‘Thirteen’

It’s Friday the Thirteenth, and the only reasonable thing to do is to look for tracks on the digital shelves with either “thirteen” or “13” in their titles. The take turns out to be slender: four tracks.

We could expand the search into albums. A numeral search would bring us Lee Hazlewood’s 13 from 1972 or Blue Magic’s 13 Blue Magic Lane from 1975, and a word search would call up Laura Nyro’s 1968 album, Eli And The Thirteenth Confession. And if we wanted, we could look into a couple of albums from Thirteen Senses, a current British group whose own website describes its sound as “indie/melodic.”

But we’ll stay with our four titles.

First up, alphabetically, is “Thirteen” by Big Star, the legendary power pop group of the early 1970s fronted by Alex Chilton. The track is from the group’s 1972 debut album, No. 1 Record, and describes the reactions of Chilton and fellow band member Chris Bell to witnessing a performance by the Beatles at the age of thirteen. In its listing of the 500 greatest songs of all time, Rolling Stone ranked “Thirteen” at No. 406. Big Star, like a lot of other groups and performers, is something I missed (both in the 1970s and during the band’s brief reunion in the 1990s). Listening now, I wish I hadn’t. But there was only so much time and money, and at least I got to No. 1 Record and all the rest eventually.

There are three albums on the digital shelves by the British group Charlie – No Second Chance, Lines and Fight Dirty, from 1977, 1978 and 1979 respectively – and none of them really stand out. All three are pleasant, they’re competently played, and they sound as much like Southern California work of the time as anything British (except for the occasional Brit accent or bit of slang). I remember seeing the group’s albums in the store – noted as they were for the pretty young women on their covers – but I was never tempted, and listening occasionally nearly forty years later, I’m not sure I missed much. But “Thirteen” from No Second Chance is melancholy and affecting, the tale of a girl grown up too quickly:

When she fell in love with her first boy, she was only just thirteen
She never had another look, this one could buy her dreams
So she signed away her life at sixteen

When you cue up a J.J. Cale track, you know pretty much what you’re gonna get: A relaxed, shuffling tune with some tasty guitar fills, no matter what he’s singing about. And that holds true for “Thirteen Days” from his 1979 album 5, which turns out to be a salute to life on the road:

Thirteen days on gig down south
We got enough dope to keep us all high
We got two girls dancing to pick up the crowd
Sound man to mix us, make us sound loud

Sometimes we make money
Sometimes we don’t know
Thirteen days with life to go

Having listened several times to Steve Forbert’s “Thirteen Blood Red Rosebuds” while following along with the lyrics, I have no idea what the song is about. He sings:

Hang your hopes on sun but the ships don’t sail
Storm clouds rule everything
Sailors pack both bars and Marlene works hard
More cheap engagement rings

Thirteen blood red rosebuds
Five weird weekend crimes
Sixteen sincere smiles while
Nobody’s lyin’

But that’s okay. It’s Steve Forbert. The track carries echoes of his 1979 hit, “Romeo’s Tune,” which I like a lot. “Thirteen Blood Red Rosebuds” is from his 2010 album, Mission Of The Crossroad Palms.

Tags: , , ,

2 Responses to “‘Thirteen’”

  1. David says:

    I caught the Big Star bug during their 1993 comeback and couldn’t agree more. My opinion (due to financial and sentimental reasons) is obviously biased, but the recent documentary “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me” was wonderful and is worth seeing. Producer/engineer/Ardent records owner John Fry was a true gentleman, and Jody Stephens (Big Star’s drummer and the only remaining member still alive) is one of the nicest guys in music.

  2. Yah Shure says:

    There were a few of us championing Big Star from the start, but not many. In ‘Big Star: The Story Of Rock’s Forgotten Band.’ author Rob Jovanovic reproduced a “radio playlist” tally sheet Ardent Records had sent stations to help promote the “When My Baby’s Beside Me” 45. Only three Minnesota stations were confirmed believers as of October 6, 1972: the University of Minnesota’s WMMR, along with new adds that week (as “extras”) at both KWEB/Rochester and WJON/St. Cloud.

    I’ve always liked “Turning To You,” but nothing else Charlie released made much of an impression.

Leave a Reply