Archive for the ‘Odd & Pop’ Category

Saturday Single No. 202

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

We haven’t done anything random here for a while – “we” being me and Odd and Pop, the two imaginary tuneheads who sit on my shoulders, nagging and advising me – and time presses this morning: There are groceries to buy, floors to sweep, oil levels to check, cats to herd, beer supplies to replenish and football games to watch. Altogether, that’s not a heavy duty list for a Saturday, and none of those tasks are onerous (unless watching the University of Southern California Trojans utterly dismantle the University of Minnesota Gophers this afternoon becomes a burden I cannot bear, which is well within the realm of possibility).

“Get to the point, guy!” Odd pulls my ear. “I want weird tunes.”

Pop hums a few bars of “The Love Theme from The Godfather.” “Andy Williams’ version went to No. 34 in 1972,” he says. “Let’s go there.”

I check and have to tell him that I don’t seem to have Mr. Williams’ take on the tune in our files. He turns away, not at all pleased. Odd grins and says, “But you do have ‘Seaside Shuffle’ by Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs from the same year, right?”

I nod. Odd’s grin widens. Pop holds up a finger. “Just wait before you get all idiosyncratic on me this morning,” he tells Odd. “It’s true that ‘Seaside Shuffle’ might be a little, well, odd, but it did go to No. 2 in the U.K. in 1972.”

Odd snorts as Pop smirks. I look from one to the other. “Well,” I say, “as you’ve both landed on something from 1972, why don’t we do a random six-song shuffle from that year and see what we end up with. They nod their heads.

“I hope it’s something with a nice guitar solo, or maybe some funky horns,” says Pop.

Odd snorts. “Tribal drums and kazoos would be better,” he says.

Me? I’m just relieved that it won’t be “The Candy Man” by Sammy Davis, Jr., which was No. 1 for three weeks in June of 1972. Odd and Pop both like that one a fair amount, but I can’t abide the record, and I don’t have it in the collection. As they watch, I sort for songs from 1972, sort for running time, and then click on the song in about the middle, and then click from there and we’re off on a random 1972 adventure:

Our first stop is “Time Lonesome,” a track from a Colorado band called Zephyr, which is best known as the band with which the late guitarist Tommy Bolin got his start. The track is from Sunset Ride, the band’s third album and its second for Warner Bros. While the band is better known as tossing some psychedelics into its blues-rock sound, “Time Lonesome” is far more easily filed in the country-rock slot, with a nice violin (fiddle, if you prefer) solo just before the fadeout.

Next, we come to a cover of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” by saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., from Washington’s All The King’s Horses album. Washington was still nine years away from his only Top 40 hit, which he found when he teamed with Withers for “Just The Two Of Us.” His cover of “Lean on Me” has a nice groove and some good riffing around the melody. I note that it’s not the best track on the album, a title I reserve for “No Tears (In the End).” “Is there anything weird on the album?” Odd asks. No, I tell him, just some very accessible jazz. He’s disappointed, but Pop is pleased when he learns that the album went to No. 1 on the jazz chart, No. 5 on the R&B chart and got to No. 111 on the Billboard 200 album chart.

We move on and land on a track by a One-Hit Wonder singer-songwriter: “Dream Song” by Jonathan Edwards, an album track from Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy, a decent country-rock effort that was Edwards’ second album; the first, of course, was home to “Sunshine,” which went to No. 4 during the winter of 1971-72. “Dream Song” is pleasant but inconsequential; the most interesting thing to me about Edwards – courtesy of All-Music Guide – is that he was born in Aitkin, Minnesota, a town where the high school teams are nicknamed the Gobblers.

Fourth on our short trip through 1972 is a cover of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” by blues artist Chris Smither from Don’t Drag It On, his second album. A mix of covers and originals, the album caused All-Music Guide’s Brett Hartenbech to gush that Smither in 1972 was “a rare combination — a Cambridge folkie with roots in New Orleans, a great writer who knows when to look elsewhere for material, a masterful guitarist who understands simplicity and a powerful singer with restraint.” Well, okay. The track is a decent enough performance, but neither Pop nor Odd nor I are as impressed as was Hartenbech.

“Find some weirdness!” Odd urges the RealPlayer. “The Canadian Tambourine Chorus or something like that!”

Pop shakes his head. “It would never make the charts,” he sniffs.

Odd stares at him for a long moment. “That’s the point,” he finally says.

The RealPlayer moves on to “Give Me Your Love (Love Song)” a Curtis Mayfield track from the soundtrack to Superfly. With some chunky guitar – “wackit-wackit” – and sinous strings, the intro is classic seventies R&B, and then Mayfield’s feathery voice comes in on top, and it doesn’t matter what he’s singing. This is sweet stuff. And folks liked it – or at least they liked the album, which went to No. 1 on the R&B album chart and on the Billboard 200. The album was also home to two hit singles: “Freddie’s Dead (Theme from Superfly),” which went to No. 4 (No. 2 on the R&B chart), and “Superfly,” which went to No. 8 (No. 5 on the R&B chart). “At least it’s not all formula and stuff,” mutters Odd as the track ends. “Not nearly formula,” I tell him.

And the player settles on “Galarnad” by Meic Stevens from his 1972 album, Gwymon. Stevens, says AMG, “is a legend in his native Wales, even as he remains somewhat unknown outside of that country, due chiefly to his insistence on singing in his native Welsh language. The psych-folk singer and guitarist is often referred to as ‘the ’60s Welsh psych-Dylan’ and compared favorably with fellow astral-travelers like Syd Barrett.” Gwymon was his second album, following 1970’s Outlander, and it was that first album’s lack of success that spurred Stevens to record in Welsh. (AMG notes that Stevens’ contract with Warner Bros. did not give the label jurisdiction over his Welsh-language recordings.) Gwymon is pretty simply recorded, with Stevens on guitar and a few other instruments in the mix. And of course, it’s in Welsh, which means that none of the three of us in the Echoes In The Wind studio have any idea what Stevens is singing about. Pop hates it,  and of course, Odd loves it.

Me? I’m making it today’s Saturday Single:

“Galarnad” by Meic Stevens from Gwymon [1972]

Chart Digging: August 5, 1967

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Doing something once is an occurrence. Doing it twice, well, you can call it a pattern. So today starts a pattern, a pattern of digging around in a listing of the Billboard Hot 100 matching the current date. In this case, the Billboard list comes from August 5, 1967, forty-three years ago today.

First, as we did last time – and will likely do from here on in – let’s check out the Top Ten:

“Light My Fire” by the Doors
“I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder
“All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles
“Windy” by the Association
“A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” by Frankie Valli
“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by the Buckinghams
“White Rabbit” by the Jefferson Airplane
“Pleasant Valley Sunday” by the Monkees
“Little Bit O’ Soul” by the Music Explosion

Boy, would that make a nice forty minutes or so out in the yard with the transistor radio, with only one groaner for me; I’ve never much cared for the Frankie Valli tune. As far as the other nine go, yes, there’s some over-familiarity there, but that’s a product of the long-term quality of those nine singles.

Two comments: First, the Beatles’ single jumped from No. 29 to No. 3 this week after jumping from No. 71 to No. 29 the previous week. Second, there’s one true one-hit wonder in this Top Ten: The Music Explosion’s record, which had spent two weeks at No. 2 in early July (blocked from the top spot by “Windy”), was the only Top 40 hit for the group from Mansfield, Ohio.

Heading down the list from there, we find some interesting things. At No. 14, we find the seventh Top 40 hit for Nancy Sinatra, this one a duet with her mentor, the eccentric studio genius Lee Hazlewood. In the previous fifteen months, Sinatra had scored four Top Ten hits, with two of them – her solo performance on “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” and her duet with her famous father, “Somethin’ Stupid” – reaching No. 1. “Jackson” would stay at No. 14 one more week and then begin to fall down the chart; Sinatra would never crack the Top 20 again.

Moving lower down, the Critters were in their second week at No. 40. A year earlier, the Plainfield, New Jersey, quintet had reached No. 17 with “Mr Dieingly Sad” and had two other 1966 singles reach the Hot 100: “Bad Misunderstanding” went to No. 55, and “Younger Girl” reached No. 42. The current entry, “Don’t Let The Rain Fall Down On Me,” would spend one more week at No. 40, then move up one notch to No. 39 for a week before leaving the Top 40. It was the group’s last single to make the Top 40, or the Hot 100 for that matter.

Since 1955, the Platters – in various configurations – had seen thirty-seven singles reach the Billboard Hot 100, with twenty-three of those reaching the Top 40, seven hitting the Top 10 and four – “The Great Pretender,” “My Prayer,” “Twilight Time” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” – reaching No. 1. (Eighteen of those singles also reached the R&B chart, and one spent some time in the chart that is now called Adult Contemporary.) That run was close to the end; the group’s current single, “Washed Ashore (On A Lonely Island In The Sea),” would be its next-to-last entry in the Hot 100; the record was at No. 57 on August 5, 1967, and would peak a week later at No. 56. In the autumn, the Platters would reach the Hot 100 for the thirty-eighth and last time as “Sweet, Sweet Loving” got to No. 70.

A little further down the Hot 100 from forty-three years ago, Davie Allan and the Arrows were seeing “Blue’s Theme,” their only Top 40 hit, climb up the chart. I’m not at all familiar with the group, but All-Music Guide notes: “Providing the soundtrack to numerous biker and teen exploitation movies in the mid- and late ’60s, Davie Allan & the Arrows bridged the surf and psychedelic eras. Their driving, basic instrumentals featured loads and loads of fuzz guitar, as well as generous dollops of tremolo bar waggling and wah-wah. The guitarist and his band first made their mark with the minor hit ‘Apache ’65,’ a version of the Shadows/Jorgen Ingmann’s instrumental classic ‘Apache’.” That record had peaked at No. 64; “Blue’s Theme” – recorded for the soundtrack of the Peter Fonda movie, The Wild Angels – got to No. 37.

Heading closer to the bottom of the Hot 100 from August 5, 1967, we find the only entry for the Blades of Grass, a sunshine pop band from the East Coast. All-Music Guide notes that the performance of the group’s only charting single, “Happy,” wasn’t helped by the fact that another pop group, the California-based Sunshine Company, released its own version of “Happy” at the same time. The Sunshine Company’s version got to No. 50 while the version by the Blades of Grass got only to No. 87. Of the two, I prefer the Blades of Grass’ version, which was in its second week at that peak position forty-three years ago today; a week later it was out of the Hot 100.

I never knew the name of the boy/girl duo Jon & Robin until this week, although I recall hearing their one Top 40 hit somewhere. That hit, “Do It Again A Little Bit Slower,” went to No. 18 earlier in 1967 (credited in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits to “Jon & Robin and The In Crowd”). I know, however, that I’d never heard until this week the record that Jon & Robin had bubbling under the Hot 100 forty-three years ago today: “Drums.” The record was at No. 109 on August 5 and in the next two weeks, it climbed to No. 100, where it spent two weeks before falling back to the “Bubbling Under” section and then disappearing.

That should do it for today; actually, that should do it for the rest of the week. The Texas Gal and I are going to go out to play for a while, and I suggest you do the same before summer slides away completely. I’ll be back with Odd and Pop next week, maybe Monday, certainly – all things going well – by Tuesday. Be well.

The Ultimate Jukebox, Part Two

Monday, February 1st, 2010

We’re back – that would be Odd and Pop, the two little imaginary tuneheads who sit on my shoulders, and me – from our unplanned time off. And we have our very own domain name now, which should provide some insulation as we continue to examine music and my life and how the two intersect.

We began the exploration of the Ultimate Jukebox in one of our last posts at the other location, and I mentioned a few of the notable records that weren’t among the two-hundred and twenty-eight that would play in that mythical jukebox. Some of them were likely surprises. Two of them –  Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” – were in fact the last records trimmed. And I should note that I’ve only replaced one of them for sure: I have one slot that I’m keeping as quasi-available among the six selections for Week 38, the last week of this tour. I have a record in that slot right now, but if something comes into view that I think works better, I’m reserving the right to switch it. That might even turn out to be “Baker Street” after all. But the other two-hundred and twenty-seven songs are set.

What eras do they come from? Well, the earliest was released in 1948, and there are three from 1999, the last year I examined. Even before I count, I’m certain that the years 1969 and 1970 will be heavily represented. Let’s take a look:

1948: 1
1949: 0
From the 1940s: One

1950: 0
1951: 1
1952: 1
1953: 0
1954: 0
1955: 0
1956: 0
1957: 1
1958: 3
1959: 2
From the 1950s: Eight

1960: 0
1961: 3
1962: 0
1963: 2
1964: 2
1965: 4
1966: 6
1967: 7
1968: 13
1969: 23
From the 1960s: Sixty

1970: 32
1971: 15
1972: 17
1973: 12
1974: 9
1975: 11
1976: 10
1977: 5
1978: 7
1979: 3
From the 1970s: One-hundred and twenty-one

1980: 3
1981: 2
1982: 3
1983: 3
1984: 3
1985: 0
1986: 3
1987: 2
1988: 3
1989: 0
From the 1980s: Twenty-two

1990: 1
1991: 2
1992: 2
1993: 4
1994: 1
1995: 1
1996: 1
1997: 1
1998: 0
1999: 3
From the 1990s: Sixteen

So there you have it: Massive domination by the 1970s, with the period 1968-1976 providing one-hundred and forty-two of the two-hundred and twenty-eight records – about sixty-two percent – of the tunes in my Ultimate Jukebox. Is this a surprise? Anyway, here’s the second cluster of six songs:

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 2
“Comin’ Back To Me” by Jefferson Airplane from Surrealistic Pillow [1967]
“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers from Realization [1967]
“Black Diamond” by the Bee Gees from Odessa [1969]
“Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers from 3+3 [1973]
“Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez from Diamonds and Rust [1975]
“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen from Born To Run [1975]

More than forty years after the fact, it might be difficult to realize, and instructive to do so, that the acid-folk rock of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow was once revolutionary. Today, even the crunchy chords of “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover” – the album’s heaviest sounds, by my reckoning – are pretty mellow. Back in 1968, when my sister brought the record home, however, I thought it was a little loud. But there was one moment of mellow bliss on the record: “Comin’ Back To Me.” Hushed, lyrical, thoughtful and heart-breaking, “Comin’ Back To Me” just might be the oft-ignored heart of Surrealistic Pillow. Key lines: “Strollin’ the hill overlooking the shore, I realize I have been here before. The shadow in the mist could have been anyone. I saw you. I saw you comin’ back to me.”

I’ve written before about “Summer Rain,” although none of those words are easily accessible. I don’t know for sure why the record remains among the top four or five of all time for me. Part of it, I think, is the descending bass line in the verse, a compositional technique – some might call it a gimmick – that always pulls me into a song. Part of it, I’m sure, is that the story the song tells is a happy one: Boy meets girl, boy woos girl (with the help of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), boy wins girl. And part of the attraction is the way Rivers sells the song. In a long career filled with good performances, this might be Rivers’ best. Like the vast majority of the versions of “Summer Rain” found in hits packages, the version here is pulled from the album Realization. Thus, it includes the storm sound effects before the guitar figure opens the music, and it fades out before more sound effects arise to connect to the next track on the album. According to regular reader Yah Shure, the single – released in late 1967, about six months before the album (and which went to No. 14) – had no sound effects, opening with the guitar figure. Key lines: “We sailed into the sunset, drifted home caught by a gulfstream. Never gave a thought for tomorrow. Just let tomorrow be.”

The 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide called the Bee Gees’ Odessa “the Sgt. Pepper’s copy all ’60s headliners felt driven to attempt,” adding parenthetically, “the Bee Gees’ wasn’t bad; faulting it for pretentiousness makes absolutely no sense.” I’ve puzzled over that statement for more than ten years now, and I’m still not sure what reviewer Paul Evans was trying to say. But that’s okay: I’ve been listening to Odessa for more than forty years now, and I’m not entirely certain what the Bee Gees were trying to say, either. I shared the album here once, which indicates, generally, the regard I have for it. But there is no doubt that the album is studded with ballads whose lyrics are willfully obscure at best. “Black Diamond” might be the most obscure of all, but the opaque lyrics are offset by music so eloquently gorgeous that it might not matter at all what the Brothers Gibb are singing about. Key lines, I think: “And I won’t die, so don’t cry. I’ll be home. Those big black diamonds that lie there for me, by the tall white mountains which lie by the sea.”

The Isley Brothers’ reimagining of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” is a marvel. The original had been, of course, a folk-rock/singer-songwriter-type hit, anchored by a sweet instrumental hook and truly beautiful harmonies. The Isleys found the R&B song inside the pop-folk record and stretched it for more than six minutes. And maybe it’s just me, but I find a sonic connection between the Isleys’ version of “Summer Breeze” and two versions of “Strawberry Letter 23,” those being Shuggie Otis’ 1971 single, which predated the Isleys’ work, and the Brothers Johnson’s 1977 cover of Otis’ song. Whatever the sonic influences in any direction, “Summer Breeze” finds a sweet groove. The Isleys released a single with the album track split into parts one and two, but neither side hit the Top 40. (I have a hunch that the two-sided single might have done well on the R&B chart; does anyone out there know?) Key lines: “Feel the arms that reach out to hold me in the evening, when the day is through.”

The album Diamonds & Rust was released in April 1975, but it wasn’t until the following autumn, I would guess, that I became aware of its extraordinary title song. The record became one of my student union jukebox favorites that fall, and it did pretty well in other areas, as well, as it went to No. 35 in the Billboard Top 40, only the second Baez single to do that well. (The first was her cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which went to No. 3 during the late summer and autumn of 1971.) Musically and lyrically, “Diamonds & Rust” is quite simply the best thing Joan Baez ever wrote or recorded. The shimmering music is perfect for her unsentimental, guarded and affectionate reliving of her affair with Bob Dylan. Baez’ intimacy with the topic – as opposed to the seemingly reflexive distance she’d frequently placed between herself and even the most intimate of songs – pulls listeners into her world and helps us understand her place in a pairing that was momentous to both Baez and Dylan at a time when their work was helping to defining an era. (For a take on that topic from Dylan, whose work can often be more difficult to penetrate than a black curtain, I turn to – as starting points – “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” and “Visions of Johanna” from Blonde On Blonde.) Key lines: “Our breath comes out white clouds, mingles and hangs in the air. Speaking strictly for me, we both could have died then and there.”

I have seven versions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” in my collection, including an alternate take from 1975, some live versions (including a killer acoustic version I once shared) and a bootleg or two. All have their attractions, but I keep coming back to the original, the version that led off Side Two of the Born To Run album. And the song grabs hold of me tighter and tighter as the years go by. It’s not the tale of the mythical backstreets that holds me, although I have some affection for the kids huddled on the beach in the mist. It’s the pure sonic audacity of the song that pulls me in time and again, the young Springsteen’s ambition for musical significance that’s almost as audible as that great count-in just before the last verse. Then consider that Springsteen has almost certainly exceeded his ambitions over the thirty-five years since “Born To Run” went to No. 23, and one realizes that “Born To Run” (and the rest of the LP, of course) was neither wish nor hope nor dream but a statement of intent. (Writer and Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh had the same reaction; while reviewing Born To Run in the second edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, he said: “clarity of purpose and mammoth ambition drip from the grooves.”) Key lines: “Will you walk with me out on the wire, ’cause baby, I’m just a scared and lonely rider. But I gotta find out how it feels. I want to know if love is wild, girl, I want to know if love is real.”

Note:
Regular readers – and I have to assume they’ll find this new location – will observe that I’ve changed my approach slightly. I think all my readers will understand. 

–whiteray