Posts Tagged ‘Beach Boys’

‘It’s Good News Week . . .’

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

All right, it’s January 8, 1966, a Saturday. I was twelve, my sister was fifteen, and who knows what we might have been doing that day. But it’s a good bet that sometime during the day – quite likely after lunch – my sister and I ended up with dishwashing duty.

When we took care of the dishes in those days, my sister would tune the kitchen radio to 630, KDWB, to hear what the world of Top 40 sounded like while she washed and I dried. I would have greeted the radio tuning with a shrug, not really caring about Top 40 yet but nevertheless hearing enough of it around me that I would know the major hits of the time.

So what might we have heard on KDWB as we did the dishes that Saturday forty-nine years gone? Well, certainly stuff from the top of the station’s Fabulous Forty Survey released that day. The top single was “We Can Work It Out” by the Beatles, followed by Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound Of Silence.” No surprises there.

Then, at No. 3, we find “The Little Girl I Once Knew” by the Beach Boys, which was clearly better regarded in the Twin Cities than it was nationally, as it got to only No. 20 in the Billboard Hot 100. I imagine I’ve heard it one time or another over the years, but it’s not a record I remember. But then, as I’ve likely said here before, I’ve never been much of a Beach Boys fan, so it’s not unthinkable that “The Little Girl I Once Knew” might have slipped past unnoticed. As I listen this morning, I mentally shrug and think, “Yeah, it’s the Beach Boys. What next?”

And that’s where things might have gotten interesting in the kitchen and definitely get interesting nearly fifty years later, now that comparing surveys and charts and similar listings takes up some of my time. Sitting at No. 4 in the Fabulous Forty was a record I do not recall by a group whose name I thought might have been a joke: “It’s Good News Week” by the Hedgehoppers Anonymous.

It’s good news week
Someone’s dropped a bomb somewhere
Contaminating atmosphere
And blackening the sky

It’s good news week
Someone’s found a way to give
The rotting dead a will to live
Go on and never die

Have you heard the news
What did it say?
Who’s won that race?
What’s the weather like today?

It’s good news week
Families shake the need for gold
By stimulating birth control
We’re wanting less to eat

Lots of blood in Asia now
They’ve butchered off the sacred cow
They’ve got a lot to eat.

It’s good news week
Doctors finding many ways
Of wrapping brains on metal trays
To keep us from the heat

Bleak, surreal and utterly cheerful in its presentation, the record didn’t do nearly as well nationally as it did on KDWB, peaking in the Hot 100 at No. 48. And it wasn’t just KDWB; the record was No. 3 that week on WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other main Top 40 station. (It had peaked at No. 3 a week earlier at KDWB.)

Nor was it just the Twin Cities. In Chicago, “It’s Good News Week” went to No. 3 on WLS and No. 5 on WCFL. It went to No. 4 on CJCA in Edmonton, Alberta, and there are surveys at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive from a smattering of stations that show the record in the top ten.

It’s likely worth noting that the highest ranking found for the Hedgehoppers Anonymous’ single in any of the surveys at ARSA is the No. 1 slot on Radio London, a ship-based renegade station broadcasting to the United Kingdom from international waters. The record also went to No. 2 on the similarly based Radio Caroline South. As the Hedgehoppers Anonymous were from England, that makes a little sense.

But the record’s reception in the Twin Cities (and Chicago) seems odd. Just one of those things that happen, I guess. And if we ever heard the record during that hypothetical (but very likely) dishwashing session, I’m sure I would never have remembered it.

Addendum: I suppose I should note here in passing that “It’s Good News Week” was written and produced for the Hedgehoppers Anonymous by Jonathan King, who had a hit with “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon” in 1965 and who was convicted in 2001 of sexually abusing teenage boys during the 1980s.

Thanks to regular reader and friend Yah Shure for reminding me that the lyrics in the video did not match the lyrics found on the Net. I simply forgot to change them. As to why the lyrics were different, see Yah Shure’s note below.

Chart Digging: October 30, 1971

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

By the time the end of October rolled around in 1971, your narrator, in the midst of his first quarter of college, had realized a few things: First, he was likely going to fail chemistry and African history. Second, the young lady who sat next to him in sociology was kind of cute and was also a Minnesota Vikings fan. And third, he didn’t particularly like a lot of what he was hearing on the radio anymore.

As I’ve related before, I did fail the two courses, mostly because I didn’t know how to study; I’d never had to do so to get through high school. I did not fail sociology. I got a B, and by the end of the quarter, I was spending several evenings a week with the young lady who sat next to me. (That didn’t last, and it was my fault: I got nervous, never having had a girlfriend before, and I backed off abruptly when the quarter ended.)

As to the radio, I was getting tired of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” which by the end of October that year had been in the No. 1 spot (along with its flipside, “Reason To Believe’”) in the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks. The rest of the Top Ten was:

“Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” by Cher
“Yo-Yo” by the Osmonds
“Superstar/Bless The Beasts & Children” by the Carpenters
“Theme from ‘Shaft’” by Isaac Hayes
“Imagine” by John Lennon Plastic Ono Band
“Do You Know What I Mean” by Lee Michaels
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by Joan Baez
“Peace Train” by Cat Stevens
“I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” by the Free Movement

I liked – and still like – the Lennon and Hayes singles. Some of the rest looks better from the distance of more than forty years than it sounded to me back then. I still dislike the singles from the Osmonds and (viscerally) from Joan Baez. If I heard the Free Movement single, it was only if I went to sleep with the radio set to Chicago’s WLS (where the record went to No. 2), as it doesn’t show up on the KDWB surveys collected at Oldiesloon. (Either Google search failed me here or, more likely, I failed to use it carefully, as the Free Movement record did chart in the 30s for two weeks at KDWB, as noted below by our pal Yah Shure.)

Looking deeper into that end-of-October Hot 100, I find – as I usually do when scanning old charts – some singles that I’m generally unfamiliar with even today. Would I have liked them forty-two years ago? I don’t know. I remember a general dissatisfaction with Top 40 during that first quarter of college. Maybe there was something else going on specific to that quarter, as I do recall numerous Top 40 tunes from 1972 with affection. But however I would have felt back then, as I dig in the lower depths of that Hot 100 today, I find some nice things I’ve never heard before.

Sitting right at the bottom of the chart, at No. 100 and No. 99 respectively, we find some nice vocal soul/R&B: “Walk Right Up To The Sun” by the Delfonics and “I Bet He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” by the Intruders. The Delfonics’ single would peak at No. 81 and go to No. 13 on the R&B chart, while the Intruders’ record would peak at No. 92 and reach No. 20 on the R&B chart. Both groups obviously had better performing singles on both charts, and both probably had singles that were just better records, but to fresh ears forty-two years later, those are pretty good records.

The James Gang is a group that I gave little attention, and I’m not sure why. What I heard of the group in folks’ dorm rooms and at parties seemed too hard, too raucous, I think. Now, of course, it seems almost tame. The group’s “Midnight Man” was sitting at No. 94 at the end of October 1971, and it’s not at all what I would have expected from the James Gang; the eighteen-year-old whiteray would have found it much more accessible than he expected, had he heard it as it headed on its way to No. 80.

One of the constant presences in the budget bins at Woolworth’s and Musicland through the first half of the 1970s was the Beach Boys’ 1971 album, Surf’s Up. Its cover art puzzled me, with its depiction of the James Earle Fraser sculpture End Of The Trail as it might have been painted by Vincent Van Gogh. Every time I saw it, it baffled me, and it still does. The cognitive dissonance offered by the cover hid some music that perhaps I should have sampled; the single “Long Promised Road” is intriguing enough. It was sitting at No. 93 forty-two years ago, on its way to No. 89. (My bafflement and avoidance is not limited to Surf’s Up. Over the decades, that’s been my reaction to pretty much anything the group did after “Good Vibrations.” Maybe I need to go back and listen. On the other hand, I recall clearly my reaction of bemused indifference to Brian Wilson’s supposed epic Smile when it was released in 2004. I rarely sell CDs. I sold that one.)

Once the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had its hit single on the Liberty label – “Mr. Bojangles” went to No. 9 in early 1971 – the band moved to United Artists. And in the autumn of 1971, UA went into the group’s back catalog and released “Some Of Shelly’s Blues” as a single. Two years earlier (and before “Mr. Bojangles”), a Liberty single of the song – written by Mike Nesmith – had bubbled under at No. 106. The United Artists release did a little better but only a little, rising to No. 64. It likely deserved more attention.

I first encountered the Isley Brothers’ cover of “Spill The Wine” – the 1970 Eric Burdon & War hippie dream anthem – when I came across the Isleys’ 1971 album Givin’ It Back. I was skeptical. And, as I scanned the Hot 100 from the end of October 1971 and noticed the entry at No. 49, I recalled that skepticism. Yes, the Isleys at the time covered some iconic singles and made them their own – “Summer Breeze,” “Listen To The Music,” “Lay Lady Lay” and others – but “Spill The Wine”? I should have known better. The Isleys gave melody to the recited portion of the Burdon single and took it from there. The record went no higher, but on the R&B chart, it went to No. 14. (The video embedded below is from the album. Scans of the 45 label show a running time of 2:40.)

Chicken Livers & Art Deco

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

During the 1960s and early 1970s, my family visited downtown Minneapolis something like four or five times a year. The suburban malls and all the hoo-ha that eventually developed around them were in their infancy at the time; when you wanted serious shopping, you went downtown, maybe to St. Paul but far more often to Minneapolis.

During one of those trips to Minneapolis – occasioned, I believe by an appointment for my dad at the nearby Fort Snelling Veterans Administration Hospital – my mom and I found ourselves on our own as lunchtime approached. I was maybe ten, so call it 1964. She took me to a cafeteria called the Forum. We made our way through the line, pushing our trays along their winding paths atop the tubular steel guides. I passed on meatloaf, Salisbury steak, hambugers and fries. Something had caught my eye, something creamy on a mess of golden egg noodles.

When I got there, the sign told me that the dish was chicken livers in cream sauce over noodles. It’s not a dish one would expect to find in a restaurant menu today, in downtown Minneapolis or even in downtown Olivia in the heart of Minnesota’s farm belt. But the Forum must have sold plenty of chicken livers over egg noodles back then, certainly enough to keep the dish on the menu for years to come. Because maybe two years after Mom took me to the Forum for the first time, I was allowed to wander free in downtown Minneapolis on our visits there, and whenever my wandering included lunchtime, I went to the Forum for chicken livers over noodles. And that went on for at least another eight years, until sometime after I graduated from high school.

There was another attraction to the place, beyond the draw of chicken livers in cream sauce: The Forum’s interior was a visual feast. In later years, I saw it described as one of the premier Art Deco interiors in the country. At twelve years old, I wouldn’t have known Art Deco from Art Shamsky, but I did know that I loved the unique interior of the Forum. It was simply fun to be inside a place where there was so much going on visually. And to eat lunch there was a highlight of many trips to Minneapolis over those years.

I thought about all that yesterday when the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on the newly reopened Forum, now a bar and restaurant. In 1975, the cafeteria closed down and the space was converted to a restaurant and disco, Scottie’s on Seventh. Eventually, urban renewal closed in on the building that hosted the Forum, and the building came down. But not until after the Art Deco interior was disassembled and saved. It was installed in the new City Center that went up on the site, and during the early 1980s, Scottie’s reopened there. By 1996, it was the turn of a restaurant called Goodfellow’s to take over the space, and five years ago, the space went dark.

It’s now the Forum again, a restaurant instead of a cafeteria, and it’s a place that the Texas Gal and I are making plans to see, likely for lunch during a planned August overnight in the Twin Cities. The newspaper says the interior has been lovingly restored and renewed (there’s a slideshow about the place’s design here), and that’s good news. I spent a few minutes this morning looking at the menu online, and the food sounds fine. No chicken livers, though.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 14
“California Girls” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 5464 [1965]
‘Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson, RCA Victor 0161 [1968]
“Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman, Track 2656 [1969]
“Day After Day” by Badfinger, Apple 1841 [1971]
“Get It On” by Chase from Chase (not the single Epic 10738) [1971]
“No Tears (In The End)” by Roberta Flack from Killing Me Softly [1973]

None of these songs have any connection to downtown Minneapolis, to the Forum cafeteria or to creamed chicken livers on noodles, as far as I know. The only connection is the time. There is no doubt that during the months that the first two songs on this list were popular – and maybe during the brief popularity of the third song, too – a searcher could have found a young whiteray at least once and possibly more often sitting happily at a table in the Forum, enjoying a meal in the big city all on his own.

I think about that today, and I shudder. The downtown of a major American city is no longer a place where one would allow a twelve-year-old boy from out of town to wander freely. But forty-odd years ago, downtown Minneapolis was safe ground; the times were different. And I’m glad I grew up then instead of now.

By including “California Girls” in the selections for my mythical jukebox, I’m not by any means saying it’s one of the two-hundred and twenty-eight greatest records. It’s not. I do think it’s the Beach Boys’ greatest single, crowded for that spot only by “Surfin’ U.S.A.” And there was no real analysis or deliberation that led me to those rankings. Rather, it’s a visceral reaction. For most of their history, the Beach Boys have meant very little to me. The early stuff was pleasant but to me – looking back as I must, not having heard it much when it was on the radio – is unremarkable. The records I remember hearing as they came out, the later catalog, is stuff that I find to be artsy simply for the sake of being artsy, with “Good Vibrations” being the premier example. (Or maybe the premier example is SMiLE, the “long-lost treasure” that Brian Wilson completed and released in 2004. I should note that I rarely sell music – LPs or CDs. Once they’re home, they stay here, unless I need cash badly – as has happened at times over the years – or unless I find the music so unrewarding that I seen no need to keep it. A couple of years after I bought it, I sold SMiLE, and I didn’t need the cash.) Anyway, the thought of the Ultimate Jukebox without at least one Beach Boys’ record in it seemed odd, and I think this is the only selection I made to ensure a group’s presence in this list. Given that, I selected “California Girls,” which went to No. 3 in 1965, and I chose it partly because its essence is echoed in loving parody in the Beatles’ “Back In The U.S.S.R.”

Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” brings back echoes, of course, of the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, which used the record in its soundtrack. I have a sense that Nilsson recorded Fred Neil’s song more than once, as it seems I’ve run across several different versions of the song. And to be honest, I don’t know which is the original and which, if any, were created for the film. I believe the original version is the one that Nilsson recorded for his album Aerial Ballet in 1968, which is where I get the date I listed above. And I think that was the version that was released as a single when the movie came out in 1969, with the single reaching No. 6 in the late summer and early autumn of that year. I’ve never seen Midnight Cowboy, and every time “Everybody’s Talkin’” pops up on the radio or on my player here at home, I tell myself that I have to put the movie’s title in my video queue. And I forget to do so every time.

Dave Marsh writes in The Heart of Rock & Soul: “Of all the sixties’ testimony to the necessity for immediate social revolution, “Something In The Air” is by far the most elegantly atmospheric.” The single – and the following album, which is almost as consistently good – was produced by the Who’s Pete Townshend, with Andy “Thunderclap” Newman on piano, Speedy Keen on drums, a young Jimmy McCulloch on guitar and – Marsh says – “Bijou Drains, a bassist with a giant beak, pipestem legs and unorthodox windmill playing style.” Drains, of course, was Townshend on a busman’s holiday. The single that resulted remains at moments thrilling, though there are also moments when it sounds as if the record – which barely pierced the Top 40, peaking at No. 37 in the autumn of 1969 – was patched together with Scotch tape. As clunky as some of the production is, it’s still a fascinating and fun record.

Badfinger’s “Day After Day” remains, nearly forty years later, a gorgeous song. Written by Pete Ham and produced by Todd Rundgren for Straight Up, the group’s third album, the single went to No. 4 as 1971 turned into 1972. Badfinger’s sad story is well-known, for the most part; those who are unfamiliar can find it here. For my purposes, it’s enough today to say that the group provided some fine singles and albums, and “Day After Day” might be the best.

I’ve written several times about the horn rock bands of the early 1970s, among which Chase might have had the most talent (and likely, too, the most horns, what with three trumpets). “Get It On” came curling out of radio speakers during the summer of 1971, when the record went to No. 24. Four (pretty good) albums and three years later, the story ended when Bill Chase and three other members of the band (and two pilots) were killed in an airplane crash in southwestern Minnesota. Even after all these years, the cascading trumpets give me a little bit of a chill.

I don’t know that I’d thought of exploring Roberta Flack’s music much until late in 1974, when a friend gave me a copy of Flack’s Killing Me Softly album. I knew the title track, of course, which had gone to No. 1 in early 1973. I knew Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” which closed the album. And even though I’ve listened to the record on and off for more than thirty-five years now, the rest of the record remains vague to me, with the exception of two tracks: “When You Smile” was the song that the ladyfriend who gave me the record quoted to me one evening over a quiet drink, a wish just short of a promise that never came true. And “No Tears (In The End)” is a loping piece of light funk that never fails to make me want to dance, and it’s home to a lyric that still talks to me today.

(Revised slightly, with one correction, since first posting.)