‘In Apartment 21 . . .’

Looking once more at the Billboard Easy Listening chart from fifty years ago this week – published July 18, 1970 – we move below the Top Ten and see several familiar titles:

No. 12: “Silver Bird” by Mark Lindsay
No. 21: “Snowbird” by Anne Murray
No. 23: “United We Stand” by the Brotherhood of Man
No. 30: “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
No. 32: “Apartment 21” by Bobbie Gentry
No. 35: “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond

Having noted those, it’s clear that there are far more singles in that chart that are unfamiliar or only vaguely familiar (though some members of my audience, far better versed than I in chart lore, likely would recognize more of those titles than do I). Anyway, five thoughts jump out at me as I look at that list of six singles:

First, I really liked Mark Lindsay’s work in 1969 and 1970. “Silver Bird” was the second single from Lindsay I recall hearing on my radio, either from the Twin Cities’ KDWB or from WJON across the railroad tracks in St. Cloud. The other was “Arizona,” which was released and hit the charts in late 1969. When I hear either one of those singles now, fifty years later, I’m immediately pulled back to my room or the front porch on Kilian Boulevard.

To be honest, “Arizona” is the more potent of the two; I wanted to find my way into radioland and go rescue that seemingly bewildered flower child, but “Silver Bird” also tugged at me. It would eventually peak at No. 7 on the Easy Listening chart and at No. 25 on the Hot 100. (During the winter of 1969-70, “Arizona” got to Nos. 16 and 10, respectively.

Of course, Lindsay – lead singer for Paul Revere & The Raiders – had a few other solo hits, but “Silver Bird” and “Arizona” are the two that stay with me.

An Anne Murray hit came through the television speakers the other day as part of a commercial, prompting me to say to the Texas Gal, “You know, I have no idea why, but I have never really liked Anne Murray’s music.” She concurred. Now, there’s nothing specifically wrong with “Snowbird,” which was No. 1 for six weeks on the Easy Listening chart and peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100. And there’s nothing specifically wrong with “Love Song,” “Danny’s Song,” “You Won’t See Me,” “I Needed You” or any of the rest of Murray’s broad catalog.

It’s just that all of her work has left me pretty much untouched. I had one of her LP’s – 1980’s Somebody’s Waiting – at one time, but I’m pretty sure it went in the Great Sell-Off before we moved to the condo, and the only Murray track on the digital shelves is “Danny’s Song.” And I’m not sure why.

The titles of “United We Stand” and “Solitary Man” produce a similar reaction in my head. Seeing the first immediately brings me a cascade of strings followed by the female vocal: “There’s nowhere in the world that I would rather be than with you, my love . . .” And just seeing the title “Solitary Man” brings me Diamond’s bleak “Melinda was mine till the time that I found her . . . holding Jim, loving him.”

Some records do that. With most, I see the title and can summon up in my head the sound of the record, but there are some that are on a kind of autoplay: I see the title and I hear the song. And it has little to do with how much I like the records. These two aren’t particular favorites, though there’s nothing wrong with them.

I should note that “United We Stand” peaked at No. 15 on the Easy Listening chart and No. 13 on the Hot 100, while “Solitary Man” peaked at Nos. 6 and 21, respectively on its reissue. The Diamond record had gone to No. 55 on the Hot 100 on its earlier release in 1966.

“Teach Your Children” brings back an odd memory. In 1988, a teaching colleague at Minot State University asked me to take part in a desert island-type program he ran on the university’s public radio station. The concept is familiar: What ten tracks would I want to have on a desert island? I don’t recall all ten of my selections, although I have a tape of the show somewhere. I do remember “Layla” was one, as was Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them.” And so was “Teach Your Children.” The odd thing is that when I got around to creating my Ultimate Jukebox in 2009, “Teach Your Children” was nowhere to be found, meaning it went in just more than twenty years from my Top Ten to nowhere in the top 240. Odd.

Just for the record, the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young single peaked at No. 28 on the Easy Listening chart and at No. 16 on the Hot 100.

Reading Bobbie Gentry’s name and the title of her “Apartment 21” reminds me that I’ve never written anything about the box set The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters, which sits on a shelf just a few feet from where I write. There are two reasons for that. First, when I got the set, the ink was so fresh on the pages that just opening the book – much less reading it – gave me severe headaches. Second, I think I’ll be disappointed: From very brief explorations of the book, it seemed that detailed discographic information about Gentry’s work was absent: No session information, no catalog numbers, none of the things I’ve come to expect from an elaborate box set. Now that the ink will be less of a problem, I should dig into the set and see if those first impressions were correct.

As to “Apartment 21,” it’s a decent single from the Fancy album, and it peaked at No. 19 on the Easy Listening chart and at No. 81 on the Hot 100. Like the album itself, it’s got smoother edges than the early work that made Gentry a star as it tells the tale of a musician watching the days go past on the road and in the haven of her apartment.

Rain on my Sunday shoes
Pick up the daily news
Looks like tomorrow’s blues
But it’s better than none

Call on the telephone
Knowin’ that he’s not home
I’ll put on the Rollin’ Stones
And I can have me some fun

Start up a flight of stairs
Stand up and comb your hair
Try not to change things
More than you can withstand

Get into something new
That’s made for a year or two
Pick up the pieces
Where you think they might land

Every day goes, another day’s gone
Hate to say so but I’m getting older
Day by day

Take off all your clothes
Stand up and wipe your nose
Cry for your daddy
You lost so long ago

Jump on another plane
Today it’s all the same
You can catch me in Boston
’Cause that’s how it goes

I’m here in apartment 21
Stop by and have some fun
Say “How you doin’,
You old son-of-a-gun?”

Look at a photograph
Lord, don’t it make you laugh
For all those changes
What have you done?

And I say,
La la la, la la la, la la la la
La la la la, la la la, la la la la
La la la, la la la, la la la la
La la la la, la la la, la la la la

Sit down and write a song
Wait till the days grow long
And wait for the autumn wind
To blow me away

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