Posts Tagged ‘Al Wilson’

Saturday Singles Nos. 476 &477

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

A few years ago this week, I told the story here how two of my friends during my freshman year of college – 1971-72 – baffled me with a Christmas gift: A copy of Three Dog Night’s Naturally album. As I wrote in 2012:

I’d never paid much attention to Three Dog Night, and I doubted that I’d ever indicated to Dave or Wyoming Rick that I was looking for any of the group’s albums. I knew the group’s hit singles, of course, and had particularly liked “Eli’s Coming” and “Out in the Country.” I had one Three Dog Night LP, Captured Live at the Forum, and I suppose I might have dropped that 1969 album on the turntable when the two guys (and likely a few young women) had spent an evening hanging around in the basement rec room at my house.

Whatever their reasoning, I appreciated the gift, as the album turned out to be pretty good, one of the best in the (relatively) lengthy history of the group. The biggest hit from the record was “Joy to the World,” never one of my favorites, but the record also brought along “Liar” and “One Man Band,” which I liked pretty well. My favorite track on the record, however, was an album track: “Heavy Church,” written by Alan O’Day.

I also noted that some digging had told me that songwriter O’Day and soul/R&B singer Al Wilson had both recorded the song, and I wondered if I should toss some nickels in those directions.

Well, I did toss those nickels not too long after writing that, and the two records got here to the East Side, but the computer then living in the EITW studios was balky when it came to ripping records into mp3s, so only essential records made it out of the “to be ripped someday” pile. This autumn’s new computer is much more rip-friendly, and I took the two copies of “Heavy Church” in hand this week and gave them a listen.

Wilson’s came first. He released a promo of “Heavy Church” in 1972 on the Rocky Road label, with a stereo mix on one side and a slightly shorter mono mix on the other. From what I can see online, the record was never given a general release. I like the mono mix better than the stereo mix:

As for O’Day, who wrote the tune, he waited another year before getting around to his own version of the song. In 1973, O’Day put out a promo on the Viva label: “Heavy Church” b/w “The House On Sunrise Avenue.” As was the case with the Wilson version, I can find nothing that tells me that O’Day’s version of “Heavy Church” ever got a general release. Here’s the promo:

My call? Neither version of the tune comes close to the quality of the Three Dog Night take on the tune, but I’d go with Wilson’s mono mix over O’Day’s effort. (I did not make a video of Wilson’s stereo mix because, well, there’s only so much heavy church work a man can do.)

Anyway, whether they bring you pleasure, add context to your base of knowledge, or just plain help you pass some time, there are today’s Saturday Singles.

Chart Digging: April 12, 1969

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

I wrote my first screenplay in the spring of 1969. For a final project in a mass media class, I chose to adapt one of my favorite science fiction stories – “One Love Have I” by Robert F. Young – into a screenplay.

The results were mixed: I learned a lot about narrative, pacing and the use of language as I worked with Young’s meditation on love, loss, sacrifice and the Theory of Relativity; but then, I had a lot to learn. I came across my work not quite three years ago, when the Texas Gal and I were packing for storage those things we wanted to keep but did not need to have at hand. As I glanced through it, I saw immediately that as I’d written, I’d invested little effort in thinking visually, a major deficit in a piece intended for a visual medium.

Still, I was only fifteen in the spring of 1969, and for a first try at what was essentially a new language, the screenplay wasn’t bad. And I did get an A on it.

What else was happening as April of 1969 unreeled? I know Rick and Rob and I played table-top hockey. (Rick’s Chicago Blackhawks brought him his second Stanley Cup.) I spent weekday afternoons – as I chronicled here once before – in the St. Cloud Tech training room, overseeing the whirlpool and making certain that none of the distance runners drowned there.

And I think that more and more, I was listening to Top 40 radio. I hadn’t yet moved Grandpa’s old RCA radio from the basement workbench to my room, but that shift – a key moment in my listening life – wasn’t many weeks away. Sometime that spring, I’d lay down cash in a Minneapolis department store for my first 45 of popular music, buying the record that headed the Top Ten on this day in 1969:

“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” by the 5th Dimension
“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“Dizzy” by Tommy Roe
“Galveston” by Glen Campbell
“Time of the Season” by the Zombies
“Only the Strong Survive” by Jerry Butler
“It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers
“Hair” by the Cowsills
“Run Away Child, Running Wild” by the Temptations
“Twenty-Five Miles” by Edwin Starr

With the exception of the Tommy Roe record, which I’ve never liked, that’s a fine set. Given the hoo-ha over the nude scene in the stage version of Hair, and given the family image of the Cowsills, my sister and I were a bit puzzled by the group’s recording of the musical’s title track. “I didn’t think they’d record a song like that,” my sister said to me one day as KDWB provided the soundtrack as we did the dishes. The song, of course, was benign, just as the brief nude scene would be for most folks these days, forty-two years later.

As usual, there were some interesting things in the chart that week, and we’ll start our exploration of the Billboard Hot 100 just beyond the edge of the Top 40.

I once spent an entire post dissecting my thoughts about the Doors, returning to an earlier conclusion that they were a fine singles band but an overrated album band. While making that judgment, I don’t know if I thought about “Wishful Sinful” from The Soft Parade. One of the lesser known Doors’ singles, it was sitting at No. 45 that week, and would move up only one more notch before heading back down the chart. With that, “Wishful Sinful” was the first of four straight singles by the band that would reach the Hot 100 but fall short of the Top 40. (The others? “Tell All The People” and “Runnin’ Blue” from The Soft Parade would peak at Nos. 57 and 64, respectively, and the double-sided “You Make Me Real/Roadhouse Blues” from Morrison Hotel would get to No. 50.) Pulled from the context of its album, “Wishful Sinful” is better than I recalled.

Earthquakes were the inspiration for the only Hot 100 single by a California band called Shango. The group’s reggae-styled single “Day After Day (It’s Slippin’ Away)” was at No. 57 on the chart released forty-two years ago today, and would move no higher. “Where can we go when there’s no San Francisco?” the group asked. “Better get ready to tie up the boat in Idaho.” A year later, Shango’s single, “Some Things A Man’s Gotta Do,” went to No. 107 in the Hot 100’s Bubbling Under section. Other than that, the only other thing I know about Shango – and this is courtesy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – is that Tommy Reynolds,  Shango’s lead singer, was later a member of Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds.

The Foundations are best-known for “Build Me Up Buttercup” (No. 3 in early 1969) and “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” (No. 11 in 1968). In mid-April of 1969, their lesser-known “In Those Bad, Bad Old Days (Before You Loved Me)” was sitting at No. 64, heading to a peak position of No. 59. The English group would have one more record reach the Hot 100 – “My Little Chickadee” would get to No. 99 during the summer of 1969 – and their last mentioned record in Top Pop Singles was “Stoney Ground,” which bubbled at No. 113 for one week in February 1972. “In Those Bad, Bad Old Days” isn’t awful, but it’s not very good, either.

For some reason, obscure covers of Beatles records are among my favorite things to discover. And last evening, as I was beginning the digging for this post, I came across a Beatles cover that surprised me. Not only had I never heard it before, but until last evening, I’d had no clue that it existed. Here’s Chubby Checker taking on “Back In The U.S.S.R.”

The record was at No. 85 in the Billboard Hot 100 released on this date in 1969, the thirty-third record Checker had placed in the Hot 100 (along with two that bubbled under). “Back In The U.S.S.R.” wouldn’t go much higher, spending the last week of April and the first week of May at No. 82 before falling off the chart. It would be another thirteen years – 1982 – before Checker would show up in the charts again, when “Running” went to No. 91 and “Harder Than Diamond” got to No. 104. And in 1988, “The Twist (Yo, Twist!),” credited to “The Fat Boys with Chubby Checker,” went to No. 16 on the pop chart and to No. 40 on the R&B chart, Checker’s last appearance on the charts.

At No. 91, we find Dusty Springfield’s sultry “Breakfast in Bed.” The B-side of her “Don’t Forget About Me” single (which went to No. 64), “Breakfast in Bed” would go no higher. To my ears, it deserved much more, being at least on a par with “Son Of A Preacher Man,” which had gone to No. 10 earlier in 1969. All three of those tracks – along with Springfield’s next charting single, “The Windmills of Your Mind/I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore” (Nos. 31 and 105) – came from the sessions that resulted in the glorious Dusty In Memphis album, which had been released that March.

Finally, dipping into the Bubbling Under section of the April 12, 1969, chart, we find Al Wilson, whose “I Stand Accused” was perched at No. 107. In early 1968, Wilson’s “Do What You Gotta Do” had gotten to No. 102, and then two of his singles had climbed into the Hot 100 – “The Snake” went to No. 27 in 1968, and “Poor Side of Town” had reached No. 75 earlier in 1969. “I Stand Accused” would, however, climb only one spot more before disappearing. Not quite five years later, of course, Wilson’s brilliant “Show and Tell” would spend a week at No. 1.

‘Lookin’ For A Soul Brother . . .”

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Sometime in the late 1950s, musician and civil rights activist Oscar Brown, Jr., sat down and worked out a tune titled “Brother Where Are You,” a song of despair that was also a quiet call to action and its listeners’ self-reflection:

A small boy walked down a city street
And hope was in his eyes
As he searched the faces of the people he’d meet
For one he could recognize

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

The eyes of the people who passed him by
Were cold and hard as stone
The poor boy whimpered and began to cry
Because he was all alone

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

Now there are many
Who will swear that it’s true
That brothers are we all
Yet it seems there are very few
Who will answer a brother’s call

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

“Brother Where Are You” first showed up on record, as far as I can tell, on Abbey Is Blue, a 1959 album by jazz singer Abbey Lincoln. (A year later, Lincoln would team with Brown, Coleman Hawkins and other jazz luminaries for the album We Insist! – Freedom Now, a civil rights-themed project released in anticipation of the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963.)

The tune is familiar to me – and others of my vintage, I assume – because of its inclusion by Johnny Rivers in his 1968 masterpiece Realization. In those environs, the song became less a plaint about racial injustice and more a call for economic and political justice. (It was, of course, not uncommon in the late 1960s and early 1970s for young, socially aware white men to call each other “brother” with no irony and little self-consciousness.)

I have no way to know where Rivers found the song, but there were several versions of it out there. (Tracking the song on indices can be difficult, as some listings have a comma after “Brother” and some don’t. Additionally, some include a question mark at the end of the title while others don’t. The number of possible permutations means I no doubt missed some covers while digging.) Among the more notable versions I found were several early soul/R&B versions of the song, one by a group called Thee Midniters from 1965 and another by a singer named Richard Simmons (not the exercise dweeb) in 1966. I also found a live 1965 performance by the composer himself, later released on the album Mr. Oscar Brown, Jr. Goes to Washington.

One of the more interesting covers of the tune is by the Remo Four, a Liverpool group from the mid-Sixties that released some good records and worked with, among others, Beatle George Harrison. Among its members were Tony Ashton and Roy Dyke, who with Kim Gardner, later scored a one-hit wonder – “Resurrection Shuffle” – in the U.S. as Ashton, Gardner & Dyke. In 1967, the Remo Four’s version of “Brother Where Are You” was included on Smile, an album released in Germany. (It’s now available on CD anywhere.)

One of the most indelible parts of River’s recording of the song on Realization is the chant of the background singers: “Lookin’ for a soul brother all around me.” I’m not at all sure where that originated, but it’s included as well on the version Al Wilson used to close his 1968 album Searching For The Dolphins. As Rivers produced Wilson’s album, which was then released on Rivers’ Soul City label, I’d really like to know which of the two, Rivers or Wilson, was the first to record the song.

There have been other covers of the tune over the years, of course. A combined total of the listings at All-Music Guide shows about eighty CDs on the market that include the song. Subtract – as a guesstimate – half for duplication and other songs with the same title, and there are still about forty artists and groups that have covered the song. And it continues to attract attention. A 2008 version by a group called Masters of Space And Time caught my attention this morning at Amazon. But as is the case with many tunes, I still hold the familiar close. So the version I first heard, Rivers’ take on the tune, is the one I turn to.