*Based on what I read at Wikipedia, I have some reservations about “Cruise” holding the record for most weeks at No. 1, as some of those twenty-four weeks belong to the original release and some of them belong to a remix by hip-hop artist Nelly. If there’s a remix, is it the same record?