Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Springsteen’

‘You Better Start Savin’ Up . . .’

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Quiet times here in the past few days, as the Texas Gal buried her nose in her textbooks and I stayed out of the way. She’s studying employment law and supervisory management this quarter, and although I’ll help where I can – I routinely review and edit papers quite gladly – I’ll have little to add to the conversation. (That’s not always been the case as she heads toward her paralegal degree; her several courses in constitutional law brought us some truly fascinating discussions.)

Anyway, as she studied, I did the minimum required housework and some cooking, watched a lot of football and continued to fight off a sinus infection that’s perplexing both me and Dr. Julie. As a result, I’ve done even less prep work for a post than my usual minimum. But something caught my eye Sunday as I read Jon Bream’s review at the Minneapolis Star Tribune website of Sunday night’s concert in St. Paul by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.

Bream noted that a sign in the audience requested the band play “Savin’ Up,” a tune Springsteen wrote for the first album recorded by the now-departed Clarence Clemons, an album titled Rescue, credited to Clarence Clemons & The Red Bank Rockers. Springsteen quickly taught the basics of the song to the band, the background singers and the horn section and then let loose a pretty darned good performance on the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center.

After listening to the live version by Bruce and the gang, I went digging, pretty sure I had Rescue. And I found it in the stack of LPs waiting to be ripped to mp3. But something else nagged at me, so I ran a search through the 65,000 mp3s. And there was “Savin’ Up,” collected as one of twenty-eight tracks on the 1997 two-CD set titled One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen. And a quick search at YouTube saved me some time.

Personnel on the Clemons’ version of “Savin’ Up” are: Clarence Clemons, saxophone and background vocals; John “J.T.” Bowen, lead vocals; David Landau, guitars; Bruce Springsteen, rhythm guitar; Ralph Schuckett, keyboard; John Siegler, bass; and Wells Kelly, drums.

‘It’s A Thin, Thin Line . . .’

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

While looking for tunes with “rest” in their titles this morning, I came across several entries for the song “Tougher Than The Rest” by Bruce Springsteen. Now, that’s not the kind of rest I had in mind, but it’ll do for today.

The song comes from Springsteen’s 1987 album, Tunnel of Love, and it’s sparked a few covers. I dug into some of those this morning – not as many as I usually sample when I’m exploring covers – and found some interesting versions. Emmylou Harris included the tune on her 1990 album, Brand New Dance, and I saw some commentary this morning that ranked her version higher than others, so I went and bought the mp3, which I evidently can’t share in a video.

Well, I liked what I heard from Emmylou more than I did most of the covers I found. I was surprised by the tepid version from Everything But The Girl on that group’s Acoustic from 1992, as I generally like the album. And I didn’t hear much in the seemingly standard country styling from Chris LeDoux on his 1994 album Haywire. On the other hand, I did enjoy the version released on a two-song disc in 2009 by the Scottish group Camera Obscura.

As it turned out, the best version of the Springsteen tune I came across today is from a source that surprised me. Travis Tritt pulled the song into his hybrid of southern rock and Nashville twang on No More Looking Over My Shoulder in 1998, and the results were pretty good:

I’ll be back Thursday, either writing about Chef Boy-Ar-Dee or about covers of one of the greatest songs ever recorded by The Band.

‘One Last Chance To Make It Real . . .’

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Down on East St. Germain – the main street here on the East Side – there’s a pawnshop. It’s right around the corner from Tom’s Barbershop, and I pop in from time to time. Granite City Pawn Shop, it’s called. It’s kind of dusty, and it’s well-stocked with tools and outdoor sports equipment.

And in the middle of the shop, sometimes guarded by a gantlet of other merchandise – a telescope tripod the other day – is an alcove filled with CDs, all priced at $1 apiece. Over the past couple years, I’ve made a few interesting finds there – probably the best was Blue & Sentimental by 1950s sax player Ike Quebec – and filled some gaps, most of them in my country collection.

I stopped by there the other day and found three CDs from the 1990s by country singer John Berry, about whom I’d read a few nice things. They’re all pretty good, and it turns out that one of them – Saddle the Wind – was an album Berry recorded and released in 1990, before he was signed to Liberty Records. Liberty released it in 1994, and that’s the version I found. And when the CD got to the fifth track, here’s what I heard:

He sings it well, but to my ears, the track hews far too closely to Bruce Springsteen’s version to make it more than interesting. But for the last ten days or so, I’ve had “Thunder Road” running through my head as Berry’s cover inspired me to make my way through various versions of one of Springsteen’s greatest songs.

Along the way, I’ve been wondering if the harmonica and piano that lead off “Thunder Road” on Born to Run might not be the very first things that lots of folks ever heard from Bruce Springsteen. My reasoning: It was with Born to Run, of course, that Springsteen made the leap from regional favorite to national artist, and I figure a lot of folks picked up the album on the basis of the national noise without having heard anything from Springsteen before, even the single “Born to Run.” The album reached the Billboard chart on September 13, 1975, showing up at No. 84, a week before “Born to Run” jumped into the Hot 100 at No. 68. And “Thunder Road” leads off the album. So that introduction could have been the introduction to Springsteen for a lot of people.

Well, it’s an interesting thought (to me, anyway), but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that “Thunder Road” is one of the sturdiest songs Springsteen’s ever put together. Wikipedia notes that in 2004, the song was ranked No. 86 in Rolling Stone magazine’s assessment of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” And, as Wikipedia notes, the song has shown up highly ranked on several similar lists.

Like all sturdy songs, it’s been covered fairly frequently. Among those who’ve tackled the song are Badly Drawn Boy, Frank Turner, Tori Amos, Mary Lou Lord and Bonnie “Prince” Bill with Tortoise. I’ve heard some of those, and I’ve come across a few more. Melissa Etheridge sang the song in concert at least once after Springsteen performed the song with her at an earlier show. (Her solo performance of the song is listed as being in 2009, but I don’t know when the duet took place.) I also found a few studio covers that I thought were interesting: Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners recorded the song for his 1999 album My Beauty, but – according to a comment at YouTube – the track was held back because Springsteen thought Rowland took too many liberties with the lyrics. I thought the Cowboy Junkies did a nice version; it was released on the bonus CD that came with their 2004 album One Soul Now.

And I came across this version by a string quartet calling itself the Section; it came from the 2002 CD Hometown: The String Quartet Tribute to Springsteen:

 There are other covers out there, but my energy waned. Of the covers I found, I think I like the Cowboy Junkies’ version best; Margo Timmins can do little wrong from where I listen. But the best version of the song I found on YouTube isn’t really a cover at all.

In 2005, Springsteen toured as a solo artist after the release of Devils & Dust, and for that tour, he shelved a lot of the songs he normally performed live. But he did “Thunder Road” once, backing himself on the piano. And it’s neat to know that the performance took place in Minneapolis, at the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium on October 12, 2005. (No, I wasn’t there, but I sure wish I had been.)

Corrected and edited slightly after posting.

Bootlegs & Buckets

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Unlike a lot of music fans, I’ve never done much with bootleg recordings, either pursuing or listening to them. There are a few rattling around in the external hard drive, stuff that I’ve stumbled into while wandering the wilds of the ’Net or that friends have pointed me toward. But gathering bootlegs has never been a large part of my musical obsessions.

What I mean is that I don’t go on journeys online in search of, say, a specific Allman Brothers Band performance from 1970, or Bob Dylan’s performance at St. Paul’s Riverfest in 1989. (There are plenty of the former out there, I think, most of which would make compelling listening; as to the Dylan show at Riverfest, that’s less likely, and I’ve never actually looked for it. But it would be fun, as I was there.)

On those days when I wander the web with no particular destination in mind, however, I sometimes run into bootlegs that interest me. For the record, I’m defining “bootleg” here as an officially unreleased recording or performance. Most bootlegs, I imagine, would be illicit although that definition would also include all the audience tapes of the Grateful Dead done with the band’s encouragement and even assistance.

Whatever the definition, I do have a few. One bootleg in my collection that’s among the most interesting actually hasn’t made it to the hard drive yet. It’s something the Texas Gal found and bought for me as we dug into boxes at a huge record store in Arlington, Texas, back in December of 2001: The Band Live at the Hollywood Bowl, 7-10-70. Having been thinking about bootlegs for the past day or do, I pulled it from the shelves this morning and I’ll likely rip it to mp3s in the next week or so. (Not only might it be the most interesting bootleg I have in any format, it’s certainly the most expensive; she laid out fifty bucks for the two-LP set.)

Not all boots are buried deep in the niches of the ’Net, of course. One of the better-known sources is roio, with a broad assortment of riches. My pal jb pointed me there after he found a December 1970 performance by Leon Russell that’s turned out to be quite a treat. Some digging there can be rewarding.

But most of the bootlegs I have in my collection are things I found by accident. There are a few favorites: Delaney & Bonnie & Friends at the Fillmore West in 1970. Bob Dylan’s outtakes from Blood on the Tracks. The Rolling Stones in Brussels, Belgium, October 17, 1973 (just thirteen days after I saw them in Denmark).

And I have one excruciating oddity: Four tracks by Tiny Tim with The Band from 1967.

So why have I been thinking about bootlegs for much of the past twenty-four hours? Because of one of those happy accidents. I was working on the Echoes In The Wind Archives yesterday morning, reposting the piece that contained my music bucket list. (An aside: After I added Glen Campbell performing “Wichita Lineman” to my list last month, jb provided some bucket list tales of his own at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ .) As I prepared to repost my bucket list, I decided to add a note, detailing a few updates about the topic, including the fact that I’d added another figurative check mark to the list after seeing Bruce Springsteen perform “Born To Run.”

Just to make certain of the date of the concert, I Googled “Springsteen St. Paul 2009.” I verified from the first link that the show took place on May 11 and then idly looked at the next few links. And did a double-take.

I wrote above that I don’t often look for bootlegs. And I don’t. But now and then, for a little more than two years, there is one Springsteen bootleg I’ve looked for: The May 11, 2009, show at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. And there it was.

The sound’s not as good as bootlegs sometimes are. But still, it’s my show. And here’s how it sounded that night as my bucket got a little bit more full:

Saturday Single No. 223

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Some while back, I told the story of my dad and his 1952 Ford, the brown auto that he bought for cash when it was new and drove for some twenty-four years until it was actually a hazard to him and his passengers.

The ails that the old Ford accumulated were many, and long before the time Dad let the car go to some junkyard here in St. Cloud, the cost of repairing it was greater than its dollar value or even its practical value.

I must have acquired from Dad the gene that pushes a driver to get every possible mile out of a car before letting go of it, forcing me many times over the years to find a place to dispose of a valueless auto instead of being able to trade it in as part of the next vehicle’s purchase. The roll call of my cars over the years is long, and I’ve had most of them hauled to junk: A 1961 Falcon, a 1967 Falcon wagon, a 1971 Duster, a 1972 Toyota, a 1977 Chevette, a 1981 Toyota, a 1988 Mazda and a 1990 Oldsmobile. Almost all of them were driven until they had essentially no value, with the repairs that would have been required to get any of them back on the road costing more than the car was worth.

Beyond the practical difficulty of leaving me carless in a culture that is very much designed around the automobile, I felt little grief in walking away from most of those vehicles. The only time I felt anything approaching my father’s reluctance to get rid of his old Ford was when I had to let go of my first car – the 1961 Falcon I called Farley – in 1976. His rear springs had failed and his engine and electrical system were both showing signs of needing major repairs. My buddy Murl found me a 1967 Falcon wagon and arranged the transfer one Sunday evening. But when the moment came to get out of Farley for the last time, I found it difficult to do so. I took a deep breath and looked blankly out of the windshield – not seeing Murl’s back yard but all those semi-distant places where I’d gone with Farley – and before I left him, I laid my hand on the horn ring and pushed, letting Farley give himself a twenty-second farewell salute.

I won’t be quite so affected this week as the Texas Gal and I go find a replacement for our 1998 Nissan Sentra. We’ve been lucky it’s lasted as long as it has; the Texas Gal bought it new about two years before she moved to Minnesota, and about four years ago, it became our second car, the one I use for errands around town. It’s got, we think, about 150,000 miles on it, but we’re not sure, as the odometer quit working a while back at 91,000 miles. The driver’s window no longer rolls down; or maybe it would, but it would most likely stay down, so we don’t try it, as open-window driving in Minnesota’s winter is not a good idea.

And the vehicle gives off odd clanks and groans as it idles in the driveway. It’s time. So we’re heading over to a nearby used car lot this afternoon; we’ve got our eye on another Nissan Sentra although we’ll take a look at the fellow’s other inventory, too. And we plan to stop at a couple of other places before we make a decision.

And when we do, I’m assuming we’ll feel better about our new used car than does the narrator of Bruce Springsteen’s “Used Cars.” It’s a track from his 1982 Nebraska album and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

All Elevens, All The Time!

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

I had planned today to write about an obscure cover of an obscure Bob Dylan tune, discovered in my vinyl stacks via my current reading of two books about Dylan’s catalog. And I still will do that, and I’ll offer a chance to hear that tune. But that will likely come Thursday.

Why the delay?

Because along with digging into records from over the years, I also like playing with numbers, and today’s date just can’t be ignored: 1/11/11. And even though I played a similar game last Saturday with the number 18, well, it can’t be helped. Today’s date calls loudly for a look at records that were No. 11 during various years on January 11. We’ll start in 1965 and move ahead from there, this time in four-year increments. So here we go.

I’ve told the story about how my sister and I got the LP Beatles ’65 for Christmas one year (either 1964 or 1965, I’m still not entirely certain). The album, a late 1964 release, was one of those that Capitol created for the U.S. market by trimming a few tracks from Beatles LPs as they were released in the U.K. and then adding some tracks released only as singles in Britain. However it was put together, Beatles ’65 was my first album by the boys from Liverpool, and its tunes and track order remain ingrained in my memory. I loved “I Feel Fine,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Mister Moonlight,” but one of the tracks to which I didn’t, to be honest, pay much attention at the time is the one that was No. 11 in the Billboard Hot 100 forty-six years ago today. Released as the B-side to “I Feel Fine,” “She’s A Woman” went to No. 4, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, and I do think its crunchy chords and Paul McCartney’s great vocal tend to get lost a little bit today among the riches of the Beatles’ catalog. According to William J. Dowlding in his book Beatlesongs, the tune was written in Abbey Road studio the day it was recorded, October 8, 1964.

 

Having identified the No. 11 record from January 11, 1969, I turned to Whitburn’s book for more information, and a terse line told me that if I wanted information about the singer who called himself Derek, I needed to go read about Johnny Cymbal. It turns out that Cymbal was a Scottish singer who got three records into the Hot 100 in 1963, with “Mr. Bass Man” – an effort Whitburn tags as a novelty record – going to No. 16. Six years later, in 1969, Cymbal – who died in 1993 at the age of forty-eight – was recording as Derek and had two Hot 100 hits, “Cinnamon” and “Back Door Man.” The latter went to No. 59 in March 1969, but “Cinnamon” nearly made the Top Ten, peaking at the No. 11 spot it held forty-two years ago today.

The Four Tops seem so firmly planted in the mid-1960s with their string of superlative Top Ten singles – “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette” chief among them – that it’s sometime surprising when one is reminded that the Tops’ career stretched through the 1970s and into the 1980s (though with less chart success). One of the quartet’s most successful 1970s entries was sitting at No. 11 during this week in 1973. “Keeper of the Castle” would peak the following week at No. 10, giving the Four Tops their first Top Ten hit since “Bernadette” in early 1967. The Tops’ next single, “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got),” did even better, going to No. 4 in April of 1973; it was the last Top Ten hit for the Four Tops. But thirty-eight years ago this week, it was “Keeper of the Castle” that folks were hearing on the radio.

The Sylvers were a group of nine brothers and sisters from Memphis who had three records reach the lower level of the Hot 100 in 1972 and 1973 before hitting it massively in early 1976 with the No. 1 hit “Boogie Fever.” Later that year, the group released “Hot Line,” and the record began to make its way up the chart. By the second week in January, the record was at No. 11, heading to No. 5. The group had two more hits in 1977, with “High School Dance” going to No. 17. I don’t recall that last record, but in late 1976 and early 1977, “Hot Line” was pretty much inescapable.

I never quite got the Police. Their music seemed brittle and fussy to me, and although I didn’t entirely tune it out, neither did I dig into it. Still, the group’s hits would pop up on the radio during my newspapering days as I made my way from interview to interview. And twenty-nine years ago this week, I likely heard “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” as I drove around Monticello and the record was perched at No. 11. A week later, the record would peak at No. 10, giving the Police their first Top Ten hit. They’d have five more through 1984. Here’s the official video for “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.”

I don’t suppose I have to say a lot about the record that was at No. 11 this week in 1985, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” Or maybe I do. I will note that more than a quarter century later, I still find myself amused by George Will’s fawning column about the Boss in which – after spending an evening at a Springsteen concert – he interprets “Born in the U.S.A.” as a patriotic anthem. And I suppose that it’s not all that far-fetched – though it is saddening – to think that all one needs to do these days is plug a few different proper nouns into the lyrics, and “Born in the U.S.A.” is timely today. Getting back to the record, it would peak at No. 9 two weeks later, Springsteen’s fourth Top Ten hit and the third of seven Top Ten hits from the album Born in the U.S.A.

I’ll be back Thursday, likely with that obscure cover of an obscure Bob Dylan tune.

Six Tunes For A Plugged Head

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Every year in late summer – the first couple weeks of September or so – something in the plant world decides to declare war on me. I don’t know if it’s pollen, but then, I’m no botanist, so I suppose it could be. Whatever it is, though, it doesn’t like me very much. And I spend, usually, a week to ten days with a sinus infection, feeling as if someone has turned my head into a block of concrete. (There are those, I imagine, who will tell me that September is no different, that I am a blockhead the rest of the year, too. Fine. Chuckle away. At least someone is getting something out of this.)

This year, however, my ailment lasted longer than usual, and I began to find myself dragging more and more each day. When I started last Friday on the fourth week of feeling crappy, I decided enough was enough. And though I could not get in to see Dr. Julie yesterday, I did get an appointment with one of her colleagues. He asked me my symptoms and nodded as I listed them. He listened to my lungs, looked in my ears and down my throat. And he told me I have a sinus infection. More importantly, he prescribed an antibiotic. So I should be perkier in a few days.

In the meantime, here are some related tunes.

J.J. Cale’s first album, Naturally, remains one of my favorites, with its slow Okie groove. The best track on the 1972 record is probably “Magnolia,” but this morning, we need “Call the Doctor.”

I won’t call the Bliss Band a favorite – I haven’t listened to the group’s stuff long enough to use the word – but I find that enjoy the group’s late 1970s work when it pops up on the RealPlayer. Here’s “Doctor” from the group’s 1979 album, Neon Smiles. The band sings, “I don’t need you, doctor to make me better . . . I need a shot of rock ’n’ roll!” A good thought.

I have eight versions of the classic R&B song “Sick & Tired” in my collection. Here’s one that I don’t have: Fats Domino’s version of the tune. Domino’s version of the tune peaked at No. 22 in the spring of 1958. The original version, by Chris Kenner, had been recorded and released in 1957.

And of course, perhaps the most appropriate tune for what I’ve been dealing with is the first hit by the Electric Light Orchestra, which went to No. 9 in early 1975: “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head.”

Along with a diagnosis, one thing the doctor provides is hope. And that was the title of a track that showed up on Quicksilver Messenger Service’s 1971 album, Quicksilver.

And of course, in a week or two, with my medicine and rest and other good stuff, I’ll find better days. So here’s the official video for Bruce Springsteen’s “Better Days,” which came from the 1992 album Lucky Town.

That should do it for today. If all goes well, then tomorrow we’ll dig into the final six records in the Ultimate Jukebox.

‘That’s Why I’ve Traveled Far . . .’

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

We had no reason to go to Finland except to say we’d been in Finland. But a stay of less than twenty-four hours in a small northern town there led to what I suppose was the grand romantic gesture of my life.

It was April of 1974, and John the Mad Australian and I were riding the trains north from Stockholm, Sweden, heading to Narvik, Norway. Narvik was the end of the line, as far north as one could ride a train in Western Europe. Our plan was to travel overnight from Stockholm to the city of Boden, Sweden, where we would take a side trip, changing to a train that headed east to Finland, first to the border town of Tornio, and then on to the city of Kemi.

Why the detour? For me, it was just to be able to say that I’d been to Finland, I guess. I wasn’t looking for anything more adventurous than a moderate language barrier and a good beer. Nor was John, whom I’d met in Stockholm and who was tagging along companionably during my tour of the far north. “I’ve never been there, so I may as well go,” had pretty much been his attitude since we’d met over breakfast at the train station in Stockholm a couple days earlier.

So from Boden, we traveled on through Haparanda, Sweden (and the customs house where we’d be detained a day later, but that’s another story), across the Tornio River and into Finland, then through the city of Tornio and on to Kemi, maybe twenty miles further on. We found ourselves a room at a nearby hotel, stashed our backpacks and walked into Kemi’s downtown, looking for the local equivalent of a burger and a beer. The downtown area wasn’t large – Kemi has a population of 22,000 these days, and I imagine it was a little smaller then – but it was baffling, as neither John nor I spoke or read Finnish.

So we peered into windows as we walked among the shops, looking for a place that looked like a café. After some false starts, we found one, and at the counter, we each ordered the item on the menu that most closely resembled “hamburger” and we pointed at what appeared to be – and were – bottles of beer in the cooler. Thus armed with refreshment, we found an empty table, and over our dinner, John began to wonder if we could find a pair of young women to take dancing or at least to join for conversation.

He began to assess the potential of the several pairs of young women in the restaurant, and as he did, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. The two young women at the table next to us understood English well and were trying very hard not to laugh at us. I nodded at them, smiling a little sheepishly, and then I interrupted John in mid-soliloquy. “John,” I told him, “the young ladies at the next table understand English. They’re very amused.”

He looked at them and grinned, and moments later, we’d joined them at their table. The four of us finished our meals over introductions – they were Leena (pronounced Lay-na) and Ritva – and then we all went off to a nearby downstairs bar for further refreshment.

We never did dance. I spent those few hours talking mostly with Leena while John chatted with Ritva. We talked about school – she would soon complete the Finnish equivalent of high school – and about music and about life in Finland and in the United States. She’d been an exchange student in Michigan for a year, and I told her that parts of Michigan were very much like portions of Minnesota. We exchanged addresses and talked about families. Her birthday was approaching – she would be twenty – and she asked about mine. I told her the date – September 5 – and she asked, “So doesn’t that make you a virgin?”

It took me a stunned moment or two to realize she was talking about Virgo, my sign of the Zodiac. I stammered a response that was supposed to be witty and failed, and we shifted topics and talked on for another hour or so. Near the end of that hour, at about the time she said she and Ritva had to leave, I leaned over and kissed her. She kissed back, and a few minutes later, she and Ritva were gone.

John and I went back to our hotel, and the next morning, we returned to Sweden and eventually made our way north to Narvik and then south to Oslo, Norway, where we parted. He headed for the fjords at Bergen, and I went back to Denmark and – three weeks later – Minnesota. About two weeks after I got home, I got a letter from Finland. Leena apologized for asking me if I were a virgin, explaining that she simply got her English confused. I wrote back, telling her that after a moment of surprise, I’d known what she’d meant and that I took no offense.

A few weeks later, another letter arrived, and I answered, and for almost five years, letters went back and forth between St. Cloud and Kemi, between St. Cloud and Oulu – where Leena went to university – and Monticello and Oulu. Then a letter lay too long unanswered on one of our desks – probably mine – and the letters dwindled and then stopped.

Before they stopped, however, I startled her. As our friendship grew via the mail, we’d occasionally brought up the idea of meeting again and seeing if we cared about each other as much in person as it seemed we did through letters. Being in a slow spot in my life – lots of first dates but not much more than that – I tumbled that idea around in my head, polishing it like a jewel. And during the spring and summer of 1975, I slowly came to the conclusion that I should write a letter to Leena proposing marriage.

Never mind the countless practical details. I knew they were there, but I figured there was no point in examining them unless there were a reason to do so. I mentioned the idea to a few carefully selected friends, and they were supportive, noting that I should be prepared for disappointment. I understood; I knew that there was little likelihood of her accepting my offer. But I also knew that I didn’t want to wake up some morning in 2010, look at the life around me and wonder what might have been if I’d been brave and foolish back in 1975. So in September and October, I spent several evenings in the quiet snack bar at Atwood Center, drafting and redrafting my letter. Finally satisfied, I mailed it sometime in late October; the “thunk” as the mailbox closed was one of the loudest sounds in my life.

She said “No,” of course. I wasn’t surprised. Had she said “Yes,” I would have had to reorder my life, and I would have done so gladly. But the chances of that had been slender, and I passed the news to my friends and then to my family. (None of my family had any idea I’d proposed to Leena until I received her reply.) And I moved on.

So why bring this up now? Because one evening in the spring of 1975, as my grand romantic gesture was in its formative stages, I mentioned it to a young ladyfriend, asking her thoughts. She went to her stereo, put Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees on the turntable and played me the second track on side two:

And I heard, as my friend intended, “That’s why I’ve traveled far, ’cause I come so together where you are.” And it’s appropriate I connect my tale with the record, with the Fleetwood Mac hit that might have been but never was. It was issued as a single by Reprise, but went nowhere although writer Bob Welch got a No. 8 hit out of an inferior remake in 1978. But in another universe, the original version of “Sentimental Lady” was a hit. And in another universe . . . well, I’m happy with the universe I’m in. I’m glad I wrote the letter I wrote. I’m glad I got the response I expected. And I don’t have to wake up tomorrow morning and wonder what might have happened.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 35
“Dancing in the Street” by Martha & the Vandellas, Gordy 7033 [1964]
“Bernadette” by the Four Tops, Motown 1104 [1967]
“California Soul” by Marlena Shaw from The Spice of Life [1969]
“God, Love and Rock & Roll by Teegarden & Van Winkle, Westbound 170 [1970]
“Sentimental Lady” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees [1972]
“The Promised Land” by Bruce Springsteen from Darkness on the Edge of Town [1978]

The riches of Motown continually astound me, and I imagine I’m not alone in that. I mean, Martha & the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5 and the young Michael Jackson, and that’s just the very top of the mountain. Great songs, great performers, great studio musicians and great production all leave not much more to be said, except that “Dancing in the Street” went to No. 2 in autumn of 1964, and “Bernadette” went to No. 4 in the spring of 1967.

I wrote about “California Soul” once before, using Marlena Shaw’s version as a take-off point, and a few readers chimed into a discussion of the merits of their favorite versions of the song. I’ve not heard a bad version of the tune – although I’m certain there is at least one out there if I were bent on finding it – but I return to Shaw’s for a couple of reasons. First, I think it’s the first version I heard of the tune, and first versions tend to stay in my head longer – not always, but frequently. And second, I’m pulled in by the dry wit in her voice as she sings of the glories of the Golden State, which gives her vocal a sense of, oh, amusement at the folks who’ve come looking for that soul she sings about. Or maybe that’s just the way she sings. Either way, it sticks with me.

Listen to Teegarden & Van Winkle now:

Cheer the light
Still the fires
Raise your voice for
God, love, and rock and roll

We that fear
The way is clear
The day has come for
God, love, and rock and roll

Sing your song
We all belong
Now’s the time for
God, love, and rock and roll

’Nuff said, I think, except to note that Teegarden & Van Winkle took “God, Love And Rock & Roll” to No. 22 in the autumn of 1970.

“The Promised Land” is the third and final record by Bruce Springsteen in the Ultimate Jukebox, and that’s one more than anyone else has. Does that mean that Springsteen has taken over the top spot in my all-time rankings of performers and bands? I’m not at all sure. When I started sifting through more than 40,000 mp3s – and paging through reference books to make sure I hadn’t overlooked any essential tunes that weren’t in the RealPlayer – I would have made bets that Bob Dylan or the Beatles or The Band would have had more tracks than anyone else. That it was Springsteen, and that his three tracks came from two of his early albums – the other tracks were “Born to Run” and “Badlands” – tells me only that at the moment I was sifting through the tunes from 1975 and 1978, those three jumped out at me. I imagine that if I were to start over, my 228 tunes for this project would look very different. Would those three Springsteen titles still be there? Probably. As I trimmed and trimmed songs from the list, I kept finding that I could not trim off any of those three Springsteen tunes, for different reasons: “Born to Run” for its place in history and its ambition, “Badlands” because it was the first Springsteen record I ever knowingly heard, and “The Promised Land” for its harmonica and for the words: “Mister, I ain’t a poet, I’m a man, and I believe in a promised land.”

The original isn’t available on YouTube, and I can’t embed what I found there this morning, but here’s a link to a kick-ass performance of the song in Barcelona, Spain, in 2002.

‘. . . And The Red Light Was My Mind’

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

The first bit of a Robert Johnson song I ever heard, I once theorized, was the short excerpt of “Come On In My Kitchen” that started off “49 Bye-Byes” on the album Crosby, Stills & Nash. I can’t put a specific date on when I heard it, but I know I got the album in early May of 1971.

Nor, it turns out, can I put a precise date to the first time I heard one of Johnson’s song performed in its entirety. I do, however, remember the circumstances. It was a Friday in the spring of 1972, almost certainly April. I headed out for some record shopping that evening, no doubt beginning at Axis, the store on St. Germain – St. Cloud’s main street – that stocked a good selection of new and used LPs as well as leather coats, hats and other goods. I went pretty quickly to the used records.

It should be remembered that in the spring of 1972, I was still catching up on about eight years of pop and rock history. I’d listened pretty consistently to Top 40 music during my last two years of high school, and had caught up then on some things I’d missed. I’d spent a good deal of my first year of college hanging around the campus radio station, and now I was digging into albums, trying again to catch up at least a little, this time with my radio station colleagues and my buddies in the dorms.

And in the bins at Axis, I found a record with a strange cover: It showed a flat landscape, and in the foreground there was a leaping, grinning man dressed in white, a guitar in each hand and an absurd Uncle Sam hat topping things off. To his right was a donkey laden with a drum set and another guitar. The record was, of course, ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out’, subtitled The Rolling Stones in concert.

Well. I knew of the Rolling Stones, of course. Like the Beatles, the Supremes and a few other performers and groups, they’d been an inescapable portion of the musical landscape through the years when my peers listened to Top 40 and I had my ears still tuned elsewhere. I might not have known the names of all the Stones’ hits from the years before I began listening, but I knew the records. And I knew “Honky Tonk Women,” the single that had been No. 1 for the first four weeks of my tenure as a football manager during my junior year of high school.

Intrigued, I turned the record over and scanned the titles. There was “Honky Tonk Women” on the second side. Other than that, I sheepishly admit, I recognized only one title: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” But I didn’t know the Stones’ version well. My best knowledge of the song came through Leon Russell’s performance of it during the Concert for Bangladesh; I’d gotten that box set for Christmas. Given those two bits of familiarity – and my knowledge that the Rolling Stones were important and thus it was important for me to know more about them – I took the record to the counter. The price tag is still on the front of the record, some thirty-eight years later. I paid $1.99 for it.

Anxious to show off my find to a buddy or two, I stopped at St. Cloud State’s Stearns Hall on my way home. I found my pal Dave and his girlfriend hanging around in his room, and they chuckled when they saw “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” listed on the back; I’d made no secret of my admiration for Leon Russell’s performance. Dave cued up the record, and we listened to that track, the first on the record. After that, as it was obvious I’d interrupted something that Dave and his girl wanted to resume, I took my record and headed home.

And in the basement rec room, I cued up the record once again and listened to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Chuck Berry’s “Carol” and “Stray Cat Blues.” I was pleased but puzzled. This wasn’t the Rolling Stones that I remembered from the radio. Keep in mind, first, that I only vaguely recalled the Stones’ studio version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and that I’d not heard the album tracks from Beggar’s Banquet. Secondly, since no singles from it had reached the Top 40, I’d likely never heard anything from Let It Bleed. And there was no way that “Honky Tonk Women” – the only Stones’ song I knew at all well – could have prepared me for this earthy and bluesy music.

Then came the introduction to “Love In Vain.” And I heard an entire Robert Johnson song for the first time. I stared at the floor as Mick Jagger bit off the desolate words and I stared at the stereo across the room as Mick Taylor took his slide solo, and then I heard Jagger sing about the blue light and the red light, all of it pulling me along into the blues.

I didn’t stay there long that time; I was eighteen. In later years, of course, I’d delve deeply into the blues and wander through all the genres, including blues rock. Much of that later exploration opened another world to me – especially the larger-than-life work of Howlin’ Wolf – but I’m not sure I’ve ever been pulled into a song as deeply as I was that evening when I heard “Love In Vain” for the first time.

(I should note that when I first heard the Stones’ live version of “Love In Vain,” it wasn’t listed as a Robert Johnson composition; the album credits said the song was “Traditional arr. Jagger/Richard.” I’m not sure when the songwriting credit was changed – I’d guess the early 1990s – but the 2002 reissue of the CD credits the song to Johnson.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 33
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White from Black and White [1969]
“Love in Vain” by the Rolling Stones from ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out’ [1970]
“Love Train” by the O’Jays, Philadelphia International 3524 [1972]
“December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the 4 Seasons, Warner/Curb 8168 [1976]
“Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen from Darkness on the Edge of Town [1978]
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House from Crowded House [1986]

Talk about another world! The swamp rock of Tony Joe White was unlike pretty much anything else in the Top 40 during the last weeks of August 1969, when “Polk Salad Annie” went to No. 8. (Creedence Clearwater Revival had two songs in the Top 40, but I think Tony Joe came from a little deeper in the swamp.) The bluesy tale of the gal whose mama was workin’ on a chain gang intrigued me whenever I heard it coming out of the radio speakers, especially White’s growled introduction and his spoken interjections. Of course, I didn’t do anything about it: I never bought the single, and I didn’t get the album that was home to the single – Black and White – until sometime in the 1990s. But I still love the record. “Polk Salad Annie” brought White his only hit, although he continues to perform and record; his most recent album, The Shine, came out earlier this year.

When the O’Jays called us out to the station in 1972, I’m not sure that anyone who heard the infectious “Love Train” didn’t want to get on board. As I detailed the other day when I wrote about “Back Stabbers,” the group had seen singles move into the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B chart for years before Top 40 success arrived. And arrive it did: “Love Train” went to No. 1, and was No. 1 for four weeks on the R&B chart as well. The group would hit the Top 40 seven more times before the string of hits ended in 1980. (The hits on the R&B and related charts continued, and as recently as 2004, the O’Jays had a track – “Make Up” – get to No. 74 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.)

I was sitting at The Table at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center in early 1976 when the 4 Season’s “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” came on the jukebox. My friend Stu shook his head. “Man,” he said, “what a great bass line. One of the best ever.” I took that judgment under advisement, and over the years, I’ve polished it to the point where I credit the 4 Seasons’ hit – it was No. 1 for three weeks – with having the best pop music bass line ever. And it is the bass line that moves the song along as it tells its tale of a one-night stand. The 4 Seasons had thirty Top 40 hits between 1962 and 1976 (with a dance remix of “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” going to No. 14 in 1994 for a thirty-first hit). But “December 1963” is the only one that does anything at all for me.

“Badlands” was the first Bruce Springsteen song I recall hearing. As I’ve noted before, I was aware of the hoopla surrounding Born To Run when it came out in 1975, but I don’t recall ever hearing the title track on the radio (which is odd, as it went to No. 23). I suppose I heard it but didn’t pay much attention. But I do remember hearing “Badlands” one day when I was working for the Monticello newspaper. My boss had a new Suburban, which we used to bring the 3,000 or so copies of each weekly edition back from the printer in a town ten miles away. One Wednesday during the summer of 1978, it was my job to drive to Buffalo, put the final touches on the newspaper and then bring back the finished product. One of the benefits of driving the Suburban was the FM radio, something my vehicle did not have. So after I started the Suburban, I tuned it to KQRS, an album-rock station in the Twin Cities, and the first thing I heard was Max Weinberg’s brief drum riff and then – I had the volume turned up high – the crash of “Badlands,” with its stinging, octave-jumping guitar riff and Clarence Clemons’ own defiant solo. Over the years, because of that moment and because of its musical and lyrical toughness, “Badlands” has remained one of my favorite Springsteen songs. It just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 42 in the Billboard Hot 100, but it deserved better, if for no other reason than the line: “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”

We’d had a spat one day, the Texas Gal and I. It was the summer of 2000: She was still living and working in the Dallas area, and I was living in my apartment on Minneapolis’ Bossen Terrace, a half-block from the international airport. I don’t recall what the argument was about, but troubled, I tried to think of a way to apologize without interrupting her during a busy afternoon. I wasn’t quite certain she wanted to talk to me at the moment, anyway. As I sat at my computer, my RealPlayer settled on a Crowded House tune, one that I liked a fair amount. It had been a No. 2 hit in early 1987, but I recalled it from my second year in Minot; one of the young women who edited the Minot State yearbook brought mixtapes in for the yearbook production sessions, and the sounds of those mixtapes came unavoidably through my door into my office. Happily, I’d liked most of the tunes I’d thus heard, including the Crowded House record that was now playing. As the song went on and I worried about how the Texas Gal felt after our argument, I opened my Yahoo! messenger and changed my status to: “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” I knew that the program – which she also had on her computer at work – would alert her to my change of status. A few moments later, I got an alert that her status had also changed. I don’t recall the exact wording – and neither does she – but her message was reassuring. And since that day, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” – a beautifully written, performed and produced piece of pop music – has been one of our favorite songs.

Saturday Single No. 185

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

As readers likely know by now, I’m a collector, and I gather in far more music than one person – even one seriously disturbed person – can listen to. The current counts are 2,956 LP and 873 CDs (some of which in both categories were brought home by the Texas Gal) and 45,380 mp3s (many of which duplicate music from both LPs and CDs).

I know I cannot possibly listen to all that music unless I sequester myself in my office until my beard grows to a ZZ Toppish length and dust bunnies the size of bears lurk in the corners. So I consider the collection a resource, a library that aids me in the writing of this blog and on occasion, aids a fellow blogger in finding an elusive fact or piece of music.

I mention the collections because I passed a milestone yesterday. I’ve had complete collections of some performers and groups for some time. As I’ve mentioned before, I have all of original Beatles’ releases on vinyl (and many on CD). I have all of the releases of the original version of The Band on vinyl and I have all the albums by the later version of the group (as well as some of the original group’s albums) on CD. I own everything Bob Dylan has ever released, again, with all of the early work on vinyl and the later releases (as well as some of the early work) on CD.

And I have complete or nearly complete collections of many other groups: I have all of the Doors’ original albums on vinyl, and I think I have a complete collection of the vinyl releases of the Moody Blues. (I know there are some CD releases by the Moodies I have ignored.) To move from the often played to the rarely played, I know I have all three LPs by the Sanford-Townsend Band. (I would have used the clichéd “sublime to ridiculous,” but there are times when the Moodies, as much as I like their music, are not sublime, and the Sanford-Townsend albums, though they are not entirely top-notch, are not ridiculous.) And there are likely other groups with three or fewer releases whose entire catalogs I own.

All that brings me to one performer I’ve not mentioned this morning: Bruce Springsteen. Up until the release of the 1993 CD In Concert/MTV Plugged and then, the 1998 box set Tracks, I had all of Springsteen’s official releases on vinyl, and even after I got a CD player in late 1998, I continued to buy his music on vinyl, through 2002’s The Rising.

Staying committed to Springsteen on vinyl only, however, meant passing on MTV Plugged as well as on Tracks. If I were going to have a complete set, it was time to move to CD, as neither the box set nor the MTV album were released on vinyl at the time (and neither ever has been, if I read the notes at All-Music Guide correctly). So I filled those gaps from earlier, picking up the MTV album and Tracks. And then, almost by default, I began to buy new Springsteen releases on CD. At the same time, I’d haphazardly grab old releases on CD when I found them at garage sales or in the used or discount bins at music stores.

The space devoted to Springsteen on the CD shelves got larger as I proceeded. The list of CDs I didn’t have got shorter and shorter, and I realized I wanted to complete the collection on CD. I began to buy through online stores rather than trust to serendipity at local shops. And yesterday, the mailman dropped off 18 Tracks, the highlights CD that was released in 1999, packaging fifteen selections from the Tracks box set with three rarities (thus making the CD essential for completists, which is either good marketing or cynical manipulation, take your pick). That acquisition filled the one gap remaining on the Springsteen shelf.

So what’s the point? I’m not entirely sure, I guess. Not every album The Boss has released is great or even consistently good. The MTV album is a good example of that, as are the 1992 simultaneous releases Lucky Town and Human Touch. But complete is complete, and after the arrival of the last disc yesterday, I thought I should note it here. And I thought about doing a random selection of a Springsteen performance to cap this off.

But I decided instead to highlight one of the three new tracks found on the 18 Tracks CD. So here, recorded at the Record Plant in New York City on May 16, 1973, is “The Fever,” today’s Saturday Single.

(For the record, the personnel are Bruce Springsteen on vocals and piano, Vini Lopez on drums, Gary Tallent on bass, Danny Federici on organ and Clarence Clemons on saxophone and background vocals.)