Posts Tagged ‘Bee Gees’

Four At Random

Friday, April 10th, 2015

I’m going to fire up the RealPlayer this morning and let it do the work for me.

Right off the top we get some easy listening: “Emmanuelle” by Italian sax player Fausto Papetti, which turns out to be an instrumental version of the theme to the 1974 soft-core film Emmanuelle. The film was the first of seven chronicling the adventures of the character created in 1959 by French writer Emmanuelle Arsan (a pseudonym for Thai-born Marayat Bibidh Krasaesin Rollet-Andriane) and portrayed in four of the films by Sylvia Kristel. (All of that according to Wikpedia.) The song and the soundtrack for the first film were written by Pierre Bachelet. Papetti, who passed on in 1999, was known, Wikipedia says, for both his saxophone work and the covers of his albums, many of which featured attractive women in little or no clothing. Papetti’s 1977 version of the theme came to me in a 2009 collection titled 100 Hits Romantic Saxophone.

And then we head back to 1944 for “Opus One” by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra. The fox trot – as it’s described on the Victor label – was written by Sy Oliver, who became, says Wikipedia, “one of the first African Americans with a prominent role in a white band” when he joined Dorsey’s band in 1939. It’s not my favorite track from Dorsey; that would be his theme song, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” from 1935. As it happens, any of the 1930s and 1940s big band tunes remind me of the summer of 1991, when I was reporting and writing a lengthy piece about life in Columbia, Missouri, during World War II. On a lot of evenings at home that summer, as I sat at my desk and planned my next day’s work, I stacked some big bands – Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and more – on the stereo and tried to get my head at least a little into an era that I never knew.

From there, it’s another dip into the easy listening pool with Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” as filtered through the sound of Frank Chacksfield & His Orchestra. The late Chacksfield was an English composer and conductor who is estimated, Wikipedia says, to have sold more than 20 million albums world-wide. Two of those albums reached the Billboard 200: Ebb Tide went to No. 36 in 1961 and The New Ebb Tide went to No. 120 in late 1964 or early 1965. Chacksfield and his orchestra had one single reach the magazine’s charts: “On The Beach,” the title song to the 1959 film, went to No. 47 in early 1961. Chacksfield’s take on Simon’s tune was a track on a 1970 album titled Chacksfield Plays Simon & Garfunkel & Jim Webb. It came to me in a 2005 collection titled The Lounge Legends Play Simon & Garfunkel.

Then up pop the Bee Gees with “Sun in My Morning” from 1969. The not terribly interesting track was the B-side to the group’s single “Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” which doesn’t make my list of vital Bee Gees’ tunes, either, even if it went to No. 54. There’s not a lot more to say as the tune plays itself out and this post limps to an end.

And there we see clearly the risk of letting random chance decide things.

‘The Time Has Passed Us By . . .’

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

In a career studded at least partly with lush, heartfelt and romantic songs, the Bee Gees might never have written and recorded a track as lush, heartfelt and romantic as the song that belongs to today: “First of May.” Released as a single from the trio’s 1969 album Odessa, “First of May” went to No. 37 that spring in the Billboard Hot 100. (It went to No. 18 in the Cash Box chart, and to No. 6 in the U.K.)

And if ever there were a day to check out covers, today is the day to look at a few covers of “First of May.” Several popped up shortly after the Bee Gees’ version came out. Among those listed at Second Hand Songs are 1969 versions by Fausto Pepetti and José Feliciano (on his Feliciano 10 to 23 album) and a 1971 cover by Cilla Black (on Images). And a 1970 cover brought “First of May” into the idiosyncratic and decidedly adult contemporary sights of the Mystic Moods Orchestra from its English Muffins album:

Another cover of the tune that caught my ear this morning came in 1979 from a Nigerian singer named Patti Boulaye, who included the song on her 1979 album, You Stepped Into My Life. The name was new to me, but Wikipedia says she was “among the leading black British entertainers in the 1970s and 1980s.” And that was the last cover listed at Second Hand Songs for eighteen years.

The listings at Second Hand Songs are likely not comprehensive (as I’ve said before), but I noticed in the website’s accounting of “First of May” a pattern I’ve seen there with other popular songs from the 1960s and 1970s: Frequent covers in the years immediately following a song’s first release followed by a slowing of interest in the song until, roughly, the years right around 2000. At that point, many songs have what can only be termed a renaissance, and I wonder if there is a correlation between the proliferation of covers and the growth in Internet marketing of music track-by-track. I suspect there is, and I imagine I could find evidence for that correlation if I wished to research the question, but I have other things in which to invest my time. (I also suspect there is a correlation less easy to research between the proliferation of covers of 1960s and 1970s songs with the quality of the songwriting during those times.)

In any event, the evident resurgence of interest in “First of May” included a pairing of Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees with G4 (described at Wikipedia as a “British opera boy band”) to record the song for the 2005 album, G4 and Friends. (There are several videos at YouTube of Gibb and G4 performing the song live in various venues.) And the most recent version of “First of May” listed at SHS comes from the Universal Daughters, whose 2013 cover – included on the album Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me – featured British singer Jarvis Cocker.

But the recent cover that I liked most came from English singer Mari Wilson, whose generally restrained version contrasts nicely with the over-performance that “First of May” often seems to invite. Wilson’s version is on her 2012 album, Cover Stories:

‘Seven’

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

And the March of the Integers goes on, this morning reaching “Seven.”

Having looked ahead, as all good tour guides do, I see that the march is likely to end after “Ten.” Titles with numbers in them are pretty slender from “Eleven” through “Fifteen.” “Sixteen” would work (I’ll bet readers can think of six songs with “sixteen” in their titles in less than sixteen seconds), but the flow ebbs to a trickle after that.

This morning’s search through the RealPlayer for “seven,” however, turns up more than two hundred records. That total is trimmed a fair amount when we take into account the Allman Brothers Band’s 1990 album Seven Turns, French singer Françoise Hardy’s 1970 album One Nine Seven Zero, Etta James’ 1988 album Seven Year Itch, Bettye LaVette’s 1973 release Child Of The Seventies and a few other albums. We also have to ignore the two songs recorded in March 1930 in Atlanta, Georgia, by A. A. Gray & Seven-Foot Dilly and everything listed by the John Barry Seven, Louis Armstrong & His Hot Seven, the Society of Seven, Sunlights’ Seven and numerous titles with the words “seventh” and “seventeen” in their titles. (No Willie Mabon, Johnny Rivers or Janis Ian today.) Still, we have enough to play with.

And we start with a Fleetwood Mac record from 1987. “Seven Wonders” was the second single released from the group’s 1987 album, Tango In The Night. It went to No. 19, which was not as high as the two singles from the album that bracket it in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: “Big Love” went to No. 5, and “Little Lies” went to No. 4. Because of that bracketing and because of the massive overall success of that era’s Fleetwood Mac on both the singles and album charts, I think “Seven Wonders” has been a little obscured. I suppose that for some folks, a little of Stevie Nicks’ mysticism can be more than enough, and “Seven Wonders” does follow that path lyrically as well as in Nicks’ vocal delivery. That’s no problem for me, though.

We’ll stay in 1987 for a bit yet, as that was the year that Terence Trent D’Arby released Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent d’Arby, an album on which the precocious D’Arby – as noted by Rob Bowman of All-Music Guide – “wrote virtually every note, played a multitude of instruments, and claimed that this was the most important album since the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper.” Now, it’s not that good, though it did spin off a couple of Top Five hits: “Wishing Well” went to No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts, and “Sign Your Name” went to No. 4 pop and No. 2 R&B. Given our focus this morning, “Seven More Days” is our landing spot. It’s an atmospheric track with intelligent lyrics and a good vocal.

When one seeks out songs using the word “seven,” then Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road” becomes one of the obvious choices. First released on Young’s 1969 album Rock, Salt & Nails, the song was covered memorably by the Eagles, as well as by groups and performers ranging from Mother Earth and Ian Mathews to Rita Coolidge and Dolly Parton. The song’s genesis is interesting, and in 2007 the now-dormant blog pole hill sanatarium presented Young’s comments on the song, as found at a website that evidently no longer exists:

I lived in Montgomery, Alabama, in the early ’60s and had a group of friends there that showed me the road. It led out of town, and after you had crossed seven bridges you found yourself out in the country on a dirt road. Spanish moss hung in the trees and there were old farms with old fences and graveyards and churches and streams. A high bank dirt road with trees. It seemed like a Disney fantasy at times. People went there to park or get stoned or just to get away from it all. I thought my friends had made up the name “Seven Bridges Road.” I found out later that it had been called by that name for over a hundred years, that people had been struck by the beauty of the road for a long time.

The Bee Gees’ 1969 album Odessa has popped up in this space before, at least once as an album and once as a source for a tune in my Ultimate Jukebox. Sprawling and at times beautiful, Odessa remains a favorite, one that I don’t pull out of the CD shelves and listen to in its entirety nearly often enough. Among its seventeen tracks are three instrumentals, two of which don’t seem to work all that well, as if the Bee Gees’ ambitions were larger than their abilities in 1969 (and if that were the case, well, the Bee Gees weren’t the only performers in that time – or any time – to fall into that category). The instrumental that works for me, however, is “Seven Seas Symphony” with its gentle and lightly accompanied piano figure leading into full-blown orchestration and back to (mostly) piano again and then again.

And we jump to 1990 and the sessions that took place after Bruce Springsteen famously fired the E Street Band. Recorded in Los Angeles during the sessions that resulted in the lightly regarded 1992 albums Human Touch and Lucky Town, “Seven Angels” has Springsteen handling guitars and bass as well as vocals. The only other musicians listed in the credits – “Seven Angels” is found on the 1998 box set Tracks – are Shawn Pelton on drums and E Streeter Roy Bittan on keyboards. Even taking into consideration Springsteen’s propensity for recording tracks and then stashing them in the vault because they don’t fit the vision he has for an album, one wonders how a track as good as “Seven Angels” was passed over for some of the stuff that was used on those two 1992 albums.

For those who were television watchers during the 1960s, Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven does not raise visions of a Western (in both senses of the word) version of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic The Seven Samurai. Rather, we see the Marlboro Man, rugged in his sheepskin coat and cowboy hat, as he herds cattle and rides the mountain ridge before pausing to light up a Marlboro. Sometimes I think that all we need to know about American advertising culture – the joys of Mad Men notwithstanding – is that Bernstein’s sweeping and heroic theme became identified with Marlboro cigarettes and that Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was better known to kids of my age as the Puffed Wheat song. I could, of course, cite many more uses of classical pieces, orchestral movie themes and popular songs for advertising, but I’d rather just sigh and listen to Bernstein’s majestic theme and try to remember John Sturges’ tale of heroism, loyalty and sacrifice.

A Six & Two Twelves Equals Thirty

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Being in a mood to play games with numbers this morning, I headed out to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive this morning. I took today’s date of 6-12-12 and added that up to thirty, and then I headed to ARSA to find out what records were at No. 30 on various radio stations during this time of June during six different years.

I also decided to do some geographic sorting along the way, looking for charts from various regions, starting in the Northeastern U.S. and ending up on the West Coast.

We’ll start in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1965, where WHYN released one of its weekly surveys on June 12, forty-seven years ago today. The No. 1 record in Springfield was “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops, and at No. 30 we find “I’ll Keep Holding On” by the Tops’ labelmates, the Marvelettes. The Marvelettes record would reach No. 34 in the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 11 on the R&B chart), one of twenty-five singles the Marvelettes would place in or near the Hot 100 between 1961 and 1969.

Down in Orlando, Florida, in the middle of June 1967, the No. 1 record on WLOF was “Airplane Song” by the Royal Guardsmen, the same group that had hit No. 2 nationally with “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” the previous winter. At No. 30 in WLOF’s June 17, 1967, survey was a cover of the Who’s “Boris the Spider” by Joey Covington, better known as a drummer for Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane. Covington’s single didn’t make either the Billboard or Cash Box charts.

As the middle of June 1969 approached, the No. 1 record at Kansas City’s WHB was the Beatles’ double-sided “Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down.” Sitting at No. 30 on the station’s survey of June 13, 1969 was “Welcome Me Love” by the Brooklyn Bridge, one side of a two-sided single with “Blessed is the Rain.” “Welcome Me Love” went to No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100, while “Blessed is the Rain” went to No. 45. The Brooklyn Bridge is best-known, of course, for “The Worst That Could Happen,” which had gone to No. 3 in February 1969.

Here in Minnesota as June of 1971 played out, the No. 1 record in the June 13 survey from KDWB was “Indian Reservation” by the Raiders. Down at the No. 30 slot, we find “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees. (I was really hoping for something that I liked more, but that’s how games with numbers sometimes go.) “How Can You . . .” turned out to be the first of the Bee Gees’ nine No. 1 hits on the Billboard chart.

Out in the Arizona desert, the No. 1 hit on Tempe’s KUPD as June of 1973 rolled by was Clint Holmes’ “Playground in My Mind.” Things got quite a bit tougher lower down, as the No. 30 record on the station’s June 16, 1973, survey was “No More Mr. Nice Guy” by Alice Cooper. The record would go to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. (I just checked, and this is the first time – after something like 1,200 posts – that a record by Alice Cooper has ever been featured here at Echoes In The Wind. I don’t really dislike Cooper’s work, but it just never meant much to me, either.)

And we arrive, finally, at the West Coast, where in mid-June of 1975, San Bernardino’s KFXM showed the Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” as its No. 1 record. At No. 30 in the survey released June 13, 1975, we find “I Dreamed Last Night” by Justin Hayward and John Lodge, members of the Moody Blues. The single came from Blue Jays, an album that Hayward and Lodge released while the Moodies were on a six-year hiatus. Unsurprisingly, Blue Jays sounded a lot like the Moodies. “I Dreamed Last Night” went to No. 47.

Still Powerful

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

A while back, on one of those Facebook memes that friends send through occasionally, I was asked to list the twenty essential songs/records for my desert island. I don’t recall everything I listed and then sent out to other friends, but I do recall the top two: “Cherish” by the Association and “We” by Shawn Phillips.

I got a note from my friend, the Half-Hearted Dude, who blogs at Any Major Dude With Half A Heart and who stops by here and leaves an occasional note. He said – and I’m paraphrasing here, as the note has been consigned to the ether and to whatever files Facebook keeps on its registrants –  that when he saw that I had responded, he figured that “Cherish” and “We” would show up somewhere on my list, and their presence in the top two spots was not at all surprising.

Well, I guess it shouldn’t have been startling. I’ve written about “Cherish” several times during the life of this blog, calling it at least once the best single ever released. And although I’ve written about “We” far less often – and do not recall exactly what I said about it – I know that I’ve never hidden my high regard for Shawn Phillips’ 1972 recording. In it, one can hear many virtues: strong melody; inventive, coherent and cohesive lyrics; a sparkling backing track; and the conciseness of a record that gets all that done in 3:43 (and I’ll acknowledge, as a fan of Phillips, that concision wasn’t always present on his other 1970s albums).

Then add to those virtues Phillips’ remarkable vocal, especially the portion where his scat singing takes him into the stratosphere (starting at 2:38 into the song), and you’ve got a record that for me, at least, comes very close to the top of the all-time list.

But wait, as the hawkers on television say, there’s more!

Faces, the album that is home to “We,” was released in 1972. The album got to No. 57 on the Billboard chart, and “We,” its lone charting single, got to No. 89 in the Billboard Hot 100 during the last week of January 1973. What’s always puzzled me, then, is how the single showed up on the jukebox in St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center during the early autumn of 1974, twenty-one months after it spent three weeks in the Hot 100. Was it re-released? Did the jukebox jobber goof? I don’t know, but whatever the reason for its late appearance, the record was welcome. I dropped a lot of quarters into the machine that autumn, and “We” was one of the preferred records for me and a couple of other folks at The Table, the diverse and sometimes odd collection of people with whom I spent my free time.

The song’s lyrics, of course, tell of how two – a “he” and a “she” – can make a “we,” and I was dreaming about that same process that autumn. Those dreams left abruptly, as friends and long-time readers likely recall. And I don’t think I heard “We” again for almost nine years. I imagine I could have sought out the album, as I did for a few records that marked that autumn. But I didn’t, and it wasn’t until the spring of 1983, when I chanced on Faces at a flea market in Monticello, that I heard “We” again. If anything, it had become more powerful in its absence. Over the years, I’ve increased the quality of my copy of the album, finding a better vinyl version in 1997 and then finding a rare CD copy in 2007. But no matter the format or quality, “We” remains one of the most emotionally potent songs in my entire universe of music.

Its potency is not tied, as some might guess, to the young woman who might have been the other half of that “he and she make we” equation. (At least not entirely.) It’s linked, rather, to a time before things changed, to a vague memory, a moment when all of us at The Table were listening to Shawn Phillips’ voice soar through the basement snack bar where we gathered, all of us – for that moment – looking at things beyond the range of our vision and finding bits of our own dreams expressed in Phillips’ words and music.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 27
“San Francisco Girls (Return Of The Native)” by Fever Tree from Fever Tree [1968]
“(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic 2486 [1968]
“Vehicle” by the Ides of March, Warner Bros. 7378 [1970]
“We” by Shawn Phillips from Faces [1972]
“Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)” by the Bee Gees from Main Course [1975]
“Four Strong Winds” by Neil Young from Comes A Time [1978]

The myth of San Francisco circa 1967 and 1968 was grist for the mills of who knows how many songwriters and performers, with the best-known result probably being John Phillips’ “San Francisco  (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair),” which was a No. 4 hit for Scott McKenzie during the singular summer of 1967. Fever Tree, a relatively forgotten band that offered an odd mix of psychedelic tunes, soft ballads and cover versions of others’ hits, didn’t get its San Francisco tune out until June of 1968, when “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)” spent three weeks at No. 91. Despite the group’s eclectic style and despite the lack of attention given the single, I think that “San Francisco Girls” is just as evocative of what was happening in that California city as McKenzie’s record, especially in its opening, with the harpsichord eventually joined by tympani and organ for the hushed opening verse:

Out there it’s summertime
Milk and honey days
Oh, San Francisco girls with
San Francisco ways.

From there, the song takes off in a rushed, fuzz-laden gallop, and the rest of the tale isn’t quite as interesting. But those first few moments pull me in every time.

I don’t have much to say about Aretha Franklin and “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone.” I mean, she’s Aretha, and the record was one of her forty-five Top 40 hits (covering a span of years from 1961 to 1998). Add that “Since You’ve Been Gone” went to No. 5 in the early spring of 1968 (and was No. 1 for three weeks on the R&B chart), and all you need to do after that is listen.

There was a discussion not long ago at the blog AM, then FM about how the lyrics to “Vehicle,” the Ides of March hit from 1970, might play today, what with the “friendly stranger in the black sedan” inviting the object of his interest into his car: “I got pictures, got candy. I’m a lovable man, and I can take you to the nearest star.” I’d guess – as did Jeff at AM, then FM – that what was heard as a (lame) come-on forty years ago would come off today as really creepy: This dude is exactly the kind of guy parents have been warning kids about for years! So times have changed, and the guy in the car would have needed to find a new way to get the attention of a pretty young thing. But as he long as he brings those horns along, he’ll do okay, as the horn chart was at least partly the reason that “Vehicle” went to No. 2 during the spring of 1970.

The Bee Gees’ long career had, as I see it, three distinct segments. Call them acts, if you want. Act One was the group’s early work as a kind of Down Under Beatles, running – as far as hits in the U.S. were concerned – from 1967 into 1969. Act Two was the split in the group and then the tentative music after the reunion, with that segment running from 1970 to 1972. Then, in 1975, started Act Three, during which the Bee Gees were for a while the world’s most popular group, throwing off hits for themselves and producing them for others as if there were nothing hard about it at all. The first portion of that third act was the 1975 album Main Course, which telegraphed the disco triumph to come in its first two hits, “Jive Talkin’” and “Nights on Broadway,” which went to No. 1 and No. 7, respectively. My favorite from the album, though, is the third hit, “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love),” which went to No. 12 during the early months of 1976. Why that record? It’s no secret that I like a good ballad, and to me, “Fanny” is one of the best. And it comes from a time in my life that held at least two good things: my college internship and the pleasant (and unfamiliar) dilemma of having to decide between two very nice young women.

“Four Strong Winds,” Ian Tyson’s song of retreat from love to the Alberta prairie, has been recorded by hundreds of folks since he wrote it as the title tune to the second album he and his then-wife released as Ian & Sylvia. I have to admit that I wasn’t all that familiar with the song until I heard Neil Young’s 1978 version on the radio one day. Young’s cover of “Four Strong Winds” was released as a single but only got to No. 61. Nevertheless, hearing the tune inspired me to run down to the local record outlet and grab a copy of Comes A Time, which has only turned out to be my favorite Neil Young album. And the tune marks the only appearance of Neil Young in my mythical jukebox.

(Parenthetical comment added January 2, 2013.)

The Ultimate Jukebox, Part Two

Monday, February 1st, 2010

We’re back – that would be Odd and Pop, the two little imaginary tuneheads who sit on my shoulders, and me – from our unplanned time off. And we have our very own domain name now, which should provide some insulation as we continue to examine music and my life and how the two intersect.

We began the exploration of the Ultimate Jukebox in one of our last posts at the other location, and I mentioned a few of the notable records that weren’t among the two-hundred and twenty-eight that would play in that mythical jukebox. Some of them were likely surprises. Two of them –  Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” – were in fact the last records trimmed. And I should note that I’ve only replaced one of them for sure: I have one slot that I’m keeping as quasi-available among the six selections for Week 38, the last week of this tour. I have a record in that slot right now, but if something comes into view that I think works better, I’m reserving the right to switch it. That might even turn out to be “Baker Street” after all. But the other two-hundred and twenty-seven songs are set.

What eras do they come from? Well, the earliest was released in 1948, and there are three from 1999, the last year I examined. Even before I count, I’m certain that the years 1969 and 1970 will be heavily represented. Let’s take a look:

1948: 1
1949: 0
From the 1940s: One

1950: 0
1951: 1
1952: 1
1953: 0
1954: 0
1955: 0
1956: 0
1957: 1
1958: 3
1959: 2
From the 1950s: Eight

1960: 0
1961: 3
1962: 0
1963: 2
1964: 2
1965: 4
1966: 6
1967: 7
1968: 13
1969: 23
From the 1960s: Sixty

1970: 32
1971: 15
1972: 17
1973: 12
1974: 9
1975: 11
1976: 10
1977: 5
1978: 7
1979: 3
From the 1970s: One-hundred and twenty-one

1980: 3
1981: 2
1982: 3
1983: 3
1984: 3
1985: 0
1986: 3
1987: 2
1988: 3
1989: 0
From the 1980s: Twenty-two

1990: 1
1991: 2
1992: 2
1993: 4
1994: 1
1995: 1
1996: 1
1997: 1
1998: 0
1999: 3
From the 1990s: Sixteen

So there you have it: Massive domination by the 1970s, with the period 1968-1976 providing one-hundred and forty-two of the two-hundred and twenty-eight records – about sixty-two percent – of the tunes in my Ultimate Jukebox. Is this a surprise? Anyway, here’s the second cluster of six songs:

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 2
“Comin’ Back To Me” by Jefferson Airplane from Surrealistic Pillow [1967]
“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers from Realization [1967]
“Black Diamond” by the Bee Gees from Odessa [1969]
“Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers from 3+3 [1973]
“Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez from Diamonds and Rust [1975]
“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen from Born To Run [1975]

More than forty years after the fact, it might be difficult to realize, and instructive to do so, that the acid-folk rock of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow was once revolutionary. Today, even the crunchy chords of “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover” – the album’s heaviest sounds, by my reckoning – are pretty mellow. Back in 1968, when my sister brought the record home, however, I thought it was a little loud. But there was one moment of mellow bliss on the record: “Comin’ Back To Me.” Hushed, lyrical, thoughtful and heart-breaking, “Comin’ Back To Me” just might be the oft-ignored heart of Surrealistic Pillow. Key lines: “Strollin’ the hill overlooking the shore, I realize I have been here before. The shadow in the mist could have been anyone. I saw you. I saw you comin’ back to me.”

I’ve written before about “Summer Rain,” although none of those words are easily accessible. I don’t know for sure why the record remains among the top four or five of all time for me. Part of it, I think, is the descending bass line in the verse, a compositional technique – some might call it a gimmick – that always pulls me into a song. Part of it, I’m sure, is that the story the song tells is a happy one: Boy meets girl, boy woos girl (with the help of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), boy wins girl. And part of the attraction is the way Rivers sells the song. In a long career filled with good performances, this might be Rivers’ best. Like the vast majority of the versions of “Summer Rain” found in hits packages, the version here is pulled from the album Realization. Thus, it includes the storm sound effects before the guitar figure opens the music, and it fades out before more sound effects arise to connect to the next track on the album. According to regular reader Yah Shure, the single – released in late 1967, about six months before the album (and which went to No. 14) – had no sound effects, opening with the guitar figure. Key lines: “We sailed into the sunset, drifted home caught by a gulfstream. Never gave a thought for tomorrow. Just let tomorrow be.”

The 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide called the Bee Gees’ Odessa “the Sgt. Pepper’s copy all ’60s headliners felt driven to attempt,” adding parenthetically, “the Bee Gees’ wasn’t bad; faulting it for pretentiousness makes absolutely no sense.” I’ve puzzled over that statement for more than ten years now, and I’m still not sure what reviewer Paul Evans was trying to say. But that’s okay: I’ve been listening to Odessa for more than forty years now, and I’m not entirely certain what the Bee Gees were trying to say, either. I shared the album here once, which indicates, generally, the regard I have for it. But there is no doubt that the album is studded with ballads whose lyrics are willfully obscure at best. “Black Diamond” might be the most obscure of all, but the opaque lyrics are offset by music so eloquently gorgeous that it might not matter at all what the Brothers Gibb are singing about. Key lines, I think: “And I won’t die, so don’t cry. I’ll be home. Those big black diamonds that lie there for me, by the tall white mountains which lie by the sea.”

The Isley Brothers’ reimagining of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” is a marvel. The original had been, of course, a folk-rock/singer-songwriter-type hit, anchored by a sweet instrumental hook and truly beautiful harmonies. The Isleys found the R&B song inside the pop-folk record and stretched it for more than six minutes. And maybe it’s just me, but I find a sonic connection between the Isleys’ version of “Summer Breeze” and two versions of “Strawberry Letter 23,” those being Shuggie Otis’ 1971 single, which predated the Isleys’ work, and the Brothers Johnson’s 1977 cover of Otis’ song. Whatever the sonic influences in any direction, “Summer Breeze” finds a sweet groove. The Isleys released a single with the album track split into parts one and two, but neither side hit the Top 40. (I have a hunch that the two-sided single might have done well on the R&B chart; does anyone out there know?) Key lines: “Feel the arms that reach out to hold me in the evening, when the day is through.”

The album Diamonds & Rust was released in April 1975, but it wasn’t until the following autumn, I would guess, that I became aware of its extraordinary title song. The record became one of my student union jukebox favorites that fall, and it did pretty well in other areas, as well, as it went to No. 35 in the Billboard Top 40, only the second Baez single to do that well. (The first was her cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which went to No. 3 during the late summer and autumn of 1971.) Musically and lyrically, “Diamonds & Rust” is quite simply the best thing Joan Baez ever wrote or recorded. The shimmering music is perfect for her unsentimental, guarded and affectionate reliving of her affair with Bob Dylan. Baez’ intimacy with the topic – as opposed to the seemingly reflexive distance she’d frequently placed between herself and even the most intimate of songs – pulls listeners into her world and helps us understand her place in a pairing that was momentous to both Baez and Dylan at a time when their work was helping to defining an era. (For a take on that topic from Dylan, whose work can often be more difficult to penetrate than a black curtain, I turn to – as starting points – “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” and “Visions of Johanna” from Blonde On Blonde.) Key lines: “Our breath comes out white clouds, mingles and hangs in the air. Speaking strictly for me, we both could have died then and there.”

I have seven versions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” in my collection, including an alternate take from 1975, some live versions (including a killer acoustic version I once shared) and a bootleg or two. All have their attractions, but I keep coming back to the original, the version that led off Side Two of the Born To Run album. And the song grabs hold of me tighter and tighter as the years go by. It’s not the tale of the mythical backstreets that holds me, although I have some affection for the kids huddled on the beach in the mist. It’s the pure sonic audacity of the song that pulls me in time and again, the young Springsteen’s ambition for musical significance that’s almost as audible as that great count-in just before the last verse. Then consider that Springsteen has almost certainly exceeded his ambitions over the thirty-five years since “Born To Run” went to No. 23, and one realizes that “Born To Run” (and the rest of the LP, of course) was neither wish nor hope nor dream but a statement of intent. (Writer and Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh had the same reaction; while reviewing Born To Run in the second edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, he said: “clarity of purpose and mammoth ambition drip from the grooves.”) Key lines: “Will you walk with me out on the wire, ’cause baby, I’m just a scared and lonely rider. But I gotta find out how it feels. I want to know if love is wild, girl, I want to know if love is real.”

Note:
Regular readers – and I have to assume they’ll find this new location – will observe that I’ve changed my approach slightly. I think all my readers will understand. 

–whiteray