By now, I’m sure that anyone who comes by here knows that B.B. King is gone. The blues legend passed on at the age of 89 at his Las Vegas home late Thursday evening (May 14). And blogworld and Facebook are filled with tributes, memories and clips of King’s performances both live and in the studio. I spent a fair amount of time reading and listening yesterday.
I was lucky enough to see B.B. King in concert once; he was the headliner at a blues program offered in 1995 at the Minnesota State Fair. He was nearing the age of seventy, he told us, and so he sat down as he performed, but the notes still came clear from the guitar he called Lucille, many of them shining with that silvery vibrato wrung from his dancing left hand.
But the music he brought forth and offered the world for almost seventy years was only part of the story of B.B. King. As I read a very good account of King’s life, written by Tim Weiner of the New York Times, this caught my eye:
B. B. stood for Blues Boy, a name he took with his first taste of fame in the 1940s. His peers were bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, whose nicknames fit their hard-bitten lives. But he was born a King, albeit in a shack surrounded by dirt-poor sharecroppers and wealthy landowners.
That shack was in Berclair, Mississippi, which Weiner describes as “a hamlet outside the small town of Itta Bena in the Mississippi Delta.” And by the time he passed on in his Las Vegas home nearly ninety years later, he was a multi-millionaire. That arc from poverty to riches might be nearly as important to King’s story as is his music. I say that because from everything I’ve read over the years and then over the past day, none of it – the money, the adulation – really changed Riley B. King. He was, from what I’ve seen from far more than one source, one of the nicest men a person could ever meet.
And that’s good to know. I mean, I listen to and enjoy a fair amount of music made by people who I know were mean-spirited. So it’s nice to know that part of B.B. King’s legacy is that the good cheer with which he played his often broken-hearted blues was real.
There is, of course, a fair amount of B.B. King’s music on the digital shelves here, and more in the vinyl stacks. Sifting through it to find one track to feature here this morning was a little daunting. Then I came across a track from King’s 2008 album, One Kind Favor, an earthy album of covers produced by T Bone Burnett.
“Sitting On Top Of The World” is a song first recorded in 1930 by the Mississippi Sheiks (though Second Hand Songs notes that “[m]ore than half of its melody was in Tampa Red’s instrumental composition ‘You Got To Reap What You Sow’ from the previous year”). Since then, it’s been covered by folks ranging from Howlin’ Wolf and Bob Dylan to Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys and Mitch Miller. King’s version from One Kind Favor seems to make for a nice curtain call, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
Odd, Pop and I were going to take our time this morning finding a Saturday Single, turning today’s date, February 7, into 27 and then check which records were at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100s that were actually released on February 7. As things went, we would have had four charts to choose from, released in 1970, 1976, 1981 and 1987 (with that last year stretching the era in which we like to sit). We’d have ignored charts in our collection from 1998 and 2004 because, with rare exceptions, we don’t care about those years.
Plans, of course, are frequently discarded because they don’t work so well. That happens regularly in the Echoes In The Wind studios, but we don’t often talk about it when it does. (That is, Pop and I don’t; Odd sometimes has a big mouth when he’s out with his friends, who are themselves, of course, odd.) When plans don’t work, we generally just make a new one and keep hanging tales and tunes on our little space in the Interwebs.
Sometimes, though, plans work gloriously. And when we checked the Hot 100 from February 7, 1970, there, sitting at No. 27, was “The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King. The record was moving up the chart to an eventual peak at No. 15 (No. 3 on the R&B chart), and from what I can tell, we’ve only posted the track here once, and that was as kind of an afterthought eight years ago during the first months of this blog’s existence.
All of that made it easy to stop right there in 1970 and to make B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” today’s Saturday Single.
Relatively early yesterday morning, the Texas Gal and I picked up my mom and headed off to Cambridge, my dad’s hometown, fifty miles east of St. Cloud. That’s where we met my sister and became involved in an annual task that I’d quite honestly never thought about: We tended to the graves in the family plot at the Cambridge Lutheran Church.
As I mentioned the other week, my dad passed on ten years ago this month. Every June since then, my sister has taken my mom to Cambridge to visit dad’s grave and to clean his marker and the other five markers in the family plot. This year, with Mom limited by the effects of both aging and the stroke she had earlier this year, the Texas Gal and I joined in.
All six of the graves in the plot have flat markers, and over the course of a year, grass begins to encroach, growing over the markers and obscuring them. So, wielding knives, my sister, the Texas Gal and I trimmed back the grass around each marker and then, with knives still in hand, chiseled compacted grass and dirt out of the engraved letters on a few of the stones.
Dad’s marker was easy. Because he was World War II veteran, his marker is metal and has raised letters. Gravity and time have not yet done much work, and his marker is still fully above ground, all of which made the trimming and cleaning easier. Things were not so easy for the stones marking the graves of his parents, my Grandpa Albert and Grandma Jennie (neither of whom I ever knew).
Those two are the oldest markers in the family plot, Grandpa having passed on in 1942 and Grandma in 1948, and they were the most challenging to clean. Grandma’s marker, especially, has begun to sink into the ground and is almost an inch below ground level. I spent more time trimming the grass around Grandma’s stone and cleaning out its engraved letters than anyone else spent on any other stone yesterday. (The other graves there are those of my uncle – Dad’s brother – and his wife and their son, my cousin Charlie, who died very young in the late 1950s.) While the Texas Gal, my sister and I cleaned, my mom gave some needed attention to a flower arrangement in the family plot.
It sounds like a sad occasion, I imagine. It wasn’t. We chatted as we worked, telling family stories and remembering. We noted that the Swedish heritage of the Cambridge Lutheran Church is obvious in its cemetery, with the markers bearing names like Erickson, Svendborg, Sundstrom, Nelson, Bergquist and many more whose forbears came from Sweden. (“Oh, yeah,” said my sister. “Serve up some lutefisk, and even now, they’d come running!”) On a brief walk after we finished our work, we noticed a couple stones with birth dates in the mid-1800s, marking the graves of folks who might have been born in what they no doubt called the Old Country.
“Mom knows a lot of folks here,” my sister said. “It’s kind of like a reunion.” But my sister also noted that if we really want to hear tales, we need to walk with Mom through St. Mathew’s Cemetery – at the site of what was called the Waterbury Church – in the countryside between the small towns of Lamberton and Wabasso in southwestern Minnesota. And that’s true. Mom lived in Cambridge for only a few years in the mid-1940s, but she grew up in southwestern Minnesota, and given her memory, her tales would be numerous.
(My mom and my sister visited the Waterbury cemetery a couple of years ago, and yesterday my sister said the tale that sticks with her was that of a young fellow at a family celebration who noticed a whiskey bottle in the back seat of a parked car. He opened the door and the bottle and took a long – and final – swig of what turned out to be battery acid. “That was one of the Langs,” Mom said. “It happened at a farewell party.”)
We looked briefly for the graves of Dad’s Uncle Malthe and Aunt Bernie but didn’t see them, and then we got in our two cars and headed into downtown Cambridge for lunch before heading home. (A tip for those who might someday find themselves in Cambridge, Minnesota: Eat at the People’s Cafe. If they’re offering kielbasa with eggs and hash browns, order it. Or if stuffed green pepper soup is on the menu, order that.)
I didn’t think of it while we were working on the grave markers, nor did it cross my mind as we had lunch or as we drove home. But last night, I thought of a song written by bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson and recorded in 1927. You might know the song. It’s been recorded numerous times since, sometimes with the title of “One Kind Favor,” by musicians as diverse as Peter, Paul & Mary, the Carter Family, B.B. King, the Slovenian band Laibach, Bob Dylan, Kelly Joe Phelps and Dave Van Ronk.
I originally offered here the version John Hammond, Jr., included on his self-titled 1964 album, but I’ve since had to substitute B.B. King’s version of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” from his 2008 album One Kind Favor, as today’s Saturday Single.
Sorting for the word “ten” in the titles of the 68,000 mp3s is a difficult process, perhaps the most difficult so far in our March Of The Integers. The RealPlayer lists 1,632 mp3s with that letter combination somewhere in the indexed information. And few of those titles in that listing can be used.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos as recorded by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment? Gone, just like the Allman Brothers Band’s album Enlightened Rogues. Any music tagged as easy listening is also dismissed, which wipes out entire catalogs from artists like Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, the Baja Marimba Band, Ray Conniff & The Singers, Ferrante & Teicher, Percy Faith and of course (in a double stroke), my entire collection of Hugo Montenegro’s music.
Anything with the name of the state of Tennessee in its title has to be set aside, from the Dykes Magic City Trio’s 1927 version of “Tennessee Girls” to the Secret Sisters’ 2010 track “Tennessee Me.” We also lose anything tagged as having been recorded in the state, from Clarence “Tom” Ashley’s 1929 recording of “Coo Coo Bird” to Johnny Cash’s 1974 take on “Ragged Old Flag.” And we eliminate as well several albums: The Tennessee Tapes by the Jonas Fjeld Band, Easin’ Back to Tennessee by Colin Linden and Tennessee Pusher by the Old Crow Medicine Show.
Marc Cohn’s 2010 album of covers, Listening Booth: 1970 is gone, as are the single tracks “Lisa, Listen To Me” by Blood, Sweat & Tears, “Listen to the Wind” by Jack Casady, “Listen to Me” by Buddy Holly, “Listen Here” by Richard “Groove” Holmes and “Listen To The Flowers Growing” by Artie Wayne, among many others.
We’ll also have to avoid everything with the word “tender” in it, including the Bee Gees “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love),” Blue Öyster Cult’s “Tenderloin,” all of Jackson Browne’s album The Pretender, Trisha Yearwood’s “Bartender’s Blues,” and six versions of the classic song “Tenderly,” including Sam “The Man” Taylor’s sweet 1960 saxophone cover.
Lastly, we must pass over the marvelously titled 1945 R&B number “Voo-It! Voo-It!” by Marion (The Blues Woman) Abernathy. As well as having a great title, it’s a decent record that showed up in the list only because an appended comment noted that it was co-written – there’s the “ten” – by Buddy Banks and William “Frosty” Pyles. I am now determined to feature it in this space someday soon.
So what are we left with? Well, there are likely several tracks with the word “ten” hidden in the middle of their titles, but we’ll go the easy route from here and land on six tracks that start with the word. And we have about twenty to choose from, so we should come up with something interesting.
We have covers of a Gordon Lightfoot tune by Tony Rice and Nanci Griffith. We’ll go with Griffith’s version of “Ten Degrees and Getting Colder” from her 1993 album of covers, Other Voices, Other Rooms. The album is well worth finding; the highlights also include Griffith’s takes on John Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” and Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather.” Griffith reprised the idea in 1998 with Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful), an album that starts with a Fairport Convention bang: covers of Richard Thompson’s “Wall of Death” and Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.”
The Miller Sisters – Elsie Jo Miller and Mildred Miller Wages – were actually sisters-in-law from Tupelo, Mississippi. After performing with Elsie’s husband Roy Miller (being billed then as the Miller Trio), the women auditioned for Sun Records in Memphis. According to Wikipedia, “Producer Sam Phillips believed that the Millers’ vocal harmonies, complemented by the steel guitar solos of Stan Kesler and the percussive electric guitar of Quinton Claunch, would translate into significant record sales,” and the duo released a few country singles without much success. Those singles included “Ten Cats Down” from August of 1956, a rockabilly romp that features some nice harmonies. I found the track on the 2002 British compilation The Legendary Story of Sun Records.
We’ll stay with rockabilly for another record: “Ten Little Women” by Terry Noland. A Texas native, Noland – according to the website BlackCat Rockabilly – “attended the same school as Buddy Holly, and like Holly, most of his Brunswick records were produced by Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico.” Brunswick released “Ten Little Women” in 1957 and followed it with “Patty Baby.” The latter sold well in New York, says BlackCat Rockabilly, which led to Noland’s appearing “at the bottom of the bill on Alan Freed’s 1957 Holiday of Stars show at the Brooklyn Paramount.” The flip side of “Ten Little Women” was a tune called “Hypnotized,” which the Drifters covered and took to No. 79 in 1957. I found “Ten Little Women” in the massive That’ll Flat Git It collection of rockabilly released about twenty years ago.
One of the highlights of 2000 – around here, anyway – was the release of Riding With The King, the album that brought Eric Clapton and B.B. King into the studio together. The album’s highlights include takes on King classics like “Help the Poor” and “Three O’Clock Blues” and a shuffling duet on Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway,” a take that’s shorter and less intense but just as pleasurable as the legendary version Clapton recorded in 1970 with Derek & The Dominos. Today, however, it’s “Ten Long Years” that draws our attention. The version King recorded for the RPM label in 1955 went to No. 9 on the R&B chart; the version from Riding is longer but, again, no less pleasurable.
Led Zeppelin was never high on my list of favorite bands; I imagine the band’s excesses – in all ways – put me off. These days, the group’s music is more accessible (and no doubt my tastes have broadened), and there’s no doubt the band’s legendary misbehaviors are far less shocking when viewed from the perspective of today’s libertine culture. So I’ve heard more Zeppelin in the past fifteen years than I likely did in the years way back, but there are still surprises: The aching “Ten Years Gone” from 1975’s Physical Graffiti is one of them. The track was tucked into the second disc of the two-LP album, but I came across it after finding two concise anthologies – Early Days and Latter Days – at a garage sale a couple of years ago. And it’s a pleasant interlude as we wander toward our last stop of the morning.
I don’t know a lot about the Canadian group Steel River. The group was from the Toronto area and got a deal in 1970 from Canada’s Tuesday Records, according to Wikipedia. “Ten Pound Note” was the group’s first single; the record ended up reaching the Canadian Top Ten and was No. 79 in Canada for the year of 1970. I found the single a few years ago when I came across a rip of the group’s only album, Weighin’ Heavy. It’s a decent single, and, given that songs with “eleven” in their titles are rare – I have only four of them among the 68,000 on the mp3 shelves – it’s not a bad place to end the March Of The Integers.
Well, we’ll play some Games With Numbers this morning in hopes of finding a reasonably good Saturday tune. We’ll take today’s date – 9/29 – and turn that into 38, and then take a look at the No. 38 records during the last days of six Septembers long past. And from those six, we should find at least one good record. We’ll start in 1961.
And right off the bat we run into one of the most recognizable jazz records ever to hit the Billboard Hot 100: “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The single was pulled (well, not quite; see Yah Shure’s comment below) from the quartet’s 1959 album Time Out, which All Music Guide calls “Brubeck’s defining masterpiece” and “one of the most rhythmically innovative albums in jazz history, the first to consciously explore time signatures outside of the standard 4/4 beat or 3/4 waltz time.” With Brubeck’s piano and Paul Desmond’s sax leading the way, “Take Five” is still a marvel if a listener can get past the over-familiarity. The record was on its way to No. 25, the first of four records Brubeck would place in or near the Hot 100 between 1961 and 1964 (three with his quartet and one with Louis Armstrong).
As September 1964 ended and October began, the No. 38 record was the first charting single by a man who – despite thirteen charting or near-charting records from 1964 to 1969 – would become better known as a producer who developed one of the most distinctive sounds of the 1970s. Willie Mitchell’s “20-75” was on its way to No. 31; his only better-performing single would be “Soul Serenade,” which went to No. 23 in 1968. In the Seventies, of course, Mitchell was the main force behind Hi Records and the signature sound that boosted Al Green, Ann Peebles and so many more performers.
Three years later, the No. 38 spot on the chart was occupied by a great record in a traditional pop style that was on its way to No. 4 on the pop chart and to No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart. “It Must Be Him” would be, by far, the most successful record for Vicki Carr, who was born Florencia Martinez Cardona in El Paso, Texas. Carr’s first chart presence had been a cover of the Crystals’ hit “He’s A Rebel,” which had bubbled under at No. 115 in 1962. After “It Must Be Him,” she’d reach the Top 40 a couple more times and put eight records in or near the Hot 100, but nothing would ever do as well or be as good as 1967’s “It Must Be Him.”
What was Bread’s greatest record? Many folks whose opinions I respect opt for the shimmering and beautiful “If.” I’ve read arguments for “Diary” or “Aubrey,” and I think a case might be made – acknowledging personal bias – for “It Don’t Matter To Me.” All of those are worthy candidates from a catalog filled with lovely tunes and great records. But I wonder if the group’s first hit, “Make It With You,” might not be better than all of them, simply because it was the first and because it was the group’s only No. 1 hit. The first time I heard the record on KDWB – I was working in the pit at the state trap shoot during the summer of 1970 – I knew in an instant that I’d never heard anything quite like it. And as September ended that year, “Make It With You” was at No. 38 and was making its way back down the chart.
Three years later, the blues show up, as B.B. King’s “To Know You Is To Love You” was at its peak position at No. 38 thirty-nine years ago today. The record was evidently an edit (it could also be another take or another mix) of the eight-minute title track jam on King’s 1973 album, To Know You Is To Love You. Written by Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright, the record was the thirty-ninth of an eventual forty-seven records King would place in or near the Hot 100 between 1957 and 1989. The record went to No. 12 on the R&B chart.
The film American Graffiti, released in 1973, was maybe the most visible of the various triggers that touched off a mid-1970s period of pop culture nostalgia for the 1950s (not withstanding the fact that the film was set in 1962). Among the beneficiaries of that trend was the group Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids, who performed in the movie as Herbie and the Heartbeats, covering “At The Hop” and “Louie, Louie” and adding the original composition “She’s So Fine.” The group then had some chart success, putting four singles in or near the Hot 100 from early 1974 into the autumn of 1976. That latter season was when “Did You Boogie (With Your Baby)” – featuring spoken interludes from Wolfman Jack – went to No. 29. During the last days of September, the record was at No. 38, heading north.
So those are our candidates this morning, and I really like five of the six, and even the sixth – the Flash Cadillac tune – is fun. Narrowing this down to one record is tough. But as often happens in these precincts, the blues trump the entire deck. I couldn’t find the single version of the B.B. King record, but the album version will more than meet our needs this morning. Based on the album credits, I’m guessing that Stevie Wonder is on keys with the Memphis Horns joining in on “To Know You Is To Love You,” today’s Saturday Single.
“It ain’t me, babe. No, no, no, it ain’t me babe . . .”
“That ain’t the way to have fun, son . . .”
One of the most firm lessons we got at Lincoln Elementary School in the mid-1960s was that the word “ain’t” was, at best, a non-standard usage that nice people avoided. At worst, it was vulgar, and all of my teachers from first grade through sixth made it clear that they’d rather eat a plate full of bugs than be caught saying “ain’t.”
It was a word we didn’t use in our household, a word that would have brought a conversation to a pause, if not quite to a halt. “Ain’t” would not have been as shocking as, say, any of the words on George Carlin’s famous list of a few years later, but had my sister or I used it in normal conversation, we would have been reminded that its use wasn’t proper. The unstated subtext of that reminder, I think, would have been that “proper” meant the word was not used by the college-educated or college-bound, essentially white-collar folks.
Yet, I heard the word all around me. Looking back, I can see that the use or non-use of the word in mid-1960s St. Cloud – and mid-1960s America, for that matter – was a class (and on a national level, a regional) signifier. It was true that its users in school were those whose parents held the blue-collar, manual labor jobs that made it possible for us white-collar folks to make it through our days with more ease. Among many other things, they fixed our plumbing, they changed the oil in our cars, and they were the ones who put together our freezers and refrigerators on the assembly line out at Franklin Manufacturing on the west side of town. We were not rich, by any measure, but my dad was a teacher and an administrator. He did not earn his living with his hands, while many of those who used “ain’t” did. And traveling along with the view of “ain’t” as a working class signifier was another, nastier subtext that bothered me then and bothers me today: the idea that the more frequent use of the word among those working class kids and their hard-working folks was an indicator of – to be perfectly blunt – their lesser social value.
And that judgment was, of course, utter bullshit.
It happens that “ain’t” was for years a perfectly acceptable word in standard English. The word’s history is neatly summarized at Wikipedia, which traces the development of “ain’t” as a contraction for “are not,” “am not,” “have not” and a few other common constructions. And then, Wikipedia notes: “During the nineteenth century, the propriety of ain’t began to be disputed. Some writersdid not know or pretended not to know what ain’t was a contraction of, and its use was classified as a vulgarism – a term used by the lower classes.”
I get the sense that the abandonment of “ain’t” by the British swells during the nineteenth century was yet one more Victorian pretension, one more way of drawing another very clear class boundary in a society that hardly needed any more such boundaries. And, it seems, it was a pretension that was cheerfully adopted by the upper class in the United States as well.
Thus discouraged, the word disappeared from the vocabularies of most writers, except to make a point, generally a point of class (or, perhaps just as frequently, region). It could be a tremendously handy word to have in one’s box of writing tools, providing a contraction for those various constructions that can be awkward. Still, having been trained not to use the word, I don’t. There have been about one thousand posts at Echoes In The Wind over nearly five years; with the exception of its citation in song lyrics and titles, I’ve used “ain’t” five times.
I didn’t count the number of times the word came up in lyrics and titles, but that’s happened frequently. And that’s not surprising. It didn’t take more than a few seconds to come up with the three bits of lyrics that opened this post, and more could have followed easily. It’s obvious that “ain’t” is a mainstay in lyrics and song titles (perhaps because so much of our popular music has working-class origins).
So I also went searching for “ain’t” among the more than 57,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer and came up with a list of 468 songs. Some of those are from albums with “ain’t” in their titles, but most of those occurrences – at least 400, I’d guess – find the word in song titles. Those tunes range along the time line from Bessie Smith’s 1925 recording of “I Ain’t Goin’ to Play Second Fiddle” to “Ain’t No Son” from this year’s self-titled album by the Court Yard Hounds (otherwise known as Emily Robison and Marti Maguire of the Dixie Chicks).
Not quite in the middle of that time line, we find “Ain’t Nobody Home” by B.B. King. So we’ll close with a brilliant 1974 live performance of the tune from a concert in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The concert took place in conjunction with the October 30, 1974, championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, the match that’s come to be known as “The Rumble in the Jungle.”(You can get a DVD of the concert here.) As to the tune, King originally recorded it for his 1971 album In London, and a single release went to No. 46 on the pop chart and to No. 28 on the R&B chart.
I’ve told the story before, how sometime in late August or early September 1969, I went to the basement and took Grandpa’s old RCA radio from the shelf near Dad’s workbench, dusted it off and took it upstairs.
I wanted my KDWB and my WLS (and a little bit of nearby WJON) in my room.
I don’t know the date of that bit of appropriation. But it was right around this time, and a look at the Billboard Top Ten from forty-two years ago today finds a lot of familiar records:
“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon
“Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan
“Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good)” by Neil Diamond
“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” by Tom Jones
The only one there that escapes my memory is the Tom Jones tune. I played it on YouTube this morning – as I no doubt have before – and it’s pleasant but it isn’t ingrained in my memories, as are the other nine on that list.
I have no doubt that I’ve looked at that Top Ten – or one from a week so close as to be nearly identical – but I don’t think I’ve ever dug into the deeper parts of the Billboard chart from that week. There are riches there:
Clarence Reid was an R&B singer and songwriter from Georgia who had three records reach the Billboard Hot 100, two in 1969 and one in 1974. (Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles notes that Reid also recorded “X-rated party records” as Blowfly.) During this week in 1969, Reid’s most successful record was sitting at No. 45 on its way up the chart. “Nobody But You Babe” would perch at No. 40 for two weeks. (It would get to No. 7 on the R&B chart, Reid’s best performance on that chart.) Whitburn says that the record – a funky treat – is an answer record to the Isley Brother’s “It’s Your Thing,” which had gone to No. 2 earlier in 1969.
A little further down, we find the Cascades. The group from San Diego is likely best known for its early 1963 hit, “Rhythm of the Rain,” which went to No. 3. In the six years since, the Cascades had placed five records in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section, with the best-performing of those being “The Last Leaf,” which went to No. 60 in the spring of 1963. As September 1969 began, the group’s lightweight “Maybe The Rain Will Fall” was at No. 63. It would get to No. 61 before falling off the chart; it was the last single by the group to make the chart.
Most folks who know Billy Preston’s gospel anthem “That’s The Way God Planned It” know the live version from 1971’s Concert For Bangla Desh. Few, I imagine, have heard the studio version, which was the title track to Preston’s only album released on the Apple label. The track was actually listed on the album as “That’s The Way God Planned It (Parts 1 & 2),” and I’m assuming it was Part 1 that was released as the single. (As it happens, that wasn’t the case. See the note from reader and pal Yah Shure at the bottom.) Forty-two years ago this week, that single – which I like a lot – was at No. 65, falling from its peak position of No. 62. (The single would be rereleased in the summer of 1972, after the album The Concert For Bangla Desh and the accompanying film came out, but it would only go to No. 65.) It’s worth noting that the bulk of Preston’s Apple album was produced by George Harrison, and Harrison, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Ginger Baker were among the musicians backing Preston.
In 1969, José Feliciano was still trying to replicate the success he’d had with his cover of the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” which had gone to No. 3 the year before. “Hi-Heel Sneakers” had reached No. 25 in the autumn of 1968, but several singles after that failed to get any higher than No. 50. In early September 1969, Feliciano’s “Rain” (not the Beatles’ tune) was sitting at No. 76. A sweet but feathery record, “Rain” would go no higher. Its flipside, a Latinized version of the Lennon-McCartney tune “She’s A Woman,” went to No. 103. Feliciano continued to release singles into 1975, but none of them went any higher than No. 83. (In the late 1990s, Feliciano’s 1970 version of “Feliz Navidad” would go to No. 70; it continues to get holiday airplay to this day.)
From 1957’s “Be Careful With A Fool” (No. 95) through 1989’s collaboration with U2, “When Love Comes To Town” (No. 68), B.B. King put forty-seven records in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section. And starting with 1951’s “3 O’Clock Blues” (No. 1 for five weeks) and ending with 1985’s “Into The Night” (No. 15), he put sixty-eight records into the R&B Top 40. There’s not much to say in this limited space after that, except to note that in early September 1969, his “Get Off My Back Woman” was sitting at No. 100. A bluesy joy, the record would peak at No. 74 on the pop chart and at No. 32 on the R&B chart.
Just about two years before he reached No. 6 with “Do You Know What I Mean,” Lee Michaels showed up on the chart for the first time with a record that had a somewhat similar sound as his future hit. The Los Angeles native’s “Heighty Hi” was at No. 114 in its first week in the Bubbling Under section forty-two years ago this week; it would climb a little bit more in the next four weeks, peaking at No. 106. From where I listen, it could easily have done a lot better.
As the third week in November of 1970 spooled out, I was right back where I had been during the last two Novembers – going to classes and then hanging around wrestling practice as a manager at St. Cloud Tech High School. My main duty as wrestling manager was to maintain the scorebook and the statistics, which meant that during matches, I sat at the table at the front of the gym with the scoreboard operator.
In addition, I dispensed aspirin for minor bruises and contusions, wrapped vulnerable thumbs and ankles with an armor of athletic tape, treated raw spots – we called them “strawberries” – on arms and legs with a viciously painful spray called Nitro-Tan, and spent a lot of time sitting and doing nothing. And doing nothing got boring, as did watching wrestling practice. So I got in the habit of bringing a book to practice and sitting on the small gymnastics mat on the side of the wrestling gym, reading science fiction and astronomy. I was a little bit bored with wrestling, and that season marked the seventh out of eight sports seasons in my high school life that I’d spent as a manager for an athletic team. I was getting tired of the locker room and was wondering if I had any options anywhere else.
I’d not focused entirely on managing during high school. I’d played one year in Concert Band, and I was in my second year in Concert Choir and my third year in the orchestra. And as the holidays approached, I would be a member of the ten-voice Carolers, who dressed in something approaching Victorian costumes and performed frequently during December around the St. Cloud area. I’d miss a few wrestling practices for that, which I’d cleared with the coach, but I wouldn’t miss a match.
Still, I was a little unsettled, anxious to try something new. I was being adventurous in my social life, seeing a number of sophomore girls, although the young lady I preferred was directing her attentions elsewhere. (I told the story here and here.) But I wanted something new in the rest of my life, and I was looking.
It didn’t go unnoticed. The wrestling coach – whom we called “Kiff” and who lived less than a block away from us on Kilian Boulevard – told me the following spring, “I could see your attention wandering.” I began to apologize, but he waved it off. “It’s pretty normal for seniors. You’d been there two years and you begin to wonder what else there is to do. Most kids, when that happens, quit what they were doing and go off. You hung in there, and I appreciate that.”
As it happened, come late January and for the rest of the season, my “hanging in there” required some flexibility from both Kiff and the English teacher who directed the winter play. On a whim, I auditioned for a part in Tech’s presentation of the Woody Allen comedy, Don’t Drink The Water, and, to my astonishment, I was cast as the comedy lead. That would be in January, though, after 1970 turned into 1971. As wrestling season got underway, I had no idea what to do, and that gave me one more thing to ponder during the evenings I spent in my room with the radio playing.
Here’s the Billboard Top Ten I would have heard during the third week of November in 1970, as I was assessing my options.
“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family
“We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters
“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5
“The Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor
“Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor
“Green-Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf
“Somebody’s Been Sleeping” by 100 Proof Aged In Soul
“Gypsy Woman” by Brian Hyland
“Montego Bay” by Bobby Bloom
Boy, even the soul and R&B selections there are a little bit lightweight, but it’s a pretty good Top Ten. I don’t know what the critical assessment of the No. 1 song would be these days, but given its time and place associations for me, the Partridge Family’s hit is a keeper. And so are most of the rest of those. But “Indiana Wants Me” has not aged well, and I have never liked “Montego Bay” although I have no idea why.
Other stuff waited lower down on the chart, of course. This week’s exploration takes place entirely in the bottom half of the Hot 100 and in its subbasement.
B.B. King had been a blues star and a presence on the Billboard R&B chart for years, first hitting that Top Ten in 1955, and he would continue to do so into 1981. His appearances in the Hot 100 were nearly as frequent, according to the list at All-Music Guide. But only a handful of his singles – six in all – reached the Top 40. In early 1970, King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” had peaked at No. 15, his best showing ever. And in the third week of November, his “Chains and Things” was moving up the charts; it would peak at No. 45 in the Hot 100 and would climb to No. 6 on the R&B chart.
Back in July, when several commenters agreed with my reservations about Barbra Streisand’s post-1970 work (especially 1976’s A Star Is Born), another commenter noted that those who criticize Babs are likely too young to appreciate her genius. I’ll dissent, of course, on being too young: I was listening to Barbra Streisand in my living room sometime in the mid-1960s after my sister bought her 1966 album Color Me Barbra. I liked it. And I generally liked Streisand’s work up until the mid-1970s, when – in my view – her ego outgrew her considerable talent. During the third week of November 1970, Streisand’s single “Stoney End,” which I liked a lot, was sitting at No. 59, having leaped eleven places from the previous week. It would go on to peak at No. 6 and be the third of Streisand’s eventual twenty-one Top 40 hits (through 2003).
Earlier in 1970, Tyrone Davis had a hit with the brilliant “Turn Back The Hands of Time,” which went to No. 3 in the Top 40 and spent two weeks on top of the R&B chart. It was Davis’ third Top 40 hit and his fourth Top Ten hit on the R&B chart. He’d have two more Top 40 hits and at least twenty-six more records on the R&B chart (depending on the accuracy of the AMG lists) through 1983. In November 1970, “Let Me Back In” peaked at No. 58 in the Hot 100 and at No. 12 on the R&B chart and was sitting at No. 73 during the third week of that month.
It had been five years since Little Anthony & The Imperials had reached the Top 40. In 1964 and 1965, the group had five Top 40 hits, three of them in the Top Ten, following a pair of Top 40 hits in 1958 and 1960. Other singles made it into the Hot 100 during the lean years from 1960 to 1964 and again from 1965 to 1970, but I’m not sure how many. I do know that during the third week of November 1970, “Help Me Find A Way (To Say I Love You)” was at No. 96 and in its first week in the Hot 100. From what I can find, it would sit there one more week before spending a week in the Bubbling Under portion of the chart and then disappearing completely.
Sitting just below the Hot 100, we find Desmond Dekker and his version of the Jimmy Cliff song “You Can Get It If You Really Want It” at No. 103. Dekker had reached No. 9 during the summer of 1969 with “Israelites,” which was credited to Desmond Dekker & The Aces. “You Can Get It . . .” didn’t technically make the pop chart; the record sat at No. 103 for one more week, then fell to No. 107 for a week before falling out entirely. Two years later, according to AMG, writer Cliff used the same rhythm track to cut his own version of the song for the soundtrack to The Harder They Come.
I know absolutely nothing about the New Young Hearts, nor does AMG, really. The only thing certain is that the group recorded for the Zea label and released one killer track, “The Young Hearts Get Lonely Too.” Forty years ago this week, the single was sitting at No. 123 in Bubbling Under portion of the chart, having moved up one slot from the week before. A week later, the record was gone. It deserved far, far better.