I fully intended to retire early last evening. But you know how plans go.
Even with the sleep aid that has become an essential portion of my life in the past few years, I struggled last night. I could not settle, and I remained awake – if not entirely alert – way past the midnight target I’d set for last night’s curtain.
I’ll sneak in an hour of sleep sometime early this afternoon, but the rest of the day has tasks that call me. The Texas Gal and I will host our second End of Summer picnic Sunday and the house is not yet entirely in order. And Odd and Pop, the two little imaginary tuneheads who advise me about musical taste, do no dusting. So it’s up to me to get things done.
Here, then, are a few songs with “midnight” in their titles:
The 1978 film Midnight Express detailed the ordeal of an American sentenced to prison after being caught trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey. Its soundtrack came from Giorgio Moroder, and the opener, “Chase,” went to No. 33, providing Moroder with the only Top 40 hit of his career. I much prefer the soundtrack’s second version of “Theme from Midnight Express” with vocals from Chris Bennett:
When I was checking the next “midnight” tune, I was surprised to learn that I’ve not even mentioned the duo of Ferrante & Teicher since the time this blog moved to its own space in January of last year. (Not that the easy listening duo had a major presence in the blog’s earlier locations; I’ve posted the archives through October 2008, and up to that point, I’d written about Ferrante & Teicher once.) I honestly thought the duo would have showed up her more frequently, given my occasional predilection for mid-1960s easy listening. Anyway, here’s their take on the theme from the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, which went to No. 10 in January 1970:
From that mellowness, we head into rougher territory: In 1998, Buddy Guy invited Jonny Lang into the studio to join him on a duet on “Midnight Train” with results that were satisfying and wound up on Guy’s album Heavy Love:
I spent my post-midnight hour early this morning catching up on Sport Illustrated, and as I did, I found a remarkable piece about young Lyndon Baty, a sports fan from Texas who has a robot go to school for him. This morning, our fourth tune finds Delbert McClinton, still one of my favorites, singing about how he and his pals spend their post-midnight hour: at “midnight communion down on Second Avenue.” The tune is unsurprisingly titled “Midnight Communion” and comes from McClinton’s 2005 CD Cost of Living, which the reviewer at All-Music Guide liked very much.
As I was digging around this morning for a post I now hope to put up tomorrow, I came across a little gem that should fill today’s gap quite nicely – “If You Really Want Me To, I’ll Go,” a 1965 release on the Smash label by a duo called the Ron-Dels.
I was digging into the Billboard Hot 100 from July 21, 1965, and I ran into the tune as it sat at No. 97. The first time I listened to it, I heard huge echoes of Gordon Lightfoot’s sound from the mid-1960s, and I began to do a little digging. It turns out the Ron-Dels were, says Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles, a pop duo formed in Texas. The “Ron” half of the pair was the late Ronnie Kelly, about whom I can find nothing this morning. But the “Del” half of the group was Delbert McClinton, who ended up with a lengthy career that found him mostly in the honky-tonk neighborhood of country music.
The Smash release – which was on the chart for only that one week – followed a release of the same track earlier that year on the Brownfield label, Whitburn notes. And the tune – written by McClinton – would be recorded at least once more: Waylon Jennings covered the song on his 1966 album, Leavin’ Town, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard. I may have to dig that one up.
I should be back tomorrow with a look at some of the other records on that Hot 100 from July 21, 1965.
It was a pretty typical Saturday assignment for a weekly newspaper: Go to the library and get a few pictures of folks looking at books, records and anything else the library might be offering during its annual sale.
So I drove out to Eden Prairie that November Saturday and spent maybe an hour trying to be inconspicuous and stay out of everyone’s way. There was a crowd over by the shelves of children’s books, which was good. Shots of kids are almost always winners, especially if they’re so engrossed in something that they don’t notice the camera, and the kids at the library sale were focused on the books on the shelves and nothing else.
So I shot around and over the crowd, and I also got a few shots of adults poking in the mysteries and the cookbooks. Then I backed off and got some wide-angle shots. After an hour and a roll of film, I figured I had at least one shot that would work for the next week’s paper, so I let my camera dangle on its neck-strap and began to dig into the books and records myself.
I don’t remember if I bought any books that day, but I did grab one LP. Now, I’ve been to a lot of library sales and dug through many, many boxes of surplus records that libraries often keep on hand regularly. You can find some interesting titles, but rarely do you find anything really good. But on this Saturday, I came across a keeper, an LP titled Cover Me, which was a collection of songs by Bruce Springsteen as performed by other folks. Some of those performers were Southside Johnny, Gary U.S. Bonds, the Patti Smith Group, the Pointer Sisters and Johnny Cash.
The record was from the library’s collection, not from the donations that local folks brought in, which meant it might not have been treated gently by those who checked it out, so I scanned the record for scratches and hacks, and it looked pretty clean. It went home with me, and there was in fact only bad spot on the record: during Johnny Cash’s take on “Johnny 99,” the needle jumps into the air and moves ahead about an eighth of an inch. So I put the record on the shelves, used some of the tracks when I made mixtapes for friends and told myself I’d get a clean copy of it someday.
I think that record was the first time I’d run across a phenomenon that’s gone crazy in the past ten years or so: the tribute record. Maybe there were similar releases earlier, but I don’t recall running into any of them. In the case of Cover Me, the producers pulled together – for the most part – recordings already done of Springsteen songs. I can’t find any earlier listing for two of the performances – the Reivers’ take on “Atlantic City” and the Greg Kihn Band’s version of “Rendezvous” – but the other thirteen tracks had been previously released. (The Reivers and Kihn tracks might have been also, but I’ve dug around a little, and I can’t find anything that says so; if someone knows, enlighten me, please.)
Having resumed the digging after returning home from a baseball game late last evening, I can now say that the Greg Kihn Band released “Rendezvous” on “With the Naked Eye” in 1979, as I noted in a comment, and the Reivers’ version of “Atlantic City” was recorded and released as a twelve-inch single in 1986, when that band was still called Zeitgeist.
As I said, the vinyl had one bad spot on it, and in the early years of this decade, as I made a mental list of LPs that I wanted to duplicate on CD, Cover Me was one of the first titles I listed. For about five years, I’d check four or five times a year at the website named for a South American river, seeing if any copies of the CD – long out of print – were available.
There often were one or two copies available, but for prices running from $50 to $100, which was far more than I was going to pay for a CD. And then in May of this year, it was like a switch flipped somewhere. I checked for copies of Cover Me, and there were a few for the exorbitant prices I’d regularly seen, but there was one for something like five bucks. I grabbed it. And in the months since, used copies of the CD have regularly been available for less than five bucks. (There are still some high-priced copies out there; this morning’s listings at Amazon for a used copy range from $3.47 to $60. It makes no sense to me.)
Anyway, once I got the CD and ripped it into the RealPlayer, it reminded me that among the very good performances gathered for the album, there was one track that’s among the best things I’ve ever heard, and hearing it again pointed out to me how easy it is to lose track of music I like when it’s awash in a sea of tunes.
The tune is “This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds, taken from his 1981 album, Dedication, an album produced for Bonds by Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt. I was a little chagrined to realize I’d kind of forgotten about the track, as the album was one of those I shared during the first iteration of Echoes In The Wind. And as I think I said then, although “This Little Girl” is the standout track to me, the entire album is worth a listen. I do have one caveat: Given the deep involvement of the E Street Band –all of the members circa 1981 were involved in the project: Gary Tallent, Max Weinberg, Danny Federici, Clarence Clemons, Roy Bittan, Van Zandt and Springsteen – the effect is sometimes like listening to a Springsteen album with a different vocalist.
But that’s something to consider when listening to the entire album. Track by track, mixed in with other things, that’s less of a concern. And in the Ultimate Jukebox, “This Little Girl” – which spent the last two weeks of June and the first week of July of 1981 at No. 11 – meshes right in with the rest of the tracks.
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 37
“Every Breath I Take” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1011 
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, Dunhill 4134 
“Tired of Being Alone” by Al Green, Hi 2194 
“Disco Inferno” by the Trammps from Disco Inferno 
“Giving It Up For Your Love” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind 
“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds from Dedication 
Though it wasn’t one of Gene Pitney’s biggest hits – it topped out at No. 42 – “Every Breath I Take” has solid credentials. It was written by the team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King and produced by Phil Spector, coming in the years when Spector was just beginning to formulate the Wall of Sound. There are hints of that sound in “Every Breath I Take,” but it’s not quite there. I’ve tried to figure out in the past few months what I hear that elevates this record above the rest of Pitney’s work – sixteen Top 40 hits with four in the Top Ten (“Only Love Can Break A Heart” earned Pitney his highest rank when it went to No. 2 in 1962) – but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the contrarian point of the lyrics. Maybe it’s the “dit-dit” background vocals. I dunno. I just know it belongs here.
I think “MacArthur Park” is one of those records that has no middle ground. Folks either love it or find it ridiculous. Obviously, I’m I the first group, and have been from the first time I heard it. (One day in the summer of 1968, my sister called me to the radio to hear “this stupid song that goes on forever about leaving the cake out in the rain.”) I recognize its flaws: Harris’ vocals are overblown. The lyrics – even without the cake in the rain – are overwritten. The backing, with its lengthy instrumental passages, is too big for the song. But you know what? From where I hear the record, every one of those things – the over-reaching vocal, the over-written lyrics, the overwhelming backing – is a virtue for a record that went to No. 2 during the summer of 1968. Baroque and excessive “MacArthur Park” may be, but it’s also brilliant.
I don’t have a lot to say about Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone.” From the instant it starts, the record – like much of Green’s early 1970s output – rides on the signature sound that Willie Mitchell crafted for his performers at Hi Records. Mellow and sharp at the same time, it’s a sonic formula that worked well enough for Green alone to record thirteen Top 40 hits on Hi between 1971 and 1976. “Tired of Being Alone” was Green’s first hit, peaking at No. 11.
“Disco Inferno” was released first as a single in 1977 – the 45 labels I’ve seen show a running time of 3:35 – and went to No. 53. When the album track was used in the film Saturday Night Fever – clocking in at 10:52 – the single was re-released and went to No. 11. The long version might get a little tedious unless you’re on the dance floor channeling your best Tony Manero, but even just listening, it still works for me. (The single edit is here.)
I’ve told the story before: I was driving one day in early 1981, maybe from one reporting assignment to the next or maybe to lunch, and I was listlessly pushing buttons on the car radio, trying to find something I liked, anywhere. Then I heard the chugging guitar riff and horns of Delbert McClinton’s “Giving It Up For Your Love” coming from the speaker, and at least for the next few minutes, I was happy with the state of Top 40 radio. The record went to No. 8, providing the Texas singer his only hit. (It should be noted that McClinton played the harmonica part that figures largely on Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby,” which spent three weeks at No. 1 in 1962.)