Locked Inside, Part Two

November 16th, 2018

A little more than two years ago, I told what I knew of the tale of the man my dad called Uncle Joe, the man who’d fought in World War I before my dad was even born and came back mostly silent and hardly present.

Uncle Joe lived in a little house – not much more than a shack – on a piece of rural property he evidently owned with his sisters, whom my dad called Aunt Ella and Aunt Minnie. The two sisters lived in a slightly larger home about fifty yards from Joe’s, and I assume he took his meals with them. When we visited them, and that happened several times during the early 1960s, all three were quite elderly. In that piece from May 2016, I estimated them all to be in their late seventies and early eighties. I wrote about my interactions with Joe:

Joe was quiet, and everything seemed a bit slower with him, and he seemed – again from the perspective of the child I was – not altogether present.

Dad told me once that Joe was severely afflicted during World War I with what was called “shell shock.” (Now we call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

Of course, I knew next to nothing about World War I in, say, 1965. I probably knew that the war had happened, and I imagine I’d seen a television documentary about it at one time or another. (Even at eleven, I was a news junkie and loved documentaries.) But even if I knew anything about Sarajevo, about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, about Kaiser Wilhelm, or even about trenches and mustard gas, I really knew nothing about war or what it does to those caught up in it. And I surely didn’t understand what shell shock was.

When we’d go to Ella and Minnie’s, I’d wander down the fifty-yard path to Joe’s house and sit with him. Sometimes – and again, these memories are filtered through more than fifty years gone – he’d talk; sometimes not. I’d greet Uncle Joe, see if he was talking that day, and make some brief conversation if he was. Then I’d make my way back down the path to Ella and Minnie’s little house, to where the old folks were at least present, to where my family was, to where things were mostly the way they were supposed to be.

Looking back this morning, I think I knew somehow that Dad’s Uncle Joe was locked inside. And I guess I knew that there was no key at hand. I guess I also knew that whatever it was that had made Uncle Joe the way he was, it had happened a long time ago and that Dad had never known Uncle Joe to be any other way. And I knew it was sad.

Over the years since, I’ve read histories and memoirs about World War I and many other wars, and I’ve learned from them more about war and what it does. (And I’m thankful that I’ve never had to learn those things from personal experience.) But knowing and understanding are, of course, two different things. And as I write this morning (having followed my thoughts and words into a topic not at all anticipated), I wonder if the only thing I ever needed to know about war was the sad fact that it had forever locked my dad’s Uncle Joe inside himself.

I know a bit more about Joe today. Not much, but a little. One of my cousins emailed a few of the other cousins and my sister this week, remembering Ella and Minnie and Joe and wondering who they really were, how they connected with our family. Knowing that I play around with Ancestry.com, my sister copied me on the email, and I went to work. We knew their last name was Nelson. My dad’s mom, Grandma Jennie, was born a Nelson, so I checked her siblings. No joy.

One of my cousins thought they might have been cousins to my dad’s dad, Grandpa Albert. So I looked up Albert’s father, Otto (from whom my dad got his middle name) and started looking at the offspring of his siblings. That didn’t get me anywhere. I knew I needed to look at Otto’s wife’s family, but I was getting a bit confused as I wandered through the thickets of the website. So I tried something else.

I’d seen a few young women in the late 19th Century named “Louella” and seen that name later shortened to “Ella.” So I searched the massive website for women christened “Louella Nelson” in Minnesota in the latter years of that century. I got very lucky. At the top of the list of possible results was a link to a page at the website Find A Grave that showed a burial in Spring Lake – a city where a lot of our family has been buried over the years – of a Louella Nelson with birth and death dates of 1878 and 1969. There was a very small picture of a headstone.

I clicked on the picture and found that Louella shared a headstone with Minnie (1880-1969). And in the same cemetery was Joseph E. Nelson (1893-1968). Find A Grave told me that their parents had been Lem and Anna Elman Nelson (also buried in the Spring Lake Cemetery). The name “Elman,” Anna’s birth name, was familiar, so I went back to the main page of my family tree. My great-grandfather Otto had married Mary Elman, Anna’s sister. I’d found them.

Ancestry.com helpfully told me that Ella, Minnie and Joe were my second cousins, once removed. I looked at the chart and did my own figuring and concluded that the three Nelsons were my Grandpa Albert’s cousins. Ella and Minnie were the eldest of nine children. Their mother died relatively young, leaving behind four children under the age of twenty, two of them younger than ten. By that time, Ella and Minnie were thirty and twenty-eighty, respectively, and had never married. I assume they just stayed home and helped their father with the children still at home, and they never left.

I went looking for Joe’s story, wondering if anyone in the broad range of Ericksons and Nelsons had ever dug into his tale. He never had children, but at least one of his siblings did and I know many of his cousins did. Given the current vast interest in genealogy – and the general ease with which research can be done these days – I thought that perhaps someone had told Joe’s story.

It seems not. So I did some digging. Born in rural North Branch in 1893, he seemingly stayed there until maybe 1915 or 1916. His draft registration card, filled out on June 5 or 6 of 1917, finds him living in Room 520 of the Y.M.C.A. at 84 East Bethune in Detroit, Michigan. He was making a living, the registration card said, as a driver for the Ford Motor Company. I saw in one of the entries that his brother Oscar, ten years older, lived his whole adult life in Detroit, so it might be reasonable to assume that Joe followed him there.

And then came World War I. And the only tangible thing after that in Uncle Joe’s record at Ancestry.com is a scan of his draft registration card for World War II, which notes that he was a disabled veteran.

I know what happened to Uncle Joe, but I don’t know how or where or when. I’m feeling like it’s very much up to me to find out. I have work to do.

And just like the other time I wrote about Ella and Minnie and Joe, I have no music for this.

What’s At No. 100? (11/13/71)

November 13th, 2018

I’m in the mood to play a round of What’s At No. 100, so I searched the Billboard Hot 100 files for charts released on November 13 over the years we generally cover here, and I ended up getting my choice of 1961, 1965, 1971, 1976 and 1982.

I know that my pal and blogging brother jb – who spins his tales at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – would jump at the 1976 chart, as that is his year beyond all years. I’m going to pass on it, although I will satisfy some of his itch and tell him that the No. 100 record on this day in 1976 was “Daylight” by Vickie Sue Robinson, which had peaked the week before at No. 63.

But we’re going to head to November 1971, when I was nearing the end of my first quarter at St. Cloud State and struggling with the realities of maybe having a girlfriend (a story – one I do not believe I’ve told entire – for another time). Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for November 13, 1971:

“Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves” by Cher
“Theme from ‘Shaft’” by Isaac Hayes
“Imagine” by John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band
“Maggie May/Reason To Believe” by Rod Stewart
“I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” by the Free Movement
“Yo-Yo” by the Osmonds
“Peace Train” by Cat Stevens
“Have You Seen Her” by the Chi-Lites
“Inner City Blues (Make Me Want To Holler)” by Marvin Gaye
“Superstar/Bless The Beasts And Children” by the Carpenters
“Baby, I’m-a Want You” by Bread
“Never My Love” by the 5th Dimension
“Got To Be There” by Michael Jackson
“Do You Know What I Mean” by Lee Michaels
“Desiderata” by Les Crane

I know well all of those except for the 5th Dimension single, which was a live performance. It’s not on the digital shelves here, and a quick check at Oldiesloon tells me that it never made the 6+30 at KDWB in the Twin Cities, which is where I still did most of my Top 40 listening. I still tuned my RCA radio to Chicago’s WLS as I went to sleep, and the 5th Dimension record went to No. 10 there, so I likely heard it, but do not remember it.

And knowing the other fourteen well, hearing them in a cluster like this would be a time trip: Hanging with the guys in Stearns Hall, playing table-top hockey with Rick and Rob, enjoying a surprise evening visit from my maybe girlfriend, listening to the radio in the lounge at Carol Hall with a bunch of guys as we waited to learn our draft lottery numbers, failing basic chemistry and African history because I’d never learned how to study in high school, and a whole lot of other memories.

Do I really like all those records? Most of them. I can do without the Osmonds, and the Michael Jackson record has never meant much to me. Many of the others, as it turns out, are on my iPod: Cher, Isaac Hayes, Bread, Rod Stewart, the Free Movement, John Lennon, Cat Stevens, the Chi-Lites, Lee Michaels, and the Carpenters’ A-side. So it was a good month for me to listen to the radio.

But what lies below? What do we find when we head down the chart to No. 100? Well, we find a record that’s been featured here a number of times, “Hallelujah” by Sweathog, in its first week in the Hot 100. By the end of the year, the group’s cover of the Clique’s 1969 recording would peak at No. 33. Almost ten years ago, when I included Sweathog’s record in my Ultimate Jukebox, I wrote:

From the clanking introduction with its gospel piano and percussion through the workmanlike vocal and jubilant choruses, Sweathog’s single hit is fun. It doesn’t tap any major memories; it’s more of a dimly recalled artifact that it would have been nice to hear more often long ago.

Here it is:

One From 1969

November 9th, 2018

The RealPlayer has been offering tunes from 1969 as I looked at some news online this morning, pondering at the same time what I might write about today. With nothing really shiny coming to mind, I guess I’m going to click through at random and when we land on the tenth click, that’s our tune for the day. Here we go!

And we land on Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” from her second album, Clouds:

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I heard
Was a song outside my window, and the traffic wrote the words
It came a-reeling up like Christmas bells and rapping up like pipes and drums
Oh, won’t you stay
We’ll put on the day
And we’ll wear it till the night comes

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I saw
Was the sun through yellow curtains, and a rainbow on the wall
Blue, red, green and gold to welcome you, crimson crystal beads to beckon
Oh, won’t you stay
We’ll put on the day
There’s a sun show every second

Now the curtain opens on a portrait of today
And the streets are paved with passersby
And pigeons fly
And papers lie
Waiting to blow away

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I knew
There was milk and toast and honey and a bowl of oranges, too
And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses
Oh, won’t you stay
We’ll put on the day
And we’ll talk in present tenses

When the curtain closes and the rainbow runs away
I will bring you incense owls by night
By candlelight
By jewel-light
If only you will stay
Pretty baby, won’t you
Wake up, it’s a Chelsea morning

Mitchell was not the first to record the song: According to Wikipedia, the first recording of “Chelsea Morning” was likely “its interpretation by Dave Van Ronk on his 1967 album Dave Van Ronk & The Hudson Dusters.” Fairport Convention included the song on the group’s self-titled 1968 debut album, and – again from Wikipedia – Jennifer Warnes recorded it for her 1968 release, I Can See Everything. That version was released as a single, but did not chart.

Clouds was released in May 1969. It went to No. 31 and earned Mitchell a Grammy for Best Folk Album. Reprise released a promo single of Mitchell’s version of “Chelsea Morning” (with “The Fiddle & The Drum” on the B-side), but the record failed to chart. The only charting single of “Chelsea Morning” came from Judy Collins, whose version went to No. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1969 (and to No. 25 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart).

First Wednesday: November 1968

November 7th, 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.

One of the television pundits in the past few days – I do not recall which one it was – told us that the revival of the presidential campaign of John McCain from its doldrums of the summer of 2007 was the most remarkable political resurrection in recent American history.

That depends on how you define “recent,” of course.

But to me, the most remarkable political resurrection in recent American history culminated with the election of Richard Nixon as president in 1968. Eight years earlier, as a sitting vice-president, Nixon had been defeated for the presidency by Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy. Two years after that, he’d lost a bid for the governorship of California. As Wikipedia notes, “in an impromptu concession speech the morning after the [California] election, Nixon famously blamed the media for favoring his opponent, saying, ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.’”

Six years later, on November 5, 1968, Nixon was elected president of the United States in a three-way race. The election was not only the culmination of Nixon’s retreat, rehabilitation and resurrection (covered in detail by Wikipedia here), but the culmination of an arc of stunning and tragic events that have come to define the entire American year of 1968:

The Tet Offensive in Vietnam, which showed Americans at home that the path to victory in that Southeast Asian nation was not as smoothly laid as politicians and military officials had told them.

The near-defeat of a sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, by Senator Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, a result that spurred Johnson to withdraw from the Democratic presidential campaign, a decision that threw the race into chaos.

The assassinations – in April and June respectively – of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis and Senator Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles. The horror and sorrow of the two murders – coming two months and two days apart – increased the sense of a nation crumbling under the strain of blow after blow, grief after grief.

The upheaval during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August. As millions watched on television, the Democrats wrangled inside the convention hall, unable to unite, while outside, police and demonstrators fought in what was later judged to be “a police riot.” The sight of counter-cultural demonstrators battling police was certainly one of the factors that doomed the chances of Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey in November’s election.

In that election, Humphrey and his running mate, Edmund Muskie of Maine, were facing Republicans Nixon and Governor Spiro Agnew of Maryland. In addition, the campaign included one of the few viable third-party candidacies ever in United States’ history, with former Alabama Governor George Wallace and his running mate Gen. Curtis LeMay heading the American Independent Party, running on a generally anti-Washington platform, especially where it concerned civil rights and the federal government’s efforts toward desegregation.

According to Wikipedia (and this echoes what I recall hearing as a fifteen-year-old at the time), Wallace’s hope for the election was to win enough states and their electoral votes to deny both Nixon and Humphrey the presidency and move the presidential decision into the U.S. House of Representatives (where each state would cast one vote as determined by its delegation of representatives). Presumably, the delegations of the states Wallace had won in the election would follow his lead there and allow him the role of power broker as the House decided the election.

That was Wallace’s goal. The reality was that he won five states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi – with a total of forty-five electoral votes. But those weren’t enough to forestall Nixon’s victory, as the Republican ticket accumulated 301 electoral votes to 191 for the Humphrey-Muskie ticket. Richard Nixon, six years after proclaiming that he was done with politics, won the presidency.

Folks who play the sometimes fascinating game of Couldabeen have long noted that according to the polls of the time – not nearly as many as there are today – the race between Nixon and Humphrey had tightened in the week before the election. That has prompted some to conclude that had the campaign been one week longer, Humphrey would have overtaken Nixon and won the election. Perhaps. Maybe the movement would have been just enough to throw the election into the House of Representatives (something that has happened only twice before, from what I can tell, in 1800 and 1824).

[Note from 2018: In late October, a plan negotiated in Paris to bring the war in Vietnam to an end was sabotaged by the Nixon campaign, which, through intermediaries, told the government of South Vietnam that a Nixon administration could get South Vietnam a better deal than the one that the U.S. had negotiated for it with North Vietnam. (According to Wikipedia, the South Vietnamese government refused to negotiate directly with the revolutionary guerilla movement known as the Viet Cong, and the government of North Vietnam refused to recognize the legitimacy of the government of South Vietnam. Thus, the U.S. and North Vietnam negotiated for themselves and for their partners.) Whether a peace agreement in late October would have lifted the Humphrey-Muskie ticket to victory is another game of Couldabeen, but revelations over the past fifty years – as reported here in this 2017 piece at the website of the Smithsonian Institution – have confirmed the interference by the Nixon campaign and seem to imply strongly that the candidate directed the interference.]

In any event, the presidential election in November 1968 was when Richard Nixon’s revival peaked (it would move on a downward arc – a seeming inevitability, seen historically – soon enough) and the sad story of 1968 in the United States reached its climax. There was still a good chunk of time left in the year come November 6, the day after the election, but for most of those eight weeks, the nation, I think, was simply exhaling in exhaustion. The list of November events at Wikipedia includes a couple of things happening in Vietnam; one of them is the start of Operation Commando Hunt, a less-than-successful attempt to block the movement by guerillas of men and supplies along the Ho Chi Mihn trail in the supposedly neutral national of Laos.

But looking at the list of November’s events, once past the election, the month seems tranquil, which is not a word that could be used often during 1968. There was one other important event, in retrospect: On November 14, Yale University announced it would admit women. And there was one not-so-important event that nevertheless has an impact today: On November 17, NBC cut away from the last 1:05 of a football game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders to begin its special broadcast of a movie version of the tale Heidi. The Raiders scored two late touchdowns to win 43-32. Thousands of outraged fans protested, and NBC and other networks that air sports programming have since then stayed with sporting events to the very end regardless of the dislocation of the following schedule.

So what was it we were listening to as the votes were being counted on Election Day? Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for November 2, 1968:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin
“Little Green Apples” by O.C Smith
“Fire” by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
“Midnight Confessions” by the Grass Roots
“Elenore” by the Turtles
“Over You” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
“Hold Me Tight” by Johnny Nash
“Love Child” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“White Room” by Cream
“Suzie Q.” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf
“Piece of My Heart” by Big Brother and the Holding Company
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions

That’s a pretty good mix. I have to admit I’m not familiar with the Johnny Nash single. Maybe it didn’t get airplay here. I dunno. I know the rest well and like most of them. The Gary Puckett single is a little slight. On the other hand, “Fire” is about as powerful a song as you can find in the Top Fifteen, and “Love Child,” “White Room,” “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Piece of My Heart” are top-line singles. I also have a fond spot for “Midnight Confessions.” So when others had the radio on, I was beginning my slow modulation into pop/rock fandom and enjoying much of what I heard.

(I am a bit bothered by never having heard the Johnny Nash track, as far as I know.)

[Note from 2018: I now know the single, and it’s just okay.]

Here’s what Billboard listed as the Top Ten albums on Election Day:

Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Time Peace/The Rascal’s Greatest Hits by the Rascals
The Time Has Come by the Chambers Brothers
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
Crown of Creation by Jefferson Airplane
Wheels of Fire by Cream
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

This was a pretty good week: It was the fourth week in a row that Big Brother and the Holding Company had held the top spot, buoyed by Janis Joplin’s vocals. The Chambers Brothers’ mix of funk and psychedelia had re-entered the album chart on the strength of a single edited from the album’s title track; the single had peaked at No. 11 in mid-October. And beyond those, there’s a little bit of something for everyone in this Top Ten: Some pop country, some Latin influence, some bluesy psychedelia, some blue-eyed soul, some folk-rock in the quieter moments of the Jefferson Airplane album, and a freak-out or two.

The album I’m sharing today from 1968 is a fairly somber affair. David Ackles’ self-titled debut is one of those records that slowly insinuates itself. It’s subtle, and I’m not sure that consciously listening to it is the way to get into it. I’m probably wandering off into hippie stream of the universe territory here, but David Ackles is an album that – to the extent I know it (and I need to know it better) – I’ve begun to appreciate by having it play when I’m not aware of it.

The next time it plays, the increasing familiarity is pleasing, and even when only one track at a time pops up, a subtle learning of the album brings moments of unexpected recognition.

I dunno. Maybe that’s just the way I need to listen to it. Maybe focusing on 1968 for all these months has tipped me over the edge of perception. [That’s intended to be funny. You can chuckle.] I guess what I’m saying is that conscious listening – as in ‘Oh, what’s he doing with the guitar part and the parallel melody there?” – seems not to get me close to the center of whatever it is Ackles is aiming for. Osmosis seems to work better, and that may be because Ackles’ album is somber.

Here’s what Richie Unterberger of All-Music Guide had to say about David Ackles:

Ackles’ self-titled debut LP introduced a singer/songwriter quirky even by the standards of Elektra records, possibly the most adventurous independent label of the 1960s. Ackles was a pretty anomalous artist of his time, with a low, grumbling voice that was uncommercial but expressive, and similar to Randy Newman’s. As a composer, Ackles bore some similarities to Newman, as well in his downbeat eccentricity and mixture of elements from pop, folk, and theatrical music. All the same, this impressive maiden outing stands on its own, though comparisons to Brecht/Weill (in the songwriting and occasional circus-like tunes) and Tim Buckley (in the arrangements and phrasing) hold to some degree too. This is certainly his most rock-oriented record, courtesy of the typically tasteful, imaginative Elektra arrangements, particularly with Michael Fonfara’s celestial organ and the ethereal guitar riffs (which, again, recall those heard on Buckley’s early albums). As a songwriter, Ackles was among the darkest princes of his time, though the lyrics were delivered with a subdued resignation that kept them from crossing the line to hysterical gloom. “The Road to Cairo,” covered by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, and the Trinity is probably the most famous song here. But the others are quality efforts as well, whether the epics tell of religious trial, as in “His Name Is Andrew,” or the mini-horror tale of revisiting an old home in “Sonny Come Home.”

Beyond the tracks mentioned there, I’d also recommend “Blue Ribbon,” “Laissez-Faire” and “Be My Friend.” And keep an ear out for the organ/piano interplay. Without having the same sonic results, the pairing of those instruments seems to have drawn on similar approaches by Procol Harum and The Band.

Tracks:
The Road To Cairo
When Love Is Gone
Sonny Come Home
Blue Ribbons
What A Happy Day
Down River
Laissez-Faire
Lotus Man
His Name Is Andrew
Be My Friend

David Ackles – David Ackles (1968)

The link above is to a YouTube playlist of the entire album.

Saturday Single No. 615

November 3rd, 2018

It’s quiet and cool this morning in our little corner of the world.

The quiet, it turns out, is a near-constant thing. The four-plex that contains our condo – one of nine such buildings in the development – is tucked back on what is in effect an alley, so we have very little traffic noise, in fact very little noise at all. During the warm season just past, the occasional sound of the lawn service taking care of things made its way inside, especially when the fellow with the leaf blower worked on the patio just on the other side of the window where I write and putter.

And on occasion in the evening, Larry down the way shoots off some fireworks. That can be startling, but it’s not really a problem. Nor is the occasional noise we hear from the kids across the alley when they play on their trampoline.

As far as I recall, other than deliveries and friends, our doorbell has rung only three times: two sets of school-age kids came by raising money, one seeking donors for a walk-a-thon and the other selling chocolate bars. We invested in both.

And we had one politician stop by, seeking re-election. I shook his hand and told him politely that there was little he could say that would earn my vote. We chatted for about ten minutes about why that was, and he went on his way. (About a month later, he ceased campaigning because of some unseemliness in his past; it was way too late for his party to nominate a different candidate, so it will be interesting to watch the returns next Tuesday.)

Anyway, it’s quiet in this little corner of the north side, something that we hoped would be the case when we moved here eight months ago. We’d become accustomed to the quiet at the house, when living on more than an acre kept us isolated for the most part from the rest of the city around us. So we’ve been pleased.

And as I make my way through tracks with the word “quiet” in their titles, I’m caught – as I am other times – by Carole King’s effort from her 1973 album Fantasy: “A Quiet Place To Live.” The brief song has some political and social overtones that don’t fit our specific living place but might fit into today’s world. And it’s worth recalling that things don’t always have to mesh perfectly to work well:

All I want is a quiet place to live
Where I can enjoy the fruits of my labor
Read the paper
And not have to cry out loud

In my mind I can see it crystal clear
Sharing my dreams with the people around me
Now they surround me
And I’m just a part of the crowd

What will become of us
What about the children
What will they do to us next time around
What will the answer be
What will it mean to me
When are they gonna see we’re underground
Here underground

And all I want is a quiet place to live
Where I can be free in a world of my making
Instead of taking
What they decided to give
I wouldn’t want what they have, no
If I could only find
A quiet place to live

So we’ll make Carole King’s “A Quiet Place To Live” today’s Saturday Single.

One Hit Wonder No. 1

November 1st, 2018

Having delved into the origins of the cult of Onehit, I thought we’d start looking at so-called One Hit Wonders on an occasional basis. Our basic guide will be a slender volume I picked up in the early 1990s, one titled Billboard Top 1000 Singles.

Compiled by chart maven Joel Whitburn, the book covers the period from January 1955 through February 1993. Obviously, much has happened since then, including – unless I’m mistaken – at least one very large change in how the various Billboard charts are calculated. Thus, I’d guess, a current book of the top 1,000 singles of all time would include many more current records than historic ones. That would no doubt be accurate but would be a hell of a lot less fun than looking into the 1993 book.

And here’s some necessary housekeeping before we dig in: What, exactly, is a One Hit Wonder? My definition: It’s a record by a group or artist who focused on releasing singles that was the only record by that group or artist to reach the Top 40. Similarly, one can call the group or artist a One Hit Wonder as well. (The bit about being focused on singles is the best way to accommodate records like Jimi Hendrix’ cover of “All Along The Watchtower,” which went to No. 20 in 1968. It would be ludicrous to call Hendrix a One Hit Wonder as an artist, as singles were clearly not his focus.)

And before we start, let’s remind ourselves of how the all-time singles chart looked in 1993. Here’s the Top Twenty in that Top 1000 book. All of then went to No. 1 for at least eight weeks.

“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston (1992, 14 weeks)
“End Of The Road” by Boyz II Men (1992, 13)
“Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley (1956, 11)
“Singing The Blues” by Guy Mitchell (1956, 10)
“Physical” by Olivia Newton-John (1981, 10)
“You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone (1977, 10)
“Mack The Knife” by Bobby Darin (1959, 9)
“All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley (1957, 9)
“Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes (1981, 9)
“Hey Jude” by the Beatles (1968, 9)
“Endless Love” by Diana Ross & Lionel Richie (1981, 9)*
“The Theme From ‘A Summer Place’” by Percy Faith (1960, 9)
“Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets (1955, 8)
“The Wayward Wind” by Gogi Grant (1956, 8)
“Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955, 8)
“Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley (1956, 8)
“Every Breath You Take” by the Police (1983, 8)
“Jump” by Kris Kross (1992, 8)
“Night Fever” by the Bee Gees (1978, 8)
“Tonight’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright)” by Rod Stewart (1976, 8)

That Top Twenty serves as a reminder of the power of Elvis. Sixteen years after his death, he still had three of the top twenty singles of the Top Forty era, all of them nearly forty years old. And it’s actually not a bad bunch of singles, with only three I’d skip: I’m not fond of the Kris Kross record, but that’s a generational and societal thing. Neither am I crazy about the Whitney Houston single at the top of the list; I find it oversung and overbearing. And I’ve always believed the Rod Stewart single to be a blight on the world.

The other seventeen would be – in these precincts, anyway – a decent bunch of listening. Not really my favorites, but some fun listening, even the single One Hit Wonder of the bunch, a record that I admit I first kind of liked, then was tired of, and finally, was greatly annoyed by as it spun out its twenty-one weeks in the Top 40 in 1977 and 1978: Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.”

I was surprised when I began digging this morning to learn that “You Light Up My Life” was a One Hit Wonder. But then, being afflicted with Boone fatigue by late 1977, I paid no attention to Debby Boone’s career, not caring what she’d done either before or after her massive hit. And it seems, digging this morning into Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, there wasn’t much to pay attention to, as least as far as the Hot 100 was concerned.

“You Light Up My Life” was the first charting single for Pat Boone’s daughter. As well as topping the Billboard pop chart for the above mentioned ten weeks, the record was also No. 1 for one week on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart and went to No. 4 on the country chart.

After that, Boone had two singles reach the Hot 100, but both fell short of the Top 40: “California” went to No. 50 and the two-sided single “God Knows/Baby, I’m Yours” (the latter being a cover of Barbara Lewis’ 1965 hit) stalled at No. 74, both in 1978. Boone did have a better time of it on the Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary chart, with five more singles beyond “You Light Up My Life” reaching the Top Forty there into 1981.

“You Light Up My Life” was, of course, the title theme to a 1977 movie, sung for the soundtrack by Kasey Cisyk and lip-synched in the movie by actress Didi Conn. In the movie, it’s a love song, but the very devout Boone, according to Wikipedia, “interpreted it as inspirational and proclaimed that it was instead God who ‘lit up her life’.”

(There was some nasty hoo-ha in 1977 and beyond about songwriter and producer Joe Brooks not paying Cisyk or crediting her for her performance as well as something about Brooks’ recording Boone’s version of the song over the same instrumental tracks used for Cisyk’s version. But then nasty hoo-ha might have been Brooks’ default mode, as he committed suicide in 2011, says Wikipedia, while awaiting trial “on 91 counts of rape, sexual abuse, criminal sexual act, assault, and other charges.”)

Billboard has since released at least two more lists of its top all-time records; in the last of them, in 2013, “You Light Up My Life” was at No. 9. I do not know if any of the eight records ranked above it are One Hit Wonders, and I really don’t care. In the era I care about most, reflected by the 1993 volume, Debby Boone’s hit is the top-ranking One Hit Wonder of all time.

*One might argue that “Endless Love” is a One Hit Wonder as it’s the only time that the duo of Diana Ross and Lionel Richie charted. But that would be silly.

‘Raise Your Voice . . .”

October 29th, 2018

Today’s lesson – offered in December 2007 in what was an earlier translation from the Dead Air Scrolls – comes from the Book of Onehit, Chapter One:

And in those days when AM Radio ruled the youth of the land of Usa, those young ones heard strange and wondrous sounds come from the speakers. Sundered into small tribes as they were, the youth of Usa listened carefully for their various leaders, waiting to hear what wisdom those leaders sent to them through the little speakers in their plastic appliances.

Messages of music came frequently to those who were members of the greater tribes, the tribes of Beatle and Dylan and Rolling Stone, the tribes of Who and Clapton and Chicago and Beegee, and also the tribes of the place called Motown, the Wonder and the Franklin and the Supreme Temptation. And those who heard these AM messages went to their temples and laid down their offerings, and they came away from the temples with their vinyl. And when they played it on their turning tables, lo, it rocked!

There were those whose messages were clearly heard but once. Later messages would not wake their tribes. Their tribes were of lesser size, and though the members of those tribes listened intently to the first messages, few found need to listen again. And soon no more messages were inscribed for those tribes in the Scroll of Top Forty. These were the tribes of Greenbaum, of Robin of the McNamaras, of Lemon Pipers and Blue Cheer, the tribes of Smith and Steam and Spiral Starecase, of Flying Machine and Bubble Puppy, of Jaggerz and Edison Lighthouse, of White Plains and Tee Set, the tribes of R. Dean Taylor and the Pipkins. And the world at large rejoiced at the silence of the Pipkins.

Many members of those tribes went to their temples and laid down their offerings. They took home with them their vinyl, most of them wiser and taking only the smaller pieces of vinyl with the original message, the one that AM radio had already sent them. And lo, they ignored the flipside.

Others would commit the sin of over-enthusiasm, offering more at the temple for the larger pieces of vinyl, those with the original message set amid the horror. For when they laid those albums on the turning tables, lo, they sucked. And no one came to their parties evermore. And tomorrow is a long time, indeed.

Those tribes dwindled, their members becoming more careworn and manic as the numbers around them decreased. They would utter pronouncements that were more and more ignored: “Crabby Appleton matters!” “Mock not the Ides of March!” “All hail Daddy Dewdrop!”

And the vinyl turned, and AM radio sent them no more messages. Many of them turned from their leaders, who had fallen silent. They sought new leaders, and lo, some of them heard from Climax. And some heard from Sailcat. And some from Miguel of the Rios. And they learned not and would not change their ways.

When the end of their days came, their boxes of vinyl were filled with album after album of Onehit and much horror, and those boxes were sent into exile at the thrift stores. Some in later days would avidly seek those Onehit messages and would gain them for small offerings. They would place them on their turning tables, and only those who liked irony would come to their parties.

And some would come to notice in those later days the greater messages amid the dross of Mouth & MacNeal and Skylark and Bullet, of Apollo 100 and Coven and Ocean, of Tin Tin and Bloodrock and Cymarron and Christie. “Wonders,” they called them. And so prospered the cult of Onehit. They sought the odd, the curious, the utterly weird and even the profane, as long as it was the only celebrated message from one tribe. Among the slightly odd but treasured remnants on vinyl was the work of Teegarden and Van Winkle of Westbound, whose message of “God, Love and Rock & Roll” had been heard by its adherents in the long-ago autumn of 1970 (reaching something called No. 22 in the Scroll of Billboard).

Long years later, as no other of their tribal messages had been celebrated enough to be in the Scroll of Top Forty, Teegarden and Van Winkle of Westbound were among those whose names were celebrated by the cult of Ohehit.

And the world at large still rejoiced at the silence of the Pipkins.

Hear now, all of you, the message of “God, Love and Rock & Roll.” It brought Teegarden and Van Winkle of Westbound into the Scroll of Top Forty in the autumn of 1970. And in years to come it would bring them to the attention of the cult of Onehit, whose parties must be odd indeed.

Saturday Single No. 614

October 27th, 2018

It’s cool and gray outside. Nevertheless, our plan is to head out this afternoon for a quick trip to the small town of Pierz, where we will stop at our favorite butcher shop to buy some bacon and other meats.

In the meantime, however, we’re going to play a quick game of “What’s At No. 100,” taking a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from October 27, 1973. That chart may provide surprises, as it came out during my time in Denmark. We’ll see.

We’ll start, as we always do, with the Top Fifteen:

“Midnight Train To Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“Angie” by the Rolling Stones
“Half Breed” by Cher
“Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers Band
“Keep In Truckin’ (Part 1)” by Eddie Kendricks
“Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye
“Paper Roses” by Marie Osmond
“Heartbeat – It’s a Love Beat” by the DeFranco Family
“That Lady (Part 1)” by the Isley Brothers
“Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder
“All I Know” by Art Garfunkel
“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan
“Yes We Can Can” by the Pointer Sisters
“We’re An American Band” by Grand Funk

Obviously, I know all of those now, forty-five years later, and most of them well. At the time, I knew “Angie,” having had help from my Danish brother in working out the chords on the piano and also having heard it live at a Rolling Stones concert a little more than three weeks earlier.

Stones Ticket

And it’s a decent Top Fifteen. I can do without the Marie Osmond and DeFranco family singles, but otherwise, it’s fine. Art Garfunkel’s record is a bit light, but it’s lovely.

What lies below, however? Dropping down to No. 100, we find a nifty piece of boogie new to the Hot 100 and on its way to No. 3: “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” by Brownsville Station.

The band – from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and not from Texas as its name might imply – would never again come close to the Top Ten. The group’s only other Top Forty hit would be “Kings Of The Party,” which went to No. 31 in the autumn of 1974. There were a few other records in the Hot 100 before, after and between the two hits in a time frame that began in late 1972 and ended during the autumn of 1977.

As with most tunes from the 1973-74 academic year, I learned about “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” long after the fact, so there’s no emotional hook here for me. But it’s a fun record, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Love, Murder & Regret

October 26th, 2018

One of my regular stops for tunes new to me or for new perspectives on tunes familiar is the fine blog Any Major Dude With Half A Heart. From imaginatively themed mixes to the multi-part history of country music, I’ve gotten more tunes from the Halfhearted Dude than I can easily digest, all offered with trenchant commentary.

We don’t agree on everything. There are tunes and genres he likes that leave me wanting, and I know there are tunes and genres dear to me that likely draw from the Dude eye-rolls worthy of a teen. As an example, I wasn’t crazy about everything he offered this week in his “Any Major Murder Songs Vol. 1,” which was nevertheless a fun mix. And one of the tracks in the mix pulled me back to one of my own explorations here: Olivia Newton-John’s 1971 cover of “Banks Of The Ohio,” a song of love, murder and regret.

I included Newton-John’s live performance of the song five years ago when I looked a little bit at the song’s long history. As I wrote then, it was startling “to see earlier this week in the Billboard Hot 100 from October 30, 1971, that Olivia Newton-John had a hit with a gender-flipped version of ‘Banks Of The Ohio.’ The single went only to No. 94 here in the U.S. (No. 34 on the Adult Contemporary chart), but it was No. 1 for five weeks in Australia.”

Here’s the studio version:

The Halfhearted Dude called the track “the weirdest” of the twenty-four he included in his murder collection. I left a note at his blog suggesting that if he truly wanted weird, he should listen to Glenn Yarbrough’s take on the tune, found on his 1957 album Come Sit By My Side. The video I linked to five years ago was layered with surface noise; in this video, the purposeful and disquieting dissonance conjured up by Yarbrough and his producer, whoever he was, is much more audible, as is Yarbrough’s odd and jarring diction. I called the whole thing “creepy” five years ago, and I have not changed my mind.

And when I shared Yarbrough’s “Banks Of The Ohio” five years ago, frequent visitor, commenter and pal Yah Shure agreed with my assessment: “Creepy is right! Must thoroughly cleanse musical palate now.”

He went on to compare Yarbrough’s take on the old folk song to a record a local band recorded during his youth:

Some fellow students from my high school were in a band called the Poore Boyes, whose “Give” – a 1966 single on the local Summer label – was a reverb-drenched love-’er and stab-’er affair that I’m guessing didn’t generate boatloads of requests at their high school prom gigs, in spite of some airplay on KDWB. It had that minor key/echo/surf Kay Bank Recording Studio sound (think “Liar, Liar” with knives and blood.)

Here’s the Poore Boyes “Give” on the Summer label (along with the B-side “It’s Love”):

There was a second version of “Give” by the Poore Boyes, Yah Shure said:

The group re-cut . . . er, re-recorded “Give” in a much drier version for Capitol’s perennially-hitless Uptown subsidiary, but the lyrics sounded even creepier – more premeditated, even – when uncloaked from the murky, damp darkness of the earlier echo-fest.

Here’s that second version:

I’ll let Yah Shure have the final word on “Give,” from his comments five years ago: “Maybe Olivia should’ve covered it.”

An Hour At Tom’s Barbershop

October 24th, 2018

I haven’t been down Wilson Avenue on the East Side recently – I don’t get back to the East Side very often – so I don’t know if the little square building where Tom had his barbershop is still vacant. Tom hung up his clippers on the advice of his doctor about two years ago, and I wonder how he is. I also sometimes wonder where his other customers head for their haircuts now. And then I think of this piece from October 2008 when Tom’s place was pretty busy.

I spent a pleasant hour late yesterday morning at Tom’s Barbershop, waiting behind three other guys as Tom trimmed their hair and then mine. We waited on two long benches along the wall, gazing at Tom’s collection of model cars and nodding in approval as classic country songs came and went from the CD player: Hank Williams (the original one, not the son or grandson), Johnny Cash, Ferlin Husky and some we didn’t recall.

“Don’t remember who did that one,” one of the fellows across the way from me said as the music played. “Heard it for the first time back in about ’48, I think.” One of the other two waiting men nodded.

“Yeah,” said the white-haired fellow next to me, as he headed for the now-empty barber chair, “country was what there was back then. We didn’t have all this rock and roll.”

“Not in my house, either,” said the fellow who’d heard music in 1948. “It was country music at home.”

“And polkas,” said the customer now easing his way into the chair.

Four other heads, including Tom the Barber’s and mine, nodded. I’ve never listened to polka music voluntarily, but down at Grampa’s farm, there was often a polka program playing on one of the two television channels available.

“Yah,” said the dark-haired guy sitting across from me, near the CD player. Up to now, he’d only nodded. “I remember Whoopee John. And the Six Fat Dutchmen.”

The guy in the chair spoke as Tom trimmed his hair: “Used to be lots of those ballrooms around, where those bands would play on Saturday night,” he said, talking carefully so as not to disturb Tom’s work. “Not many of them left, you know.”

Heads nodded again. Tom held his clippers in the air as the man in the chair began to talk with a little more animation. “We used to go up to the ballroom at New Munich on Saturday nights, there.” (New Munich is a burg of about 350 souls forty miles northwest of St. Cloud, smack in the middle of Stearns County, doncha know?) “There’d be all them Stearns County farm boys standing around the edge of the dance floor ’til, oh, close to midnight, each one of ’em holdin’ a bottle of beer.

“Finally, around midnight, just before the band was gonna shut ’er down for the night, them boys would get out on the dance floor and find some gal to dance the polka with.”

We all laughed. “They had to have some Dutch courage, huh?” I asked him.

He nodded. “Yah,” he said, “right out of the bottle.”

I spoke up, told them I’d seen the same things – reluctant guys holding drinks ringing the dance floor until it got late – in the bars in downtown St. Cloud when I was in college thirty years ago. “Take away the drinks,” I said, “and I saw the same thing in the junior high cafeteria as the records played during our dances!”

They laughed.

“Boy,” said the fairly quiet fellow sitting by the CD player, “thirty years ago, I’d have been there, too. Might dance, might not, but just past midnight, it’s ‘See you next week,’ and on out the door.”

“For a while in college,” I said, “it was ‘See you tomorrow.’”

“Yah,” said one of them, amid general laughter, “I done some of that, too!”

The fellow in the chair stood, his white hair now trimmed. The dark-haired guy near the CD player rose, about to take his turn. “Boy,” he said, “I remember when Whoopee John and his band come to town. They used to come in three, four new Chevrolets. They got a bus a little later on, but when they come into town in those shiny new Chevies, boy, that was somethin’!”

The CD changed, with the classic country being replaced by Tom’s beloved country-tinged gospel music. The white-haired fellow headed to the door. “See you boys later,” he said as he opened the door. “Don’t go dancin’ too much now.”

We all laughed as the door closed. And then the only sounds in the barbershop were the strains of “Amazing Grace” coming from the CD player, the buzz of Tom’s clippers, and the very faint sound of Tom singing along under his breath.

Even though they might have preferred a polka, here’s a suitable track for the guys who were at Tom’s that morning: “Put Your Dancing Shoes On” by Danny Kortchmar, a guitarist who’s been one of the best-known session musicians for years. It comes his 1973 album Kootch.

Edited slightly on reposting.