Posts Tagged ‘Dusty Springfield’

‘Like A Wheel Within A Wheel . . .’

Friday, July 27th, 2012

After “Windmills of Your Mind” was used – as noted here Tuesday – as the main theme for the 1968 movie The Thomas Crown Affair, covers of the Michel Legrand tune came spinning from many places – in English, with the lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman; in French, with Eddy Marnay’s lyrics; in Dutch; in Danish (as “Sjælens Karrusel,” a 1970 single performed by Pedro Biker that I, sadly, have not yet heard); and eventually, in recent years, in Slovenian and Italian.

(Those are the languages listed today at Second Hand Songs, which is usually pretty comprehensive, but there certainly could be covers in other languages out there.)

The vast majority of the covers listed at Second Hand Songs are, of course, in English; the website lists seventy versions of “Windmills of Your Mind,” beginning with a 1968 cover by Merrill Womach, who is described at Wikipedia as “an American undertaker, organist and gospel singer.” I’ve never heard Womach’s cover, but other early covers I have heard include those from jazz drummer and singer Grady Tate, guitarist George Benson (who kicked the tempo up way too fast) and rock group Vanilla Fudge (who psychedelicized the tune) in 1969.

(The song has also been covered numerous times in French, too, with the most popular cover – if I’m reading things right – being the 1969 version by Vicky Leandros.)

Also in 1969, Dusty Springfield released the tune as a single, recorded during her brilliant Dusty in Memphis sessions; the record went to No. 31 on the Billboard chart in June of that year. I don’t recall hearing Springfield’s version, and the record doesn’t show up on the Twin Cities radio charts available at The Oldies Loon. But a couple of readers who stopped in this week – Steve E. and Marie – noted that for them, Dusty’s version is the definitive take on the song. Steve E. wrote, “For me, the song belongs to Dusty Springfield. Her version got a lot of airplay in Southern California in summer 1969, and I love both her vocal and the arrangement.”

Despite the large number of covers the song has generated over the years, only two versions of the tune have made it to the pop charts (through 2009, anyway, which is where my copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles calls it quits). Springfield’s, as I noted above, got to No. 31, and a version by country/pop singer Jimmie Rodgers (“Honeycomb”) went to No. 123 in 1969. It’s not a bad cover, but it’s distinguished more by being Rodgers’ thirtieth and last record in or near the Hot 100 than by anything else.

The past decade has brought out quite a few covers of the tune. Of those I’ve heard, perhaps the most interesting was the trippy 2008 version released by the Parenthetical Girls, an “experimental pop band” (according to Wikipedia) from Everett, Washington. You’ll note I said “most interesting” and not “most listenable.” I also sampled recent versions of the song by singers Melissa Errico, Stephanie Rearick and by Barbra Streisand (from her 2011 album What Matters Most: Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman), and wasn’t impressed by them, either.

So which is my favorite? Well, somewhere out there is an instrumental version of the tune that I heard on occasion, probably on what would now be called Adult Contemporary radio, right around the time the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair was released. I’m just not sure whose version it was. It might have been the cover by Henry Mancini off his 1969 album A Warm Shade of Ivory, but I’m not putting any money on it. In the absence of surety, I’ll go with Steve E. and Marie and enjoy Dusty Springfield’s take on the song.

Once Again, Old Records Top The List

Friday, May 25th, 2012

A couple weeks ago, I went down to the local drug store to get my prescription filled. There was a line – I saw no sign of Mr. Jimmy – and then the pharmacist said that it would take at least twenty minutes to fill my order. So I headed to the magazines to see if there was something I wanted to buy; that way I could at least have something to read as I waited for my pills.

And there was a Rolling Stone special: The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. I thought: Didn’t they just do that not so long ago? But the copyright date was 2012, which meant I didn’t yet have it, so I pulled the publication off the rack and looked at the foreword from Elton John as I waited for my prescription. And when I got home, I went to the bookshelf.

I was right. It truly was not that long ago that RS compiled a similar list: For its edition of December 11, 2003, the magazine put together a list of five hundred albums after polling a pretty wide-ranging group: writers and critics, working musicians and folks from record companies and the world of radio. The publication I picked up the other day has the exact same cover art and mostly the same copy as the 2003 list, offering historical and critical commentary about each of the five hundred albums – ranging from a couple of pages for the big guns to a paragraph for most of them – with lots of photos and some sidebars thrown in here and there. As for updating, the new edition is a combined version of that original 2003 survey and a 2009 survey that looked at the best albums since 2000.

And the results are pretty much the same as in 2003, at least at the top of the list. Here are the albums that RS says are the top twenty-five of all time:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles [1967]
Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys [1966]
Revolver by the Beatles [1966]
Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan [1965]
Rubber Soul by the Beatles [1965]
What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye [1971]
Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones [1972]
London Calling by the Clash [1980]
Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan [1966]
The White Album by the Beatles [1968]
Sunrise by Elvis Presley [1999]
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis [1959]
The Velvet Underground and Neco [1967]
Abbey Road by the Beatles [1969]
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience [1967]
Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan [1975]
Nevermind by Nirvana [1991]
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen [1975]
Astral Weeks by Van Morrison [1968]
Thriller by Michael Jackson [1982]
The Great Twenty-Eight by Chuck Berry [1982]
The Complete Recordings by Robert Johnson [1990]
Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon [1970]
Innervisions by Stevie Wonder [1973]
Live At The Apollo by James Brown [1963]

With the most recent album – Nirvana’s Nevermind – having come out twenty-one years ago, that’s an old bunch, to be honest, and it’s made even older when one recognizes that three of those albums are compilations of music recorded during even earlier years: Sunrise is a collection of the work Elvis Presley did at Sun Records in the 1950s, The Great Twenty-Eight is made up of recordings Berry made from 1955 to 1965, and The Complete Robert Johnson presents recordings from 1936 and 1937.

That kind of temporal dislocation is prevalent in both the 2012 and 2003 lists: A quick glance at portions of both found many compilations listed with issue dates falling long after the original recordings. They included albums from Patsy Cline, Ray Charles, Hank Williams, James Brown, Buddy Holly, Linda Ronstadt, ABBA and Sam Cooke, among many others.

Comparing the two lists, the top twenty-five are almost identical. The only change in the 2012 list is the presence of the Robert Johnson collection; it displaced Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, which fell to No. 26.

Oddly, the 1990 Robert Johnson collection wasn’t included in the 2003 ranking. Instead, two separate albums of Johnson’s work were mentioned: King of the Delta Blues Singers, a 1961 release, was ranked at No. 27, and King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. 2, a 1970 release, was ranked at No. 424. I’m guessing that the editors of Rolling Stone decided to combine the votes for the two and consider those as votes for the 1990 set of complete recordings, a decision that is at least a little dubious and should be explained somewhere. But if there’s an explanation anywhere in the new book, I can’t find it. (A note at Wikipedia states that the substitution of The Complete Recordings for the two earlier albums took place and was explained when the 2003 list was published in book form in 2005.)

Something similar took place with Sunrise, the Presley collection from Sun Records. It wasn’t mentioned in the 2003 poll. In that survey, the 1976 collection The Sun Sessions sat at No. 11, and the RS editors replaced it with Sunrise, although this substitution – also dubious to my mind – was at least noted.

I mentioned earlier that the list was revised to include more albums from 2000 on than were present in the 2003 package. So where did the albums from the 2000s end up? Well, the highest ranked album of newly recorded material from those years was Radiohead’s 2000 album, Kid A, which landed at No. 67. Why do I specify “newly recorded material”? Because in another case of temporal displacement, The Anthology, a 2001 collection of Muddy Waters’ recordings from the years 1948 to 1972, was ranked at No. 38, and that was the highest ranking given to an album released in 2000 or later years.

For a historian, the many cases of compilations being credited to years far removed from the time of the original recordings skew things when one looks at the decades that birthed the five hundred albums listed in the new book (and in the 2003 magazine as well, for that matter).  Nevertheless, here are those counts as RS presents them in the back of the new book:

1950s: Eleven albums; highest ranked is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

1960s: One hundred and five albums; highest ranked is the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

1970s: One hundred and eighty-seven albums; highest ranked is Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

1980s: Eighty-two albums; highest ranked is the Clash’s London Calling.

1990s: Seventy-five albums; highest ranked is Nirvana’s Nevermind.

2000s: Thirty-eight albums; highest ranked is Muddy Waters’ The Anthology.

2010s: Two albums; higher ranked is Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

So what is it about the 1960s and 1970s? Was the music truly that much better then? Are those who were polled weighted down by the mythologies of those decades?

I really don’t know the answers. I do know that the audience for pop/rock/soul music in the 1960s and 1970s was more unified. There were outliers, yes (like the kid who listened to John Barry and Al Hirt), but for the most part we all listened to the same things on the radio and on the stereo. Today, there is no mass audience, and that’s something that’s been increasingly so for, oh, at least twenty years if not more. So I would guess that, year by year, there would be fewer and fewer albums that would catch the critical ear of enough of those polled to be included on a list like this. And then, historic assessment takes time. Listeners have had roughly forty and fifty years to consider stuff released in the 1960s and a shorter twenty to thirty years to assess the music of the 1980s. I think that matters.

Beyond those points, there may be some generational blindness. When I looked at the names of those who were polled, however, they seemed to cut wide generational swaths, and none of those who were polled – as far as I know – have reputations for fuddy-duddy-ism. So maybe these rankings are a relatively accurate picture of the critical merits of the greatest albums in rock, pop, soul, R&B, jazz, blues and all the rest. Or it might all be commercially inspired hogwash. I don’t know.

I do know that I’m a little baffled by the continued presence of Sgt. Pepper atop the heap. I think that every major survey of pop-rock albums I’ve ever seen has that 1967 album at No. 1. Is it great? Yes. Is it that great? I tend to think not. I’ve written at least once in this space that Sgt. Pepper isn’t even the Beatles’ best album, much less the best of all time. I’d put Revolver and Abbey Road and possibly Rubber Soul higher among the Beatles’ work, and over the past few years, I’ve concluded that the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street is the best album ever. (And I think those statements are congruent with others I’ve made over the years here.)

I would guess that Sgt. Pepper gets votes for the top spot at least as much for how it affected its audience and how it influenced the making of albums as for its musical quality. And that may be a fair assessment. It’s a great album, and the fact that its place in history is a topic worthy of discussion almost forty-five years after its release underlines that greatness. And my opinion that six other albums are greater – the four mentioned above, Blonde on Blonde and Born to Run – does nothing to negate either the album’s greatness or the usefulness of the discussion.

And there I ultimately find the value of books like the one I bought the other week and the one from 2003 that I pulled from my shelves for comparison: discussion. Those of us who love music – who listen to it, write about it and read about it as much as we do – might never resolve the questions raised by The Five Hundred Greatest Albums of All Time and similar lists. But it’s worthwhile, I think, to spend time trying to – in effect – separate myth from music. That gets harder to do as the years pass, whether we’re talking about the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams or Robert Johnson (and maybe ten or twenty or fifty others).

Along the way, I learn. I know the top twenty-five albums – maybe even the top hundred albums – pretty well. Beyond there, in any list of this magnitude, there are records I don’t know that I probably should. I might not like them all, but I should check them out. That should keep me busy for a while. And all of that newly focused listening should bring me at least a few insights into the development and direction of the various types of music I love.

To close, I decided to let the RealPlayer find a tune from one of the five hundred albums listed in the 2012 list. I did veto a few that seemed too obvious, so it took some time, but eventually, the player settled on “Don’t Forget About Me” from Dusty Springfield’s 1969 album Dusty in Memphis, which wound up ranked at No. 89.

Something kept nagging at me as I edited this post this morning and then again when I was out running errands. As I left the Ace Bar & Grill after lunch, I realized what it was. The 2012 edition of The Five Hundred Greatest Albums of All Time clearly says that the listing was compiled from polls of experts in 2003 and 2009. How, then, can two albums from 2011 be included? They are the Beach Boys’ Smile (2011 Version) at No. 381 and Kanye West’s previously mentioned My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at No. 353. I find no explanation in the book, and that bothers me.

Chart Digging: April 12, 1969

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

I wrote my first screenplay in the spring of 1969. For a final project in a mass media class, I chose to adapt one of my favorite science fiction stories – “One Love Have I” by Robert F. Young – into a screenplay.

The results were mixed: I learned a lot about narrative, pacing and the use of language as I worked with Young’s meditation on love, loss, sacrifice and the Theory of Relativity; but then, I had a lot to learn. I came across my work not quite three years ago, when the Texas Gal and I were packing for storage those things we wanted to keep but did not need to have at hand. As I glanced through it, I saw immediately that as I’d written, I’d invested little effort in thinking visually, a major deficit in a piece intended for a visual medium.

Still, I was only fifteen in the spring of 1969, and for a first try at what was essentially a new language, the screenplay wasn’t bad. And I did get an A on it.

What else was happening as April of 1969 unreeled? I know Rick and Rob and I played table-top hockey. (Rick’s Chicago Blackhawks brought him his second Stanley Cup.) I spent weekday afternoons – as I chronicled here once before – in the St. Cloud Tech training room, overseeing the whirlpool and making certain that none of the distance runners drowned there.

And I think that more and more, I was listening to Top 40 radio. I hadn’t yet moved Grandpa’s old RCA radio from the basement workbench to my room, but that shift – a key moment in my listening life – wasn’t many weeks away. Sometime that spring, I’d lay down cash in a Minneapolis department store for my first 45 of popular music, buying the record that headed the Top Ten on this day in 1969:

“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” by the 5th Dimension
“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“Dizzy” by Tommy Roe
“Galveston” by Glen Campbell
“Time of the Season” by the Zombies
“Only the Strong Survive” by Jerry Butler
“It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers
“Hair” by the Cowsills
“Run Away Child, Running Wild” by the Temptations
“Twenty-Five Miles” by Edwin Starr

With the exception of the Tommy Roe record, which I’ve never liked, that’s a fine set. Given the hoo-ha over the nude scene in the stage version of Hair, and given the family image of the Cowsills, my sister and I were a bit puzzled by the group’s recording of the musical’s title track. “I didn’t think they’d record a song like that,” my sister said to me one day as KDWB provided the soundtrack as we did the dishes. The song, of course, was benign, just as the brief nude scene would be for most folks these days, forty-two years later.

As usual, there were some interesting things in the chart that week, and we’ll start our exploration of the Billboard Hot 100 just beyond the edge of the Top 40.

I once spent an entire post dissecting my thoughts about the Doors, returning to an earlier conclusion that they were a fine singles band but an overrated album band. While making that judgment, I don’t know if I thought about “Wishful Sinful” from The Soft Parade. One of the lesser known Doors’ singles, it was sitting at No. 45 that week, and would move up only one more notch before heading back down the chart. With that, “Wishful Sinful” was the first of four straight singles by the band that would reach the Hot 100 but fall short of the Top 40. (The others? “Tell All The People” and “Runnin’ Blue” from The Soft Parade would peak at Nos. 57 and 64, respectively, and the double-sided “You Make Me Real/Roadhouse Blues” from Morrison Hotel would get to No. 50.) Pulled from the context of its album, “Wishful Sinful” is better than I recalled.

Earthquakes were the inspiration for the only Hot 100 single by a California band called Shango. The group’s reggae-styled single “Day After Day (It’s Slippin’ Away)” was at No. 57 on the chart released forty-two years ago today, and would move no higher. “Where can we go when there’s no San Francisco?” the group asked. “Better get ready to tie up the boat in Idaho.” A year later, Shango’s single, “Some Things A Man’s Gotta Do,” went to No. 107 in the Hot 100’s Bubbling Under section. Other than that, the only other thing I know about Shango – and this is courtesy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – is that Tommy Reynolds,  Shango’s lead singer, was later a member of Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds.

The Foundations are best-known for “Build Me Up Buttercup” (No. 3 in early 1969) and “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” (No. 11 in 1968). In mid-April of 1969, their lesser-known “In Those Bad, Bad Old Days (Before You Loved Me)” was sitting at No. 64, heading to a peak position of No. 59. The English group would have one more record reach the Hot 100 – “My Little Chickadee” would get to No. 99 during the summer of 1969 – and their last mentioned record in Top Pop Singles was “Stoney Ground,” which bubbled at No. 113 for one week in February 1972. “In Those Bad, Bad Old Days” isn’t awful, but it’s not very good, either.

For some reason, obscure covers of Beatles records are among my favorite things to discover. And last evening, as I was beginning the digging for this post, I came across a Beatles cover that surprised me. Not only had I never heard it before, but until last evening, I’d had no clue that it existed. Here’s Chubby Checker taking on “Back In The U.S.S.R.”

The record was at No. 85 in the Billboard Hot 100 released on this date in 1969, the thirty-third record Checker had placed in the Hot 100 (along with two that bubbled under). “Back In The U.S.S.R.” wouldn’t go much higher, spending the last week of April and the first week of May at No. 82 before falling off the chart. It would be another thirteen years – 1982 – before Checker would show up in the charts again, when “Running” went to No. 91 and “Harder Than Diamond” got to No. 104. And in 1988, “The Twist (Yo, Twist!),” credited to “The Fat Boys with Chubby Checker,” went to No. 16 on the pop chart and to No. 40 on the R&B chart, Checker’s last appearance on the charts.

At No. 91, we find Dusty Springfield’s sultry “Breakfast in Bed.” The B-side of her “Don’t Forget About Me” single (which went to No. 64), “Breakfast in Bed” would go no higher. To my ears, it deserved much more, being at least on a par with “Son Of A Preacher Man,” which had gone to No. 10 earlier in 1969. All three of those tracks – along with Springfield’s next charting single, “The Windmills of Your Mind/I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore” (Nos. 31 and 105) – came from the sessions that resulted in the glorious Dusty In Memphis album, which had been released that March.

Finally, dipping into the Bubbling Under section of the April 12, 1969, chart, we find Al Wilson, whose “I Stand Accused” was perched at No. 107. In early 1968, Wilson’s “Do What You Gotta Do” had gotten to No. 102, and then two of his singles had climbed into the Hot 100 – “The Snake” went to No. 27 in 1968, and “Poor Side of Town” had reached No. 75 earlier in 1969. “I Stand Accused” would, however, climb only one spot more before disappearing. Not quite five years later, of course, Wilson’s brilliant “Show and Tell” would spend a week at No. 1.