Posts Tagged ‘Bob Dylan’

‘It Was Rainin’ From The First . . .’

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

That video is what it sounded like the first time I heard “Just Like A Woman,” the last of the five songs Bob Dylan performed at the Concert for Bangla Desh during the summer of 1971. I wasn’t particularly blown away by Dylan’s performance as I sat and listened in our rec room not long after receiving the three-LP set for Christmas 1971. But I was far more interested in Dylan’s music that I ever had been, and during early 1972, I began exploring that music in greater detail.

Over the years, that’s meant digging in detail into many of Dylan’s tunes, comparing versions from one era to another, weighing the meanings in lyrics, pondering plugged vs. unplugged takes. But it struck me this morning that I’ve never spent much time thinking about “Just Like A Woman.” In fact, I think the only time I’ve ever really focused much on the song was when I was sitting at a piano trying to fake the song’s chords during a long-ago drunken sing-along somewhere in the suburbs of Copenhagen.

(The set list from that Carlsberg-fueled sing-along was remarkable in its diversity, as I think about it, including “Walk On By,” “Layla,” “Colour My World,” “Delta Lady,” “Without You,” “Fire and Rain” and – I vaguely recall – “I Am The Walrus.”)

As with many other Dylan songs, however, I have collected other versions of “Just Like A Woman” along the way, and I got to wondering this morning about those versions and other covers of the song. The fairly reliable website Second Hand Songs lists forty-two cover versions in English, and there are a few additional covers listed at Amazon. (The same likely holds true for iTunes, which I did not check.)

The first to cover “Just Like A Woman” seems to have been Manfred Mann, shortly after Dylan released the original version of the song on Blonde on Blonde. (Sadly, the two videos of the Mann single at YouTube are truncated.) The album was released in May 1966, and the Manfred Mann cover of the song spent six weeks bubbling under the Billboard Hot 100 in August and September of that year. Dylan’s single of the song entered the Hot 100 at No. 81 in mid-September and peaked a few weeks later at No. 33. Those are the only two versions of the song to make the pop chart.

Pop chart presence aside, “Just Like A Woman” seems to be one of those songs that will always attract singers. More than half of the covers listed at Second Hand Songs have been recorded since 2001, and there are only two significant gaps in the timeline since Dylan first recorded the song: a ten-year gap between the cover by Rick Nelson with the Stone Canyon Band in 1971 and Rod Stewart’s cover in 1981, followed by a seven-year gap to the version by Brazilian artist Celso Blues Boy in 1988. The most recent cover listed is one by Carly Simon that was included earlier this year on Chimes of Freedom – The Songs of Bob Dylan – Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International (an album that is high on my want list).

There are other versions that seem to be notable: “Just Like A Woman” was one of ten tunes selected by a group calling itself the Brothers & Sisters of Los Angeles for a 1969 album titled Dylan’s Gospel. (The webpage that listed the musicians involved seems to have disappeared in the past five years, but I do recall that among the singers on the project were Merry Clayton and Clydie King.)

Among the versions I’ve not yet heard – but probably should – are those from the Byrds in 1990, Judy Collins in 1993, Jeff Buckley in 2003 and Bill Medley in 2007. I have heard and liked the covers by Steve Howe from 1999 and John Gorka from 2011. And my favorite covers are those by Richie Havens from 1967, by Nina Simone from 1971 and by Jamaican performer Beres Hammond from 2004.

But perhaps the most interesting version I found this morning was the cover by the Brazilian group The Smeke. I don’t know when it was recorded, but the recording was posted at YouTube in March 2010. The video uses footage of Edie Sedgwick, the 1960s actress, model, socialite and heiress whose involvement with Dylan has been the subject of rumor and legend for more than forty years. (Here’s the take on those tales from Wikipedia.)

Chart Digging: August 1974

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

I’m a beer aficionado: I like trying different beers from different parts of the country and the world, and – to a degree – I keep track of which brews I’ve tried and what I’ve liked or not liked about them. And since I’ve begun taking beer seriously – in the last ten years or so – I’ve mostly bought my beer in glass bottles, not in cans. I think it tastes better coming from glass.

But sometimes, you can’t avoid cans. The local liquor store – Westside Liquor here on the East Side – has been promoting for the past few months a brew from the Tallgrass Brewing Company of Manhattan, Kansas, called Buffalo Sweat Stout. It comes in packs of four sixteen-ounce cans.

I’m not fond of the name; I think it’s gross, as does my pal and self-acknowledged beer snob jb from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, who says the brand name falls into a trend: Titling brews with odd or grotesque names that make the brew more notable for its moniker than for its drinkability. (One example of that comes from Wasatch Beers of Park City, Utah, brewers of Polygamy Porter, which is marketed with the slogan, “Why Have Just One!” I have a t-shirt celebrating the brew, a gift from the Texas Gal after a business trip to Utah; I have yet to wear it out in the world.)

Whatever the “ewww” factor of the brand name, Buffalo Sweat is a darned good brew – it carries nice hints of coffee, chocolate and, to my palate, raisins – so it’s become a regular part of the regiment of beers standing at attention in the fridge, waiting for my thirst. I pulled one out for dinner last evening, popped the top on the can and, without thinking about it, turned the metal tab sideways. I paused and chuckled for a moment, and then poured the brew.

That habit – turning sideways the metal tab on the top of a beer (or soda) can – dates from the summer of 1974. I didn’t do much partying the first half of that summer; I was recovering from a mysterious lung ailment. But once I got the go-ahead from my doctors to resume life at full speed, I spent a fair number of evenings tasting the brews available in St. Cloud. I did so carrying nearly nine months’ experience of quaffing European brews, and for a time I left the darker stuff behind. My favored brew for a month or so that summer of 1974 was one new to Minnesota: Olympia.

I think back now, and I shudder. It was a light and clean beer and, as I now recall, almost tasteless. But having been legendary in Minnesota as a great beer that was unavailable – much like Coors was at the time, too – Olympia was the newest fad among young beer drinkers. And I was one of those. So at every party I went to during the last half of the summer of 1974 – maybe a dozen total – there were more than a few folks drinking Olympia beer, with all of us trying to keep track of which can of beer was ours.

Thus, as I arrived at a party one evening, I popped the top on my can of Olympia beer and turned the tab to the right. That, I hoped, would make it a little easier to keep track of my beers as the number of beer cans multiplied and my concentration most likely diminished. That one quirk – turning the tab to the right – soon became a habit that was useful for the remainder of my college days. And it’s a habit that’s stayed with me for thirty-seven years.

So every time I pop a can of Buffalo Sweat and turn the tab to the right, a little bit of the summer of 1974 pops its head into our kitchen in this summer of 2011.

Most of those parties during that summer long ago likely had music supplied by stereos, but I imagine that at least one of those dozen or so gatherings must have relied on the radio for its music. If so, we’d have heard at least some of the Top Ten from the Billboard Hot 100 that was released on August 17, 1974, thirty-seven years ago yesterday:

“The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace
“Feel Like Makin’ Love” by Roberta Flack
“(You’re) Havin’ My Baby” by Paul Anka (with Odia Coates)
“Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus
“Please Come To Boston” by Dave Loggins
“Call On Me” by Chicago
“Waterloo” by Abba
“Wildwood Weed” by Jim Stafford
“I’m Leaving It (All) Up To You” by Donny & Marie Osmond
“Sideshow” by Blue Magic

Wow. At most parties in that era, at least four records in that list that would have incited jeers from the folks sitting on the couch, followed by calls for the Allman Brothers or Pink Floyd. I know that these days, hearing the opening strains of either the Anka record or the Osmonds record on the oldies station would make me change stations. Then, Jim Stafford’s ode to accidental marijuana cultivation is funny maybe twice (though it would be a kick to hear it on radio these days). And I never liked the Paper Lace record.

On the plus side, “Tell Me Something Good” still pops and slinks along nicely, and Chicago’s “Call On Me” was a good one I’d forgotten about until it showed up on the list today.

As I tend to do, though, I looked further down that Hot 100 to see what might be found there, and there were a few interesting things. The television series Kung Fu – starring David Carradine as a martial arts expert in the American west of the nineteenth century – and the martial art it introduced to pop culture were becoming cultural phenomena that year. In the autumn of 1974, Card Douglas would reach No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts with “Kung Fu Fighting” (a record I still hear as almost a novelty record). But during the summer of 1974, Curtis Mayfield released his own “Kung Fu” and saw it get to No. 40 on the pop chart and to No. 3 on the R&B chart. During this week in 1974, the song was at No. 52, and like much of Mayfield’s work during that time, the record was a statement about social justice:

Our days of comfort, days of night
Don’t put yourself in solitude
Who can I trust with my life
When people tend to be so rude

My mama borned me in a ghetto
There was no mattress for my head
But, no, she couldn’t call me Jesus
I wasn’t white enough, she said

And then she named me Kung Fu
Don’t have to explain it, no, Kung Fu
Don’t know how you’ll take it, Kung Fu
I’m just trying to make it, Kung Fu

I’ve got some babies and some sisters
My brother worked for Uncle Sam
It’s just a shame, ain’t it, Mister
We being brothers of the damned

Keep your head high, Kung Fu
I will ’til I die, yeah, Kung Fu
Don’t be too intense, no, Kung Fu
Keep your common sense, yeah, Kung Fu

Don’t mistake life for a secret
There is no secret part of you
You bet your life if you think wicked
Someone else is thinking wicked too

Betty Wright had hit the Top Ten in early 1972 when “Clean Up Woman” went to No. 6. In mid-1974, she released “Secretary” as an ode to the idea that the woman who takes dictation from her boss can take her boss from his wife. The record – a nice piece of funky R&B – was at No. 66 thirty-seven years ago this week, heading to No. 62 on the pop chart; it went to No. 12 on the R&B chart.

One of the major music events of 1974 was the U.S. tour in January and February by Bob Dylan and The Band. It was Dylan’s first tour in eight years; since then, The Band had stepped out of its role as his back-up band and become a front-line act. The opening track of the eventual double-LP album from the tour – “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” (video deleted) – was released as a single during the summer of 1974. During the third week of August, the single was at No. 75. It would peak at No. 66.

From 1968 through 1985, Bobby Womack had nineteen records reach the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section, and it seems like I run into his records more often than not when I do these Chart Digging posts. This week, “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” is the Womack record that showed up. It was at No. 100 during the week in question, coming down from its peak of No. 59 the week before. A nifty slice of R&B that I unfortunately missed at the time, the record went to No. 5 on the R&B chart.

Sitting at the very bottom of the Bubbling Under section of that August 17, 1974, Hot 100 was Harry Nilsson in his last appearance on the pop chart. Produced by John Lennon, Nilsson’s “Many Rivers To Cross” was a ragged performance, more clearly Lennon than Nilsson. (The backing track’s similarity to that used for Lennon’s “#9 Dream,” which would go to No. 9 later in 1974, is unmistakable.) Nilsson’s single would rise only one more spot, peaking at No. 109. (The video to which the clip links is the album track from Nilsson’s Pussy Cats; there was a shorter edit that was released as the single.)

And to end, we move up a little bit in the Bubbling Under section, to No. 107, where Brownsville Station sat with “Kings of the Party.” The record would peak at No. 31, giving the trio from Ann Arbor, Michigan, its second Top 40 hit; “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” had gone to No. 3 in the first weeks of 1974. While I couldn’t put my hands on the studio version of “Kings of the Party,” that’s all right, because YouTube has a clip of the band hamming things up and then doing a pretty good version of the tune on the television show Midnight Special.

Video deleted.

‘If I Was A Master Thief . . .’

Friday, July 29th, 2011

So, which Fourth Street is paved with Bob Dylan’s nastiest thoughts?

When Dylan sneers and slices his way through his 1965 single, “Positively 4th Street,” is he taking aim at the mid-1960s hipsters and posers in New York City’s Greenwich Village? Or is he looking back to the Midwest, slashing and lacerating his way through the remembered slights from his days at the University of Minnesota and its Dinkytown district? Both the Village and Dinkytown have as one of their main thoroughfares a Fourth Street.

I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone besides the Bard of Hibbing knows for sure. The heavy money, I would guess, is on New York City’s Fourth Street, simply because the Village was where Dylan became famous as a folkie and then – after turning to rock – became an infamous pariah among the folk set in the Village. Add that New York was where he was living when the song was written and released as a single, and you might have a case. But I have a sense, and I doubt that I’m alone in this, that when Dylan was writing the song, he was very much aware that there was another Fourth Street in his rear-view mirror and if folks from his Dinkytown days were wounded because they thought the tune was about them, well, that would be okay.

Whatever street provided the inspiration for the song, the song itself provided listeners with a lot to take in. The lyrics – starting with the snarling “You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend. When I was down, you just stood there grinning.” – have always sounded to me like the 1 a.m. party rant of guy all the guests have been sidestepping all evening. He’s like the character on a new Tarot card for the modern age: The Volatile Man. He’s the one who eventually spews his bitterness over everyone, halting every conversation like an Icelandic volcano grounding air traffic. And he never stops as everyone else makes excuses and heads for the door.

The vitriol makes “Positively 4th Street” a one-of-a-kind rant that went to No. 7 in the autumn of 1965, with a performance that Dave Marsh called “an icy hipster bitch session” that turned out to be “brilliantly poisonous.”

Given the tune and its indelible origins, one would think that cover versions would be scarce. Well, they’re not plentiful, but there are more than I expected. The Byrds took a shot at the song with a live version on their untitled album from 1970, and it’s not bad. Others who’ve recorded the song include the Jerry Garcia Band, Johnny Rivers, Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia, punk band Antiseen, Spirit, Bryan Ferry, Simply Red, Sue Foley, Scottish performer Junior Campbell, Scott Lucas & The Married Men, Lucinda Williams, Deb Callahan, the Stereophonics, the Persuasions, Winston Apple and someone named Farryl Purkiss.

I’ve heard a few of those, and I’m interested in hearing a number of the rest. Williams’ take on the song is, as might be expected, idiosyncratic, and I’ve read a lot of praise for Simply Red’s version, but I find it a little bland both in vocal and in backing. I like very much the version Johnny Rivers presents as the closer to his 1968 album, Realization. But in sorting through the covers I had at hand this morning – and I could spend more time and money digging, but I won’t – I was more pleased than I expected to be with Ferry’s take on the tune.

‘It’s A Restless Hungry Feeling . . .’

Friday, March 25th, 2011

With a nearly complete* collection of Bob Dylan’s work available, I can pick and choose when I want to listen to an hour’s worth of the Bard of Hibbing. And there are a few of Dylan’s albums that rarely make it to the CD player or turntable or mp3 player.

Chief among those are Saved, the 1980 release that was the second of the three Christian-era albums; At Budokan and Dylan and The Dead, two pretty bad live albums; his debut album, titled simply Bob Dylan; and his third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’.

That last album, The Times They Are A-Changin’, was released in 1964 and was Dylan’s most topical during his early folkies-can-change-the-world days, and as such, it’s not aged well. Not all the songs are tied to then-current events, but enough of them are – “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “Only A Pawn In Their Game,” for example – that it’s not an album I play very frequently. And that’s too bad, as it means I have to find other settings – beyond the hope of a random play – for some strong songs that aren’t tied to those times, like “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Restless Farewell,” to name two.

The same holds true for my favorite on the album, “One Too Many Mornings,” which was written for Suze Rotolo, Dylan’s girlfriend at the time. (Rotolo, who crossed over February 25 at the age of sixty-seven, was the girl walking with Dylan on the cover of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. In the evocative words of Jeff Ash of AM, Then FM: “The girl on the cover, now forever young.”) Their relationship lasted into 1964, and Rotolo was the inspiration for some of Dylan’s most enduring songs, including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” and “Boots of Spanish Leather.” But out of the cluster of songs that I’ve read were inspired by Rotolo, “One Too Many Mornings” is my favorite:

Down the street the dogs are barkin’
And the day is a-gettin’ dark
As the night comes in a-fallin’
The dogs’ll lose their bark
An’ the silent night will shatter
From the sounds inside my mind
For I’m one too many mornings
And a thousand miles behind

From the crossroads of my doorstep
My eyes they start to fade
As I turn my head back to the room
Where my love and I have laid
An’ I gaze back to the street
The sidewalk and the sign
And I’m one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

It’s a restless hungry feeling
That don’t mean no one no good
When ev’rything I’m a-sayin’
You can say it just as good.
You’re right from your side
I’m right from mine
We’re both just one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

Dylan’s version of the song from The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a solo take, with just his guitar and harmonica. It’s thoughtful and gentle. That wasn’t the case with the next version of the tune in Dylan’s catalog. On stage during a 1966 concert in Manchester, England (erroneously and eternally known as “The Royal Albert Hall Concert” and released in 1998), Dylan and his band – four-fifths of The Band and drummer Mickey Jones – tear into the song with gusto, and Dylan makes his way raggedly through the song in the weary, half-sneering voice that every Dylan imitator prizes. It’s a fun trip.

The third version of the song that Dylan released, a take from the 1975 Rolling Thunder tour that was released in 1976 on Hard Rain, is maybe the most interesting. Still ragged, but less frenetic than the 1966 version, the version on Hard Rain finds Dylan seeming to actually think about what he’s singing as he provides slight changes from the 1964 melody.

Still, as much as I love Dylan, none of his versions of “One Too Many Mornings” provide my favorite take on the tune. For that, I have to turn to a cover. And there are plenty of them from which to choose. All-Music Guide lists 196 CDs that include a song with that title. At a guess, two-thirds of those are duplicates or different songs with the same title. That kind of blunt math leaves us with about sixty-five different versions of the Dylan tune.

I’ve posted videos in the past couple weeks of two of those covers: a 2007 release by David Gray this week and a 1989 release by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings in February. That last outing wasn’t the first time Cash had taken on “One Too Many Mornings.” He and Dylan gave it a try – I believe there are bootlegs out there – during the sessions for Dylan’s 1969 album, Nashville Skyline, and he recorded a solo version in 1964 with help, it seems, from June Carter Cash. That one was released in 1978 on Johnny and June:

A lot of familiar names pop up in the list of covers. The Association released the song as a single in 1965, and it showed up on the group’s 1970 live album. The Beau Brummels also released the tune as a single; it went to No. 95 in 1966. Joan Baez took a couple of shots at the song; her first version showed up as a bonus track on the CD reissue of her 1964 album, Farewell Angelina, and a version with a slightly Latin tinge to it – one I like a lot – came out in 1968 on Any Day Now.

Perhaps the most surprising name on the list of those who’ve covered “One Too Many Mornings” is that of Bobby Sherman, whose 1969 version – from his Bobby Sherman album – isn’t bad at all.

The list of names goes on, some familiar and some not: The Dillards, the Kingston Trio, Jerry Jeff Walker, Radio Flyer, Robyn Hitchcock, Jaime Brockett, Tony Furtado with Jules Shear, Steve Howe with Phoebe Snow, Ralph McTell, the Alan Lorber Orchestra and more.

But my favorite take on the song comes from the later version of The Band. Released as the closing track of the 1999 CD Tangled Up In Blues: Songs of Bob Dylan, it’s a cover that echoes the classic sound of The Band, with Dylan’s old friends Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson joined by new members Jim Weider, Richard Bell, Randy Ciarlante and guest Derek Trucks.

*A while back, I wrote that I owned a copy – vinyl or CD – of everything Dylan has ever released. I was in error. I forgot about Live at the Gaslight 1962, which was sold through a chain of coffee shops that has no St. Cloud outlet (though a friend was nice enough to provide me with a digital copy, which is good, with even used copies of the CD going for more than $22), and I do not have Christmas in the Heart because I don’t do Christmas records, not even Dylan’s. Since I wrote the post overlooking those two albums, Dylan has released Bob Dylan In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963, which I plan to get soon. I also see limited copies for sale of Live At Carnegie Hall 1963, which isn’t yet listed on Dylan’s website, but when it is officially released, I’ll make sure it’s soon on my shelves.

(Lyrics copyright © 1964, 1966 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992, 1994 by Special Rider Music)

An Apocryphal Tale From 1975

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

While messing around Facebook this week, trading messages with Bobby Jameson and mutual friends, I was reminded of a tale I heard sometime during the fall of 1975, a tale I never quite believed. Nevertheless, it’s a tale that over the years has occasionally tickled my mind in the manner of “How effing cool would that be if it were true!”

I was with my friends at The Table in the snack bar of St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center, and a friend of a friend told us about her trip the day before to Minneapolis, seventy miles away. Actually, the tale didn’t start until she and her companions were returning to St. Cloud.

The routes between St. Cloud and Minneapolis were not as direct in 1975 as they are now. These days, one gets onto Interstate Highway 94 south of St. Cloud and with only a few moments of concentration required, can find oneself in downtown Minneapolis a little more than an hour later. With a little more required focus and a little more time, downtown St. Paul, ten miles to the east, is easily accessible.

In 1975, however, the system of Interstate highways was still being completed. There were points between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities where drivers would find themselves on state highways or local roads and, given congestion, there were times when local roads were preferable to getting back onto those portions of the freeways that were completed.

That’s what had happened the previous day to that friend of a friend and her companions as they left the Twin Cities and headed back to St. Cloud. Avoiding crowded roads and quite possibly road construction, they’d gotten on to county highways just outside of the suburban area, which was much smaller in 1975 than it is now. They found themselves in the rural areas of northwestern Hennepin County, some of which remain rural to this day. And as they drove, turning here, turning there but always heading northwest toward St. Cloud, they came upon a country tavern, standing by itself along the road.

Being college kids, at the sight of a roadhouse they realized they were thirsty, and these friends of my friend tumbled and laughed out of the car and into the bar, where they found a table and ordered at least one pitcher of beer. There were, the tale-teller told us, plenty of tables available; the place had no more than eight to ten other customers during the midafternoon of a weekday. It also, she said, had live entertainment. On a small stage, a guitarist about the same age as the new members of his audience was performing; his repertoire, the friend of a friend said the next day, was folkish versions of songs popular within the past ten years, with some countryish stuff thrown in. And as the visitors from St. Cloud listened and watched, they became aware that the singer was frequently looking off to his left, where sat a patron of the bar with his chair tipped against the wall and a wide-brimmed hat pulled down low, hiding his face.

And here’s where the story turns from plausible tale to rural legend.

After a half-hour or so, the singer said he was going to take a brief break, and a voice from near the wall told him to wait for a little while. The man in the broad-brimmed hat levered himself upright, reached down and picked up a guitar and came up to the small stage, where the brighter light revealed him to be Bob Dylan.

I know. I know. I’ve been running this story through my brain for more than thirty-five years, and I don’t really believe it either. I never knew the friend of a friend well enough to know if she found satisfaction in spreading unmitigated hogwash just for the fun of it. One would suspect so. But there is one fact that can alter one’s perception of the tale, shifting it from utter bullshit to slight plausibility. Bob Dylan did own at that time a farm/ranch/retreat in rural Hennepin County and was known to be in frequent residence there. I suppose there may be a recording log or concert schedule that shows that Dylan was somewhere other than Hennepin County during October 1975, making the friend of a friend an absolute liar. I’ve never looked. But absent that proof, the tale, however unlikely, is remotely possible.

Anyway, the friend of a friend said Dylan grinned or grimaced as his identity became clear, and then he took a chair next to the young performer on the small stage. The two of them performed three songs. I wish I knew what they were but I don’t. I don’t recall if I asked the friend of a friend and she did not know or if I was so preoccupied by sorting possible truth from likely bushwa that I didn’t think to ask. She said that after three songs, Dylan left the stage with the younger performer and the two headed to the back of the building. The St. Cloud students finished their beers and left, eventually finding their way back to St. Cloud and The Table, where I heard the tale the next day.

As I said, I have no idea if the story has even a kernel of truth. There are times when I think of the tale and doubt every word, down to the color of the car in which the friends of my friend were traveling. There are times when I think, “Well, maybe . . .” and wish I had been there.

And then there are the moments when I think: If I had a chance to perform just one song with Bob Dylan, what would I choose?

I’ve written about a lot of his work over the past four years. (The fourth anniversary of EITW is in fact approaching; we might serve cake.) Two of his recordings – “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” and “Things Have Changed” – found their ways into the Ultimate Jukebox. But all of that was about listening, not performing. And when I think about performing a Dylan song with guitars only, I find myself juggling three choices that are likely described as “quirky,” one from 1974’s Planet Waves, one from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks and one from 1989’s Oh Mercy.

The first two – “Forever Young” and “If You See Her Say Hello,” respectively – are among my favorites, but when I think of the utterly mind-boggling idea of sharing a stage with Bob Dylan, I keep coming back to the fairly obscure “Shooting Star,” which I think is one of Dylan’s gems. Here’s a video of him performing it for MTV Unplugged, which was released in 1995.

I’ll be back Thursday, probably with a look at early 1967.

Saturday Single No. 201

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

The difficulty can be traced back to a time when we began to find small silver screws on the kitchen floor. Not many and not very often. But about eight months ago, we found the first, and we had no idea where it had come from.

We opened the dishwasher, checked the places we could see and found no empty holes, then did the same for other appliances in the house. No joy. Puzzled, we put the screw somewhere – neither one of us can recall where that somewhere is – and went on.

Sometime in the intervening months, another small screw show up, shining bravely under the kitchen table. More puzzled yet, we checked again and could find no place that it could call its home. We don’t know where we put that one, either.

A third showed up last week, and I became very concerned. I don’t believe in the hardware fairy: These were not gifts to us from some other dimension. I was certain that the vagrant screws were important somewhere. But where?

We found out this week. When the dishwasher was installed in the cabinet at the end of the kitchen counter, the cabinet was a few inches too long for it. So whoever installed it adjusted things by leaning the dishwasher forward a few inches and using screws to attach the washer to the cabinet frame and hold it in place.

Without the screws, the dishwasher has the habit of retreating into the cabinet like a turtle into its shell. Until you open it and pull out one of the compartment drawers, at which point it leans forward and threatens to tumble into the middle of the kitchen. We’ve been coping with that for a week or so, but this morning, the landlord is coming to make repairs. That’s reassuring, as it was likely he who installed the appliance to begin with, so I expect that he knows how to angle it and where to put the replacement screws.

In an older home, things are going to need repairs sometimes. That’s a given. We’re lucky in two ways. First, we’ve not had many things require repair work in the two years we’ve lived here. Second, we have a landlord who is good about fixing things. So I’m reasonably sure that we’ll never be in the position that Bob Dylan sang about on his 1989 album, Oh Mercy. Nevertheless, the track I have in mind from that album seems somehow appropriate this morning, and it’s today’s Saturday Single:

Bob Dylan – “Everything Is Broken” from Oh Mercy [1989]

Memorial Day 2010

Monday, May 31st, 2010

“John Brown” by Bob Dylan from MTV Unplugged [1995]

John Brown went off to war to fight on a foreign shore
His mama sure was proud of him!
He stood straight and tall in his uniform and all
His mama’s face broke out all in a grin

“Oh son, you look so fine, I’m glad you’re a son of mine
You make me proud to know you hold a gun
Do what the captain says, lots of medals you will get
And we’ll put them on the wall when you come home”

As that old train pulled out, John’s ma began to shout
Tellin’ ev’ryone in the neighborhood:
“That’s my son that’s about to go, he’s a soldier now, you know”
She made well sure her neighbors understood

She got a letter once in a while and her face broke into a smile
As she showed them to the people from next door
And she bragged about her son with his uniform and gun
And these things you called a good old-fashioned war

Oh! Good old-fashioned war!

Then the letters ceased to come, for a long time they did not come
They ceased to come for about ten months or more
Then a letter finally came saying, “Go down and meet the train
Your son’s a-coming home from the war”

She smiled and went right down, she looked everywhere around
But she could not see her soldier son in sight
But as all the people passed, she saw her son at last
When she did she could hardly believe her eyes

Oh his face was all shot up and his hand was all blown off
And he wore a metal brace around his waist
He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know
While she couldn’t even recognize his face!

Oh! Lord! Not even recognize his face

“Oh tell me, my darling son, pray tell me what they done
How is it you come to be this way?”
He tried his best to talk but his mouth could hardly move
And the mother had to turn her face away

“Don’t you remember, Ma, when I went off to war
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
I was on the battleground, you were home . . . acting proud
You wasn’t there standing in my shoes”

“Oh, and I thought when I was there, God, what am I doing here?
I’m a-tryin’ to kill somebody or die tryin’
But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
And I saw that his face looked just like mine”

Oh! Lord! Just like mine!

“And I couldn’t help but think, through the thunder rolling and stink
That I was just a puppet in a play
And through the roar and smoke, this string is finally broke
And a cannonball blew my eyes away”

As he turned away to walk, his Ma was still in shock
At seein’ the metal brace that helped him stand
But as he turned to go, he called his mother close
And he dropped his medals down into her hand

(Copyright © 1963, 1968 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1996 by Special Rider Music)

Another List From Your Host

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

This is most likely a fool’s errand, but, being a lover of lists, I got to wondering the other evening about what names would show up on a list of the most influential musicians, performers and/or songwriters in American popular music. I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about this, but no real research, so this is a first draft, if you will. I know I’ll likely miss some, and suggestions will be gladly accepted in the comments.

I’ll start with one Nineteenth Century figure and two whose careers span the divide between the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, and after that, we’ll stay in the last century.

Stephen Foster

John Philip Sousa

Ma Rainey

Louis Armstrong

The Carter Family

Duke Ellington

Muddy Waters

Cole Porter

Frank Sinatra

Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Chuck Berry

Elvis Presley

Phil Spector

Berry Gordy

Bob Dylan

Prince

And there we’ll stop. I know, only one woman. I considered several others: Jenny Lind, Bessie Smith, Julie London, Carole King and Madonna among them, and of those names, I think Bessie Smith’s would have been the next to be listed. But I wanted to keep the list to a manageable length.

And I also wanted to stop, essentially, twenty-five years ago, which is why the list stops with Prince. There no doubt have been writers and performers in these past twenty-five years who will belong on such a list someday, but I think we need to let the dust settle a little. If I were forced to guess right now, two names that I think will belong on that list would be those of Kurt Cobain and Will.I.Am.

There are, of course, plenty of folks from the years I’m considering who came close but didn’t seem to me to have as much influence on American pop music as the sixteen listed above. The next two likely would have been Buddy Holly and Michael Jackson. There’s no doubt that they changed American music, as did those listed above. But then, so did others not listed, like Scott Joplin, Hank Williams, Fats Domino, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Stephen Sondheim, Brian Wilson, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen and on and on.

So why this list today? Well, I was looking at how the Ultimate Jukebox would play out from here on, and I noticed that several of the chapters had multiple entries for which I hadn’t yet been able to find clips on YouTube. I did some shifting of those entries so that no more than one of those would show up in each segment, without paying attention to which songs they were. After I did that, I noticed that this week’s random list of songs ranged from the 1940s to the 1990s, beginning with Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied.”

That got me thinking about Waters’ place in that hypothetical list of American music, and I took a closer look at this week’s entries and saw that two more of those whom I’d place on such a list would also show up this week: Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan. And I began to think about who else would be on that list. So there you go.

(I do have to acknowledge one thing: After my initial round of tinkering with the upcoming segments of the Ultimate Jukebox, I noticed that this week’s entry had songs from the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1990s. [I think; see the final paragraph.] I looked ahead and switched the next song from the 1980s into this week, replacing a second song from the 1970s. This will be the only time I switch a song for any reason other than balancing the non-YouTube entries.)

And here’s the video for the most recent song on this week’s list. (You may have to sit through a brief advertisement.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 18
“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters, Aristocrat1305, 1948
“Carol” by Chuck Berry, Chess 1700, 1958
“Daddy (Rollin’ In Your Arms)” by Dion, Laurie 3464, 1968
“Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Buddah 383, 1973
“On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Scotti Bros. 04594, 1983
“Things Have Changed” by Bob Dylan from the soundtrack to Wonder Boys, 1999

“I Can’t Be Satisfied” was Muddy Waters’ first hit after moving permanently to Chicago from Mississippi in 1943, and it followed five years of scuffling in Chicago’s clubs while working day jobs. The Aristocrat label was run by Leonard and Phil Chess, who soon changed the label name to Chess, and Waters recorded for the label into the 1970s. Because of reissues, his discography is difficult to follow, but during his lifetime, he released about sixty singles and thirty albums, including compilations, says Wikipedia. It’s probably impossible to overstate his influence on blues and rock and American pop culture. Want one small reminder? Listen to “I Can’t Be Satisfied” in the player below and note the introduction. Then go listen to the Allman Brothers Band’s “Pony Boy” and pay close attention at the forty-second mark.

Muddy Waters – “I Can’t Be Satisfied”

Just as with Waters, Chuck Berry’s influence on the music we listen to is vast and incalculable. From “Maybellene” in 1955 through a live version of “Reelin’ & Rockin’” in 1973, Berry got fourteen singles into the Top 40 (and more than that on the R&B chart). And according to a piece I read recently – though I cannot for the life of me remember where it was – Berry, now 83, still shows up once a month at a St. Louis club to play a set. He was (justifiably) among the first members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his riffs have influenced – directly or indirectly – anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar with rock music on his or her mind. I won’t say “Carol” is my favorite Berry tune, but it’s not heard as often as, say, “Johnny B. Goode” or “Sweet Little Sixteen” or a few others. Given that, its relative lack of familiarity makes me listen a little bit closer, which is a good thing.

Dion’s “Daddy (Rollin’ In Your Arms)” was the B Side to his 1968 hit “Abraham, Martin and John” and had to be a stunning surprise to anyone who ever flipped the 45 over. Dave Marsh called it “a surging, churning, angry, anguished version of Robert Johnson’s country blues,” adding, “Haunted electric guitars clang and clash against one another, drums pound in from another room, uniting in a wad of noise symbolizing nothing but spelling out pain and fear.” Yeah, it’s all of that, and it’s a compelling record, one that Marsh placed at No. 452 in his 1989 ranking of the top 1,001 singles

Gladys Knight – with and without the Pips – had twenty-seven Top 40 singles between 1961 and 1996, and “Midnight Train to Georgia” is likely the best of all of them. The tale of a man’s retreat from California to his home in Georgia – and the willingness of his (one assumes) California lady to go with him – was No. 1 for two weeks on the pop chart and for four weeks on the R&B chart in late 1973. Unlike a lot of stuff that topped the pop charts even in 1973, this was an adult record telling an adult tale of displacement, failure, loyalty and finally, a different type of success in the wake of that failure. And it had a compelling mid-tempo groove, too.

I’ve written a little bit previously about “On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, noting that it’s the best non-Springsteen Springsteen record I know of, so we’ll pretty much leave it at that. The record is from the 1983 movie Eddie & The Cruisers, and in the fall of 1984, it spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 7; it was also No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart for five weeks.

 I confess to a quandary. I have a date of 1999 on my mp3 of Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed,” but everything I see this morning dates the release as 2000. I’m certain I have a reason for dating it 1999 – perhaps a recording date listed somewhere in the notes to some anthology – but I can’t lay my hands on that information this morning. If I’m wrong, then this week’s chapter misses the 1990s and there goes that nifty little bit of programming. Ah, well. It’s still a great piece of music.

‘Another Cup Of Coffee . . .’

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

One of the simplest pleasures in my life is coffee. That’s been the case – as I once wrote – since early in my college days. Those of us at The Table would sometimes sip enough coffee during the course of a college day to creating a leaning sculpture of more than sixty porcelain cups in the middle of the table.

I no longer build towers of cups, but I still start each day with cup or two of coffee, and for several years now – and at intermittent times along the way – I’ve been grinding my own coffee from beans. One of my favorite blends for the past few years has been the Flame Room breakfast blend offered by McGarvey Coffee, a Twin Cities firm. Since the Texas Gal and I moved to St. Cloud a little more than seven years ago, I’ve been able to find Flame Room blend – named after a long-gone but still fondly remembered Minneapolis restaurant – at the grocery store down the street, a Cub Foods store.

The store – along with its sister store on the west side of St. Cloud – was sold during the course of the past winter, and both became part of the Coborn’s company, which operates grocery stores throughout Minnesota and the Dakotas. Both stores were transformed into Ca$h Wi$e stores. (That’s how it’s spelled – with dollar signs.) And the new management promptly pulled McGarvey Coffee from its shelves.

I was disappointed but not devastated. There are other coffee companies, other bean blends that I find satisfactory for my early morning caffeine rush. (It’s not just the caffeine, though; I enjoy the flavor of coffee in many blends, an enthusiasm that baffles the Texas Gal, who cannot stand the beverage.) So, without McGarvey Coffee as a choice over the past month, I’ve brewed coffee from Cameron’s Coffee, another brand based in the Twin Cities. I’d had Cameron’s coffees before, and they were fine.

But over the past week, as I worked my way through a fairly good French roast blend from Cameron’s, I began to yearn for McGarvey’s Flame Room blend. The nearest Cub Foods store is now in Monticello, a little less than thirty miles away; we could head that way sometime during the weekend. Until then, however, I would still need some coffee beans, so on my way home from running some errands yesterday, I stopped off at the nearby Ca$h Wi$e. And on the coffee shelves there, I found a bank of white packages with red and black trim: The McGarvey coffees were back. Without hesitation, I grabbed a bag of Flame Room blend beans and made my way to the checkout.

And this morning’s coffee tastes pretty damned good.

Here’s Osibisa performing “The Coffee Song” on a British television show in 1976:

Here’s Julie London with “Black Coffee” from around 1960:

And finally, here’s Bob Dylan with Emmylou Harris (never mind the pictures of Joan Baez) with “One More Cup Of Coffee” from the 1975 album Desire:

I’ll be back Saturday.