Saturday Single No. 525

January 28th, 2017

Wandering through the digital stacks this morning, I found a few tracks tagged as having been recorded on January 28 over the years. (I have session date information for perhaps five percent of the 90,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer.) Let’s take a look at them.

The oldest comes from Frank Hutchison, who recorded “Stackalee” in New York City in 1928. An early version of the tale of bad man Stagger Lee that Lloyd Price turned into a No. 1 hit in 1959, Hutchison’s spare take on the song – with his guitar on his lap and a harmonica in a rack – came to me through the CD box set of the legendary Anthology of American Folk Music compiled by Harry Smith and released in 1952.

Next along the timeline for January 28 are a couple of western swing tracks laid down in Chicago in 1935 by Milton Brown & His Brownies. “Crafton Blues” is an instrumental composed by the band’s Ocie Stockard, and “Who’s Sorry Now” is a cover of the 1920s standard first recorded and released in 1923 by Bob Thompson. The two tracks came my way on Western Swing, a three-CD set that billed itself as “The Absolutely Essential” collection.

On January 28, 1953, most likely in Los Angeles or Hollywood (a judgment based on the fact that the arrangements and backing were from Nelson Riddle), Nat King Cole recorded “Almost Like Being In Love.” The track was released that year on Nat King Cole Sings For Two In Love, an eight-track, ten-inch LP. I found “Almost Like Being In Love” on the compilation CD The Very Best of Nat King Cole.

Big Joe Turner had a busy day on January 28, 1955, in New York City, and four tracks from that day’s session have made their ways to my stacks: “Morning, Noon and Night,” “Ti-Ri-Lee,” “Flip Flop and Fly” and “Hide and Seek.” Of the four, “Ti-Ri-Lee” is a little less frantic but still nowhere near a slow dance, and the other three are your basic (but still enjoyable) Joe Turner joints. I found “Morning, Noon and Night” and “Ti-R-i-Lee” on a Turner compilation titled Big. Bad & Blue, and the other two came from the CD The Very Best of Big Joe Turner (which I happened to be playing in the car this week).

Jumping ahead in the timeline a little bit, two Johnny Cash-related tracks show up. On January 28, 1971, Tammy Wynette appeared on The Johnny Cash Show on ABC. Her performance of “Stand By Your Man” showed up on The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show. And on January 28, 1974, in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Cash recorded “Ragged Old Flag,” which was released as a Columbia single and was later included in the CD collection The Essential Johnny Cash.

Heading back a few years from that, in 1969, George Harrison brought Billy Preston to a Beatles session at the Apple studios on January 28. Among the results was the single version of “Get Back,” on which Preston provides an electric piano solo and became, if I recall things correctly, the only non-Beatle credited on a Beatles record. The track was included in the Mono Masters CD package.

And last, we’ll head back another year to 1968 and a recording session for the Moody Blues at the Decca Studios in the West Hampstead area of London. The group was working on In Search of the Lost Chord, and among the results of the session was an early version of “What Am I Doing Here?” The track got left off the album, and in November of that year, it was given some overdubs and a new mix. Still, “What Am I Doing Here?” was unreleased until 1977, when the November version was included in the Caught Live + 5 collection.

I found the original version of “What Am I Doing Here” on the expanded CD release of In Search of the Lost Chord, and I prefer it to the overdubbed November version. At any rate, a November track doesn’t meet our requirements today, so the January 28, 1968, recording of “What Am I Doing Here?” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘May I Suggest . . .’

January 27th, 2017

I’m battling another bit of cold/sinus crap, the Texas Gal and I are dealing with some impending changes in our health insurance, and I’m keeping up perhaps a bit too obsessively with the news coming from Washington, D.C.

So I’ve not been in the best frame of mind this week. And that’s why it was pleasant on Wednesday evening to get together with a few of the other musicians from our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship to plan our musical offerings for the next few weeks.

We try to do that on a regular basis, but things got a bit stretched in December, what with holiday activities, so we were pretty much scrambling week-to-week as we put together the music since January began. So it was good to put a little bit of order in place, and it was good – as it always is – to work on some music for the next few weeks.

One of the tunes we’re planning to do in a couple weeks comes from a folkish trio of women who call themselves Red Molly. The trio – Laurie MacAllister, Abbie Gardner and Molly Venter – released five studio albums, a live album and an EP between 2005 and 2014. Since then, they’ve been on what they call a hiatus, working on solo projects.

The tune – “May I Suggest” – might seem out of touch with the way these times seem to be flowing, but I think that along with being concerned about that flow, we also need, more than ever, to be aware of the good things that still fill our lives from day to day. And Red Molly’s “May I Suggest” might help folks do that. I know it does for me.

It’s from the trio’s 2008 album Love and Other Tragedies.

‘The Door Is Open . . .’

January 24th, 2017

Having dabbled in early 1972 for a Saturday Single last weekend, I began running through my head what I was doing at the time, about midway through my second quarter of classes at St. Cloud State. And I hit a blank spot.

It’s not a huge blank spot, but I do not recall a couple of the courses I took that quarter. I know I took a general ed math class, because I sat next to a guy named Jerry, and sometime in January, he gave me his copy of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul.

I know I took a one-credit practicum at the college radio station, because I remember a fair amount of stuff from the studios of KVSC-FM. Like other staffers, I’d spend my hours between classes there. We’d laze in the lounge, talking about pretty much anything in the world as we listened to the sounds of album rock coming from Studio B while the station’s signal sent classical music over the air from Studio A.

My duties included airing a five-minute sports break two or three times a week during a thirty-minute evening newscast that ended at 5:30. Two things come back to me from that: First, they were lousy sports breaks, made up entirely of copy pulled from the Associated Press printer. Not once during the quarter did I cover anything done by the various St. Cloud State athletic teams, which tells me that I knew how to read, but I had no idea how to report. And second, I recall heading outside at about 5:35 on those evenings and seeing my dad waiting for me by the back door of Stewart Hall, the exhaust from his beloved 1952 Ford billowing in the winter air.

I know I took the first of an eventual five music theory courses. We’ll get back to that.

And there were two other courses on my schedule, but even a couple days’ worth of pondering has brought me no closer to recalling what they were. “Was it English 162?” I’d think, and then place that course in the spring of 1972 because I showed some of my lyrics to the grad assistant who taught the course, and one of those lyrics – a not particularly good one – was written in April of that year. “Was it Speech Communication?” Well, no, that was the fall quarter of 1972, because that was how I met the girl from Indiana . . .

Having sorted through what I recall of St. Cloud State’s general ed requirements (and not being certain where I might have a transcript), I can only guess that I took a geography course and, well, something else that quarter. Those courses obviously didn’t matter to me at the time.

The music theory course did matter, as I’ve noted before, but as I ransacked the cupboards of my memory this week, I thought of one bit from that class that I’d not thought about for a while: At the end of the quarter, each of us in that theory class was required to perform an original song. I already had a couple of songs in my bag that might have worked, but I wrote a new one, “Sing Your Songs.”

As well as meeting the course requirements, the song was aimed at winning a greater portion of affection from a young lady I’d been seeing. I look at the lyrics now, after decades of writing lyrics and prose, and I wince, but only a little. For a callow eighteen-year old just beginning to learn his craft, they weren’t bad:

The door is open, come on in.
I won’t ask you where you’ve been.
I’ll remember, lose or win
As you sing your songs for me.

Don’t forget, it’s always here,
Sometimes cloudy, sometimes clear,
Standing far or drawing near
As you show your dreams to me.

Your songs need not be long
Not perfect in their rhyme,
All that I am asking
Is to exchange your songs with mine.

When you leave, if you ever do,
Smiling, frowning, false or true,
I’ll remember in green and blue
When you sang your songs for me.

I accompanied myself on guitar, adding an instrumental break on my racked harmonica. My theory classmates liked it. So did the professor. And more importantly, so did the young lady, who thanked me for it after she got the copy I tucked into her dorm mailbox.

About a month later, after she’d decided we were not well-matched, I tucked another lyric into her mailbox. (I won’t share that one; it’s truly dreadful, even for a beginner.) She was not at all touched: She returned the lyric to me without comment via the U.S. Mail.

Saturday Single No. 524

January 21st, 2017

It’s been a while since we looked at the book that offers the weekly Top Ten album charts from Billboard. So here’s the Top Ten from this week in 1972, forty-five years ago:

American Pie by Don McClean
The Concert for Bangla Desh
Music by Carole King
Chicago at Carnegie Hall
Led Zeppelin IV (untitled)
Teaser & The Firecat by Cat Stevens
Tapestry by Carole King
There’s a Riot Goin’ On by Sly & The Family Stone
Madman Across The Water by Elton John
Wild Life by Wings

During that distant week, three of those albums would have been in the box next to the stereo in our basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard. The Concert for Bangla Desh was there, as I’d gotten it for Christmas just weeks earlier. And my sister had copies of Tapestry and the Cat Stevens album. She did, however, take them with her when she got married, so by August of that year, the only one of those albums in the house was the massive concert document.

Over the years, all but one of the other nine made their ways to my shelves, but it took some time to get started and to finish:

American Pie, February 1989
Madman Across The Water, February 1989
Chicago at Carnegie Hall, February 1989 & June 1990
Led Zeppelin IV, March 1989
There’s A Riot Goin’ On, September 1989
Teaser & The Firecat, November 1995
Music, November 1998
Tapestry, November 1998

(Two notes: I have never owned a copy of Wild Life, and by the time I got around to the four-LP Chicago album, it was being offered as two sets of two LPs each.)

I’m not sure what conclusions can be drawn from that timeline, but the question that popped into my head as I pulled that listing together was: Are any of those albums essential listening for me in 2017?

Well, making that question hard to answer is the fact that the way we listen to music in 2017 is far different than the way it was back in 1972. We have playlists in our devices, pulling individual tracks from disparate sources. It’s a rare thing, I think, for us to listen to an album – whether current or from our youths – from start to finish. I try to do that in the car at least once a week, popping a CD in and letting it roll from the first track through the last; since it generally takes several trips to get through a CD, it’s not quite the same, but it’s a close approximation, I think.

As it happens, one of the two albums that I heard in the car this week was The Concert for Bangla Desh. It was as enjoyable this week as it was during January of 1972, and I made a mental note to see how much of its music I have among the 3,700 tracks in the iPod. As it turns out, I had pulled only four tracks from that album into the device: Leon Russell’s medley of “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Young Blood,” Billy Preston’s “That’s The Way God Planned It” and George Harrison’s performances of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Bangla Desh.”

So I guess I could say that those four are the essential tracks from that album, and maybe we should alter our question, asking instead: Which of those albums in that long ago Top Ten have tracks that are, based on the contents of the iPod, still essential to me today?

Well, almost all of them. Tapestry leads the way with six tracks in the iPod, and there are three from Music. The device has four tracks from the Led Zeppelin album, and I’ve pulled two each from the Don McLean, Elton John and Cat Stevens albums. Which leaves unrepresented from that January 1972 Top Ten the albums by Chicago and Sly & The Family Stone, meaning that – approaching our question from the other end – those two albums have for me nothing essential.

None of that accounting is surprising, of course (except maybe that four of the Zep tracks landed in the iPod). But it tells me that there twenty-three tracks that I evidently see as essential from those albums in that January 1972 Top Ten. And here’s the one that back in 1972, I would have deemed least likely to be among my essential listening. It’s “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

“Darkness, Darkness . . .’

January 20th, 2017

I’m not optimistic. I am, frankly, scared.

Here is all I have today: Elliott Murphy & Iain Matthews with their cover of the Youngbloods’ “Darkness, Darkness.” It’s from the 2001 album La Terre Commune.

‘The Survey Says . . .’

January 18th, 2017

It’s time to dig into some radio station surveys. We’re going to look at four of them from this week in 1967, fifty years ago, and we’re going to take today’s date – 1/18/17 – to choose our targets. We’ll check out the No. 18 and No. 35 records at each of the four stations and then note as well the No. 1 record at each station.

We’ll start here in the Northland and see what my peers were hearing as we slogged through the middle of eighth grade during the third week of January 1967. On the “Big 6 Plus 30” from the Twin Cities’ KDWB, the No. 18 record was “(I Know) I’m Losing You” by the Temptations. Nationally, it would peak at No. 8 in the Billboard Hot 100 and at No. 1 on the magazine’s R&B chart.

Parked at No. 35 was “Music To Watch Girls By” by the Bob Crewe Generation. Often mistaken then and now as an entry from Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, the record reached No. 15 in the Hot 100 and went to No. 2 on the chart now called Adult Contemporary.

The No. 1 record at KDWB fifty years ago was “I’m A Believer” by the Monkees.

Out on the West Coast, the Fabulous Forty at KFXM – serving San Bernardino and Riverside – showed “Music To Watch Girls By” at No. 18, up one spot from a week earlier. Sitting at No. 35 fifty years ago this week was the great and foreboding “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” by the Four Tops. It would peak at No. 6 in the Hot 100 and at No. 2 on the R&B chart.

The No. 1 record at KFXM during this week in 1967 was “Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville.

We’ll head toward the East Coast via Texas, where we’ll take a look at the Superhit List at San Antonio’s KBAT. Sitting at No. 18 fifty years ago this week was “Knight in Rusty Armor” by Peter & Gordon. Labeled a novelty record by Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles, it went to No. 15 in the Hot 100. The No. 35 record at KBAT during that long-ago week was the lovely “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” by the Casinos, which peaked at No. 6 in the Hot 100.

The No. 1 record at KBAT fifty years ago this week was “Tell It Like It Is.”

We end our trip ’round the Lower 48 with a stop at WPOP in Hartford, Connecticut, where the functionally titled “Music List” showed “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett taking the spot at No. 18. It would reach No. 23 in the Billboard Hot 100 and get to No. 6 on the magazine’s R&B chart. Parked at No 35 in Hartford that week was “I Need Somebody” by ? & The Mysterians, a record that would get to No. 22 in the Hot 100.

WPOP’s No. 1 record during the third week of January 1967 was “Good Thing” by Paul Revere & The Raiders

Casting my memory back, I knew (and liked very much) both the Bob Crewe record and the Casinos record, which should surprise nobody, as I was still in easy listening mode. I heard the records by the Temptations, the Four Tops and Wilson Pickett all around me – “Mustang Sally” less frequently than the other two, most likely – but at that time, and for a few years to come, I could not have told you the performers’ names.

As far as I know, I’d never heard either “Knight In Rusty Armor” or “I Need Somebody” until this morning. “Knight . . .” doesn’t do much for me, but I kind of dig “I Need Somebody,” especially the winking organ solo that falls for a few moments into “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”

Saturday Single No. 523

January 14th, 2017

Well, the great LP purge is finished. Last Saturday, we took another 800 or so LPs down to Cheapo in Minneapolis, and we should get a decent check in the mail today.

When Tony at Cheapo told me the amount over the phone Sunday, I was a bit surprised. It was more than I expected for this particular batch of records.

“Well, you had some interesting stuff in there,” he said.

“What worried me,” I told him, “was all the K-Tel and Ronco stuff.”

“Yeah,” he said with a chuckle. “You didn’t get much for those.”

Altogether, I estimate that we dropped off about 2,200 LPs in our three trips to Minneapolis. How many of those Cheapo sent to the wastebasket, I don’t know. But we averaged about fifty-six cents per LP, which was nice for our savings account.

I still have about 1,000 LPs, mostly the stuff I love (some of which, like the Beatles and the Dylan collections, would sell well), and about twenty of them are in a basket near my desk where they wait to be ripped on the turntable. And I have a list of stuff I sold that I want to replicate via mp3. I’ve scavenged a few of those out in the wilds of the ’Net in the past weeks, and I’ve got a long list of CDs reserved at the local library.

This week, I was ripping some of the yearly Billboard hits CDs and some of the massive – eight CDs’ worth – history of Atlantic rhythm & blues. That’s meant a few hours each day at the computer, winnowing out old mp3s of lower bitrate or researching catalog numbers and release dates for tunes new to the digital shelves.

With the total of sorted and tagged mp3s loaded into the RealPlayer approaching 90,000, it’s difficult – as I’ve noted here before – to keep track of everything I have. So as I sort things, I’m sometimes surprised. That was the case yesterday as I wandered through my collection of work by the late Ben E. King.

I don’t have a lot of his work – thirteen tracks – but I have the obvious ones – “Stand By Me,” “Spanish Harlem” and the other hits. And I have a track that I tend to forget about that I found on the 1997 anthology One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen.

So here’s Ben E. King’s sweet cover of “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘I’m Gonna Mess Around . . .’

January 11th, 2017

The Texas Gal and I keep trading this funky cold/sinus annoyance back and forth. After a busy weekend that neither of us could avoid – a reserved museum exhibit on Saturday and various obligations at church on Sunday – she spent Monday at home while I did laundry and other essentials.

She was back to work yesterday and I shoveled snow twice. Now it’s Wednesday, there’s more shoveling ahead, and I’m in my chair and not sure I’m moving any further than the medicine cabinet for some pills or the living room to sleep on the couch.

But I dug through the digital stacks and found a tune for the day: “Jackson” by Johnny Cash & June Carter (not yet June Carter Cash), recorded fifty years ago today in Nashville.

And finding the record brought me an extra smile because “Jackson” was one of the tunes we offered in November during Cabaret De Lune, with Heather and I starting it out as a torch song and then shifting to a country dance rhythm toward the end.

Anyway, I’m heading for the medicine cabinet, and here’s “Jackson.”

Saturday Single No. 522

January 7th, 2017

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from January 7, 1967, fifty years ago today:

“I’m A Believer” by the Monkees
“Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen
“Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville
“Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band
“Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra
“That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra
“Good Thing” by Paul Revere & The Raiders
“Words of Love” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Standing In The Shadows Of Love” by the Four Tops
“Mellow Yellow” by Donovan

Still deeply into soundtracks and trumpet music at the time, about the only one of those I paid any attention to in early 1967 was “Winchester Cathedral,” and that was for two reasons: First, Rick’s older sister – or maybe one of her friends – had the record, and we’d heard it multiple times on New Year’s Eve as we whiled away the last hours of 1966. And then, being a fan of distinctive (read “odd”) music even then, I liked the faux 1920s vibe of the record.

The other nine records in that list, however, were unimportant to me although I’m sure I heard all of them as I made my way through the middle of eighth grade. From the vantage point of a half-century down the road, it’s a decent Top Ten. None of them would make me punch the button on the radio to change the station in irritation, but then, neither would any of them call me to sit in the car to hear the end of the record once I’d pulled into, say, the hardware store lot.

But then, I’m no longer dependent on the radio to hear any of those records; they’re all at my fingertips when I’m home, and I can add any of them to the iPod any time I want. In fact, that might be a better measurement of whether any of those records matter to me these days: Are they among the 3,751 tracks currently in the iPod?

As it turns out, six of them are. The four that are absent are the records by the Royal Guardsmen, Aaron Neville, the Mamas & the Papas and Donovan. That’s not a particularly surprising split, and of those four, I’m most likely to add “Mellow Yellow” to the mix, as I’ve neglected to place any Donovan at all onto the iPod.

There are others from that long-ago Hot 100 that are in the iPod, and there are likely others on the list that I’ve neglected to pull into the little appliance but should have. As I head down the list from No. 10, the first one I notice that fits into either of those categories is a record that was featured here as part of a Baker’s Dozen almost ten years ago, which is a long, long time in blog years. It was probably my favorite pop record in the first months of 1967.

So here’s “Georgy Girl” by the Seekers. Fifty years ago today, it was sitting at No. 20, having leaped up from No. 37 the week before. It would eventually spend two weeks at No. 2 (and get to No. 7 on the chart that today is called Adult Contemporary), and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Cold But Cozy

January 5th, 2017

As it does nearly every January, the cold has settled in for a bit: Tuesday’s high was 5 degrees above zero (-15 for those keeping score in Celsius), yesterday’s high was zero (-18), and today, we’re supposed to top out at -4 (-20). It would be nice if I could stay in today, but I’ll have to head out at least twice: this morning to the liquor store for a few more boxes to pack LPs and this afternoon to the drug store for some prescriptions for the Texas Gal.

Okay, so it’s cold. That’s winter in Minnesota. (According to a ranking cited yesterday by WCCO in the Twin Cities, Minnesota ranks No. 1 on a Most Miserable Winter list.) And having spent fifty-eight of my previous sixty-three winters here (and two in equally cold North Dakota), I can deal with it: Dress in layers, watch the thermostat settings, make sure there’s plenty of windshield washer fluid – “blue juice” in day-to-day terms – in the car, wear a hat, and turn into the skid when the car starts to slide on the ice.

(After years of driving in potentially slick conditions, and after countless instances of my various cars fishtailing on icy roads, that last winter necessity has become an instinctive reaction. The day after Christmas – which was a day of freezing rain and snow – I was heading down Lincoln Avenue when I hit a very slick patch. The rear end of the car headed right, and I twitched the steering wheel to the right and straightened out so quickly that the little episode was over before I really had time to think about it. I found that a little spooky.)

I’ve seen predictions that this will be a colder than average winter. That’s going to place some stress on the Texas Gal, whose job requires her to be out of the office moving from place to place at least two days a week (and some stress on the utility bill). Beyond my concerns about both of those stressors, though, I’m fine with a cold winter. I survived the winter of 1976-77 in a house on St. Cloud’s North Side that did not have central heat, so assuming the furnace doesn’t give out, I can survive a colder-than-average winter here.

That winter of 1976-77 was a memorable one. I was out of college and out of work, paying something less than $40 a month to share a shabby four-bedroom house with two other guys. As I’ve noted here before, we had a large oil-burning stove in the living room and a smaller one in the kitchen, and that was it for heat. My room was above the living room, and was the warmest one in the house, and there were mornings when the temperature outside was -30 and the inside temperature huddled around 40. (Among my Christmas presents from my folks that winter was a small space heater for my room; the cats and I were grateful.)

I survived, getting through the winter, re-enrolling in school in February to add a minor in print journalism, and in April, moving to the adjacent small town of Sauk Rapids to rent a mobile home from my friend Murl.

Beyond being cold, the house on the North Side was ill-maintained, cramped and not very clean. I would not wish to live in those conditions again. And yet, I have mostly pleasant memories of the place. One of them finds me in my room on a chilly January evening, with the cats dozing on the bed. I’m seated at the table that served as a desk, clicking away at my Olivetti portable typewriter (with its Pica typeface instead of the more common Elite).

I have no idea what I was writing. Maybe an application for a job, perhaps a letter, or I might have been typing up my latest set of lyrics. Whatever it was, I was doing so with the radio on, tuned to WCCO-FM in the Twin Cities. And sometime during that evening, the radio offered me the faux swing/jazz sound of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band.

“Whispering/Cherchez la Femme/Se Si Bon” peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of January 1977 and was the only Top 40 hit for the group that eventually evolved into Kid Creole & The Coconuts. (The record went to No. 1 on the magazine’s disco/dance chart, to No. 31 on the R&B chart and to No. 22 on the adult contemporary chart.) And though I don’t hear it often, when I do, it brings back memories of my cozy domesticity circa 1977: me and my cats, a typewriter, a space heater, and a radio.