Posts Tagged ‘Barbra Streisand’

Saturday Single No. 552

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

I was reminded this week of one of the briefest jobs I’ve ever had. My pal j.b. asked folks on Facebook about their short-term jobs, and I was one of a few people who responded. And as I thought about the job in question, I realized it was not only the briefest but one of the strangest.

From mid-1996 into the summer of 1998, there was some chatter among folks I knew that some opportunities to play music full-time (and get paid for it) might come my way. So I was temping just to keep my options open, mostly in various offices for a bank that did business from the Midwest on out to the West Coast. It didn’t pay all that well, of course, but it was enough to squeeze by. (I sold a lot of books and ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.)

Anyway, by the time the autumn of 1998 came sliding into view, I could see that the music opportunities were not going to be there, and I made my way to a collection agency to become a skip tracer. I got hired but learned that there would be a two-week gap as they found enough new skip tracers and collectors to make up a training class. So I took one final two-week assignment from the temp agency.

I ended up working for the same large bank in its mortgage operations, located in a building in Northeast Minneapolis, across the Mississippi River from downtown. There were about ten of us temps starting on the same Monday, each of us at a desk that was empty except for a pile of file folders. Each thick folder, our supervisor explained, was the paperwork for a pending mortgage. Our job was to go through each file and make certain that all the places that required signatures actually had signatures on them. The supervisor suggested that we should be able to get through about eight of the applications an hour.

I lasted a week and a couple of hours. It wasn’t the dreariness of the work that caused me to leave early (although the work was stupefyingly boring, leafing through files of thirty pages or more to see if fifteen or so signatures were in their proper places). What got to me was my back.

My chair was uncomfortable, my desk was awkwardly sized, and I could not find a good match for the two, so I ended up hunched over my desk to go through the files. By the time I got to Friday, I had a painful knot in my spine just below the shoulder blades. I thought maybe with a weekend of rest, I could get through the next week. After that, I’d be off to the collection agency.

But by the time of our morning break on that following Monday, my back hurt worse than it had when I went home on Friday, so I told my supervisor that I just couldn’t stay. And I left, took four days off, which pinched the budget but eased my pain, and went off to work at the collection agency the next week.

I hadn’t thought much about that six-day gig for a long time, and then j.b.’s question the other day brought it to mind. I certainly never connected that gig to the cascade of mortgage fraud that came to light about eight to ten years later. But I remember looking at the carts full of folders of mortgage applications that we temps were reviewing, and I recall thinking that it was odd for so many mortgages to be flowing through that temps were needed to make sure the papers were signed. And I thought it odd that we temps had what seemed to be a responsibility that would be better handled by permanent staff.

I now suspect that elsewhere in that building were one or more rooms set aside for the wholesale approval of those mortgage applications that we ten were reviewing. The banking corporation was in fact one of the banks that was caught up in the mortgage crisis that set in around 2006. It wasn’t one of the largest offenders, but it was involved. And if my suspicion above is correct, that means that for five days and two hours, I unwittingly played a role in the 2006-2008 meltdown of the American economy.

So what tune do I have for that? Well, I dug around looking for tunes about fraud and thievery and even turning a blind eye. I thought about the 5th Dimension’s cover of Laura Nyro’s “Sweet Blindness,” but then my thoughts fell on a different Nyro tune. So here’s Barbra Streisand’s cover of Laura Nyro’s “Hands Off The Man (Flim Flam Man).’ It’s from Streisand’s 1971 album Stoney End, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Going Down The Stoney End . . .’

Friday, February 20th, 2015

The Texas Gal and I were killing time between television shows the other night. She played a game on her laptop while I read a copy of Rolling Stone as the Seventies channel on the TV provided the soundtrack. There was a flourish of drums followed by a ringing piano introduction, and Barbra Streisand sang:

I was born from love and my poor mother worked the mines
I was raised on the good book Jesus
Till I read between the lines
Now I don’t believe I wanna see the morning

And as I listened to Streisand deliver “Stoney End,” one of Laura Nyro’s (perhaps) less cryptic songs, I wondered who played piano on the track, as the piano intro and the later piano fills are two of the things that make me like the record more than I like a lot of Streisand’s work. So when the song ended, I went to the stacks to check out the Stoney End album jacket, but it turns out I don’t have the vinyl of the 1971 album. All I have is a digital copy scavenged from somewhere, and the album credits I find online list several keyboard players, so I don’t know who to thank for that chiming intro on “Stoney End.”

At that point, this post could have gone several different ways. I could assess Streisand’s work in detail, but I gave a brief assessment of my reaction to her work in a 2010 post about a drive-in movie date gone wrong, and nothing has changed my view that Streisand’s career went off the rails – artistically, at least – in 1977 with the ego-trip film A Star Is Born. (The Texas Gal dates the artistic derailment a bit later, with the 1983 release of Yentl. We both agree that early in her career – the 1960s – Streisand was a great interpreter of songs from Broadway and the Great American Songbook.)

And I didn’t really want to turn my interest in Streisand’s “Stoney End” into a post on the late Laura Nyro’s music. You’ve heard folks say about Bob Dylan, “A great songwriter, but man, I cannot stand to listen to him sing,” right? I feel a little bit like that about Laura Nyro: I love her songs, as inscrutable as they may sometimes be, but on too many of her recordings, she sounds shrill to me, so even though I have a little of her work around, I rarely listen to it. Happily enough for today’s exercise, Nyro’s take on “Stoney End” – found on the 1967 album More Than A New Discovery – is one of her better performances, and I quite like it.

So, with both of those versions of “Stoney End” echoing in my ears, I wondered about other versions of the song. And in the past few days, I’ve found nine other covers of the Nyro song, almost all of them jammed between the years 1967 – when Nyro released her version – and 1972, when Bert Kaempfert released, on his album 6 Plus 6, the only easy listening version of the tune I’ve found. (Maynard Ferguson also released an instrumental version of the tune, his coming on his self-titled 1971 album, but being a typically bold and brassy Maynard Ferguson track, one can’t classify it as easy listening.)

From what I find online, the first to cover “Stoney End” were the Blossoms, an R&B backing group with a massive list of credits but perhaps best known for having Darlene Love as one of its members and for being the actual performers on a couple of Phil Spector productions that were credited to the Crystals. The Blossoms recorded “Stoney End” in 1967 for the Ode label. Sharp-eared listeners will note that Love did not take the lead vocal; one of the comments at YouTube notes that in her autobiography (My Name Is Love), Love wrote, “Some of the chorus parts were too high for me, so Jean [Thomas] took the lead.”

Actress and singer Peggy Lipton – whose musical career I examined in a post last summer – recorded the tune in 1968, also for the Ode label, and one doesn’t need to have very sharp ears at all to realize that producer Lou Adler laid Lipton’s vocals over pretty much the same backing track as he’d put together for the Blossoms a year earlier. Lipton’s single release of “Stoney End” was the first one to tickle the Billboard charts, bubbling under the Hot 100 at No. 121. (Streisand’s 1970 single release is the only other version of the song to chart; it went to No. 6 on the Hot 100 and to No. 2 on what was then called the Easy Listening chart.)

A few more covers came along as the 1960s waned and the 1970s dawned: Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys recorded the song for their 1968 album Linda Ronstadt, The Stone Poneys & Friends, Vol. III, Diana Ross recorded the song during the sessions for her self-titled 1970 album, but the track didn’t see the light until 2002, when it showed up as a bonus track, and jazz singer Selena Jones laid down her take on the tune on her 1971 album, Platinum.

And a couple of singers in recent years have recorded the song for tribute albums: Beth Nielsen Chapman added her idiosyncratic take on “Stoney End” to the multi-artist album Time And Love – The Music Of Laura Nyro in 1997, and Broadway singer Judy Kuhn included “Stoney End” on her own tribute album, Serious Playground – The Songs of Laura Nyro, released in 2007.

Of the covers noted in those last two paragraphs, only one stands out to me: The 1968 version by Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys. (And many thanks to reader and pal Yah Shure for providing the mp3 to make the video below.)

‘Now When I Remember Spring . . .’

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

“The Shadow of Your Smile” is one of those songs that to me sounds like life in the mid-1960s. I have no idea what version I heard back then, but I’ve known the song since it was released on the soundtrack to the 1965 movie, The Sandpiper. (And my knowledge of the song certainly came through hearing various versions on the radio, as there was no way at the age of eleven or twelve that I would have ever been allowed to see a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.)

It’s a great song, a judgment supported by several things. The first is that the song earned composer Johnny Mandel and lyricist Paul Francis Webster both the Academy Award for Best Song and the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. Another indicator is that as soon as the song came out, covers began to proliferate and have continued to do so in the forty-eight years since, with the most recent listed cover at Second Hand Songs coming last year from Glen Frey.

Here’s what the song sounded like on the movie soundtrack:

Among the first covers of the song released was a decent performance by Barbra Streisand, off her My Name Is Barbra, Two . . . album, released in 1965. Other early covers that I’ve heard came from Peggy Lee and Astrud Gilberto, neither of which grabbed me much. Among my favorite artists, King Curtis covered the song for his album That Lovin’ Feeling in 1966, and a single by Lou Rawls went to No. 33 on the R&B chart in mid-1966. (I haven’t heard either version; the King Curtis album is supposed to be here somewhere, but I can’t put my hands on it this morning, and the single version by Lou Rawls seems to have been supplanted anywhere I look by a live version from 1966.)

Two versions of the song, those by Tony Bennett and Boots Randolph,  made the Billboard pop and AC charts. Bennett’s cover of the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1965 and went to No. 95 there while reaching No. 8 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Bennett’s version – which was released on his 1966 LP The Movie Song Album – is notable in that it’s one of the few I’ve heard that begins with the song’s verse, which serves as a prologue. Most versions of the song jump right into the portion that begins with the song’s title.

Randolph’s version of “The Shadow of Your Smile” hit the charts a year later, entering the Hot 100 in December 1966 and reaching No. 93 while going to No. 28 on the AC chart. The cover was also released in 1967 on Randolph’s Boots with Strings album.

Others who covered the song in the first couple years after it came out were Nancy Sinatra, Nancy Wilson, Maynard Ferguson, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Billy Vaughn, Jack Jones, David McCallum (better known for his role as Ilya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Ahmad Jamal, Johnny Mathis, Johnny Rivers, Ferrante & Teicher, Barbara Lewis, Mary Wells, Trini Lopez and Shirley Bassey.  I don’t know all of those, but one of the interesting versions of those I do know is McCallum’s cover, which showed up on his 1966 album, Music – A Bit More of Me. As a classically trained musician, notes Wikipedia, McCallum “conceived a blend of oboe, English horn, and strings with guitar and drums” for arranger H.B. Barnum.

Here’s McCallum’s version of “The Shadow of Your Smile,” which to me seems to have some John Barry-ish/James Bond-ian flourishes at the start. Whether those came from McCallum or from Barnum, they’re entirely appropriate for one of the men from U.N.C.L.E.

And we’ll stop there for today. I’m likely to pick up Thursday with more covers, unless something else grabs my attention.

A Case Of Senioritis

Friday, November 19th, 2010

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.

See you tomorrow.

(Incorrcect clip replaced since first posted.)