With September here this morning, and considering the prospect of a 45-year high school reunion later this month, I thought about the long-ago month of September of 1971. As the month started, I was ready to go back to school, to get started on my freshman year at St. Cloud State.
But the fall quarter didn’t begin until sometime after September 20, leaving me three more weeks of scrubbing floors on campus during evening shifts with my friend Mike. The quarter’s late start was disconcerting; it felt odd to see the neighborhood kids head off to Lincoln Elementary, South Junior High and Tech High while I spent my daytime doing chores around the house and listening to the radio.
Here’s some of what I was hearing during those odd days, the top ten on the Twin Cities’ KDWB during this week in 1971:
“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” by Paul & Linda McCartney
“Wedding Song (There Is Love)” by Paul Stookey
“I Just Want To Celebrate” by Rare Earth
“Liar” by Three Dog Night
“Sweet Hitchhiker” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Beginnings/Colour My World” by Chicago
“Smiling Faces” by the Undisputed Truth
“Stick-Up” by the Honeycone
“Won’t Be Fooled Again” by the Who
“Bangla-Desh” by George Harrison
I liked all of those, some more than others, of course. I knew the Chicago B-side and the McCartneys’ record well by then, as Ram and Chicago were regularly on the turntable in the rec room. And as I looked this morning at the rest of KDWB’s 6+30 from that week, things were pretty familiar, too, until I got to No. 31: “New Jersey” by England Dan & John Ford Coley.
I knew the artists, of course. Their “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” is one of the records that brings back in an instant the summer of 1976 and my departure from Kilian Boulevard. But “New Jersey”? In 1971? I didn’t remember that from 1971 although something about the record was tickling my memory. So I went digging.
The record got some airplay on KDWB, but not a lot: It was in the 6+30 for about eight weeks and peaked at No. 22. How did it do elsewhere?
Well, the massive collection of Top 40 surveys at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive shows little love for “New Jersey” anywhere except the Twin Cities. The record shows up on four other stations’ lists: It was listed as an “Instant Preview” in mid-August on the Music Guide offered by KRCB in Omaha/Council Bluffs. A week earlier than that, KAFY in Bakersfield, California, tagged the record “hit-bound” in its “Big 55.” In September, the record went to No. 12 on KSPD in Boise, Idaho, and to No. 7 on WLON in Lincolnton, North Carolina.
Sadly, ARSA doesn’t have any surveys from stations in New Jersey during September 1971, nor are there any surveys there that came out of Austin, Texas, the duo’s home base, during that month. Maybe the record did better in those places, but I don’t know. In any case, even though ARSA doesn’t have complete archives, it seems to me that being listed on surveys from only five stations is a pretty slender showing.
Finally, we’ll go to the big book: Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, where we find that “New Jersey” pretty well flopped: The A&M release bubbled under the Hot 100 for all four weeks of September 1971, never rising higher than No. 103.
For all that, it’s not a bad record, even though a first-time listener might think from the introduction that he’s listening to Joe Cocker’s version of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” And with that in mind, I finally recalled where I’d previously heard “New Jersey” by England Dan & John Ford Coley. The track was on a collection of the duo’s early work given to me about a year ago by pal Yah Shure. So here it is:
The last time we saw the soft rock duo in these parts was a little more than a year ago with a brief mention in a rundown of records of the summer of 1976; there have been a couple of other mentions, too, since their “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” helped close our Ultimate Jukebox series almost four years ago. (As well as being a good record, “I’d Really Love . . .” was the biggest hit the pair had, reaching No. 2 in the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.)
The duo popped up again this week with what turned out to be a mystery. It started with a survey from forty-three years ago released by the Twin Cities station KDWB. Most of the records on the survey, dated September 13, 1971, are familiar; if I didn’t hear them on KDWB (and I might not have; the Twin Cities station was falling out of my listening rotation at the time), I heard them on WJON across the railroad tracks or else late at night on Chicago’s WLS.
But at No. 28 in that long-ago survey, wedged between the Stampeders’ “Sweet City Woman” and the Glass Bottle’s “Ain’t Got Time Anymore,” was a record I didn’t know: “New Jersey” by England Dan & John Ford Coley. It startled me to see their names listed during the summer of 1971, five years before they began their four-year run that put nine records into the Hot 100, four of them in the Top Ten. The first thing I did was check Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, which told me that “New Jersey” had bubbled under the Hot 100 for four weeks, peaking at No. 103. (It peaked at No. 22 on KDWB.)
Intrigued, I started to poke around a couple of discography sites. The listings at Discogs told me that “New Jersey” was released as a promo on A&M in 1971, but the catalog number was not the same as the A&M single listed by Whitburn, and the 45 pictured there had a small center hole with the doohickey that could be punched out to make a larger hole, as European 45s do. So that wasn’t the U.S. 45, which isn’t listed at Discogs for some reason. Discogs did tell me that the 1971 self-titled album by ED & JFC had been released in the U.K. on A&M and in Canada on the Pickwick label. Again, there was no listing for a U.S. release. We know via Whitburn (and the KDWB survey) that the single existed, but I began to wonder if A&M here in the States released a single first, wanting to know if listeners were interested in the group before releasing the album, and then did not release the album when the single tanked.
(I also learned at Discogs that ED & JFC had a second album, Fables, released on A&M in 1972 in both the U.S. and the U.K. and that a single from that album, “Simone,” had been a No. 1 hit in Japan and had also done well in France. It turns out that “Simone” is a decent record, but it was evidently never released as a single here in the U.S. [Actually, Discogs’ information is incomplete, which is not surprising: “Simone” was released twice as a single in the U.S., according to our pal Yah Shure – see his note below – but it failed to chart either time.] )
Still unsure if the duo’s first album, the self-titled 1971 effort, had been released here in the U.S., I headed to another of my favorite discography joints, Both Sides Now. The listings there in the A&M section showed England Dan & John Ford Coley with the catalog number of SP 4305, tucked between the Strawbs’ From The Witchwood and a live album by Free. There was, however, an asterisk next to the catalog number, and that lead to a comment that noted that the folks at BSN had never verified the running order of the tracks, so the track titles were listed alphabetically.
That tells me that they’ve never seen the record (or gotten a note from someone who had the correct track order and cared enough to send it in). And I began to wonder if perhaps A&M had assigned the catalog number and had perhaps sent out some promo copies but never officially released the LP. So I began to look for used copies for sale, and at Ebay, it took me five minutes to find two promo copies of SP 4305. But that’s all I found, so I still don’t know if there was a regular U.S. release of the album. I doubt I’ll buy either of the promo LPs. But I may scavenge around to see if I can get hold of the single “New Jersey.” Despite an opening seemingly lifted – with some minor modifications to tempo and rhythm – from Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends,” the ED & JFC single is, to my ears, pretty good. I think I would have liked it if I’d heard it. Maybe I should have listened to KDWB more often back then.
At last, we come to the end of this particular line: Today, we look at the final six selections in my Ultimate Jukebox, the last six of the 228 records I’d have set to play in my living room, if – as I wrote much earlier this year – my living room were part malt shop, part beer joint, part crash pad and part heaven.
If I were fool enough to start this project all over again, I’m sure that the list of songs would be very different. I imagine that about half of the records that showed up here would show up here again. The others? Well, over the past nine months, I’ve frequently heard a record on the radio or during random play on the RealPlayer and wondered why I didn’t choose it for the UJ. I didn’t keep track of those moments, but had I done so, I estimate that they were frequent enough to replace half of the tunes I put into the UJ.
One constraint I might ignore on a second go-round is length. I set a limit of 7:30 for a record, knowing that a 45 could handle that much, and I hit that limit with Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park.” (I came close, relatively, with Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” and Buddy Miles “Down by the River” and maybe a few others that don’t come to mind right now.) If I were to do the project over, I’d ignore that limit and include longer pieces.
Some of the worthy longer pieces that come immediately to mind are the Side One suite on Shawn Phillips’ Second Contribution, the Allman Brothers Band’s performance of “Whipping Post” from At Fillmore East, Bob Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” from Blood on the Tracks, “Beginnings” by Chicago from Chicago Transit Authority, Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Leon Russell’s take on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” from The Concert for Bangla Desh and Boz Scaggs’ “Loan Me A Dime” from his self-titled album. I suppose those and a few others might show up in a complementary project. We’ll see.
When I wrote the second installment of this project, I mentioned Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” as the final two records trimmed to get to 228. And I said that one of the selections set for this final installment was there on probation, as it were: If something else along the way seemed more compelling or more deserving, there was one record that I would pull out of the list to make room.
Well, as good as a lot of the records I thought about along the way might have been – and “Baker Street” came to mind several times – that final record has come off probation and remains in the Ultimate Jukebox:
While Willie Mae Thornton’s version of “Hound Dog” – written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – was recorded in 1952, it was the next year when the record did its damage on the air and in the charts: “Hound Dog,” according to All-Music Guide, held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard chart for seven weeks in 1953.
Thornton’s version was the first recorded of the oft-covered song, with the session taking place at Radio Recorders in Los Angeles on August 13, 1952, according to Wikipedia. The session was in fact produced by Leiber and Stoller themselves “because their work had sometimes been misrepresented, and on this one they knew how they wanted the drums to sound.”
Wikipedia notes that Johnny Otis was supposed to produce the session, but Leiber and Stoller wanted Otis on drums. Evidently in exchange, Otis received a writing credit on all six of the 1953 pressings, Wikipedia says. The first release was on a 10-inch 78 rpm record, according to Wikipedia, but there’s no indication when the 45 rpm releases first came out.
And although I’ve included a player for the song above, I could not resist offering this video – I think it’s from 1965 – of Big Mama Thornton performing “Hound Dog” with a band that includes guitar legend Buddy Guy.
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 38
“Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton, Peacock 1612 
“Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla 54188 
“Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” by Elton John from Honky Château 
“I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” by England Dan & John Ford Coley, Big Tree 16069 
“Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” by Fire Inc. from the soundtrack to Streets of Fire 
“Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge, Island 858028 
In one of the last posts before I decided to put together the Ultimate Jukebox, I wrote about the mournful and beautiful “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” and its impact on me no matter when or where I hear it. It’s an exercise in nostalgia, not only in its lyrics but in its arrangement, with its decidedly old-school chorus in the introduction and choruses (a description borrowed from a comment left by jb, the proprietor of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’). Wonder makes the unlikely combination work, as he has done so many times through his career. And whenever it comes on the radio or the player, if there’s not a twinge of regret for all the things left behind, well, you’re at the wrong blog.
One of the amazing things to me about the early Elton John – from say 1970 through 1976 – was his ability to take the frequently opaque lyrics of Bernie Taupin and craft songs around them that made them sound cryptically wise or at least reasonable. I mean, after hundreds of listenings, I’m still not sure what the lyrics to “Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” mean:
And now I know
Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say
I thought I knew
But now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City
Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true
You stand at the edge while people run you through
And I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you
I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you
While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light
Wikipedia says that the lyrics were inspired partly by Ben E. King’s recording of “Spanish Harlem” and partly by Taupin’s having heard a gun go off near his hotel during his first visit to New York City. Okay. In any case, they sound good, and John crafted around them one of his better melodies. Add the production of Gus Dudgeon, and you have an album track that hangs around, sounding better every time it pops up in the player.
Paul Evans of the 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide didn’t much care for England Dan & John Ford Coley. He called “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” “ingratiating, smug and coy” and labeled the duo’s body of work as “truly repellent,” capping his review off by saying that they “sound like oafish bores [not “boars,” sorry] breaking their backs to be ‘sensitive.’” Well, okay. I’ll acknowledge that “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” isn’t going to be on everyone’s good list. But I don’t hear those flaws when I hear “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” which was the duo’s biggest hit (two weeks at No. 2 and one week atop the Adult Contemporary chart). I hear the summer of 1976, which was a reasonably good season. I was taking some post-graduate courses at St. Cloud State, I had a steady girlfriend whom I saw most weekends, I had friends for evenings downtown or at one of our homes: Life was good. Along the way, I occasionally heard “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” coming through the speakers at home, in the car and – early in the morning before the place got too noisy – in the snack bar at Atwood Center. And the record has become a reminder of a pretty good summer, and that’s good enough for me.
A while back, I came across the movie Streets of Fire as I walked the remote up the channels. As I almost always do when that happens, I watched the rest of the movie. And I made a note at Facebook about it, calling it a bad movie. I was corrected by my blogging pal Jeff, who keeps house at AM, then FM. He called it a guilty pleasure, and I guess that’s a better label. Either way, I do like the movie, and I still love the soundtrack, especially the two Jim Steinman epics that open and close the movie. “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” is the closer, with the studio group Fire Inc. providing the backing and lead vocals coming from Holly Sherwood with other vocals from Laurie Sargent, Rory Dodd and Eric Troyer, according to Wikipedia. One notable name on the roster of Fire Inc. is that of Roy Bittan, piano player for the E Street Band. “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” spent five weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 80.
When I started this project, I devised a way to split the 228 records I had selected into random groups of six, and each week, I listed that week’s six songs chronologically. Back in Week One, the first song listed was The Mamas & The Papas’ “Look Through My Window.” This week, the last song listed – the last entry in this project – is Melissa Etheridge’s “Come To My Window,” a record that went to No. 25 in 1994. I guess that confluence is fitting, as what I’ve tried to do in these thirty-eight weeks is provide a window into the music that moves me and in doing so, a window into me as I’ve been shaped by music over the years. As I thought might happen, I’ve probably learned as much about myself as has anyone else who’s read my words and listened to the tunes offered here over the past eight-plus months. The mystery of how some songs attach themselves to our lives is one I’ll be exploring for the rest of my days. I doubt I’ll ever completely know how some songs – “Cherish” and “We” come to mind in my case – become major pillars of our internal lives and how others like “Come To My Window” – a good record to me, but nothing more than that – are perhaps the equivalent of artwork hung on the internal walls supported by those other, more vital records. In the end, I doubt I’ll find a perfect answer, and I suppose it might be better if all that remains a mystery. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop listening.