I’m still upright, but it’s been a difficult week with some health challenges and lots of family obligations, as we get Mom settled and take care of some of her business affairs. But I’m still holding on, as Chris Rea sings in this track from his 1998 album The Blue Café. (And things are not nearly so dire for me and mine as the world sounds for Rea in “I’m Still Holding On.”)
I should be here tomorrow with a Saturday Single, trying to bend the world back to what passes for normal around here. Take care!
There are about 500 tracks in the RealPlayer that have “summer” in their titles, and come next week, I’m going to sort through them for my favorites. This week, however, the Texas Gal and I are preparing for our Biennial End Of Summer Picnic, which takes place this coming Sunday. And I have plenty to do.
So this post will have to suffice for this week, and I’ll be back next week with an account of this year’s festivities and with – as promised above – some tunes about summer. In the meantime, here’s Chris Rea with an appropriately titled – and typically moody – track: “Looking For The Summer.” It’s from his 1991 album Auberge.
It’s a day of distractions, which Thursday usually isn’t: Winter bedding is in the washer and will need soon to be moved to the dryer. The cats, for reasons they will no doubt keep to themselves, are unsettled and asking for more attention than usual.
And I’m keeping an ear open for our landlord (or his nominee) as he comes to till the garden in front and the community garden beyond the copse, so I can stake out our plot in the sunniest space in the community garden.
Add to those distractions the fact that I, like the cats, have been unsettled most of the week. Why? I don’t know. It could be lingering ailments, the first warm and sunny days of the season, the Stanley Cup playoffs, or the fact that the Nissan needs an oil change. But I am unable to settle into my routine this week. I am restless.
It turns out that there are about twenty mp3s on the digital shelves with the word “restless” in their titles. Many of those are Bob Dylan’s “Restless Farewell,” ranging from Dylan’s 1964 original to Mark Knopfler’s 2012 cover. We may dig into that tune another day.
In the meantime, here’s Chris Rea’s “Restless Soul” from his 2004 album The Blue Jukebox. I’ll be back Saturday.
It’s time for a random walk through the more than 70,000 mp3s that have somehow gathered on the digital shelves in the past thirteen years. We’ll set the RealPlayer’s cursor in the middle of the pack, hit the forward button and check out the next six tracks.
Tell Automatic Slim, tell razor-totin’ Jim, Tell butcher knife-totin’ Annie, tell fast-talkin’ Fanny, We gonna pitch a ball down to that union hall. We gonna romp and tromp till midnight, We gonna fuss and fight till daylight. We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long. All night long, all night long, all night long.
The song, written by Willie Dixon, might be better known from Koko Taylor’s 1966 version, which went to No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the R&B chart, but the Wolf’s version is the original. According to Wikipedia, neither Dixon nor the Wolf thought much of the song, with the Wolf quoted there as calling it a “levee camp” song. “Wang Dang Doodle” hit the charts again in 1974, when the Pointer Sisters’ cover went to No. 61 on the Hot 100 and to No. 24 on the R&B chart.
Eternity’s Children was a four-person pop group that evolved out of a group first formed in 1965 in Cleveland, Mississippi. The group’s self-titled debut album from 1968 has achieved some prominence over the years due to the co-production from sunshine pop gurus Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen, although All Music Guide notes that the album “does not rank among the Boettcher/Olsen duo’s crowning achievements – both producers were distracted by other concurrent projects.” “Sunshine Among Us” is the album’s closing track; released as a single, it bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 117.
In her lengthy career in the Hot 100 – from 1962 into 1980 – Jackie DeShannon hit the Top 40 three times, and all three records had the word “love” in their titles: “What The World Needs Now Is Love” went to No. 7 in 1965, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” went to No. 4 (No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary chart) in 1969, and “Love Will Find A Way” went to No. 40 (No. 11 AC) later that same year. Given the ubiquity of love as a topic for song, that might not be unique, but I thought it was interesting. The record we chance on this morning is the third one of those. “Love Will Find A Way” isn’t overwhelmingly good, and I don’t know that I heard it back in 1969, but it would have sounded nice coming out the radio between, say, the Beatles and Three Dog Night.
Chris Rea’s Blue Guitars is a 2005 release that consisted of eleven CDs, a DVD and a book that included liner notes, lyrics and Rea’s own paintings. “The album,” notes Wikipedia, “is an ambitious project with the 137 songs recorded over the course of 1½ years with a work schedule – according to Chris Rea himself – of twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Initially the project was inspired by Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey and can be called an ‘odyssey’ in its own right, for depicting a journey through the various epochs of Blues Music, starting at its African origins and finishing with modern-time Blues from the 60s and 70s.” We land this morning on “Ticket For Chicago,” a track from the Country Blues disc of the massive album. Complete with the crackle and hiss of an old 78 at its start, the track is a pleasant stop along the way and a reminder that I need to dig far deeper into Blue Guitars than I have so far.
Our fifth stop is a cryptic B-side to a Top 20 hit on the Apple label: Mary Hopkin’s “Sparrow” seems to be a tale of melancholy confinement and the hope of escape, with that famed Apple producer Paul McCartney framing Hopkin’s crystal voice with bells and choirs and – at the end – a meandering saxophone. The track – written by Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle in their roles as songwriters for Apple – was the flip side to Hopkin’s “Goodbye,” which went to No. 13 (No. 6 AC) in 1969. While it’s doubtful that “Sparrow” could have been a hit as the A-side, I like it much better than I do “Goodbye” or Hopkin’s two other Top 40 hits, “Those Were The Days” (No. 2 pop and No. 1 AC in 1968) and “Temma Harbour” (No. 39 pop and No. 4 AC in 1970).
And we end our brief journey this morning on a front porch somewhere in the Louisiana bayous with Tony Joe White’s “Lazy” telling us that he’s just not going to get much done today:
Today you know I feel so dog gone lazy.
I believe my get-up-and-go has done gotta be gone.
Today I just can’t get it on.
The mellow and bluesy track comes from White’s 1973 album Home Made Ice Cream, which is a decent enough piece of work. It’s an album with a nice, generally laid back groove, very much like, say, something from J. J. Cale. But only occasionally does it approach the swampiness of “Polk Salad Annie,” White’s No. 8 hit from 1969.
Just thought I’d drop a quick note, as the Texas Gal and I have company on the way: jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and The Mrs. are heading this way today for a weekend of catching up, flea-marketing, beer tasting and general summertime fun.
That means that there will be no Saturday Single tomorrow, but to soften that blow just a little, here’s Chris Rea with “Sweet Summer Day.” It’s from his 1998 album The Blue Cafe.
Having mentioned Mom’s stroke here a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d give a brief update. She spent three days in the hospital undergoing some tests, which showed – as I noted – that the only things that seemed to be affected were her left arm and left leg. As I also mentioned two weeks ago, within a couple of days after the stroke, her left arm was working as well as her right (although it was easily fatigued), and she was walking very short distances with the use of a walker.
For the last two weeks, she’s been in a care center where the staff is leading her through physical therapy designed to build up her strength and to get her left arm and her left leg to points where she can return to her assisted living apartment. She’s doing very well, she says, and her therapists agree. They moved her around in a wheelchair for the first week, but since then, she’s been moving greater and greater distances at least part of the time with a walker.
I stop in to see her most days, and she’s determined to get back home, which is good. And while no ailments at her age of ninety-one are minimal, it seems as if the effects of this one can be overcome. I’m not sure when she’ll be ready to move home – no one has said anything concrete yet – but I’m guessing that day will come.
And about the only other thing that I can say right now is that all of us – my family, her friends, and my mother – were very, very lucky.
In that vein, then, here’s Chris Rea’s tune, “My Lucky Day.” It’s from his 1986 album, Beaches, and it’s today’s Saturday Single:
A little bit of daylight shine on my pillow Come through my window pane Speak of the morning, hope is eternal Better to look at it this way This could be my lucky day
It’s crazy, I hear you say. This could be my lucky day.
A glass filled with crystals, six million rainbows Gifted to see with children’s eyes Always a small chance shooting that rainbow Bless this dawn with sweet surprise This could be my lucky day
I know it’s crazy, I hear you say. This could be my lucky day.
No inhibitions, naive forever Better looking up than looking down Don’t try to beat it, twist and defeat it Leave those kind of complications, never to be found This could be my lucky day
Sometime during the long weekend just past, I had the mp3 player piped through the CD player in the kitchen. The Texas Gal was down in the garden, putting in the last of the tomatoes, and I was finishing the last bits of work at having dinner ready when she came in.
And I heard Chris Rea’s voice come from the speaker in the corner:
Warm winds blowing,
Heating blue sky,
And a road that goes forever.
Been thinking ’bout it lately,
Been watching some TV.
Been looking all around me
At what has come to be.
Been talking to my neighbor,
And he agrees with me:
It’s all gone crazy.
The song is “Texas” from Rea’s 1989 album, The Road to Hell. I recall hearing the tune and the album’s title track around that time – or maybe in the early 1990s – on Cities 97 while I was living in Minneapolis. “The Road to Hell” was always a little intense for me, but I liked “Texas” plenty, even if I didn’t know anything about the state at the time. (Not that I’m anything like an expert on the state now, but being married to a Texan and having been there a few times, I no longer have an entirely blank slate.)
I’m not sure how much Rea knew about the state, and it really doesn’t matter. In the song, the state of Texas is a metaphor, a place where life is less complicated and less perilous. Whether that’s true is unimportant. Texas becomes the mythical elsewhere – Shangri-La, El Dorado – serving in Rea’s song the function that California did in the U.S. for so many years: A place of dreams.
When the song was getting airplay in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it wasn’t the first time I’d heard or heard of Chris Rea. He’d had a hit in 1978 with “Fool (If You Think It’s Over),” which went to No. 12 on the pop chart and spent three weeks on the top of the Adult Contemporary chart. But the single “Whatever Happened to Benny Santini?” went only to No. 71, and the similarly titled album failed to crack the Top 40. And in chart terms, Chris Rea disappeared.
He kept recording, of course, putting out albums into and through the 1980s until The Road to Hell got him some attention. If I recall correctly, I picked up the cassettes of The Road to Hell and its 1991 follow-up, Auberge, and liked both of them. I’ve not heard much of his work since then, although much of Rea’s later discography at All-Music Guide looks intriguing, especially Blue Guitars, an eleven-CD set of all-new material that he released in 2005. I have plans to dig into that massive effort and some of his other work. And we’ll see what grabs me.
But of the stuff I’ve heard, I keep returning to “Texas.”
While pondering tunes heard early in his Seventies childhood the other day, the writer at Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas mentioned that he no doubt heard some of them while in the back seat of his family’s turquoise AMC Gremlin. I mentioned in a comment that back in those days, my then-wife and I had a friend who drove a Gremlin, though hers was yellow with black stripes, and I added that we ourselves had owned an AMC Hornet (green, of course).
And that got me thinking about the spring of 1979, when we got that 1974 (I think) Hornet, replacing the clunky and decaying Ford Galaxy that the other half of the household had been driving for a few years. (We’d already upgraded the vehicle in my side of the driveway, going from a clunky 1967 Falcon wagon to a 1972 Toyota Corona with a stop at a 1971 Plymouth Duster along the way.)
We’d been talking about retiring the Galaxy for some time, but our conversations continued to carry the tone of “We’re going to have to do something one of these days,” rather than the urgency of “We need to replace that car this month before it falls apart.” And then, one evening, she noticed an ad in the shopping supplement published by the Monticello Times offering a Hornet for sale for what seemed a reasonable price. The car was just outside the little burg of Becker, about eight miles away.
The next day was a Thursday, a slow day at the newspaper, and the Other Half was able to get away from her office as well, so we drove to Becker. The car looked and drove fine, and though neither of us was too mechanically inclined, we noticed no obvious flaws, so we told the seller we were interested and headed back to Monticello to check out financing.
And here’s the part that seems remarkable to me: From the Times offices, I walked across the parking lot to the local bank at about one o’clock that afternoon. Ten minutes later, I was sitting across the desk from George, one of the owners of the bank. And fifteen minutes later, I was walking back to my own desk in the next building after depositing something like $900 in my checkbook to buy a car.
That doesn’t seem like that much money these days, but according to an online inflation calculator, that $900 was the equivalent of about $2,600 these days. And all it took was a brief conversation, some simple work on a short loan form and less than half an hour. The equivalent transaction these days, I imagine, would take at least a couple of days.
But as I think about it, there were a number of things that made that transaction easy: First, the bank was an independent bank, and George – being one of the co-owners – was the final authority. My application didn’t have to be shuffled up a paper chain through three or four managers. Second, George’s bank was the only bank in town: The Other Half and I had accounts there, as did the Monticello Times, so George probably had a good idea of our financial circumstances even before he looked anything up. And if something went wrong, all George had to do to find me was walk across the parking lot. Third, and this pretty much trumps everything else: Monticello was still a small town, with about 3,000 people. And at the time, that’s how business was done in a small town. Maybe it still is, but I have my doubts.
Anyway, by the time the sun set that evening, the Hornet was in our driveway, and we were most likely listening to the radio as the evening wore on. And we likely heard at least a couple of the Billboard Top Ten from the fourth week in May of 1979:
“Reunited” by Peaches & Herb
“Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer
“In the Navy” by the Village People
“Love You Inside Out” by the Bee Gees
“Goodnight Tonight” by Wings
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
“Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” by the Jacksons
“Just When I Needed You Most” by Randy Vanwarmer
“Stumblin’ In” by Suzi Quatro & Chris Norman
“Love is the Answer” by England Dan & John Ford Coley
Well, if we heard some of those that evening – and I imagine we did – it might have been a long evening indeed. The only record I ever liked of any of those – and I still like it a lot – was the Sister Sledge single. That Top Ten shows me clearly the reasons I spent a lot of time listening to a light jazz radio station in those days.
As usual, though, a closer look at the Billboard Hot 100 from that week – dated May 26, 1979 – reveals some interesting tunes and tales. Musically, one of the best things I see as I look down that list was a tune by three one-time members of the Byrds that was sitting at No. 78. “Don’t You Write Her Off Like That” by McGuinn, Clark & Hillman had peaked a week earlier at No. 33 and was on its way down the chart. The group’s self-titled album, the source of the single, got as high as No. 39. A second single from that album topped out at No. 104, and a second album, City, got only to No. 136 in 1980. But “Don’t You Write Her Off Like That” does have some charm:
Over the course of his career, the late Frank Zappa had five singles reach the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section. Of course, Zappa being Zappa, those singles were, well, different. Thirty-two years ago, the acerbic and surreal “Dancin’ Fool” was sitting at its peak position of No. 45, giving listeners across the country Zappa’s skewed view of the disco craze. I’m not sure it mattered to him, but the record would end up being Zappa’s second-highest ranking record ever. (“Valley Girl,” featuring his daughter Moon Unit, went to No. 32 in 1982.)
Another take on the wide outbreak of disco fever (and yes, the Other Half and I did watch Deney Terrio’s syndicated show on Saturday evenings) came from Roxy Music, whose forlorn “Dance Away” was sitting at No. 58 during the fourth week of May in 1979. The tune, like much of the album Manifesto, was more accessible than had been earlier Roxy Music projects. As All-Music Guide notes: “[T]rading sonic adventure for lush, accessible disco-pop isn’t entirely satisfactory, even if it is momentarily seductive.” I’m not sure I agree entirely. In any event, the single peaked at No. 44.
I’ve listened to “Church” by Bob Welch, the one-time member of Fleetwood Mac, a couple of times since I saw it listed at No. 86 in the Hot 100 from this week in 1979, and I still don’t know what to make of it. In some ways, I hear a lost great single, very much of its time but better than most of the stuff on the radio in those days. But I’m also hearing bits and pieces of other stuff from the time, as if Welch were imitating groups and performers who themselves were influenced by the early 1970s Fleetwood Mac. And I hear echoes of the Mac’s own Mystery to Me album from 1973. At any rate, the single went only as high as No. 73. On the other hand, the album Three Hearts – the source of “Church” and a follow-up to 1977’s French Kiss – got to No. 20.
In 1978, Chris Rea had a No. 12 hit with “Fool (If You Think It’s Over),” and the album Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? went to No. 49 (although the title track of the album went peaked only at No. 71). In the spring of 1979, Rea’s “Diamonds” peaked at No. 44 and was sitting at No. 93 during the fourth week of May. It doesn’t seem to have had the charm that made “Fool” a hummable hit. Although Rea never cracked the Top Forty again, he’s done some interesting stuff, and I’ll likely be writing about one of those interesting tracks next week.
Smack dab at the bottom of the chart for May 26, 1979, is a relic of one of the worst programming decisions in television history. Charged with reversing the decline of NBC Television in the late 1970s, Fred Silverman evidently decided that the best way to find a hit was to throw lots of crap at the wall and see if any of it stuck. One of his ideas was to craft – and the word is used loosely there – a series around a duo of young Japanese women who sang disco songs in phonetically rendered English. The show, officially titled Pink Lady also featured American comedian Jeff Altman (which provided the show with its popular title of Pink Lady and Jeff). Wikipedia notes: “The format of the show consisted of musical numbers alternating with sketch comedy. The running gag of the series was the girls’ lack of understanding of American culture and the English language; in reality, Pink Lady did not speak fluent English. Jeff would then attempt to translate and explain the meaning of things which led to more confusion. The series also featured Pink Lady performing various songs . . . along with interaction with celebrity and musical guests. The group would end the show by jumping into a hot tub together.” The show was ranked No. 35 by TV Guide on its list of the fifty worst television shows ever TV Guide. And at No. 110 in the Billboard Hot 100 from May 26, 1979 was “Kiss In The Dark” by Pink Lady.