It’s been busy here the past few days, and that will continue through Saturday. In our effort to slender down the amount of stuff in the house, we’re having a yard sale tomorrow and Saturday.
We’ve been gathering things from throughout the house for a few weeks now – quilting material and supplies, craft materials, unused dishes and cookware, some games and lots of miscellaneous stuff – and pricing it and letting it sit in the living room and the back room.
Today, my tasks include stops at the bank to get cash for change, a stop somewhere to get yard sale signs, and clearing four portable tables currently in use in the house and getting them out to the garage for use tomorrow.
I’m already weary, and it’s only 7:30 in the morning.
Given our plans, this is my only stop here in the studios this week. I’ll be back Tuesday with a less cluttered house and – we hope – a little more cash in the bank account. Then, the Texas Gal and I can begin to look at some of the items we’ve unearthed in the house that are more suited to an antique dealer’s care than simply being sold in the front yard.
Given the week’s activity, I checked out tunes in the RealPlayer with “sale” in their titles. After some sorting – I have more tracks than I would have guessed with “Jerusalem” in their titles – I came up with three commodities that have frequently been listed for musical sale: Love, a cottage and a broken heart.
I’m going with the cottage. Here’s Frank Sinatra with “A Cottage For Sale.” It’s from his 1959 album No One Cares, an album so bleak that, according to a note at Discogs.com, Sinatra called it a collection of “suicide songs.”
Well, being a little tired from shoveling the first portion of a six-inch or so snowfall, and with the second portion waiting on the sidewalk for my attention, I’m going to let the RealPlayer do the work today and walk us through six tunes at random. (I will skip stuff from before, oh, 1940, as well as the truly odd). So here we go:
First up is“Treat Me Right” from Nothing But The Water, the 2006 album from Grace Potter & The Nocturnals that was, I think, the first thing I heard from the New England group that’s become one of my favorites. The slightly spooky groove, the organ accents and Potter’s self-assured vocal remind me why I’ll listen to pretty much anything that Ms. Potter and her bandmates offer to the listening public. I have five CDs, some EPs, and some other bits and pieces of the band at work, and I find that all of that scratches my itch in the way that only a few groups and performers – maybe ten, maybe fifteen – have since I started listening to rock and its corollaries in late 1969.
I came across the North Carolina quartet of Chatham County Line via County Line, their 2009 collaboration with Norwegian musician Jonas Fjeld. Today, we land on the cautionary “Sightseeing” from the group’s 2003 self-titled debut album. In reviewing the album, Zach Johnson of All Music Guide writes: “Centered around a single microphone, the band plays acoustic bluegrass instruments in the traditional style, but there’s a sly wink in the music – like in the trunk of their 1946 Nash Rambler there may be some Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers records underneath the Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs LPs. Any nods to rock & roll are successfully stifled in their songwriting though, as the band specializes in purely honest and irony-free honky tonk bluegrass, earnestly sung and expertly picked as if ‘marketing strategies’ and ‘the 18-24 demographic’ never existed.”
The 1980s country group Southern Pacific featured a couple of ex-Doobie Brothers – guitarist John McFee and drummer Keith Knudson – and by the time the group got around to recording its second album – the 1986 effort Killbilly Hill – one-time Creedence bassist Stu Cook joined the group. Still, on “Road Song” and the rest of the group’s output (and there were a few more membership changes along the way), there’s less of a rock feel and more of a 1980s country polish that doesn’t always wear well nearly thirty years later. That would be more of a problem if we were listening to full albums here; one song at a time, it’s easy to overlook. And the group was relatively successful: Thirteen records in the Country Top 40 between 1985 and 1990, four of them hitting the Top Ten.
In early 1967, the Bob Crew Generation saw its instrumental “Music To Watch Girls By” go to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune, written by Sid Ramin, originally came from a commercial for Pepsi-Cola and was popular enough in that arena that it quickly attracted recording artists. Second Hand Songs says that the first to record the tune was trumpeter Al Hirt, whose version bubbled under the chart at No. 119, while Andy Williams saw his version – with lyrics by Tony Velona – go to No. 34. Other covers followed, one of them from a studio group called the Girlwatchers. Their version was the title track to a quickie album in 1967 that also included titles like “Tight Tights,” “Fish-Net Stockings,” “Tiny Mini-Skirt” and so on. “Green Eyeliner” is the track we land on this morning. I’m not sure how the album found its way onto my digital shelves, but it’s an interesting artifact, and I imagine I’d recognize the names of quite a few of the studio musicians who helped put it together.
Speaking of members of the Doobie Brothers, as we were earlier, during one of the band’s quieter times, guitarist Patrick Simmons released a solo album, Arcade, in 1983.To my ears, it sounds very much like early 1980s Doobies, with a glossy blue-eyed soul sound that – like the glossy country of Southern Pacific mentioned above – works fine as individual tracks go by but tends to work less well as an entire album. Simmons released two singles from the album: “So Wrong” went to No. 30, and “Don’t Make Me Do It” went to No. 75. A pretty decent record titled “If You Want A Little Love” was tucked on the B-side of “So Wrong,” and that’s where our interest is this morning.
And we close our morning wanderings with a tune from Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! That’s a 1956 effort that sometimes finds its way into the CD player late at night here in the Echoes In The Wind studios. The album came from the classic sessions that paired Sinatra with arrangements by Nelson Riddle, and “It Happened In Monterey” is pretty typical of those sessions: brass and percussion accents, the occasional swirling strings and more, all in service of one of the greatest voices and one of the greatest interpreters of song in recording history.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been listening to various versions of the tune “Tangerine,” a song that came to the attention of my generation via the 1975 version by the Salsoul Orchestra. Pulled from the orchestra’s first, self-titled album, a single of the tune went to No. 18 in early 1976.
The song came to mind earlier this week when I followed a link to that YouTube video provided by jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. As I listened, I nodded in recognition, knowing that I most likely heard the single by the Salsoul Orchestra in early 1976, but I had an inkling that I’d heard the song before that, in a much slower tempo. So I went digging.
The song, as I also noted yesterday, was written by Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger for a 1942 movie. In that movie, The Fleet’s In, the song was performed by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra with vocals by Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell.
(I don’t care much for Eberly’s crooning, but among at least some singers, that was the style in vogue at the time. On the other hand, given the aesthetic of the times, I thought O’Connell nailed it. And although this arrangement didn’t give him much room to work with, Dorsey could play.)
Since then, “Tangerine” has been covered frequently. The listings at Second Hand Songs and at ASCAP show more than 140 performers and groups who have recorded the song. The listing at ASCAP isn’t searchable by year, but the earliest version of “Tangerine” listed at Second Hand Songs is the 1941 recording by Vaughn Monroe and His Orchestra; the most recent recording listed is the 2007 version by saxophonists Harry Allen and Joe Temperley with John Bunch, Greg Cohen and Jake Hanna on the album Cocktails for Two. Among the performers whose names I recognized were Ferrante & Teicher, Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck , Harry Connick Jr., Al Caiola, Dr. John (who covered the tune on Mercernary, his 2006 album of songs by Johnny Mercer), Stéphane Grappelli, George Shearing, Lawrence Welk, Bobby Troup, Peter Nero and Toots Thielemans.
I’ve heard a few of those. I like Bennett’s version, but I don’t care for Connick’s. What I heard of Dr. John’s take on the tune (and Mercernary has gone on my want list) was good. Brubeck released numerous live versions of “Tangerine,” and I think the one I heard was from a 1958 performance in Copenhagen, Denmark. I wasn’t blown away, but that says more about me and my relationship with 1950s jazz than about anything else. I do like Grapelli’s 1971 version and, of course, I like the version I posted yesterday by Eliane Elias. And one of the best among the covers I found is the version that Frank Sinatra did for his 1962 album, Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass.
Still, I knew that none of those was the version of “Tangerine” that I’d heard first, and I kept scanning the lists at Second Hand Songs and ASCAP until I finally noticed a name that made sense. And that brought me back to the languid, tropical version of “Tangerine” that I first heard in 1965 or so when I listened to my copy of Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.
Video by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass replaced November 11, 2013.
It’s not very important, not after forty-seven years, but I’m still puzzled. For about five weeks in January and February of 1966, my dad and I went out and did stuff on Saturday evenings.
Oh, I didn’t mind at all. I liked spending time with Dad. I was twelve, and a Saturday evening with Dad was a pretty good weekend treat. And we did some fun stuff.
At least once during that stretch we spent the evening at St. Cloud State, watching the men’s basketball team – the college’s only basketball team in 1966 – take on another team from the Northern Intercollegiate Conference. The Huskies had one of the better small college teams at the time, routinely contending for the NIC championship and a spot in the national tournament of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), kind of a small college version of the better known NCAA.
We sat on the side, where our family always sat, but this time it was just Dad and me, three rows up from the Huskies’ bench, close enough to the press tables that I could listen in as a sportscaster named Peter Jay called the game for KFAM, one of the two radio stations in town. Being fascinated with radio and sportscasting, I likely greeted Mr. Jay before the game, as I often did when our whole family went to games. As always, he would have taken time to talk briefly to me, time that most surely could have been spent studying statistics, memorizing numbers or checking his connection to the radio station.
Then the game started, and I cheered for the Huskies, taking a break to get some popcorn from the concession stand at halftime. I don’t recall who St. Cloud State played that night; they likely won, as they did most nights. And it’s entirely possible that Dad and I went to two games during that five-week winter stretch, with me listening to the pep band play the “SCS Rouser” and taking my cues from the cheerleaders in their red and black uniforms. (The cheerleaders and the players – and their college-age fans, for that matter – seemed so much older than I was. It’s a shock this morning to realize that they were only ten or so years my senior. That gap now is minuscule; as I sail through my late fifties, they would now be pretty much my contemporaries.)
What else did we do on those Saturday evenings during that five-week slice of January and February in 1966? We went to at least two movies, maybe three. I think that’s why those Saturday nights linger in my mind. Just the two of us going to a basketball game at Halenbeck didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary. That happened occasionally. But movies were a family thing (unless my sister and I went with friends). So a movie with Dad but without my mom and my sister was different.
What did we see? I recall The Sands of the Kalahari, about the survivors of a plane crash in that African desert trying to put together an escape craft from the wreckage of the plane that brought them there. I think we might have seen The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, a 1965 film based on the John le Carré novel and starring Richard Burton. And I know we saw The IPCRESS File, another spy flick from 1965, this one based on a novel by Len Deighton and starring Michael Caine. Why am I sure we saw that one? Because the music was by John Barry, whose name I knew from the James Bond films. I never got the soundtrack to The IPCRESS File, but I remember liking the music a lot.
Whatever we did on each of those Saturday nights, we found ourselves heading back to our car about nine o’clock. That was a late night out for a twelve-year-old kid in 1966. But our evenings weren’t over yet. On each of those four or five Saturday nights, after we got back to the East Side, Dad pulled the car over in the parking lot of the Ace Bar & Cafe.
We had dinner occasionally at the Ace, and I loved it when we did, as the Ace was one of the few places I ever knew that served liver pate as a part of its relish tray, and I loved liver pate on rye crackers. (I still do, though it’s more rare these days. So are relish trays, for that matter.)
But in the winter of 1966, Dad and I were walking into the Ace sometime after nine in the evening, and the character of the place was different. The dining room was nearly empty. Actually, I imagine that on a couple of those Saturday nights, Dad and I were the only customers in the dining room. The Saturday night action was in the adjacent bar, and the sound of weekend revelry came down the hall and around the corner
I’d been in the bar portion of the building only once, and that was by accident when I took a wrong turn from the restroom. Feeling very small, I’d ducked past big and loud people as I retreated to the familiar dining room. So during the winter of 1966, sitting at a table with my dad in the nearly empty dining room and hearing the sound of the drinkers in the bar made me feel a little vulnerable, a little lonely, a little bit how I often feel these days when I see the works of Edward Hopper. (Check out Nighthawks.)
However I felt, we’d order hamburgers, and Dad would have a Hamm’s beer. During our first stop at the Ace in that stretch of Saturday nights, I noticed something – a sign, an ad on the table, I don’t know what – that reminded me of a soft drink I’d recently heard of and never tried. So I ordered a Mountain Dew, and for the rest of that four or five week stretch, that was our order at the Ace: two burgers, one with raw onions, a Hamm’s beer and a Mountain Dew.
And after those four or five weeks, it stopped. Saturday nights went back to being nights spent mostly at home. Oh, we’d go see the Huskies play, but it was all four or us, not just Dad and me. And if I saw a movie, it was with the whole family or else with Rick or some kids from school.
I don’t know what was happening during that time. Did Mom and Dad decide for some reason that I needed more Dad-time? Maybe Mom needed time for herself, or with my sister, who was fifteen. Maybe Mom and Dad had their own issues – every couple has them from time to time, I know now – and my Saturday evenings with Dad were the result. I remember being puzzled, and I know that whatever I thought at the time, I came to no conclusions.
So there the minor mystery lies, forty-seven years later. I never asked Dad about it, and I have no idea what he’d have said. He was a pretty private man, my dad was, and I know very little about what he thought or felt about his life, or if he even spent time pondering how that life had unreeled for him. But I still think of him every time the RealPlayer falls on a couple of records by Frank Sinatra. I wrote a little about “Summer Wind” once, and that still brings Dad to mind.
But so, too, does one of Sinatra’s greatest performances, “It Was A Very Good Year.” If anyone was, Frank Sinatra was the voice of my father’s generation, and Dad might have found himself nodding to Sinatra’s interpretation of Ervin Drake’s song and its reflective nostalgia. So as I think about my Saturday nights with Dad during early 1966 and wonder why they happened, I find it fitting that “It Was A Very Good Year” was the No. 1 song on the Billboard Easy Listening chart forty-seven years ago this week.
In the absence this morning of anything more interesting – and I’ve spent about forty minutes alternately staring at a blank page and wandering through various websites in search of inspiration or an idea – we’re going random this morning.
(I was tempted to write about Popular Crime, a book by Bill James – better known for his work on baseball analysis and history – that examined how some crimes become American obsessions. But I just finished the book yesterday and want to let it settle in some, so I’ll put that off until maybe next week.)
So here’s a hop and skip trip through six tracks from the years 1950 to 2000 or so, with the usual caveat of skipping over something that’s been discussed here recently or something that excessively reflects my eccentricities – like a track from the two-CD set The Best of the Red Army Choir.
First up is “Nothing Left To Move Me” by Anne Linnet from 1979. Linnet is a Danish performer who has been making and recording music since the early 1970s. The track comes from You’re Crazy, one of the few albums Linnet has recorded of songs in English. That, of course made the work more accessible for a wider audience but, to my mind, made Linnet’s work too much like some middle-of-the-chart Adult Contemporary fare.
From there, we jump to 1962 and “There Is No Greater Love” by the Wanderers, an R&B group about whom I know nearly nothing. In Top Pop Singles, Joel Whitburn lists the names of the group members but gives no indication of where the group originated. The record, which was the third that the group got in or near the charts, sounds a lot like something the Platters would have done. “There Is No Greater Love,” which was released on MGM after being first released on Cub (which released the two earlier mentioned records), went to No. 88, the highest any of the three records got. It’s nicely done, but as I said, sounds very much like the Platters (or maybe a hundred other groups).
And then we get a nice and very familiar slice of the late summer and early autumn of 1969: Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” The record went to No. 4, and as soon as I heard the introduction, I had a brief flash of memory: Rick and I are pulling into the parking lot of the Country Kitchen restaurant here on the East Side and the song’s intro comes out of the radio speaker. We haven’t heard it for a while – I’m driving, so this took place sometime after I got my license in the autumn of 1970 – and we debated sitting in the car to listen instead of going straight inside. I don’t recall what we decided, but as soon as that bit of memory flashes past, another one pops up: St. Cloud State students and hockey fans adding their antiphonal chant of “So good! So good! So good!” to the chorus as the record plays during a Husky hockey game.
Fourth up this morning is “Stay On” by Wisconsin’s BoDeans, from 1993. Found on the group’s Go Slow Down album, the track has a slight jangly sound above the group’s Midwestern foundation that very much echoes the 1990s (as it likely should). It’s a good album track from a CD that I think is very likely the group’s best release (although their first, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams from 1986, is pretty darned good, too).
We move on, and find ourselves in an arena somewhere with Paul McCartney and his band on stage. After a little noodling on the electric piano, McCartney launches into “Carry That Weight.” The track is from Back In The U.S., the 2002 live release recorded during the ex-Beatle’s tour that year. The Texas Gal and I were lucky enough to see McCartney in St. Paul during that tour, and the two-CD package is a nice after-the-fact souvenir, but on the night we saw him, McCartney was in better voice than he was during whatever performances were used for the live CD, so Back In The U.S. is a little bit of a bring-down.
And our final destination is a 1962 collaboration between Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself A Letter),” part of the sessions that ended up on the album Sinatra-Basie: An Historic Musical First. From what I understand, various members of Basie’s orchestra had long been involved in Sinatra’s sessions, but the 1962 sessions were the first with the full Count Basie Orchestra, with Basie at the piano. Here’s a video that gives a little bit of an idea how the recording of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself A Letter)” went down, and it’s today’s Saturday Single:
Today’s date is, of course, irresistible: 11-11-11.
According to the soothsayers of one type or another out there, the confluence of all those identical digits either means that a lot of very good things or a lot of very bad things are going to happen. Today could find some regular dude in Artmart, Idaho, winning it big in the lottery, or else all those 1’s lining up might mean the universe has reached some long-awaited cosmic alignment and tomorrow – if there is a tomorrow – we’ll find ourselves either in eternal nothingness or an existence of peace, love and Melanie tunes.
I wouldn’t bet on any of those. After all, I’m writing this in the late morning. We’ve already had ten and a half hours here of the Day of the Elevens and everything looks to be okay outside my window. It’s already Saturday – 11-12 – in Manila, and there is no sign of either the apocalypse or the Age of Aquarius on Yahoo! News. It seems to be a perfectly normal day, one during which we wander out and take care of our business and then wander back toward home, thinking about indulging in a doughnut, some chocolate or maybe that bottle of cream stout that’s been waiting patiently at the back of the refrigerator for a month or two.
But it’s a regular day. After all, days like this come along eleven times a century, usually eleven years, one month and one day apart. About a decade into a new century, we get a cluster of four of them. Now, that’s not all 11’s, of course Just last October, we had 10-10-10. Last January, we rolled through 1-1-11. Next December, we’ll have 12-12-12. Then, in not quite ten years, we’ll get 2-2-22. After that, for the next seventy-seven years, we’ll get what I call jackpot dates every eleven years, one month and one day.
I don’t know that they have any significance at all, except that they might be more memorable simply because of the numbers. But I’m not even sure about that. I recall noting the confluence of the numbers on June 6, 1966. But I remember little else about the day. And I don’t recall even noting the passage of the date when similar days came past in 1977, 1988 and 1999. But thinking about those dates today gives me an excuse – as if I need one! – to dig into my library of the Billboard Hot 100 charts. We’ll start with 1955.
On May 5, 1955 – a date I have no chance of recalling, as I turned twenty months old that day – the No. 5 song was “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Fess Parker, who played the role of Crockett in the Disney television series that spawned the record (and so much more merchandise for the young’uns of the mid-1950s). That was the peak for Parker’s version of the tune; the version by Bill Hayes was sitting at No. 4, on its way down the chart after spending five weeks at No. 1. And that’s it for 1955, as the Billboard chart only included thirty records.
By June 6, 1966, the Billboard chart had gotten larger, and so had I. I was twelve, and I remember the day – a Monday, according to the perpetual calendar at timeanddate.com – as being one of those bright summer vacation days that we’d like to have last forever. But that and the fact that I noted the uniqueness of the date are all I remember. The No. 6 record that day was “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra, on its way to a one-week stay at No. 1. The No. 66 record was “Take Some Time Out for Love” by the Isley Brothers. The brothers’ follow-up to “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You),” the record would go no higher, which is too bad, as it’s a good one.
I do not recall anything at all about July 7, 1977. It was a Thursday, which likely meant that I spent the day at St. Cloud State in a summer workshop for either newspaper production or 16mm film production. That was a full summer: I burned my hand badly, I broke up with my girlfriend of the time and – after spending some weeks with another young lady – got back together with her, and I played guitar and harmonica in an ensemble that performed a couple of times in a city park near the college campus, and I took three or four workshops. Any one of those things could have touched on July 7 that summer, but I cannot say for sure.
Sitting at No. 7 on 7-7-77 was the somewhat racy-for-its-time “Angel In Your Arms” by the trio from Los Angeles called Hot. The record was on its way up the chart and would advance one more slot, peaking at No. 6. Further down the chart, at No. 77, we find Leo Sayer with the awful “How Much Love” making its way up the chart to No. 17. (Believe me, if Sayer’s record had not been No. 77 on 7-7-77, there’s no way I would have featured it here.)
A little more than eleven years later, August 8, 1988, found me in Minot, North Dakota. I most likely spent the day at a phone bank on the third floor of an office building in downtown Minot, trying to supplement my college teacher’s salary by selling memberships to a health club. Whatever I did, I likely stayed home and listened to the radio that evening. The No. 8 record on 8-8-88 was “Monkey” by George Michael,which was on its way to a two-week stay at No. 1. It’s not one of my favorites. I quite like, however, the record that was sitting at No. 88: Belinda Carlisle’s cover of “I Feel Free.” The song – written by Peter Brown and Jack Bruce – had been recorded and released as a single by Cream in 1967; that version bubbled under for one week at No. 116. Twenty-one years later, Carlisle’s cover would peak at the No. 88 spot where it sat on that day of eights.
And that’s all the further down the timeline we’re going to go today. The hits of 1999 don’t interest me much – I did look to see what they were – and, anyway, I have to go keep an eye on the cosmos just in case.
This is the nineteenth segment, out of a planned thirty-eight, in which I’m exploring the records that would belong in what I call my Ultimate Jukebox. That means we’re halfway home. And I find it entirely fitting that one of the two songs that sparked this idea comes along this week by happenstance.
Last October, I wrote, in a meditation on autumn (and specifically on the autumn of 1975):
If there is a shining season during the years I spent on the campus of St. Cloud State, it is the autumn of 1975. . . . It was a golden time, one that seems more rich in memory with each passing year. But there were concrete reasons for that sense of goodness: Hope and renewal found me for the first time in a year. . . . My smile returned. And all around me – my home, my car, the student union, downtown bars and everywhere else – music was a friend once more, instead of a reminder of loss.”
Among the six songs I offered that day were selections from Jefferson Starship and Orleans, and as I wrote about those six, I said: “I think two of them would make my all-time jukebox (a mental exercise at this point, but perhaps the basis for a series of posts in the future): ‘Miracles’ and ‘Dance With Me.’”
Well, both of those did make the final list. “Miracles” will come along in a few weeks, but this week’s six selections are anchored by Orleans’ “Dance With Me.” As you likely know, it’s a sweet love song, written by the group’s John Hall and his wife, Johanna, and produced and performed nicely. In one sense, that’s all there is to say for it: It’s a nice tune and a nice record, and it spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 6.
But for me – as some songs are for everyone who loves music, I imagine (or at least hope) – “Dance With Me” is magic. In memory, it seems like I heard it everywhere I went during that sweet autumn as I figuratively danced through my classes and my work and my free time. As that quarter began – and the record began its time in the Top 40 – there was no special person to whom I could extend the invitation to dance; by the time the record was about to fall out of the Top 40 in early November, there was.
And almost thirty-five years later, after changes upon changes, there’s still someone to invite to the dance, as “Dance With Me” is also one of the Texas Gal’s favorite records.
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 19
“Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass, Checker 1120 
“Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra, Reprise 05090 
“Anyday” by Derek & the Dominos from Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs 
“Dance With Me” by Orleans, Asylum 45261 
“(Don’t) Fear the Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult from Agents of Fortune 
“Wall of Death” by Richard & Linda Thompson from Shoot Out The Lights 
The most accurate description, for me, of Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me” comes – as is so often the case – from Dave Marsh, who called the record the “[b]est non-Aretha Aretha ever,” noting that the sound was not surprising, as Bass’ mother was gospel music star Martha Bass, who got her own start with the Clara Ward Singers, who traveled with Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha’s father. In any case, “Rescue Me” is a fine slice of mid-Sixties R&B from the Chess studios in Chicago. The record went to No. 4 during the autumn of 1965 and was No. 1 for four weeks on the R&B chart.
Even though the record pre-dates the time when I gave full attention to the Top 40, I’m certain I heard Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” during 1966, when it went to No. 25 (and spent one week at the top of the Adult Contemporary chart). I imagine that if nothing else, I heard it late one evening as our household was turning in for the night: For about twenty minutes as we got ready for bed, Dad would turn on the transistor radio on his bedside table. The radio – which Dad had appropriated from my sister, although she didn’t seem to care – was almost always tuned to KFAM, the station on the west side of town, and our twenty minutes of music at bedtime was very definitely middle of the road, not like that rock and roll that the station nearest us, WJON, played. (I wonder now if KFAM’s format might have been called adult contemporary?) In any case, I’m certain that my faint memory of having heard “Summer Wind” comes from one of those evenings during the autumn of 1966. So why does it show up here? Because it’s a good record with a subtle performance by Sinatra, and it reminds me of my dad.
I love “Layla.” I have since I first heard it in 1970, and I dug it more when it was re-released as a single in 1972. But its familiarity worked against it when I was sorting through titles to list here. The burning riff that opens “Layla” would certainly wake up the denizens of any coffeehouse in which I installed my hypothetical jukebox, but I think that after that opening burst, folks would think, “Oh, yeah, ‘Layla,’” and push the music into the background. My choice from the Layla album is instead “Anyday,” which has almost as arresting an opening and, I’m thinking, wouldn’t be quite as familiar nor as easily dismissed. Even if I’m wrong about that, “Anyday” is a tremendous piece of rock, with the descending bass line that always intrigues me and great vocals by both Eric Clapton and co-writer Bobby Whitlock.
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” which went to No. 12 during the autumn of 1976, is pretty much all I really know about Blue Öyster Cult. I’ve got the Agents of Fortune LP and I have mp3s of some of the group’s other stuff, but it all tends to get lost in the (literal) shuffle. That just puts the group’s work onto a (long) list of music I need to pay more attention to, and the list gets longer every week. But the loping, looping introduction to “Reaper” commands my attention whenever it pops up on the computer or on the Zen player, and the “la-la-la-la-la” refrain remains chilling. According to Wikipedia, writer Donald Roeser – better known as Buck Dharma – says the song is not, as is often supposed, about death but about eternal love. That may be what he thinks, but I know how it feels to me, and “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” feels like an invitation to step through a door I’ve seen once and am not nearly ready to see again.
“Wall of Death,” the closing song on Richard and Linda Thompson’s grim and tense 1982 masterpiece, Shoot Out The Lights, is, if one would believe the lyrics, about an amusement park ride. Given the real-life circumstances of the recording sessions – from what I’ve read, the Thompsons’ marriage was crumbling rapidly at the time – one can find all sorts of metaphors in the song. I’m reminded as I write of Bruce Springsteen’s 1987 single “Tunnel of Love,” which also used an amusement park ride as a metaphor for the circumstances of his failing marriage to Julianne Phillips. Somehow “Wall of Death” seems darker than that, though: “On the Wall Of Death all the world is far from me. On the Wall Of Death it’s the nearest to being free. . . . You can waste your time on the other rides. This is the nearest to being alive. Oh, let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death.” Or it just could be Richard Thompson’s voice, which has a much more somber cast. Either way, it’s an arresting song:
A couple of weeks ago, I figured it was time to make sure that my family and I knew the names of all the folks in all the pictures my dad took over the years. So I went to the storage unit where we keep all the stuff Mom couldn’t fit into her apartment and found a cardboard box full of slides. Mom and I have been spending a couple of afternoons each week, looking at slides, identifying who was pictured and jotting all the information into a notebook. (Luckily, Dad wrote the date and place on most slides over the years; that information would be more difficult to figure out.)
I’m (slowly) entering the information into a database – one spreadsheet for each large box of slides – and just as slowly converting the slides to digital images. The boxes we’re looking at right now hold slides from the late 1950s and the early and mid-1960s, so we’ve seen some terrific pictures of friends and relatives long gone. And there have been a few laughs, as well. (I may post one or two of the images here, if they seem to help illustrate a post.)
As well as finding the first of the boxes of slides at the storage unit, I also found a box marked CDs. So I dug into it, and I found some CDs that Dad bought in – I would guess – the early 1990s. There were a few that intrigued me, collections of music from the time of World War II and the years that bracketed that war. So for the last week, when I haven’t been looking at slides or working on the photo project, my spare time has been filled with ripping those CDs and then digging for original release data about the tunes. (The CD sets have poor, if any, notes. The best source for that information has been the Online Discographical Project and its associated search site.)
And I got to thinking as I was listening to the music of my father’s youth and young adulthood: what if I’d pushed the starting date for the Ultimate Jukebox back ten years, starting in the late 1930s instead of the late 1940s? Don’t worry. I’m not going to do that. But wondered for a few minutes about what recordings might have been contenders.
Here’s the first one I thought of: Tommy Dorsey’s version of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” with vocals from a young Frank Sinatra. It was recorded, I believe, on February 26, 1940, in New York City.
Next, I thought of something by Benny Goodman, and after dithering for a while, I settled on the studio version of “Sing, Sing, Sing,” with the amazing Gene Krupa on drums. (The version from Goodman’s famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert is great, as well.) The studio version in the video below was recorded, as far as I can tell, on July 6, 1937, in Hollywood.
The third song I thought about – and this is as far as I went – was one for my Dad. We were talking once years ago about his time in the Army and the Army Air Corps – he enlisted sometime in the late 1930s, before World War II, and served through the war’s end in 1945 – and I asked him where he’d traveled during those years. He told me a few tales about his wartime service in India and China, but he said he’d also been to a few more pleasant places. One that he recalled with a smile was Trinidad, an island in the Caribbean just off the coast of Venezuela.
He was there during the early months of 1941 for a military air show, and he said that one of his favorite memories of Trinidad was sitting in a waterfront establishment, drinking the local favorite: rum and Coca-Cola. “Just like in the song,” he said. The Andrews Sisters’ song, titled simply “Rum and Coca-Cola,” was a hit in 1945 and evidently provided my dad with good memories. So here it is, recorded – I think – on October 23, 1944.
Song ticker replaced June 13, 2011, with a video that I hope has the right recording.