Posts Tagged ‘Beatles’

Long Form No. 3

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

The summer of 1969, as I’ve noted here numerous times, was when I began to listen with great interest to Top 40 radio, as well as to a little bit of other music that fit within the genres of pop, rock and R&B. It was also the second of three summers when I spent four days working at the state trap shoot, sitting in a cramped dirty concrete structure placing clay targets on the machine that threw them out into the air to be shot.

And the confluence of those two things made 1969 the year when I got my first cassette recorder and discovered one of my favorite long pieces of music.

For a couple of years before then, I’d been fascinated by cassette recorders. One of my dad’s friends at St. Cloud State had one, and he was, I think, interested in the educational possibilities of the machines. They would certainly make easier any educational task that required a tape recorder, given their advantages in size and convenience over the large and often unwieldy reel-to-reel machines then in use.

The first time I saw Dr. Perry’s machine, I was more interested in it as a gadget than for its musical applications. It would just be fun to tape stuff. Around the same time, Rob across the street had gotten a small reel-to-reel recorder and for a few weeks, he wandered around the neighborhood, taping everything from the sounds of birds in his front yard to the roar of a Great Northern Railroad train as it went through the crossing on Seventh Street just a block away.

One afternoon, he and Rick and I rode along as their dad drove his beloved Studebaker for some maintenance in the city of Anoka, fifty miles southeast on Highway 10. Rob brought the tape recorder along, and the three of us recorded an aural journal of our trip, commenting on anything from the size of the small burg of Becker (365 then, 4,538 in the most recent census) and the crops in the fields in the countryside to the architecture of the churches and the presumptive errands of the people we saw along the way. Being adolescent boys, we found almost everything we said humorous, and the resulting taped journal occasionally lapsed from commentary into fits of giggling.

One couldn’t drive to Anoka every day, of course, but I thought at mid-summer 1969 that there would be some value in a cassette recorder. So my dad and I took the fifty dollars I got for my four days of trap shoot work downtown to Dan Marsh Drugs, where dad knew the folks who sold cameras and such; in those days, the “such” included cassette recorders. I selected a Panasonic model that fit my budget, and with some blank tapes in hand, set out to record the world. The thought of listening to music on the machine had not yet entered my consciousness.

When I’d decided to get a recorder, I’d hoped to have the machine in hand by the time Apollo 11 landed on the moon so I could record what turned out to be Neil Armstrong’s “one small step,” but that didn’t work out. I was five days late, and the first news event I was able to record off of television – and I did it just to see how it sounded – was Senator Ted Kennedy’s live statement relating what had happened at Chappaquiddick Island after he drove off a bridge and a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in his submerged car.

And after a few days of recording stuff and listening to it play back – and I hated the sound of my own voice – I wanted something more fun to listen to. For whatever reason – maybe budget, maybe not being interested quite yet in popular music, maybe simple dimness – I hadn’t thought about music. Then my sister stepped into the breach and one day brought home from the mall – where she worked as a waitress at Woolworth’s – a cassette of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ self-titled second album.

I recognized the hits: “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” had gone to No. 2 in the spring of 1969, and “Spinning Wheel” had done the same early that summer. I digested the rest of the album, and then football practice started and I began to be drawn into the music I heard on the radio in the training room. So I knew “And When I Die” as it began its own climb to No. 2 that autumn, and I began to wonder what tape I should get next to supplement BST and the music I was hearing on the radio.

Late one October evening, after I’d gone to sleep with the sounds of Chicago’s WLS at low volume on my bedside RCA radio, something woke me. As I lay there, I turned the radio up slightly. There came a ghostly “shoop” followed by a bass and drum riff repeated several times, and then I heard John Lennon’s unmistakable voice: “Here come old flat top. He come groovin’ up slowly . . .”

I was spooked, I was fascinated and I was determined to have that song – whatever it was – for my own.

It was, of course, “Come Together” from the Beatles’ Abbey Road, which had been released at the beginning of the month. Once I learned that, I also learned that the album – LP, cassettes and eight-track tapes – was on sale at J.C. Penney at the mall for $3.50. I handed some of my cash to my sister, and she brought home my first copy of Abbey Road.* And when I first played it, I came across the long set of songs now called the Abbey Road medley.

The suite of songs – starting with the simple piano introduction to “You Never Give Me Your Money” and ending with the now-famous couplet “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make” – entranced me, as it did millions of other listeners. It’s generally accepted now that the medley was the work of Paul McCartney (although three of the pieces in the medley – “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” – were Lennon creations), and it might be the high point of the Beatles’ existence.

The tracks in the medley are:

“You Never Give Me Your Money”
“Sun King”
“Mean Mr. Mustard”
“Polythene Pam”
“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”
“Golden Slumbers”
“Carry That Weight”
“The End”

While there’s plenty of brilliance to parse in the sixteen-minute medley – in writing, in playing, in singing, in production – there is one touch that, to me, elevates the medley from excellence to genius: The emergence of the “You Never Give Me Your Money” theme – first with trumpets, then adding strings and then adding vocals – in the middle of “Carry That Weight.”

Here, then, in our occasional exploration of longer pieces that move me, is Long Form No. 3, the Abbey Road medley:

*I’ve since had three other copies: That first tape was stolen and replaced, I bought the vinyl of the album in 1971, and I bought the CD in 2001.

Revised since first posting to include “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.”

Saturday Single No. 378

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

So where was I when the lights went on fifty years ago tomorrow evening, when Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles and Americans began to stir from the darkness that had enveloped them since the previous November, when their president was killed?

Where was I? In the basement of my Uncle Gene’s home in the St. Paul suburbs, with a fair number of my cousins. But as to the lights coming on again and American grief beginning to dissipate, well, we’ve heard that for years, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a cheap and cheesy linkage of two separate events that happened to follow one another by a little more than two months.

Not that we hadn’t been grieving since Dallas. We had. An American president hadn’t been killed for more than sixty years, and John Kennedy had seemed so youthful and so energetic that I think we saw him as invulnerable. I was ten, and after Dallas, the world felt subdued and grey, and I can only assume that those feelings were a reflection of the feelings of the adult world around me. And little things kept reminding me of our loss: I winced far past February whenever I went into the St. Cloud Post Office and saw the picture of President Lyndon Johnson on the wall.

And then came the Beatles. Were they fun? Yes. Did they deliver a new kind of music? Yes. But I’m guessing that the awareness of those things was generally evident only to pop-music listening teens and folks in the music and radio businesses. I think parents, in general, were bemused and befuddled. Folkies and so-called serious musicians were mostly dismissive or hostile. (The chief outlier among the folkies, if we can believe the stories, was Bob Dylan, who heard the future in “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” but then, Bob Dylan always was an outlier.)

Now, I love the Beatles’ music. They were the first pop/rock group whose music pulled me in, and as such, they can take the blame for everything that’s followed, including the 2,900 LPs; the shelves of reference books; this post and the 1,400 or so that have preceded it here; and the bad, mediocre and occasionally good lyrics and songs I’ve written over the years. But all that came later, spurred by Abbey Road.

When I saw them on Ed Sullivan that February night fifty years ago, I saw a band that my girl cousins liked. (I only had at that time one boy cousin near my age, and I don’t recall him being with us that evening.) I didn’t see the Beatles as a band that would change the world of popular music and the larger world around it. After all, I was ten. But I have a hard time believing that non-music, non-radio adults of the time had even a dim clue of what the Beatles would do, either. I certainly don’t think that the joyful hysteria among young people, especially among the girls, did anything more than baffle (or maybe anger and upset) the vast majority of parents in the same way as did the Beatles’ long hair – and as conservative as it looks now, it’s worth remembering that it was outrageously long for the day.

None of this means that the Beatles who showed up on Ed Sullivan’s show fifty years ago this weekend weren’t a musically accomplished band who would become even more so and who would become at the same time a cultural force with influence far greater than anyone could have imagined on that night in February 1964. That’s all true. But we didn’t know all that on that night. Looking back at history foreshortens the view: Things that developed over time seem to be jammed up one against the other, and things that happened separately at about the same time get linked, even though they have no connection other than the times in which they happened.

Having been linked in the media by newsmen, historians and hucksters for two generations, the two events – JFK’s death and the Beatles’ arrival – will remain linked in popular perception. But it might be good to remember that the Beatles were not grief counselors. They were a band, the best band in the world, and they only got better. That, I think, is the important thing to remember about the events of fifty years ago.

I’ve think I’ve posted it here before, but there’s only one piece of music that makes sense today: Here’s a rip from the A-side of the 45 that my dad bought for my sister and me in February 1964. Fifty years ago this week, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was in the second week of a seven-week run at No. 1, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Video deleted.

‘Black’

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

As we continue Floyd’s Prism and look for six good tracks with the word “black” in their titles, we have lots of material to work with, as a search through the more than 72,000 mp3s on the digital shelves brings up a total of 665 results. There is, however, the normal winnowing that takes place.

Whole albums (except the occasional title track) must go, including three albums titled Black & White, one each from Tony Joe White (1969), the Pointer Sisters (1981) and the BoDeans (1991). We also lose, among others, Black Cadillac by Rosanne Cash (2006), Black Cat Oil by Delta Moon (2012), Black Eyed Man by the Cowboy Junkies (1992), Black Moses by Isaac Hayes (1971), Long Black Train by Josh Turner (2003), Long Black Veil by the Chieftans (1995), Young, Gifted & Black by Aretha Franklin (1972), and the soundtracks to the films Black Swan, Black Snake Moan and The Black Dahlia.

Three singles on the Black & White label are cast aside, two by T-Bone Walker and one by Ivie Anderson & Her All Stars. Single tracks from two albums titled Black & Blue go by the wayside; the albums came from Lou Rawls in 1963 and the Rolling Stones in 1976. I have two tracks that Long Cleve Reed & Little Harvey Hull recorded in the 1920s for the Black Patti label; those are set aside. One track each from Ruby Andrews’ 1972 album Black Ruby and XTC’s 1980 effort Black Sea miss the cut, too. One of my favorite Danish tracks, “Mød Mig I Mørket” (which translates to “Meet Me In The Dark”) came from Malurt’s 1982 release Black-out, so that goes away, too. And we lose the great “My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” recorded in 1922 by Trixie Smith & The Jazz Masters on the Black Swan label.

Groups and performers must be winnowed as well. We lose, among others, the Black Crowes, Black Heat, the Black Keys, Black Uhuru, Blackburn & Snow, the Blackbyrds, Margaret Johnson & The Black & Blue Trio (who recorded “When a ’Gator Holler, Folks Say It’s A Sign Of Rain” in 1926), Otis Blackwell and Willie “61” Blackwell, eight of whose 1941 sides for Bluebird showed up in the box set When The Levee Breaks: Mississippi Blues (Rare Cuts 1926-1941).

But we have plenty of records left.

We start with a guide to a cool wardrobe in the summer of 1957, when “Black Slacks” from Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones went to No. 17:

Black slacks. I’m the cat’s pajamas.
I always run around with crazy little mamas.

Well, all the girls look when I go by.
It’s what I wear that makes ’em sigh.

Black slacks: I wear a red bow tie.
Black slacks: They say “Me, oh my.”

Later in 1957, the quartet from Spartanburg, South Carolina, followed “Black Slacks” with another single of fashion advice, “Penny Loafers and Bobby Sox,” but that one only went to No. 42, and – reading between the lines in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – ABC-Paramount dropped the group. Bennett & The Sparkletones got one more shot, on the Paris label, but “Boys Do Cry” bubbled under at No. 125 in September 1959.

I took a stab at the history of the song “Long Black Veil” in 2009 (in a Saturday post that has yet to show up at our archival site), but I have sixteen versions of the song on the digital shelves, so it was almost inevitable that one of them would show up today. I’ve settled on the album track the Kingston Trio released on The New Frontier in late 1962. The album went to No. 16, but as good as that sounds, it was only the second of the trio’s twelve charting albums between 1958 and 1962 to miss the Top Ten. The trio’s time was passing, notes Bruce Eder of All Music Guide: “The Kingston Trio’s 14th album for Capitol Records appeared at a time when folk music was changing around them in ways that no one could have predicted just a couple of years earlier. Bob Dylan had not yet charted a record, but he was at Columbia Records and he was writing serious, topical, angry songs that would soon start getting attention; and a rival folk group called Peter, Paul & Mary was starting to make headway with the public doing songs that had a political and philosophical edge.”

Nor could I ignore “Baby’s In Black” by the Beatles. The track came to my sister and me as part of Beatles ’65, an album cobbled together by Capitol by taking some U.K. non-album singles and B-sides, one track from A Hard Day’s Night and several tracks from the British release Beatles For Sale. While my CD collection and the mp3’s digital tags reflect the track’s origins as an album track on Beatles For Sale, my memory will always have it as part of Beatles ’65, especially since I know there is a 1964 picture somewhere in our family archive – as yet still unfound – of me wearing my Beatle wig and plugging my ears with our copy of Beatles ’65 propped in my lap. Beyond that, “Baby’s In Black” remains a good early Beatles track.

There’s not a lot of information out there – at least readily available information – about soul singer Billy Thompson. He had no hits in the Billboard Hot 100 or on the R&B chart. The bare bones are there at Discogs.com: He was born in Indianola, Mississippi, and he “went to the New England Conservatory of Music at Boston, where he majored in musical composition, and arranging.” That’s it. That, and the 1965 single “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye/Black Eyed Girl” on the Wand label, which is the only thing I can find listed at Soulful Kinda Music, which is pretty comprehensive. I’ve never heard “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” but if that Wand single is the only record Thompson made then “Black Eyed Girl” is a hell of a resume by itself.

As regular readers have no doubt realized over the years, I love pretty much anything ever recorded by Big Maybelle Smith. From her work on King Records in the 1940s through her time at Savoy in the 1950s and at Rojac in the 1960s, I find something to like in almost anything she did. And among my favorites are the quirkily selected covers found on Got A Brand New Bag from 1967. Among them is “Black Is Black,” which Los Bravos took to No. 4 in 1966. That was a great single, but Big Maybelle’s take on “Black Is Black” is, to my ears, just as good.

And we’ll close today with one of the most evocative songs of 1990: “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles. According to Myles’ YouTube channel, the record was originally released in Canada in 1989 and then hit the U.S. in 1990. Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles says “Black Velvet” entered the Hot 100 during the first week of January that year; in March, the record was No. 1 for two weeks and topped the Album Rocks Track chart for two weeks as well. In addition, Myles’ performance earned her the 1990 Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocalist.

‘Two’

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

A couple weeks back, I offered a post titled “One,” looking at songs/recordings that have the word “one” in their titles. As readers might reasonably infer from the title of this post, today’s we’ll take a look at “Two.”

(We’re never unwilling here at Echoes In The Wind to test a good idea’s elasticity. Over the next couple of months, I can see us stretching this particular brainblip as far as “Ten,” and depending on source material, we may then go back to “Zero” before calling it quits.)

It’s not impossible to figure out how many tunes in the mp3 library have the word “two” in their titles. But it would be time consuming. A search for the word brings up 756 tracks, but I’d have to account for – among others – the twenty-eight tracks of the 1997 album One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen and the forty tracks in the soundtrack to Season Two of the cable series The Tudors. I’d also have to ignore the soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the 2010 film The Social Network, the entire catalogs of Fleetwood Mac and of a 1970s countryish band called Heartwood and a lot of single tracks, including “Driftwood” by the Moody Blues and “Ki Demon Sa-a” by Haïti Twoubadou (from the Putomayo collection of music from the French Caribbean). That combination of “two” sneaks into many places.

So I don’t know how many tracks lie in the library with “two” in their titles, but it’s plenty for our purposes this morning.

I may have said this before, but I’ve never quite known how I feel about Joe Jackson. From the time he showed up with Look Sharp! in 1979 through today, Jackson has seemed to shift from genre to genre, style to style, sometimes sounding accomplished and sometimes sounding tentative. I’ve listened to some of his stuff, and I can never quite figure him out. One thing I did like was 1983’s “Breaking Us In Two,” which went to No. 18:

The opening seconds of the Moments’ “Love on a Two-Way Street” provide one of the best introductions in 1970s pop soul. The guitar chords alternating with the piano followed by the thrumming strings (cellos, I would guess) set up the song perfectly. The 1970 record, the Moments’ first Top 10 hit, peaked at No. 3 on the pop chart, while over on the R&B chart, “Love on a Two-Way Street” was No. 1 for five weeks. The record was the peak of a pretty decent chart career, one that lasted  from 1968 into 1975 as the Moments and continued as Ray, Goodman & Brown to 1980 on the pop chart and to 1987 on the R&B chart.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Jack Scott put nineteen records into the Billboard Hot 100 between 1958 and 1961. In Top Pop Singles, Joel Whitburn describes Scott as a “rock and roll ballad-singer/songwriter/guitarist,” which doesn’t sound very distinctive. Scott’s “Two Timin’ Woman” came out in 1957 and showed up in That’ll Flat Git It, the multi-CD collection of obscure country and rockabilly records, and “Two Timin’ Woman” probably falls best in the latter category. The record did not make the charts; Whitburn lists it as a “Classic Non-Hot 100” record in Scott’s entry.

Staying with plaints about women from 1957 for a moment, I came upon “Two Headed Woman” from Junior Wells. Wells, writes Bill Dahl of All Music Guide, “was one bad dude, strutting across the stage like a harp-toting gangster, mesmerizing the crowd with his tough-guy antics and rib-sticking Chicago blues attack.” Though it was not one of Wells’ better-known outings, “Two Headed Woman” is a pretty good romp. I’m struck by the record’s odd rhythmic structure.

A few months back, the Texas Gal and I were lucky enough to see the Jayhawks when they came through town. I’d read plenty about the Minneapolis-based group over the years, but I hadn’t heard nearly enough of their recorded output, so I’ve been catching up lately. “Two Hearts” comes from 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass and provides a good example of the softer side of the band’s alt. country/Americana persona.

For this morning’s closer, I found a neat clip on YouTube. By the time March 1970 rolled around, the Beatles had broken up, but they hadn’t yet told the rest of the world. To promote (one assumes) the upcoming release of both the film and the album titled Let It Be, the group provided a clip to The Ed Sullivan Show of the group performing “Two Of Us,” which turned out to be the album’s opening track (and one of the best things on the album).

‘Let Me Be Your Little Dog . . .’

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

A good portion of yesterday evening was spent sifting through a new two-CD package that the mailman dropped off yesterday: The Legendary Story of Sun Records, a collection of sixty tracks from the legendary Memphis-based label created by Sam Phillips.

Among the tunes that popped up was “Matchbox,” a 1957 recording written and performed by Carl Perkins. Here’s a video that honestly confounds me.

The recording used for the video is different and longer than the track included in the CD package I got yesterday (and which I am unable to post in a video). I’m under the impression from the CD notes that the shorter version – it runs 2:10 – is the original. So is the track used in the video a live performance cleaned up immensely well (something I doubt strongly), or is it an alternate studio recording merged moderately well with a lip-synched television visual? Or is it the original? Does anyone out there know?

Anyway, most sources agree that the song was written in the studio during December 1956, when Perkins’ father, Buck, suggested the younger Perkins record “Match Box Blues,” a song written and recorded in 1927 by Texan bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson. The line around which Perkins’ song coalesced was the now famous “I’m sitting here wonderin’, will a matchbox hold my clothes?”

The line, which starts Jefferson’s 1927 version, had originated before that: Wikipedia notes that Ma Rainey had sung the line in her 1923 recording of “Lost Wandering Blues,” and notes further that both Jefferson and Rainey had likely absorbed the line from earlier usages, as was common in the folk and blues idioms.

However the line may have originated, Perkins used it and the companion line that Jefferson wrote as the starting point to his song:

I’m sittin’ here wonderin’, will a matchbox hold my clothes?
I’m sittin’ here wonderin’, will a matchbox hold my clothes?
I ain’t got no matches and I got a long way to go.

Sun released Perkins’ recording as a single, but the record did not make the Billboard Hot 100. (It’s listed in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles as a “Classic Non-Hot 100 Song,” with an additional notation that the record has been honored by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.)

Since then, Perkins’ tune has been recorded multitudes of times. All-Music Guide lists nearly six hundred CDs that include a version of the song. Many of those are Perkins’ versions – based on album titles and running times, there are several alternates and numerous live versions out there as well as the original Sun single release – but many others are covers by artists as diverse as Johnny Rivers, Ronnie Hawkins, the Deighton Family, Jerry Lee Lewis,* Ike Turner, Sleepy LaBeef, Billy Swan, the Paramounts and more.

The cover version I heard first, though, was by the Beatles. Released in England as one of the four tracks on the “Long Tall Sally” EP, “Matchbox” came out in the U.S. as a Capitol single and went to No. 17 during the autumn of 1964. It was also included on the LP Something New, one of the hodgepodge albums Capitol was in the habit of creating for the U.S. market.

But as much as I loved the Beatles’ studio version of the tune during the days when I was exploring the band’s music, I find myself more intrigued these days by the live version the band performed during one of its shows aired over the British Broadcasting Corporation. This version comes from the July 10, 1963, performance and was included on the 1994 release Live at the BBC.

*Lewis was in the studio when Perkins wrote the song and played on the original recording. (Wikipedia says Lewis provided a piano boogie rhythm that spurred Perkins’ writing.) I have a suspicion that he also played on the longer version used to back the Perkins video above.

A Six-Pack of Sleep

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

For some reason, I woke up early this morning. Very early.

I usually sleep – with the help of my nightly Ambien – until the alarm rings, generally sometime around 6:30 or so. But this morning, I woke up before that. I rolled over and looked at the clock: 4:11. For a moment, I wondered what roused me, listened for the sounds of a cat in trouble or up to no good. Nothing. So I rolled over, rearranged my pillows and went back to sleep.

I woke up again. The clock read 4:39. One of the cats – Little Gus – was lying against my leg, but that shouldn’t have been enough to rouse me. I listened again and still heard no sounds of feline mischief. I tossed one of the covers to the side and rolled over the other way and closed my eyes again.

And I woke up once more, seemingly for no particular reason. I lay there for a few moments, annoyed, and then opened my eyes and checked the time: 5:11. Accepting the inevitable, I got up and started my day. Fortified by some coffee and whole-grain toaster pastries, I put together a lunch for the Texas Gal, checked some stuff online and realized that while my body was up and moving, my brain was still slumbering. So a more creative post will have to wait until Thursday. Instead, here is a selection of songs about sleep.

“I’m Only Sleeping” by the Beatles from Revolver [1966]

“She Never Sleeps Beside Me” by Zager & Evans from Zager & Evans [1970]

“Sleep Walk” by Leo Kottke from Guitar Music [1981]

“The Devil Never Sleeps” by Iron & Wine from The Shepherd’s Dog [2007]

“She Sleeps Alone” by Pat Shannon, Warner Bros. 7210 [1968]

“Two Sleepy People” by Crystal Gayle & Willie Nelson from Crystal Gayle Sings The Heart & Soul Of Hoagy Carmichael [2004]

I was hoping a Beatles song would show up this morning. Before I decided on the word “sleep” as my search word, I considered using “tired.” I know I’ve used it before, so I went the other direction. Had I gone with “tired,” though, I figure that “I’m So Tired” from the White Album would have had a good chance of popping up. And that would have worked. But “I’m Only Sleeping” from Revolver is just as good a track, and it’s presented in this video in beautiful mono.

The All-Music Guide review of Zager & Evans’ self-titled album – the duo’s follow-up to In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) – is scathing: “This project gives record labels an excuse as to why important artists don’t get multiple album deals – there’s nothing remotely sounding like a hit, in fact, this is just a horrendous collection of bad songs by Rick Evans who takes all the blame for the words and music.” And that’s an accurate assessment. (And why I keep the album in the RealPlayer is a question I cannot answer.) As it happens, “She Never Sleeps Beside Me” is probably the best thing on the album, but still, click at your own risk.

“Sleep Walk” is Leo Kottke’s take on the tune that Santo & Johnny – a guitar duo from Brooklyn – took to No. 1 in 1959. It’s a tune that’s been covered over and over but with only two versions making the pop chart. In 1982, jazz guitarist Larry Carlton released a version of the tune that went to No. 74. Kottke’s version, from his 1981 album, Guitar Work, is just a little too somnolent for me. Of course, that could be just me, just this morning.

The group Iron & Wine is basically Sam Beam, who’s released a series of increasingly good albums since 2002. His first efforts were pretty quiet affairs, but The Shepherd Dog from 2007 is different. AMG notes that “Beam surrounds himself with a large cast of musicians, and they blanket the songs with a wide array of instrumentation, everything from accordions to Hammond organ, piano to backward guitars, vibraphone to bass harmonica.” “The Devil Never Sleeps” is one of the tracks that benefits the most from the new approach, with its barrelhouse piano and chugging rhythm.

I was pleased that Pat Shannon’s “She Sleeps Alone” popped up in my random exploration this morning. I’m not sure where I found the track, which seems to be the B-Side to his single “Candy Apple, Cotton Candy.” But it’s a nifty, if melancholy, slice of late 1960s pop. Shannon had released some singles in the late 1950s in what AMG calls “a country-pop” vein. Neither those singles nor “Candy Apple, Cotton Candy” hit the charts; a 1970 release titled “Back To Dreamin’ Again” got to No. 103.

With its clarity of tone and accuracy of pitch, Crystal Gayle’s voice is a wonder. A fixture on the country chart between 1970 and 1988 (a total of forty-five hits, eighteen of them reaching No. 1), Gayle grabbed my attention a few years ago when I heard her work with Tom Waits on the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1982 film, One From The Heart. One of her more recent efforts is the 2004 collection of Hoagy Carmichael tunes on which “Two Sleepy People” is found. It’s good stuff.

All Elevens, All The Time!

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

I had planned today to write about an obscure cover of an obscure Bob Dylan tune, discovered in my vinyl stacks via my current reading of two books about Dylan’s catalog. And I still will do that, and I’ll offer a chance to hear that tune. But that will likely come Thursday.

Why the delay?

Because along with digging into records from over the years, I also like playing with numbers, and today’s date just can’t be ignored: 1/11/11. And even though I played a similar game last Saturday with the number 18, well, it can’t be helped. Today’s date calls loudly for a look at records that were No. 11 during various years on January 11. We’ll start in 1965 and move ahead from there, this time in four-year increments. So here we go.

I’ve told the story about how my sister and I got the LP Beatles ’65 for Christmas one year (either 1964 or 1965, I’m still not entirely certain). The album, a late 1964 release, was one of those that Capitol created for the U.S. market by trimming a few tracks from Beatles LPs as they were released in the U.K. and then adding some tracks released only as singles in Britain. However it was put together, Beatles ’65 was my first album by the boys from Liverpool, and its tunes and track order remain ingrained in my memory. I loved “I Feel Fine,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Mister Moonlight,” but one of the tracks to which I didn’t, to be honest, pay much attention at the time is the one that was No. 11 in the Billboard Hot 100 forty-six years ago today. Released as the B-side to “I Feel Fine,” “She’s A Woman” went to No. 4, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, and I do think its crunchy chords and Paul McCartney’s great vocal tend to get lost a little bit today among the riches of the Beatles’ catalog. According to William J. Dowlding in his book Beatlesongs, the tune was written in Abbey Road studio the day it was recorded, October 8, 1964.

 

Having identified the No. 11 record from January 11, 1969, I turned to Whitburn’s book for more information, and a terse line told me that if I wanted information about the singer who called himself Derek, I needed to go read about Johnny Cymbal. It turns out that Cymbal was a Scottish singer who got three records into the Hot 100 in 1963, with “Mr. Bass Man” – an effort Whitburn tags as a novelty record – going to No. 16. Six years later, in 1969, Cymbal – who died in 1993 at the age of forty-eight – was recording as Derek and had two Hot 100 hits, “Cinnamon” and “Back Door Man.” The latter went to No. 59 in March 1969, but “Cinnamon” nearly made the Top Ten, peaking at the No. 11 spot it held forty-two years ago today.

The Four Tops seem so firmly planted in the mid-1960s with their string of superlative Top Ten singles – “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette” chief among them – that it’s sometime surprising when one is reminded that the Tops’ career stretched through the 1970s and into the 1980s (though with less chart success). One of the quartet’s most successful 1970s entries was sitting at No. 11 during this week in 1973. “Keeper of the Castle” would peak the following week at No. 10, giving the Four Tops their first Top Ten hit since “Bernadette” in early 1967. The Tops’ next single, “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got),” did even better, going to No. 4 in April of 1973; it was the last Top Ten hit for the Four Tops. But thirty-eight years ago this week, it was “Keeper of the Castle” that folks were hearing on the radio.

The Sylvers were a group of nine brothers and sisters from Memphis who had three records reach the lower level of the Hot 100 in 1972 and 1973 before hitting it massively in early 1976 with the No. 1 hit “Boogie Fever.” Later that year, the group released “Hot Line,” and the record began to make its way up the chart. By the second week in January, the record was at No. 11, heading to No. 5. The group had two more hits in 1977, with “High School Dance” going to No. 17. I don’t recall that last record, but in late 1976 and early 1977, “Hot Line” was pretty much inescapable.

I never quite got the Police. Their music seemed brittle and fussy to me, and although I didn’t entirely tune it out, neither did I dig into it. Still, the group’s hits would pop up on the radio during my newspapering days as I made my way from interview to interview. And twenty-nine years ago this week, I likely heard “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” as I drove around Monticello and the record was perched at No. 11. A week later, the record would peak at No. 10, giving the Police their first Top Ten hit. They’d have five more through 1984. Here’s the official video for “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.”

I don’t suppose I have to say a lot about the record that was at No. 11 this week in 1985, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” Or maybe I do. I will note that more than a quarter century later, I still find myself amused by George Will’s fawning column about the Boss in which – after spending an evening at a Springsteen concert – he interprets “Born in the U.S.A.” as a patriotic anthem. And I suppose that it’s not all that far-fetched – though it is saddening – to think that all one needs to do these days is plug a few different proper nouns into the lyrics, and “Born in the U.S.A.” is timely today. Getting back to the record, it would peak at No. 9 two weeks later, Springsteen’s fourth Top Ten hit and the third of seven Top Ten hits from the album Born in the U.S.A.

I’ll be back Thursday, likely with that obscure cover of an obscure Bob Dylan tune.

Eighties Music Hasn’t Changed, So I Must Have

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

As happens to – I think – every music lover during one era or another, while I was living through the first years of the 1980s, I didn’t have much use for the music of the times. That’s not news to those who’ve been reading this blog for a while; I’ve written before about how I felt about the music of the 1980s at the time that decade was unspooling.

What interests me now, though, is how I’ve come to appreciate more of that music these days than I ever thought I would. I grant that I’m still not accustomed to tunes from those years showing up in the playlists of the Twin Cities oldies station I listen to, but that’s a simple matter of disbelief at the march of time; it’s not an aesthetic comment on the music that’s new to that playlist.

There’s no doubt, though, that I quit listening regularly to pop music during several stretches of the 1980s, and that was especially true during the first few years of that decade. As I more and more disliked what I heard when I listened to Top 40 and other popular radio formats, my radio at home was frequently tuned to a jazz station, and I dabbled in country music at the time, too. I also listened to a lot of classical music, and I dug into the Big Band music of my parents’ youth. None of those satisfied me in the end, and I was a musical nomad for a while.

The funny thing is, I look at the records that were hits in the 1980s – either the lists of No. 1 songs week by week or the list of the biggest hits of the decade – and they don’t seem so awful now. Some of them, in fact, seem pretty palatable. There’s still a lot of piffle, but when wasn’t there piffle? The Sixties and Seventies each had their shares of bad singles rising to the top, and some of those bad singles – “bad” in the aesthetic sense – are among the records I still enjoy from those formative years of mine. (“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” is a prime example: It’s at the same time an awful song and a great record if you were a listener then; but it’s not necessarily what I would want the aliens from Altair to hear first as they approached our blue planet. What would my choice be? I have no idea this morning.)

One thing is certain: The music I dissed between twenty and thirty years ago hasn’t changed. So if I like more of that music today than I did then, the change must have come from me. And, having thought about this at least a little, I think my reaction to the tunes of the time was more than anything else a reaction to the times. Politically, culturally, a lot of things changed in the years just before and just after 1980, with the changes adding up to one of those shifts in the zeitgeist that take place in our culture every twenty or thirty years or so.

And since one of the things that pop culture does well is to reflect that zeitgeist back to us through the mass media (though they become less mass year by year, a topic we might explore here another day), the music I was listening to and finding wanting was showing me – imperfectly, to be sure – the larger culture surrounding pop culture. I didn’t like what I saw, and in the first instance of old-fogyism that I can recall in my life – certainly not my last – I gave a “hrmmph” and turned my back on almost all pop music to find a more comforting current form of musical sustenance. I never did find it, which isn’t a surprise, as what I was looking for was 1970 or 1975 or something very much like that. And those years and their times were gone.

I think this is not a unique tale. Though the details – and the specific times – may differ, I think the first adult instance of noticing the world changing greatly around us is a universal experience. Sometimes we swim as hard as we can against the current, and sometimes we float and bob along. Some of us, I suppose, have boats and ride through the changes without much effort at all, and some very few of us – to stretch the metaphor to its elastic capacity – sit on the shore and watch the river flow and thus never move away from, oh, 1972 or whenever.

That last reaction – inaction, if you will – was never an option. Even though I felt more comfortable with those earlier times, and as much as I love memoir and memory, I still – as a reporter, as a writer, as a reader, as a person – had to be in the present. So I eventually made my peace with the fact that the times had shifted. Some of that peace was easier found when I went to graduate school; a university environment encourages exploration and acceptance of new ideas, and I found that to be true in the lesser matters of pop culture as well as the larger matters of social policy and all the other things that make the world run.

And being drawn back to pop culture and pop music — I still didn’t like everything I heard, but I was at least listening again – brought me to one of the best records included in this long project of the Ultimate Jukebox. I imagine that if I took the agonizing time to rank all 228 songs in the UJ – and I won’t do that; I have better things to invest my hours in – this record by the Cars from the late summer and early autumn of 1984 would fall securely in my Top Twenty, if not higher.

“Drive” was written and performed by the late Benjamin Orr of the Cars, and it spent the last two weeks of September and the first week of October 1984 at No. 3. It was also No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart for three weeks.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 36
“Down in the Alley” by Elvis Presley from Spinout [1966]
“Back in the U.S.S.R.” by the Beatles from The Beatles [1968]
“Fishin’ Blues” by Taj Mahal from De Ole Folks at Home [1969]
“Eight Miles High” by Leo Kottke from Mudlark [1971]
“Lady Marmalade” by LaBelle, Epic 50048 [1975]
“Drive” by the Cars from Heartbeat City [1984]

The various movie soundtracks that Elvis Presley found himself entangled in during the 1960s weren’t often well-received when they came out, and they’re not often highly regarded today. Some Elvis fanatics – and I am not one of those – might find more in those releases than others, but generally, there aren’t many great Presley performances among those albums. There are, however, a couple of tracks from the soundtrack to Spinout that grab my ears. The first – and I’ve gone back and forth over the years on its value – is his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” I’ve finally settled on the view that it’s a good performance. But as good as the Dylan cover is, Presley’s take on “Down In The Alley” is the best track on the Spinout album. The tune was originally written and recorded by the Clovers in the mid-1950s, and I assume the record made some dent in the R&B chart, but I don’t know for certain. (I’m also uncertain about the year the Clovers’ version was released; I’ve seen both 1956 and 1957 at various sources.) The only release from Spinout that I can find on the Billboard Hot 100 is the title tune to the movie, which peaked at No. 40 in November of 1966, but from where I listen, “Down In The Alley” should have been a hit.

When listing my favorite singles for a post a couple of years ago – and I think all but one of those I listed have found their way into this project; a Rolling Stones track that I listed in that post as an honorable mention did not make the cut – I said that if the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” had ever been released as a single, there would be no doubt about my favorite single of all time. I’m not sure that’s honestly the case – it would be tough to knock “Cherish” out of the top spot – but “Back in the U.S.S.R.” would be in the top five, I think. (The other three? “We” by Shawn Phillips, “Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers and “Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt.) And hearing the song live at a Paul McCartney concert in 2002 remains one of the highlights of my musical life. (As for the video I’ve linked to, it’s labeled as a 1970s promo video. I have my doubts about that; for what it matters, a lot of the visuals seem to have been shot in the Netherlands. The other interesting thing about the video is that the audio is a different mix than is on the album, with a slightly different introduction, for one. And the song ends on its own. What I mean is that the sound of the airplane takes the record to its fade out without the opening guitar part to “Dear Prudence” overlapping. I’d never heard that before. Anyone out there know anything about any of it?)

I tend to forget that I saw Taj Mahal in concert once. He performed a Sunday afternoon show in St. Cloud’s new municipal arena in the spring of 1972, I think. (It might have been a year later.) The place was crowded, hot and uncomfortable. I knew very little of the man’s music at the time; in fact, I think “Fishin’ Blues” was the only song I recognized all afternoon. I know a bit more about the man and his music now, having collected several of his LPs and CDs. But he remains an enigma to me, maybe because he moves from place to place musically, always exploring and never settling down to one genre although All-Music Guide notes that “while he dabbled in many different genres, he never strayed too far from his laid-back country blues foundation.” As much as I’ve dug into the man’s work, I may need to dig more. Beyond that, one thing comes to mind: “Fishin’ Blues” was written by early 20th century songster Henry Thomas (a fact that Taj Mahal has always acknowledged; the writing credits on De Ole Folks At Home list Thomas and a J. Williams, whose identity is a mystery to me). Thus, “Fishin’ Blues” is the second song in the Ultimate Jukebox that came at least partly from Thomas’ pen. As I mentioned a while back, the flute riff that opens Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country” is pretty much the same as the quills riff that opened Thomas’ “Bull Doze Blues.”

Leo Kottke once likened his voice to the sound of “geese farts on a muggy day.” Never having heard the latter, I can only guess that he was wrong, as I like Kottke’s voice. I especially like it on his cover of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” on his Mudlark album. Along with his brilliant guitar work, Kottke’s vocal brings something to the surreal song that the Byrds’ swirling psychedelic single doesn’t deliver. On the other hand, my preference for Kottke’s version simply might stem from the fact that when my sister brought Mudlark home, it was probably the first time I’d ever heard the song. And I still prefer the cover to the admittedly brilliant original.

So what do we get from LaBelle’s No 1 hit? Beyond, that is, a lesson in French that college boys of all generations since 1975 have hoped to be able to put to use? We get a sly and funky piece of R&B that sounds as good today as it did thirty-five years ago when it spent a week at No. 1 on both the Top 40 and the R&B charts. “Lady Marmalade” still slinks, bumps, grinds and rocks.

‘You Never Give Me Your Money’

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

In April, after I wrote about being a Beatles fan during the confusing year of 1970, regular reader and commenter porky recommended a book: He told me that You Never Give Me Your Money, Peter Doggett’s examination of the Beatles during and after their break-up, would be released here in the U.S. in June. (He got his own copy, he said in his note here, during a December vacation in England, lucky man.)

My copy arrived last week, and I’ve found it hard to set aside. The tales of bitterness and anger among the four men who’d created some of the world’s best pop-rock are – even forty years after the fact – saddening and frustrating. Beyond the personal hurts of what was, in effect, a four-person divorce, Doggett also chronicles the details of the tangled hodge-podge of Beatles’ business interest, which made sorting those things out daunting as well.

The book seems impeccably researched, calling on a wide range of interviews and reviews of documents and publications; what impresses me most is that not only am I being reminded of what happened (I’m up to about late 1972), but Doggett fills the gaps other chroniclers seem to have left over the years in letting us know not only what happened (and in some cases of urban legend, what didn’t happen), but how the four ex-Beatles and those around them felt about the things that took place.

As I said, it can make for sad reading. As I go through the tales of bitterness and anger and the thousands of rumors of Beatle reunions, I also reflect on something I read long ago in the first volume I ever owned of the Rolling Stone Record Guide. John Swenson, one of the editors of the guide, wrote:

“In retrospect, the group’s much-lamented decision to call it quits as the Seventies began was entirely appropriate; the collected work does not leave you with the impression that there were unfinished statements. There is a perfectly resolute and logical progression of ideas from Meet the Beatles to Abbey Road. They did it all, they did it right, and then they went their separate ways.”

Swenson wrote that in 1976 or so, when a reunion of the four – however unlikely – was possible, implying, as I read it, that a reunion was unnecessary and would probably be ill-advised. All these years later, with a reunion having been impossible for almost thirty years, Swenson’s main point remains valid: The music stands on its own as a complete story.

As sad and as frustrating as You Never Give Me Your Money can be, it’s also compelling, and I’ll make quick work of it. Leavening the sadness and frustration as I read is the knowledge that the music is still there. For many years, the Beatles were my favorite group, and their body of work keeps them very close to the top of my list still today. And two of their recordings made it through my winnowing and are included in my Ultimate Jukebox.

The first is a track from Revolver that I wrote about last December, detailing the high school courtship that found me leaving the song’s lyrics in the locker of my romantic interest. I’ve seen comments from Paul McCartney and John Lennon that “Got To Get You Into My Life” – McCartney’s creation entirely – was influenced, especially in its use of horns, by the Motown sound. That makes sense. I’ve also seen vague references to an interview with McCartney – one I’ve never read, I don’t think – in which he said the song was written about his need for marijuana. That’s possible, I suppose, but I got the impression somewhere – I must have read it, but it would have been long ago soon after I discovered the Beatles – that McCartney wrote the song soon after meeting Jane Asher, who for a few years was his girlfriend.

Whatever the source, “Got To Get You Into My Life” from the 1966 album Revolver is still a great record:

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 22
“Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, Atco 6147 [1959]
“Got To Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles from Revolver [1966]
“The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel, Columbia 44785 [1969]
“Let It Rain” by Eric Clapton from Eric Clapton [1970]
“Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics, Volt 4058 [1971]
“Arms of Mary” by Chilliwack from Light From the Valley [1978]

Bobby Darin never seemed to know what kind of singer he wanted to be. Or it might be more fair to say that the record companies for whom he recorded had no clue what to do with him. From the silliness of “Splish Splash” in 1958 (silly or not, it went to No. 3 and was No. 1 for two weeks on the R&B chart) through his folk-rock period in the mid-1960s (with Top 40 singles in1966 and 1967), Darin wandered through changes of style after style. Among the things that didn’t change, however, were his great voice and his superb sense of timing. I’m not sure if it’s his best performance, but my favorite performance of Darin’s is “Mack the Knife,” a tune pulled from the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill production, The Threepenny Opera. Adding some Las Vegas/Rat Pack swing to the tune – which is crushingly staid in the versions of the opera I’ve seen – Darin swaggers his way through “Mack the Knife,” famously name-checking opera character Lucy Brown and Lotte Lenya, Weill’s wife and star of several stagings of the opera. Darin’s version of “Mack the Knife” was No. 1 for nine weeks in late 1959.

I suppose there’s little argument about which record was the best thing that Simon & Garfunkel ever did. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is an extraordinary song and record. But as much as I’ve loved it over the years, I found myself uneasy sliding it in among the other records in this mythical jukebox. As well as looking for good records, I guess I was also looking for flow, for a collection of songs that would make interesting combinations and patterns as the tunes played. And I decided as I considered the work of Simon & Garfunkel that “Bridge” just brings a little too much weight along with it, stopping the show. So I opted for “The Boxer,” which comes from the same album and was actually the first single released from Bridge Over Troubled Water. (It went to No. 7 in the spring of 1969.) And “The Boxer” was a better choice for my purposes. For the past few months, my pocket mp3 player has been loaded only with the tunes from the Ultimate Jukebox, and after hearing it pop up in several contexts, I’ve concluded that “The Boxer” is a better fit for what I was seeking than its towering neighbor. Beyond that, I like the story, seemingly told as it is from the shadows, and I love the long “lie-la-lie” ending.

Speaking of extended endings, Eric Clapton’s lengthy and compelling solo at the end of “Let It Rain” was one of my earliest exposures to Clapton as guitarist. I might have heard some of his work with the Yardbirds, and I know I heard some of Cream’s stuff, but those hearings would have come in the days before I paid much attention to who was actually doing the playing. When I finally got to that point – sometime between late 1971 and the summer of 1972 – Clapton was one of the first musicians I began to explore, along with his friends who helped record “Let It Rain” and the rest of his first solo album: Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett (she co-wrote “Let It Rain” with Clapton) and the group of friends that included Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Leon Russell and all the rest. “Let It Rain” wasn’t released as a single in 1970 when Eric Clapton came out, but when Polydor released the anthology Clapton At His Best in 1972, the label also released “Let It Rain” as a single (it may have been an edit of the album track; I don’t know). The record somehow missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 48.

It took nine years and a few personnel changes for the Dramatics to get from their formation in Detroit in 1962 to the recording of their first album, Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get in 1971. All the work seemed worth it, I imagine, when the record was a hit. The album went to No. 20 on the Billboard 200 and to No. 5 on the R&B album chart. At the same time, the album threw off three hit singles: “In The Rain” went to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the R&B chart; “Get Up and Get Down” went to No. 78 on the Hot 100 and to No. 16 on the R&B chart; and “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” went to No. 9 on the Hot 100 and to No. 3 on the R&B chart. Of the three, the sweet and pretty “In The Rain” did a little better, but “Whatcha See” has a groove that can’t be refused. So I won’t try.

I have ten versions of the song “Arms of Mary” right now, and I’ll collect more as I find them. It’s one of those songs that grabs hold of me – it’s a song of memoir and memory, after all – and I knew one version of it would end up in this list. The original, by the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, off of 1975’s Reach For The Sky, is nice enough, and managed to get to No. 85 on the Billboard Hot 100, but the spare folky accompaniment is somehow wanting. As a result, I prefer the slightly tougher version from the Canadian group Chilliwack. The track comes from the album Lights From The Valley, and the Mushroom label released the song as a single, as well. I imagine it might have done well in Canada, but all I know is that it didn’t make the Hot 100. Well, the other thing I’m sure of is that it should have been a hit.