Posts Tagged ‘Dion’

Saturday Single No. 306

Saturday, September 1st, 2012

I’ve been sifting through search results for an hour now, and I’m still no closer to figuring out what to do on this first day of September.

We all, I think, have favorite months. September – as I’ve no doubt made clear over the years – is mine. (October runs a close second; if the last two weeks of September and the first two of October made up a month of their own, well, no other month – or other four-week stretch of the year – could come close to touching it.) And it’s an important month, as well.

Why? Because to me, years end on August 31 and begin anew on September 1. That’s in part a carry-over from living with school calendars over the years as a student, a college instructor and a weekly newspaper reporter. It’s in part because, although there may yet be very hot days (and WeatherBug in fact predicts high temperatures in the mid-80s for the next four days), it becomes much more clear in the first days of September that autumn’s dance will soon begin. And it’s in part because as the year turns on its August-September hinge, the Texas Gal and I shut down the gardens, bringing in the last of the vegetables, pulling up the fences, beanpoles and trellises and preparing the empty plots for winter’s sleep.

So in search of some kind of inspiration or at least a tune with an appropriate sentiment, I went to the RealPlayer and sorted out the three hundred or so songs that either were recorded in September or have the word “September” in their titles or in their albums’ titles. But inspiration is hard to find this morning. So here comes a six-tune random selection.

When the CD version of Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis was released a while back, it came packaged with extra tracks from her highly regarded Memphis sessions as well as tracks from later sessions, some of which had never been released. “What Do You Do When Love Dies” is a track that was recorded partly in Memphis and partly in New York during September 1968. It has some odd time and tempo changes, but in general, it’s of the same high quality as the tracks that ended up on Dusty in Memphis.

During the mid-1960s, when record sales for the blues had slowed some, the folks at Chess Records issued albums by a few artists – Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson II, John Lee Hooker and Memphis Slim are the ones I’m aware of, though I imagine there might be more – titled Real Folk Blues. Later, the label issued albums by Water, Williamson and the Wolf titled More Real Folk Blues. The albums were made up of previously released singles and (I think) unreleased sessions. One of the tunes that shows up on Williamson’s More Real Folk Blues is “My Younger Days,” which he recorded on September 3, 1963 in Chicago.

Speaking of the Wolf, one of the nicer artifacts in my CD collection is Moanin’ at Midnight: The Memphis Recordings, a compilation of tracks that Howlin’ Wolf recorded at various locations in the Memphis area during the early 1950s before he headed north to Chicago. The track that pops up this morning is “Moanin’ at Midnight,” likely recorded at KWEM radio in West Memphis, Arkansas, during September 1951 and then leased to RPM Records, which released it as a single titled “Morning at Midnight.” The notes by Bill Dahl in the CD package say the oddity of the RPM title was a result of a conflict between Chess Records and Modern Records (of which RPM was a subsidiary label) for the Wolf’s services: Chess had already released “Moanin’ at Midnight” as the B-Side of Wolf’s first single so Modern just altered the title and had the Wolf record another version of the same song. (Among the folks whose fingerprints were all over the conflict between Chess and Modern was Memphis legend Sam Phillips, but I haven’t got time this morning to untangle all the strands.)

In the second edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, published in 1979, critic Stephen Holden writes that Frank Sinatra’s 1965 album, September of My Years, “summed up the punchy sentimentality of a whole generation of American men.” That may be so. I know that when I listen to the album, I hear bits and pieces of what seems to be my father’s life. Or maybe I’ve watched too many seasons of Mad Men. Either way, the album is affecting, and one of the most evocative songs on the album is “It Was A Very Good Year,” which is our fourth stop in our September travels this morning.

One of my stranger purchases when I was a member of a CD club a few years ago was a collection of the work of Edith Piaf, who could probably be fairly described as the quintessential French chanteuse. I knew little of Piaf’s work, just “La Vie en Rose” from a reference to it in one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien” from somewhere. I guess I chose the CD because Mme. Coffman, my high school French teacher, talked on occasion about the impact Piaf’s music had on French culture. In any case, I like the music, including this morning’s random selection, “Le Droit D’aimer,” which was recorded in Paris on September 22, 1962.

By 1965, the hits had dried up for Dion. His most recent charting record was a cover of “Johnny B. Goode” that had gone to No. 71 during the summer of 1964. He was, it seems, trying to find a niche when he was in the studios in September of 1965. One of the tunes he recorded that month was his own bluesy “Two Ton Feather.” In 1966, Columbia released to radio stations a version of the tune on a white label 45. I don’t know whether there was ever a regular release, but it doesn’t matter this morning because the tune we land on is an unreleased alternate version of the song. It showed up on the 1991 CD set Bronx Blues: The Columbia Recordings (1962-65), and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

A Stage Waiting For Actors

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

With the holiday weekend over, we’re on the cusp of summer. Here at the top of the driveway on the East Side, we look forward to green shoots and then blossoms in the gardens, late afternoons in the lawn chairs shaded by the oaks, curling smoke rising from the grill along with the aroma of sizzling burgers and steaks, and so much more. For the most part, we know what to expect.

That wasn’t the case with the summers of my youth, or so it always seemed as they began. The rift in time at ending of the school year and the beginning of vacation carried the promise of  . . . well, of something I’m not sure I can define. It always seemed as if each new summer was going to be full of adventure, crammed with things my friends and I had never before done and sights we’d never before seen (as well as with things we’d done before and would do again).

There were some things we knew we would do, of course, and those changed over the years. Early on, we looked forward to the city’s recreation programs for kids based at Lincoln School, the annual visit of the Shrine Circus and learning to ride a two-wheel bicycle. In later years, we’d plan on riding the city bus system to the new Crossroads mall on the distant west end of town, working at the trap shoot for twelve bucks a day and learning to drive. Beyond those things, all of them things we could predict, we hoped for something more, though what that was we could not say (and I still cannot say today). Sometimes, come the end of August, we felt let down by how the season had spooled out, realizing only in later years how much we’d grown during each of those summers.

But as May turned to June, all of that growth was still ahead of us and those reflections on summers gone still lay years in the future. The stage of summer was in front of us, and all it needed was actors ready to learn their parts. What music would play as we entered? Well, it’s May 29th, so here’s a look at some of the records that were at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 as summer called us on stage.

As the end of May came by during 1960, the Four Preps held down No. 29 with their bouncy “Got A Girl” telling the tale of a guy whose girl has other guys on her mind:

There was Fabian, Avalon, Ricky Nelson too,
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,
Bobby Rydell and I know darned well
Presley’s in there too.

The record had peaked a week earlier at No. 24, the tenth of an eventual fifteen records the Preps would place in or near the Hot 100 from 1956 to 1964. (Their final hit, which went to No. 85, came in early 1964 with “A Letter To The Beatles,” which, paralleling “Got A Girl,” disses the Fab Four because one of the Preps’ girlfriends had succumbed to Beatlemania.)

Three years later, summer vacation began with an underrated record from Dion occupying spot No. 29 on the chart. “This Little Girl” features a swinging lead vocal – with some cool (for the time) “Sha-da-da” background vocals – as Dion tells us his plans for his girl:

Oh, this little girl tries to make every guy her slave, oh yeah,
But this little man is gonna take her by the hand,
And I’m gonna show her the way to behave.

The record had spent two weeks at No. 21 and was on its way back down the chart, just one of thirty-nine records Dion had in or near the chart between 1958 and 1989.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t recall either of those two tunes. But once we get to 1966, we enter familiar territory: During the last days of May in that year, the No. 29 spot in the Hot 100 belonged to Sam & Dave, as “Hold On! I’m A Comin’” was on its way to No. 2. The record was the first Top 40 hit for Sam & Dave. (Earlier in the year, the duo’s first chart hit, “You Don’t Know Like I Know” had stalled at No. 90.) They would end up with sixteen records in or near the Hot 100 between 1966 and 1971.

And as we look at No. 29 in the last week of May 1969, we go into the unknown again, as I come across a record I’m not sure I’ve ever heard before: “Heather Honey” by Tommy Roe. I do recall thinking about that time on the basis of “Dizzy,” “Hooray for Hazel” and “Sweet Pea” – all Top Ten hits, with “Dizzy” spending four weeks at No. 1 – that Roe was kind of a lightweight. (One of my first critical judgments in rock and pop, I’d imagine, and one that remains in place.) Lightweight or not – and I should probably put an exception on Roe’s first hit, “Sheila,” which is a pretty good record in the vein of Buddy Holly – Roe put twenty-seven records onto the chart between 1962 and 1973. “Heather Honey,” a decent enough single if still a little bit feathery, would go no higher.

Millie Jackson might be best known for what All-Music Guide calls her “trademark rap style of racy, raunchy language” that arose in the mid-1970s. I admit I’ve shied away from her music over the years because of that reputation (though I’ve likely heard worse elsewhere). So the only thing I know about “Ask Me What You Want” is that it was sitting at No. 29 as May 1972 came to a close. Turns out that it’s a decent slice of early Seventies R&B. And that tells me that I should probably set aside my reservations and give a listen to at least some of Jackson’s catalog. “Ask Me What You Want” peaked at No. 27, the second of eleven records Jackson would put in or near the Hot 100 between 1971 and 1978.

Three years later, the No. 29 record as May came to a close was a funky piece of brilliance from the Temptations, as “Shakey Ground” was on its way to No. 26. (The link is to a video with what I believe is the album track rather than the single.) Featuring lead guitar by Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel – one of the song’s co-writers – “Shakey Ground” was also a No. 1 hit on the R&B chart, and it was one of an amazing sixty records the Temptations placed in or near the Hot 100 from 1962 to 1998. (Covers of “Shakey Ground” abound, of course, including Phoebe Snow’s No. 70 cover from 1977 and my favorite – spelled “Shaky Ground” – from Delbert McClinton on his 1980 album, The Jealous Kind.)

Going Through Musical Phases & Stages

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

I go through phases in my music listening, especially late at night when I’m trying to decompress from the day.

When I have the RealPlayer running, it’s generally on random, pulling from almost 49,000 mp3s, giving me a goulash of music that somehow (usually) settles into a mix that works for me. Or I might set it to pull songs from a certain decade. (I always enjoy the Seventies, and lately, I’ve found myself returning frequently to the Nineties.)

But what I’ve been doing lately, not only with the RealPlayer but with the other CD players stashed around the house, is to focus on a specific genre, performer or album for a while. I went through a Fleetwood Mac period a while ago, finding myself playing Bare Trees late at night maybe three times a week, with the 1975 self-titled album, Rumours and Tango In The Night filling in on other nights.

Sometimes, the current interest is reflected here: I’ve lately been going through what might be seen as a world music phase. My late-night listening has included many plays of the CD Hava Nagila & Other Jewish Memories since it arrived in the mail about a month ago. I’ve also spent time with the music of Brulé and AIRO since I wrote about it here a couple of weeks ago. And a trip to the Electric Fetus downtown a few weeks ago brought me several CDs by the Irish group Clannad (whose music ranges from traditional Irish folk in the early years to a blend of Celtic and New Age-ish sounds in later years), and those CDs have been in late-night rotation as well.

It’s not just late at night that I find myself focusing on specific genres and artists. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time digitizing slides, both mine and the ones Dad shot over the years. The software that I use for that is slow enough to begin with, and it runs more slowly when the RealPlayer is running, so as I work on the slides, I drop three CDs into the player here in the study. Last week, I was doing the Springsteen shuffle: Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and one of the two CDs from The Promise, the newly released recordings from his legally constrained years between those two earlier releases. That brought some interesting juxtapositions.

And readers wonder, so what? Well, all that’s a lengthy introduction to what it seems to me is one of my next phases: music by Dion.

As I once noted, even though Dion DiMucci has wandered through a vast number of musical styles since the 1950s – doo-wop, R&B, folk-rock, singer/songwriter, religious/inspirational and blues, to mention most – he remains in my imagination standing hipshot in a leather jacket, under an urban streetlight, hearing the music of the city.

That’s an image constructed after the fact, of course, as I was too young to know most of Dion’s hits. His first Top 40 record was “I Wonder Why” with the Belmonts in 1958, and nineteen more followed through 1963’s “Drip Drop.” Beyond the occasional oldies play of those earlier records, I first knew Dion through 1968’s stunning “Abraham, Martin and John,” which went to No. 4. And I didn’t pay Dion much attention as I got into rock and pop music.

(The things one can learn at All-Music Guide: “Abraham, Martin and John” was written by Dick Holler, whose second-most famous song was “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron.”)

As I went through my vinyl madness during the 1990s, I picked up quite a few things by Dion: First came a 1978 album titled The Return of the Wanderer, picked up on a whim. I listened to the record a few times and liked it a fair amount even though I thought that Dion was flailing a little, trying to find a persona that worked for him in 1978. Still, the opener to Side Two – “I Used To Be A Brooklyn Dodger/Streetheart Theme” – was superb.

And then I found a greatest hits album that covered the doo-wop, R&B and pop years and added “Abraham, Martin and John” and its difficult to find B-side, “Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms)” as well as a few other rarities.

The Dion album from 1968 showed up, with “Abraham . . .” but without “Daddy Rollin’ (InYour Arms).” What it did have was an idiosyncratic selection of songs, including Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking” and “The Dolphins,” Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy” and what is almost certainly the strangest cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze” ever recorded:

And during my digging days at Cheapo, I found a few more albums by Dion, and I passed on some as well. I did grab Yo Frankie, a 1989 LP that was interesting not only for the music but for the company Dion keeps: Dave Edmunds, Bryan Adams, Lou Reed, k.d. lang, Paul Simon, Patty Smyth, Chuck Leavell and Jim Horn to name a few. Among the musical highlights are “Drive All Night,” a tune co-written by Adams and Jim Vallance, and “King of the New York Streets, written by Dion and Bill Tuohy.

And then I moved three times, ending up more than sixty miles from the cluster of record stores where I used to spend my time and money, and Dion – and many others – faded from my attention. But clicking around the Intertubes in 2006, I stumbled upon a new release by the man, Bronx in Blue, a collection of twelve traditional blues tunes and two originals. It was a sparely recorded CD: Just Dion and his guitar with some percussion from Bob Guertin. And a year later, came another collection, Son of Skip James, with fourteen bluesy performances of mostly famous blues songs performed nearly as sparely, with Guertin adding some organ and Rick Krive some piano. Here’s “If I Had Possession (Over Judgement Day).”

And as I listened to part of Son of Skip James yesterday, and as I looked at the bin of records I want to rip to mp3s and saw Return of the Wanderer in the front of the bin, I realized that I don’t know as well as I’d like most of the music by Dion that I have. I think I’m going to finish ripping Return . . . and then I’ll burn all of his stuff I have onto CD. My record club next month will ship me a greatest hits CD (with a few things different from the double vinyl I have), and that will go into the mix.

And I think I’ll spend some time with Dion.

Another List From Your Host

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

This is most likely a fool’s errand, but, being a lover of lists, I got to wondering the other evening about what names would show up on a list of the most influential musicians, performers and/or songwriters in American popular music. I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about this, but no real research, so this is a first draft, if you will. I know I’ll likely miss some, and suggestions will be gladly accepted in the comments.

I’ll start with one Nineteenth Century figure and two whose careers span the divide between the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, and after that, we’ll stay in the last century.

Stephen Foster

John Philip Sousa

Ma Rainey

Louis Armstrong

The Carter Family

Duke Ellington

Muddy Waters

Cole Porter

Frank Sinatra

Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Chuck Berry

Elvis Presley

Phil Spector

Berry Gordy

Bob Dylan

Prince

And there we’ll stop. I know, only one woman. I considered several others: Jenny Lind, Bessie Smith, Julie London, Carole King and Madonna among them, and of those names, I think Bessie Smith’s would have been the next to be listed. But I wanted to keep the list to a manageable length.

And I also wanted to stop, essentially, twenty-five years ago, which is why the list stops with Prince. There no doubt have been writers and performers in these past twenty-five years who will belong on such a list someday, but I think we need to let the dust settle a little. If I were forced to guess right now, two names that I think will belong on that list would be those of Kurt Cobain and Will.I.Am.

There are, of course, plenty of folks from the years I’m considering who came close but didn’t seem to me to have as much influence on American pop music as the sixteen listed above. The next two likely would have been Buddy Holly and Michael Jackson. There’s no doubt that they changed American music, as did those listed above. But then, so did others not listed, like Scott Joplin, Hank Williams, Fats Domino, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Stephen Sondheim, Brian Wilson, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen and on and on.

So why this list today? Well, I was looking at how the Ultimate Jukebox would play out from here on, and I noticed that several of the chapters had multiple entries for which I hadn’t yet been able to find clips on YouTube. I did some shifting of those entries so that no more than one of those would show up in each segment, without paying attention to which songs they were. After I did that, I noticed that this week’s random list of songs ranged from the 1940s to the 1990s, beginning with Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied.”

That got me thinking about Waters’ place in that hypothetical list of American music, and I took a closer look at this week’s entries and saw that two more of those whom I’d place on such a list would also show up this week: Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan. And I began to think about who else would be on that list. So there you go.

(I do have to acknowledge one thing: After my initial round of tinkering with the upcoming segments of the Ultimate Jukebox, I noticed that this week’s entry had songs from the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1990s. [I think; see the final paragraph.] I looked ahead and switched the next song from the 1980s into this week, replacing a second song from the 1970s. This will be the only time I switch a song for any reason other than balancing the non-YouTube entries.)

And here’s the video for the most recent song on this week’s list. (You may have to sit through a brief advertisement.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 18
“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters, Aristocrat1305, 1948
“Carol” by Chuck Berry, Chess 1700, 1958
“Daddy (Rollin’ In Your Arms)” by Dion, Laurie 3464, 1968
“Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Buddah 383, 1973
“On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Scotti Bros. 04594, 1983
“Things Have Changed” by Bob Dylan from the soundtrack to Wonder Boys, 1999

“I Can’t Be Satisfied” was Muddy Waters’ first hit after moving permanently to Chicago from Mississippi in 1943, and it followed five years of scuffling in Chicago’s clubs while working day jobs. The Aristocrat label was run by Leonard and Phil Chess, who soon changed the label name to Chess, and Waters recorded for the label into the 1970s. Because of reissues, his discography is difficult to follow, but during his lifetime, he released about sixty singles and thirty albums, including compilations, says Wikipedia. It’s probably impossible to overstate his influence on blues and rock and American pop culture. Want one small reminder? Listen to “I Can’t Be Satisfied” in the player below and note the introduction. Then go listen to the Allman Brothers Band’s “Pony Boy” and pay close attention at the forty-second mark.

Muddy Waters – “I Can’t Be Satisfied”

Just as with Waters, Chuck Berry’s influence on the music we listen to is vast and incalculable. From “Maybellene” in 1955 through a live version of “Reelin’ & Rockin’” in 1973, Berry got fourteen singles into the Top 40 (and more than that on the R&B chart). And according to a piece I read recently – though I cannot for the life of me remember where it was – Berry, now 83, still shows up once a month at a St. Louis club to play a set. He was (justifiably) among the first members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his riffs have influenced – directly or indirectly – anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar with rock music on his or her mind. I won’t say “Carol” is my favorite Berry tune, but it’s not heard as often as, say, “Johnny B. Goode” or “Sweet Little Sixteen” or a few others. Given that, its relative lack of familiarity makes me listen a little bit closer, which is a good thing.

Dion’s “Daddy (Rollin’ In Your Arms)” was the B Side to his 1968 hit “Abraham, Martin and John” and had to be a stunning surprise to anyone who ever flipped the 45 over. Dave Marsh called it “a surging, churning, angry, anguished version of Robert Johnson’s country blues,” adding, “Haunted electric guitars clang and clash against one another, drums pound in from another room, uniting in a wad of noise symbolizing nothing but spelling out pain and fear.” Yeah, it’s all of that, and it’s a compelling record, one that Marsh placed at No. 452 in his 1989 ranking of the top 1,001 singles

Gladys Knight – with and without the Pips – had twenty-seven Top 40 singles between 1961 and 1996, and “Midnight Train to Georgia” is likely the best of all of them. The tale of a man’s retreat from California to his home in Georgia – and the willingness of his (one assumes) California lady to go with him – was No. 1 for two weeks on the pop chart and for four weeks on the R&B chart in late 1973. Unlike a lot of stuff that topped the pop charts even in 1973, this was an adult record telling an adult tale of displacement, failure, loyalty and finally, a different type of success in the wake of that failure. And it had a compelling mid-tempo groove, too.

I’ve written a little bit previously about “On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, noting that it’s the best non-Springsteen Springsteen record I know of, so we’ll pretty much leave it at that. The record is from the 1983 movie Eddie & The Cruisers, and in the fall of 1984, it spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 7; it was also No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart for five weeks.

 I confess to a quandary. I have a date of 1999 on my mp3 of Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed,” but everything I see this morning dates the release as 2000. I’m certain I have a reason for dating it 1999 – perhaps a recording date listed somewhere in the notes to some anthology – but I can’t lay my hands on that information this morning. If I’m wrong, then this week’s chapter misses the 1990s and there goes that nifty little bit of programming. Ah, well. It’s still a great piece of music.