Posts Tagged ‘Assembled Multitude’

‘And Wondering Why . . .’

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

Last evening, as I made dinner – a classic Midwestern meal of a sauce of cream soups, milk, canned chicken, onions and a few other things over elbow macaroni – the iPod chugged along atop the repurposed bookcase we call Pantry Boy. Among the twenty or so tracks the iPod offered as I chopped, mixed and stirred was Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” from 1968.

As has been my habit for some time now, I shared the lengthy list of tracks – divided this time into two portions – at Facebook last evening, highlighting first Joe Brown’s performance of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” from the 2002 Concert for George and later the Rascals’ 1969 hit, “People Got To Be Free.” The first post got little comment, but there was a lot of positive response to the second set. And then a friend of mine said she’d never gotten “MacArthur Park” and asked for insight.

I responded, perhaps a little pertly, “Surrealism, memory and regret.” She said she got those things from the tone of the music but she didn’t get the lyrics. I think the lyrics as well as the tone of the music carry all of that. So I wrote:

Well, unless I’m mistaken in what I remember this morning, the only part of the lyrics that needs any explication is the part about the cake, and my thought has always – well, since I became an adult – been that the cake represents the love of his life, now gone for reasons beyond their control, with the sweet things melting away in the rain of troubles. Otherwise, I don’t think the lyrics are all that obtuse; they tell a story of simple joys, loss, hope and grief: “After all the loves of my life, I’ll be thinking of you . . . and wondering why.”

And for good measure, I posted the comments I made more than five years ago when I included Harris’ version of the song in my Ultimate Jukebox:

I think “MacArthur Park” is one of those records that has no middle ground. Folks either love it or find it ridiculous. Obviously, I’m I the first group, and have been from the first time I heard it. (One day in the summer of 1968, my sister called me to the radio to hear “this stupid song that goes on forever about leaving the cake out in the rain.”) I recognize its flaws: Harris’ vocals are overblown. The lyrics – even without the cake in the rain – are overwritten. The backing, with its lengthy instrumental passages, is too big for the song. But you know what? From where I hear the record, every one of those things – the over-reaching vocal, the over-written lyrics, the overwhelming backing – is a virtue for a record that went to No. 2 during the summer of 1968. Baroque and excessive “MacArthur Park” may be, but it’s also brilliant.

My friend later thanked me for my comments, said she generally agreed with me about the tunes I list at Facebook, and added that this time, she agreed with my sister.

The exchange got me thinking about the song, of course, and went to the RealPlayer to see how times “MacArthur Park” showed up. Turns out it’s nineteen times. Three of those are from Harris: the original mono mix from the 45 and two copies of the album track, one from Harris’ 1968 release A Tramp Shining and the other from a box set of work by the famed session musicians called the Wrecking Crew.

The rest run the gamut from Ray Conniff & The Singers to Waylon Jennings with the Kimberlys; from Enoch Light to the Three Degrees; from Ferrante & Teicher and the 101 Strings to the Brazilian Tropical Orchestra and the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain. One major version missing from the digital stacks is Donna Summer’s cover of the tune, which spent three weeks at No. 1 in Billboard in November 1978. That’s a gap I will remedy soon, even though I’ve never been fond of Summers’ version.

I think over the next week or so, I’ll do some digging and find out what the hell Jimmy Webb was thinking about when he wrote the song. (I noticed a listing for a piece online in which Webb discusses the lyrics, and I’ll have to check that out.) And we’ll dig into some of the covers I have on the shelves. We’ll start that process with the instrumental version offered as an album track in 1970 by the Assembled Multitude, the group of Philadelphia studio musicians whose version of “Overture From Tommy (A Rock Opera)” went to No. 16 in Billboard that summer.

One Chart Dig: January 1971

Friday, January 29th, 2016

There’s a nasty flu/cold bug going around these parts, and at various times over the past few weeks, the Texas Gal and I have felt its effects. This week, it’s my turn, which is why things have been sparse this week (not only in this space but anywhere that I have responsibilities).

But I took a look this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1971, forty-five years ago. As my senior year of high school turned the corner toward graduation (and a summer of lawn-mowing and floor-scrubbing), buried deep in the chart – bubbling under at No. 105 – was a record I would have liked very much if I ever had heard it.

I doubt, though, that I ever heard the Assembled Multitude’s “Medley from ‘Superstar’ (A Rock Opera)” coming out of my radio speakers. I might have already heard Murray Head’s take on “Superstar,” essentially the title track of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. At the end of January 1971, that release was at No. 78 in a slow climb to No. 14 during its second stint in the Hot 100. (It had been released in early 1970 and stalled at No. 74.) Whenever it might have been that I heard Head’s single, I liked it enough to pick up the album during the coming summer.

And though I didn’t really know who the Assembled Multitude was – a group of studio musicians from Philadelphia, as it happened – I’d liked “Overture From Tommy” when it went to No. 16 during the summer of 1970. A second single release from 1970, a cover of “Woodstock,” went to No. 79 but escaped my attention at the time.

So, too, in its brief time in the chart, did the Multitude’s “Medley from ‘Superstar’ (A Rock Opera).” It bubbled under the chart for a few weeks, crawled up to No. 95, and then faded away.

Garage Paintin’ Music

Friday, August 10th, 2012

I suppose it might have been in July, but I think it was a sunny morning in August 1970 when my dad presented me with a couple of paintbrushes, some turpentine, some rags and a couple of gallons of white paint. The west side of the garage needed painting.

Actually, I imagine the entire garage needed painting and he was presenting me with the west side as a test: The south side of the garage was fronted by rose bushes, the east side held a door and a window and had a begonia bed in front of it, and the north side had the overhead door. If I could handle a blank wall without mishap, I might be trustworthy enough to be let loose on one of the other three sides. I was not, one might guess, particularly adept at handyman-type chores.

Why do I think it was August? Because as well as the paint, the brushes, the turpentine and the rags, I took with me out to the garage that morning my RCA radio, the one that had been my grandfather’s, the one I’d brought up from the basement about a year earlier as I answered the siren call of Top 40 music. I opened the overhead door, ran an extension cord around to the back of the garage and provided myself with some entertainment as I painted.

And one of the records I heard that morning on the Twin Cities’ KDWB was one of my favorites at the time, a record that was sitting at No. 19 forty-two years ago this week: the “Overture From Tommy” by the Assembled Multitude. (It still is a favorite of mine; when it popped up the other week on the mp3 player in the kitchen, I found myself doing one of my unorthodox kitchen dances, using a soup ladle as a mallet for air chimes when the real chimes come in at the forty-nine second mark.)

I recall bobbing my head to the record as I painted that morning, happily refraining from using my paint-laden brush as an air chimes mallet or a conductor’s baton. I was trying to be responsible and careful as I worked. Nevertheless, by the end of the morning, when I had finished the job, there were a few spatters of white paint on the radio’s brown casing, spots that were still there when the radio was removed from the basement (where I placed it after getting an AM/FM radio) in 2004.

Along with checking where “Overture From Tommy” sat forty-two years ago this week, I took a deeper look this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from August 15, 1970. Usually, of course, I’m looking for obscure singles, records that pretty much stayed at the bottom of the chart. But this morning, I thought I’d look for records that were favorites of mine at the time, records I was likely to have heard that morning as I painted the garage.

Heading down only a little to No. 22, we find “Are You Ready” by Pacific Gas & Electric. I’ve mentioned the record numerous times during the past five-plus years, but it’s here again because it mattered to me. I’d be a high school senior in less than a month, and the following summer, after I graduated, I knew my folks would expect me to find some kind of summer job. Yes, I was doing chores during that summer of 1970, and I did spend four days working at the state trap shoot at the nearby gun club, but for the most part, that summer was mine. And “Are You Ready” is a record that over the years has come to be a defining sound of that last free summer.

At the time, being a relatively recent convert to the Church of 45s, I don’t know that I’d ever heard of “Duke of Earl,” Gene Chandler’s classic No. 1 hit from 1962. Early in my senior year, I would come across a slender paperback, The Poetry of Rock, in which Richard Goldstein gathered and commented on rock and pop lyrics he thought significant. Among the lyrics in that book were those to “Duke of Earl.” But it took me years to connect the Gene Chandler mentioned as the singer of “Duke of Earl” in Goldstein’s book to the Gene Chandler whose “Groovy Situation” was sitting at No. 36 as I painted, heading to No. 11 on the pop chart (and No. 8 on the R&B chart, about which I know I was utterly unaware). I had much to learn. But I liked “Groovy Situation,” and that was a start.

Despite being clueless about the origins and background of much of the music I heard coming from that old RCA radio, I was developing – via the commentary of my friends, a little bit of reading in music magazines and the shifting sands of my own tastes – a sense not only of what I liked but of what was, for the lack of a better word at the moment, valuable. I knew the difference between Bob Dylan and Bobby Sherman, and I would spend much of my life digging into the work of the former and forgetting about the latter. Nevertheless, one of the records I was glad to hear coming out of the radio that morning was “Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman, which was sitting at No. 38 on its way to No. 5. Why? Well, it was romantic adolescent pop, and I was a romantic adolescent. In memory, it doesn’t hurt that there would actually be a Julie during my senior year, one whose charms I noticed but whose interest in me I absolutely missed.

The concept of groups covering other performers’ earlier hits was also something I had to assimilate. The previous autumn – as I’ve related here before – I quite liked “Birthday,” the No. 26 hit by Underground Sunshine, and when confronted some months later by the Beatles’ version from the White Album, I wondered  (without, thankfully, expressing the thought to my friends) why the Beatles had recorded another group’s song. With some exceptions, my knowledge of pop music as I painted the garage still started with the late summer of 1969. So if Rare Earth’s trippy cover of the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You” came through the speakers that sunny morning, I would have had no awareness that there had been an earlier, earthier version of the song that had gone to No. 8 (No. 1 R&B) in 1966. All I knew was that I liked the record, which was sitting at No. 47 that week, on its way to No. 7, and I certainly didn’t realize that the trippiness I liked would eventually trap Rare Earth’s “(I Know) I’m Losing You” in that specific time.

In the song “Yellow River,” Tony Christie – billed on the label as just Christie – sings about coming home from war:

So long, boy, you can take my place
Got my papers, I got my pay
So pack my bags and I’ll be on my way to Yellow River

Put my gun down, the war is won
Fill my glass high, the time has come
I’m going back to the place that I love: Yellow River

A note at Wikipedia says that Christie wrote the song from the viewpoint of a Confederate soldier returning from the U.S. Civil War, but I have a sense that a lot of folks who listened to Christie’s words in 1970 heard the story of a soldier coming home from Vietnam instead. “Yellow River” was sitting at No. 80 forty-two years ago this week and would eventually climb to No. 23, and as often as I would hear the song that late summer and autumn, I don’t think I ever listened closely enough to hear either the story that Christie intended nor the parallel tale that must have echoed in the record’s chords for thousands of Americans who were not all that much older than I was when I was painting the garage.

Forty-One Years

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

The Assembled Multitude – “Ohio” [1970]

‘That Don’t Bother Me . . . At All’

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

During my scuffling days in the late 1990s, I twice went without a car for fairly lengthy stretches of time. It wasn’t as bad as it might sound; living in south Minneapolis, I could take the bus downtown to work; I could ride my bicycle to the grocery store on weekends unless the weather was truly raw; and one of the other members of Jake’s band came through Minneapolis on his way to practice, so I generally was able to get to Jake’s each week.

There were, however, some things that were a little tougher to accomplish.

One spring Saturday afternoon, I sat down in my easy chair with a sandwich and leaned over to turn on the television, probably to watch a baseball game. The television, which I’d bought used a couple of years earlier, made a popping noise. I got up to look at the back of the set: I could see little sparks dancing inside, and smoke was starting to seep out. I pulled the plug from the wall, and in a brief time, the sparks quit dancing and the smoke dissipated. There’d be no fire in the apartment today. But I knew I wasn’t going to be watching the game, at least not on that set. I finished my sandwich, hauled the dead TV outside to the dumpster and assessed my options.

I could afford another TV, as life was pretty good at the time: I was working at a job that paid fairly well, considering my basic needs (thirty bucks a week at Cheapo’s, as long-time readers might expect, was a basic need along with groceries, cat food, toothpaste and the like). I’d have to buy the TV on a credit card, but I could pay the monthly bill that resulted. And there was a major discount retail store about eight blocks away that would certainly have at least one television I would find both suitable and affordable. The only problem was transport. I was going to get a car fairly soon, buying the older of my dad’s two vehicles for a far-more-than-reasonable price. That was a couple of weeks away, though, and I wanted a television sooner than that. But how would I get it home from the store?

And I thought of the guys down the hall. We weren’t close friends, but I would run into the two college guys several times a week in the hallways. They’d been in my apartment for beverages once – my record collection fascinated them – and I in theirs a couple of times. They knew I didn’t have a vehicle, and they’d told me that anytime I needed a ride somewhere, just knock on their door. And I looked at my empty TV stand and decided it was time to do just that.

Forty minutes later, the three of us were hauling a boxed television up to my third-floor apartment. We got it in without either of the two cats heading out the door, and we sat for a few moments sipping cold drinks, catching our breaths. Then one of the two guys waved at my record collection and said to the other, “He’d probably know what that song was.” The other fellow nodded, and they told me that the previous evening, listening to a radio station they’d come on by accident, they’d heard a strange but very absorbing song. “It sounded a little like a country song, but it wasn’t a country station,” one of the guys said. “It was like a classic rock station.”

“And the chorus was about two hangmen,” said the other guy. “It was kind of creepy.”

I held up a hand and went to the shelves, and in moments I’d pulled out the album Wanted! Mason Proffitt. I cued up the first track on side two, and the sound of two guitars picking through an introduction came out of the speakers. They listened, and then the narrator began the story:

As I rode into Tombstone on my horse – his name was Mack –
I saw what I’ll relate to you going on behind my back.
It seems the folks were up in arms; a man now had to die
For believin’ things that didn’t fit the laws they’d set aside.

“That’s it,” said one of the guys as I handed him the album jacket. They pored over the notes inside for a few moments as the song continued, and a few minutes later, when group founders John and Terry Talbot and the rest of Mason Proffit got to the chorus, the two college guys raised their heads and stared at the stereo:

And now we’re two hangmen hangin’ from a tree.
That don’t bother me . . .
At all.

The chorus went on and on, over and over, above a busy and increasingly loud and dissonant background of voices singing and talking, with some strings sneaking in during the final minute to sweeten the deal. When the song was over, the two guys finished their drinks, one saying to the other, “Man, we have to see if we can find that on CD.” I thanked them again for their help and they headed down the hall toward their apartment.

I let the record play on as I got busy unpacking the new television. And as I did, I thought about “Two Hangmen,” which is undoubtedly the centerpiece of that first album by Mason Proffit. It seemed like anytime anyone heard it for the first time – and I’d included it several times in mixtapes for younger friends who had no memory of 1969 – the song stunned them. I’d heard friends in radio say that anytime they aired the song, the phone lines went crazy with listeners calling in to find out what the hell that song was.

Beyond being a great record, “Two Hangmen” – released as a single on the small Happy Tiger label to no chart success at all, as far as I can find – and the rest of that debut album seemingly served as an announcement by the Talbot brothers et al. that their band was ready to go. With a combination of rock and country that made the band, according to All-Music Guide, “among the first to combine the energy and instrumentation of rock with the subject matter and twang of country,” Mason Proffit released Wanted! Mason Proffitt in 1969. Musically and lyrically, it was a polished and compelling effort. But the album went nowhere, not even reaching the lower portions of the Billboard 200.

Its follow-up, Movin’ Toward Happiness, did get to No. 177 in 1971, and a third album, Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream, went to No. 186 in 1972. While neither of those two records had anything quite as arresting as “Two Hangmen,” they were good records as well. The problem for Mason Proffit, it seemed, was their labels: The first two records were released on the small Happy Tiger label, which was in existence from 1969 to 1971 with what seems an odd roster of talent, according to Wikipedia: Mason Proffit; the group Them; country guitarist Red Rhodes; Priscilla Paris (one-third of the Paris Sisters, who went to No. 5 in 1961 with “I Love How You Love Me”); singer-songwriter Paul Kelly; the Anita Kerr Singers; and an aging Count Basie. After two albums on Happy Tiger, Mason Proffit’s third album came out on another small label, Ampex, which was in existence from 1970 to about 1973.

The band’s chance to move up came in 1972 when Warner Bros. signed the band and released the group’s fourth album, Rockfish Crossing. But the record failed to make the charts, and despite the band’s touring with the Grateful Dead, the group’s fifth album, Bareback Rider, only got to No. 198 on the Billboard 200. That’s when Mason Proffit called it a day.

The Talbot brothers moved toward Christian pop and released the countryish album The Talbot Brothers in 1974; in years to come, John Michael Talbot became one of the best-selling artists in the Contemporary Christian genre, leaving country rock behind him and leaving for the fans of obscure artists one great song:

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 29
“Two Hangmen” by Mason Proffit from Wanted! [1969]
“Overture from ‘Tommy’” by the Assembled Multitude, Atlantic 2737 [1970]
“Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts, Warner Bros. 7606 [1972]
“Can’t You See” by the Marshall Tucker Band from Marshall Tucker Band [1973]
“Upper Mississippi Shakedown” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Shakedown [1981]
“Closing Time” by Leonard Cohen from The Future [1992]

The Assembled Multitude was a collection of studio musicians assembled in Philadelphia by producer Tom Sellers. The group recorded an album of mostly covers – “Ohio,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “MacArthur Park” and “Woodstock” among them – and was likely surprised to find itself with a hit. The group’s cover of the overture to Tommy, the rock opera by the Who, went to No. 16 in the late summer of 1970. I love the French horns.

I’m not sure exactly when Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” was actually released, but it seems that in most markets – according to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive – it got its airplay in the autumn of 1972. (A survey from KLZ-FM in Denver – evidently an album-rock station more than anything—lists the song as a “Featured” record in the third week of July; I don’t know if the jocks there were playing the single or the album track, but I’m inclined to guess the latter.) The point of that is that because of the lyric, I tend to think of “Summer Breeze” as a record from the summer of 1972, not the autumn. (I doubt that I’m alone in that seasonal displacement.) But autumn it was, with the record reaching the Billboard Top 40 on October 21 and peaking at No. 6 for two weeks in late November and early December. Still, the record’s sound – melody, lyrics and that brilliant instrumental hook that frames the verses – was a perfect summation of how good domestic life could be in a summer with the right person.

Even though it’s often lumped in with the southern rock bands of the early 1970s, the Marshall Tucker Band wasn’t quite, to my ears, southern rock. I always thought the band had more country leanings than anything else, and the occasional imaginative instrumentation – like the flute that opens “Can’t You See” – set the band apart from its brethren at Capricorn Records. And that makes “Can’t You See” a great country song, albeit one done by a group that could rock out when the material required it. The version I’m linking to here is the album track from the group’s self-titled 1973 debut; the edit released as a single by Capricorn went to No. 75 in the early autumn of 1977.

The bluesy rock of the Lamont Cranston Band has delighted music fans in the Upper Midwest – and perhaps elsewhere; I’m not sure – since the mid-1970s. And the band continues on: This weekend finds the Lamont Cranston Band with three gigs in Duluth, Minnesota, working the Bayfront Blues Festival on Friday afternoon and closing Grandma’s Sports Garden both Friday and Saturday night. Down here in St. Cloud, the boogie of the “Upper Mississippi Shakedown” continues to be the anthem of the St. Cloud River Bats of the Northwoods League (a league for college players). And there was no way I could leave it out of the Ultimate Jukebox.

With the gently swinging, string-sawing melody and arrangement of “Closing Time,” Leonard Cohen found a perfect musical setting for the acerbic cynicism of his lyrics: The song reads like a surreal tale from a tavern we hope we never find because there would be nothing but disbelief and disappointment for us throughout the evening. And if we truly belong in Cohen’s universe – for this tune and, I tend to think, for many of his others, as well – we’d all be disappointed if we weren’t disappointed by the end of the evening. Still, “Closing Time” is an infectious piece of music and lyrics that grabs hold with a quick touch on the drums and that first sweep of the bow across the strings.

(Attribution added since post was first published.)