Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Saturday Single No. 721

Saturday, January 23rd, 2021

Earlier this week, we glanced at the top ten singles in the Billboard Hot 100 from January 25, 1975, and were decidedly unimpressed. I thought that today might be a good time to see if the top ten albums from that week made me feel any better. Here they are:

Greatest Hits by Elton John
Fire by the Ohio Players
Miles Of Aisles by Joni Mitchell
Dark Horse by George Harrison
Heart Like A Wheel by Linda Ronstadt
Relayer by Yes
Back Home Again by John Denver
AWB by the Average White Band
War Child by Jethro Tull
Goodnight Vienna by Ringo Starr

I look at that Top Ten, and I feel like I should find it interesting. I don’t. Six of those albums eventually found their ways onto my LP stacks over the years. The best was probably the Elton John album, but after years of listening to the hits and to the albums from which those hits came, I tend to think that a listener is better hearing the hits in their original settings nestled among very good album tracks (some of them better than the singles).

For various reasons, I never thought much of the Mitchell album, and the albums by the Ohio Players and the Average White Band also left me unmoved. Heart Like A Wheel was good, but not as good as other Ronstadt albums, so it stayed pretty much on the stacks, and Goodnight Vienna was mediocre Ringo.

When Dark Horse pops up in these kinds of things, I’m always surprised that I’ve never owned it. I like Harrison’s solo work, maybe more than I liked the solo work of the other Beatles, and there was a fair amount of Harrison’s stuff on the LP stacks before the Great Vinyl Sell-Off the other year. But not Dark Horse. And I’ve never bought the CD or even sought out a digital version of the album.

Which leaves the albums by Yes, Jethro Tull and John Denver, none of which I’ve ever owned. Maybe I’ve missed out on something over the years, but I paid no attention to those albums and little attention to Yes or Tull over the years. And I’ve resolutely ignored almost anything Denver released after 1971.

So, I owned none of those albums when this chart was published in 1975, and none of them has endeared me to itself over the years. (Am I grumpy as I write this on a cold and soon to be snowy Saturday? Perhaps.)

Well, sorting out what’s written here, if we ignore the Elton John hits album, the best thing in that Top Ten is the Ronstadt album. (I said it was good but not as good as other Ronstadts I had.) So, let’s dip into Heart Like A Wheel and pull out my favorite track. That would be Ronstadt’s cover of Lowell George’s “Willin’.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

The Moody Blues: 1978

Thursday, January 7th, 2021

For almost a year now, the CD of the Moody Blues 1978 album Octave has been sitting on top of a pile of the group’s later albums on a bookcase near my desk. And during those eleven months – ever since I shared here my assessment of Seventh Sojourn, the group’s 1972 album – I’ve thought to myself, “I need to write that post.”

And yet, I didn’t and didn’t, instead pulling something else out of my mind and reference books to share here nearly three times a week. And I wondered: Was I lazy, not wanting to organize myself enough to actually think and write clearly about the album? I certainly know the album, having had it on my shelves since early 1979. As one of my characters in a bit of fiction asked another, “What’s the tale, Dale?”

And upon another listening this week, I came up with my answer. With one major exception, I really don’t like the album. Nine of its ten tracks leave me pretty much empty. Those nine tracks sound okay musically: the ballads are sweet, and the up-tempo tracks lope along as they should. Lyrically, those nine tracks tell familiar stories in familiar ways: love stories, self-discovery, a little bit of cosmic wonder.

And that all sounds like something you’d be pleased to have playing in the background in early 1979 as you catch up with friends: Who’s getting married, who has a new job, who’s having a first baby, whose parents aren’t doing so well. That’s what we talked about during those years, our first years of being out on our own. We were young professionals offering our competence to the world for the first time.

And on the stereo, there were the Moody Blues offering their competence to the world, and – with one huge exception – that’s all that Octave offerred: competence without any seeming inspiration. The five long-time members of the group – Graeme Edge, John Lodge, Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder and Justin Hayward – had returned from time away from the band, five years or so, and offered an almost entirely forgettable set of tracks that were pleasant in the background but lacking substance when given more careful attention.

Coming to that realization over the past week depressed me. Octave was the third of the group’s massive catalog that I’d ever owned; I’d gotten the 1968 album In Search of the Lost Chord in 1972 and found the hippie mysticism a little silly but listenable. I got 1972’s Seventh Sojourn for Christmas that year, and loved the album, less mystical but still pertinent and enjoyable musically. And I also knew the 1970 album A Question Of Balance well, having heard it across the street at Rick’s many times.

So realizing this week that I don’t like the album bummed me out. A little more thought brought me to understand that – with one major exception – I didn’t much like the album in 1979, either. And that brought me to think about – and here things get markedly personal – my life back then. I had a job I loved as a reporter for the Monticello Times. I was newly married. I was losing touch with my college friends and not replacing them. And looking back forty-some years, the only memories of that life that aren’t tinged with sorrow are the memories of my job.

So sorrow-laden memories of the times float along as I listen. Trying to sort things out, a few of the tracks did seem better than the others as I listened this week: Despite its ponderous and clichéd introduction, “Steppin’ In A Slide Zone” is a decent piece, “Had To Fall In Love” is a pretty track, and “The Day We Meet Again” is all right. But there’s no way I can accurately assess and review the album without delving into the mostly unhappy life I was living when the album came into that life. Call it a grade of Incomplete and leave it that way on the transcript forever.

There is, of course, the one exception I’ve mentioned several times: “Driftwood,” the fifth track on the album and the last track on Side One in the LP configuration, towers above anything else on the album. It’s a melancholy track, to be sure, but its sadness, its sorrow, is couched in perhaps the most beautiful music the Moody Blues ever made, capped by the metaphor of the title and chorus: “Don’t leave me driftwood on the shore.”

No person was about to leave me as driftwood back then, but – looking back as fairly as I can – perhaps I sensed that life outside the newsroom was leaving me behind in some ways, and thus, “Driftwood” spoke to me. Or maybe that’s bullshit, and it was the sweeping melody, the bittersweet lyrics, the French horn, and the saxophone that pulled me in. I don’t know, and despite my frequent need to assess and analyze the stops and turns in my life, I’m just going to say that “Driftwood” can stand alone as perhaps the best thing the Moody Blues ever did and one of the tracks I have most loved over the years.

‘I’m Not S’posin’ . . .’

Thursday, November 12th, 2020

My sister’s record collection, the stuff she took with her in 1972 when she departed Kilian Boulevard and St. Cloud for marriage and a life in the Twin Cities, has been the topic of a few posts here over the years. And I’ve also explored my attempts to find, over the years, the twenty or so LPs that made up that collection.

One of those records, one she bought from the Record Club of America around 1965, was, I think, the acquisition that moved me twenty-some years later to recreate on my own shelves the collection she took with her. And it was also, I think, at least one of the reasons I continue to collect both the music of Ray Conniff and of the wider universe of mid-Sixties easy listening.

I never thought to ask my sister why she chose Conniff’s 1964 album Invisible Tears as one of her selections from the record club, (for about three years, we chose records from the club in alternate months), just as I never thought to ask her why she once chose the album Traditional Jewish Memories. But once the stereo found a permanent home in the basement rec room in 1967, both albums became part of my own regular listening, along with Al Hirt and the soundtracks of John Barry.

The tracks on Invisible Tears were covers of country and pop-folk songs: The title track was a No. 13 hit for Ned Miller on the Billboard country chart in 1964 (Conniff’s version went to No. 57 on the Hot 100 that year). Other tracks included “Honeycomb,” “Oh, Lonesome Me,” “Singing The Blues,” “I Walk The Line,” “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” That’s stuff, of course, that was made famous by other artists, folks I did not know about then.

And among the other tracks on the album was one titled “S’posin’,” which went:

S’posin’ I should fall in love with you
Do you think that you could love me too?
S’posin’ I should hold you and caress you
Would it impress you or distress you?


S’posin’ I should say “For you I yearn”
Would you think I’m speaking out of turn?
And s’posin’ I declare it
Would you take my love and share it?
I’m not s’posin’,I’m in love with you

S’posin’ I declare it
Would you take my love and share it?
I’m not s’posin,’ I’m in love with you

I’m not s’posin,’ I’m in love with you
I’m not s’posin,’ I’m in love with you

For some reason, the song fascinated the twelve-year-old I was, and I found myself humming or singing it as I went about my tweenage business around the house (which I’m sure was at least a little annoying to the other three occupants). I don’t remember if I had anyone in mind as I sang the song, anyone to whom I wanted to declare my ardor, but I imagine I did.

Then, a few years later, I fell into the Beatles, Chicago, Top 40 radio, underground progressive radio, and all the other musical stuff that’s followed me around for years. And until August 1989, for the most part, I forgot about Ray Conniff and Invisible Tears and “S’posin’.” That was when the album turned up in a box of stuff I picked up at a garage sale, tucked next to records by Peter, Paul & Mary, Roy Hamilton, Percy Faith, James Taylor, Joan Baez, and the Climax Blues Band. (An interesting mix, to be sure.)

The record wasn’t, as I recall it, in very good shape, but through the hiss and the crackle came the sounds from the basement rec room. I still liked most of it, although the continued use of the contraction in “S’posin’” now seemed a silly construct. (And it’s been silly for a long time, as the song, written by Andy Razaf and Paul Denniker, was first recorded in 1929 by Bob Haring & His Orchestra and was most recently recorded by Lesley Lambert in 2017.)

That was about the time, 1989 was, when my record buying became a little manic, and that was about the time – probably inspired by finding Invisible Tears – when I began to replicate my sister’s collection as well as to look for Conniff’s work and the work of other easy listening artists from the mid-1960s. (All of my sister’s collection, Invisible Tears included, is replicated on my digital shelves, as is a lot of the easy listening stuff.)

And I still don’t know why my sister chose the record more than fifty years ago, why it mattered to her then and why it still does. About ten years ago, when she and her husband passed on to me a box of LPs they’d decided were no longer essential, Invisible Tears was not among them.

Here’s “S’posin’.”

And here’s a playlist of the album:

The Moody Blues: 1972

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

As Christmas approached in 1972, I had no idea that the Moody Blues had recently released an album. I knew that in the spring, as I was finishing my first year of college, the group had released a single, “Isn’t Life Strange,” which I’d heard a fair amount and liked a bit.

During that autumn, spurred by my having heard the group’s A Question Of Balance across the street at Rick’s – and also likely spurred by having liked “Isn’t Life Strange” coming out of the radio in the spring – I acquired the four-year-old In Search Of The Lost Chord through a record club and was, as I’ve noted here before, pretty well disappointed and baffled.

So I didn’t quite know what I had in my hands when, a couple of days before Christmas, Rick gave me the group’s new album, Seventh Sojourn, as a Christmas present. Now, nearly fifty years later, I know it’s my favorite album by the group, the one I’ve no doubt listened to more than any other. For a couple of years not quite a decade ago, it was one of three or four albums that I played softly at my bedside as I went to sleep.

Now, is it my favorite because I’ve had it longer than almost any other album by the group? Entirely possible, perhaps even likely. And if it’s my favorite, does that mean it’s the group’s best album? I don’t know, but it may be the best, for a couple of reasons.

First, the sound was richer. The five members of the group began putting the album together in the studio (a converted garage) at Mike Pinder’s home, Beckthorns, in early 1972, and as they did, they began using a new instrument called the Chamberlain, which replaced the Mellotron. “It worked on the same principle as the Mellotron , but had much better quality sounds – great brass, strings and cello and so on” said Justin Hayward, as quoted in the notes to the 2008 CD release of Seventh Sojourn.

Second, the group had left behind much of the mysticism that had permeated its earlier albums. There were no spoken word interludes on the album, and the album had no introductory segment; it just took off into the first track, “Lost In A Lost World,” and headed on from there. The music is as accomplished as ever, and the lyrics are more down to earth, if sometimes a hair preachy as in the ecological plaints of “Lost In A Lost World” and “You & Me.”

Otherwise, there are love songs – “New Horizons,” “For My Lady” are fairly traditional love songs, and even “Isn’t Life Strange” and “The Land Of Make Believe” work on the topic of love in one way or another. There’s the open letter to academic and hallucinogenic drug advocate Timothy Leary, who spent 1972 in exile in – according to Wikipedia – Switzerland, Austria, Lebanon and Afghanistan. And there’s the closer, with the band proclaiming “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band).”

Some of the tracks are a little self-conscious and perhaps overbearing, I’ll acknowledge, giving the group a sense of self-importance that could be off-putting. But when I was nineteen, that slid right past me, and besides, it’s a flaw that runs through almost all of the Moody Blues’ catalog, something you know you’re gonna get when you cue up the record.

I don’t recall a lot of folks around me talking about the album, as had been the case with the release of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour a year previously. But that was probably because I was generally hanging around with fewer and different people than I had been a year earlier, and I spent a lot more time than I had the year before down in the rec room listening to my albums, with Seventh Sojourn near the top of the playlist.

So how good is it and how well was it received? As for the latter, the album was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for five weeks, starting in the second week of December 1972 and continuing on into January 1973. The previous spring, “Isn’t Life Strange” had reached No. 29 during a ten-week run on the magazine’s Hot 100, and in February 1973, “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band)” began its own ten-week run on the Hot 100 that peaked at No. 12.

As to how good the album is, it’s more difficult to separate my affection for the album from its quality than it has been or will be for any of the other albums by the Moody Blues. I have to give it an A-.

Here’s the album’s opening track, “Lost In A Lost World.”

The Moody Blues’ Seventies, Part 1

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

Now we come, in our long-term look at the catalog of the Moody Blues, to the hard part, assessing the three albums the British group released during the first years of the 1970s: A Question Of Balance from 1970, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour from 1971, and Seventh Sojourn from 1972.

Those are the albums that made me a fan of the Moody Blues. I heard the first of the three across the street at Rick’s sometime in late 1970, soon after it came out. During my early college days, I heard bits and pieces of the second in dorm rooms and apartments, enough to know I liked it. The third of those came my way in December 1972 as a Christmas present from Rick.

And there were singles from all three of those albums that got airplay during those years as well.

In other words, enough of my youth is tied up into those three albums to make it difficult to assess them dispassionately. But I’ll give it a try, starting today with A Question Of Balance.

After starting their last three albums with spoken word introductions or sound collages, the group shifted gears and started A Question Of Balance with music, the stand-out track “Question,” written by Justin Hayward. A version of the track was released as a single in late April 1970, a little more than three months before the album came out, and went to No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. By the time the album came out in early August, the track had undergone some changes, perhaps most notably the addition of orchestral flourishes – courtesy, no doubt, of the Mellotron – in its introduction.

About a decade ago, I included the single version of “Question” in the 228-track Ultimate Jukebox, but I like both versions equally, and I recall the sixteen- and seventeen-year-old me listening especially closely during the spring of 1970 to the words of the single’s slow middle section:

I’m looking for someone to change my life
I’m looking for a miracle in my life
And if you could see what it’s done to me
To lose the love I knew
You’d safely lead me to
The land that I once knew
To learn as we grow old
The secrets of our soul

And if I hadn’t ever written anything in this space about my adolescent romanticism, all you’d need to do is read those lines to know a lot about who I was in 1970 (and likely still am).

So I still love the album’s title track. What about the rest of it? How can I separate the music I hear now from how I heard it as a junior in high school (and as a college student and as a young adult and so on)?

Well, first, let’s note that – as was often their habit – the Moodies blended a lot of the tracks into one another, making suites instead of discreet tracks. And that’s how I listen to the album these days: as clusters of tracks. Still, being as discerning as I can, I have noted during my listening over the past few months that some of the songs on the album work less well than others.

The first of those is the one that immediately follows “Question,” Mike Pinder’s “How Is It (We Are Here),” which kind of lumbers along with its commentary about “men’s mighty mine machines” and “concrete caves with iron doors.” The fade-out, repeating the title, works but the stuff that comes before it seems heavy-handed in 2019.

Nothing else on the album is that awkward, but I find two of John Lodge’s compositions a little lacking as well: “Tortoise & The Hare” – appended to Graeme Edge’s “Don’t You Feel Small” – strains lyrically, as does his “Minstrel’s Song,” which one finds between a pair of Hayward tunes: “It’s Up To You” and “Dawning Is The Day.”

And then there’s the final track, “The Balance,” co-written by Edge and Thomas, which starts with a spoken word section that – like those on preceding albums – indulges the worst instincts of the band. Consider this:

And he felt the earth to his spine,
And he asked,
And he saw the tree above him,
And the stars,
And the veins in the leaf,
And the light,
And the balance.
And he saw magnificent perfection,
Whereon he thought of himself in balance,
And he knew he was.

I’m no cynic, but that doesn’t connect with me nearly as well in 2019 as it did in 1970 (or 1975 or 1980, even). Maybe it should, but . . .

There are, though, some tracks on the album that still work for me after almost fifty years. Ray Thomas’ “And The Tide Rushes In,” the two Hayward tunes – “It’s Up To You” and “Dawning Is The Day” – and especially Mike Pinder’s “Melancholy Man” all still speak to me without irony or eye-rolls.

And back in 1970, the album spoke to a lot of people, rising to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and staying on the chart for seventy-four weeks. From what I can tell, “Question” was the only single released from the album.

So with all that, what letter grade would I give the album, assessing it not as a memory but as I hear it today? Despite the missteps outlined above, it’s got a better selection of songs than most of the group’s albums, and my misgivings with a few of the songs are generally with the lyrics; musically, the album is gorgeous. (Assuming, that is, that the listener likes the wall of sound the Moodies offer; I recall one co-worker years ago at the Monticello Times who refused to listen even once to an album I offered him. The group’s sound was “too busy and heavy” for him.)

So I’ll give it a B.

Here’s a 2017 remastered version of my favorite track (save perhaps “Question”) from the album, “Melancholy Man.”

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