Saturday Single No. 343

As we sometimes do here, we’re going random today, but only in the 1970s. We’re going to let the RealPlayer bounce around the nearly 20,000 mp3s available from that decade, and – assuming it’s a tune that’s available and not an aesthetic crime – the sixth selection will be today’s featured record. So here we go.

Mama Lion was a blues rock band that released two albums during the early years of the decade although the band is more likely remembered today for the identity of its lead singer. She was one Lynn Carey, Penthouse magazine’s Pet of the Month in December 1972, and she was depicted suckling a lion cub on the inside cover of the group first album, 1972’s Preserve Wildlife. The track we land on to start this morning’s trek is “Griffins” from the group’s second album, 1973’s Give It Everything I’ve Got. “With griffins as my saviors,” sings Carey over a Zepp-like backing, “I fly through burning skies. I need your love no longer . . .” Carey’s bio at Wikipedia suggests that there was more to her than physical beauty and that greater exploration of her later solo career could be rewarding, but that’s something for another day. This morning, we’ll leave Carey and the other members of Mama Lion to their griffins and move on.

Despite my respect for her and her music, Ellen McIlwaine has been mentioned only a few times in this space during the past six years. A talented slide guitarist and an expressive singer, she’s recorded regularly but not frequently over the years, starting when she formed Fear Itself, a psychedelic blues rock band that released a self-titled album in 1969. Her solo career began in 1972 with Honky Tonk Angel, which is where we find her haunting take on Traffic’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” our second stop this morning. McIlwaine’s most recently listed credit is Mystic Bridge from 2006, on which she steps into Eastern-tinged jazz. Marking that for more exploration as well, we head on.

About five years and maybe a thousand posts ago, I wrote about the New York Rock Ensemble and its 1970 album, Roll On. It was, I noted, the first album of straight-ahead rock recorded by the group that had started business as New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, which on its first two albums had played “rock music on classical instruments and classical music on rock instruments.” Roll On, I noted, got wildly mixed reviews, with the 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide offering the best, calling it a “tremendous rock & roll album,” and adding that “the band plays with good taste and fire.” We land on “Running Down the Highway,” which Rolling Stone said was one of the “top-notch” songs on the album. I have to concur this morning, but we can’t stay.

Valdy is a Canadian folk rock musician who came to my attention in the mid-1990s through a flea market find of his Family Gathering album, a 1974 effort. According to Wikipedia, he’s a well-regarded and honored Canadian institution, and I have to respect that. But his work – and I have a few of his numerous albums on the mp3 shelves – leaves me unimpressed. It’s probably me and not him. In any case, our wanderings today bring us to “Mm-Mm-Mm-Mm” from Valdy’s 1972 album Country Man: “And I’ll say Mm-Mm-Mm-Mm, that’s not the way things oughta be. And I’ll say Mm-Mm-Mm-Mm excuse me, I’m on the outside being free.” Underwhelmed again, we head to the next tune.

When A&M Records was beginning to promote Joe Cocker’s live Mad Dogs & Englishmen, studio versions of “The Letter” and of “Space Captain” were recorded in Los Angeles for a single release. In short order, the single was revised to offer the live versions of both tunes from the Mad Dogs album. The original single, with the studio versions of the tunes, was credited to Joe Cocker with Leon Russell and the Shelter People, with “the Shelter People” being the name Russell gave to the backing musicians he brought together for his second solo album, some of whom were part of the Mad Dogs tour. I wonder this morning if membership in the Shelter People wasn’t somewhat flexible and if folks who were on the Mad Dogs tour but not on Russell’s album also took part in the studio sessions for “The Letter” and “Space Captain.” (I’m pretty sure that’s the case.) And I wonder how the single was credited after the studio versions were replaced by the live versions. All of this comes up because our fifth stop of the morning is the studio version of “Space Captain” from those early 1970 sessions in Los Angeles. It’s a decent take on the song but it lacks the power – and the long-time familiarity – of the live take from Mad Dogs. (The tale of the single as related here is not quite accurate, but the information available as I wrote was at best confusing. See the note from reader Yah Shure – and my response – below.)

And we land at last on a track from one of the albums that I tend to take for granted by an artist I tend as well to take for granted. “Somebody Changed the Lock” is a slightly naughty track from Dr. John’s Gumbo, a 1972 album of New Orleans R&B from the good doctor. As the one original tune on the album, it fits right in nestled next to classic tunes “Iko Iko,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Tiptina” and “Stack-a-Lee.” Sometimes our Saturday morning random jaunts come up a little bit short, landing on tracks that are okay but no more than that. This morning, the random universe has served us well by giving us “Somebody Changed the Lock” by Dr. John for our Saturday Single.

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4 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 343”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    The hit 45 version of Joe Cocker with Leon Russell & The Shelter People’s “The Letter” – issued in mono on A&M 1174 – was recorded “live” in the studio (noted as “Recorded Live” at the bottom of the label.) This “live-in-the-studio” recording is not to be confused with the “live” ‘Mad Dogs’ LP version, and was the only version issued on A&M 1174 during the course of its chart run.

    Here’s where the confusion arises: when A&M inaugurated its Forget Me Nots reissue 45 series a couple of years later, the version of “The Letter” reissued in this series as A&M 8546 substituted the stereo cut from ‘Mad Dogs’ for the mono hit. The label copy remained the same, other than an added “STEREO” designation, “arranged by” replacing the earlier “produced by” credit and “(From the A&M Album ‘Mad Dogs & Englishmen’ SP-6002)” added just below the title. The original hit version remained off the market for decades, until finally surfacing on CD.

  2. whiteray says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Yah Shure. The notes on the “Deluxe Edition” CD of “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” are, then, poorly written at best. Under the listings for the studio versions recorded March 17 and April 3, 1970, the notes say: “The Letter b/w Space Captain was issued as single A&M 1174 in April 1970; the single was subsequently re-released featuring live versions of The Letter and Space Captain.”

  3. Yah Shure says:

    Thanks, whiteray. Those “Deluxe Edition” notes still aren’t entirely accurate: The Forget Me Not reissue of “The Letter” has “Cry Me A River” on the flip, not “Space Captain” (which, at least through 1977, had never been included in the Forget Me Not series.)

  4. Paco Malo says:

    From the moment “The Letter” single started spinning on my turntable, I was in for as long as Cocker Power lasted. Such fond memories of Leon, Joe, those Mad Dogs and them Englishmen!

    And that’s one great Dr. John cut. A fine Saturday single post, Whiteray!

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