Chart Digging: Four Julys

July 25th, 2018

It seems that there were only four times during the years that interest us here that Billboard published on July 25: 1960, 1964, 1970, and 1981. The gaps between years – one remarkably short and another remarkably long – came for two reasons. First, I think that the magazine shifted its publication date from Monday to Saturday, creating the four-year gap between the first two charts we’ll look at; and then, the insertion of Leap Year Day – February 29 – into 1976 shifted days, so that July 25 moved from a Friday in 1975 to a Sunday in 1976.

All of that leads us to confirm an idea hatched here some years ago that anything that happens because of February 29 does nothing but cause trouble. Anyway, we have four instances of a Billboard Hot 100 to examine this morning, and we’re going to play some Games With Numbers, turning today’s date, 7-25, into No. 32 and see what treasures may lie at that spot in those four charts. We’ll also, as we customarily do, check out the No. 1 record for each of those weeks. So let’s get underway:

During this week in 1960, when a six-year-old whiteray was wandering through the summer before second grade, he and his pals were probably unaware of anything on the Hot 100 except perhaps Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polkadot Bikini” because the title was fun to sing and it was a little bit daring. I’m not certain what my pals knew beyond that fifty-eight years ago, but I certainly was unaware that “Pennies From Heaven” by the Skyliners was sitting at No. 32.

In Top Pop Singles, Joel Whitburn describes the group from Pittsburgh as a doo-wop outfit, and that certainly held true for 1959’s “Since I Don’t Have You,” but the group’s cover of “Pennies From Heaven” sounds more like Vegas and the Rat Pack than an East Coast serenade from a brownstone’s step. The record had peaked the week earlier at No. 24 and was on its way down the chart. It was the last of three Top 40 hits for the Skyliners, although they kept trying, releasing singles into the late 1970s.

I wasn’t listening to KDWB at the time, of course, but from what I can see at Oldiesloon, “Pennies From Heaven” never reached the station’s survey.

The No. 1 record in the Hot 100 fifty-eight years ago today was Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry.” (And in my head, I hear Golden Earring.)

We jump ahead four years to the summer of 1964, when sixth grade (and an intense crush on a young lady who lived about ten blocks south on Kilian Boulevard) was approaching but still out of sight. Parked at No. 32 fifty-four years ago today was the classic “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups, heading toward a three-week stay at No. 1. Do I remember it from then or just from repeated hearings over the years since? I have no idea (and that’s true of many records from before, oh, 1967 or so). Over the next year, the Dixie Cups placed five more records in or near the Hot 100, including the classic “Iko Iko,” which went to No. 20 in 1965. (That record, Whitburn notes, was a reworking of “Jock-O-Mo,” written and recorded in 1953 by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford & His Cane Cutters.)

At KDWB, “Chapel of Love” peaked at No. 3, parking there for three weeks.

The No. 1 record in the Hot 100 fifty-four summers ago this week was “Rag Doll” by the Four Seasons.

By the summer of 1970, the next time Billboard released a Hot 100 on July 25, I was a dedicated Top 40 listener, so one would expect familiarity at No. 32. And that’s just what we get with “In The Summertime” by Mungo Jerry. The record came from a skiffle band from England, with Ray Dorset on vocals, and it was seemingly everywhere that summer, reaching No. 3 in the Hot 100. (It also went to No. 30 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.) But I’m not altogether sure where I heard it, as the record never made the KDWB 6+30 survey, according to the lists at Oldiesloon. Well, no matter where I heard it, it seemed to be everywhere, and the lines “If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal. If her daddy’s poor, just do what you feel,” seem now to be awful advice.

As it happens, “In The Summertime” is a perfect one-hit wonder, as the group never had any other records reach the Hot 100 or even bubble under.

(As the note below from faithful reader Yah Shure makes clear, “In The Summertime” did get plenty of air play on KDWB, which is what I recalled. I clearly messed up the search somehow and did not trust my memory and look again. Note added August 7, 2018.)

The No. 1 record in the July 25, 1970, Hot 100 was “(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters.

And from 1970, we jump to July 25, 1981, smack in the middle of one of the six summers I spent as a reporter for the Monticello Times. As I’ve noted many times more than once here, I was listening less and less to Top 40 during those days, first because I had less leisure time and also because I liked what I was hearing less and less. Still, I do remember that week’s No. 32 record, “America” by Neil Diamond.

One of three Top Ten hits from Diamond’s movie The Jazz Singer, “America” had peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100 and spent three weeks on the top of the Adult Contemporary chart. (The other two hits from the movie were “Love On The Rocks,” which went to No. 2, and “Hello Again,” which peaked at No. 6.) Diamond, of course, had a lengthy list of records in the Billboard charts, with the 2009 edition of Top Pop Singles showing fifty-six records in the Hot 100.

There are no 1981 surveys from KDWB at Oldiesloon, nor are there any from WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other Top 40 station.

Sitting at No. 1 thirty-seven years ago today was “The One That You Love” by Air Supply.

Saturday Single No. 601

July 21st, 2018

I was rummaging around this morning at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, looking at surveys from the Twin Cities’ KDWB and trying to figure out as well as I could when it was in 1969 that I really started paying attention to the station and thus, to the Top 40.

Well, it wasn’t this week. The station’s 6+30 survey for July 21, 1969, has too many records tucked into it that were not familiar to me at the time and even a few that weren’t immediately familiar to me this morning, forty-nine years after the fact. So I made a few stops at YouTube.

I cued up “Medicine Man” by the Buchanan Brothers, and when the group – which was actually Terry Cashman, Gene Pistilli and Tommy West – got to the chorus, I recognized the record, which was pretty darn catchy, if unmarketable today. It was sitting at No. 36, the very bottom of the station’s survey, having peaked at No. 14 a few weeks earlier. That was better than the record did nationally, as Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows it as peaking at No. 22.

Next, I went in search of the Rascals’ “See,” which was sitting at No. 33 at KDWB that week. I have no recollection of the record at all. From what I can tell, the record peaked at No. 8 at the station a few weeks earlier, which meant some pretty hefty airplay, and that tells me that I hadn’t yet moved the radio by mid-July. “See” went to No. 27 in the Billboard Hot 100.

Then I moved to the third of the unremembered records on that long-ago 6+30. Bobby Vinton’s “The Days of Sand and Shovels” was sitting at No. 13, up two spots from the week before. Having listened to it, I can say without reservation that I’ve never heard the record before, nor have I ever heard the song before. I can also say it’s pretty dreadful. KDWB’s listeners must have caught on to that, as the record dropped out of the 6+30 the next week. Nationally, it peaked at No. 34, the only version of the song – which I think was first recorded in 1968 by Carl Dobkins, Jr. – to hit the Billboard Hot 100. (Vinton’s version went to No. 11 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.)

Just to round things out, two versions of the tune have shown up on the magazine’s country chart. Waylon Jennings’ cover went to No. 20 in 1969, and Ned Stuckey took the tune to No. 26 in 1978. There are other covers out there, but none that charted.

How bad was the song? Check out the lyrics:

When I noticed her the first time
I was outside running barefoot in the rain
She lived in the house next door
Her nose was pressed against the window pane
When I looked at her, she smiled
And showed a place where two teeth used to be
And I heard her ask her mom if she
Could come outside and play with me

But soon the days of sand and shovels
Gave way to the mysteries of life
And I noticed she was changing and I
Looked at her through different eyes
We became as one and knew a love
Without beginning or an end
And every day I lived with her
Was like a new day dawning once again

And I’ve loved her since every doll was Shirley Temple
Soda pop was still a nickel
Jam was on her fingertips
Milk was circled on her lips

After many years our love fell silent
And at night I heard her cry
And when she left me in the fall, I knew
That it would be our last goodbye
I was man enough to give her
Everything she needed for a while
But searching for a perfect love
I found that I could not give her a child

Now she lives a quiet life
And is the mother of a little girl
Every time I pass her house
My thoughts go back into another world
Because I see her little girl
Her nose is pressed against the window pane
She thinks I’m a lonely man
Who wants to come inside out of the rain

And I’ve loved her since every doll was Shirley Temple
Soda pop was still a nickel
Jam was on her fingertips
Milk was circled on her lips

Boy, that’s not quite to the level of Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey,” but it’s damn close. And the anachronistic reference to Shirley Temple dolls bothers me. Shirley Temple and the dolls modeled after her were part of the 1930s and maybe, 1940s. Same with soda pop being a nickel. I don’t get what era this is supposed to be.

Anyway, sometimes you have to share the cheese. So here’s Bobby Vinton’s “The Days of Sand and Shovels” from 1969, today’s Saturday Single.

Lookin’ At July 20

July 20th, 2018

So what do we have on the digital shelves that was recorded on July 20?

The three members of the Mississippi Jook Band had a busy day eighty-two years ago in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The band – made up of Blind Roosevelt Graves on guitar, his brother Uaroy Graves (who was almost blind himself) on tambourine, and Cooney Vaughn on piano – recorded four tracks that day. All of them were released on the Melotone label, and three of the four are on my digital shelves. All three came to me via the four-CD box set When The Levee Breaks, issued in 2000 by the British label JSP; one of the three was also released on the fourth volume of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, released in 2013.

The three tracks here are “Barbeque Bust,” “Hittin’ The Bottle Stomp,” and “Skippy Whippy.” The fourth track the trio recorded on that long-ago July 20 was “Dangerous Woman.”

Heading onward, we drop into a session in 1949, with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers – augmented by guitarist Oscar Moore – recording “How Blue Can You Get (Downhearted)” in New York City. Fans of B.B. King or of the blues in general will recognize the song; this – according to the album notes – is the original version. The track was evidently not released until 1960, when it showed up on an RCA Camden compilation called Singin’ the Blues. I found the track on Volume 4, “That’s All Right,” of the thirteen-CD series When The Sun Goes Down, an extensive look at the deep roots of rock ’n’ roll.

Regular visitors here are no doubt aware of my fondness for the work of Big Maybelle, born Mabel Louise Smith in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1924. She pops up today because of her session in New York City on July 20, 1956, sixty years ago today. Among the tracks recorded that day was “Mean To Me,” which was released on the Savoy label. It came to me on the two-LP collection The Roots of Rock ’n Roll: The Savoy Sessions, which I bought for $1.25 during a record-digging session in Golden Valley, Minnesota, in April 1999. A CD version of the set arrived here in 2012 as a gift from friend and regular reader Yah Shure.

The traditional British folk song “Blackwaterside” shows up next, telling the tale of a woman seduced and then spurned. The song and several variants, including “Down by Blackwaterside” among others, are thought to have originated near the River Blackwater in Ulster. (One of those variants is the instrumental “Black Mountain Side” on Led Zeppelin’s 1969 debut album.) Here, it’s a live 1983 performance by Linda Thompson for the (presumably British) television show Music On The Move. The track was included on the 1996 Hannibal compilation Dreams Fly Away (A History Of Linda Thompson).

Then we come to an entire CD recorded on July 20, 1991, when the trio of Rick Danko, Eric Andersen and Jonas Fjeld played a gig at the Molde Jazz Festival. The trio’s music is certainly not jazz and might be more accurately described as folk rock or roots or Americana with a slight Norwegian twist. However you describe it, their music is a delight. The live performance was released in 2002 on the Appleseed label as part of a two-CD package; the other CD was a remastered version of the trio’s 1991 release Danko/Fjeld/Andersen.

So now we sort these out. For all my historical interest in groups like the Mississippi Jook Band, I don’t listen much to those box sets. When the tunes come up when the RealPlayer is set on random, that’s fine, but I don’t often seek them out. So we’ll pass the Jook Band by. We’ll do the same, with some regrets, with Big Maybelle and Linda Thompson. And our regrets are greater when we pass on Danko/Fjeld/Andersen; their slender catalog has been among my favorites ever since I found their second album, Ridin’ On The Blinds. It was among the first CDs I ever bought.

But the work of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, augmented by the guitar work of his brother Oscar, is too good to pass up, especially since the track is the original version of one of the classic blues songs. So here’s “How Blue Can You Get (Downhearted).”

One Chart Dig: July 1970

July 17th, 2018

Here’s what the top of the Billboard Hot 100 looked like in mid-July 1970, as I wandered through the last months before my senior year of high school:

“Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” by Three Dog Night
“The Love You Save/I Found That Girl” by the Jackson 5
“(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters
“Band Of Gold” by Freda Payne
“Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)” by the Temptations
“Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image
“Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)” by Melanie with the Edwin Hawkins Singers
“O-o-o Child/Dear Prudence” by the Five Stairsteps
“Gimme Dat Ding” by the Pipkins
“Make It With You” by Bread

I don’t recall ever hearing the B-sides of the Jackson 5 and Five Stairsteps singles. Otherwise, every one of these records echoes in my head today, forty-eight years after their time. Did I like them all? Actually, yes, even the juvenile silliness of “Gimme Dat Ding.”

My pal Mike – whose mother was soon to banish me from their home because of my approval of the Beatles – brought the Pipkins single over one Saturday morning. We headed to the rec room in the basement, and I tried to tape the single, but without suitable equipment, every take was ruined by household noise. Finally, we were seconds away from getting the job done when Rick – coming over from across the street – gave me his regular signal of his arrival by tapping three times on the basement window. In exasperation and amusement, we gave up.

With that, we’re going to leave that Top Ten behind and dive deep, checking out – as we’ve been doing recently – the very bottom of the Hot 100, the record parked this week in 1970 at No. 100. And there we find “Long Lonely Nights” by the Dells.

I expected a sad tune, but the hard hitting “Lonely nights!” intro – which seemed to promise something up-tempo – threw me. And after that bit of oddness, the record settled into a standard Dells joint: Harmonies and sad sounds, swirling strings and punchy horns, a little bit of spoken word melancholy. Then, at the end, we get an unsettling reprise of the up-tempo “Lonely nights!” It’s as if the Dells and producer Bobby Miller weren’t sure what kind of record they wanted to make.

And whether it was the odd mix of up-tempo and slow sounds or something else, the record didn’t do very well. It peaked at No. 74 in the Hot 100 and at No. 27 in the magazine’s R&B chart. Here it is:

Saturday Single No. 600

July 14th, 2018

So, what do we know about No. 600? Well, let’s head to the reference books.

Our first stop is The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh’s 1989 listing of the 1,001 greatest singles, where No. 600 is “If It Ain’t One Thing . . . It’s Another,” a 1982 release by Richard “Dimples” Fields. Marsh notes that the single “uses Fields’s sweet gospel falsetto and a groove that owes a lot to Superfly-era Curtis Mayfield to salvage a lyric that’s as detailed and pained (though not nearly as poetic) as ‘What’s Going On.’ It’s as if,” Marsh goes on “the Stylistics’ Russell Thompkins had awakened from his romantic reveries and decided to take a hard look at real life.” The single, released on the Boardwalk label, went to No. 47 in the Billboard Hot 100 and spent three weeks at No. 1 on the magazine’s R&B chart. Listening to it for the first time this morning, I’m left pretty much unmoved.

Flipping the pages of the 2005 tome 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, edited by Robert Dimery, we find Page 600 occupied by Sonic Youth’s 1988 release Daydream Nation. Ignacio Julià – the author, with Jaime Gonzalo Julià, of the 1994 book about the group I Dreamed Of Noise – writes that the album “refined a quest that had started in the New York underground of the early 1980s and had experimented along the way with minimalisation and hardcore.” Like much music from the early 1980s, Daydream Nation had never reached my ears until this morning. I obviously don’t have time while writing to even listen to the entire album (much less absorb it), but a quick listen to a few tracks tells me that Sonic Youth’s music is not my deal.

Taking up another tome, I flip the 2001 edition of The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll to page 600. The first full listing on the page is Malo, the band formed in San Francisco in 1971 by Jorge Santana, Carlos’ brother. I am reassured. I have heard a great deal of Malo, with all four of the band’s early 1970s albums on the digital shelves. The encyclopedia’s entry, of course, is little more than a bland recapping of when albums and singles were released and who came and went from the band’s personnel at those times. So I quickly check the band’s entry in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles (a volume we’ll revisit in a moment) and verify that the band’s “Suavecito” was Malo’s lone Top 40 hit, reaching No. 18 in early May of 1972. The rest of Malo’s four 1970s albums are well-worth hearing, but “Suavecito” – good in its long form and sublime as a single – towers above all. And as my pal Yah Shure said here almost eight years ago, “One spin of the ‘Suavecito’ 45 and it’s like late spring-early summer, no matter what the time of year.”

The first entry on Page 600 of {The New} Rolling Stone Album Guide, released in 2004, is for Offspring, described as “one of the biggest bands to emerge from the pop-punk explosion of the mid-’90s, boasting hook-filled, frat-friendly anthems and a metallic gleam that referred back to the old-school sludge that L.A. punks fell for when they burned out on adrenaline.” And I thought I wrote twisty run-on sentences that leave readers going “Huh?” Based on just that little bit of work from writer Keith Harris, some quick listening to a few Offspring tracks, and my sense of my own tastes, I’ll walk on.

Reopening the Whitburn book, we find on the top of Page 600 the slender entry for Art Lund, a Salt Lake City native who sang baritone with Benny Goodman’s band during the 1940s, billed as both Art Lund and Art London. In 1947, Lund had a No. 1 hit with “Mam’selle,” a tune originally found in the movie The Razor’s Edge. His entry in Top Pop Singles, which compiles chart data beginning in 1955, lists only his 1958 single “Philadelphia U.S.A.,” a bland piece of pop that peaked in Billboard at No. 89.

And that’s enough of that. I had hoped that Saturday Single No. 600 would be something new and exciting, but maybe that’s too much to hope for after more than 2,100 posts. We’re going to pass on Sonic Youth, the Offspring, Richard “Dimples” Fields and Art Lund (though “Mam’selle” is a sweet song, I don’t care for Lund’s vocal). That leaves us with Malo, and it’s been almost eight years since “Suavecito” showed up here. That’s an eternity in blogtime, so with no regret, Saturday Single No. 600 is Malo’s 1972 single “Suavecito.”

Chart Digging: Four Julys

July 11th, 2018

It’s time to dig into some Billboard Hot 100s from a few different Julys. We’re going to play some Games With Numbers and turn today’s date – 7/11/18 – into 36, and check out the No. 36 record on four charts, starting in 1976 and heading back four years at a time.

As we customarily do when we play these games, we’ll check out the No. 1 record for those weeks at the same time.

The second week of July 1976 found the country recovering from its Bicentennial celebration, the climax of what seemed at the time to have been about five years of preparation and marketing. If you didn’t have something Bicentennial themed in your house, you were either unpatriotic or worse, a spoilsport. Anyway, just less than a week after the hoopla reached its climax, the No. 36 record in the Hot 100 was a discofied version of one of the greatest and most familiar pieces of classical music: “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band, which was heading up the charts to No. 1. (It would reach No. 10 on the magazine’s R&B chart and No. 13 on what was then called the Easy Listening chart.)

It was the only Top 40 hit for Murphy, who had been an arranger for Doc Severinsen and the orchestra for The Tonight Show. (That means there’s only one degree of separation, as folks say, between me and Murphy, as I’ve met Doc Severinsen twice.). Two other releases, “Flight ’76,” based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” and 1982’s “Themes from E.T. (The Extra-terrestrial),” went to Nos. 44 and 47 respectively. And Murphy’s condensed and discofied take on George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 102 in early 1977.

The No. 1 record during the second week of July 1976 was “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band.

Heading back four years from that puts us in the summer of 1972, when I was working half-time as a janitor and planning a trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, with my pals Rick and Gary. (The ease with which we crossed from the U.S. into Canada that summer now astounds me. We showed the Canadian officials our driver’s licenses and the hand-written letter my dad had supplied that gave us his permission to take my 1961 Falcon – which Dad technically owned – across the border. Returning to Minnesota a few days later was just as easy. Simpler times.) Anyway, the No. 36 record as our plans for our trip were taking shape was a pairing of song and singer that itself echoed a time a decade earlier that in 1972 seemed much simpler: “Sealed With A Kiss” by Bobby Vinton.

Vinton’s version doesn’t stray far from the feel of Brian Hyland’s 1962 version that went to No. 3, and both are appreciably less mournful – to my ears, anyway – than the non-charting 1960 original by the Four Voices. Vinton’s version was on its way to No. 19 (No. 2, Easy Listening) during the second week of July. It was the thirty-eighth record Vinton had in or near the Hot 100 in a ten year period. He’d add eleven more through 1981 before the hits ran out.

Parked at No. 1 that week in 1972 was Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”

We’ve dallied a lot in recent months in the memorable year of 1968, but a four-year retreat from 1972 finds us there once again. And – as I’ve noted here many times before – it was likely around this time that I spent four days working at the state trap shoot, getting dirty with tar dust and listening to the radio for eight or so hours each day. Nevertheless, I don’t recall KDWB offering me Wilson Pickett’s “I’m A Midnight Mover” during those four days. It was sitting at No. 36 fifty years ago this week, and if I heard it then, if just didn’t make an impression, which – based on a listening this morning – seems unlikely.

The record peaked at No. 24 on the Hot 100 (and at No. 6 on the R&B chart), one of the forty-three records Pickett placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1963 and 1973 (with forty of his records reaching the R&B Top 40).

The No. 1 record during that week in July 1968 was “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert.

Whatever I may have been doing during in early July 1964, it hasn’t stuck in my memory. I was ten, with sixth grade at Lincoln Elementary on the horizon, and I was probably just finishing up summer school. That might have been the year my summer classmates and I were featured in the Shopping News for building a fake igloo for our studies on Alaska. In any case, I’m sure I spent a lot of time with Rick, both of us lazing away summer days in a way that I’m certain kids these days are not allowed to do. We didn’t really listen to pop music then, but we no doubt heard it when we were around older kids. Still, I would guess that Terry Stafford’s “I’ll Touch A Star” – the No. 36 record fifty-four years ago this week – was something we missed.

The record was Stafford’s follow-up to his No. 3 hit, “Suspicion,” and like that record, it was a bit of traditional pop in a time when the charts were mixing traditional pop and R&B and English hits and surf sounds and light jazz in such a way that listening to a Top 40 station would have been an adventure. “I’ll Touch A Star” peaked at No. 25 (No. 4 Easy Listening, where, surprisingly, “Suspicion” had failed to chart). Stafford had only one more record tickle the Hot 100: “Follow The Rainbow” bubbled under at No. 101 later that summer in 1964. He went on to place a few records in the bottom half of the country Top 40 in the 1970s.

The No. 1 record during the second week of July in 1964 was “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys.

(It’s interesting to note that – based on a little bit of digging – this post marks the first time that I’ve ever featured the music of Terry Stafford, Bobby Vinton or Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band. I’ve mentioned Vinton frequently and Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band a few times. Until today, I’ve never mentioned Terry Stafford over the course of some 2,100 posts.)

Saturday Single No. 599

July 7th, 2018

From the time I was seven – when I started taking piano lessons – to the time I moved from my folks’ house on Kilian Boulevard when I was twenty-two, I had access to a piano almost every day. There was a period of about four years, ending when I was sixteen, when I played rarely, but other than that, I played the piano at home in the evening and – during my college years – in the practice rooms at St. Cloud State’s Performing Arts Center during the day.

Even when I was in Denmark, I could play. My Danish family had a piano, and there was a piano in the lounge at the Pro Pace youth hostel where I lived for most of the last four months of that adventure. (I have vague memories of playing at several youth hostels during my major travels around Western Europe as well.)

Then during the summer of 1976, I moved to the drafty house on the North Side and, nine months later, to the mobile home I rented from Murl. I was still in school most of that time, so I could still play piano on campus, but it wasn’t nearly as convenient as walking into the dining room.

In late 1977, I moved to Monticello and then to other places and I didn’t get to play very often at all. In Monticello, I occasionally went to the Lutheran church the Other Half and I attended and played there. In Columbia, Missouri, I sometimes walked across campus to the University of Missouri’s performing arts building, and I made similar walks when I taught at Minot State in North Dakota and at Stephens College during a later stop in Columbia.

When I was in Jacques’ band during the late 1990s and early 2000s, I got to play a very good electronic keyboard every week. After a while the guys in the band pitched in and bought me a keyboard and sound module for my home, but then I was asked to leave the band, and over time, the touch of the keyboard they gave me deteriorated as did the quality of the module’s sound.

And then we moved to St. Cloud and I hardly ever played. The night before the closing of the sale of the house on Kilian in late 2004, I went over and said goodbye to the old Wegman upright, and from that night until the time I began playing at our church almost five years ago, I didn’t play at all.

I’ve played a lot since then, but it’s still required heading over to our church and making sure that nothing’s been scheduled for the meeting rooms there that my playing either the grand piano in the sanctuary or the Yamaha Clavinova in the office would disturb. So my playing has required scheduling.

That won’t be true any longer. Just this morning, one of these was assembled and installed in my half of the family room:

Korg LP-180

It’s a Korg LP-180, with a full 88 keys and about ten voices. My external speakers will be in on Monday, but even so, its own speakers sounded wonderful when I gave the keys their first whirl about twenty minutes ago. So what did I play?

Well, after noodling a bit to hear the various voices and to get a sense of the keys’ feel, I launched into the first piece of music I was able to pull from the radio and replicate on the Wegman without resorting to sheet music. That happened in the spring of 1972, and it was a major advance in my growth as a musician.

The piece? Jim Gordon’s lovely coda to Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” (I learned to play the first portion of the piece from sheet music shortly thereafter.) And though it’s nowhere near rare, and it’s no doubt been featured in this space more than once, Derek & The Dominos “Layla” from 1970 is today’s Saturday Single.

First Wednesday (Friday): July 1968

July 6th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month

(The first Wednesday of July 2018 turned out to be, of course, Independence Day, and that distracted me, and the next day, yesterday, the Texas Gal was not feeling well. All of that means that the post intended for the first Wednesday of July now shows up on the first Friday. So it goes. In ten years, no one will know the difference.)

It seems as if the world took a deep breath in July 1968.

The first six months of the year had brought blow after blow, especially for those who lived in the United States: The growing and bitter debate over the Vietnam War, the capitulation of a sitting president, the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. And even events that didn’t directly affect the U.S. – one of those being the general revolt in France in May – came into American homes through increasingly immediate news coverage, which brought with it images that made many, I’m sure, feel as if the entire world had gone mad.

The listing of events of July 1968 at Wikipedia is fairly slender, and nothing that is listed triggers gut-wrenching memories, as do so many of the events listed there for the first half of the year. Still, in the bright glare of hindsight, there is at least one event that intrigues:

On the first day of the month, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency inaugurated its Phoenix program in Vietnam. Coordinated with the security apparatus of South Vietnam, the program was designed to “identify and ‘neutralize’ (via infiltration, capture, or assassination) the civilian infrastructure supporting the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam.” That organization – the National Liberation Front – was better known as the Viet Cong, the guerillas operating in South Vietnam in support of North Vietnam.

According to the entry at Wikipedia – which pulled information from the March/April 2006 edition of Military Review and from a paper written by a U.S. Army colonel at the U.S. Army War College – the Phoenix Program was half a success. Between 1968 and 1972, South Vietnamese militia and police forces, using data gathered by CIA operatives “neutralized 81,740 NLF members, of whom 26,369 were killed.”

The matter-of-fact language chills me. Some would say, I imagine, that war is war and one does what one has to. But the CIA was (and is) not military, and – as government investigations in the mid-1970s revealed – was essentially accountable to no one for many of its 1960s operations.

And the Phoenix program, notes Wikipedia, was not fully successful. First, the wrong people were sometimes “neutralized,” having been purposely mis-identified as Viet Cong by rivals. Second, by 1968, the Viet Cong were well established throughout South Vietnam; the organization had won, to use a phrase that became a cliché in later years, the hearts and minds of many South Vietnamese.

The words “Phoenix program” are for many, I imagine, a memory of the Seventies rather than the Sixties, for it was in the mid-1970s that Congress investigated years of intelligence activities. That was when Phoenix and all the other shadowy efforts – some tragic, some laughable – came to light. But that particular effort began on a Monday at the start of July 1968.

A few other things happened that month, some of which echo to this day:

Saddam Hussein became vice chairman of Iraq’s ruling Revolutionary Council on July 17 after a coup d’état.

Pope Paul VI published his encyclical Humana Vitae (On Human Life) on July 25. The encyclical bans birth control.

Mount Arenal, a volcano in Costa Rica that was presumed extinct, erupted July 29 for the first time in four hundred years, destroying the town of Arenal and killing eighty-seven people. The eruption caused three new and active craters to form, and the volcano has been active ever since, with minor eruptions taking place every five to ten minutes.

In Cleveland, Ohio, police surveillance of African-American militant Fred (Ahmed) Evans and his followers – they were suspected of purchasing illegal weapons – resulted in a July 23 shootout in the city’s Glenville neighborhood. Six or seven people were killed (Wikipedia says that newspaper accounts differ) and fifteen were wounded. In addition, the confrontation sparked arson and looting throughout the six square miles of the neighborhood that continued until police and the National Guard restored order July 28.

Even in those days, at the age of fourteen, I followed the news fairly closely, and I have no recollection at all of those events in Cleveland, which came to be known as the Glenville Shootout. I’m sure accounts were in the news and on television, and in hindsight, it seems like a fairly major event. But for some reason, it didn’t stick.

Then again, not a lot of things have stuck with me from that month. I guess I had a pretty standard American Midwest summer: a few chores in the mornings, orchestra practice (and occasional performances) on Monday evenings, lots of time spent knocking about the neighborhood with Rick.

The only thing that was really new that summer of ’68 was that I worked out at the trap shoot for the first time, most likely in mid-July. As I wrote more than a year ago, there were a number of songs I heard so frequently on the radio in the trap pit that they immediately take me back to that dirty and loud place.

But as July started, here’s what the Billboard Top 15 looked like:

“This Guy’s in Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“The Horse” by Cliff Nobles
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones
“The Look of Love” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela
“Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
“Angel of the Morning” by Merilee Rush & The Turnabouts
“Here Comes the Judge” by Shorty Long
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris
“Reach out of the Darkness” by Friend and Lover
“Yummy Yummy Yummy” by the Ohio Express
“Mony Mony” by Tommy James & The Shondells
“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Think” by Aretha Franklin
“Indian Lake” by the Cowsills

That’s an okay Top 15. It could rock a little more, yeah, as only the Stones’ single and “Think” have much bite. As I noted when I wrote about June 1968, I can definitely get along without “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and “Mony Mony.” And “Here Comes the Judge” is a novelty that’s funny on occasion but doesn’t wear especially well. (It was inspired by a running gag on the television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.)

But even if it’s a pretty mellow top 15, there’s some nice stuff there. The Alpert and Mendes singles are sweet, and “Angel of the Morning” is one of the great one-hit wonders of all time. “Lady Willpower” is a nice – if a little bombastic – period piece. “Mrs. Robinson” was a great single, now heading down the charts after hitting No. 1 for three weeks. And – speaking of bombast – for some reason, I’ve always had a fondness for “MacArthur Park.”

Then there was “Indian Lake” with its unremarkable-for-its-time war whoops, which I would guess would be unthinkable today. I wonder if the record – which went as high as No. 10 in late June – is on any oldies playlists anywhere. I don’t recall hearing it on radio for years.

Over on the Billboard album chart during the first week of July 1968, the top spot was occupied for the fourteenth straight week by an album with Simon & Garfunkel on it. For five of those weeks – including this first week in July – that album had been Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends. The top album for the other nine weeks had been the soundtrack to The Graduate, which featured four previously released songs by Simon & Garfunkel as well as snippets of an early version of “Mrs. Robinson.” (The full and final version was on Bookends.)

The two albums had switched places for a couple of weeks, but from April 6 through July 6, the top two spots on the chart belonged to Simon & Garfunkel. And on July 6, 1968, here’s how the Top 10 looked:

Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack
The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Disraeli Gears by Cream
A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris
Look Around by Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66
The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees by the Monkees
Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel

Movement on the album chart was close to glacial. Seven of those albums had been in the Top Ten during the first week in June. The three that hadn’t were the Richard Harris, Sergio Mendes and Jimi Hendrix albums, and Are You Experienced had been bouncing in and out of the Top Ten for months.

I would have no time for the Goldsboro, and there would be better Monkees albums to own if one wanted to go beyond the singles. (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. and Headquarters come to mind.) With those exceptions, it’s not a bad Top Ten: Some pretty robust rock, some folk rock, some Latin sounds and some instrumentals that aren’t utterly soporific.

The album I’m sharing today didn’t come near the Top Ten, peaking at No. 30 during a five-week stay on the album chart in February and March of 1969. But it’s still an interesting album: I can’t be absolutely sure, but I think that Joan Baez’ Any Day Now was the first album made up entirely of covers of songs by Bob Dylan.*

And who better than Baez to do it? She was the reigning queen of folk when Dylan shambled onto the world’s stage in 1962 and 1963; her support and her recordings of some of his early work gave him exposure and legitimacy. Lovers for a few years, the two of them were linked inextricably and permanently by their pre-eminence in the folk movement of the early 1960s. So if anyone had a claim on covering Bob Dylan for an entire album, Baez did.

And for the most part, Baez does well. The decision to record the album in Nashville was probably the crucial decision regarding the entire project. Using many of the same musicians that Dylan had used for Blonde on Blonde in 1966 (two of whom also played on Dylan’s John Wesley Harding in 1967), Baez puts Dylan’s songs into a country-ish context. The sessions for Any Day Now took place in September or October 1968 (sources I’ve seen differ), shortly after the release of the Byrds’ landmark album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and it seems pertinent to wonder how much influence the Byrds’ sound had on Baez.

Highlights? The most obvious is “Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word,” a song that Dylan has seemingly never recorded. In addition, her recording of “The Walls of Red Wing,” was, it seems, the first ever released: Dylan’s version was released in 1991. (The song, maybe not one of Dylan’s best, is of interest here because “The Walls of Red Wing” surrounded Minnesota’s penal institution for boys in the 1960s, a place of rumor and dread back in my grade school and junior high days even for generally well-behaved boys.)

Another highlight is “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which surfaced for the first time on Sweetheart of the Rodeo but gets a warmer and more relaxed reading here.

One of the chief assets of Any Day Now is in Baez’ vocal approach. On many of her folk recordings of the early 1960s, there was little interpretation, with every folk song presented almost as a jewel to be admired and not to be tampered with. By the time she got to Any Day Now, Baez was becoming an interpreter, leaning on some words and phrases and sliding past others, telling tales with the songs rather than presenting them as museum pieces. That makes Any Day Now one of Baez’ most accessible albums. (The same holds true for Baez’ next release, 1969’s David’s Album, which was recorded at the same time as Any Day Now.)

Musicians listed for the Any Day Now sessions at All-Music Guide are: Harold Bradley, Jerry Kennedy, Grady Martin, Jerry Reed, Harold Rugg, Stephen Stills and Pete Wade on guitar; David Briggs on keyboards; Kenny Buttrey on drums; Fred Carter on mandolin; Pete Drake on steel guitar; Johnny Gimble, Tommy Jackson and Buddy Spicher on violin; Junior Husky and Norbert Putnam on bass; Bill Pursell on piano; and Hargus “Pig” Robbins on keyboards.

Tracks: Love Minus Zero/No Limit
North Country Blues
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Drifter’s Escape
I Pity The Poor Immigrant
Tears of Rage
Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
The Walls of Red Wing
Dear Landlord
One Too Many Mornings
I Shall Be Released
Boots of Spanish Leather
Walkin’ Down the Line
Restless Farewell

Joan Baez – Any Day Now [1968]

The link above leads to a YouTube play list of the album that includes two bonus tracks: “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “It Ain’t Me Babe.”

*Any Day Now was not the first album made up entirely of covers of Bob Dylan tunes. In a later post, I passed on information from readers citing an album by Odetta and I noted in the same post an album by Linda Mason cited at All-Music Guide.

Getting My Kicks

July 3rd, 2018

I’ve been bingeing the past few weeks on soccer, the game that the rest of the world calls football, as the World Cup competition plays out in Russia.

I’m by no means an expert on the game, but I’m beginning to understand some of the more complex commentary put forth by the announcers on the Fox networks, and that’s helped with my enjoyment of the game. So, too, has the quality of some of the games, particularly yesterday’s 3-2 victory by Belgium in the round of sixteen (which has a place – though I’m not sure of its rank – in my informal list of the most exciting sports competitions I’ve ever seen).

Given my lineage and my personal history, I tend to root for Scandinavian teams. Two of the three that qualified for the thirty-two team event in Russia – Denmark and Iceland – have been eliminated, leaving Sweden playing today for a spot in the quarterfinals. The Swedes are okay to watch, but I’ve had the most fun watching Belgium, whose fast attacking style seems at odds with everything I’ve known about the game for years.

Those who know me personally might know that my ancestry – according to the genealogy – is half-Swedish, three-eighths German and one-eighth something from the Nineteenth Century Austro-Hungarian Empire. (One of my great-grandmothers was born in a small town in what is now Hungary that sits about fifty miles from Vienna, Austria. If there were one person on my family tree to whom I’d love to give a DNA test, it would be she.) Given my Germanic roots, then, one would assume that I might root for the German soccer team. But I can’t, for historical and personal reasons. In fact, I was actually pretty pleased that the Germans were eliminated in the group round of play.

And today’s first game is set to start in just a few minutes, so I’ll leave you with the entirely unrelated 1966 classic by Paul Revere & The Raiders, “Kicks.”

Saturday Single No. 598

June 30th, 2018

Time has gotten away from me.

I slept in a little. We ran some errands (which included finding a new – well, hardly used – sewing machine for the Texas Gal). We had lunch and then napped. And now I find myself heading toward late afternoon without having thought much at all today about this little space on the ’Net.

The day has slipped away (as has half of the year). But that’s what time does. It slips away from us, in measures short and long. And all we can do is run with it, embracing moments small and large as they come and go.

So here’s Eric Andersen with his “Time Run Like A Freight Train.” He recorded it twice: first in 1972 or 1973 for his album Stages. The master tapes for the album were lost, so he recorded it and released it on 1975’s Be True To You. In the early 1990’s, the lost master tapes were found, and Stages: The Lost Album was released in 1991.

This is the original version from Stages: The Lost Album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.