Posts Tagged ‘Al Stewart’

Out From The Sun, Part 2

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Having safely crossed the Asteroid Belt beyond Mars, we continue our trek outward from the Sun and approach Jupiter, the largest of the planets. Fittingly, our tune here is one that is related to spaceflight: A search for information about the 1958 instrumental “Jupiter-C” by Pat & The Satellites brings us, among others, a link to Wikipedia, where we learn that Jupiter-C was an American rocket used to test re-entry nosecones during three sub-orbital spaceflights in 1956 and 1957. The rocket, Wikipedia says, was one of those designed by the U.S. Army under the direction of Wernher Von Braun (whom I once met). The record spent four weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at No. 81, and as I check that out in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, I learn that the studio musicians who recorded “Jupiter-C” included the great King Curtis, whose sax is front and center for much of the record.

From Jupiter, we head on toward the beautiful rings of Saturn, and our tune is a Stevie Wonder track titled “Saturn” and found on Wonder’s 1976 album Songs In The Key Of Life. The track was never used as even the B-side of a single, but the album was No. 1 for fourteen weeks, beginning in the middle of October 1976. And even though it’s an album that I heard frequently if not constantly in the spring of 1977 as I hung out with friends from the St. Cloud State student newspaper, I’m sad to say don’t recall “Saturn” and its message:

There’s no principles in what you say
No direction in the things you do
For your world is soon to come to a close
Through the ages all great men have taught
Truth and happiness just can’t be bought – or sold
Tell me why are you people so cold?


We’ll hang around
Saturn for a while yet and make a stop at Titan, the largest of Saturn’s many, many moons. And as we gaze at – as Wikipedia says – “the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found,” we listen to “Sirens of Titan” by Al Stewart, a track from his 1975 album Modern Times. The album sold decently, reaching No. 30 on the Billboard 200, but that pales, of course, compared to the reception received by Stewart’s next two albums, Year Of The Cat and Time Passages, which went to No. 5 and No. 10, respectively. Sonically, Modern Times is similar to the next two albums – all three were produced by Alan Parsons – but it sounds to me just a shade thinner than Cat and Passages. Stewart’s voice is, of course, unmistakable.

And we find ourselves approaching Uranus, the planet whose name is the source of thousands of schoolboy giggles, some of which have found themselves attached to some sophomoric song titles. But we don’t need to go there. Digging through the mp3 files and related tunes this morning, we find “Uranus” by the Brunning/Hall Sunflower Blues Band. According to All Music Guide, Bob Brunning was the bassist for the band that became Fleetwood Mac, but was let go by Peter Green once John McVie had left John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers to join Green’s band. Brunning went on to teach and continue recording part-time, and he and pianist Bob Hall formed the Sunflower Blues Band. In 1969, the band, with some participation from Green, recorded the album Trackside Blues, which included the track “Uranus.” It’s a decent blues track, but its primary appeal this morning is its title.

Heading on, we stay in the realm of the gas giants and find ourselves at Neptune, with the music provided by Nicole Atkins, herself a native of Neptune, albeit the city in New Jersey instead of the distant planet. “Neptune City” was the title track to her 2007 solo debut album. As I wrote in 2010, the album is “lushly produced pop with some tricks and warbles that made it clear how much Atkins listened to – among other things – the Brill Building sounds of the early 1960s.” And it’s an album that I like very much, one that stays pretty close to the CD player that I use for late-night listening.

Pluto is either a planet or a dwarf planet, depending on which cadre of astronomers you talk to, but all I know is that it’s out there and we need to stop by on our way toward the edge of the Solar System. Music was hard to come by here, and we had to dig deep into the digital shelves before finding a song that originally came from a Dutch pop duo called Het Goede Doel. In 1982, the duo’s single “België (Is er leven op Pluto?)” – which translates to “Belgium (Is There Life On Pluto?)” – went to No. 4 in the Netherlands. According to Wikipedia, the duo also recorded a version of the song in English. I didn’t look for that, though, because I have a cover of the tune in its original Dutch by Scala & Kolacny Brothers, the Belgian girls choir that has popped up here at least once before. From a bonus disc included with the 2010 album Circle, here’s “België (Is er leven op Pluto?)”

‘One’

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

As I did something inconsequential the other day, the RealPlayer kept me entertained with a random selection. And then, in the space of five songs, it played two with the same title: “One,” first by U2 and then by Three Dog Night.

That got me to wondering how many tunes I have with the word “one” in the title, so I went looking this morning. I have no answer. The sorting function on the RealPlayer finds every instance of the letters “one” occurring. So I’ve had to bypass multiple versions of “Black Cat Bone” and “Another Man Done Gone” as well as every song with the word “lonely” in its title and the entire catalogs of the Rolling Stones, the Freddy Jones Band and C.W. Stoneking.

But even if I have no specific count, there were plenty of titles to choose from. Here’s a selection:

As has been mentioned before in this space, Neil Young’s 1978 album, Comes A Time, is my favorite album by that changeable and often enigmatic performer. On that album, “Already One” tells the tale of a love that’s difficult yet essential, a story that I’d think most of us have experienced along the way, even if the configuration was a little different than the one in Young’s song.

The Wilburn Brothers – Doyle and Teddy – were from Hardy, Arkansas, and performed at the Grand Old Opry and for a similar radio program, Louisiana Hayride, during the 1940s into 1951, before either of them was twenty. Between 1954 and 1970, they placed twenty-eight records into the Country Top 40. One of those came in late 1964, when “I’m Gonna Tie One On Tonight” went to No. 19.

Marva Whitney is a singer from Kansas City, Kansas, who toured between 1967 and 1970 as a featured performer in the James Brown Review. She recorded a fair number of singles during that time and on into the 1970s, with most of them released on the King label. Three of her singles reached the R&B Top 40; the best-performing was “It’s My Thing (You Can’t Tell Me Who To Sock It To),” which went to No. 19 in 1969. “He’s the One” was not one of those charting three, but it’s a great piece of 1969 R&B nevertheless.

The Sundays released three CDs between 1990 and 1997 in a style that All Music Guide says owes a lot to “the jangly guitar pop of the Smiths and the trance-like dream pop of bands like the Cocteau Twins.” For whatever reason – probably memories of hearing “Here’s Where the Story Ends” on Cities 97 during the early 1990s – I have all three Sundays CDs. Jangly and romantic, “You’re Not The Only One I Know” comes from the first one, 1990’s Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

The James Solberg Band spent a lot of time during the 1990s touring as the backing band for bluesman Luther Allison. Still, Solberg and his mates found time to record a couple of pretty good albums (for some reason, AMG calls the group the “Jim Solberg Band,” while the CDs themselves credit the James Solberg Band), and Solberg himself put together a few good solo albums starting in the late 1990s. In our search this morning, we come across “One of These Days” from the 1996 album of the same name.

Almost every time Al Stewart pops up on the radio or on the mp3 player, I find myself admiring his songcraft and performance. With his smart and literate lyrics and his generally accessible and atmospheric music, Stewart almost always casts a spell. I’ve no doubt heard “One Stage Before” from Year of the Cat hundreds of times since the album came out in 1976, but I’m not sure I’ve really listened to it. I did this morning, and all can do is admire it:

It seems to me as though I’ve been upon this stage before
And juggled away the night for the same old crowd.
These harlequins you see with me, they too have held the floor
As here once again they strut and they fret their hour.
I see those half-familiar faces in the second row
Ghost-like with the footlights in their eyes,
But where or when we met like this last time, I just don’t know.
It’s like a chord that rings and never dies
For infinity.

And now these figures in the wings with all their restless tunes
Are waiting for someone to call their names.
They walk the backstage corridors and prowl the dressing-rooms
And vanish to specks of light in the picture-frames.
But did they move upon the stage a thousand years ago
In some play in Paris or Madrid?
And was I there among them then, in some travelling show?
And is it all still locked inside my head
For infinity?

And some of you are harmonies to all the notes I play;
Although we may not meet, still you know me well,
While others talk in secret keys and transpose all I say
And nothing I do or try can get through the spell.
So one more time we’ll dim the lights and ring the curtain up
And play again like all the times before,
But far behind the music, you can almost hear the sounds
Of laughter like the waves upon the shores
Of infinity.

Saturday Singles Nos. 215 & 216

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

I was doing a favor for the Texas Gal yesterday and came across two riddles. The favor had to do with the top 100 pop songs of 1979 – not my favorite year, but interesting – and I was looking at the Billboard list.

There, at No. 79, was Al Stewart’s “Time Passages.” The first riddle is: How the hell did I overlook that record last winter when I was putting together the Ultimate Jukebox? Not only did I overlook “Time Passages,” but there wasn’t one Al Stewart tune among the 228 I did include. That’s a big miss, given how much I’ve enjoyed Stewart’s work over the years.

The second riddle is how Billboard came to list “Time Passages” in its 1979 listing. I recall the album being a 1978 release, and I was pretty sure the title track was released as a single about the same time. So I checked the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, and, yep, “Time Passages” hit the Top 40 in the third week of October 1978, stayed in the Top Forty for thirteen weeks (which would have kept it there three weeks into January 1979), and peaked at No. 7, staying there for two weeks in late December 1978.

I’ve been looking at the Billboard year-end charts offered at Longbored Surfer, and what I can’t figure out is how “Time Passages” hit the Top 40 and peaked in 1978 but was listed as one of the top 100 songs in 1979. (For what it’s worth, Cashbox has “Time Passages” in its 1978 annual list, ranked at No. 89.) I’m sure there’s a reason, but it eludes me this morning. So we’ll let that one be.

Returning to the question of how I failed to include any of Stewart’s music on my long list of records, all I can say is I don’t know. I knew there would be omissions, and a few things have tugged at my sleeve in the past couple of months. But not including any Stewart at all is a big whiff. And as I think about it, there probably should have been two records by Stewart among those 228. (Don’t, however, consider this post as an addendum to the UJ. Rather, this is the first in what may become an occasional series of, oh, let’s call it “Jukebox Regrets.”)

One of those two Stewart tracks would have been, certainly, “Time Passages.” It’s got a beautiful melody, some of the great saxophone work of the last thirty-five years (by Phil Kenzie), wonderful production by Alan Parsons, and one of Stewart’s most evocative lyrics in a career full of such lyrics. For me, it doesn’t get any more stunning than the ending to the song’s second verse:

Time passages
There’s something back here that you left behind
Oh time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight

Having settled on “Time Passages,” we can consider which other Stewart track might have deserved inclusion. The obvious one, of course, is “Year of the Cat,” Stewart’s 1977 hit from the album released the previous year, which went to No. 8. But I’m a little tired of that one these days, so let’s look elsewhere.

The only Al Stewart track I recall posting here – there may have been others, maybe in a Baker’s Dozen, but there’s no easy way to tell – was “Roads to Moscow,” his long piece about a Russian soldier in World War II from his 1974 album, Past, Present And Future. That’s a worthy piece, but I wouldn’t have included it because of its length: It runs 7:59, and I’d set the limit for the UJ at 7:30. The same rule disqualifies the same album’s brilliant closer “Nostadamus,” which runs nearly ten minutes.

So we look on. As it happens, I don’t have all of Stewart’s work, though I have a great deal of it. I don’t even have all four of his hits in digital form. “Midnight Rocks,” a single that don’t recall all that clearly – it went to No. 24 in the autumn of 1980 – is missing from the files, although I have the vinyl of 24 Carrots, the album from which it was pulled. (I have, obviously, “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages.” And I also have “Song on the Radio” from the Time Passages album, which went to No. 29 in early 1979.) And as I wade this morning through the more than 120 Stewart tracks I do have in digital form, my mind keeps returning to the track that I might have heard more often than any other Stewart track save “Time Passages” and “Year of the Cat.”

These days, it pops up in the middle of the CD of Year of the Cat, but to me, it will always be the opener to Side Two, a tune titled “Flying Sorcery.” I’m not sure why it captivates me, but it does:

With your photographs of Kitty Hawk
And the bi-planes on your wall
You were always Amy Johnson
From the time that you were small.
No schoolroom kept you grounded
While your thoughts could get away
You were taking off in Tiger Moths,
Your wings against the brush-strokes of day.
Are you there?
On the tarmac with the winter in your hair,
By the empty hangar doors you stop and stare,
Leave the oil-drums behind you, they won’t care
Oh, are you there?

You wrapped me up in a leather coat
And you took me for a ride
We were drifting with the tail-wind
When the runway came in sight
The clouds came up to gather us
And the cock-pit turned to white
When I looked the sky was empty
I suppose you never saw the landing-lights
Are you there?
In your jacket with the grease-stain and tear
Caught up in the slipstream of the dare,
The compass roads will guide you anywhere,
Oh, are you there?

The sun comes up on Icarus as the night-birds sail away
And lights the maps and diagrams
That Leonardo makes
You can see Faith, Hope and Charity
As they bank above the fields
You can join the flying circus
You can touch the morning air against your wheels
Are you there?
Do you have a thought for me that you can share?
I never thought you’d take me unawares,
Just call me if you need repairs-
Oh, are you there?

And that’s good enough for me to share it today, and I may as well toss in a video of “Time Passages” and make the two songs today’s Saturday Singles: