Posts Tagged ‘Blue Öyster Cult’

Saturday Single No. 302

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Time is in short supply this morning, with both the Texas Gal and I having appointments today: she for a day of sewing at one of her friends’ homes and I – along with my mother – at a gathering celebrating the seventieth birthdays of twin brothers who are long-time family friends.

(The two brothers were students at St. Cloud State in the early 1960s and worked for my father in the audiovisual department he headed. I saw them for the first time in years last autumn when we celebrated my mother’s ninetieth birthday, and the first thing either of the two brothers said to me was “My gosh, you look like your father!” Those words were sweet music.)

Anyway, with time on a summer Saturday already sliding past, it seemed like a good day to do a random draw with summertime titles and see what we land on. There are, I would guess, about two hundred titles available, so here we go.

First up is “Home For the Summer” by the Hour Glass, which was a band on the Liberty label that featured Gregg and – at least on the first of the group’s two albums – Duane Allman. The track comes from 1968’s Power of Love, the second of the Hour Glass albums, and I’m not certain if Duane is on the album or if he’d already headed back to the southeast. As it happens, “Home For The Summer” is a decent bluesy track that gives hints of what Gregg Allman would sound like when he and Duane and the rest of the ABB got together a year or so later.

In the mid-1960s, film director Bruce Brown spent about a year following surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August around the world for the film The Endless Summer. The film’s title, says Wikipedia, came from the idea, “expressed at both the beginning and end of the film, that if one had enough time and money it would be possible to follow the summer around the world, making it endless.” The film’s soundtrack was provided by the Sandals, and their mellow surf-ish title tune, “The Endless Summer,” is our second stop this morning.

When Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played the Agora in Cleveland, Ohio, in August of 1978, the performance was recorded with the thought of releasing a live album, a project that was later shelved. Bootlegs of the recording surfaced, of course, and not long ago, one of them found its way into my mp3 shelves. So this morning, we hear Bruce and the boys cover “Summertime Blues.”

Sixteen-year-old Mark Eric Malmborg, recording in the mid-1960s as Mark Eric, only released one record, but it’s a classic of sunshine pop mixed with a little bit of surf. And it’s prized by collectors. At Amazon this morning, the sole available copy of the LP A Midsummer’s Day Dream is priced at $110 (though a CD copy of the album with an accompanying book is priced at less than $9). Our fourth stop this morning is the sweet tune that seems to me to be the center of the album, “Where Do The Girls Of Summer Go?”

The British band Steel Mill, says All Music Guide, is a “band long lost to the realm of speculation, misinformation, and even outright myth.” Formed by five musicians in the south London neighborhood of Wadsworth, the band cut some demos that were interesting and good enough to get a production deal. The resulting sessions provided one hit single, “Green Eyed God,” that became the title of the group’s moody album of progressive rock, which the band’s label decided to release only in Germany. This morning, we land on the equally moody and slightly disquieting “Summer’s Child” from Green Eyed God.

And then, Blue Öyster Cult sings:

This ain’t the Garden of Eden
There ain’t no angels above
And things ain’t like what they used to be
And this ain’t the summer of love.

Okay, so it’s not the sweet or mellow summertime tune I thought I’d land on this morning. The gloom and nihilism found on BÖC’s 1976 album Agents of Fortune isn’t my world, which is a good thing. But a deal is a deal, and at least the song rocks, so I can live with “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love” falling into place as this week’s Saturday Single.

We’re Halfway Home

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

This is the nineteenth segment, out of a planned thirty-eight, in which I’m exploring the records that would belong in what I call my Ultimate Jukebox. That means we’re halfway home. And I find it entirely fitting that one of the two songs that sparked this idea comes along this week by happenstance.

Last October, I wrote, in a meditation on autumn (and specifically on the autumn of 1975):

If there is a shining season during the years I spent on the campus of St. Cloud State, it is the autumn of 1975. . . .  It was a golden time, one that seems more rich in memory with each passing year. But there were concrete reasons for that sense of goodness: Hope and renewal found me for the first time in a year. . . . My smile returned. And all around me – my home, my car, the student union, downtown bars and everywhere else – music was a friend once more, instead of a reminder of loss.”

Among the six songs I offered that day were selections from Jefferson Starship and Orleans, and as I wrote about those six, I said: “I think two of them would make my all-time jukebox (a mental exercise at this point, but perhaps the basis for a series of posts in the future): ‘Miracles’ and ‘Dance With Me.’”

Well, both of those did make the final list. “Miracles” will come along in a few weeks, but this week’s six selections are anchored by Orleans’ “Dance With Me.” As you likely know, it’s a sweet love song, written by the group’s John Hall and his wife, Johanna, and produced and performed nicely. In one sense, that’s all there is to say for it: It’s a nice tune and a nice record, and it spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 6.

But for me – as some songs are for everyone who loves music, I imagine (or at least hope) – “Dance With Me” is magic. In memory, it seems like I heard it everywhere I went during that sweet autumn as I figuratively danced through my classes and my work and my free time. As that quarter began – and the record began its time in the Top 40 – there was no special person to whom I could extend the invitation to dance; by the time the record was about to fall out of the Top 40 in early November, there was.

And almost thirty-five years later, after changes upon changes, there’s still someone to invite to the dance, as “Dance With Me” is also one of the Texas Gal’s favorite records.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 19
“Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass, Checker 1120 [1965]
“Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra, Reprise 05090 [1966]
“Anyday” by Derek & the Dominos from Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs [1970]
“Dance With Me” by Orleans, Asylum 45261 [1975]
“(Don’t) Fear the Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult from Agents of Fortune [1976]
“Wall of Death” by Richard & Linda Thompson from Shoot Out The Lights [1982]

The most accurate description, for me, of Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me” comes – as is so often the case – from Dave Marsh, who called the record the “[b]est non-Aretha Aretha ever,” noting that the sound was not surprising, as Bass’ mother was gospel music star Martha Bass, who got her own start with the Clara Ward Singers, who traveled with Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha’s father. In any case, “Rescue Me” is a fine slice of mid-Sixties R&B from the Chess studios in Chicago. The record went to No. 4 during the autumn of 1965 and was No. 1 for four weeks on the R&B chart.

Even though the record pre-dates the time when I gave full attention to the Top 40, I’m certain I heard Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” during 1966, when it went to No. 25 (and spent one week at the top of the Adult Contemporary chart). I imagine that if nothing else, I heard it late one evening as our household was turning in for the night: For about twenty minutes as we got ready for bed, Dad would turn on the transistor radio on his bedside table. The radio – which Dad had appropriated from my sister, although she didn’t seem to care – was almost always tuned to KFAM, the station on the west side of town, and our twenty minutes of music at bedtime was very definitely middle of the road, not like that rock and roll that the station nearest us, WJON, played. (I wonder now if KFAM’s format might have been called adult contemporary?) In any case, I’m certain that my faint memory of having heard “Summer Wind” comes from one of those evenings during the autumn of 1966. So why does it show up here? Because it’s a good record with a subtle performance by Sinatra, and it reminds me of my dad.

I love “Layla.” I have since I first heard it in 1970, and I dug it more when it was re-released as a single in 1972. But its familiarity worked against it when I was sorting through titles to list here. The burning riff that opens “Layla” would certainly wake up the denizens of any coffeehouse in which I installed my hypothetical jukebox, but I think that after that opening burst, folks would think, “Oh, yeah, ‘Layla,’” and push the music into the background. My choice from the Layla album is instead “Anyday,” which has almost as arresting an opening and, I’m thinking, wouldn’t be quite as familiar nor as easily dismissed. Even if I’m wrong about that, “Anyday” is a tremendous piece of rock, with the descending bass line that always intrigues me and great vocals by both Eric Clapton and co-writer Bobby Whitlock.

“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” which went to No. 12 during the autumn of 1976, is pretty much all I really know about Blue Öyster Cult. I’ve got the Agents of Fortune LP and I have mp3s of some of the group’s other stuff, but it all tends to get lost in the (literal) shuffle. That just puts the group’s work onto a (long) list of music I need to pay more attention to, and the list gets longer every week. But the loping, looping introduction to “Reaper” commands my attention whenever it pops up on the computer or on the Zen player, and the “la-la-la-la-la” refrain remains chilling. According to Wikipedia, writer Donald Roeser – better known as Buck Dharma – says the song is not, as is often supposed, about death but about eternal love. That may be what he thinks, but I know how it feels to me, and “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” feels like an invitation to step through a door I’ve seen once and am not nearly ready to see again.

“Wall of Death,” the closing song on Richard and Linda Thompson’s grim and tense 1982 masterpiece, Shoot Out The Lights, is, if one would believe the lyrics, about an amusement park ride. Given the real-life circumstances of the recording sessions – from what I’ve read, the Thompsons’ marriage was crumbling rapidly at the time – one can find all sorts of metaphors in the song. I’m reminded as I write of Bruce Springsteen’s 1987 single “Tunnel of Love,” which also used an amusement park ride as a metaphor for the circumstances of his failing marriage to Julianne Phillips. Somehow “Wall of Death” seems darker than that, though: “On the Wall Of Death all the world is far from me. On the Wall Of Death it’s the nearest to being free. . . . You can waste your time on the other rides. This is the nearest to being alive. Oh, let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death.”  Or it just could be Richard Thompson’s voice, which has a much more somber cast. Either way, it’s an arresting song: