I read in the last week or so news accounts from the world of Crosby, Stills & Nash indicating that the journey of the three is over. Evidently David Crosby has said or done something that offended Graham Nash on such a basic level that Nash had said he’ll no longer work with Crosby.
It wasn’t surprising reading. The clashes and estrangements of the three men – Crosby, Nash and Stephen Stills – from one another over the years (and the same with the occasional fourth, Neil Young) are long the stuff of newspaper, tabloid and blogpost headlines. It’s been a dysfunctional family for years, one that occasionally gathered to make music, some of it great. The fact that the dysfunction has finally outweighed the benefits makes me wonder, honestly, how someone’s limits weren’t reached long ago.
The news of Nash’s pronouncement wasn’t something I planned to mention here. But this morning, I asked the RealPlayer to find me tracks recorded in April, wondering if I were lucky enough to find something recorded on some April 1 years ago. And the RealPlayer gave me, among many other tracks, an unreleased version of “Taken At All,” a song written by Crosby and Nash and released in a country-folk version on the duo’s 1976 album Whistling Down The Wire.
The unreleased version showed up on the 1991 box set CSN, credited to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and it was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami on April 1, 1976, forty years ago today, which makes for a nice accident of timing.
This is me. Can you take another look? Did I see you looking blindly at your book? Is it all that you thought, that you thought it took? Can it be taken, taken at all?
Were you looking for signs along the way? Can you see by your lonely light of day? Is this road really the only way? Can this road be taken, taken at all.
We lost it on the highway Down the dotted line You were going your way I was going mine
We lost it on the highway Things were out of sight You were going your way Trying to make a light (along the way)
Can you see by your lonely light of day? Is this road really the only way? Can this road be taken, taken at all? Can this road be taken, taken at all?
Forty-five years ago this week, as I was entering the home stretch of my senior year of high school, the top three spots in the Billboard Hot 100 were occupied by Janis Joplin (“Me and Bobby McGee”), Tom Jones (“She’s a Lady”) and the Temptations (“Just My Imagination [Running Away With Me]”).
None of those really spoke to me, nor did much else in the Top 40 at the time, but I was still listening late every evening in my room. Early portions of the evenings were taken up at the time by keeping the scorebook at St. Cloud Tech High wrestling matches; by rehearsals and eventually performances of Don’t Drink The Water, the spring play at Tech; and by plenty of table-top hockey.
How much hockey? Rick, Rob and I had decided during the autumn that we would try to play a full 76-game schedule for our twelve-team league (the NHL’s Original Six and its first six expansion teams). That would have come to 456 games. By the time March rolled around, we realized that we weren’t going to finish the task. So we trimmed the schedule to 52 games per team, which still accounted for a pretty impressive total of 312 games (not counting the playoffs, which went around 40 games).
(It’s remarkable what’s stayed in my head over the years. Rob was clearly the best player that season: His St. Louis Blues were 36-8-8, and his New York Rangers were 30-10-12 and won the Stanley Cup.)
And there was music from the stereo as the games went on in the basement rec room. The two brothers would occasionally bring one or two albums with them, but usually, the music came from my slowly growing library: Seven Beatles albums (Beatles ’65, Let It Be, Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, Hey Jude, Revolver, and the White Album), Chicago’s second album, the 5th Dimension’s Aquarius, The Band’s self-titled second album, Best of Bee Gees, and an album that was becoming a favorite (and remains so to this day although it never seems to make those Top Ten lists I occasionally put together): Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu.
I didn’t quite get everything on the record: It took me years to figure out that David Crosby’s title tune was a reincarnation metaphor. Even so, I liked the track and the rest of the record enough that the process of having the music pretty much embedded in my mind was underway. (It’s still embedded; unless I purposefully divert it, the sounds of Déjà Vu will be running through my head the rest of the day.) And not only was I hearing the album as background for our rather loud hockey evenings; I was also listening to it at other, quieter times, absorbing what that quartet of gifted men were offering as musicians and as songwriters.
As a nascent songwriter myself – I’d bought my first guitar from a friend a few months earlier – I tried figure out how the four performers were putting their songs together. Some of them were far too complex for me to try to replicate (at least until I bought a songbook a few months later that offered the songs on Déjà Vu as well as those from the earlier Crosby, Stills & Nash album). Some of them, I wasn’t particularly interested in playing. But one of them caught my interest and was workable:
Four and twenty years ago, I come into this life, The son of a woman and a man who lived in strife. He was tired of being poor, and he wasn’t into selling door to door. And he worked like the devil to be more.
A different kind of poverty now upsets me so. Night after sleepless night, I walk the floor and I want to know: Why am I so alone? Where is my woman? Can I bring her home? Have I driven her away? Is she gone?
Morning comes the sunrise and I’m driven to my bed. I see that it is empty, and there’s devils in my head. I embrace the many-colored beast. I grow weary of the torment. Can there be no peace? And I find myself just wishing that my life would simply cease.
The emotional desolation in the song resonated with me, longing as I was for the company of one particular young lady (though the thoughts in the song were framed in far more adult ideas – the empty bed, for instance – than I could have found at the time). So I painstakingly worked out the chords. And though the emotional anguish that Stills chronicles is long gone from my life (it showed up a few other times along the way), the song “4+20” remains one of my favorites from Déjà Vu.
One of the least-used reference books on my shelf these days is Billboard Top 10 Album Charts, which covers the years 1963 to 1998. There are times when having the Top 10 week-by-week from those years can be handy, but what would be even more handy would be to have the entire album chart from every week. At one forum or another some years ago, I lucked into finding the weekly pop singles charts from 1954 into 2004, and it’s a find that’s been a great tool for use here and a great toy for my leisure time.
But, as limited as the book is, it has its uses, and this morning, I glanced at the Top 10 albums from this week in 1965, fifty years ago:
Mary Poppins soundtrack (Sherman & Sherman) My Name Is Barbra by Barbra Streisand The Sound Of Music soundtrack (Rodgers & Hammerstein) The Beach Boys Today! Dear Heart by Andy Williams Introducing Herman’s Hermits Goldfinger soundtrack (John Barry) Girl Happy soundtrack by Elvis Presley Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan My Fair Lady soundtrack (Lerner & Lowe)
Two of those albums were at home at Kilian Boulevard during that summer week fifty years ago: The Mary Poppins and Goldfinger soundtracks. In the fifty years since, only two of the other eight have found a home in my collection: The Texas Gal brought along the soundtrack to The Sound Of Music when we merged households in 2001, and I got Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home as a gift during June of 1987.
Beyond that, I have about half of the tracks from the Beach Boys’ album on some vinyl compilations and a few of them on the digital shelves, and I have a couple of tracks from the Herman’s Hermits album on the digital shelves and one of them on a fifty-year old 45. I do have four versions of “Dear Heart,” the title tune from the Andy Williams album, but not Williams’ version (and that absence surprises me as Williams’ version was a favorite of a college ladyfriend).
So, and this is not surprising to me at all, the popular records of the summer of 1965 have drawn only a little attention from me over the years. Let’s move ahead five years and see what happened. Here are the Top 10 albums from June 20, 1970:
Let It Be by the Beatles McCartney by Paul McCartney Woodstock soundtrack Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Greatest Hits by the 5th Dimension Live At Leeds by the Who Chicago II by Chicago Band Of Gypsys by Jimi Hendrix Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel American Woman by the Guess Who
At the time, three of those LPs were in the house on Kilian: Let It Be, Chicago II, and Bridge Over Troubled Water (though that latter album was my sister’s, and I would take some years to replace it after she took it with her into her adult life). Déjà Vu would show up in a couple of months. Four of the other six would eventually reach my shelves as well: McCartney, Woodstock, Live At Leeds, and Band Of Gypsys. I found a different 5th Dimension anthology and never bothered with the Guess Who album (though I have a digital copy of it now).
Let’s do one more jump and look ahead to the beginning of summer of 1975 and the Top 10 albums in Billboard:
Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy by Elton John Venus & Mars by Wings That’s The Way Of The World by Earth, Wind & Fire Tommy soundtrack Welcome To My Nightmare by Alice Cooper Stampede by the Doobie Brothers Four Wheel Drive by Bachman-Turner Overdrive Chicago VIII by Chicago Spirit of America by the Beach Boys Hearts by America
I owned none of those at the time, and only five of them ever made it to the vinyl stacks: the albums by Elton John, Wings, America and Earth, Wind & Fire and the Beach Boys’ anthology. The Texas Gal brought along the Doobie Brothers’ album on CD when she came to Minnesota. The only one of those albums that I’d consider essential listening, however, would be That’s The Way Of The World (I anticipate and welcome differing opinions from readers), and it and Stampede are the only two albums from those ten that show up in toto on the digital shelves.
So we’ve found another way to document my sweet spot, as if I needed another reminder that my musical universe is centered in 1970. I’m not sure that all this says anything else, except that I went from being eleven to sixteen to twenty-one during those ten years. It might also say that I had good taste pretty much all along the way (though I am sure there are those who will debate that).
Anyway, here’s one of my favorite tracks from an album that I’ve not written much about but that resides pretty close to the center of my musical universe. Here’s David Crosby’s rumination on reincarnation: the title track from Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Fiscal years end today in a lot of places, including the state of Minnesota, where the state Legislature and the governor are still sparring over a budget. If there’s no agreement today, then many state office and services will be shut down tomorrow. I don’t know that the absence of any of those offices and services would affect our lives right away, but that just means we’re fortunate. Others, I know, are less so, and those who rely on state services for health care, for nutrition, for transportation are likely in for some precarious times. (A court ruling reported this morning contains the good news that health care and food stamps, among other services considered essential, will continue to be available. But state services considered nonessential will be discontinued if July 1 dawns without a budget.)
Political paralysis aside, the last day of June is a nice time to ponder the progress of things. We frequently do that at the end of the year when midwinter gloom makes it difficult to see progress or sometimes even much good. It’s a whole lot better, I think, to do that kind of navel-gazing at the midpoint of the year. It’s warm and generally sunny, and one can contemplate the way things are going while seated in a lawn chair next to a leafy oak tree, sipping from a cold mug of beer. Things always seem better with sunshine and beer.
And the mid-point of the year is a good time to dig into a few Billboard charts from over the years, as I am wont to do anyway. This time, we’ll be looking at records that were at No. 30 on June 30 over the years. We’ll start in 1961 and wander this direction.
According to Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles, the Edsels first released their one Top 40 hit on the Dub label in 1958, when its title was first “Lama Rama Ding Dong” and then the more familiar “Rama Lama Ding Dong.” But it wasn’t until 1961, when the same record was released on the Twin label, that “Rama Lama Ding Dong” became a hit. By the time June 30 rolled around, the record was on its way down the chart, having peaked at No. 21. The Edsels, who hailed from Campbell, Ohio, were of course named for the highly touted line of automobiles introduced by Ford in 1957. The vehicle was one of the greatest failures in American automotive history. The musical group, with one great doo-wop hit, did much better.
Listening to the introduction of Johnny Rivers’ “(I Washed My Hands In) Muddy Water” with the crowd noises in the background, I can only assume that the track was recorded – as were a number of Rivers’ mid-1960s records, including his No. 2 hit “Memphis” – live at Hollywood’s Whisky á Go-Go nightclub. And at the mid-point of June in 1966, “Muddy Water” was at No. 30, heading toward an eventual peak of No. 19. It was the tenth time Rivers had reached the Hot 100, and he’d end up with a total of twenty-nine Hot 100 hits by the time “Curious Mind” went to No. 41 in 1977. But what intrigues me this morning is the title of the tune on the flipside of the record: “Roogalator.” It was during 1966 that Bobby Jameson recorded and released his song “Gotta Find My Roogalator,” and I know that Bobby knew Johnny Rivers. The Rivers B-side is not the same tune; it’s an instrumental jam punctuated by shouts of “Roogalator!” So I wonder if it was a catch-word for folks in that milieu, or was it a shout-out to Bobby Jameson?
Having jumped five years in that first leap, we’ll now move up four years. In the last days of June 1970, the No. 30 song was “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I’ve written before that “Teach Your Children” is the best thing Graham Nash ever wrote in his long career, and I think I’ll stick by that statement. I have also mentioned that the track was one I featured on a long-ago radio show as one of the ten records I’d put on a desert island tape. (This was in 1988, just before CDs became the medium of choice.) And I find it interesting that a bit more than twenty years later, as I assembled my Ultimate Jukebox, “Teach Your Children” – which peaked at No. 16 – was not included. I still like the record, but the evidence shows that it doesn’t rate as highly with me as it once did.
When I glance at the Billboard Hot 100 from June 30, 1973, I find a record that I only vaguely remember. Sitting at No. 30 that week was “Give It To Me” by the J. Geils Band. It was the second Top 100 hit for the band (“Looking For A Love” had gone to No. 39 in early 1972), but it would go no higher than No. 30. The band eventually reached the Top Ten in the early 1980s with the No. 1 hit “Centerfold” and the No. 4 “Freeze-Frame,” neither of which I like as much as I like “Give It To Me” this morning. I find it interesting that the version of “Give It To Me” posted at YouTube is the single; at least one commenter there notes the absence of the harp solo by Magic Dick, which showed up in the version released on the album Bloodshot.
Jumping ahead just two years this time, we land in the middle of the summer of 1975, a season I wrote about not long ago. In that post, as I noted the presence of “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” in the Top Ten, I wrote: “I can do without the John Denver tune for the rest of my life.” Well, the ball takes funny bounces, and at No. 30 as June 1975 ended sat “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” sliding down the chart after peaking at No. 1 during the first week of June. But that’s okay. Having John Denver show up as I dig through the charts does two things: It shows that I don’t cherry-pick when I dig, and it gives me a chance to link to a post I recently put up at Echoes In The Wind Archives in which I discussed my thoughts about John Denver in the context of a 1975 visit to a St. Cloud pizza joint gone now for many years.
And we’ll end this journey in 1976 with a record that I tend to forget about, and it’s one I liked a fair amount when it was on the radio. Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy” was sitting at No. 30 as June ended that summer, heading to peaks of No. 17 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Having been cast in Robert Altman’s acclaimed 1975 movie Nashville, Carradine wrote “I’m Easy” for his character to perform in the film. The tune earned him an Academy Award for Best Song. Here’s his performance of the song from Nashville:
This morning’s glance into the mirror reaffirmed what I’d decided a few days ago: It’s time for me to head down Wilson Avenue and stop in at Tom’s Barbershop. My hair is too long.
I chuckle as I think about that glance into the mirror. My hair this morning is about an inch long. It’s silvery grey at the temples and sides and pretty much non-existent on top.
And when I settle into the chair at the barbershop this morning, my instructions to Tom will be the same as they’ve been every time I’ve been there, the same as they were for the last year or so I lived in the Twin Cities: Take it down as close to the skin as you can.
It’s not quite a shaven look. Using clippers to shave a head leaves a slight bit of stubble. But with the use of razors having ended some years ago for health reasons, a slight bit of stubble is the best that my recent barbers – first Al down near Minneapolis’ Bossen Terrace and now Tom on Wilson Avenue here – have been able to do. And it suffices.
There’s something amusing about the near-shaven look that I sport when I leave Tom’s these days: It’s the same haircut I had when I was a kid, the haircut I hated. It’s the haircut I worked so hard to leave behind in the mid-1960s, using all the powers of persuasion I could muster in order to be allowed longer hair.
And there was a progression: Between the beginning of seventh grade in the autumn of 1965 and my graduation from high school in the spring of 1971, I shifted in steps from a close-cropped head to having hair long enough to part and comb and to occasionally get into my eyes. About three years after that, when I came home from Denmark, my hair fell within an inch or so of my shoulders. It retreated from that point after a few years, what with the need to find a job and all that. And between 1976 and 1993, I maintained pretty much the same style.
Then came the ponytail. While I was working for the Eden Prairie newspaper, I let my hair grow out, and once it was long enough, began pulling it back into a ponytail. I left Eden Prairie and moved to other jobs with the ponytail coming along. I did have my hair cut back to a more traditional length a couple of times during the late 1990s: Once for a job interview at a newspaper in Dubuque, Iowa, and once for a photo shoot for a piece that ran in the St. Cloud Times. But after both of those trims, the ponytail returned.
Then I got tired of it. Part of that was the time spent in maintenance; long hair took more work than I would have thought it did. I abandoned the pony tail for shoulder-length hair, still combing my hair back over the top. But combing my hair back began to look more and more odd as the thatch atop my head thinned. So one day I went over to Al’s shop on Thirty-Fourth and sat in the chair.
“What do you want today?” Al asked as he picked up his scissors. I looked at the close cut he sported, maybe a quarter-inch long.
“Do it like yours,” I said.
His eyes widened. “Are you sure?”
I hesitated and then nodded. “Yep. Take it down.”
A couple months later, even that little bit of hair was gone, as I had Al trim my head as close to the scalp as he could, just as I’ll tell Tom to do this morning. And as I write about my close-cropped head, I think of the so-called missing verse of Paul Simon’s song “The Boxer,” which notes: “After changes upon changes we are more or less the same.”
That’s certainly the case for my hair, and I suppose it’s true for a lot of other things about me as well. And that’s not all bad, it seems.
I could point here to a version of “The Boxer” with the pertinent lyric, but that doesn’t feel right. We’re talking about hair being more than just hair, so the only song that makes sense here is “Almost Cut My Hair” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It’s from 1970’s Déjà Vu album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.