Saturday Single No. 222

We’re just coming out of what will likely be the coldest week of the year. When I fired up the computer at about 6:30 the other morning, the Weatherbug – which keeps me apprised of meteorological data – told me it was twenty-six degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. (That’s about thirty-four degrees below zero for those of you keeping score in Celsius.) And the temperatures have stayed chilly for the past few days.

The worst of the cold snap is over, though, with tonight’s low expected to be the last sub-zero temperatures for a while. While our twenty-six below the other morning was chilly, it’s still far from the coldest temperature I’ve ever experienced. That, I think, came during the winter of 1976-77 when the temperature in St. Cloud dropped one night to forty-three degrees below zero (-42C). And I was living in a ramshackle house on the north side, the one that had no central heating and depended on an oil-burning stove in the living room for its (limited) warmth. That was a difficult winter.

Degrees of difficulty, of course, are subjective, and however bad a current cold snap is, almost every Minnesotan will have one stored in his or her memory that was colder or longer or both. But sometimes, history has to take a second-tier seat to current reality. Today’s ten below zero is worse than 1977’s forty-three below because that ten below is what I have to deal with today.

And I do have to deal with it: Yesterday’s flurries left about two inches of fluffy snow, and as soon as I am done here, I’ll have to go out and clean the sidewalk. So to advance my morning, I thought I’d do a random walk through six tunes with the word “cold” in their titles and see what we find.

First up is “One Last Cold Kiss” by Mountain from its 1971 album, Flowers Of Evil. The song, which tells the tale of a bonded pair of swans separated by a hunter’s arrow, has a sense of a classic ballad filtered through the heavy metal of Leslie West and Felix Pappalardi. The album, Flowers of Evil, went to No. 35 in early 1972.

Next up is “Cold and Hard Times” by the late Delaney Bramlett, from his 2008 CD A New Kind of Blues. The meditation on how a couple gets through difficult days will have a familiar sound to those who’ve listened to the music of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends: bluesy, with overtones of country, gospel and R&B. It’s a great sound, and if Bramlett’s voice was a little careworn near the end of his life, well, that just adds to the atmosphere.

From there we go back to 1968, and “Out In the Cold Again” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy. From the group’s album, For Children of All Ages, the tune is a passable pop effort about lost love with a chorus that would not be out of place in a country record. (That chorus, with its vocals and horn accents, sounds very much like something from the work Elvis Presley would do the following year when he returned to Memphis for the sessions that resulted in “Suspicious Minds” and more. I’m going to have to come back to this one someday and figure out what it is I hear.)

Fourth on our brief journey this morning is “Cold Harbour” by Robin Williamson from his Myrrh album from 1972. Williamson was half of the Incredible String Band in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Myrrh was his first solo work after he and Mike Heron parted ways for some time. (The two got together about ten years ago with Clive Palmer, an early partner of theirs, for a live recording.) “Cold Harbour” is a loosely structured impressionistic song, actually reminiscent of David Crosby’s early solo work.

“Cold Bologna” by the Isley Brothers is a metaphor, as the narrator notes that “Mama’s out cookin’ steak for someone else.” The track, written by Bill Withers, is from the brothers’ 1971 album Givin’ It Back, which went to No. 71 on the Billboard Hot 200 and to No. 13 on the R&B albums chart. Three singles from the album reached the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B singles chart. “Cold Bologna” was not one of them.

And from there we land on “Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire” by Joni Mitchell, a track from her 1972 album For The Roses. Beautiful and inscrutable, it’s vintage Mitchell, and it’s today’s Saturday Single:

Cold Blue Steel out of money
One eye for the beat police
Sweet Fire calling
“You can’t deny me
“Now you know what you need.”
Underneath the jungle gym
Hollow-grey-fire-escape-thief
Looking for Sweet Fire
Shadow of Lady Release
“Come with me
“I know the way,” she says
“It’s down, down, down the dark ladder
“Do you want to contact somebody first
“Leave someone a letter
“You can come now
“Or you can come later.”

A wristwatch, a ring, a downstairs screamer
Edgy-black cracks of the sky
“Pin-cushion-prick-
“Fix this poor bad dreamer!”
“Money,” cold shadows reply
Pawnshops crisscrossed and padlocked
Corridors spit on prayers and pleas
Sparks fly up from Sweet Fire
Black soot of Lady Release
“Come with me
“I know the way,” she says
“It’s down, down, down the dark ladder
“Do you want to contact somebody first
“Does it really matter
“If you come now
“Or if you come on later?”

Red water in the bathroom sink
Fever and the scum brown bowl
Blue Steel still begging
But it’s indistinct
Someone’s Hi-Fi drumming Jelly Roll
Concrete concentration camp
Bashing in veins for peace
Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire
Fall into Lady Release
“Come with me I know the way,” she says
“It’s down, down, down the dark ladder
“Do you want to contact somebody first
“I mean what does it really matter
“You’re going to come now
“Or you’re going to come later”

(Lyrics ©1972, Joni Mitchell)

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2 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 222”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    Can the human brain actually process music when it’s that cold outside? The first thing that popped into my mind was Robert Klein’s “Starting Your Car” bit from his ‘Child Of The ’50s’ album. And if that won’t turn over, the identical effect can be had by spinning Yoko’s “Don’t Worry Kyoko” 45 at 33 and 1/3.

    We bottomed out in the Twin Cities at -16º F Friday morning. They’re predicting fourteen below tonight, then it’s all banana belt from there. Woo, hoo!

  2. Paco Malo says:

    Best Saturday Single in the history of the universe. I found this album when I dedicated myself to completing my Joni education. When I put it on, this track grabbed me by the throat and has never let go. With Lou Reed’s “Heroin” on “The Velvet Underground & Nico” and “Cold Blue Steel” — these are the best two heroin/major addiction songs I know. And this one is beautiful, seductive, yearning, just like needin’ your drug.

    Great pick, man, great pick.

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