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.
Tags: Neil Young