Saturday Single No. 671

December 28th, 2019

So if I had taken the time during the last weekend of 1969 – smack in the middle of a two-week break from school – to turn on my old RCA radio, what would I have heard?

Well, here’s the top fifteen from the survey that the Twin Cities’ KDWB would release on December 29, 1969, the last Monday of the year, a date that come tomorrow morning will be fifty years in the past:

“Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“Someday We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross & The Supremes
“Fortunate Son/Down On The Corner” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
“Cherry Hill Park” by Billy Joe Royal
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond
“Heaven Knows” by the Grass Roots
“La La La (If I Had You)” by Bobby Sherman
“Eli’s Coming” by Three Dog Night
“Take A Letter Maria” by R. B. Greaves
“Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder
“Come Together/Something” by the Beatles
“Evil Woman Don’t Play Your Games With Me” by Crow
“Jam Up Jelly Tight” by Tommy Roe

That’s actually seventeen, of course, given the two double-sided singles, and man, what a great way to end the year! Well, that’s with the exception of the Tommy Roe single, which I never much cared for (although it does have a place on the digital shelves here while the Bobby Sherman single is the only one of those seventeen records that is absent).

Seeing the Supremes’ record in the list reminds me of a moment now thirty years in the past, when 1989 was turning into 1990. I was living in Anoka, Minnesota, just northwest of Minneapolis. A ladyfriend and I had gone through a series of rapid changes in 1989 – a “now we’re good, now we’re not” kind of thing – and sometime around New Year’s Day, after another exasperating conversation, I got into my car to run an errand just across the Mississippi River in the city of Champlin. As I started my car, I played with the idea that the first record I heard on the oldies station would give me a guide to that relationship and 1990.

The next record was, of course, “Someday We’ll Be Together.” That amused and pleased me. Twelve months, three moves and some adventures with pesticide later, I was living alone in Columbia, Missouri, and I concluded that radiomancy was inaccurate. But at least it was hopeful. The first record on the oldies station could have been “Timothy” by the Buoys.

Beyond that, KDWB’s top seventeen at the end of the year when I discovered Top 40 radio brings back the sense of that long-ago time. None of those records spoke to my main personal concern at the time, which was how to turn the friendly attentions of a violin player in the high school orchestra into something more than friendship, but reading that list of titles and performers still reminds me viscerally how my life felt as 1969 was heading rapidly toward 1970.

And, of course, as a nearly life-long practitioner of nostalgia and curator of memories, most of those records are still part of my life today. How much so?

Well, fourteen of those seventeen are among the 3,900-some tracks in the iPod, meaning they’re part of my day-to-day listening. The ones that are absent are those by Bobby Sherman and Tommy Roe (which does not surprise me) and by B.J. Thomas, which kind of does.

And I wonder, as I often do, how much of me still lives in that long-ago time, a time when I was gawky, awkward, pretty much clueless about a lot of things, and artless about many as well. Maybe more than is healthy, though I am far more present in my life these days than I was, say, twenty years ago. But I’m still fairly clueless about a lot of things, sometimes still artless, and sometimes still awkward. I am, however, likely too rotund to be very gawky.

As Paul Simon wrote in one of his versions of “The Boxer,” after “changes upon changes, we are more or less the same.” And I’m never sure if that should be depressing or reassuring.

So what do we listen to from among those records on the last Saturday of the year? Well, a quick search through the archives here tells me – almost unbelievably – that we’ve never featured “Someday We’ll Be Together” in this space.

I recall a discussion of the record, but that came in the comments on a post that featured a record by Johnny Bristol, with a commenter noting that it’s Bristol who supplies the male portion of the call-and-response interplay at the end of the record.

So the record – which probably should have been in my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox but wasn’t – has never been featured here. That neglect ends today, as “Someday We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross & The Supremes* becomes what I would guess will be the last entry in my Jukebox Regrets and becomes as well the final Saturday Single for 2019.

*Yes, I know that the other female voices on the record may not actually have been members of the Supremes, but we’re going to let that concern go this morning.

The Moody Blues’ Seventies: Part 2

December 27th, 2019

Casting my memory’s net back to the summer and fall of 1971, I vaguely recall conversation among my pal Rick and his friends and among my friends at St. Cloud State about the Moody Blues’ 1971 album, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. There was talk before the album came out about what seemed to be an odd title. There was talk when the album came out about the striking cover art. What I don’t recall is talk about the content of the album.

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour(The title comes from the mnemonic used by music students in Britain to memorize the lines of the treble clef – E-G-B-D-F – with the word “favour” taking on the British spelling. Here in the U.S., our mnemonic is slightly different: Every Good Boy Does Fine. As to the art work, well, it’s displayed here, and perhaps it’s a little less striking after nearly fifty years.)

As to the content, the music and lyrics, the Moody Blues were, as usual, ambitious. Says Graeme Edge in the liner notes to 1997 CD release of the album, “We decided we would write the history of music” in the opening track, “Procession,” which fades in to what seems to be the chirping of insects and makes its way to obviously computerized sounds (Mellotron or Moog, I don’t know) and then wind before we get the chanted word “Desolation!” followed by raindrops and “Creation!” Then come drums and “Communication!” followed by grunts, chants, sitar, a somewhat Baroque melody on flute and harpsichord, an organ wandering around, a brief orchestral interlude, and then electric guitars leading into what is no doubt the album’s best-known track, “The Story In Your Eyes.”

It’s not as bombastic as the spoken word intros of the group’s late 1960s albums, but it doesn’t age well, either. Some of my fellow freshmen at St. Cloud State during the autumn of 1971 thought, however, that it was profound. The same three introductory words – desolation, creation, and communications – show up with numerous other “tion” and sound-alike words (“degradation,” “humiliation,” and “salvation” among them) – in the lumbering chorus to “One More Time To Live” on what was the first track of the album’s second side in its LP configuration. They work there, but only a little better.

The Moodies were always – up to 1972, at least – trying to make a statement and craft their music and lyrics to center on a chosen theme. That’s hard to do, which is why writers are often told to forget about theme and message and just tell the story: The theme will shine through the story and the message will be in the tale itself. So, like the group’s previous albums, EGBDF is in several places heavy-handed and obvious.

It has its very good moments, too, however. The one single released from the album, “The Story In Your Eyes” is one of my favorite Moody Blues tracks. Its lyrics are a little preachy, yes, but they’re carried along by one of the group’s most propulsive rock tracks. Released in the U.S. a month after the album was released. “The Story In Your Eyes” went to No 23 in the Billboard Hot 100. (The album went to No. 2 in Billboard.)

I’m not going to go into great detail about the rest of the tracks on the album, except to note that a few do stand out: “After You Came” and “You Can Never Go Home” are well-done, and the closer, “My Song,” is an ambitious statement song collage, much like the closers on the group’s previous albums. How well it works depends on whether you’re . . . well, let me put it this way: I’d like to be as impressed with it today as I was when I was 18, but I’m not. What was moving – if recognizably bombastic – in 1971 is just overkill and the source of pleasant memories in 2019.

And that’s the key there, the memories: Even though I didn’t have my own copy of the album until the late summer of 1977, evidently enough of my friends did, or I heard enough of it on KVSC, the St. Cloud State student radio station, for the album to pull me back into 1971, not as potently as a couple other albums and a few singles and album tracks, but enough so that EGBDF feels like my freshman year of college.

Assessing it as fairly as I can in 2019, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour is better than the group’s late 1960s albums, and about as good as 1970’s A Question Of Balance. I’ll give it a B.

Here’s the second-best track on the album, “You Can Never Go Home.” Again, there were often no discernable gaps between the tracks, so the beginning of the song is indistinct.

Merry Christmas!

December 24th, 2019

It’s quiet inside and out this morning. The Texas Gal is sleeping in, and the cats are scattered and napping after their breakfast. Outside, our alley is undisturbed, a nearly constant state, especially in the colder months.

And we are almost prepared for the holiday tomorrow. We will be in the kitchen this afternoon, preparing a potato dish, some deviled eggs and a dessert that we will take with us tomorrow when we go to my sister’s home in the Twin Cities’ suburb of Maple Grove, some fifty miles away.

As for our own Christmas celebrations, this evening we will forsake the cold dinner of shrimp and potato salad we’ve had on Christmas Eve for each of the last ten or so years and instead will dine this evening on a ribeye steak we picked up the other day. (Side dishes are yet to be determined.)

And our gift-giving is done. In the waning days of November, we decided that we would each choose a small addition to our individual hobby collections, augmented by an experience that the Texas Gal would choose for us.

Unsurprisingly, she added a tool to her sewing room, an attachment to her machine that enlarges its base, making quilting and other tasks easier. Also unsurprisingly, I chose music, adding to the CD stacks two albums: First, Bob Dylan’s Travelin’ Thru, the most recent of his Bootleg series, this one featuring alternate versions of songs from the sessions for the albums John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, and Self Portrait as well as sessions with Johnny Cash and Earl Scruggs; and second, the fiftieth anniversary release of The Band’s second, self-titled album. Along with the original album, the new release includes alternate versions and out-takes from the sessions as well as the original rough mixes of The Band’s performance at Woodstock. I have yet to thoroughly digest either of the packages.

And there was the experience. With the Texas Gal keeping our destination a secret, we left St. Cloud for Minneapolis the other morning, and met my sister and brother-in-law for lunch at Murray’s, a legendary downtown Minneapolis steakhouse. I’ve heard talk of Murray’s since I was young and had long wanted to dine there. The Texas Gal and I had the lunch portion of the restaurant’s Silver Butter Knife Steak for Two, a twenty-eight ounce strip sirloin that was carved at our table. It was worth the wait (and pricey, though not as much so as it would have been at dinner-time).

And unless the Texas Gal has more surprises planned, that’s our Christmas celebration. Except that, more importantly, we’ll spend time tomorrow with my sister and brother-in-law, my nephew, my niece and her husband and their two young sons.

May you all spend your holidays at a place you can call home with those you love and who love you back.

And here’s the original version of Darlene Love’s “Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)” from the 1963 Phil Spector album, A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records.

Saturday Single No. 670

December 21st, 2019

Here, updated with a few minor changes, is a post that ran here eleven years ago.

We’re about to come out of the darkness.

The December Solstice is upon us. At 10:19 this evening (Central Standard Time) the sun will go as far south in the sky as it goes, and it will begin to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good news for those of us who find the winter grim and gloomy. I’m certain I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers from then into February.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that – as I’ve mentioned here before – is likely a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic forebears. We know about the tilt of the Earth, we know how that brings the solstices and the seasons, and we know that the daytime light will now increase bit by bit every day, leading us toward springtime and then summer. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen. Tomorrow will bring us slightly more daylight than we had today, and the next day and all the next days until June will do the same. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’re about to come out of the darkness.

Here are the Traveling Wilburys with “Heading Toward The Light.” It’s from their first album, Volume One, released in 1988. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

No. 45 Forty-Five Years Ago

December 20th, 2019

I thought we’d drop back to the last month of 1974 today for a quick look at the Billboard Hot 100 and a game of Symmetry. Much of the music in the top of the chart, I imagine, will be familiar from the jukebox near The Table in St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center. Here’s the Top Ten from forty-five years ago:

“Cat’s In The Cradle” by Harry Chapin
“Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas
“Angie Baby” by Helen Reddy
“When Will I See You Again” by the Three Degrees
“You’re The First, My Last, My Everything” by Barry White
“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” by Elton John
“Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)” by Al Green
”Junior’s Farm/Sally G” by Paul McCartney & Wings
“I Can Help” by Billy Swan
“Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied)” by B.T. Express

That’s an okay set, I guess. I had to remind myself about the Al Green single with a trip to YouTube, and the very first strains of the record touched a vein of melancholy, an emotion not in short supply that month. The others are all familiar to varying degrees, but none of them were overly important during that long-ago December (although the Three Degrees single became very important not quite a year later when I was courting the young woman who eventually became the Other Half).

Even at the time, I was tired of the Harry Chapin and Billy Swan singles, and my occasionally faulty memory wants me to think that “Kung Fu Fighting” was a hit in the summer instead of the autumn. Was there a favorite among that bunch of eleven records as December 1974 headed into its last ten days? Well, maybe “Angie Baby,” Reddy’s surreal tale about the crazy radio-loving girl.

And today? How many of them are in the iPod? Only two: “Angie Baby” and “When Will I See You Again.” That says something, I guess.

And how about our work a little lower down, when we drop to No. 45 in that long-ago chart, what do we find?

Well, we find a double-sided single from James Brown, the first side of which – “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” – has the singer testifying about the sad state of the nation, ending with Brown stating, “I need to be the governor. I need to be the governor . . .” On the B-side, “Coldblooded,” he reminds us that “Every trip you got to be hipper than hip!”

The double-sided single didn’t go much further on the pop chart, peaking at No. 44. On the R&B chart, the A-side went to No. 4, so we’ll go with “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” this morning.

Still Moody

December 17th, 2019

Today was the day I was going to continue my assessment of the Moody Blues’ catalog and dive into their 1971 album Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. But my semi-annual cold with its assorted ailments has sapped my energy, and although I’ve likely listened to the album enough, I don’t have the energy to write about it at length.

Later in the week, perhaps, I can take another whack at it. In the meantime, here’s the best track from the album, likely an unsurprising choice (and one that’s been featured here before): “The Story In Your Eyes.” A single release of the track went to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early October 1971, a month after the album peaked at No. 2 on the magazine’s album chart (where it sat for three weeks, blocked from the top spot by Carole King’s Tapestry).

Saturday Single 669

December 14th, 2019

I missed putting up a Saturday Single the other week. We were a little busy around here, and I was lagging behind because of a cold. Legitimate reasons, both, but I don’t like leaving this space blank on a Saturday. I would guess that’s happened less than ten times since this blog began in late January 2007.

So I’m here mostly to fill space today. I’m still fighting the cold, which is morphing into one of my frequent sinus infections. And my attention is at least partly on a football game between North Dakota State University and Illinois State, a national quarterfinal game. (My affection for NDSU’s Bison is one of the remnants of my two-year stay in Minot, North Dakota, in the late 1980s.)

So here, by default, is a track titled “Dakota” by the band Swampwater. (It’s a song about a dancing bear named Dakota instead of about North Dakota or South Dakota, but never mind.) It’s from the group’s 1971 self-titled album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘She’s Lost The Sun . . .’

December 12th, 2019

When I explored the Billboard Easy Listening chart from fifty years ago in a post here last week, many of the top fifteen records that I highlighted were among those I was hearing on the Top 40 at the time. That’s not surprising, of course. Crossover between the two charts was common. (I don’t know if that’s the case today. My interest in the Top 40 fades somewhere between twenty and thirty years ago. I’m old.)

One of the records on that Easy Listening chart from 1969 that caught my eye as I wrote was the Guess Who’s “Undun.” It was one of my two or three favorite records from the Canadian group during my high school days, topped only, I’d guess, by “No Time” (which did end up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox). And until it showed up on that long-ago Easy Listening chart last week, it hadn’t crossed my mind for a while. Nor had the larger catalog of the Guess Who. (Even though about ten of the group’s singles are in my iPod, they evidently don’t pop up often enough that I take notice.)

So I spent some time the other day checking the digital shelves for Guess Who material and ripping and sorting the 2003 two-CD Anthology released by RCA/BMG Heritage. I suppose I should just pop the CDs into the car’s player the next few times I head out on errands or drop them into the large stereo set that sits not far from my desk here in the EITW studios. But I just listened to a few of the resulting mp3s, “Undun” included.

“Undun” was, according to the listings in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, the B-side of “Laughing,” which entered the Hot 100 in July of 1969 and peaked at No. 10. “Undun” followed its A-side into the Hot 100 in mid-October and was in the chart for ten weeks, reaching No. 22. On the Easy Listening chart, it peaked at No. 15, which is where it was in the fifty-year-old chart explored here last week. (It was the only record the Guess Who ever got into the Easy Listening chart.)

And in the Twin Cities, it looks like the record peaked at No. 22 on KDWB, where I got a good share of my Top 40 fix. So I let some memories wash over me as I listened to it the other day; the autumn of 1969 was a pretty good time.

And then I wondered about real easy listening versions of the song, recordings from folks like Ferrante & Teicher or Ray Conniff. Well, those folks didn’t record the tune, according to the information from Second Hand Songs, but I did find a version of the tune that scratched my easy listening itch: Hugo Montenegro included a cover of “Undun” on his 1970 album Colours Of Love.

‘Just Like The Wind Will . . .’

December 10th, 2019

We got about six inches of snow here yesterday morning, and this morning, the temperature is eight degrees below zero. Winter is here, and the weather reminded me of youthful fun at Riverside Park on the East Side, a large space wedged between Kilian Boulevard and Riverside Drive. The park has one of St. Cloud’s best sliding hills, a place that came to mind when I wrote this post in January 2009. I’ve revised it just a bit.

There are, as I’ve discussed before, many songs that take me back to a specific time and place, or remind me of a specific person, or both. That’s true, I’d guess, for anyone who loves music: some records trigger memories. Among such recordings for me are Pink Floyd’s “Us And Them,” which sets me down in the lounge of a youth hostel in Denmark; Orleans’ “Dance With Me,” which puts me in the 1975 version of Atwood Center at St. Cloud State; and Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” which tugs me back to my duplex in Minot, North Dakota, on a winter’s night.

There are, I’m certain, hundreds of such songs, and every once in a while, one of them pops up on the radio, the stereo, the RealPlayer, or the iPod, and it triggers one of those long-ago associations for a moment or two. One happened when I was driving to the grocery store the other day.

I was listening, once again, to Kool 108 in the Twin Cities. The station, as it does every year, had played holiday music from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Even if one loves holiday music – and as I’ve noted here, I generally don’t – that’s way too much of a good thing. So I was hungry for oldies on the car radio this week, hungry enough that I even listened to “Help Me, Rhonda” all the way through instead of pushing the button for another station. And I’m glad I hung in there with the Beach Boys, for the following song took me back:

Holly holy eyes, dream of only me
Where I am, what I am, what I believe in
Holly holy
Holly holy dream, wanting only you
And she comes, and I run just like the wind will
Holly holy

Sing a song
Sing a song of songs . . .

It was early 1970, and Rick and I were at the sledding hill at Riverside Park, no more than a mile from our homes. We had a couple of new saucer sleds and were testing them out on the long hill, enjoying the times we wiped out as much as we enjoyed those times we made it upright to the bottom of the hill.

It was a cloudy Sunday, and the light that penetrated the cloud cover was fading; evening was approaching as we hauled ourselves up the hill for the last time that day. And as we got to the top of the hill, from somewhere came the sound of a radio for just a few seconds: Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy.”

I’m not sure where the sound came from. In the parking lot at the top of the hill, a car with its radio on might have had a door open for just a moment, perhaps to admit tired sledders about to head home. That seems likely. But however it happened, we both heard the song as we went up the hill.

“Good song,” I said. It was okay, said Rick, not one of his favorites.

And almost thirty-nine years later, as I drove to the store, the strains of “Holly Holy” put me back there again: On that long hill in Riverside Park, cheeks red, glasses splashed with snowflakes, feet cold inside my boots, taking the first steps on the way to home and hot chocolate.

It’s now been fifty years since “Holly Holy” was on the charts. It slipped into the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1969, and by mid-December, it was at No. 13, heading to No. 6 (and to No. 5 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart).

And next month, it will have been fifty years since Rick and I trudged up the hill and caught just a snippet of the Neil Diamond record. I don’t know that we ever went sledding at Riverside again, but I’ve heard “Holly Holy” many times since (five times in the past year on the iPod alone, according to the device’s stats), and it remains one of my favorite Diamond records ever, another reminder that the music of 1969-70 – my junior year in high school – was one of the richest musical veins I’ve ever mined.

Saturday Single No. 668

December 7th, 2019

So what were the easy listening stations playing fifty years ago this week? Here are the top fifteen from the chart now called Adult Contemporary that were listed by Billboard in its December 6, 1969, edition, fifty years ago yesterday.

“Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“Try A Little Kindness” by Glen Campbell
“And When I Die” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“A Woman’s Way” by Andy Williams
“Smile A Little Smile For Me” by the Flying Machine
“Make Your Own Kind Of Music” by Mama Cass Elliot
“Wedding Bell Blues” by the 5th Dimension
“Midnight Cowboy” by Ferrante & Teicher
“Early In The Morning” by Vanity Fare
“Love Will Find A Way” by Jackie DeShannon
“A Brand New Me” by Dusty Springfield
“I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City” by Nilsson
“Goin’ Out Of My Head” by Frank Sinatra
“Undun” by the Guess Who

Nearly all familiar, as I would have guessed. Of that fifteen, there are only two that don’t immediately play on the turntable in my head: the Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra singles. I know “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” of course, but Sinatra’s take on it seems almost sleepy, with none of the urgency I hear in the original version of the song by Little Anthony & The Imperials (No. 6 in the Hot 100 in 1964) or even in the most successful cover of the tune, which was part of a medley by the Lettermen (No. 7 in 1968). When you’re less urgent than the Lettermen . . .

As to Williams’ “A Woman’s Way,” I don’t recall it at all, and my reaction to it this morning was “Wow!” Consider:

Oh, the measure of her man
Is in a woman’s eyes
She can make him something special
If she tries

From the moment she that she gives herself
Her life is not the same
It’s a woman’s way to live
So she proudly takes his name

For a woman’s life is empty
Until she finds her man
It’s a woman’s way to give all that she can

Different times.

A third record from that top fifteen that caught my eye this morning was Glen Campbell’s “Try A Little Kindness.” A couple months ago, the speaker at our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship talked about the importance of kindness, and for once, the four of us that make up the musicans’ group were on topic, offering the Sunday morning gathering our version of the tune, written by Bobby Austin and Curt Sapaugh.

I thought briefly about making that our Saturday Single, but a quick check told me that it showed up here the week Campbell passed on in 2017, so we’ll search elsewhere. And none of the other records in that easy listening top fifteen, as much as I love many of them, call to me this morning. So we’re going to play Games With Numbers and turn today’s date – 12/7/19 – into 38 and see what’s at No. 38 in that fifty-year-old Easy Listening chart.

And we come across Bossa Rio, a Latin group from Brazil that placed two records in the Easy Listening chart in 1969 and 1970, with neither of them finding their ways into the Hot 100. The latter of the two, “With Your Love Now,” went to No. 15 during the summer of 1970. The earlier record, the one we’re interested in today, peaked at No 22 during an eight-week run on the chart that started in 1969 and continued into 1970.

The group sounds – perhaps inevitably – like Sérgio Mendes & Brasil 66. But that’s a nice sound on a Saturday morning. Here’s Bossa Rio’s take on the Beatles’ “Blackbird.”