Posts Tagged ‘Ferrante & Teicher’

Farewell To The Ace

Friday, October 28th, 2016

For the past couple of years, Mom and I – and other customers, too, I assume – have known that the Ace Bar & Grill was in a precarious position.

It’s been about two years since Janice, one of our regular servers there, told us that the restaurant was up for sale. The owner was retiring, she said, and was hoping to sell the property as a restaurant, trying to keep intact the business that’s occupied the corner at Wilson Avenue and East Saint Germain since 1932.

Every once in a while, during our weekly or so stops at the Ace, we’d ask Janice or one of the other servers if there were any news. No matter who it was, she’d shake her head. “Haven’t heard a thing” is something we heard a lot.

Last week, the news came down. The Texas Gal spotted it first from the St. Cloud Times via Facebook. The Ace was closing on October 31. The property had been sold, but there was no indication of what would come next. I mentioned it to Mom Monday. She’d missed the story in the Times. “Oh, no,” she said. We agreed that we’d get there Tuesday after running a few errands.

As I’ve noted here before, since Mom moved into her assisted living center ten years ago, we’ve been regular lunch customers at the Ace. And for years before that, going back into the early 1960s, the Ace was a regular stop for our family after movies and basketball games or sometimes just for a meal out, and on a memorable evening in 1978, the Ace hosted the groom’s dinner for my first marriage. (The eventual failure of that pairing doesn’t negate the good memories that came along the way, and that dinner is one of those memories.)

And I’ve written here several times about the place, called the Ace Bar & Cafe back then and styled as the Ace Bar & Grill in recent years, most likely since the place was rebuilt after a fire in the 1990s. I’ve told how, when I was twelve or so, I got lost in the warren of corridors in the old building and ended up in the smoky bar, surrounded by loud and tall people. I’ve mentioned how I always notice the music coming from the ceiling speakers, chronicling the changes in recent years from a mid-1960s soft sound (think Ferrante & Teicher and Ed Ames) to a mid-1990s sound (think Gin Blossoms and Corrs) and then back to an adult contemporary mix of the late 1960s and early 1970s (think B.J. Thomas and Cat Stevens).

It had been a while since Mom and I had made it to the Ace, given her travails and mine this autumn, but we got there Tuesday and were greeted warmly. “One last time, eh?” our server asked as she led us to our table. I nodded sadly and asked if there were any clues as to what would follow.

“Not a thing,” she said.

I’ve seen rumors online of a Kwik-Trip convenience store, and it’s true that the neighborhood could use a convenience store/gas station, though I think the better site for that would be at the west end of the same block, where a Holiday stationstore recently closed (and where the building that Holiday occupied is the same one that housed Carl’s Market – the source of the best potato sausage I’ve ever had – from before I can remember to sometime in the 1990s). The corner property on which the Ace stands seems too small to accommodate a Kwik-Trip, several of which have opened in the St. Cloud area this year.

So we had our regular lunches: Hash browns with two eggs over easy for Mom and a burger with smoked Gouda cheese, fried onions and bacon – no bun, no pickle – for me, with tater tots and ranch dressing on the side. She had a chardonnay and I had an amber ale, and when we finished, we wished the servers well and made our ways out of the Ace Bar & Grill for likely the last time.*

And as I think about the Ace this morning, I can forget that it’s 2016 and that I’m 63. I can forget that Mom is in her nineties and that Dad has been gone for thirteen years. I can forget that the Ace as it is today was built in the 1990s after the fire that destroyed the old Ace with its warren of corridors that had to confuse more people than just one twelve-year-old boy. In my mind, the Ace Bar & Cafe will forever be somewhere in the years between 1965 and, oh, 1978, with the noise from the bar at the front of the building almost, but not quite, drowning out the easy listening soundtrack coming from the dining room’s overhead speakers.

Again, think Ferrante & Teicher. And the song that starts with the line “Once upon a time there was a tavern . . .”

Here are Ferrante & Teicher with their take on “Those Were The Days.” It’s from their 1969 album Midnight Cowboy.

*The place is open through Monday, and it’s possible the Texas Gal and I might get there over the weekend, but given our weekend busyness, that seems unlikely.

Six From The ’70s

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

So we’ve sorted the tracks in the RealPlayer and found about 24,000 from the 1970s. Let’s go find six at random to think about this morning.

“In the corner of my eye, I saw you in Rudy’s. You were very high.” So starts “Black Cow” from Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja, one of two Steely Dan albums I had before the 1990s (when I, as is well-known around here, went a little mad and bought more than 1,800 LPs over those ten years). My memory, aided by a look at the LP database, tells me that I won Aja for answering a trivia question on WJON while I lived in St. Cloud in late 1977, but there was a delay on the radio station’s part in getting the album, and then there was a delay on my part in getting to the station after I moved to Monticello. The delays didn’t bother me because Steely Dan wasn’t really in my sights at the time. I had Pretzel Logic on the shelves because of the presence of “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (and I liked the rest of the album), but the work of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker wasn’t high on my list. Still, I wasn’t going to pass up a free album, so I took Aja home, and I liked it okay. But it’s probably not on my Top 200. So, “Drink your big black cow and get out of here.”

Canny marketers as well as classically trained musicians, the duo of Ferrante & Teicher rarely missed a trend in the 1960s and 1970s, and as the world hit the dance floor in the late 1970s, Ferrante & Teicher followed, providing us in 1979 with Classical Disco, one of the stranger albums of the duo’s nearly forty-year recording career. Covering pieces ranging from composers Rachmaninoff and Khachaturian to Grieg and Tchaikovsky, the album closes with a thumping version of Felix Mendelssohn’s famed “Wedding March” (cliché that it is). Given the move in recent years toward massively choreographed wedding processionals and recessionals (some staid, many not), I can see a couple and their friends putting together a disco processional to the beat of the Ferrante & Teicher track. If it were my wedding and up to me, I’d save it for the reception.

Head On was a late 1975 release from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and its relative failure in the charts portended the end for the rockers from Canada. The group’s previous three albums of new music had all gone Top Ten in the Billboard 200, but Head On stalled at No. 23. A single from the album, “Take It Like A Man” (with a backing vocal from Little Richard) went to No. 33 in early 1976, but the band’s moment had passed. Fittingly, then, the track titled “It’s Over” is the one that pops up from Head On. It’s a decent enough track, not unlike most of the stuff in the group’s catalog, but its unsubtle pleasures didn’t offer listeners anything new as 1975 was turning into 1976.

As an object lesson that one can find almost anything online these days, we move next to “Tiffany Case” from John Barry’s soundtrack to the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. When the RealPlayer offered the track to me this morning, I winced, but not because of the music. (It’s a decent bit of quiet and pretty musical fill for the movie, nicely portraying the soft side of Ms. Case, played in the film by the lovely Jill St. John.) The wince was for an expected difficulty in finding the track at YouTube. (I’d already made and uploaded one video this morning.) But there it was, and a quick click on the #JohnBarry hashtag shows me that what appears to be the vast majority of Barry’s work is now officially available at YouTube. I will have to do some digging there soon.

Whenever I write anything about Bobby Womack, I always feel as if I don’t know enough about the man or his work to write anything substantial. Today is no different, even though I know more about him and have heard more of his stuff now, thanks to a little bit of concentrated effort in the past few months. Anyway, what we have this morning is “Natural Man” from Womack’s 1973 album Facts Of Life. It’s a gender-flipped version of the Gerry Goffin/Carole King song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” best known for the 1967 hit version by Aretha Franklin. It doesn’t seem to work, but then covering a classic is risky territory, and doing so with a gender-flip seems to make things all the more awkward. Womack’s delivery is fine, as usual. But it just feels, well, odd.

Speaking of covers of classic records, we close our expedition this morning with Ellie Greenwich taking on “Chapel Of Love” from her 1973 album Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung. Greenwich, of course, wrote the song with Jeff Barry and Phil Spector, and the Dixie Cups had a massive hit with it in 1964, with the record sitting at No. 1 for three weeks. For her own album, Greenwich and co-producers Steve Tudanger and Steve Feldman take the song in an interesting direction, with bare-bones instrumentation and layered and entwined vocals, coupled with some ringing bells in the middle. It works for me.

Chart Digging, July 25, 1964

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Looking into the records in the higher portions of the Billboard Hot 100 from July 25, 1964 – fifty years ago today – is fun but unsurprising, like reading a favorite novel for the fifth time. I’ve been known to do that, read books five times or more, but I also read stuff I’ve never read before, combing the shelves at the local library for authors and titles new to me.

The parallel here is, of course, to go deeper into the Hot 100 from fifty years ago and find tunes that I’ve never heard (or may have heard but have since forgotten). Today’s exploration brings up six records from that long ago chart’s Bubbling Under section.

Parked at the very bottom of the Bubbling Under section, at No. 135, is one of those oddities: A performer’s only listed record sitting in the lowest position possible for one week only. After giving it a listen, I might think that “A Casual Kiss” by Leon Peels, an R&B singer born in Arkansas and raised in California, might have deserved more attention. It’s a pretty record, but it’s offered in a doo-woppish style that likely sounded out-of-date by mid-1964. It would have made for a great slow dance, though. And it’s interesting to note that a few years earlier, Peels was the lead singer of the Blue Jays, who were themselves a one-hit wonder, with “Lover’s Island” going to No. 31 in 1961.

Sitting at No. 129, we find a record I have heard, although I didn’t recall it until this morning. “The Seventh Dawn” by Ferrante & Teicher is one of the movie themes the piano-playing duo frequently recorded, and it’s one of the 175 F&T tracks on my digital shelves. The 7th Dawn was a 1964 film about the Communist insurgency in Malaya after World War II; it starred, among others, William Holden and Susannah York. I don’t know about the movie, but the F&T single is actually kind of blah, and its chart performance reflects that. In four weeks of bubbling, the highest the record got was No. 124, a great distance from the duo’s best charting singles: “Exodus” went to No. 2 and “Tonight” from West Side Story went to No. 8, both in 1961.

With Fats Domino’s unmistakable voice and the R&B sax break, “Mary, Oh Mary” has some of the elements of Domino’s classic New Orleans work from the 1950s. But as good as the single sounds today – and it’s pretty darn good – it wasn’t what the marketplace was looking for in July 1964. “Mary, Oh Mary” was bubbling under at No. 127 fifty years ago; it would stay there one more week and then disappear. It was the 74th single Domino put in or near the pop chart since 1955. He would have three more records reach the Hot 100, but just barely, with two records going to No. 99 later in 1964, and his cover of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” reaching No. 100 in 1968.

Jerry Wallace’s name showed up here once before, when I wrote about his 1972 hit (No. 38 pop, No. 2 country, No. 9 AC), “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry,” which was used as a plot device in a January 1972 episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. This morning, we’re listening to “It’s A Cotton Candy World” from its perch fifty years ago at No. 126. Three weeks later, the record, which is pleasant but no more than that, slipped into the Hot 100 and spent one week at No. 99. It was one of seventeen records the Missouri-born performer placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1958 and 1972. From 1965 into 1978, he placed nineteen records in the country Top 40, starting with “If You Leave Me . . .” and including its follow-up, “Do You Know What It’s Like To Be Lonesome,” which went to No. 2 on the country chart.

Moving up ten slots in that long-ago Bubbling Under section, we find at No. 116 an updated version of a famed American song. “Frankie & Johnnie” was likely a Nineteenth Century folk song but its origins are misty, says Wikipedia. (For those interested in popular music history, the story of the song, as told at Wikipedia, is fascinating.) Either way, the tale of Frankie and her two-timing man showed up in the Hot 100 five times between 1959 and 1966, with the best-performing version being Sam Cooke’s 1963 take, which went to No. 14 (No. 4 R&B). The version we’re interested in this morning is, as the record label says, “The New ‘Frankie and Johnnie’ Song” by the Greenwood County Singers. One of two charting records for the California-based group, which included a young Van Dyke Parks, the record would move into the Hot 100 a week later and eventually climb to No. 75 (No. 15 AC).

You might remember the nursery rhyme:

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
Silver buckles at his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!

Well, fifty years ago this week, Bobby Shafto was Bubbling Under, with “She’s My Girl” sitting at No. 105. The English singer, about whom even Joel Whitburn seems to know little, was, one would think, stage-named after the subject of the nursery rhyme, who was likely, says Wikipedia, “a resident of Hollybrook, County Wicklow, Ireland, who died in 1737.” Or the singing Shafto could have been stage-named for Robert Shafto, an Eighteenth Century member of the British Parliament. Or the singer’s parents might have actually carried the surname Shafto and decided to saddle their son from his birth with that burdensome name. I don’t know, but I lean toward its being the silly brainstorm of the singer’s manager or some promotions person employed by the Rust label. In any case, the record was not bad, but it really went nowhere, spending one week at No. 99 before bubbling back down to where we found it. It was Shafto’s only charting single.

Sometimes It’s Not So Easy

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

On occasion, my fascination with easy listening music jumps out of the speakers and bites my ears.

I was puttering at the computer yesterday, posting a note or two on Facebook, checking email, keeping an eye on the news from Ukraine and scoping out the latest rumors about the Minnesota Vikings and the upcoming NFL draft. Keeping me company was the RealPlayer, chugging along on random and offering me some current Americana, some 1960s and 1970s pop, some 1950s R&B and the occasional bit of a film soundtrack.

And then came this:

I winced and then laughed at Ray Conniff’s pretty much clueless take on “Happy Days” (found on the 1976 album TV Themes), and then I took a look to see exactly how much music I have by Ray Conniff in the files. It turns out to be 227 mp3s. That means that Conniff should have been listed in the Top 20 artists I posted a few weeks ago, coming in at No. 15, just ahead of Richie Havens. Why wasn’t he? Because some of his albums were credited to just Ray Conniff, others to Ray Conniff & The Singers, others yet to Ray Conniff & His Orchestra and so on, and that inconsistency, along with my inattention to detail that day, kept Conniff off my chart.

Why so much Conniff? Because I do love – generally – easy listening music from the 1950s through the 1970s, probably in large part because the work of Conniff and his easy listening brethren reminds me of the years of Hula Hoops and Erector sets on through the years of madras shirts and eventually mood rings. So my love for the music is mostly nostalgia, but that’s a potent enough force as it is.

And then there’s the fact that some of the easy listening tunes in the stacks are pretty good music. In terms of execution, nostalgic weight and chart performance, it’s hard to beat “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’” by Percy Faith, which was No. 1 for nine weeks in 1960. There were many other decent easy listening pieces during the years of my youth; many of those are in my files; some, I have to assume, are not.

But it’s not at all difficult to find easy listening missteps like Conniff’s “Happy Days,” especially when the easy listening folks tried to translate pop-rock hits into instrumentals palatable for their audience (generally older folks, of course, as well as the unhip kids like me). And since pratfalls are often more fun than graceful success, I thought I’d wander through the collection and find some easy listening efforts that are not at all easy to listen to.

So here are a couple from 1969: A clueless take on Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” from Billy Vaughn’s Theme From Love Story and a flighty version of the Doors’ “Touch Me” from Enoch Light & The Brass Menagerie, Vol. 1.*

I could dig further for hard listening, but I won’t. Instead I’ll close with a couple of covers that are interesting takes on popular songs. On his 1970 album Doc Severinsen’s Closet, the Tonight Show band leader of the time took some chances by covering a number of intriguing titles (including a cover I once shared here of “Court of the Crimson King”). The one that caught my ear this morning was his cover of the Chairmen of the Board’s “Give Me Just A Little More Time” (into which Severinsen incorporated a quote from “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” from the group then called Chicago Transit Authority).

And as I dug around in the 121 tracks I have from dual pianists Ferrante & Teicher, I came across their cover of Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.” Ferrante & Teicher occasionally missed the sense of a song; there are some missteps in their work. But far more often than not, at least to the ears of this easy listening fan, they succeeded in translating pop songs into their own idiom. I think they did so with “The Sound of Silence,” which was on their 1969 album Midnight Cowboy.

*I was going to make it a trio of missteps from 1969 by including Franck Pourcel’s version of Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525”, which seems to have first been issued on the Bolivian release En El Anno 2525, but after a couple of listens, I’m liking it.

Chart Digging, April 4, 1970

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, the upper portions of the Billboard charts from 1970 hold few surprises. Here’s the Top 10 from the Hot 100 on April 4, 1970, forty-three years ago today:

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Let It Be” by the Beatles
“Instant Karma (We All Shine On)” by John Ono Lennon
“ABC” by the Jackson 5
“Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” by Edison Lighthouse
“Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
“House of the Rising Sun” by Frijid Pink
“The Rapper” by the Jaggerz
“Come and Get It” by Badfinger
“Easy Come, Easy Go” by Bobby Sherman

Not a bad swath of songs: A couple of timeless masterpieces at the top, with a little bit of clunky rock following; a youthful bit of R&B; some great fuzz guitar; a hard-edged cover of an old folk song; and a good helping of light pop and bubblegum with a Paul McCartney tune in the middle. Of course, it’s hard to be objective with these records (and so many more from that time). These were the sounds of my junior year in high school and remain deeply imprinted.

As we’ve found out here numerous times, however, that’s not always the case with records that show up lower in the chart. Given that it’s April 4, we’ll start with No. 44 (which I believe is the only one of today’s six I’ve ever heard before) and then move down eleven records at a time.

Jennifer Tomkins was born on a Sunday.
Her daddy got drunk and left home on a Monday.
Her mother, she died young, when Jenny was seven.
And Jennifer Tomkins went to work at eleven.

So begins the tale of the week’s No. 44 record as told by the Street People, a studio group that included Rupert Holmes, who would hit No. 1 under his own name in late 1979 with “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Holmes’ other footnote in pop history is that he wrote “Timothy,” the tale of cannibalism in a caved-in coal mine that the Buoys took to No. 17 in 1971. As for the Street People, their only other charting single was “Thank You Girl,” which went to No. 96 a couple of weeks after “Jennifer Tomkins” fell out of the chart.

The Village Soul Choir, according to Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles, was a ten-member interracial group from Queens, New York, that made the Hot 100 just once, in that long-ago spring of 1970. Funky and fun, “The Cat Walk” peaked at No. 55 on April 4 that year (it went to No. 27 on the R&B chart) after being pulled from the group’s seemingly odd album, Soul Sesame Street. According to the listings at Discogs.com, the group had a few other singles released, but none of them charted.

By the spring of 1970, the most recent Top 10 hit by the Classics IV had been the sorrowful “Traces,” which went to No. 2 on both the pop and AC charts in early 1969. Three other records had hit the Hot 100 since then, with “Everyday With You Girl” getting to No. 19. As April began, the group – now billed as Dennis Yost and the Classics IV – had another tale of lost love in the charts, as “The Funniest Thing” was sitting at No. 66, on its way to No. 59 (No. 11, AC). The group would have five more records reach the Hot 100, but only one of them, “What Am I Crying For,” would reach the Top 40, going to No. 39 (No. 7, AC) in late 1972.

The Cuff Links, a studio group featuring the voice of the much-heard Ron Dante, were sitting at No. 77 with “Run, Sally, Run” during the first week of April in 1970. The record, which would move up one more spot, was the third and last by the Cuff Links to reach the Hot 100. The best of those three had been “Tracy,” a delicious piece of bubblegum that had gone to No. 9 (No. 5, AC) in October of 1969. The follow-up, “When Julie Comes Around,” got only to No. 41, and after Dante urged Sally to run, the Cuff Links – even though both follow-ups to “Tracy” reached the AC Top 40 – became unfastened.

The Buffalo Soldiers, says Wikipedia, “originally were members of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed on September 21, 1866, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This nickname was given to the ‘Negro Cavalry’ by the Native American tribes they fought; the term eventually became synonymous with all [four] of the African-American regiments formed in 1866.” In early April 1970, the record “Buffalo Soldier” by the Flamingos was sitting at No. 88, on its way to No. 86 (No. 28, R&B). The tribute to those long-ago soldiers was the last of fourteen charting singles for the group from Chicago that is far-better known for the 1959 doo-wop classic, “I Only Have Eyes For You.”

Being a lover of lush keyboards, 1960s and ’70s instrumental pop and cover songs, I smiled when I saw the names of Ferrante & Teicher at No. 99 in the chart from April 4, 1970. I don’t believe that I ever heard the piano duo’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” coming from the speakers of my radio. It would be surprising if I had, as the record was in the Hot 100 for just one week and moved no higher (though it went to No. 16 on the AC chart). I know, however, that I would have liked it. As little noticed as it was, the record was significant for being the last of fifteen records the duo placed in the Hot 100 between 1960 and 1970; “Exodus” was their high water mark when it went to No. 2 in January 1961. (After “Lay Lady Lay,” Ferrante & Teicher had three more records reach the AC chart into 1972, the most familiar of which would likely be “Love Theme from ‘The Godfather’,” which peaked on that chart at No. 28.)

Staying Up Past Midnight

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

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.

And we’ll close it there. I’ll be back Saturday.