Posts Tagged ‘5th Dimension’

Saturday Single No. 604

Saturday, August 11th, 2018

We’ve spent some time this week considering what I was hearing on the radio as I prepared for my senior year of high school in August 1970, and we’ve theorized about what my cousins in California were hearing on the radio at the same time.

So I wondered this morning as the Texas Gal and I ran a brief errand: What was I listening to in the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard at that summer played out? Well, the playlist was pretty slender as far a pop and rock went. As August 1970 hit its mid-point, these were the pop, rock and R&B albums I had available:

The Age Of Aquarius by the 5th Dimension
Let It Be by the Beatles
Chicago by Chicago
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Best Of Bee Gees
Hey Jude by the Beatles

For more pop/rock, I could, if I wanted to, dig deeper into the crate where I kept my albums and supplement those six with Herman’s Hermits On Tour and Look At Us by Sonny and Cher, albums my sister had given me as gifts for birthdays in 1965 and 1966, and Beatles ’65, which we had received for Christmas in 1964. And for some changes of pace, there were always my Al Hirt and Herb Alpert records and my John Barry soundtracks.

(Then, too, there were my sister’s LPs, which ran a wide gamut: Jefferson Airplane, Judy Collins, John Denver, Glenn Yarbrough, some classical LPs and Traditional Jewish Memories, the tale of which I’ve told here before.)

Those all were in the mix as I lazed on the green couch during that summer of 1970, with the more recent pop and rock certainly getting more frequent play. And as I think about that list, I single out the album by the 5th Dimension, which I bought through our record club during the autumn of 1969, my first full season of listening to Top 40. And I wonder, not for the first time: What moved me to select it?

As I ponder the question, I come up with several reasons: I was hearing “Wedding Bell Blues” (No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in November 1969) with increasing frequency on the radio; during the summer of 1969, I bought the single “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” after it spent six weeks at No. 1 in April and May 1969; and most importantly, in October of 1969, I spent a couple hours in the fifth row or so for a concert by the 5th Dimension at St. Cloud State.

For as long as I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been dating the start of my pop/rock/soul LP collecting to May of 1970, when I brought home Let It Be and Chicago. I think the dividing line I drew was that I purchased those records with my own money. The 5th Dimension album, on the other hand, was one of the six each year that Dad bought for me from the record club.

On one side, the fact of laying out my own cash for records makes a difference: Those records were my investment. On the flip side, just selecting from the club an LP by the 5th Dimension shows that my tastes were changing, my ears bending toward new sounds.

So what does all that mean to a reader? Probably not much. But I use this place to not only share the music I love and the story of my life but to sort out that story. And this wandering post is going to conclude that I should date my pop/rock/soul LP collecting from the autumn of 1969 with The Age Of Aquarius.

The medley that includes the title track was one of the selections in my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox, so we’ll look elsewhere on the album this morning, finding one of my favorite deep tracks, making “The Winds Of Heaven” today’s Saturday Single.

First Wednesday: March 1968

Friday, March 9th, 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 update our examination of charts from fifty years ago 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 (except for this month, when my schedule and memory failed me, delaying the post by two days. But we’re still calling it “First Wednesday”).

As had been the case for many of the months preceding it, and as would be the case for many of the following months, the month of March 1968 was dominated – at least in the U.S. – by news of the Vietnam War and of the presidential campaign just getting under way.

During the month’s first week, what is now called the First Battle of Saigon ended. The battle had started in January as part of the Tet, or New Year’s, offensive of the army of North Vietnam and the guerrilla Viet Cong. During the First Battle of Saigon, thirty-five battalions of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces attacked six specific targets in the capital of South Vietnam, then called Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City.

As I’ve mentioned before, the fighting – in Saigon and elsewhere in South Vietnam – ended in a clear military defeat for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, but those forces won the war of perception, as U.S. military and civilian leaders had been telling us here in the U.S. for some time that the enemy no longer had the ability to mount major military operations. Oops.

Back in the U.S., the war was the major topic of conversation in the presidential election, then just getting underway. President Lyndon Johnson won the Democratic side of the March 12 primary election in New Hampshire, the first in the nation. But the president’s slender victory – 49 percent to 42 percent – over anti-war candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy was received by the president as a repudiation of his policies, especially in Vietnam. Consequently, on the last day of March, he announced to a nation-wide television audience that he would not seek re-election.

Between the end of the Tet Offensive and the end of President Johnson’s presidential campaign came one of the U.S.’s darkest days in Vietnam. On March 16, a battalion of American soldiers was told to enter the villages Sơn Mỹ and find the hamlets called My Lai 1, 2, 3 and 4, where Viet Cong and North Vietnamese sympathizers had been reported. Their orders, according to Wikipedia, were to “burn the houses, kill the livestock, destroy foodstuffs, and perhaps to close the wells.” The battalion’s Charlie Company was told by its commander, Captain Ernest Medina, that nearly all the civilian residents of the village would have left for the market that morning by seven o’clock, meaning that anyone in the village when the company arrived was almost certainly an enemy.

Wikipedia says that, in a later court martial, some of the soldiers in Charlie Company testified that they understood their orders as being “to kill all guerilla and North Vietnamese combatants and ‘suspects’ (including women and children, as well as all animals), to burn the village, and pollute the wells.”

And that’s what they did. The toll? Even today, fifty years later, it’s unclear. Wikipedia says that the number of civilian deaths at My Lai was either 347 (according to the U.S. military) or 504 (according to a memorial at the site in Vietnam). The consequences? The U.S. military quickly initiated a cover-up of the massacre, a cover-up that eventually unraveled, thanks largely to a whistle-blower in the U.S. Army and to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Eventually, the U.S. Army tried one general for the cover-up and one soldier – Lt. William Calley – for the massacre. The general was acquitted; Calley was convicted and would up serving four and one-half months in a military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, during which time he was allowed routine and unrestricted visits by his girlfriend, according to a book by Aryeh Neier on war crimes and their effects.

By utter coincidence, on the same day as the massacre, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the presidential race.

Also in March 1968, according to Wikipedia:

A demonstration against American policies in Vietnam took place March 17 in London’s Grosvenor Square, site of the U.S. Embassy, and turned violent. A total of ninety-one people were injured and 200 were arrested.

On March 19, student protests began at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C. The protests were marked by “the first building takeover on a college campus,” which Wikipedia says marked “a new era of militant student activism on American college campuses.” For five days, students staged a sit-in of the university’s administration building, temporarily shutting down the school. The impetus for the demonstration, according to Wikipedia, was the punishment of thirty-seven students who had disrupted the university’s Charter Day celebration on March 1. Additional causes of the protests were “the school’s ROTC program and military recruitment; the disproportionate number of African-Americans being sent into combat in the Vietnam War; and the lack of curriculum of African-American studies.”

In Nanterre, France, on March 22, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and seven other students “occupied the eighth-floor faculty lounge in the administration building at University of Paris X Nanterre, commonly referred to as the University of Nanterre,” an action whose consequences eventually brought France into a state of revolution in the month of May.

Even during a grim month in a grim year, there was always music for solace, though any kind of solace was becoming more difficult to find. Still, we listened, and in the first week of March, these were the top fifteen songs on WDGY in Minneapolis:

“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“Valley of the Dolls” by Dionne Warwick
“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by the First Edition
“Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz
“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite” by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart
“I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Everything That Touches You” by the Association
“I Can Take Or Leave Your Loving” by Herman’s Hermits
“Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by the Lettermen
“Too Much Talk” by Paul Revere & the Raiders
“Baby, Now That I Found You” by the Foundations
“Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
“We’re A Winner” by the Impressions

That same week, the top albums in the U.S. were:

Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Herb Alpert’s Ninth by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Greatest Hits by Diana Ross and the Supremes
Disraeli Gears by Cream

The top fifteen singles are not bad, maybe a little gooey in spots, especially the top spot. The albums are a great set, except for one. And no, it’s not the Paul Mauriat I dismiss. That’s still a pretty good album, for what it is. It’s the Rolling Stones’ record that doesn’t fit. I have digital versions of eight of those ten albums, and I have a Supremes anthology that includes the tunes on Greatest Hits. The only one of those ten albums unrepresented on the digital shelves is Their Satanic Majesties Request. Even when I had the vinyl, I never listened to it. It’s a mostly inconsequential album, with only “She’s A Rainbow” and, maybe, “2000 Light Years From Home” having any weight.

The album I’m sharing here today wouldn’t be released until September, so it doesn’t at all reflect the upheaval and anguish of April. But today’s album does represent a trend in pop music of the merging and mingling of styles.

The 5th Dimension first hit the charts in February 1967 with the single “Go Where You Wanna Go,” a No. 16 cover of the Mamas & the Papas song. Four months later, “Up-Up And Away” went to No. 7 while the album from which the singles had been pulled, Up, Up and Away, went to No. 8. (And no, I have no idea why the song title and the album title are punctuated differently; it’s bothered me for years.) The album and the singles were all produced by Johnny Rivers and released on his Soul City label.

The sound of the 5th Dimension has been described as what would happen if the Mamas and the Papas sang in Motown. That’s a little harsh and not quite right. Yes, the sound is at least partly a blending of California pop and R&B, and it’s true that the 5th Dimension’s music is not as gritty as were the sounds coming out of Detroit and Memphis. But rather than trying to create a Motown-Lite sound, I think what Rivers and the members of the 5th Dimension were trying to do was to bring several things – including Motown grit – into L.A.-based pop.

The three male members of the 5th Dimension hailed from blues- and R&B-drenched St. Louis, while Marilyn McCoo came from Jersey City and Florence LaRue Gordon was from Pennsylvania. Add that Johnny Rivers was born John Ramistella in New York City, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to hear bits of Philly-Jersey-New York girl groups and echoes of street-corner crooning in the 5th Dimension’s music, combined with a pop-soul sensibility and all laid over a bed of L.A. session work by musicians who clearly had been listening to Motown and Stax.

The group’s third album, Stoned Soul Picnic, came out in August 1968. (The group’s second album, 1967’s The Magic Garden, spun off the minor singles “Paper Cup” and “Carpet Man” but otherwise failed to make much of an impact.) Three singles from Stoned Soul Picnic charted: “Stoned Soul Picnic” (No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the magazine’s R&B chart) and “Sweet Blindness” (No. 13 on the Hot 100) were both written by Laura Nyro, while the song-writing team of Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson created “California Soul,” which went to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album itself went to No. 21 on the Billboard 200.

Those who pore over studio credits on the backs of album jackets found much to celebrate when they looked at the back of Stoned Soul Picnic. On guitars were Tommy Tedesco, Mike Deasy and Ray Pohlman. Joe Osborn and Pohlman handled bass. Larry Knechtel and Jimmy Rowles were on keyboards. Larry Bunker handled marimba, vibes and other percussion, and the drum work came from Hal Blaine. (Just listen to the fills and you’ll know that.) Also credited were the Sid Sharp Strings and the Bill Holman Brass. Marc Gordon, who was credited with Johnny Rivers as producer on Up, Up and Away a year earlier, was credited with “co-ordination,” while Rivers was called a “realizor” on Stoned Soul Picnic.

The album is a good one, falling into the genre that I call pop-soul rather than R&B: Lighter than a lot of things I listen to and certainly lighter than a lot of things that were being listened to in 1968. Heavy times need some lightness once in a while, though, and I think that’s what the 5th Dimension provided.

(The video includes a bonus track, “East of Java,” which one can only assume came from the same sessions.)

Tracks:

Sweet Blindness
It’ll Never Be The Same Again
The Sailboat Song
It’s A Great Life
Stoned Soul Picnic
California Soul
Lovin’ Stew
Broken Wing Bird
Good News
Bobbie’s Blues (Who Do You Think Of?)
The Eleventh Song (What A Groovy Day!)
East of Java (bonus track)

‘Orange’

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

When we sort the mp3s on the shelves looking for titles with the word “orange” – the second of nine stops on our tour of Floyd’s Prism – we don’t have a lot of irrelevancies to discard. The search brings up fifty-three mp3s, a good share of which will be useful.

We do have to discard the eleven tracks from the 1970 self-titled album of the group Orange Bicycle (a group whose “Jelly on the Bread” showed up on a recent Saturday), and we set aside as well the 1970 album by Paul Siebel titled Woodsmoke and Oranges. We also have to drop tracks from two similarly titled bands: “Your Golden Touch” by the Clockwork Orange, which I believe was a garage rock band from Paducah, Kentucky; and both sides of a single on the Liberty label, “After Tonight” and “Ready Steady,” by the Clockwork Oranges. The latter group was evidently from England, based on the note at the Lost Jukebox discography that calls the single an “Ember Records Production [f]rom London.”

We also lose a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album Orange Blossom Special, both sides of a 1966 single by the Palace Guard on the Orange Empire label, both sides of a 1969 single by the group Orange Colored Sky, and an odd piece of leftist theater titled “Operation Godylorange” by a Danish ensemble called Totalpetroleum.

But we do have enough to work with, which is a relief, as I was worried about “orange” when I began to look at Floyd’s Prism. (I have my concerns about “indigo,” but we’ll deal with that when we get there.) We’ll start with the oldest of our six recordings and more forward from there.

A couple CDs’ worth of Nat King Cole’s music came my way a few years ago, and on one of them, I found our first record for this morning: “Orange Colored Sky” by the King Cole Trio. Recorded in August 1950, the track comes from a time when Cole’s recordings were sometimes credited to the trio and sometimes to Cole as a solo artist. The record, which was recorded with Stan Kenton and his orchestra (according to the notes of the 1994 CD Nat King Cole: The Greatest Hits) did not show up in the R&B Top 40. Given that, I’m not sure why “Orange Colored Sky” shows up in that hits package. It’s not like there was a dearth of material to choose from; between 1942 and 1964, Cole had forty-six records reach the R&B Top 40, and starting in 1954 and going into 1964, he placed sixty-six records in or the Billboard Hot 100. (In 1991, both charts – as well as the Adult Contemporary chart – hosted “Unforgettable,” the creepy hit that paired the long-dead Cole’s 1961 vocals with those of his daughter Natalie.)

I noted above that today’s winnowing took away a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album, Orange Blossom Special. One track that survived, of course, is the title track. Recorded in December 1964 and released as a single, Cash’s take on “Orange Blossom Special” went to No. 3 on the country chart and to No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, long a country and bluegrass standard, was written in 1938 by fiddler Ervin T. Rouse and first recorded by Ervin and Gordon Rouse in 1939. Their version is no doubt widely available; I found it on East Virginia Blues, one of the eleven CDs in the remarkable series of roots music titled When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll. Cash recorded the tune at least one more time: The live album recorded in 1968 at California’s Folsom Prison includes a pretty good version of the song.

One of the stranger tracks I came upon this morning – not quite as strange as the Danish “Operation Godylorange” but still odd – was “Orange Air” from the 5th Dimension’s second album, the 1967 release The Magic Garden. Written by Jimmy Webb, the song notes in its chorus: “And then the night Jasmine came clinging to her hair and lingered there, and there was orange air.” At All Music Guide, Matthew Greenwald says the song is “another one of Jimmy Webb’s emotionally intense, slightly depressing lyrics that make up this brilliant concept album. The downcast message of being let down by the disintegration of a love affair is nicely juxtaposed by a buoyant arrangement and vocal performance.” I’m glad he got it, because I sure didn’t, but it’s still a nice track.

Staying in 1967 for another moment, we land on an outtake from the sessions that provided us with Music From Big Pink, the first album by The Band. “Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast)” first showed up as a track on The Basement Tapes, a 1975 release of some of the music The Band and Bob Dylan recorded in the months after Dylan’s July 1966 motorcycle accident and before the releases in 1967 of his John Wesley Harding and in 1968 of The Band’s Big Pink. The version of the Richard Manuel tune linked here is, I believe, the one included on the expanded edition of Music From Big Pink released in 2000 and labeled there as a demo.

And it’s off to San Francisco in 1971 and an album that reflected as it was being recorded the changing membership of the group It’s A Beautiful Day. The album Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime, notes Lindsay Planer of AMG, was recorded as “lineup number two was replaced by lineup number three – netting a separate band for the Choice Quality Stuff side and the Anytime side.” The sprightly instrumental “Oranges & Apples” shows up on the Anytime side of the LP, and it turns out to be an offering that sounds more like something from a middle-of-the road ensemble than a track from one of the great hippie bands of its time. David LaFlamme’s famous violin is hardly there at all, which is just weird. But then, the track is titled “Oranges & Apples,” which probably means something about comparisons.

And we close this edition of Floyd’s Prism with a stop in 1989 and a track from one of my favorite Van Morrison albums. “Orangefield” was tucked on the second side of Avalon Sunset, and I’m of two minds about it. It’s repetitious, both lyrically and musically, which should make the track a little tedious. But there’s something thrilling about it, too, with the string and percussion accents and the backing vocals of Katie Kissoon and Carol Kenyon pulling me in and drawing me briefly into another Morrison-inspired trance.

‘Don’tcha Hear Me Callin’ To Ya’

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

We’re doing some rearranging around here, the kind of reorganization that involves moving heavy boxes from one level of the house to the other. We spent quite a bit of time on that task over the long Thanksgiving weekend, with the Texas Gal filling boxes in the loft and me taking them down to the basement.

At this point, those boxes still stand in the center of the basement floor. Their final destination will be one of the back corners, though that will have to wait maybe one more day until a few rarely used muscles tell me they are ready to cooperate once more. And when that is done, next weekend promises more boxes that need moving. I think – though I am not certain – that next weekend’s boxes will be filled with fabric rather than with scrapbooking materials, so they should be lighter.  And I also think – though again, I am not certain – that next weekend’s boxes will go to the main floor and not the basement, making the task easier.

The eventual outcome of the rearranging will find the Texas Gal’s quilting/sewing room on the main floor, just down the hallway from the Echoes In The Wind studios, so we’ll feel like we’re in the same house when we’re hobbying. Should we have anything to say to each other, sound will carry better down the hallway than it does up the stairway and around several corners.

All that brought to mind this morning one of my favorite tracks by the 5th Dimension: “Don’tcha Hear Me Callin’ To Ya” was the B-side of “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In (The Flesh Failures),” which was – as I’ve related before – the first music 45 I ever bought. That makes “Don’tcha Hear Me Callin’ To Ya” my first B-side, and I imagine I played it once or twice while the A-side was getting repeated plays. The tune also showed up on the album Age of Aquarius, which I got hold of sometime in the autumn of 1969.

And simply because I like to do these types of things, here’s an easy listening cover of “Don’tcha Hear Me Callin’ To Ya” by British bandleader Ted Heath, found on the posthumously released 1970 album The Big Ones.

It’s Election Day: Go Vote!

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

I was going to write about a 1961 stocking stuffer, a 1964 LP and a certain form of magazine advertising today – and yes, they all link together – but I realized it’s Election Day.

I shifted gears and tried to write about the sorry state of our election process, and find I can’t do that without being either so milquetoastish that I say nothing significant or so angry that I offend a good portion of the readers I think I have.

So I’m just going to say to those of my readers here in the United States: Go vote. It matters.

Now, you and I might not support the same candidates, and we might have markedly different ideas about how best this nation can make its way through the difficulties it now faces. But I have to believe that whoever we vote for, our votes are cast in good faith. If your vote and mine cancel each other, that’s fine. That’s part of the bargain of democracy.

I have my hopes for today’s vote, and you, my readers, have yours. Whatever those hopes are, go express them at the ballot box sometime today.

And here’s a medley that might remind you – if you need it – where we came from, how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve yet to go.

The 5th Dimension:
“Medley: The Declaration [of Independence]/A Change Is Gonna Come/People Gotta Be Free”

From Portrait [1970]

‘Shahdaroba’ Is The Word They Whisper Low . . .

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Last television season, one of my favorite shows, Mad Men, ended its season finale – as it does all its episodes – with a popular song framing the last moments. As ad man Don Draper’s wife, Betty, flew to Nevada with her lover to get a divorce, Draper found himself checking into a hotel, and the mournful music – though it had a positive final lyric – underlined the melancholy and uncertainty of the moment. As I watched, I recognized the voice: It was unmistakably Roy Orbison. But the song?

I had no clue. The melody and accompaniment were clearly based on Middle Eastern themes, as was the lyric:

Where the Nile flows
And the moon glows

On the silent sand
Of an ancient land

When a dream dies
And the heart cries
“Shahdaroba”
Is the word they whisper low

Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
Means the future is much better than the past
Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
In the future you will find a love that lasts

So when tears flow
And you don’t know
What on earth to do
And your world is blue

When your dream dies

And your heart cries
Shahdaroba
Fate knows what’s best for you

Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
Face the future and forget about the past
Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
In the future you will find a love that lasts

Shahdaroba

As soon as the show was over, I wandered to the record stacks and pulled out The All-Time Greatest Hits Of Roy Orbison, and on Side Three I found a song titled “Shahdaroba” and put it on the turntable. That was the tune. And it was just as haunting without the visuals of the television show.

I’ve seen the title spelled numerous ways. The listing inside the jacket of the two-LP set I pulled from my shelves listed the song as “Shahadararoba,” which I knew wasn’t right. The listing at All-Music Guide for the album I have has the title as “Shahadaroba,” while the CD version of the two-LP album I have now – listed at Amazon – spells the title “Shadaroba.” And on-line listings for merchants selling the record include several spellings, with “Shahdaroba” being the most frequent (although frequency in those precincts is certainly no guarantee of accuracy). The generally accurate folks at the Both Sides Now discography site have it as “Shahdaroba,” as does the label on the LP I have, so I’m going with that.

Whatever the spelling, the haunting recording used to close last season’s Mad Men was from 1963 and was released as the B-side of Orbison’s No. 7 hit, “In Dreams.” And although I know I’d heard it before – no LP goes into my stacks without being played at least once – it evidently didn’t leave much of an impression when I got the album in February 1998. (I do remember being intrigued by “Leah” on the same album and immediately using it in several mixtapes for friends; I wish now I’d paid more attention to “Shahdaroba.”)

I’m not entirely certain when the practice began of closing television shows with an entire popular song in the soundtrack continuing over the credits. Sometime in the 1990s, when I watched very little television? Or earlier? I don’t know. I do know that I’ve listed in recent weeks two songs from the 1960s that were brought to my attention in that way: “Shahdaroba” today and Richie Havens’ “Follow,” which I wrote about two weeks ago.

The virtues of “Shahdaroba” – written by one Cindy Walker – are clear and include a great vocal from Orbison, an eerie melody with what I think is an oboe providing the sinuous counter-melody, and an enigmatic yet hopeful set of lyrics. There’s clearly room for it in the Ultimate Jukebox.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 34
“Shahdaroba” by Roy Orbison, Monument 806 [1963]
“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” by the 5th Dimension, Soul City 772 [1969]
“Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band from The Band [1969]
“Minnesota” by Northern Light, Glacier 4501 [1975]
“Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band, Warner Bros. 8370 [1977]
“Mandolin Rain” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range from The Way It Is [1986]

I’ve written before about the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” and its place as the first musical 45 I ever bought with my own cash. (Long-time readers will remember my discovery of Dickie Goodman’s “Batman and His Grandmother” in a box and my memory of that being my first 45 purchase of any kind.) Why does “Aquarius” belong here? First, having been pulled from the musical Hair, the two songs that were merged to form a medley reflect a good portion – some of the most positive portions – of the spirit of the late 1960s. Second, the 5th Dimension’s pop-soul sounded good then and still sounds good today, with production by Bones Howe and backing provided by a large cast of session stars that included Larry Knechtel and Hal Blaine. Third, and most importantly, I guess, I just like it.

I was out on an errand with my mother sometime in January 1970, and I had the radio tuned to KDWB, one of the Twin Cities’ Top 40 stations. I remember exactly where we were – I drive past the spot on St. Cloud’s North Side on occasion – when the strains of The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” came out of the radio. I’d been listening to Top 40 for a few months, and I’d heard the song before, but for some reason, this was the first time I’d really listened. I took in the drum and guitar riff introduction, Levon Helm’s countryish vocal with its sly “hee-hee” along the way, the ensemble choruses and Garth Hudson’s twangy fills that sounded like a jew’s harp (I had one of those at home and twanged it on occasion), and I wondered why I hadn’t paid the song any attention before. Every evening from then on, I listened for “Up On Cripple Creek” as I tuned into WJON, just down the street and across the tracks. Why I just didn’t go out to Musicland and buy the single or the album, I have no idea. I wouldn’t buy any LPs until May of that year, when I would get stuff by the Beatles and Chicago. By that time, I’d likely forgotten about The Band.  “Up On Cripple Creek” peaked at No. 25 in early January 1970, and by the middle of the month, the record had dropped out of the Top 40 and consequently faded from the airwaves and, evidently, my memory. That Christmas, in 1970, Rick brought The Band back into my life when he gave me The Band, the group’s second album. I loved most of it, and made a vow to look into the group’s other work. I did so eventually, and The Band is still my all-time favorite group. And “Up On Cripple Creek” is about as good a track as that talented group ever recorded.

Every state should have its own popular song. Sorting through songs whose titles refer to states – just off the top of my head – maybe the best would be “Georgia On My Mind.” In the spring of 1975, Minnesota got its own popular song when the group Northern Light released “Minnesota.” With its harp glissandos, Beach Boys-inspired harmonies, a great blues harp solo and its iconic opening of a loon calling across the water, “Minnesota” reeled me in right away. I don’t have access to any Twin Cities charts from that spring, but the record, as you might expect, got a lot of airplay here. It did get a little bit of national attention, peaking at No. 88 in the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-May and reaching No. 77 on the Cashbox chart a few weeks later. I was lucky enough to find a near-mint copy of the 45 at a garage sale here in St. Cloud a few years ago, so I can hear the tune whenever I want, but I feel even luckier when I’m in the car and I hear the call of the loon and the rest of the single on the oldies station.

(For more on “Minnesota” and Northern Light, check out the post my friend jb put up at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ in May.)

A true one-hit wonder, “Smoke From A Distant Fire” came from the first, self-titled album by the Sanford/Townsend Band. And nothing else on the group’s first album or on its two follow-up albums was ever quite as good as that single. Bursting from the speakers with a drum intro followed by a bluesy guitar solo, the record grabbed one’s attention from the start. Add the solid vocal and great guitar and saxophone solos, and you have a hit single. The record went to No. 9 in the late summer of 1977 and was a vital part of the soundtrack to my life as I was finally finished with school and tentatively began to find my place in the working world.

Sanford/Townsend Band – “Smoke From A Distant Fire [1977]

The gorgeous piano introduction to “Mandolin Rain” pulls me back to a place of refuge. During the winter of 1986-87, I made a number of poor life decisions, and for several months, the only place I felt I could relax was in my teaching office at St. Cloud State, a tiny space in the offices of the Performing Arts Center. I had a cassette player there, and I’d retreat there for lunch, eating the same thing every day for most of those months: egg salad on wheat bread and black coffee. A friend in the public relations office frequently loaned me music from his large tape collection, and one day he handed me The Way It Is, the first release from Bruce Hornsby & The Range. I liked most of it but loved “Mandolin Rain.” The record went to No. 4 early in 1987, but it was No. 1 on my list, and I listened to that side of the cassette two or three times a week that winter and early spring. Late in the spring of 1987, I emerged from my cocoon, thirty pounds lighter, a little bit wiser, and ready to live again. I’ve never been certain what the lyrics of the song are really about, but to me they sound like a tale of necessary and welcome transformation.

Bruce Hornsby & The Range – “Mandolin Rain” [1986]

 

(“Shahdaroba” © Combine Music Corporation)

(Chart error corrected since first posted,)

Digging A Bit Deeper In The Chart

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

A radio listener was doing pretty well forty years ago this week. As the month of July moved into its second week and a sixteen-year-old whiteray got ready for his four days of work at the state trapshoot, the radio supplied some good company. Here’s the Billboard Top Ten for the week ending July 11, 1970:

“Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Three Dog Night
“The Love You Save/I Found That Girl” by the Jackson 5
“Ball of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)” by the Temptations
“Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image
“Band of Gold” by Freda Payne
“Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)” by Melanie with the Edwin Hawkins Singers
“(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters
“The Long And Winding Road/For You Blue” by the Beatles
“The Wonder of You/Mama Liked The Roses” by Elvis Presley
“Hitchin’ A Ride” by Vanity Fare

An interesting week in the Top Ten: A little bit of R&B, some folkie stuff, some mainstream pop-rock, some pure pop, a bombastic ballad from Elvis with a countryish flipside, a ballad from the Beatles with a three-chord blues on the flipside, and some Randy Newman surrealism filtered through Three Dog Night’s production values.

Things would get a little more interesting and surreal yet the next week when the Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding” moved up two places and took up residence at No. 9. By then, I think, I was spending ten hours a day in a gunproof blockhouse, loading targets onto a machine so men and women with shotguns could shoot the targets and win trophies, money and more guns. I didn’t mind; I got paid pretty well for a kid in 1970: $15 a day. The worst part was that the dust from the targets – made from some kind of brittle tarry substance – burned my face, and during the week after the trapshoot, the skin on my face would crinkle for a few days and then peel off in large chunks.

But during the week in question, the first full week in July, my skin was blissfully uncrinkled, and aside from chores at home – mowing the lawn, picking up sticks after storms, patrolling the yard for dandelions (all of which I could do with a transistor radio in my pocket and an earpiece in my ear) – my time was pretty much my own. And I got a lot of listening done, the vast majority of which came from the Top 40.

Had I dug a little deeper into the Billboard Hot 100, I would have found some interesting bits and pieces.

Sitting at No. 31 was the 5th Dimension’s cover of a Laura Nyro tune: “Save the Country.” In its fifth week in the Hot 100, the song was already the group’s thirteenth Top 40 hit (the final total would be twenty Top 40 hits) and was heading for its peak position of No. 27.

 

Moving out of the Top 40 and further down the Hot 100, we run into a Chicago soul group at No. 56. The Lost Generation’s “The Sly, Slick, And Wicked” would eventually rise to No. 30 on the pop chart and to No. 14 on the R&B chart. The record would also inspire separate groups in Cleveland and Los Angeles to name themselves “Sly, Slick & Wicked,” ensuring confusion for music researchers for years to come.

I never cared much for Kenny Rogers as a country singer, the niche he fell into in the late 1970s with “Lucille” and many more, including the execrable “Coward of the County.” But there’s no denying that most of his hit records with the First Edition – seven Top 40 hits between 1968 and 1970 – also had a country tinge to them. Looking at the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits this morning, the only one of the First Edition’s hits that didn’t have at least some kind of countryish feel was the trippy “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” a No. 5 hit in 1968. Sitting at No. 65 during the second week of July 1970 was one of those records with a country/gospel feel to it. “Tell It All Brother” would eventually make its way up the chart to No. 17. (The video credits the recording to Rogers alone, but it was released under the name of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition.)

As is pretty widely known, the female voice doing the high-pitched end-of-the-world vocals on the Rolling Stones’ track “Gimme Shelter” was that of Merry Clayton. One of the most active and sought-after background vocalists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Clayton also released three solo albums on the Ode label during the early years of the 1970s: Gimme Shelter in 1970 and Merry Clayton and Celebration in 1971. Ode would release another album, titled Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow in 1975 before Clayton moved to MCA for 1979’s Emotion and eventually to A&M for the 1994 Gospel CD, Miracles. But a lot of that was yet to come during this week in 1970, when the Ode single, “Gimme Shelter,” was sitting at No. 76. The record would peak a week later at No. 73 and would fall off the chart entirely during the next week.

And then we go from the horror of a world falling viciously apart to a sweet recording about an idyllic small town in California. Rita Abrams was a singer-songwriter who in1970 was teaching elementary school in the town of Mill Valley, California, located in Marin County about four miles north of San Francisco (via the Golden Gate Bridge). According to Wikipedia:

“On Christmas Day 1969, [Abrams] wrote a song about the town for her kindergarten class to sing. It was heard by record producer Erik Jacobsen, who recorded Adams with the children from the third grade class at the school, and took it to Warner Bros. Records where the label management ‘guys in suits stood up and gave it a standing ovation’. Released in June 1970 on the Reprise label, the record reached # 90 on the Billboard pop chart. Promotional photos of the singers were taken by Annie Liebowitz, and Abrams appeared on several networked TV shows and in national magazines, while also turning down an opportunity to advertise Jell-O. A performance for the Mill Valley Fourth of July celebration was filmed by Francis Ford Coppola, then a little-known documentary maker. Following the song’s success, Abrams, Jacobsen and the children recorded and released an album, entitled Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point 4th Grade Class as the children had by then moved up a grade. According to reviewer Greg Adams, ‘Only the most hard-hearted cynic could find no enjoyment in this minor masterpiece of early-’70s soft pop.’”

And here’s “Mill Valley” by Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point Third Grade Class: