Posts Tagged ‘Fever Tree’

First Wednesday: June 1968

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

As 1968 entered June, nearing its halfway mark, the body blows kept coming.

June 5 was a Wednesday, one of the first days of summer vacation, so I slept in, as did my mom. We weren’t sluggards, but neither of us had risen with Dad as he left for the college before seven o’clock, which was his custom. Instead, we wandered downstairs about eight o’clock.

And there was a note on the kitchen table, in Dad’s distinctive hand, sharing the news he’d heard on the radio as he had his breakfast: Senator Robert F. Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles after winning the previous day’s California primary. He was in critical condition. I’m not sure if it actually said so, but the note at least gave the impression that Kennedy’s survival was unlikely.

I was not necessarily a supporter of Bobby Kennedy; I had some parochial pride that two of the Democratic candidates for president – Eugene McCarthy and Hubert H. Humphrey – were Minnesotans. I was, however, beginning to pay some attention to Kennedy’s message, and so – I think – was my father. My mother’s political sympathies, I know, were on the other side of the aisle. But those preferences and differences were unimportant at that moment.

I remember standing there, next to my mom, looking at the note, reading it a second time. Its content was, as had been so much already that year, difficult to grasp, to process. To a boy of fourteen – even to a fairly bright boy who kept up pretty well with current events – it was one more piece of an adult-sized puzzle, a mystery that seemed further and further from solution as every bit of new information came to light. The import of the morning’s news and its insanity – there is no other word for it – tumbled through my mind as I ate breakfast and went out to take care of my only chore of the day.

And I remember clearly that as I pushed the lawn mower that morning, I was distracted. It struck me as strange, as somehow wrong and disrespectful, to be doing something so ordinary, so mundane, while in a distant hospital room a life, a family and – yes, I thought this – maybe even the country hung on the edge of tragedy. And early the next morning, Robert Kennedy died.

The next days felt unhappily familiar and unreal: The ceremonies of grief and farewell, the funeral in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the slow train ride from New York to Washington, D.C. with crowds of mourners lining the tracks. My attention wandered; I was tired of grief, conflict and anger, and that seemed to be all the adult world was offering. So I paid less attention to those ceremonies than I otherwise might have.

And when those events ended, the rest of the month went by with little notice. In an odd bit of cosmic timing, James Earl Ray, the suspected killer of Martin Luther King, Jr., was arrested in London on the day of Robert Kennedy’s funeral. And with that, the major news of June pretty much ended.

The days lengthened, at least for a couple more weeks, and turned warmer. For all the sorrow that 1968 had brought so far, there was a summer. And I think a lot of us moved toward that warm season numbly, wondering “What next?”

During those moments we sought comfort from music, as many of us always have done, what did we hear that month? Here’s the top fifteen from the Billboard Hot 100 for June 1, 1968:

“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
“The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Yummy Yummy Yummy” by the Ohio Express
“Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells
“Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“Do You Know The Way To San Jose” by Dionne Warwick
“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris
“Think” by Aretha Franklin
“Love Is All Around” by the Troggs
“She’s Lookin’ Good” by Wilson Pickett

Well, that’s about seventy percent okay. Of the top four, I can imagine a large number of people looking askance at the Hugo Montenegro single, but I’ve always loved it for some reason. So the first four on that list are just fine with me. The bottom eight are fine, too: “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” was one of best things Marvin and Tammi did during their too-brief time as partners; the Intruders’ track is pleasant, if a little slight; and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” might be the third best thing among these fifteen, challenged for that spot only by the Marvin and Tammi duet, “Mrs. Robinson” or “Think.” As to the top two for me, the Alpert single and “MacArthur Park” have always been favorites of mine.

But those other three, from No. 5 through No. 7! They look like a bad tongue twister. Of the three, the Goldsboro is the worst, but I’ve never cared much for the other two, either. Those three singles would create a ten-minute segment on the oldies countdown when I’d find a reason to leave the room, maybe change the furnace filter or take out the recycling.

You’ll note that even the good singles there are all pretty light. There are some R&B grooves in “Tighten Up” and hints of that in “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” and “Cowboys to Girls,” but this is a pretty soft Top Ten. Maybe the album chart was a little tougher.

Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel and Dave Grusin
The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees by the Monkees
The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
The Good, The Band And The Ugly soundtrack by Ennio Morricone
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Music From “A Fistful of Dollars” & “For A Few Dollars More” & “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro

Again, those are pretty light, with only the Cream and the Aretha entries having much weight, although it should be noted that Simon & Garfunkel were always a good listen. The soundtrack to The Good, The Band And The Ugly had originally been released with the film in 1966 and popped back into the album charts after the success of Montenegro’s album of covers.

I’m not sure when the album I’m sharing today was released, beyond the fact that it was 1968. And it’s an odd album, even though there are portions of it that I enjoy very much.

Fever Tree came out of Houston, Texas, and recorded and released four albums between 1968 and 1970 without drawing much attention. In fact, I’d wager that the group is better known these days as a result of its music having been released on CD than it ever was back in the Sixties.

Still, there is some interesting music in Fever Tree’s catalog, especially on the first, self-titled album from 1968. The song that most folks know is “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native),” which has popped up on a number of anthologies over the years, including one of the highly regarded Nuggets collections in the 1980s. It’s a track that, if not great, is at least fun to listen to and worthy of some attention because of, All-Music Guide notes, its “dramatic melody, utopian lyrics, and searing fuzz guitar.”

(Ten years ago, my music library was in process, so I was unable to report that a single release of “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)” had spent six weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 but never got any higher than No. 91. It was Fever Tree’s only chart entry. As to the album, it went to No. 156 on the Billboard 200. I should also note that when it came time to compile the records in my Ultimate Jukebox in early 2010, “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)” was one of the 240 records included.)

The rest of the album? Well, it’s all over the musical map. The opening track – “Imitation Situation 1 (Toccata and Fugue)/Where Do You Go?” – begins with a Bach quote and a snippet of what sounds like a lift from an Ennio Morricone soundtrack before settling into a swirling song that alternates harsh vocals and lilting flute. On my first listening some time ago, that first track reminded me of a review of another musician I once read, noting that the performer in question “never threw away any idea.” That’s kind of the sense I got about Fever Tree and its producers, Scott and Vivian Holtzman (who wrote or co-wrote all of the original material on Fever Tree).

Elsewhere on the records, the Wilson Pickett cover “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do),” doesn’t work all that well as a psychedelic freakout, but a couple other covers connect: A medley of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out” includes sly brass quotes from “Norwegian Wood” and “Eleanor Rigby,” and the cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” is simply beautiful.

Of the originals, beyond “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native),” the two closers come off best. The other originals are not bad, but “Unlock My Door” and “Come With Me (Rainsong)” are mellow, maybe sentimental, and close very nicely an album that seems to have wandered all over the map before coming home at last.

Tracks:

Imitation Situation 1 (Toccata and Fugue)/Where Do You Go?
San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)
Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)
Man Who Paints The Pictures
Filigree & Shadow
Sun Also Rises
Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out
Nowadays, Clancy Can’t Even Sing
Unlock My Door
Come With Me (Rainsong)

Here’s a link that will take you to the entire album as an automatic playlist at YouTube: Fever Tree (1968).

Historical error corrected after first posting.

Still Powerful

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

A while back, on one of those Facebook memes that friends send through occasionally, I was asked to list the twenty essential songs/records for my desert island. I don’t recall everything I listed and then sent out to other friends, but I do recall the top two: “Cherish” by the Association and “We” by Shawn Phillips.

I got a note from my friend, the Half-Hearted Dude, who blogs at Any Major Dude With Half A Heart and who stops by here and leaves an occasional note. He said – and I’m paraphrasing here, as the note has been consigned to the ether and to whatever files Facebook keeps on its registrants –  that when he saw that I had responded, he figured that “Cherish” and “We” would show up somewhere on my list, and their presence in the top two spots was not at all surprising.

Well, I guess it shouldn’t have been startling. I’ve written about “Cherish” several times during the life of this blog, calling it at least once the best single ever released. And although I’ve written about “We” far less often – and do not recall exactly what I said about it – I know that I’ve never hidden my high regard for Shawn Phillips’ 1972 recording. In it, one can hear many virtues: strong melody; inventive, coherent and cohesive lyrics; a sparkling backing track; and the conciseness of a record that gets all that done in 3:43 (and I’ll acknowledge, as a fan of Phillips, that concision wasn’t always present on his other 1970s albums).

Then add to those virtues Phillips’ remarkable vocal, especially the portion where his scat singing takes him into the stratosphere (starting at 2:38 into the song), and you’ve got a record that for me, at least, comes very close to the top of the all-time list.

But wait, as the hawkers on television say, there’s more!

Faces, the album that is home to “We,” was released in 1972. The album got to No. 57 on the Billboard chart, and “We,” its lone charting single, got to No. 89 in the Billboard Hot 100 during the last week of January 1973. What’s always puzzled me, then, is how the single showed up on the jukebox in St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center during the early autumn of 1974, twenty-one months after it spent three weeks in the Hot 100. Was it re-released? Did the jukebox jobber goof? I don’t know, but whatever the reason for its late appearance, the record was welcome. I dropped a lot of quarters into the machine that autumn, and “We” was one of the preferred records for me and a couple of other folks at The Table, the diverse and sometimes odd collection of people with whom I spent my free time.

The song’s lyrics, of course, tell of how two – a “he” and a “she” – can make a “we,” and I was dreaming about that same process that autumn. Those dreams left abruptly, as friends and long-time readers likely recall. And I don’t think I heard “We” again for almost nine years. I imagine I could have sought out the album, as I did for a few records that marked that autumn. But I didn’t, and it wasn’t until the spring of 1983, when I chanced on Faces at a flea market in Monticello, that I heard “We” again. If anything, it had become more powerful in its absence. Over the years, I’ve increased the quality of my copy of the album, finding a better vinyl version in 1997 and then finding a rare CD copy in 2007. But no matter the format or quality, “We” remains one of the most emotionally potent songs in my entire universe of music.

Its potency is not tied, as some might guess, to the young woman who might have been the other half of that “he and she make we” equation. (At least not entirely.) It’s linked, rather, to a time before things changed, to a vague memory, a moment when all of us at The Table were listening to Shawn Phillips’ voice soar through the basement snack bar where we gathered, all of us – for that moment – looking at things beyond the range of our vision and finding bits of our own dreams expressed in Phillips’ words and music.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 27
“San Francisco Girls (Return Of The Native)” by Fever Tree from Fever Tree [1968]
“(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic 2486 [1968]
“Vehicle” by the Ides of March, Warner Bros. 7378 [1970]
“We” by Shawn Phillips from Faces [1972]
“Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)” by the Bee Gees from Main Course [1975]
“Four Strong Winds” by Neil Young from Comes A Time [1978]

The myth of San Francisco circa 1967 and 1968 was grist for the mills of who knows how many songwriters and performers, with the best-known result probably being John Phillips’ “San Francisco  (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair),” which was a No. 4 hit for Scott McKenzie during the singular summer of 1967. Fever Tree, a relatively forgotten band that offered an odd mix of psychedelic tunes, soft ballads and cover versions of others’ hits, didn’t get its San Francisco tune out until June of 1968, when “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)” spent three weeks at No. 91. Despite the group’s eclectic style and despite the lack of attention given the single, I think that “San Francisco Girls” is just as evocative of what was happening in that California city as McKenzie’s record, especially in its opening, with the harpsichord eventually joined by tympani and organ for the hushed opening verse:

Out there it’s summertime
Milk and honey days
Oh, San Francisco girls with
San Francisco ways.

From there, the song takes off in a rushed, fuzz-laden gallop, and the rest of the tale isn’t quite as interesting. But those first few moments pull me in every time.

I don’t have much to say about Aretha Franklin and “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone.” I mean, she’s Aretha, and the record was one of her forty-five Top 40 hits (covering a span of years from 1961 to 1998). Add that “Since You’ve Been Gone” went to No. 5 in the early spring of 1968 (and was No. 1 for three weeks on the R&B chart), and all you need to do after that is listen.

There was a discussion not long ago at the blog AM, then FM about how the lyrics to “Vehicle,” the Ides of March hit from 1970, might play today, what with the “friendly stranger in the black sedan” inviting the object of his interest into his car: “I got pictures, got candy. I’m a lovable man, and I can take you to the nearest star.” I’d guess – as did Jeff at AM, then FM – that what was heard as a (lame) come-on forty years ago would come off today as really creepy: This dude is exactly the kind of guy parents have been warning kids about for years! So times have changed, and the guy in the car would have needed to find a new way to get the attention of a pretty young thing. But as he long as he brings those horns along, he’ll do okay, as the horn chart was at least partly the reason that “Vehicle” went to No. 2 during the spring of 1970.

The Bee Gees’ long career had, as I see it, three distinct segments. Call them acts, if you want. Act One was the group’s early work as a kind of Down Under Beatles, running – as far as hits in the U.S. were concerned – from 1967 into 1969. Act Two was the split in the group and then the tentative music after the reunion, with that segment running from 1970 to 1972. Then, in 1975, started Act Three, during which the Bee Gees were for a while the world’s most popular group, throwing off hits for themselves and producing them for others as if there were nothing hard about it at all. The first portion of that third act was the 1975 album Main Course, which telegraphed the disco triumph to come in its first two hits, “Jive Talkin’” and “Nights on Broadway,” which went to No. 1 and No. 7, respectively. My favorite from the album, though, is the third hit, “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love),” which went to No. 12 during the early months of 1976. Why that record? It’s no secret that I like a good ballad, and to me, “Fanny” is one of the best. And it comes from a time in my life that held at least two good things: my college internship and the pleasant (and unfamiliar) dilemma of having to decide between two very nice young women.

“Four Strong Winds,” Ian Tyson’s song of retreat from love to the Alberta prairie, has been recorded by hundreds of folks since he wrote it as the title tune to the second album he and his then-wife released as Ian & Sylvia. I have to admit that I wasn’t all that familiar with the song until I heard Neil Young’s 1978 version on the radio one day. Young’s cover of “Four Strong Winds” was released as a single but only got to No. 61. Nevertheless, hearing the tune inspired me to run down to the local record outlet and grab a copy of Comes A Time, which has only turned out to be my favorite Neil Young album. And the tune marks the only appearance of Neil Young in my mythical jukebox.

(Parenthetical comment added January 2, 2013.)