Sometime this afternoon – around three o’clock, if the weather warnings are accurate – the snow will begin, and it’s not likely to end until sometime late Wednesday afternoon. After having only about eighteen inches of snow fall all winter, we’re about to get hit. The forecasters say that we’re likely to get between ten and thirteen inches here in St. Cloud.
Well, bring it on! We haven’t had a good snowstorm since, I think, the week of Christmas in 2009, when we were socked in for a couple of days. In any case, whether we have a legendary blizzard or just a big end-of-February snow, there were a few things that had to get done in preparation this morning. So I ran a few errands for my mom and then stopped at the nearby supermarket for some necessities and some extras for the Texas Gal and me.
I expect the Texas Gal to be home a little early today, and no doubt she’ll bring some work for tomorrow and maybe the next day, as I doubt we’re going anywhere until the driveway gets plowed. The earliest I’d expect that to happen would be mid-morning Thursday.
So, I’m thinking that it’s a good day for a song with “snow” in its title. I’d hoped to share Carole King’s “Snow Queen” as performed by her late 1960s group The City, but embedding of that tune seems to be disabled. (The tune and the rest of the City’s single album, Now That Everything’s Been Said, are worth checking out although the album’s availability as a new CD is spotty, and the CD can be expensive. The album is available as a download at Amazon.)
So I looked for other versions of the tune. The Roger Nichols Trio released a version of the tune as a single in 1968, but the track is pretty light-weight. (Confusingly, the same group is called Roger Nichols & The Small Circle Of Friends on its single album from 1968.) And I don’t much care for the version that King did on her 1980 album Pearl – The Songs of Goffin & King. Moving on, once I corrected a spelling error in the title, I found in my files the typically jazzy version by Blood, Sweat & Tears that showed up on 1972’s New Blood, but I was underwhelmed once again.
So I dug deeper and found that the Association recorded the tune for its 1972 album, Waterbeds in Trinidad, an effort that turned out to be the group’s last album, according to the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. And that version of “Snow Queen” turns out to be pretty good. (With the vocals stacked Curt Boettcher-style and laid atop what sounded to me like an adventurous backing track, I heard echoes, actually, of Gypsy.)
Since we’ll be snowed in tomorrow, I think I’ll finally get around to writing about Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. Honest. As long as the storm doesn’t take down the cable and Internet.
I was clearing up the last of my general education courses at St. Cloud State. I was taking two required seminars for seniors and knocking off the four phy ed courses I was required to take. (Nothing too strenuous: I took archery, tennis, bowling and ballroom dancing.) And I was repeating a physics course I’d failed during my first quarter in the fall of 1971.
I didn’t have to repeat the physics course. I’d taken another science course somewhere along the way that satisfied the general education requirement. But I had the time, and I wanted to get the F off my academic record or at least out of my grade-point average. And I got lucky: Instead of being an introduction to pure physics with lots of lab work, I was able to take an introduction to astronomy. I’d taken a rigorous astronomy course during my last semester of high school and had done well, so I eased through the college intro with no worries.
So I might have been busy academically through the two five-week summer sessions, but I wasn’t really working hard. Nor was my half-time summer job very arduous: That was the summer that a crew of about ten of us, headed up by Murl – who would be one of my best friends by the end of the summer – made our way across the SCS campus doing an inventory of every piece of audio-visual equipment. We got a lot of work done, had a lot of laughs and got to move around a lot.
On a personal level, I was busy, too. I dated about eight women that summer, and a couple of those pairings lasted the summer though nothing serious came out of either. I also spent some time with a group of folks from the astronomy class, and hung around after working hours with folks from the inventory crew. Still, as the season went on, I was unattached. I heard Paul Williams’ “Waking Up Alone” for the first time one evening in July. And it was during that summer that I began taking seriously the idea of writing a startling letter to a young woman in knew in Finland.
It turned out to be a great summer, and I think I realized by the middle of June that it was headed that way. And the Billboard Top Ten for the week ending June 14, 1975, was pretty good:
“Sister Golden Hair” by America
“Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain & Tennille
“When Will I Be Loved/It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” by Linda Ronstadt
“Bad Time” by Grand Funk
“Old Days” by Chicago
“I’m Not Lisa” by Jessi Colter
“Love Won’t Let Me Wait” by Major Harris
“Thank God I’m A Country Boy” by John Denver
“Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John
“Get Down, Get Down (Get On The Floor)” by Joe Simon
I can do without the John Denver tune for the rest of my life, and I’d like to limit my exposure to the first two on that list, but other than that, that’s a good Top Ten. There are some I’d play on a jukebox – I recall actually dropping in a quarter to hear “I’m Not Lisa” during a coffee date at the local Country Kitchen – and some I wouldn’t, but beyond the three I singled out, that list would make a good slice of radio.
As always, though, I’m interested in records that were sitting below the Top 40 of the time, some of which I might have never heard or even heard of.
The O’Jays’ “Give The People What They Want” was sitting at No. 45, and it would move no further. I vaguely remember this populist and funky piece of R&B that calls for “freedom, justice and equality.” The record was the eighteenth by the Canton, Ohio, group to hit the Hot 100, with eleven more to come through 1997. Though it didn’t do all that well on the pop chart, the record did make it to the top of the R&B chart for a week.
“Shoeshine Boy” by Eddie Kendricks is one of those records that I have no memory of at all. And that’s odd, considering that it peaked at No. 18, and I was still spending some time listening to radio. You’d think I’d have run across it often enough to recall it. Or maybe it didn’t do as well in Minnesota as it did across the board. In any case, the record by the one-time member of the Temptations peaked in late May – topping the R&B chart for a week – and by the middle of June, it was heading down the chart and was sitting at No. 51. Kendricks would have four more Hot 100 hits to bring his total to fifteen, with the last coming in 1985.
By the end of 1975, I’d be hearing a little bit of country music, as the family of the young lady I was seeing at the time – all nine of her siblings and her folks – were country fans. But that was some months ahead, so I entirely missed the sweet “Blanket on the Ground” by Billie Jo Spears of Beaumont, Texas. The record was sitting at No. 78 by the middle of June and would go no higher, though that was a little better than Spears’ only other Hot 100 record, “Mr. Walker, It’s All Over,” which went to No. 80 in 1969. But “Blanket on the Ground” did very well on the country chart, spending a week at No. 1.
The entry for Blood, Sweat & Tears in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows an interesting arc. The group’s first three singles, in 1969, all went to No. 2. (They were “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die.”) The next three listed singles were hits but didn’t fare as well, reaching the Top 40 at Nos. 14, 29 and 32, respectively. And from that point, BS&T had no more Top 40 hits (though they came close with “So Long Dixie,” which went to No. 44 in the autumn of 1972). In mid-June of 1975, the group was about to fall short again, as its cover of the Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” was at No. 81 and would peak at No. 62. It’s actually a pretty good version of the Beatles tune, and it maybe should have done better, but BS&T’s trademark sound was no longer fresh by the middle of 1975. “Got To Get You Into My Life” was the last of ten BS&T records to reach the Hot 100 although “You’re The One” bubbled under at No. 106 in late 1976.
Bobby Womack never did as well as one might have expected on the pop chart: Four Top 40 hits between 1972 and 1974, with his highest placing coming from “Lookin’ For A Love,” which went to No. 10 in the spring of 1974. He had eleven other records reach the Hot 100, and four more bubbled under. (Unsurprisingly, he did much better on the R&B chart, where he had twenty-eight Top 40 hits including two No. 1 records and four that went to No. 2.) Now, fifteen records in the Hot 100 is a pretty good run, but when his stuff pops up in my player, it sounds like it should have done better. And that’s what I thought when I listened to “Check It Out” last evening. It was at No. 99 in the Hot 100 released June 14, 1975, and it peaked at No. 91. To my ears, it should have been a hit. (It did go to No. 6 on the R&B chart.)
Long-time readers know that one of my all-time radio horrors is Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun.” So they can imagine my reluctance to even go searching at YouTube when I saw that the No. 108 tune in the Hot 100 from mid-June 1974 was a record by Jacks titled “Christina.” I reminded myself that as part of the Poppy Family, Jacks had come up with some pretty good stuff, including the compelling and disquieting “That’s Where I Went Wrong” (with vocals by Susan Jacks, his wife at the time). So I checked out “Christina” and found an odd, unsettling record with some echoes of Helen Reddy’s 1974 hit ‘Angie Baby.” As strange as it is, it’s understandable that “Christina” peaked at No. 106, but I like it.
I really should do some research about gray squirrels. My main question would be: Can the number of squirrels in an area be estimated somehow by counting the trees in that area? Because I would really like to get an idea of how many squirrels we have in our rather large yard. There seem to be a lot of them.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind them being around. I find them fun to watch. Like furry gymnasts, they leap, twirl and sometimes tumble from branch to branch, making their ways from tree to tree. During summer evenings, as we’ve sat outside with a cold drink, we’ve seen squirrels go from one end of the yard to the other and never come closer to the ground than twenty feet.
And as we sit outside during the summer, we see the gray rodents running in more distant areas of the yard. It always looks as if they’re playing tag, but I’m sure the chases we see have their sources in either romance or territorial defense. Whatever the causes, we’re amused.
It’s easier in some ways to watch them during the winter, as there are no leaves in most of the trees – most of the trees in our yard are oaks; there are only a few conifers – to block our sightlines. Thus, we can see more acrobatics during the winter than we can during the leafy months, but sitting outside for long periods isn’t so comfy. That’s where the bay window seat comes in, and the Texas Gal and I perch there frequently to keep an eye on our gray friends outside.
As do the cats. Noses to the window and tails twitching, all four of the catboys spend plenty of time in the window seat, evidently dreaming of dinner. As none of the four is allowed outside unsupervised, the squirrels are safe from feline appetites, making their reconnaissance futile. Still, the cats do like watching. And since we installed a bird feeder not far from the window, the squirrels are much easier for the cats to see.
The feeder we installed last summer was an inexpensive plastic model, and the birds liked it just fine. The squirrels did, too, once they learned to climb the thin metal pole from which the feeder hung. One morning, not long after we’d installed the feeder, I saw one squirrel hanging precariously onto the plastic device with three or four of his fellows waiting on the ground. As they – and I – watched, the hanging squirrel used his teeth to enlarge the hole through which birds were supposed to be feeding and then swung the feeder so bird seed cascaded to the ground through the larger hole. He then dropped down to join his pals in the feast.
We didn’t mind too much. It was a cheap bird feeder. We told ourselves that we’d get a sturdier one for the winter. Besides, it’s not like we hadn’t already been feeding the squirrels anyway. All year ’round, we tear up bread crusts and toss them into the lawn or on the sidewalk. Once we go back inside or – during summer – sit still in our chairs, the grayboys approach cautiously and then scamper back to their perches with chunks of bread in their mouths.
As this winter set in, we did get the sturdier feeder, one made of metal, and along with seed for the feeder, we began to keep on hand dried ears of corn just for the squirrels. We thought that if we provided them their own treats on the ground, they’d leave the new feeder alone.
Not a chance. Within a day, the squirrels – rather bright rodents that they are – had learned that even though they couldn’t chew through the new feeder, if one of them got on and swung it hard enough, seed would fall to the ground in enough quantity to provide a good meal for four or five of them. We do get some birds stopping by, which was the original plan, but not as many as we’d hoped. There might as well be a sign on the bird feeder that says “This is Squirrel Town. Have a snack, but then move on!”
Okay, so we’re primarily feeding the squirrels. Who are we to argue with the natural world? We keep the feeder filled and every other day or so toss four ears of corn under the nearby pine tree, where the snow hasn’t gotten too deep. The squirrels run off with the ears of corn fairly quickly, but it takes them three to four days to empty the feeder. And then, if we’re busy or if it’s numbingly cold out, the squirrels have to wait.
I was in the window seat the other week on one of those bitterly cold days, sitting with our orange cat, Cubbie Cooper. The bird feeder was utterly empty, and there was no trace of corn under the pine tree. And we saw one of the squirrels make his way up the chimney where the vines grow thick during summer. He climbed the branches of the dormant vine, pausing frequently to pull off and eat dried berries. Cubbie’s ears and tail were twitching madly as the squirrel came down the side of the chimney. Then the rodent stopped, head down, right next to the side of the bay window, no more than two feet from where Cubbie and I sat on the other side of the windowpane.
A berry in his mouth, he raised his head and looked at us, black eyes glittering in the pale winter light. And I could pretty much read his mind as he asked me “Where’s my damn corn?”
I fear we’re raising a generation of welfare squirrels.
And that puts me in mind of the classic tune “God Bless The Child.” Here’s the version that Blood, Sweat & Tears offered up on its second, self-titled album in 1969. It’s today’s Saturday Single.
A couple of days ago, my mom and I were out running some of her errands, including a stop at the tailor shop at the far end of Waite Park, the city west of St. Cloud. Now, the St. Cloud area is not all that large, and the tailor shop is really not all that distant; when we were in the Twin Cities, the Texas Gal and I would drive that far for a quart of milk. But during the nearly eight years of living once more in the small scale of the St. Cloud metro area, my sense of distance has shifted back, and going to something “all the way on the other end of town” seems like a longer trip than it used to.
And on this trip, as we left the tailor shop with a few more stops left, the sky gave us the rain it had been promising all morning. As we wended our way east, we did so to flashes of lightning, the rumble of near-constant thunder and the heavy splash of rain on the car as it came down almost faster than the windshield wipers could deal with it. I drove slowly, but was never forced to stop as we made our way back to the East Side and her home in Sauk Rapids. The rain eased a little as we got near her place, and I realized I was half-humming, half-singing a Bob Dylan tune under my breath: “Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood).”
The first time I heard the song was on Dylan’s second greatest hits package, which included an informal version of the tune recorded with Happy Traum. Here’s how the song sounded on New Year’s Eve 1971, when Dylan joined The Band at the New York Academy of Music near the end of the concert that wound up being released by The Band as Rock of Ages. (This performance and three others featuring Dylan with The Band were released in 2001 as part of a remastered and expanded version of Rock of Ages.)
At All-Music Guide, one can find listings for about a hundred CDs that contain versions of the song, whether it’s called “Down In The Flood” (as it was on that second Dylan hits set in the early 1970s), “Crash on the Levee” or “Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood),” as it’s currently listed on Dylan’s website. And there are some interesting versions of the song out there. One of them comes from what seems to me an unlikely source: Blood, Sweat & Tears covered the song for the opening track of its New Blood album in 1972. It’s an odd arrangement. I don’t think the horn parts work, but there’s a nice groove that would otherwise have worked nicely if it had been left alone.
Another performer who covered the song early was British folksinger Sandy Denny, who included it on her 1971 album, The North Star Grassman And The Ravens. Here’s Denny performing the song as a member of Fairport Convention. I believe the performance is from May 4, 1974, at the Sanders Theater on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Thanks to The Night Owl Presents for some information.)
I wrote the other week about current bands I listen to, and I missed one: The Derek Trucks Band. Trucks is, of course, the nephew of Butch Trucks, long-time drummer for the Allman Brothers Band; that association brought the younger Trucks an apprenticeship that would be hard to match anywhere, and the Derek Trucks Band has been recording and releasing music since 1997. Last year’s Already Free led off with a blistering performance of “Down In The Flood.”
That should do it for today. Have a good Monday, and I’ll most likely be back here Wednesday with another installment of the Ultimate Jukebox.