Well, it’s seven in the morning and the weather forecast calls for a sunny day with no chance of precipitation. But it’s darker than December outside, the thunder is rumbling, and the weather radar shows a green blob with yellow highlights heading this way from the northwest.
But that’s not ruining my day. Instead, it moves me to offer a random selection from the RealPlayer, where the tracks on the digital shelves now total more than 89,000. (I have about the same amount of music from various sources – friends, libraries, dark corners of the ’Net – sitting unsorted in folders on my external hard drive. If I were so inclined, I could work on sorting and tagging that for days.)
Anyway, here are three about thunder:
First up is“Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder)” from the Brian Setzer Orchestra. One of the first CDs I owned – obtained through a record club in 1999 – was the group’s 1998 effort The Dirty Boogie, which featured a cover of Louis Prima’s “Jump Jive an’ Wail” that went to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. (The album itself went to No. 9 on the Billboard 200.) After a while, I tired of the group’s work and traded the CD for something else; Setzer’s approach to the jump blues he so obviously loves didn’t – for some reason – settle into my system well. “Drive Like Lightning” is from the group’s 2000 album Vavoom!, and it’s got a sound more rooted in a mythical late 1950s aesthetic (with some 1960s surf guitar tossed in), and like 1940s jump blues, that’s another interesting place to be. But even though I have a fair amount of music by the former Stray Cat front man and his group on the digital shelves – including another copy of The Dirty Boogie – Setzer’s work remains only of passing interest to me. Whenever I listen to more than one track at a time, I get the sense that Setzer and his mates are more interested in mugging at the audience than focusing on the groove.
From there, we bounce back to the late 1970s and some sessions that Bobbie Gentry did, evidently, for Warner Brothers. “Thunder In The Afternoon” and a few other tracks wound up on an early 1990s best-of release in the United Kingdom and were the subject of some discussion on a music board I stumbled upon about a year ago while putting together a post about Gentry’s version of Patti Dahlstrom’s “He Did Me Wrong But He Did It Right.” Likely recorded in 1977, “Thunder In The Afternoon” fits in nicely with the rest of Gentry’s oeuvre, though perhaps with a little less tang than her Delta-tinged early stuff. The question of what happened to Bobbie Gentry is one that music fans and writers return to from time to time. One of the latest writers to take on the topic was Neely Tucker of the Washington Post. Tucker’s piece, from June of this year, includes this teasing passage near the top: “Gentry spoke to a reporter, for this story, apparently for the first time in three decades. We caution you not to get too excited about that. It’s one sentence. Could be two. Then she hung up.”
The track that made me focus on “thunder” in this morning’s exercise instead of “rain” is, happily, our third random track today: “You’ll Love The Thunder” by Jackson Browne. Found on Browne’s 1978 live album Running On Empty, the track has long been one of my favorite Browne tracks, certainly my favorite from the live album. I think I just got tired of hearing “Running On Empty” and “The Load-Out/Stay” when they were overplayed on radio back in 1978. (The title track went to No. 11, and “Stay” – with “The Load-Out” on the B-side – went to No. 20.) The track still seems fresh almost forty years after I first heard it, and – as happens every time one of Jackson Browne’s early pieces pops up – I think briefly that maybe I should dig more deeply into the music he’s done in recent years. But even minor excavations into Browne’s later work always seem to leave me luke-warm. Why? I dunno, and I no longer try to figure out why. I have better ways to spend my time, like cuing up “The Late Show” or “Here Come Those Tears Again” or even “That Girl Could Sing.” Or “You’ll Love The Thunder.”
Having learned earlier this week that a cover of the classic soul song “Steal Away” was the last single Bobbie Gentry released, I did a minor bit of digging. As I wrote Tuesday:
It’s a tune that Jimmy Hughes wrote and took to No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1964 although I know Etta James’ 1968 version and Johnny Taylor’s 1970 cover better.
From there, I went and found Hughes’ version to refresh my memory. And as I listened, I glanced at a few websites and, as often happens, learned something unexpected: The Soul Tracks website told me that Jimmy Hughes’ “Steal Away” was the first recording made at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, and it was the first release on the original Fame label in 1964.
I also noted Tuesday that deep in the digital shelves, I found Gentry’s 1978 cover of “Steal Away.” While listening to it, I wandered out onto the Web to find a visual for a video, and learned from the record label that it, too, was produced by Rick Hall. Its sound echoes, at least a little, some of Gentry’s earlier recordings and is, to my ears anyway, a little unsettling, which only seems fitting given the song’s topics of deception, stealth and betrayal.
For Another Time
I’d also mentioned Tuesday that there was at least one of other cover of Patti Dahlstrom’s “He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right” out in the world. It was by the R&B trio of Pat Hodges, Denita James and Jessica Smith, recording for 20th Century as Hodges, James & Smith. Since then, however, the YouTube video of the track has disappeared. So we’ll listen to that track – and more, perhaps – from Hodges, James & Smith another day.
Sometime yesterday afternoon, my pal jb – the whiz behind the blog The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – found another website where I can lose myself for a few hours. Now, it’s not like I needed another such site – I already indulge my ADD tendencies in too many places on the Web – but when I saw how Rebeat describes itself, I knew I was lost, or would be soon:
REBEAT is a digital blog/magazine primarily dedicated to mid-century music, culture, and lifestyle. We say “primarily” because the category is so broad, and the mid-century influence is felt in waves rippling through time.
The specific piece from Rebeat that jb offered at Facebook was an appreciation by Sharon Lacey of country singer Bobbi Gentry on her 70th birthday, a piece that noted that Gentry hasn’t been seen or heard since the early 1980s and that went on to review Gentry’s life and career, assessing Gentry’s six albums (and her one-album collaboration with Glen Campbell) along the way.
I’ve got those seven albums, and I generally agreed with Lacey’s assessments. The piece offered a few bits about Gentry’s life that I’d not known, like the fact that she was once married to performer Jim Stafford, but the most intriguing bit of new information for me came near the end of the piece, when Lacey noted that Gentry’s last single, a 1978 release that went nowhere, was “Steal Away/He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right.”
It took me a second. I know “Steal Away.” It’s a tune that Jimmy Hughes wrote and took to No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1964 although I know Etta James’ 1968 version and Johnny Taylor’s 1970 cover better. And it turns out that I have Gentry’s 1978 version, which is pretty good.
What grabbed my eyes, though, was the B-side: “He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right.” I found it at YouTube:
While the track played, I clicked a few links and verified what I was pretty certain of: “He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right” came from the pen of my friend Patti Dahlstrom and her friend Al Staehely and was a track from Patti’s 1975 album Your Place Or Mine. (It’s also on the 2010 CD, Emotion: The Music Of Patti Dahlstrom.) Here’s Patti’s version:
So I’m going to go lose myself in Rebeat for a while today and see what other gems I can find that I either have forgotten or never knew about. In a related vein, I already know that there’s at least one more version of Patty’s and Al’s tune out there, but I think we’ll leave that, along with a surprise, perhaps, for tomorrow or Friday.
Tuesdays around here are usually pretty quiet: Laundry’s a day in the past, the routine of the week is settling in, and after I throw a post into the blogosphere, I often have a lunch of herring filets – usually in a mustard sauce – with flatbread.
This week, however, Tuesday is Laundry Day. Why?
Well, it has to with the years that the Texas Gal spent working for Creative Memories, a home-sales firm that marketed scrapbooking supplies: Specially designed albums, specially designed pages, and all sorts of accessories and gadgets that could be used to put anyone’s memories into a scrapbook. It’s probably not too fine a point to say that Creative Memories invented the scrapbooking industry. And then, the company faltered and failed for a number of reasons, including the fact that other firms began making and selling similar goods in retail stores for much lower prices.
Anyway, during the years that the Texas Gal worked there, the company would often sell older and discontinued merchandise to its employees at ridiculously low prices: an album that retailed for around $40 would go for $1, and so on. So boxes of scrapbooking supplies gathered first in the closet of the apartment across the way and then in the basement here at the house. And in an effort to declutter a little bit, the Texas Gal – who tried scrapbooking as a hobby but decided to stick with quilting and gardening – decided a few weeks back that it was time to get rid of the sixteen boxes of albums, pages, stickers and whatnot that were gathered in one end of the basement.
So Sunday I started hauling boxes to the living room, and yesterday, instead of doing laundry, I finished that task and then straightened the place up a bit, as one of the Texas Gal’s co-workers was stopping by after work to relieve us of some of the scrapbooking supplies.
That’s why today, a Tuesday, is Laundry Day, and to add to the confusion, I’m waiting for the air conditioner guy to give me a call and come out and fix the AC, which quit working yesterday morning. It’s not supposed to be too warm today, and normally, I’d open the windows, but – according to news reports – the second wave of smoke from Canadian wildfires will blow into the area sometime late this morning or early afternoon. I was out to run an errand in the first wave of smoke yesterday, and it was not pleasant. So we’ll stay closed up here, doing laundry and waiting for the AC guy. I’ll still probably have herring filets and flatbread for lunch, though.
Anyway, here’s a Tuesday song: Bobbie Gentry’s “Hurry, Tuesday Child,” originally found on the 1967 album Ode to Billie Joe.
I thought this morning that I’d dig into a half-dozen radio surveys from December 20, 1969. Why 1969? Because it’s one of my favorite radio years, as I’ve no doubt written many times. But the Airheads Radio Survey Archive only had four surveys from that date, and two of them were from Missouri. So I threw out one of the Mizzou surveys and threw into the mix surveys from the same week from Birmingham, Alabama; Los Angeles and Chicago.
When I take these figurative trips around the country, I generally look at the No. 1 song in each market and a couple more that depend on the date. In this case, I had in mind today’s date of 12/20, meaning the No. 12 and No. 20 records. (No, not all the surveys are from December 20, but then, this ain’t a project for a master’s degree, either. You got problems with it, go talk to Odd and Pop.)
But this time, I ended up adding the No. 2 record as well, because the No. 1 record this week in 1969 at all six stations I checked – stations in Hartford, Connecticut; Albany, Oregon; Birmingham, Los Angeles, Chicago and St. Louis – was “Someday We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross & The Supremes. (It would top the Billboard Hot 100 a week later.)
With that decided, I headed out, and along the way through these six surveys, I ran into a lot of familiar records and a few that I didn’t know at all.
At Los Angeles’ KHJ, the “Boss 30” for December 17 had B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” in the No. 2 slot. (The record would spend the month of January 1970 atop the Billboard chart.) At No. 12, we find “Down On The Corner” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and at No. 20, we run into Gene Pitney’s “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning),” a recording of a song I explored at length about a year ago.
In Chicago, WLS’ “Hit Parade” from December 22, 1969, also had the B.J. Thomas single at No. 2. (I should note that many folks will likely remember the record from its use during the bicycle-riding scene in the movie Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid.) One of my favorite instrumentals sits at No. 12 (and the fact that it’s a favorite underlines, I suppose, my affection for movie themes and for the kind of stuff one used to hear in the mid-1960s on KFAM, St. Cloud’s MOR station): Ferrante & Teicher’s version of the theme from “Midnight Cowboy.” And the No. 20 record in Chicago was Dusty Springfield’s “A Brand New Me.”
St. Louis’ KXOK printed its weekly survey on a narrow piece of paper and called it the “KXOK Bookmark.” At No. 2 on the bookmark forty-three years ago today was “La La La (If I Had You)” by Bobby Sherman, while the No. 12 spot was occupied by Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy” and the No. 20 spot was taken up by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” the flip side of the previously mentioned “Down On The Corner.”
In New Haven, Connecticut, on December 20, 1969, WAVZ’s “Hit Power Survey” had “Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary in the No. 2 spot. The Archies were in the No. 12 slot with “Jingle Jangle,” and at No. 20 was Aretha Franklin’s superlative reworking of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” Aretha’s version went to No. 17 on the pop chart and to No. 5 on the R&B chart.
On the other side of the country on the same day, at KRKT in Albany, Oregon, the No. 2 record was the Grass Roots’ “Heaven Knows,” while the No. 12 spot was held down by another one of my favorites from late 1969: “Backfield in Motion” by Mel & Tim. And at No. 20 in Albany sat a double-sided single by Tommy James & The Shondells that I know little about, as I’d heard neither “She” nor “Loved One” until this morning.
And I actually know less about one of the records we’ll list from the survey of December 19, 1969, at WSGN in Birmingham, Alabama. The No. 12 record in the station’s survey is “What a Beautiful Feeling” by the California Earthquake, and at No. 20, we find “Don’t Let Love Hang You Up” by Jerry Butler. I finally heard the Butler record (and loved it) this morning, but I’ve never heard the California Earthquake record, as I can’t find it anywhere. (I’m not sure the latter record is all that important, as it barely made it into the Billboard charts, bubbling under at No. 133 for one week; it was the band’s only appearance in or near the charts.) Observant readers will note that I skipped past the No. 2 record at WSGN. It was “Fancy,” Bobbie Gentry’s first-person tale of a young Southern girl who makes it big after being reluctantly pimped out by her desperate mother. The record went to No. 33 on the pop chart and to No. 26 on the country chart. (Reba McEntire’s 1991 cover did better on the country charts, going to No. 8, but Gentry’s original is the better record.)
It was later than usual when the Texas Gal got home from work a couple of days ago. She said she’d had the day from hell and just wanted to sit in her chair and work on a quilt. I was not in great shape myself: I’d spent some of that afternoon shoveling snow from the walk and the driveway and kind of wanted to just sit myself. And the early darkness of the autumn afternoon didn’t help.
So we abandoned the minimal plans we’d had for dinner and popped two frozen dinners into the oven. Hers was chicken-fried steak, and mine was a chopped beef steak topped by some kind of southwestern sauce. And the two dinners did what they were supposed to do: fed us well enough and saved us time and effort. That’s why we keep a few in the freezer.
And as we ate, I was reminded of a time when having a frozen dinner was a real treat. Most nights when I was a kid, we ate as a family, all four of us at the kitchen table. About once a month, Dad would attend a dinner meeting of an educational fraternity, and there would be just three at the table. And every once in a while, Mom and Dad would have a dinner engagement somewhere – usually something connected with St. Cloud State – and dinner would be my sister and me.
During the early years, of course, that meant a babysitter would stay with us for the evening and get us through the evening meal. But as we got a little older – starting maybe around 1964 when I turned eleven and my sister turned fourteen – we got to stay home by ourselves and cook ourselves frozen dinners.
Folks who lived through the 1950s and the early 1960s will remember that Swanson, the most prevalent brand of frozen dinner, marketed its meals as TV Dinners, a name dating to 1952 when television was relatively new and the thought of a family huddled around a small screen eating convenient frozen dinners was, well, revolutionary in its way. By 1962, the television revolution was over – TV won – and Swanson, says Wikipedia, dropped the “TV Dinner” label. (Although the name lives on still today in common usage in our home and, I’m sure, elsewhere.) And on those evenings when Mom and Dad would be gone and my sister and I were home alone for a brief time, those frozen dinners were different enough to seem almost exotic, and I always chose my menu for those evenings carefully.
I liked the haddock, either breaded or in cream sauce, and I think there was a fried shrimp dinner. (The fried chicken, which seemed popular from what I saw in the freezer down at Carl’s Market, never thrilled me much.) I liked the Salisbury steak. And later on, in what I think was the late 1960s, Swanson began experimenting and came up with a Mexican meal I liked. But my favorite frozen dinner wasn’t a Swanson meal. I don’t recall the brand – its logo had, I think, a red flag – but it was a seafood platter: It brought me shrimp, scallops, a small fish filet and a crab cake, flanked by what were essentially hash brown patties or maybe tater tots.
Now, I’d certainly had shrimp and scallops in restaurants by the time I was, say, twelve, and I knew that the seafood in that frozen seafood platter didn’t compare to fresh seafood. But if I were going to be eating a frozen dinner at home, that platter was about as good as a Sixties kid could do.
As I think about these things, it seems to me that frozen dinner nights with my folks out somewhere were more prevalent during the late fall and early winter than at any other time of the year. That makes sense: That’s the season of holiday gatherings for the church, civic and educational organizations to which my parents belonged. So earlier this week, the darkness of an early evening in late autumn and a frozen dinner on a TV tray pushed me back to those dinners forty-some years ago. And that was a convenient hook on which to hang a look at a record chart.
I have no idea, of course, if I was dining on a seafood platter forty-three years ago this evening, but I certainly could have been. I was fourteen, my sister was seventeen, and if mom and dad were out for dinner, we almost certainly would be sitting in the kitchen with the oven on, listening to the rhythmic sound of the timer as it ticked its way toward our dinnertime.
If that were the case on December 2, 1967, we probably had the radio in the kitchen tuned to KDWB. And we would likely have heard some of the Top Ten from the list released that day:
“Daydream Believer” by the Monkees
“The Rain, The Park and Other Things” by the Cowsills
“Incense and Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock
“To Sir With Love” by Lulu
“I Say A Little Prayer” by Dionne Warwick
“Please Love Me Forever” by Bobby Vinton
“Soul Man” by Sam & Dave
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“I Can See For Miles” by the Who
“An Open Letter To My Teenage Son” by Victor Lundberg
Eight of those are pretty damned good, and one of them – “Incense and Peppermints” – is among my all-time favorites. I do not recall the Bobby Vinton tune at all (having checked it out this morning at YouTube). And then there’s the single at No. 10.
“An Open Letter To My Teenage Son” by Victor Lundberg was a response to the very real gap between generations that was getting increasingly wider by late 1967. A spoken-word record (written by Lundberg as well) that touched on long hair, hippies, religion, patriotism and the draft, the record ends with Lundberg telling his son – according to Wikipedia, he did have at least one teenage son living at home at the time – that if he burns his draft card, he can also burn his birth certificate as well, because “From that moment on, I have no son.”
The record obviously rang true with a lot of folks, as it stayed at No. 10 for two weeks. It also inspired some answer records, including “A Letter to Dad” by Every Father’s Teenage Son, which was sitting at No. 97 during that first week of December 1967. I’m not going to embed the Lundberg single here, but here’s a link to the YouTube page. I haven’t looked real hard for “A Letter To Dad,” but here’s a link to the lyrics. Now, let’s dig a little deeper into the Billboard Hot 100 released on a day when I might have had a seafood platter for dinner.
At No. 49, we find an instrumental cover of the week’s No. 7 song, “Soul Man.” Ramsey Lewis – credited either by himself or as the Ramsey Lewis Trio – reached the Top 40 twice each in 1965 and 1966, with the best performing single being the first, “The ‘In’ Crowd,” which went to No. 5 in the early autumn of 1965. Lewis’ “Soul Man” would go no higher than No. 49.
In August and September of 1967, Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” had spent four weeks at No. 1. Now, in December, her “Okolona River Bottom Band” was at No. 59 in its second week in the Hot 100 and rising toward its eventual peak of No. 54. Gentry wouldn’t reach the Top Ten again, although two duets with Glen Campbell and her own “Fancy” would reach the Top 40 in 1969 and 1970.
I was surprised as I scanned the Hot 100 from that first week of December 1967 to see a listing of “Too Much of Nothing” by Peter, Paul & Mary. The record was at No. 62 and would eventually peak at No. 35, but I don’t recall ever hearing it. Written by Bob Dylan and originally recorded during the then-unreleased (but much bootlegged) Basement Tapes sessions, the version by Dylan and The Band showed up in 1975 when The Basement Tapes album was released. I couldn’t find the studio version of the PP&M version of “Too Much of Nothing” at YouTube, but I did find a performance by the trio on the March 23, 1969, episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
At No. 80, we find a tune called “Sockin’ 1, 2, 3, 4” by a performer named John Roberts. The record – which I like quite a bit – uses the phrase “Sock it to me!” as a hook. Interestingly enough, the record predates the television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, which I always thought had been where the phrase originated. (The show first went on the air, says Wikipedia, in January 1968.) And there’s little about John Roberts out there to tell any more of the tale. The website Soulbot.com says that Roberts was a former school teacher and that the record went to No. 19 on the R&B chart. I’ve seen the record mentioned as a Northern Soul hit in the United Kingdom, and Soulbot.com notes that “Sockin’ 1, 2, 3, 4” was popular at the Blue Note and the Twisted Wheel, two clubs in Manchester, England. All I know is that the record peaked two weeks later at No. 71, spent two weeks there and then fell off the chart.
Lou Donaldson is a prolific and well-known jazz saxophone player, with numerous albums reaching the Billboard 200 and the jazz and R&B charts. And that only proves how much I have left to learn, as I’d never heard of the man. But it was forty years ago this week that his only Hot 100 hit, “Alligator Boogaloo,” stood for a second week at No. 93 after Bubbling Under for five weeks. A week later, the record was gone from the chart.
I have no idea why, but the duets between Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood fascinate me. From “Summer Wine, “Some Velvet Morning” and “Jackson” through the entire album Nancy & Lee, I hear something that I’m not sure I can explain, but it’s a sound that I find compelling. Whatever it is I hear, it’s there again in “Sand,” which during this week in 1967, was Bubbling Under at No. 110. A week later, it was gone.