Archive for the ‘Odd & Pop’ Category

Saturday Single No. 545

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

The number of mp3s currently loaded into the RealPlayer is 95,083. We topped the 95,000 mark sometime in the past two months, when I wasn’t watching carefully. Both Odd and Pop, however, insist that the last couple thousand tracks we’ve added to the main shelves here at EITW were carefully curated.

Well, let’s take a look at some of the recently added albums that got us to the big number:

We have three CD’s worth of work – with some duplicates winnowed out – by the original Carter Family: A.P. Carter, his wife, Sarah, and A.P.’s sister-in-law, Maybelle. After watching the PBS special American Epic, a three-hour look at the years when recording industry representatives went out and recorded a vast array of American folk music, I thought I needed to hear a little more from the Carter Family, and with some help, I got some new stuff. If I have a favorite among the tracks that were added, it might be the 1929 track “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blues Eyes.”

After listening for years to a badly ripped version of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s self-titled debut from 1969, I took advantage of a visit to a major brand bookstore the other week and plucked Crosby, Stills & Nash from a budget bin. The CD also has four unreleased tracks, but they don’t seem integral to the story of the album (though they’re pleasant enough to hear). I dropped the CD into the player in the car as I was running some errands the other day, and I was reminded once more how good the album is and how ingrained in my memory it remains. My favorite track? Well, that’s hard, but I do remember that after I got the music book for the album, “Helplessly Hoping” was the first track I learned to play on the guitar.

During that retail stop, I also grabbed the 50th anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the stereo version newly produced from the original tracks by Giles Martin, the son of Sir George Martin. You’ve probably heard about it. I ripped the album as one long mp3 for the files, but I gave the CD its first listen on a larger player, and it sounds new and remarkably clear. I’m going to have to give it a few more listens to note specific differences between this version and the three others I already had (stereo vinyl from 1970, CD release from the late 1980s, and The Beatles in Mono release from 2009). If I had to choose a favorite, it’s not very original: the suite from “Good Morning Good Morning” through the last fading seconds of the massive piano chord that ends “A Day In The Life.”

I stopped in the other week at Uff Da Records, St. Cloud’s new place for vinyl and CDs, both used and new. A quick rifling of the used CDs brought me two finds. The first was Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, an album that I’ve had on vinyl since 1988 and had occasionally looked for on CD since 2000 or so. My copy is a record club edition, which doesn’t bother me because the music is the same, and the tunes put together by the Wilburys – who were, of course, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison – still holds up. I have two favorite tracks that I would find hard to separate: “Handle With Care,” which I first heard in 1988 while driving home one afternoon in Minot, North Dakota, giving me some of the relatively few moments of undiluted happiness I felt that year, and “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” Dylan’s winking parody/tribute aimed at Bruce Springsteen.

The other find at Uff Da was a disappointment: Boz Scaggs’ 1997 release, Come On Home. I’ve enjoyed Scaggs for years, even some of the more uneven work, and I’ve long had his 1976 masterpiece, Silk Degrees, on a short list of essential albums. But I’ve run Come On Home through the CD player in the car a couple of times and it falls flat. The blues licks and the arrangements are okay, Scaggs’ voice is still great, the lyrics leave a great deal to be desired, and the result is one of the most disappointing albums I’ve bought in a long, long time. I think I have to go back to 2004 and Brian Wilson Presents Smile to find an album that has left me feeling so empty. So there are no favorite tracks from Come On Home.

As I wrote about the Traveling Wilburys this morning, I remembered how good it felt to smile as I listened in my car to George Harrison’s lead vocal on “Handle With Care.” That smile got wider when I heard Orbison’s voice on the first bridge and the whole crew – led by Dylan and Petty – on the second bridge. And as the song began to fade, just when I thought I could grin no wider, the harmonica solo – it had to be Dylan, right? – just about split my face apart. For the memory of that pure joy in the midst of a very hard year, “Handle With Care” by the Traveling Wilburys is today’s Saturday Single.

Chart Digging: March 15, 1958

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

We don’t spend a lot of time here back in the 1950s. The main reason for that is that I don’t remember much about the decade. I was six and in first grade when the calendar flipped from 1959 to 1960, and I have a few specific memories from that school year – and from kindergarten the year before – but other than those, I have just vague impressions of the last years of that decade.

As for Odd and Pop, I have no idea where they were or what they were up to back then. Probably complicating the life of an aspiring folk musician in a small college town somewhere. I can hear Pop saying, “Enunciate! Quit dropping those g’s!” while Odd tells him, “Bongo drums and some bird calls would work well with that.”

But we are in the 1950s today (although likely without either bongos or bird calls). Why?

Well, I was digging this morning into the Billboard charts from March 15 over the years, planning on playing Games With Numbers with today’s date and checking out the No. 35 record from four or so charts from 1958 to 1980, and then I dug into the Top 100 from March 15, 1958. (It would be called the Hot 100 beginning that August).

And that week, there was no record at No. 35. Instead, three records were tied at No. 33. Close enough, I thought, noting that the three records offer three different levels of success and consequent fame: One megastar, one well-remember performer, and one obscure and perhaps mostly forgotten group.

The first of the three records at No. 33 in that chart from fifty-nine years ago was from Ricky Nelson, whose “Stood Up” had already peaked, spending three weeks at No. 2, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles. It was Nelson’s fourth Top Ten record; sixteen more singles and four EPs would also hit the Top Ten. “Stood Up” also went to No. 4 on the Billboard R& B chart and to No. 5 on the magazine’s country chart. Beyond that, there’s not a lot new to say here because, hey, he was Ricky Nelson, and we pretty much all know the story.

Listed second among the three records tied during that long-ago week was “Betty and Dupree” from Chuck Willis, which was at its peak. The record was a trimmed and decriminalized version of a blues song based on a 1919 robbery of a jewelry store in Atlanta that had been recorded in various versions since at least 1931. Willis, who’s nevertheless credited as the writer on single labels I’ve seen, dropped the robbery, Dupree’s arrest, and his eventual hanging and made the tune a simple, swaying story of love that went to No. 15 on the R&B chart as well as peaking at No. 33 on the pop chart. It’s not the record for which the short-lived Willis is most remembered; that would likely be “C.C. Rider,” which went to No. 12 on the pop chart and to No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1957.

That’s all interesting enough, but – getting away from the original topic here – it turned out that “Betty and Dupree,” was the next-to-last record Willis saw reach the charts. The last was “Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes,” which entered the Top 100 on April 28, 1958, two days before Willis died from a bleeding ulcer. In one of life’s ironies, the B-side, “What Am I Living For,” hit the R&B chart a week later and the Top 100 a week after that, and would out-perform the A-side, peaking at No. 9 on the pop chart and spending a week on top of the R&B chart.

And then we get to the third of the records tied at No. 33 in that Top 100 from March 15, 1958: “7-11” by the Gone All Stars. Whitburn tells us that the tune is a rock version of Perez Prado’s 1950 record, “Mambo No. 5.” As to the Gone All Stars, Whitburn says they were studio musicians led by black sax player Buddy Lucas. (Lucas’ entry at Wikipedia includes a brief and incomplete listing of his work as a leader and sideman from the years 1952 to 1976 and also offers the thought that Lucas was “possibly more famous for his session work on harmonica.”) The record was released on the Gone label – as were at least one other single and an EP by the group – and for me, the fact that the group was seemingly named for the label takes some of the Fifties-era hipness out of the group’s name.

Saturday Single No. 511

Saturday, October 1st, 2016

I’ve dithered long enough this morning, sitting here at the computer, looking vainly through Billboard charts and glaring at white space on the screen. Ideas come and go, none of them growing into fruit.

So I’m turning this morning’s exercise over to Odd and Pop. Odd’s instructions are to look at the Hot 100 (and its Bubbling Under section) from this week in 1970, our favorite radio year, and find the strangest title he can.

Pop’s job at that point is to tell us what he knows about the record.

And my job is to put it up on the website. So here we go.

Odd reports that he started at the bottom of the Bubbling Under section, thinking that less familiar titles might sound stranger than familiar ones. After all, he notes, “Many strange titles, like ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ for instance, no longer seem strange because we’ve known them for years.” (Pop interrupts, as he tends to do, to say that even though the Iron Butterfly single is clumsily edited, it works much better than the sleep-inducing album track.)

Odd pulls us back on track. Three titles stand out for weirdness from this week in 1970: “Money Music” by the Boys in the Band at No. 104; “Gas Lamps and Clay” by Blues Image at No. 95; and “Screaming Night Hog” by Steppenwolf at No. 72. “That last,” he says, “is of course about a motorcycle, but the words are a strange combination.” He shrugs. “Still, I think the strangest title is the Blues Image record: ‘Gas Lamps and Clay.’ So there you go.”

I turn to Pop, eyebrows raised.

“Well,” he says, “it was the second record in the charts for Blues Image, after they hit No. 4 with ‘Ride Captain Ride’ in the spring of 1970.” Pop pauses for a second. “Oddly enough,” he adds distractedly, “one of the members of Blues Image, Mike Pinera, had been in Iron Butterfly and bears some responsibility for ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’.”

“Focus!” says Odd.

Pop nods. “Okay,” he says. “Well, ‘Gas Lamps and Clay’ was around for just four weeks in September and October of 1970. It peaked at No. 81. And no one ever heard about Blues Image ever again.”

Odd asks “What’s it about?”

Pop shrugs. “The chorus is about being who you are, but how it gets to that, I have no idea. But face it, it was 1970. You can take a look at the lyrics. I think they’re right.”

I was out at the old mill pond
A week ago today
What I saw was a small gas lamp
And pots made out of clay

When I wiped off a little dust
Smoke began to rise
Out of a cloud came a frightful sight
Of people running, child

And they sang, la la la la . . .

When I sat down beside the lamp
I couldn’t believe my eyes
They were blowing a bubble pipe
About two times the size

As they sang, la la la la . . .

It’s fun just to be
Be what you are
So we are singing a happy song

It’s fun just to be
Be what you are
So we are singing a happy song

It’s fun just to be
Be what you are
So we are singing a happy song

“I love it!” Odd says.

Pop nods a little glumly. “I knew you would.”

And that’s how “Gas Lamps and Clay” by Blues Image came to be today’s Saturday Single.

‘Strange’

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

For two days now, the Texas Gal has been out of commission with a head cold, and my internal monitors tell me I’m soon to join her. I have a meeting early this afternoon for which I need to be cogent, but I can tell that the rest of the day – before and after the meeting – I’ll be lucky if I’ve got the sense to pour a bowl of cereal.

So I’m turning things over to my little tuneheads Odd and Pop, and they’ve flipped a coin and decided that Odd gets to choose today’s featured tune. Pop laid one condition on the selection: “As long as you’re going to choose something strange, make sure that ‘strange’ is in the title.” Odd nodded as he happily wandered off to play in the digital shelves.

And he came back with a single from San Francisco, recorded in 1966 and released in 1967: “Stranger In A Strange Land” by the duo of Blackburn & Snow. I did just a little digging. Richie Unterberger of All Music writes:

One of the most interesting folk-rock acts of the 1960s to totally miss out on meaningful national exposure, the male-female duo of Jeff Blackburn and Sherry Snow had a lot going for them. Their male-female harmonies were nearly on par with those of the early Jefferson Airplane, and they boasted a wealth of fine original material by Blackburn that deftly combined folk, rock, country, and light psychedelic influences into a melodic blend that was both commercial and creatively idiosyncratic. What they didn’t have was a regular release schedule. Indeed, there were only two poorly distributed singles on Verve, including the classic “Stranger in a Strange Land,” before they split up in the late ’60s.

Unterberger notes that the duo did record an album’s worth of unreleased material, and that material, along with the tracks from the two singles, was released on CD in 1999 with the title Something Good For Your Head. Somewhere along the way, I stumbled across that CD release, and then I came across a slightly different version of “Stranger In A Strange Land” in the box set Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970. It was the box set version of the tune that Odd came across this morning.

A little more digging told me that, notwithstanding Unterberger’s praise for Blackburn’s writing, “Stranger In A Strange Land” was not Blackburn’s work. The writer was Samuel F. Omar, which was evidently a pseudonym for David Crosby. And that makes things even more strange, which is just fine this morning.

Strange or not, even Pop was pleased. “This coulda made the charts,” he said as he listened. Here’s what he heard:

And At No. 95 . . .

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

So what do we know about September 5?

Well, two things I know right off the top of my head: Baseball Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie was born on September 5, 1874, in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. And I was born on September 5, 1953, here in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Yep, I’m sixty years old today. That’s a lot of candles.

Or maybe not. When I was a kid, our family made a mathematical game out of candles on birthday cakes. Let’s say it was Dad’s birthday, and he was fifty-seven. Mom might put four big candles and one small candle on Dad’s cake and then let me figure it out: The big candles counted for thirteen years each, and the little one was five years.

So my cake today might have three big candles, or five big candles and one small one, or maybe four big candles and four small ones. Or maybe just one honking big candle. The one thing I’m pretty sure of is that, with apologies to the Crests, it probably wouldn’t be sixteen candles, at least not sixteen identical candles, because we never went in for fractions or percentages. (Sixteen identical candles would come out to 3.75 years per candle, but on the other hand, sixteen candles would work if you went with six big candles at five years each and ten small candles at three years each. There are many ways to skin a birthday candle equation.)

Candles and Nap Lajoie aside, there are a few other notable events that have happened on September 5, according to Wikipedia: In 1666, the Great Fire of London ended, after destroying 10,000 buildings including St. Paul’s Cathedral but killing only six people. In 1774, the first Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia. In 1836, Sam Houston was elected the first president of the Republic of Texas. In 1906, Brabury Robinson of St. Louis University threw the first legal forward pass in college football to Jack Schneider as the Billikens-to-be (the university adopted the lovable and unique mascot sometime around 1911) defeated Carroll College of Wisconsin 22-0. Wikipedia lists many more September 5 events, but I’ll stop there.

But what about – as is our focus here – music? Maybe the Billboard charts and some records found at No. 95? (For 9/5, of course.) Odd and Pop – my imaginary tunehead companions – urge caution. “If you dig that deep in the charts for today’s music, you might get something weird,” says Pop.

“Well, that would be good,” says Odd. “After all, who wants to hear something that was so popular that we can sing it in our sleep?”

Tossing their cautions into the September breeze, I head to the files to check out the Billboard Hot 100s between 1954 and, oh, 1990 that were released on September 5. There were six of them.

The first of those September 5 charts came out in 1956, when Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” was sitting at No. 1. We could choose from among four records, as there was a four-way tie at No. 93, listed alphabetically by title. We’ll go with the third of those four, which leaves us with “Lola’s Theme” by Steve Allen. Unfortunately, I can find no trace of the recording online (though some 45s and 78s of it are for sale). The record – a version of a theme from the movie Trapeze starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis – went to No. 75. It was one of six records Allen put into or near the Hot 100 between 1955 and 1964, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Hits. Allen’s recording of “Lola’s Theme” was one of two to reach the chart; Muir Mathieson’s version of the tune went to No. 67, also in 1956. I did manage to find a non-charting version of the tune at YouTube, so here’s “Lola’s Theme” as released that same year by Ralph Marterie & His Orchestra.

We jump ahead to 1960 and find a record that my little pal Odd is going to love. Sitting at No. 95 on the day I turned seven years old was “Rocking Goose” by Johnny & The Hurricanes, a group better known for “Red River Rock,” their No. 5 hit from 1959. “Rocking Goose” went to No. 60 and was one of ten Hot 100 hits or near-hits for the group. It’s just silly enough that the seven-year-old whiteray might have liked it if he’d ever heard it. It’s doubtful that he did, though. And he likely wasn’t aware, either, that Elvis had another No. 1 hit that week, “It’s Now Or Never.”

Oddly enough, the No. 95 record from the Hot 100 released on September 5, 1964, was from an artist whose passing last month was noted by major media and numerous blogs: Eydie Gormé. “Can’t Get Over (The Bossa Nova)” was on a very short climb to No. 87 and was a follow-up to Gormé’s No. 7 hit from 1963, “Blame It On The Bossa Nova.” The follow-up is a decent record but, as with most sequels, tends to pale in comparison to the original. I imagine I might have heard it on a television variety show or maybe even on the radio at home: “Can’t Get Over (The Bossa Nova)” went to No. 20 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Sitting at No. 1 on the day I turned eleven was a record I vaguely remember hearing as my sister listened to KDWB: “House Of The Rising Sun” by the Animals.

Our next stop is right in the middle of what I call my “sweet spot,” the years when music and Top 40 radio mattered the most to me back then. The No. 95 record on September 5, 1970, just a few days before I started my senior year of high school, was “Empty Pages” by Traffic. I don’t know that I heard the song then; the title doesn’t show up in any of the KDWB surveys collected at the Oldiesloon website, and the record peaked in the Hot 100 at only No. 74. (The single might have been shorter or otherwise different from the album version in the linked video; I don’t know.) I was, however, familiar with the No. 1 record that week, Edwin Starr’s “War,” which was in the second of three weeks on top of the chart.

By 1981, I was rarely listening to hit radio, as the Other Half and I tended to tune into one of the Twin Cities AC stations on the clock radio and on those frequent evenings when we sat reading with the radio on in the background. So it’s a pleasant surprise to find that I know well the record that was sitting at No. 95 on my twenty-eighth birthday: “All Those Years Ago,” George Harrison’s tribute to the murdered John Lennon. “All Those Years Ago” had been No. 2 for two weeks and had gone to No. 1 on the AC chart, one of eighteen records that Harrison placed in the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1988. The No. 1 record that week was the abysmal Diana Ross/Lionel Richie duet, “Endless Love,” in the fourth week of a nine-week stint on top of the Hot 100.

Our last stop of the day is 1987, when I celebrated my birthday in Minot, N.D., having moved there just a few weeks earlier. The No. 95 record on September 5, 1987, is one that I know I’ve  heard many times, but today marks the first time I’ve ever sought it out: “Girls, Girls, Girls” by the bearers of unnecessary umlauts, Mötley Crüe. The record went to No. 12, one of fourteen hits and near-hits Whitburn lists for the group through 2008. I doubt that I’ve ever sought out the No. 1 record for that week, either, though I’ve heard it many times: “La Bamba” by Los Lobos, in the first of three weeks atop the chart.

Saturday Single No. 293

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

When I got to the Echoes In The Wind studios this morning, there – sitting on the floor and shredding paper – were my two long-absent tuneheads: Odd and Pop. They insisted that they’ve been around these few months, but if they were, I was unaware of their presence, and I sometimes strained to find topics to write about and dithered on what tunes to share.

“All you had to do to find me,” Pop said this morning, “is pull your collection of Billboard annual Top Ten LPs down from the shelf. I was right behind those, thinking about a port on a western bay that serves a hundred ships a day.” Pop looked over at the shelf where the album Top Rock ’n’ Roll Hits from 1972 sits with its fellows, and then he looked up at me. “There’s a girl in that harbor town,” he added, a little wistfully. “Brandy is her name.”

Odd snorted. “I know, I know: No. 1 for one week in 1972!” He shrugged his shoulders. “But it’s not the worst of them from that year. After all, that was when the No. 1 record for two weeks was Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-A-Ling’.” Odd grimaced and moved his mouth as if something tasted very, very bad. Even Pop looked distinctly uncomfortable. He opened his mouth and then paused, as if trying to figure out how to defend the indefensible.

“And you,” I said, turning to Odd. “Where were you?”

“Oh, I moved around the shelves a little bit,” he said. “I started up at Fleetwood Mac, right next to Tusk. I do love that University of Southern California band!” His eyes looked in the distance, and his head bobbed for a moment before he muttered, “Don’t say that you love me!”

Pop rolled his eyes. “Come on,” he said. “That’s not all that strange. ‘Tusk’ went to No. 8 in 1979.”

“No,” Odd admitted. “It’s not all that strange, at least not anymore. When it came out, it was pretty gripping. But its WQ has dropped a lot over the last thirty-some years.”

“WQ?” Pop and I say simultaneously.

“That’s ‘Weirdness Quotient,’ a formula I’ve been working on for the past few months,” Odd told us. “It’s nowhere near usable yet, but I got the idea after I left the Fleetwood Mac section of the shelves and went over to the classical records for a while.” He cocked his head. “Did you know that you have an LP of Russian liturgical music?”

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s interesting in small doses.”

Odd nods. “Or even large doses,” he says happily.

Pop shook his head sadly. “No chart action there,” he said.

“And where did you go from the classical shelves?” I asked Odd.

“Oh, I thought I’d better go find this charthead here,” he said, pointing at Pop. “And there he was, mooning over some girl who works laying whiskey down. I mean, they should at least have had Brandy serving brandy!”

Pop shakes his head. “Too suggestive for the pop chart in 1972,” he said.

“Well, maybe,” Odd said. “Anyway, on the way to the Billboard LPs, I passed by those Baby Boomer Classic anthologies. You’ve got about nine of them.”

“Yep,” I said. “They’re decent, with some interesting choices.”

“And I noticed,” Odd went on, “that one of them featured the song ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ by Procol Harum.”

“Yes!” cried Pop. “No. 5 in 1967!”

“And I thought,” Odd said, “that maybe I might like a version of the song that’s maybe not so popular or well-known.”

Pop thought for a minute and then said, “I know of a version of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ that’s just about as strange as the original but much more obscure.”

“Did it make the charts?”

“Well,” Pop said, “it bubbled under at No. 101. So it wasn’t actually in the Billboard Hot 100.”

“Better and better,” said Odd. “I assume there is a video?”

“Oh, yes,” said Pop. “And it’s sublimely weird.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Odd.

And that’s how Annie Lennox’s 1995 cover of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” became today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 275

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Last week, noting that we finally have snow on the ground during this odd winter, I wrote, “Unless there are some utterly unseasonal days ahead of us, I imagine we will have snow on the ground for the next six weeks.”

Well, those unseasonable days have been here, we have more coming this weekend, and the snow won’t last much longer. The average high temperature on a January day in St. Cloud is about 21 degrees Fahrenheit (about -6 degrees Celsius), and the average high temperature here for a February day is 28 (about -2 Celsius). We had a chilly Sunday (a high of 18/-8C), but since then, we’ve been cruising at or above freezing, and this weekend – or so say the prognosticators at WeatherBug – will see us with high temperatures right around 40 (4 C).

As John Lennon says: “Strange days indeed, Momma!”

We have very little snow on the ground right now, which is an odd thing for the beginning of February. That’s a bonus for the squirrels, who don’t have to dig very deep to retrieve edibles buried underground. But in the next three days or so, even that slender barrier of snow will melt away, leaving our squirrel friends even closer to their dinners.

We may yet have a bitter cold snap, and we may yet have snow fall deep enough that my neighbors and I have to shovel the walks rather than let the sun do our work for us. But I’m skeptical. I think this will remain a strange winter until the March solstice. And at that point, I would not be surprised if we find ourselves living through a strange spring.

And here, in search of a single for today, is a random walk after which we – Odd and Pop and I – will select one of these six strange songs:

In 1957, the duo of Mickey & Sylvia had a No. 11 hit with “Love is Strange,” and ten years later, Peaches & Herb took the same song to No. 13. The version that pops up here this morning is the very sweet 1992 cover by Everything But The Girl from the equally likeable album Acoustic.

Next up is “Strange & Beautiful (I’ll Put A Spell On You)” by Matt Hale, the British singer-songwriter who calls himself Aqualung. Originally found as the lead track to Aqualung’s self-titled British debut in 2002, it showed up here in the U.S. on the 2005 album Strange and Beautiful. It’s languorous, hypnotic and lovely.

Our third stop brings us into familiar territory from old times: The Doors’ “People Are Strange” came from the group’s second album, “Strange Days.” The track was released as a single and went to No. 12 in the autumn of 1967. More than forty years later, familiarity with the record allows its music to slide in and out of my ears too easily. But with a little concentration, I can still hear the echo of the record’s oddness – especially the honky-tonk piano solo – that grabbed my attention the first time I heard it in the wayback long ago.

“Strange and Foreign Land” is a track from Fanning the Flames, a 1996 album by Maria Muldaur.  The album, says All-Music Guide, is a musical gumbo that includes blues, gospel, soul and R&B in a combination that – AMG says – Muldaur calls “blusiana.” “Strange and Foreign Land” falls in the gospel column and provides one more bit of proof of something that hasn’t needed proving for a long time: Muldaur can flat-out sing. The album went to No. 14 on the Billboard blues album chart, and it’s worth a listen.

Next up is “Stranger Responds” by Stranger Jones, about whom I know nothing except that he has a website where I must have downloaded some free tracks from his 1999 album Lurks the Shark. Piano-driven (with a heavy back-beat), “Stranger Responds” doesn’t sound like 1999; it has echoes of the late 1960s and the early-1970s. In fact, it puts me in mind in places of the work that Lee Michaels (“Do You Know What I Mean,” “Can I Get A Witness?”) was doing around that time. Jones’ delivery is a bit pinched, and I suppose “Stranger Responds” might be an acquired taste, but I like it.

And then  Leon Russell sings:

How many days has it been since I was born?
How many days till I die?
Do I know any way that I can make you laugh?
Do I only know how to make you cry?

The song is “Stranger in a Strange Land” from Russell’s 1971 album Leon Russell & The Shelter People. Some of the Shelter People were pretty well known. Those on “Stranger” included Don Preston, Carl Radle, Chuck Blackwell and Claudia Lennear; other tracks on the album had work from, among others, Jesse Ed David, Jim Keltner, Barry Beckett and the other guys from Muscle Shoals, Chris Stainton, Jim Price and Jim Gordon. Taking its title from the Robert A. Heinlein novel that was seemingly required reading for any thinking young person in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the song’s lyrics are a little bit of a mish-mash, mixing utopian idealism with existential angst. But it sounds pretty good, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 256

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

The plan for today was to return to the game of “Jump!” Along with Odd and Pop – my two imaginary tuneheads – I was going to go through the Billboard Top 40 from September 24, 1966 – forty-five years ago today – to see which record had moved the greatest number of places in the previous week.

The winner of that little game would have been the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City.” That’s a fine record, but it’s nearly the end of September, and I’m not in a summertime mood. So we’ll pass on that one and do something we haven’t done for a bit here: Go random through the RealPlayer and take the sixth record as today’s feature.

First up is “Tortured, Tangled Hearts,” a track from the Dixie Chicks’ 2002 album Home. The album, according to Wikipedia, was written and produced while the members of the country/bluegrass trio were in a conflict with Sony and were mostly spending their times at their Texas homes. Thus, I imagine, the CD’s title. Anyway, “Tortured, Tangled Hearts” is an up-tempo lament about the vagaries of love. But there’s plenty of banjo and fiddle, so it’s a good way to start our search.

And we stay in a country mode on our second stop of the day, moving from 2002 back some fifty-five years to Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over.” I found it on a compilation of twenty of Williams’ hits, and the notes tell me that the tune was recorded in August 1947 at the Tulane Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. Issued on the MGM label and credited to – I believe – Hank Williams & His Drifting Cowboys, the record only turned out to be the first of Williams’ forty singles to hit the country Top 40 (the last seven of them coming after his death on New Year’s Day 1953). “Move It On Over” went to No. 4 on the country chart.

Next up is a 1973 cover of Sylvester Stewart’s “Family Affair” by MFSB, the Philadelphia instrumental ensemble brought together by producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The track comes from MFSB, the group’s first album, which All-Music Guide describes as “more of a soul-funk mix than the kind of disco for which the band would become known with their [sic] ‘T.S.O.P.’ hit.” That hit would reach the charts in March 1974, the year after the band funked around with this pretty good cover of Sly & the Family Stone’s No. 1 hit from 1971.

Our fourth stop this morning takes us back even further than our 1947 stop in Nashville. In 1930, as the Great Depression was gathering steam, country musician Carson Robinson penned “Poor Man’s Heaven,” a tune offering rewards – “ham and egg trees that grow by a lake full of beer” – and vengeance – “the millionaire’s son won’t have so much fun when we put him to shoveling dirt” – for those laid low by hard times. The tune was recorded by Robinson and Frank Luther (performing as Bud Billings) in New York City in April of 1930. The record’s title was later used as the title of a collection of Depression-era songs released in 2003, one of eleven CDs in the fascinating series When The Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll.

Ray LaMontagne is one of the more interesting of the performers who’s emerged in the last ten years. With a voice that AMG describes as “a huskier, sandpaper version of Van Morrison and Tim Buckley,” LaMontagne makes his way through literate and tuneful songs that I find more than enjoyable. “Sarah,” from LaMontagne’s 2008 album Gossip in the Grain, is a flowing and sweet look back – “Sarah, is it ever going to be the same?” – that has AMG referencing Morrison again: “Echoes of . . . Astral Weeks are apparent in the gorgeous chamber jazz.” It’s our fifth stop this morning.

When Neil Young recorded his Unplugged album for MTV in February 1993, one of the tunes that showed up in his set was “Stringman,” an obscure song that was an outtake during the 1970s sessions that resulted in American Stars ’N Bars. (It showed up in a longer studio version on the Chrome Dreams bootleg in 1992.) Obscure it may be, but it’s a gorgeous song both in its bootlegged studio incarnation and in the unplugged version that Young offered for the MTV session. Add the fact that it’s a heartfelt salute to Stephen Stills, and that’s a fine place to end up this morning, with “Stringman” as our Saturday Single.

Staying Up Past Midnight

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

I fully intended to retire early last evening. But you know how plans go.

Even with the sleep aid that has become an essential portion of my life in the past few years, I struggled last night. I could not settle, and I remained awake – if not entirely alert – way past the midnight target I’d set for last night’s curtain.

I’ll sneak in an hour of sleep sometime early this afternoon, but the rest of the day has tasks that call me. The Texas Gal and I will host our second End of Summer picnic Sunday and the house is not yet entirely in order. And Odd and Pop, the two little imaginary tuneheads who advise me about musical taste, do no dusting. So it’s up to me to get things done.

Here, then, are a few songs with “midnight” in their titles:

The 1978 film Midnight Express detailed the ordeal of an American sentenced to prison after being caught trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey. Its soundtrack came from Giorgio Moroder, and the opener, “Chase,” went to No. 33, providing Moroder with the only Top 40 hit of his career. I much prefer the soundtrack’s second version of “Theme from Midnight Express” with vocals from Chris Bennett:

When I was checking the next “midnight” tune, I was surprised to learn that I’ve not even mentioned the duo of Ferrante & Teicher since the time this blog moved to its own space in January of last year. (Not that the easy listening duo had a major presence in the blog’s earlier locations; I’ve posted the archives through October 2008, and up to that point, I’d written about Ferrante & Teicher once.) I honestly thought the duo would have showed up her more frequently, given my occasional predilection for mid-1960s easy listening. Anyway, here’s their take on the theme from the 1969  film Midnight Cowboy, which went to No. 10 in January 1970:

From that mellowness, we head into rougher territory: In 1998, Buddy Guy invited Jonny Lang into the studio to join him on a duet on “Midnight Train” with results that were satisfying and wound up on Guy’s album Heavy Love:

I spent my post-midnight hour early this morning catching up on Sport Illustrated, and as I did, I found a remarkable piece about young Lyndon Baty, a sports fan from Texas who has a robot go to school for him. This morning, our fourth tune finds Delbert McClinton, still one of my favorites, singing about how he and his pals spend their post-midnight hour: at “midnight communion down on Second Avenue.” The tune is unsurprisingly titled “Midnight Communion” and comes from McClinton’s 2005 CD Cost of Living, which the reviewer at All-Music Guide liked very much.

And we’ll close it there. I’ll be back Saturday.

Some Highlights From 2001-2005

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Well, Odd and Pop didn’t show up this morning here at Echoes In The Wind. I think they’re outside playing in the rain that will soon freeze and turn St. Cloud into one large skating rink. And as I have errands to run today and don’t want to slide into the side of the drug store while running them, I’ve split what was a one-day idea into a two-day project, which it seems I will have to complete without any help from the two little tuneheads.

My thought was to look at some of my favorite music from the last ten years, the first ten years of the 21st Century, but as I waded through thousands of titles, it got more and more difficult to decide on favorites, so I thought I’d just mention a couple of titles from each year. And I dithered and dithered and then realized I was going to have to do this over two posts, which means a rare Friday post tomorrow, the last day of the decade.

Well, all right. So, what do I like to hear from these years? Well, lots of stuff, as it turns out. But if I had to pull one album and one track from each of the ten years, here’s how the first half of the list would look today:

From 2001, I’d end up with Bob Dylan’s album Love and Theft, a ramble through various styles of American music: folk, blues, rock and some other genres that might not have labels unless one uses a lot of hyphens. Among my favorite tracks are “Mississippi” and the great “High Water (For Charley Patton).”

I got into Texas singer Pat Green when he hit with “Wave on Wave” in 2003. (I’ve listened to and learned more about country music and Texas music in the past decade than ever before; the Texas Gal obviously gets grateful credit for that.) Anyway, liking “Wave on Wave” as much as I did, I got the CD and then began to dig into Green’s earlier stuff. And I discovered “Southbound 35” from his 2001 effort, Three Days. Another version is on the same year’s Dancehall Dreamer. I’m unable to find a video of either of the studio versions, so we’ll have to go back to the last century and a version of the song on Green’s 1999 release Live At Billy Bob’s Texas.

It took me a couple of years to catch up to it, but this morning, my favorite album from 2002 is Jorma Kaukonen’s Blue Country Heart. The former guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane (and cofounder of Hot Tuna) put together what All-Music Guide called “his most summertime-afternoon, front-porch-pickin’ album.” My favorite track? Probably Kaukonen’s take on Jimmie Rodgers’ classic “Waiting For A Train.”

One of the other musical highlights of 2002 was the massive memorial Concert for George in London on November 29. Recorded for release in 2003, the concert featured a gathering of friends who’d played and recorded over the years with the quiet Beatle, including his old bandmates Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney along with Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and more. The least well-known performer on this side of the Atlantic, I’d guess, was Joe Brown, who closed the concert with a heart-tugging cover of a very old tune, “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” I couldn’t find a video of the live version from the concert, but here’s a studio version on which I’ve been unable to put a date.

Another album I caught up with a couple years late was by another alumnus from Jefferson Airplane and the other co-founder of Hot Tuna: bassist Jack Casady. His 2003 effort, Dream Factor, was an intriguing tour through blues, folk and Southern rock, featuring a strong list of guest vocalists and Casady’s always supple work on bass. My favorite tracks are likely “Paradise” and the closer, “Sweden.”

Country music pulled me in more during 2003. The Texas Gal and I spent a fair amount of time on quiet evenings watching country videos on cable and keeping track of CDs we wanted to hear. One of those videos was a Brooks & Dunn piece, and it led me to a CD that still shows up in the CD player around here. Here’s the official video for Brooks & Dunn’s “Red Dirt Road.”

The 2004 CD Original Soul was credited simply to Grace Potter, but the album was actually the first ever heard of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, a band out of Vermont that has since released three more well-received CDs, all of which have places on my shelf. If I had to choose one track from Original Soul, I’d probably go with the slow groove of “Go Down Low,” but that’s a default choice; the album is too good to pull just one track as a favorite.

Continuing in a rootsy vein (no surprise there, I imagine), one of the other highlights of 2004, at least looking back, was the release of 40 Days, the first full-length CD by the Wailin’ Jennys, a trio of women formed in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Texas Gal and I have seen the Jennys twice, and both times, one of the highlights was “Arlington” from 40 Days.

Choosing an album from 2005 was easy, and the choice might be seen as an odd one. Through my blog-created connection with Patti Dahlstrom, I was also linked to long-time musician Don Dunn, who – among his many accomplishments – was the cowriter of one of my favorite tunes ever, “Hitchcock Railway.” And through that connection, I got hold of Don’s Voices From Another Room, an album recorded unexpectedly in Odessa, Ukraine. It’s a CD I often pop into the player late in the evening. My favorite track? Probably “Two Tanyas.”

What else from 2005 has kept my attention? Well, I still listen to all four CDs by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and my featured track from 2005 comes from the album Naturally, which finds Jones and her amazingly tight band offering an inventive – and somewhat doleful – revision of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

Finally, for today, one of the most memorable records of the the first five years of the decade is one that I cannot place accurately. Gary Jules’ cover of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” first showed up, I think, on the soundtrack to the 2001 film Donnie Darko. Jules later released it on his own Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets in 2004. So I don’t know where it fits temporally. But it doesn’t matter, really, as the recording is one of the best things I recall hearing from those first five years of this century.

I’ll be back tomorrow – perhaps with Odd and Pop – to look at music from the years 2006-2010.

(Title error corrected since first posting.)