Going Through Musical Phases & Stages

I go through phases in my music listening, especially late at night when I’m trying to decompress from the day.

When I have the RealPlayer running, it’s generally on random, pulling from almost 49,000 mp3s, giving me a goulash of music that somehow (usually) settles into a mix that works for me. Or I might set it to pull songs from a certain decade. (I always enjoy the Seventies, and lately, I’ve found myself returning frequently to the Nineties.)

But what I’ve been doing lately, not only with the RealPlayer but with the other CD players stashed around the house, is to focus on a specific genre, performer or album for a while. I went through a Fleetwood Mac period a while ago, finding myself playing Bare Trees late at night maybe three times a week, with the 1975 self-titled album, Rumours and Tango In The Night filling in on other nights.

Sometimes, the current interest is reflected here: I’ve lately been going through what might be seen as a world music phase. My late-night listening has included many plays of the CD Hava Nagila & Other Jewish Memories since it arrived in the mail about a month ago. I’ve also spent time with the music of Brulé and AIRO since I wrote about it here a couple of weeks ago. And a trip to the Electric Fetus downtown a few weeks ago brought me several CDs by the Irish group Clannad (whose music ranges from traditional Irish folk in the early years to a blend of Celtic and New Age-ish sounds in later years), and those CDs have been in late-night rotation as well.

It’s not just late at night that I find myself focusing on specific genres and artists. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time digitizing slides, both mine and the ones Dad shot over the years. The software that I use for that is slow enough to begin with, and it runs more slowly when the RealPlayer is running, so as I work on the slides, I drop three CDs into the player here in the study. Last week, I was doing the Springsteen shuffle: Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and one of the two CDs from The Promise, the newly released recordings from his legally constrained years between those two earlier releases. That brought some interesting juxtapositions.

And readers wonder, so what? Well, all that’s a lengthy introduction to what it seems to me is one of my next phases: music by Dion.

As I once noted, even though Dion DiMucci has wandered through a vast number of musical styles since the 1950s – doo-wop, R&B, folk-rock, singer/songwriter, religious/inspirational and blues, to mention most – he remains in my imagination standing hipshot in a leather jacket, under an urban streetlight, hearing the music of the city.

That’s an image constructed after the fact, of course, as I was too young to know most of Dion’s hits. His first Top 40 record was “I Wonder Why” with the Belmonts in 1958, and nineteen more followed through 1963’s “Drip Drop.” Beyond the occasional oldies play of those earlier records, I first knew Dion through 1968’s stunning “Abraham, Martin and John,” which went to No. 4. And I didn’t pay Dion much attention as I got into rock and pop music.

(The things one can learn at All-Music Guide: “Abraham, Martin and John” was written by Dick Holler, whose second-most famous song was “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron.”)

As I went through my vinyl madness during the 1990s, I picked up quite a few things by Dion: First came a 1978 album titled The Return of the Wanderer, picked up on a whim. I listened to the record a few times and liked it a fair amount even though I thought that Dion was flailing a little, trying to find a persona that worked for him in 1978. Still, the opener to Side Two – “I Used To Be A Brooklyn Dodger/Streetheart Theme” – was superb.

And then I found a greatest hits album that covered the doo-wop, R&B and pop years and added “Abraham, Martin and John” and its difficult to find B-side, “Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms)” as well as a few other rarities.

The Dion album from 1968 showed up, with “Abraham . . .” but without “Daddy Rollin’ (InYour Arms).” What it did have was an idiosyncratic selection of songs, including Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking” and “The Dolphins,” Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy” and what is almost certainly the strangest cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze” ever recorded:

And during my digging days at Cheapo, I found a few more albums by Dion, and I passed on some as well. I did grab Yo Frankie, a 1989 LP that was interesting not only for the music but for the company Dion keeps: Dave Edmunds, Bryan Adams, Lou Reed, k.d. lang, Paul Simon, Patty Smyth, Chuck Leavell and Jim Horn to name a few. Among the musical highlights are “Drive All Night,” a tune co-written by Adams and Jim Vallance, and “King of the New York Streets, written by Dion and Bill Tuohy.

And then I moved three times, ending up more than sixty miles from the cluster of record stores where I used to spend my time and money, and Dion – and many others – faded from my attention. But clicking around the Intertubes in 2006, I stumbled upon a new release by the man, Bronx in Blue, a collection of twelve traditional blues tunes and two originals. It was a sparely recorded CD: Just Dion and his guitar with some percussion from Bob Guertin. And a year later, came another collection, Son of Skip James, with fourteen bluesy performances of mostly famous blues songs performed nearly as sparely, with Guertin adding some organ and Rick Krive some piano. Here’s “If I Had Possession (Over Judgement Day).”

And as I listened to part of Son of Skip James yesterday, and as I looked at the bin of records I want to rip to mp3s and saw Return of the Wanderer in the front of the bin, I realized that I don’t know as well as I’d like most of the music by Dion that I have. I think I’m going to finish ripping Return . . . and then I’ll burn all of his stuff I have onto CD. My record club next month will ship me a greatest hits CD (with a few things different from the double vinyl I have), and that will go into the mix.

And I think I’ll spend some time with Dion.

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One Response to “Going Through Musical Phases & Stages”

  1. porky says:

    Dion….a national treasure. Robert Plant has been chasing “Daddy Rollin'” all these years and still hasn’t caught it yet. Dion does a great “Spoonful” too.

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