Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

The Moody Blues in 1969, No. 2

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

As was noted the last time we talked about the Moody Blues in the context of their two 1969 albums (a discussion found here), I noted a couple of tracks that I thought missed the mark on To Our Childrens Childrens Children and promised to do the same for the other album from that year, On The Threshold Of A Dream.

Well, as I listen to Threshold, I’m reminded of a discussion I’ve seen or heard many times over the years, most recently among the members of a Facebook group devoted to music of the 1970s: An artist or group releases its debut album to acclaim, having spent at least a couple years putting together the material, and is then expected to produce another album in a very short time, resulting in a less-than-stellar effort. I think, to an extent, the same thing happened with Threshold, sandwiched as it was between 1968’s In Search Of The Lost Chord and To Our Childrens Childrens Children, released later in 1969: The work on Threshold kind of pales in comparison to the albums that bracket it.

Now, as I noted when I discussed it (here), I wasn’t all that impressed with Lost Chord when I first heard it in 1972, and it’s still not high on my list. But I’ve come to realize in the last few months of heavy Moody Blues listening that at least the songs on Lost Chord, though flawed, are interesting. The songs on To Our Childrens Childrens Children are generally interesting, though – as I noted in that post a little more than a week ago – I have a few quibbles with some of them.

But the songs on the album between those two albums – On The Threshold Of A Dream – are for the most part dull. They’re competently arranged and played, but as I ran the album through the CD player a few times and then played individual tracks sitting at my desk, I found myself less and less interested in the album. Nothing on what was Side One in the LP configuration grabs hold of me positively, and only the first track on what was Side Two does so: “Never Comes The Day,” which I find one of the group’s best efforts ever.

After “Never Comes The Day,” another few tracks meander by until we get to “The Dream,” which does commands my attention because it’s another one of those spoken word tracks the Moodies liked to throw out in the early years:

When the white eagle of the North is flying overhead
The browns, reds and golds of autumn lie in the gutter, dead.
Remember then, that summer birds with wings of fire flaying
Came to witness spring’s new hope, born of leaves decaying.
Just as new life will come from death, love will come at leisure.
Love of love, love of life and giving without measure
Gives in return a wondrous yearn of a promise almost seen.
Live hand-in-hand and together we’ll stand on the threshold of a dream.

Heavy, man.

The album closes with “Have You Heard (Part One),” “The Voyage” and “Have You Heard (Part Two),” all of which ends with about a minute of not quite white noise slowly fading into silence. And I imagine that all of it seemed quite astounding and deep in a college dorm room in 1969. Or maybe it sounded mostly silly and pretentious then, too.

A lot of folks were listening to the two 1969 albums: On The Threshold Of A Dream spent 136 weeks on the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 20 , and To Our Childrens Childrens Children was on the chart for forty-four weeks, peaking at No. 14. But only one single from the two albums charted: “Never Comes The Day” lurked near the bottom of the magazine’s Hot 100 for four weeks, peaking at No. 91. I’d say it deserved better.

I gave In Search Of The Lost Chord a letter grade when I discussed it (a C-), so I suppose I had better keep doing that as I wander through the rest of the Moody Blues’ catalog. On The Threshold Of A Dream earns a C- as well, and To Our Childrens Childrens Children gets a C, mostly because it has better songs (and because, having learned in the last week that the album was a response/tribute to the Apollo 11 moon landing, I now hear its introductory track as a little less ludicrous).

Here’s “Never Comes The Day,” the best track on either of the two 1969 albums (though “Gypsy” from To Our Childrens Childrens Children comes close).

Note: I’m bothered by the missing apostrophes in the title of To Our Childrens Childrens Children, but the title – as ill-advised as it might be – is the title.

The Moody Blues in 1969, No. 1

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019

As I’ve noted in earlier posts – without actually saying so, I imagine – I came late to the Moody Blues (as is true of most pop-rock music), only beginning to listen to them in the early 1970s. The first of their albums that I was aware of at the time of its release was 1971’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and the first Moodies album I acquired close to the time of its release was 1972’s Seventh Sojourn.

So I missed the band’s deepest forays into what I call “hippie mysticism,” which is my stereotypical shorthand for the ethos that led college students and others of their age during the very late 1960s and very early 1970s to utter murmurs of admiration for the deep ideas they garnered from the LPs on their turntables. That’s caricature, of course, but I heard enough folks around me during my first two years of college (during the early 1970s) telling me how deep the Moody Blues’ albums were, how filled with insights each song was, to wonder if I was missing something.

The sources of those murmurs and assessments were four albums: In Search Of The Lost Chord from 1968, On The Threshold Of A Dream and To Our Childrens Childrens Children, both from 1969, and A Question Of Balance from 1970. The first of those four was discussed her not quite two weeks ago, and we’ll take on A Question Of Balance in the near future. This week, we’re going to briefly tackle the middle pair of those four albums.

Why briefly? First of all, I know those two albums less well than most of the rest of the group’s catalog. I missed them when they came out, and they were the last two of the Moody Blues’ original releases to find their ways to the vinyl shelves, arriving there during the summer of 1998. (I played both once and placed them on the shelves, probably vowing to get back to them, a vow unkept until this year.) And they were among the last CDs to arrive here on the North Side during this summer’s spree.

And briefly, too, because – being far removed from the late 1960s and also being a far more critical listener than I was then – I don’t find the two albums to be much more than collections of mostly pleasant and occasionally impressive songs. Both, seemingly, were considered “concept albums” when they were released, but I’m not sure what the topics under discussion were. Maybe that means I’m just shallow. Maybe it means that I need to listen to the two albums over and over and over. Or maybe it means that the two albums are just collections of (generally) good songs with a couple of tricks used that seem to set the tables and the bind the things together.

Both start with silly introductions: To Our Childrens Childrens Children starts with a track called “Higher and Higher” that gives us a crescendo of instruments and voices starting from nothing and truly going higher and higher for ninety seconds until the band kicks in underneath a spoken verse:

Blasting, billowing, bursting forth
With the power of ten billion butterfly sneezes
Man with his flaming pyre
Has conquered the wayward breezes

Climbing to tranquility
Far above the cloud
Conceiving the heavens
Clear of misty shroud

Maybe it was far out in 1969, as we said back then. (Yeah, I called things “far out” for about two weeks.) But it seems lame now (and probably did back then to those less impressionable). But however much it limps, it’s a far better start than the conversation between an unformed youth and a computer that starts On The Threshold Of A Dream. “In The Beginning,” as the conversation is called, is just silly and painful to listen to.

Both of those introductions kind of sour the modern listener on both albums, I think (having listened to both entire albums about four times each in the last couple months). Using the “skip” button on a CD player at the beginning of each album gives that modern listener a much better experience.

There are still some misses: The two-part “Eyes Of A Child” and the split “I’d Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred/Million” on Children would each have been served better, I think, as single tracks. And “Candle Of Life” on the same album offers majestic music accompanied by lyrics that had to have seemed trite even at the moment they came out of John Lodge’s pen:

Something you can’t hide
Says you’re lonely
Hidden deep inside
Of you only
It’s there for you to see
Take a look and be
Burn slowly, the Candle of Life

Something there outside
Says we’re only
In the hands of time
Falling slowly
It’s there for us to know
With love that we can go
Burn slowly, the Candle of Life

So love everybody and make them your friends
So love everybody and make them your friends

But the music is lovely. So listen to “Candle Of Life” and stop back here later in the week when we’ll look at a few missteps from On The Threshold Of A Dream and note a few tracks on both albums that I think rise above their general qualities.

I Knew The Singer & The Song

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

As I wandered through the archives today, I ran across this piece that was originally posted in May 2007, when this blog was about four months old. I’m not sure why it caught my attention, but I realized that, like me, Becky would now be in her mid-sixties. I’ve never tried to find her on the ’Net, and I don’t know if I will, but wherever she is, I hope she still sings.

I was wandering around the blog Lost-In-Tyme, reading about a CD anthology called Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies From The Canyon, a collection of mostly self-released recordings by women from the early 1970s. The folks at Chicago’s Numero Group label, which released the collection in March 2006, heard the influence of Joni Mitchell in those long-ago recordings and named the collection in tribute to Mitchell’s 1970 album, Ladies Of The Canyon.

It sounded like the kind of thing I’d like, so I read the review and looked at the track list. And I looked again.

There, listed as the first track, was “A Special Path” by Becky Severson. I knew the song. I knew the self-released album from which it came.

I knew the singer.

Becky Severson was in my graduating class at St. Cloud Technical High School in 1971. She and I had been the trumpet section in our orchestra when we were sophomores, sharing chuckles through the year. Sometime during that year, we were playing with words, and I’d switched the syllables in her names. She blushed, but she evidently liked her new moniker; she signed my yearbook that year as “Sexy Beaverson.” She wasn’t in orchestra after that year, but we were casual friends through high school, including our senior year, when she was Homecoming Queen.

A year after we graduated, I’d heard that she’d recorded an album. I called her and asked about buying one. Twenty minutes later, she brought my copy of A Special Path to my door. We chatted for a few minutes, talking about what the first year after high school had brought us. Then she got into her car and drove off down Kilian Boulevard. I played the record once and put it on the shelf.

I’ve never seen Becky again. I made a couple of reunions, but I don’t think she was at either of them.

And thirty-five years after she recorded it, the title song to her album was chosen for an anthology. I dug a little deeper on the ’Net.

According to a piece in the Chicago Tribune, the Numero Group found its niche in the music business by deciding to find “lost musical gems from around the country and give them a second chance via a smartly curated and beautifully packaged series of CDs.” Ladies From The Canyon was the label’s eighth such package, and thirteen of its fourteen songs, including Becky’s, were released on private press labels.

The Tribune piece quoted Numero’s Ken Shipley as he talked about Becky and her song:

“Becky [Severson] was so surprised when we contacted her,” Shipley says of the singer whose simply strummed, Joan Baez-inspired “A Special Path” opens the “Ladies From the Canyon” CD. “She didn’t think anyone ever cared. … I mean, we’re not anyone’s savior here, but it’s nice.”

The story goes on to tell how the Numero Group found Becky. First, they noticed that her 1972 LP was recorded in St. Paul, which led them to check Seversons in Minnesota. Eventually, they narrowed the search to St. Cloud, and after calling twenty-four of the twenty-five Seversons in the phone book, the folks from Chicago found Becky’s dad, who told them Becky lived not far away. He also told them that he had boxes of her album in the attic.

They eventually found Becky, and after the CD was released, the Los Angeles Times evidently got hold of her. A piece from the Times – in a collection of news pieces gathered on the Numero Group’s website – notes:

Becky Severson, a Minnesotan whose early-’70s selection “A Simple Path” opens the set, expresses a sentiment common among her peers: “Singing brought me so much fulfillment. I could do that in public or in my little bedroom, and it would not have made much of a difference.” Based on a passage in the book of Jeremiah, her song lasts scarcely a minute; her voice quivers over delicate finger picking as she tells of her youthful devotion to God. Severson married young, and says her faith has held fast: “I am committed to serving Christ for eternity because of his love he revealed to me when I was 16.”

Asked if she was ever a flower child, Severson confesses to taking on the style of dress, but little else: “I didn’t fall into the ‘free love’ mode, because I didn’t believe in passing out something that I valued dearly.”

As I was digging online, I went to the stacks and pulled out A Special Path and put it on the turntable. It was as I remembered: The record was pleasant, clearly the work of a young singer-songwriter, with all fourteen tracks telling of Becky’s faith and the joy she’d found in that faith. She wrote seven of the songs on the album and co-wrote another. All but one of the other songs were written by friends of hers. One song, “Come To The Water,” was credited to the “Jesus People.” (One of those credited friends, I remembered as I glanced at the back of the jacket, was Wendy, the guitarist who’d been in my short-lived junior high band and of whom I wrote last week.)

I left a note at Lost-In-Tyme, telling Janisfarm, who’d contributed the piece on Ladies From The Canyon, about knowing Becky long ago and having her album. He wrote back, “The world is so [strange]!! Can you rip it and share with us?”

So here’s an album from a gal who used to sit next to me in orchestra.

With that, I shared the album for downloading, as was my habit in the early days of this blog. Since then, a YouTube user named R. K has posted Becky’s album as a single video. That link is just below. Further down is a link to a playlist of Ladies From The Canyon, the anthology that sparked this post.

I should note that I recall receiving an email after the publication of this post in 2007 telling me that one of the songs credited in the piece to either Becky or to her friends was in fact a well-known Christian folk song written by someone else. I can’t offer any more information, as a brief search for that note through the email archive was unsuccessful.

Becky Severson – A Special Path [1972]

Track listing:
A Special Path
God Gave Me A Light
I’ve Searched
House Song
Gospel Ship
Love Is A Wonderful Word
Come To The Water
Only Word
Jesus Song
Prayer Is The Key
Missing Out
Children’s Song
Now
Children Growing In God

Various Artists – Ladies From The Canyon (2006)

Saturday Single No. 604

Saturday, August 11th, 2018

We’ve spent some time this week considering what I was hearing on the radio as I prepared for my senior year of high school in August 1970, and we’ve theorized about what my cousins in California were hearing on the radio at the same time.

So I wondered this morning as the Texas Gal and I ran a brief errand: What was I listening to in the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard at that summer played out? Well, the playlist was pretty slender as far a pop and rock went. As August 1970 hit its mid-point, these were the pop, rock and R&B albums I had available:

The Age Of Aquarius by the 5th Dimension
Let It Be by the Beatles
Chicago by Chicago
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Best Of Bee Gees
Hey Jude by the Beatles

For more pop/rock, I could, if I wanted to, dig deeper into the crate where I kept my albums and supplement those six with Herman’s Hermits On Tour and Look At Us by Sonny and Cher, albums my sister had given me as gifts for birthdays in 1965 and 1966, and Beatles ’65, which we had received for Christmas in 1964. And for some changes of pace, there were always my Al Hirt and Herb Alpert records and my John Barry soundtracks.

(Then, too, there were my sister’s LPs, which ran a wide gamut: Jefferson Airplane, Judy Collins, John Denver, Glenn Yarbrough, some classical LPs and Traditional Jewish Memories, the tale of which I’ve told here before.)

Those all were in the mix as I lazed on the green couch during that summer of 1970, with the more recent pop and rock certainly getting more frequent play. And as I think about that list, I single out the album by the 5th Dimension, which I bought through our record club during the autumn of 1969, my first full season of listening to Top 40. And I wonder, not for the first time: What moved me to select it?

As I ponder the question, I come up with several reasons: I was hearing “Wedding Bell Blues” (No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in November 1969) with increasing frequency on the radio; during the summer of 1969, I bought the single “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” after it spent six weeks at No. 1 in April and May 1969; and most importantly, in October of 1969, I spent a couple hours in the fifth row or so for a concert by the 5th Dimension at St. Cloud State.

For as long as I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been dating the start of my pop/rock/soul LP collecting to May of 1970, when I brought home Let It Be and Chicago. I think the dividing line I drew was that I purchased those records with my own money. The 5th Dimension album, on the other hand, was one of the six each year that Dad bought for me from the record club.

On one side, the fact of laying out my own cash for records makes a difference: Those records were my investment. On the flip side, just selecting from the club an LP by the 5th Dimension shows that my tastes were changing, my ears bending toward new sounds.

So what does all that mean to a reader? Probably not much. But I use this place to not only share the music I love and the story of my life but to sort out that story. And this wandering post is going to conclude that I should date my pop/rock/soul LP collecting from the autumn of 1969 with The Age Of Aquarius.

The medley that includes the title track was one of the selections in my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox, so we’ll look elsewhere on the album this morning, finding one of my favorite deep tracks, making “The Winds Of Heaven” today’s Saturday Single.

First Wednesday: February 1968

Wednesday, February 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 update our examination of charts from fifty years ago 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 most indelible images of the Vietnam War was captured forty years ago this month. Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams was working in the streets of Saigon during the Tet Offensive when, on February 1, he came upon South Vietnamese police and soldiers detaining a man named Nguyễn Văn Lém, who has most often been described over the years as a member of the Viet Cong guerillas. Whatever he was, Nguyễn was executed in the street by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, the chief of the national police. Adams was there, as was NBC television cameraman Vo Suu. Adam’s photo of the execution won a Pulitzer Prize, but his photo and Suu’s footage earned world-wide criticism for the executioner and the South Vietnamese forces and government.

That’s where it becomes important to know exactly who Nguyễn Văn Lém was. Wikipedia says that Nguyễn Văn Lém, according to South Vietnamese sources, “commanded a Viet Cong insurgent team, which, on February 1, 1968, the second day of the Tet Offensive, had targeted South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their place, the police officers’ families. Corroborating this, Lém was captured at the site of a mass grave that included the bodies of at least seven police family members. Photographer Adams confirmed the South Vietnamese account, although he was only present for the execution.”

Wikipedia also says that “[t]he execution was explained at the time as being the consequence of Lém’s admitted guerrilla activity and war crimes, and otherwise due to a general ‘wartime mentality’.”

(I have read a few times over the years that Nguyễn Văn Lém was a member of the North Vietnamese army operating in Saigon in civilian clothes; in that case, the Geneva Conventions allow for summary execution. From what I can tell, that claim is historical revisionism intended to justify Nguyễn Ngọc Loan’s administration of summary justice.)

It should also be noted that Wikipedia states that some of its sources for its entry on Lém “may not be reliable.” Whatever the truth fifty years later, I remember the revulsion the photograph and the film footage caused at the time. There was the usual yipping of approval from some quarters, but I think that even most of those still supporting the U.S. efforts in Vietnam were sickened by the brutality of this one incident.

Elsewhere in February 1968:

The Winter Olympics took place from February 6 through 18 at Grenoble, France. With loads of coverage on ABC – though not nearly as much coverage as the Olympics get these days – we were able to watch a fair amount of the action. The two leading personalities of the Games – as defined, I suppose, by ABC and other media – were ice skater Peggy Fleming, who won the only gold medal for the U.S., and French skier Jean-Claude Killy, who won all three men’s downhill events. A side note: The Grenoble games marked the first time that ABC used the now-familiar tympani- and brass-laden musical theme for its production; the work’s title is actually “Bugler’s Dream,” and it was composed by Frenchman Léo Arnaud.

Here in the U.S., there was a civil rights protest at a bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina, with officers of the state Highway Patrol firing into the crowd of protestors, killing three and wounding twenty-seven. Civil rights protests also took place that month at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

And the month ended on a tragic note in the music world, as Frankie Lymon of Frankie & the Teenagers was found dead of a heroin overdose February 27 in Harlem. He had been scheduled to begin recording for Big Apple records the next day.

The top ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first week of February 1968 were:

“Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers
“Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band
“Chain Of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“Bend Me, Shape Me” by the American Breed
“Woman, Woman” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat
“Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz
“Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by the Lettermen
“I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations

And the top ten albums that week were:

Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Greatest Hits by Diana Ross & The Supremes
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. by the Monkees
Herb Alpert’s Ninth by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Golden Hits by the Turtles
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Farewell to the First Golden Era by The Mamas & the Papas
The Last Waltz by Engelbert Humperdinck

Today’s featured album came from much later in 1968. (As I said in January, it would be nice if I could share one album from each month as the year goes along, but I’m not that organized.) The hit single that came from the album actually didn’t chart until 1969. The record is Introspect by Joe South. (I called the album little-known ten years ago; in the era of reissues, I’m not sure that’s the case now.)

It’s an odd record, in that it didn’t exist long in its original form. A long-time writer and session guitarist in Nashville and Muscle Shoals, South wrote “Hush” for Deep Purple and several songs for Billy Joe Royal, including “Down in the Boondocks.” And in 1968, South went into the studios and came out with Introspect, arranging and producing the album himself. (Some sources say the album was released in 1969, but the Rolling Stone Record Guide and All-Music Guide say it was 1968, so I’m going with that.)

When Introspect was released in November 1968, the album track “Games People Play” began to get some air play, if I’m reading between the lines correctly. Capitol released “Games People Play” as a single, and the record entered the Top 40 in February of 1969, going as high as No. 12 during a nine-week chart run. And at that point, Capitol pulled Introspect from the shelves. Three songs from the record were included on a new album, Games People Play, with the rest of the new record made up of South’s versions of songs he’d written for others and a few new things.

Capitol’s quick yank of Introspect made it a little bit of a collector’s item over the years. Amazon currently lists a U.S. CD set for release at the end of March 2018, with the pre-order price set at $38.99. The website also offers a Japanese issue on CD and vinyl, with streaming and mp3s available as well (prices vary). And a two-fer CD of Introspect paired with Don’t It Make You Wanna Go Home, South’s 1969 album, is available new for the tidy price of $245.22, with used copies starting around $35 and going up from there.

So what do you get for your money? Well, the eleven songs on Introspect kind of collide together with a mixture of country, pop, soul, a touch of gospel and even a little bit of Indian raga. It’s an odd mixture, an idiosyncratic blend that fits perfectly with South’s maverick persona. (AMG calls him a “prickly character” and relates that, after his brother’s suicide in 1971, South moved to Maui, Hawaii, and lived in the jungle.) The hit, as mentioned above, was “The Games People Play,” and “Rose Garden” was a hit in 1971 for Lynn Anderson.

Along with those tracks, I hear the album’s high points as its opener, “All My Hard Times,” the biting “These Are Not My People” and the closer “Gabriel.” But the entire album is well worth hearing (as is almost any of South’s work).

Track list
All My Hard Times
Rose Garden
Mirror of Your Mind
Redneck
Don’t Throw Your Love to the Wind
The Greatest Love
Games People Play
These Are Not My People
Don’t You Be Ashamed
Birds of a Feather
Gabriel

‘Look Out For My Love . . .’

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Among the first things on my agenda this morning was clearing the sink of dishes, generally a task I leave for the afternoons. Why this morning? Not sure, but it was something to do while the coffee brewed and the Texas Gal got her day started.

As usual, I got the iPod rolling and kept track of the tunes it offered as I cleaned, rinsed and placed items in the dishwasher. I heard some nice stuff: “The Ballad of Casey Deiss” by Shawn Phillips (1970), “Never Ending Song Of Love” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends (1971), and a Neil Young triple play: “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970), “On The Way Home” by Buffalo Springfield (1968) and, by Young on his own, “Look Out For My Love” from his 1978 album, Comes A Time.

Tunes from that album have shown up here frequently through the years, and in recent months, it’s been one of the albums that I keep on my nightstand for late-night listening. That alone tells me without thinking too much about it that it’s one of my favorite albums. As I wrote eight years ago:

If I had to go through my 1978 collection and rank the albums, I think that every time, I’d come up with Neil Young’s Comes A Time in the top spot. Far more country-ish than most of his other albums, it’s also the one that Young seems most relaxed with. It sounds like he had fun making the record, and I rarely get that sense about his music.

Even after eight more years of collecting, listening and assessing, I think that judgment holds. There are other albums from 1978 that I like a great deal – the self-titled effort by the duo of Craig Fuller & Eric Kaz, Willie Nelson’s Stardust, Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Van Morrison’s Wavelength are among them – but I think, without chewing on the topic too firmly this morning, that Comes A Time would still be my favorite from that year. (And this slight discussion might well be the source of another series of posts.)

Anyway, here’s the tune that sparked this slight post and helped me get the dishes into the dishwasher to start the day: Neil Young’s “Look Out For My Love” from Comes A Time.

‘Creep Down The Alleyway . . .’

Friday, November 27th, 2015

The iPod reminded the other evening me of something I’d forgotten.

It chugged along as I did dishes, providing me another random set list of dishwashing music for a Facebook post, and along the way, it stopped on a Simon & Garfunkel tune: “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me.”

As the tale of a young man going on the run unfolded, I was reminded again of my first cassette player, the Panasonic model I bought in the summer of 1969 with the cash I’d earned working at the state trap shoot just outside of St. Cloud. I’ve noted before that the first cassettes I listened to were Blood, Sweat & Tears’ self-titled 1969 release and the Beatles’ Abbey Road.

But I forgot about Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 album, Sounds Of Silence.

Unlike the other two album, I never owned the factory cassette, and I didn’t put the LP into my collection for some years. But sometime in the late summer or autumn of 1969, I heard the album across the street at Rick’s and borrowed it to tape it.

As I’ve mentioned here before, my taping system in those days was brutal: I’d place the tape recorder in the middle of the basement rec room floor and play the record on the stereo about six feet away. The resulting recordings, while not great, were at least good enough for casual listening (and to be honest, the small speaker on the Panasonic was probably an audiophile’s nightmare).

I listened to the album a lot during my junior year of high school, 1969-70. I was just beginning to dabble in lyrics, and Simon’s work was among my inspirations: From the enigma of “The Sound Of Silence” through the lovely “Kathy’s Song” and the aforementioned “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” to the stoic “I Am A Rock,” the album’s lyrics made me think, not just about Simon’s evident themes of disaffection and isolation but about how one went about writing a lyric.

Along the way, I carefully copied out the lyrics to “A Most Peculiar Man,” another tale of social isolation:

He was a most peculiar man
That’s what Mrs. Riordon says, and she should know
She lived upstairs from him
She said he was a most peculiar man

He was a most peculiar man
He lived all alone
Within a house, within a room, within himself
A most peculiar man

He had no friends, he seldom spoke
And no one in turn ever spoke to him
’Cause he wasn’t friendly and he didn’t care
And he wasn’t like them
Oh no, he was a most peculiar man

He died last Saturday
He turned on the gas and he went to sleep
With the windows closed so he’d never wake up
To his silent world and his tiny room
And Mrs. Riordan says he has a brother somewhere
Who should be notified soon

And all the people said
“What a shame that he’s dead
But wasn’t he a most peculiar man?”

Admiring the lyric, I showed it to my English teacher, Mr. Dolan, and to my horror, he thought I had written it. I quickly corrected his misapprehension (which, of course, stemmed from my error of not having jotted Simon’s name down as I jotted down the lyrics), and in response, he suggested I try my hand at writing my own lyric. I didn’t tell him I was heading that direction already.

Eventually, the tape of Sounds Of Silence made its way out of my musical rotation. The LP came my way in the autumn of 1974 when Rick cleared his shelves of a number of albums and brought them across the street to me. I probably played it a little then, but it was no longer among my favorites.

So when the iPod offered me “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” the other day, I truly thought about the track and the entire album for the first time in a long while. (I didn’t think about it when I loaded the track onto the iPod? Not really. I was opening folders and clicking titles, and I may have thought, “Boy, I haven’t heard that in a long time,” but thinking that was a long way from actually hearing the track and responding to it.) And having been reminded of the album, I guess I’m going to have to purposefully listen to it from start to finish very soon.

Will I admire it as much as I once did? I don’t know. I might report back.

Here’s “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me.”

‘Underneath This Sky Of Blue . . .’

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

So as I thought the other day about how the sweet autumn of 1975 ended, I also wondered – as I tend to do – what I was listening to as it did.

Well, it was pretty much the same stuff I was listening to earlier that year, a list we explored in August: A couple of radio stations, the (very good) jukebox in the snack bar at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center, and a slowly growing collection of LP’s in the basement rec room at home. How slowly? During the entire year of 1975, I added six albums to the cardboard box where I kept my LPs.

Well, I was a student, and there was very little cash for records. And I had other priorities: My classes and work at the library, my friends at The Table, my new friend Murl, my newly acquired taste for writing, and – beginning in late October – a growing (and marvelously mutual) attraction to the young lady who in a few years would become the Other Half.

There were two new albums in the basement in November of 1975, though. One of them, bought used from a fellow student if I recall things correctly, was getting a little bit of play: Mood Indigo, a two-record collection of Duke Ellington’s greatest work. I bought it mostly because I happened upon it, but I also knew (from reading if not from listening) that Ellington was one of the great musicians in American history, and if I wanted to understand American music (and I was beginning to realize that I wanted to do so), I had to know Duke Ellington.

The other new album was heard more frequently in the rec room: Bob Dylan’s New Morning from 1970. I was already a bit familiar with the album. When I’d been in Denmark two years earlier and living with my Danish family, I’d occasionally checked out cassettes from the public library, and New Morning had been one of them. I was still learning about Dylan’s work at the time – the only album of his I owned was his second greatest hits collection – and as I sorted through the display bins at the Fredericia library, the sepia-toned portrait of Dylan on the album’s cover was familiar compared to the Danish offerings that made up most of the cassettes available.

What I didn’t know, of course, as I listened to New Morning in my room in Fredericia that autumn and as I listened to it again in the basement on Kilian Boulevard two years later, was that New Morning was seen as Dylan’s hurried response to the critical disaster of Self Portrait earlier in 1970. And it was received as a decent if not great album with several very good songs and a few clinkers. (Chief among those last, I would guess, was the spoken word/jazz piece “If Dogs Run Free,” which I’ve always kind of liked.)

Among the better-received tracks, I think, were “If Not For You” (covered later that year by George Harrison on All Things Must Pass), “Day Of The Locusts” (interpreted as Dylan’s reaction to receiving an honorary degree from Princeton University; according to one account I’ve seen, cicadas were buzzing as the ceremony took place), the Elvis Presley tale “Went To See The Gypsy,” and “Sign On The Window” (covered by Melanie a year later on her Good Book album and covered perhaps more memorably in 1979 by Jennifer Warnes on her Shot Through The Heart album).

I liked all of those, and they and the rest of the tracks on the album slowly wove their way into my ears and memory as I entertained friends, read or otherwise whiled away time in the rec room in late 1975. Here’s the title track:

A Good Month

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

I noticed, just by digging into the files I have of the Billboard Hot 100, that February 17, 1979 – thirty-six years ago today – was a Saturday. And I noticed as well that I would not have been horribly impressed with what I might have been hearing on the radio as the Other Half and I ran errands around Monticello and/or sat reading that evening with the radio keeping us company.

The radio station would likely have been the same in both the car and the living room: KS95 from the Twin Cities. And given KS95’s format – almost but not quite Top 40 (and I’m sure the format has a formal name, but I don’t know it offhand) – we would likely have heard most of the current Top Ten sometime during our errands or our quiet evening:

“Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart
“Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People
“A Little More Love” by Olivia Newton John
“Fire” by the Pointer Sisters
“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
“Every 1’s A Winner” by Hot Chocolate
“Le Freak” by Chic
“Lotta Love” by Nicolette Larson
“Somewhere In The Night” by Barry Manilow
“I Was Made For Dancin’” by Leif Garrett

Actually, I’m not certain all of those would have gotten airplay on KS95, but if they did, at least five of them would likely have made the two of us either groan or roll our eyes: The top two for sure would have elicited that response, and the records by Hot Chocolate, Chic and Garrett were unlikely to please us, either. The others, from what I recall, were okay, but only two of them – “Fire” and “Lotta Love” – get passing grades from me all these years later.

With hit radio providing fifty percent satisfaction at best in that long-ago Top Ten, I wondered what would have been on my turntable those days. I wasn’t buying a lot of vinyl at the time for a couple of reasons: Budget was one; we were trying to be prudent with our money, and we were still slowly filling the needs of a new household. Availability was another; the only place that sold records in Monticello had a scatter-shot inventory. So, splurging a bit, I joined a record club, and the first three albums from the club arrived in February 1979. Add in one trip to a mall in the Twin Cities, one to St. Cloud, and one lucky find in a store in Monticello, and the album haul for the month of February 1979, which accounted for almost all of my acquisitions for the entire year, was pretty good:

Time Passages by Al Stewart [1978], February 3
Barry Manilow Live [1977], February 10
Night Moves by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band [1976], February 10
Octave by the Moody Blues [1978], February 10
Sing It Again, Rod by Rod Stewart [1973], February 10
Comes A Time by Neil Young [1978], February 15

I was catching up on relatively recent stuff, except for the Rod Stewart collection, and two of those albums – Time Passages and Comes A Time – would likely end up on a list of my thirty essential albums. I’d buy five of them again, skipping only the Manilow, which I think I got just for his “Very Strange Medley” of jingles from his advertising days. As 1979 went on and we pinched pennies, I wound up buying just one more album all year, a used copy of Elton John’s 1970 self-titled release, probably at the local flea market in October.

And to mark what was a very good February, here’s a track that, as far as I can tell, I’ve never featured here: “Comes A Time,” the title track to that 1978 Neil Young album (with the aforementioned Nicolette Larson on background vocals):

‘So Sad . . .’

Friday, January 16th, 2015

I’m a regular at the St. Cloud Public Library, dropping in frequently to scan the new fiction and non-fiction alike and frequently to pick up CDs and the occasional DVD after I’ve reserved them. (The library in downtown St. Cloud is technically the main branch of the Great River Regional Library, a six-county system, but that gets awkward, so most folks around here just call it the St. Cloud Public Library.)

And I was there yesterday afternoon, picking up a few things: A songbook of music by Cris Williamson (having decided it was long past time for me to learn how to play “Like An Island Rising,” which was Saturday Single No. 1 almost eight years ago) and several CDs by folk artist Eliza Gilkyson. I also grabbed a series of five mystery/suspense novels by Sam Eastland set in the Soviet Union during Stalinist times, and as I sorted my stuff atop the cabinets that hold CDs, I happened to glance at a CD that looked vaguely familiar. So I took a look.

It was Still On The Road To Freedom, a 2012 release by the late Alvin Lee, who passed on in 2013, and its title and cover reference On The Road To Freedom, Lee’s 1973 release with Mylon LeFevre.

combined

That 1973 release has been a favorite of mine since I came across it in 1999 during my Minneapolis-based days of vinyl madness, and I was surprised to learn that, except for a couple of passing references, I’ve never written about it in this space.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Lee, of course, was the lead guitarist for Ten Years After, a successful British blues band that came to wide attention via its performance at Woodstock in 1969 and the inclusion of the band’s performance of “I’m Going Home” in the film Woodstock a year later. When Lee left Ten Years After and teamed up with gospel performer LeFevre for the 1973 release, it seemed like a statement of some type and possibly a career-changer. Given its title, the 2012 release I found in the library yesterday was obviously a statement. That conclusion was borne out by Lee’s liner notes:

In 1972 after Woodstock had catapulted Ten Years After into the Rock Arenas, I decided to take the road to freedom rather than the road to fame and fortune. It was the only decision for me as in my desperation to get away from the responsibility and the commerciality of the music industrialists, I was in danger of joining the dead before 30 club . . .

I was searching for and needing freedom.

It was freedom from long tour schedules playing every night in huge arenas where the sound echoed like a freight shed and the security was armed police with cotton wool in their ears.

Freedom from the managers, agents and lawyers who saw me as a money making commodity. “We only want what’s best for you, my boy.” Yeah sure.

Freedom from being responsible for satisfying other people’s greed.

But most of all – freedom to make music of my own choice without worrying about what other people thought or expected.

I don’t know yet how the music on Still On The Road To Freedom stacks up. I’ve listened to a bit of it, and what I’ve heard, I like. I’m going to take some time to dig into it and hope that it’s a set of tunes I’d like keep at hand. Titling the CD as he did, Lee was clearly drawing a connection between the 2012 set and the 1973 set, and that raises my expectations. I’ll likely report back on what I hear; if I don’t, readers can likely assume that I was underwhelmed by the 2012 album.

In the meantime, here’s a gem from Lee’s 1973 sessions with LeFevre, the single version of “So Sad (No Love Of His Own),” a George Harrison tune. LeFevre handles the lead vocal and harmonies; Lee provides guitar and background vocals; Ron Wood plays twelve-string guitar; Mick Fleetwood handles drums; and a fellow credited for contractual reasons as Hari Georgeson takes care of guitar, slide guitar, bass and harmony vocals.

The single did not chart, which I think is a shame.