Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

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.

‘Switch On Summer From A Slot Machine . . .’

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

On the way to the library the other day, I heard Cat Stevens’ “Where Do The Children Play” coming from the radio speakers, as if my good friends at WXYG were reminding me that I promised a while back to write a little bit about Stevens and his work.

I haven’t forgotten, but as I dig through Stevens’ work – both as Cat Stevens and as Yusuf Islam – I find myself adrift. With a couple of exceptions, I never paid much attention to Stevens’ music. For about a year, I listened occasionally to the 1971 album Teaser & The Firecat until my sister took it and her other albums with her when she got married. I heard and enjoyed 1970’s Tea For The Tillerman at many friends’ homes from 1970 onward, and finally got my own copy in the late 1970s. A few other Cat Stevens albums came home during my vinyl madness in the 1990s (although I think they’ve stayed on the shelves after being played once). And I’ve gotten digital copies of both Tillerman and Teaser.

Stevens’ pre-1970 work doesn’t interest me. I’ve heard enough of the later 1970s stuff to know that it’s not essential, at least not for me, and I’ve heard both post-2000 albums the singer released under his current name of Yusuf Islam. Those are pleasant, and maybe with enough listenings, they’d find their ways inside me and matter to me. Maybe.

I’m not saying that Cat Stevens’ work after 1971 is without merit. Maybe what’s at work here is the well-known bit about the music of our youth being always more important than the music that comes by later, but I find little in Cat Stevens’ post-1971 catalog that moves me. And even Teaser & The Firecat is an album that I like but don’t love.

Tea For The Tillerman is different story. Over the years, it’s come to be one of my essential albums, one I do love. Part of my affection for the album no doubt is because it reminds me of Easter weekend 1974 in Poitiers, France. (I traveled to Poitiers from Denmark on the invitation of a young lady whom I’d met in Vienna. By the time I got to Poitiers, she’d moved on to Munich, but her friends welcomed me and included me in their Easter celebrations, with Tea For The Tillerman playing frequently in the background.) Part of that affection is that the album sounds like 1970, and that’s musically an important year to me.

Beyond those reasons, I think Tea For The Tillerman matters to me because it’s one of the great singer/songwriter albums and is far and away better than anything else Cat Stevens ever released. (For what it’s worth, those who vote on such things for the various Rolling Stone rankings think so, too: In the magazine’s latest listing [2012] of the 500 greatest albums, Tea For The Tillerman ranks No. 208 and none of Stevens’ other albums are listed.) From the above-mentioned “Where Do The Children Play” through the No. 11 hit “Wild World” on to the closing title track, the album shines.

Here’s “Where Do The Children Play,” and just hearing it this morning makes me want to go cue up the entire album once more. I’ll likely do that later today.

From The Bookshelf, Again

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

I’ve spent some time here in the past weeks digging into the new reference books on my shelf. Well, I have one more to dig into for a post: Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Albums, described on the cover as the “55-year history of every album and CD that made the Billboard 200 Albums chart”

So we’re going to make a list of albums and see if we can find a tune from those albums that we find pleasing. We’ll use today’s date – 3/27 – as a guide, heading to every page that ends with “27” and then look at the third charted album listed. By the end of our voyage, we should find something that all of us here in Odd & Pop’s Workshop will want to listen to. Or at least that’s the theory.

On Page 27, the third entry is And the Music Speaks, the 1995 debut album by All-4-One, a male inter-racial vocal group from Los Angeles. The album went to No. 27 and was the source of the No. 5 hit “I’m Your Man.” The group had two other albums make the Billboard 200, one of them a Christmas album that twice made the Top 20 in the magazine’s Christmas chart.

The rock group Cake, which my pal Mitch Lopate likes very much, shows up on Page 127, where the third album listed is the second of the Sacramento band’s four charting albums, a 1998 offering titled Prolonging the Magic. The album went to No. 33 and threw off three singles that hit various charts. “Never There” was the most successful, reaching No. 78 on the Hot 100, No. 40 on the Mainstream Rock chart, No. 29 on the Adult Top 40 and No. 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.

We’re in the world of Dixie when we get to Page 227, with the third listed album on the page being the Dixie Chicks’ 2002 entry Home, which spent four weeks at No. 1 and topped the country chart as well. Several singles came off the album, the most successful of which was the cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide,” which went to No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart,  to No. 2 on three other charts (including the Canadian singles chart), to the Top 10 on two more charts, and to No. 13 on a seventh.

The late Andy Griffith shows up on Page 327, and his 2003 album The Christmas Guest: Stories and Songs of Christmas is the third listed album on the page. It went to No. 141 on the Billboard 200 and went to No. 27 on the magazine’s 2003 Christmas chart. It was Griffith’s third album on the chart; the first two – in 1996 and 1998 – were collections of favorite hymns.

Faith Hope Love by King’s X is the third album listed on Page 427. The 1990 album, the third charting album by the trio from Houston, Texas, went to No. 85. A single from Faith Hope Love, “It’s Love,” went to No. 6 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Only one other album by King’s X did better: Dogman went to No. 88 in 1994. (In 1989, having just finished a novel that takes place in large part in Nebraska, I was bemused by the title of the group’s second charting album, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska. I scanned the record jacket for a few moments and then put the album back into the stacks, pretty sure I wouldn’t like it. I suppose I should listen to it someday.)

On Page 527, we run into Bette Midler, and the third listed album on the page is her third charting album, 1976’s Songs for the New Depression. The album went to No. 27, kind of a bring-down after her first two albums went to No. 9 and No 6. One single from the album made one chart: Midler’s discofied cover of “Strangers in the Night” went to No. 7 on the Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart. The album is better known in some circles as the source of Midler’s duet with Bob Dylan on Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain.”

Primitive Radio Gods, a group headed by Californian Christopher O’Connor, show up on Page 627 with their 1996 album Rocket, which went to No. 36. Popularized by its inclusion in the Jim Carrey movie The Cable Guy, the band’s “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand” placed on four separate Billboard charts, including No. 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and No. 7 on the Top 40 Mainstream chart. The hypnotic track is studded with samples of B.B. King proclaiming “I’ve been downhearted, babe,” from his 1963 record “How Blue Can You Get,” a lyric O’Connor sings at the end of the track.

One of my favorite records from the 1990s – and I don’t know why it didn’t end up in my Ultimate Jukebox project of a few years ago – is Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” which came off the band’s Grave Dancer’s Union, the Twin Cities group’s first charting album and the third album listed on Page 727. The 1992 album was the group’s sixth album; five more have come since, and three of those made the Billboard 200, with 1995’s Let Your Dim Light Shine going to No. 6. As to “Runaway Train,” it showed up in the Top 5 on three different charts (including No. 5 on the Hot 100) and in the Top 20 on two more charts.

The group War first came to attention in the early 1970s for its three-album partnership with Eric Burdon, better known as the lead singer for the Animals. The third of those albums is a 1976 issue called Love Is All Around, which is the third album listed on Page 827. The album’s lineage is sorted out by Wikipedia: “Love Is All Around is an album by Eric Burdon and War (credited as ‘War featuring Eric Burdon’ on the original edition). Released in 1976 on ABC Records, it contains tracks recorded during the band’s brief existence from 1969 to 1971, but not found on their two albums from 1970.” War, of course, went on to have a lengthy recording career. As to Love Is All Around, no tracks from the album seem to have made any singles charts; the album itself went to No. 140. The album’s most interesting track is likely the eleven-minute version of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”

Our last stop this morning is on Page 927, in the Christmas albums section of Top Pop Albums. The third album listed on the page is a 1995 release by various artists titled Jazz to the World, which went to No. 95. Some prominent musicians took part in the project, including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Holly Cole, Cassandra Wilson, Lou Rawls and Stanley Clarke. The most interesting track listing, though, is the closer, with Dr. John taking on the French carol, “Il Est Né, Le Divin Enfant,” a carol I remember tackling on cornet during a high school French class. The track sounds exactly like you’d expect of a French carol sung by Dr. John.

Well, there’s a lot to choose from. I’ve been sorting in my head as I write, and there’s a huge temptation to share the Bette Midler/Bob Dylan duet on “Buckets of Rain,” which is a very cool take on a familiar tune. And I’m fascinated by the Primitive Radio Gods’ “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand.” But I find I cannot ignore the epic take by Eric Burdon and War on “Day in the Life,” so here it is:

‘You Had The Whole Damn Thing All Wrong . . .’

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Since we’ve puttered around for a while with singles from the summer of 1971, what about the albums? What was heading out the doors of stores that summer? Here’s the top ten albums listed in Billboard the week of July 17, 1971:

Tapestry by Carole King
Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
Jesus Christ Superstar
Carpenters by the Carpenters
Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney
Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon by James Taylor
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye
Tarkus by Emerson, Lake & Palmer
4 Way Street by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

That’s an incredibly good Top Ten. I know eight of those albums well, being unschooled about the James Taylor album, which I should know, and Tarkus, about which I should maybe care but don’t. (I have one album by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, their self-titled first album with “Lucky Man” on it, and that, it has always seemed, is enough ELP for me.)

Of the eight I know, three may not have aged as well as the others: 4 Way Street was kind of ragged, and Jesus Christ Superstar remains, I think, one of those “you had to be living in those times” kinds of albums. And then there’s Aqualung, which I’ll deal with in a little while.

As long as we’re talking about aging well, perhaps the album among that top ten that has done that the best is the still vital, vibrant and (sadly) pertinent What’s Going On? And I think Sticky Fingers, Ram and Tapestry are still good listening.

So how many of these was I hearing during that summer of 1971? I had Ram, one-half of my high school graduation present from the man who would turn out to be my brother-in-law. (The other half of the gift was Janis Joplin’s Pearl, which had been No. 1 for nine weeks earlier in the year.) My sister had a copy of Tapestry, and late that summer, I got a copy of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Beyond those, when I was in the rec room, I was still listening to a lot of the Beatles as well as to Crosby, Stills & Nash (with and without Young), Stephen Stills on his own, The Band and the Bee Gees from my own collection. My sister’s collection added – as I said – Carole King as well as a few other current things, Cat Stevens and Leo Kottke primary among them. I was certainly a lot more plugged into current music than I had been two years earlier when the most recent pop album I’d owned was a Herman’s Hermits offering that was three years old.

So what about Aqualung? I didn’t get my own copy of the album until that autumn, but I know I heard some of it on the radio, maybe on KQRS or perhaps on a local FM station – call letters long forgotten – that played a fair amount of album rock, or maybe even on KAAY’s “Beaker Street” as it sliced through the late-night static from Little Rock. I might have borrowed a workmate’s copy of the album for a week or so.

However I heard them, I knew at least two songs on the album that summer: the title song about the homeless wretch and the anti-religion but pro-God closing track, “Wind Up.” And I most likely was one of those that the book All Music Guide to Rock refers to when it notes that the album “probably got lots of teenagers wrestling with these ideas for the first time in their lives.” The book goes on to call Aqualung “one of the most cerebral albums ever to reach millions of rock listeners.”

I can’t dispute that. I was seventeen that summer, and I might have already started to think about the big topics of life: religion, yes, but also poverty, loyalty, love, obligation and more. Even so, Aqualung addressed those, some directly and some obliquely, and made me more aware of them. I’m not sure Anderson and the other members of Jethro Tull managed to put on the table a cogent series of answers to any questions about those topics, but it was pretty impressive getting the questions out in the open. (Regarding musicians questioning the order of things, it should probably be noted that I dug into Aqualung nine months or so before I began to dig into anything Bob Dylan ever recorded.)

And I liked the music. Just listening to snippets of the album this morning as I write – and I’ve not heard many of those tracks for years – reminded me how much I enjoyed not just the lyrics but the music backing those words. From Anderson’s flute onward, I found the tunes hummable, and listening this morning was an exercise in pleasant familiarity. So how much of my enjoyment this morning is tied to the memory of the seventeen-year-old whiteray nodding his head as Anderson and the rest did their part in trying to tear down the temple? And how much comes from merit?

Right now, I don’t know. I suspect Aqualung will be in heavy rotation in the CD player for a week or so, joining a stack that these days includes a Tower of Power anthology, albums by Robert Cray, the Freddy Jones Band, the Civil Wars, Jorma Kaukonen, the Cowboy Junkies and – almost always – Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees. And we’ll see how I feel about the album after that. Here’s the album’s closer, “Wind Up.”