Posts Tagged ‘B.B. King’

What’s At No. 100? (August 1969)

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

It was in August 1969, as I’ve noted before, that I went down to the basement one evening and adopted my grandfather’s old RCA radio, which had been sitting on a shelf near my dad’s workbench, mostly unused, for some time. (As I think about it this morning, the radio might not actually have been that old: I vaguely recall that Grandpa had won it in a contest or something and didn’t need it, so he gave it to us, and it went on the shelf in the basement, obviously waiting for me to need it.)

I was just becoming interested in pop/rock radio in August 1969, so I asked if I could bring the brown and white radio up to my room. Dad had another radio by his workbench (always tuned to the country sounds of WVAL in nearby Sauk Rapids), so the RCA became mine.

So, as August 2019 nears its end, I thought we’d play What’s At No. 100, taking a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from the last week of August fifty years ago. But since we looked a 1969 Top Ten the other week when considering Woodstock Weekend, we’ll do things a bit differently this time. We’ll look at the records at No. 10, No. 20, and so on until we get to No. 100. Most of the records we chance on, I assume, will be familiar; some may not. (The number in parentheses at the end of each entry is its peak in the Hot 100.)

No. 10: “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells (No. 2)
No. 20: “Workin’ On a Groovy Thing”: by the 5th Dimension (No. 20)
No. 30: “I Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations (No. 1)
No. 40: “It’s Getting Better” by Mama Cass (No. 30)
No. 50: “Simple Song Of Freedom: by Tim Hardin (No. 50)
No. 60: “Lowdown Popcorn” by James Brown (No. 41)
No. 70: “Ease Back” by the Meters (No. 61)
No. 80: “You, I” by the Rugbys (No. 24)
No. 90: “I Want You To Know” by the New Colony Six (No. 65)

The first four of those are familiar, of course, with the 5th Dimension single being more familiar back then from my having the album than from radio play. I noted the other week that I had to go to YouTube to refresh my memory of the Mama Cass single.

The lower five of that list, though, are fuzzy shading to blank. I doubt that I’ve ever heard the Tim Hardin single until today, although I’ve heard covers of the tune by Bob Darin and by the Voices Of East Harlem. I’ve also likely never heard “Lowdown Popcorn” or “Ease Back” until today, which is a result of my digital shelves having not nearly music from James Brown or the Meters. Too much music, too little time.

The Rugbys’ fuzz-charged single is vaguely familiar only because I came upon it not quite ten years ago when I dug into a WDGY survey from September 1969, and “I Want You To Know” is, again, only vaguely familiar.

So that didn’t go so well. But what’s at the bottom of the chart, right at No. 100? Well, we find a piece of funky blues from B.B. King, “Get Off My Back Woman.” That one is on the digital shelves here although I’m not at all certain where I found it. And it was received by listeners about the way most of his singles were received: It peaked at No. 74 on the Hot 100 and went to No. 32 – a little lower than I would have guessed – on the magazine’s R&B chart. (In just a few months, though, King would release the biggest hit of his career, “The Thrill Is Gone,” which went to No. 15 on the Hot 100.)

Chart success or not, “Get Off My Back Woman” is exactly what you want a B.B. King record to be: funky, melodic and plaintive.

Saturday Single No. 595

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

So what is there on the digital shelves that was recorded on June 16?

Well, a search comes up with ten tracks, which is a pretty good result, considering that I have recording date information for a very small number of the 72,000 tracks on those figurative shelves. Here are those ten tracks listed chronologically:

“I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail” by the Blue Sky Boys in 1936
“On The Banks Of The Ohio” also by the Blue Sky Boys in 1936
“That Nasty Swing” by Cliff Carlisle in 1936

(All three of those were recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina.)

“Bucket’s Got A Hole In It” by Washboard Sam in Chicago, 1938
“Stairway To The Stars” by Jimmy Dorsey in New York City, 1939
“Messin’ Around With the Blues” by Alberta Adams in Chicago, 1953
“If You Love Me, Tell Me So” by Paul Gayten in New Orleans, 1955
“Ain’t Nobody Home” by B.B. King in London, 1971
“Janey Don’t You Lose Heart” by Bruce Springsteen in New York City, 1983
“Stand On It” by Bruce Springsteen in New York City, 1983

I should note that June 16 was the date that the B.B. King track was completed; work on the track started on June 9.

So, sorting out those could take some time, if I wanted to assess each record. I do know that I’ll skip the Blue Sky Boys’ “On The Banks Of The Ohio,” as I included that track in a post about the song and its origins a while back. I’ll pass on the Springsteens, as they’re not nearly my favorites among his work.

And I’m just going to go with B.B. King. The track – found on the album B.B. King in London – was also released as a single on the ABC label. It went to No. 46 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 28 on the magazine’s R&B chart, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 549

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

Well, I slept most of the morning away – rare for me, as I generally am up by 7 a.m. on weekdays and by 9 on Saturdays and Sundays – and time is flibbering away quickly, as it does these days.

We have no plans other than finding somewhere to grab a nibble this afternoon and then making a stop at the nearby grocery store. I think this evening we’ll invest some time in writing thank you notes, a hand-cramping exercise that’s painful in several ways.

So I find myself sleepy and uncertain, and maybe “thank you” is the way to go. Here’s B.B. King showing some gratitude to his audience with “Thank You For Loving The Blues” It’s from his 1973 album To Know You Is To Love You, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 447

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

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.

Saturday Single No. 432

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

Sometimes the decision is a snap.

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.

Saturday Single No. 346

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

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.

As Hammond’s version is available as of 2018, here it is, as well:


Friday, May 31st, 2013

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.

Saturday Single No. 309

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

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.

(Modified slightly after first posting.)


Thursday, May 24th, 2012

It happens now and then to all of us. We move too fast and ignore the prompt. And we quickly learn that we’ve let a chunk of work disappear.

This morning, it was the lengthy piece I mentioned Tuesday, the one about the Rolling Stone special edition: The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Gone.

I might resurrect it next week. Or maybe not. Right now I’m too discouraged to decide.

So here’s B.B. King with “You Done Lost Your Good Thing” from his 1964 album Live at the Regal.


Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

 “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone . . .”

“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 writers did 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.