Posts Tagged ‘Gordon Lightfoot’

A Stop In 1975

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

We’re going to scan the digital shelves here today and play around in 1975, checking out five tracks from that long-gone but fondly remembered year. We’ve got a little more than 1,800 tracks to play with, so we’ll sort them by time, put the cursor in the middle of the column, and go.

Our first stop is a track titled “Thirty-Piece Band” by guitarist and singer Ellen McIlwaine from her third album, The Real Ellen McIlwaine. Recorded in Montreal and released on the Canadian Kot’ai label – after her first two albums came out on Polydor – the album is generally a decent mix of covers and originals. She’s not well-known – never having hit any chart that I’ve ever seen – but her records from the 1960s and 1970s were nice additions to a collection. According to Wikipedia, she released a couple albums in Japan in the early 2000s. “Thirty-Piece Band” is two-and-a-half minutes of churning solo guitar work topped off in the middle by some vamping and less than coherent lyrics. It’s not one of McIlwaine’s best moments.

On we go, landing on Linda Ronstadt’s “Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox” from Prisoner In Disguise, an album that went to No. 4 in the Billboard 200 after being released in September 1975. Ronstadt’s cover of James Taylor’s 1971 album track has always been my favorite track from Prisoner; her restrained vocal and the light steel guitar are far more effective than anything else on the album, including the hits (“Love Is A Rose,” “The Tracks Of My Tears” and “Heat Wave”). From this point on (with just a few exceptions), Ronstadt seemed a lot more vehement and got a lot less interesting.

The late Larry Jon Wilson pops up here from time to time with his southern wit. This time, it’s “The Truth Ain’t In You” from his debut album New Beginnings. A mostly spoken tale of an early 1960s college-age pursuit of a young woman, the track rambles on nicely, winding around three times to the chorus: “You don’t love Jesus and the truth ain’t in you.” Fun, like much of Wilson’s work was.

In 1975, Gordon Lightfoot followed up the mega-success of 1974’s Sundown – buoyed by two Top Ten singles (“Sundown” and “Carefree Highway”), the album was No. 1 for two weeks during the summer of 1974 – with Cold On The Shoulder, an album similar in approach but, to my ears, less distinctive. Part of that judgment, certainly might be that I know Sundown better, having listened to it more frequently. The tune we fall on today is “Now & Then” from Cold On The Shoulder. It’s your basic softer Lightfoot song, a tuneful reverie of love now gone that slips on occasion into cliché, backed with chiming guitars and perhaps a few too many strings. Pleasant listening, but not as satisfying as his best work.

Albert Hammond has popped up here from time to time, at least once for his hit “It Never Rains In Southern California” and one other time for his “99 Miles From L.A.” Today, we get “Lay The Music Down” from the 99 Miles From L.A. album. A song of lost love told in the context of musicians and their songs, “Lay The Music Down” is backed, says Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic, by “mild disco rhythms.” I don’t get that, but okay. It’s a decent track but no more than that.

‘Lazy Mornin’’

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

I had not intended to turn this week into a vacation from my duties here, but I’ve been taking it easy: sleeping late and lounging, although yesterday, I did manage a run to the grocery store and the public library. (The resulting fatigue told me I have some ways to go before entire recovery from my January surgery.)

But I have thought only a little about this blog this week, and except for this quick note to say that all is well, I’m going to continue to laze the week away.

And with that, here’s Gordon Lightfoot’s “Lazy Mornin’,” from his 1972 album Old Dan’s Records.

See you Saturday.

Saturday Single No. 567

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Household tasks and other stuff call me away today. Here’s one of my favorite Saturday tunes: “Saturday Clothes” by Gordon Lightfoot. It’s from his 1970 album If You Could Read My Mind, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘North’

Friday, March 11th, 2016

When we sort the 88,000 or so mp3s on the digital shelves for the direction “north” – beginning, as we do so, our “Follow the Directions” journey promised a few weeks ago – we run into several obstacles.

First of all, numerous mp3s have been tagged by their rippers over the years as “Northern Soul,” a designation that, as I’ve noted before, tends to baffle me because it’s more reliant on the reaction of the listener than it is to anything intrinsic to the music. But never mind. We’ll have to ignore those.

We also lose tunes by those performers and groups that have “north” as part of their names, like Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers, a 1920s string band; the North Mississippi Allstars, a current blues ’n’ boogie band; Northern Light, the band that released “Minnesota” in 1975; Canadian singer-songwriter Tom Northcott (without intending to, I’ve gathered eleven of his recordings); and a current folky group called True North.

Then we have to cross off our list a live 1982 performance by Jesse Winchester in Northampton, Massachusetts; and almost every track from many albums, including the Freddy Jones Band’s 1995 album North Avenue Wake Up Call, the Michael Stanley Band’s North Coast (1981), Dawes’ North Hills (2014), Sandy Denny’s The North Star Grassman & The Raven (1971), The Band’s Northern Lights/Southern Cross (1975) and Ian & Sylvia’s Northern Journey (1964). But we still have enough to choose from to find four worthy tunes pointing us to the “N” on the compass.

Regular readers know my regard for the late Jesse Winchester, and I think I know his catalog fairly well, but every now and then, his whimsy surprises me all over again, as happened with his tune “North Star” this morning. It starts like a serene, folky meditation:

Heaven’s got this one star that don’t move none
And that’s the place you want to aim your soul
Set you on a spot that knows no season
And be satisfied just to watch old Jordan roll

And then Winchester leaps:

Now, does the world have a belly button?
I can’t get this out of my head
’Cause if it turns up in my yard
I’ll tickle it so hard
’Til the whole world will laugh to wake the dead

Surprises me every time. It’s on Winchester’s 1972 album Third Down, 110 To Go.

If the North had ever had a poet/musician laureate, for years that place would have been filled by Gordon Lightfoot, and just three of his songs would have cemented him there: “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and “Alberta Bound.” And it seems to me that Lightfoot summed up all of his Canadian lore in one last good Northern song: “Whispers of the North” from his 1983 album Salute:

Whispers of the north
Soon I will go forth
To that wild and barren land
Where nature takes its course
Whispers of the wind
Soon I will be there again
Bound with a wild and restless drive
That pulls me from within
And we can ride away
We can glide all day
And we can fly away

Back in the late 1980s, a ladyfriend and I included Lightfoot on our list of essential musicians; even so, I’ve never been driven to pull together a complete Lightfoot collection, as I’ve done with Bob Dylan (with the exception of his Christmas album). The urgency wasn’t there, I guess, although the shelves – both wooden and digital – hold plenty of Lightfoot. And “Whispers of the North,” though it might not rank with the other three Canadian anthems I mentioned above, is pretty high on my list. The loon call at the start doesn’t hurt, of course.

The song that shows up most frequently – twenty-two times – in my sorting of “north” is Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country.” Beyond five versions by Dylan himself and four by Leon Russell (one of those with Joe Cocker and one with the Tedeschi Trucks Band), I have versions by the Country Gentlemen, Hamilton Camp, Howard Tate, Margo Timmins, Rosanne Cash, Mylon Lefevre, Jimmy LaFave, Leo Kottke and several other folks, including the previously mentioned Tom Northcott. A Vancouver native, Northcott had several charting singles in Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s and got into the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. once, when his cover of Harry Nilsson’s “1941” went to No. 88 in early 1968. (A cover of Donovan’s “Sunny Goodge Street” had bubbled under at No. 123 during the summer of 1967.) His pleasant take on “Girl From the North Country” went to No. 65 on the Canadian charts in 1968.

And we end today with “Lady Of The North” by Gene Clark, the closer to his 1974 album No Other. According to the tales told at Wikipedia, Clark – after some years of indulgence – was sober when wrote the bulk of the album’s songs at his home in Mendocino, California. After heading to Los Angeles to record, though, he more than dabbled in cocaine, and his wife, Carlie, took the couple’s children back to Northern California. Whether it was a direct response, I’m not certain, but Clark, with help from Doug Dillard, wrote “Lady Of The North” for Carlie and used it as the album’s closer. Wikipedia notes that the album was a “critical and commercial failure,” that the time and resources used to record were “seen as excessive and indulgent,” and that Asylum did little to promote the album. Two CD releases of the album in recent years have been met with better critical and commercial response.

‘Coffee’s In The Kitchen . . .’

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

I pulled a muscle in my back yesterday lifting an old copying machine.

About eight weeks ago, the copying machine at our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship across town wheezed and died. Long-time members told me that its demise wasn’t a surprise. That’s pretty much what the service tech told me when he and I met at the fellowship a couple days later.

The copier, he said, needed a circuit board that hasn’t been in production for at least five years. “I’ve been telling you folks that the day would come when the machine can’t be saved,” he told me.

Okay, I said, and over the next few weeks, our Communications Committee – I’m the chairman – and our Technology Subcommittee looked at some options and made a recommendation to the Fellowship Board, and we got a new, and much smaller, copier/printer. That left the question of what to do with the old copier, now shoved aside in the office.

Well, I met yesterday morning with a rep from the firm that maintained the old copier. We discussed some business regarding the (now unnecessary) service contract, and he pushed the old dinosaur out of the office and the building and down the sidewalk to his van. There, he stopped, and without much thought, I took hold of the grips on one side of the machine and helped him lift it into the van.

As I did, something gave way in my back about halfway between my left hip and my ribcage. He apologized as I arched my back and winced. I said I was okay, and he took off. I closed up the building and then limped through a few other morning errands and went home and took some aspirin.

By the time the Texas Gal got home about at half past five, I was in pretty sad shape, staying put on the couch as much as possible and lurching unevenly when I had to move. She offered me some stronger medication and encouraged me to call in my regrets for an evening meeting at church. So I stayed on the couch, ate pizza and watched television.

My back is better this morning, but moving too quickly in the wrong direction gives me a twinge, so I’m going to take it easy today and then get through a scheduled task at church this evening.

So it’s a lazy morning. And here’s “Lazy Morning” by Gordon Lightfoot. It’s from his 1972 release, Old Dan’s Records.

‘Come On In My Kitchen . . .’

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Come on into the kitchen here at the studios. You need an invitation? Okay, here’s one by a British blues musician named Paul Williams, from his 1973 album In Memory Of Robert Johnson:

Looking at the record jacket shown in the video, a blues fan sees a couple of errors. Robert Johnson did not die in a hotel room but rather in a house in Greenwood, Mississippi (at 109 Young Street, if the late Honeyboy Edwards’ commentary in the 1991 documentary The Search For Robert Johnson is accurate). And Johnson was twenty-seven when he died, not twenty. But the mistakes on that jacket simply illustrate how little was known about the man forty years ago when his music had already inspired a generation of blues artists through whatever 78s had survived nearly forty years and through two LPs released by Columbia.

Anyway, you’re in the kitchen. Over there, on the right, is the stove. In a 1929 recording, Blind Willie McTell warns Bethenea Harris that “This Is Not The Stove To Brown Your Bread” (with Alfoncy Harris adding guitar in the background). But the oven’s been in use, according to Spencer Wiggins, who wants to know “Who’s Been Warming My Oven” in a track recorded for Goldwax sometime around 1967 but not released at the time:

And over there, on the left, is the refrigerator. Alice Cooper sang in 1970’s “Refrigerator Heaven” about being frozen until a cure for cancer was found, but that’s happening in some lab, not in my kitchen. So we’ll turn a little bit and head for the counter, and that’s where we find Dolly Parton’s “Old Black Kettle” waiting for soup or stew or whatever we’ll have for dinner this evening, as it has been since she sang about it in 1973. And next to it we find breakfast: The “Second Cup Of Coffee” that Gordon Lightfoot’s been sipping since 1972 and some “Shortnin’ Bread” courtesy of Mississippi John Hurt, probably from 1966.

And then we’re out the door for the day.

Saturday Single No. 439

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

Without really meaning to, we’ve turned this week into a “days of the week” kind of thing, featuring a Monday song on Monday and a Wednesday song two days later. So it’s only right, I guess, that our Saturday Single this morning should be a Saturday song.

They’re easy enough to find, tunes about Saturday, as I know we’ve found out a couple of times before. When prompted, the RealPlayer finds eighty-three tunes in the current collection that have some connection to this day of the week. We have to eliminate most of Mick Sterling’s 2005 album Between Saturday Night and Sunday Morning as well as tracks from the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever and from Norman Connors’ 1975 album Saturday Night Special. And we also have to pass by a sweet 1967 single by a group called Saturday’s Children.

But there are plenty of tunes left to choose from. I’m tempted for a moment by a 1967 single titles “Saturday Morning Repentance” by a group called the Waterproof Candle, especially after the website that catalogs the huge Lost Jukebox collection tells me that Jimmy Webb both wrote the song and produced the record. But all that is more interesting than the record itself, so we move on.

Lee Hazlewood also put together a record about Saturday morning regrets titled “Hello Saturday Morning.” It was on his 1977 album Movin’ On, but it’s actually pretty ordinary and not nearly as weird as classic Hazlewood, so we will, in fact, be moving on.

We’ll pass as well on the pallid “Hootenany Saturday Night” by the Brothers Four from their 1965 album The Honey Wind Blows. The Brothers sing, “If you think we’ll be rowdy, you’re right,” but for some reason, I don’t buy it.

And then there’s Reparata of Reparata & The Delrons, who sang “Saturday Night Didn’t Happen” after her guy broke up with her. It’s decent, slightly spooky girl group pop, enlivened by one strange verse:

The ceiling is leaking, the chair I sit in is creaking
And so is the parrot, I feed him a carrot
And then he’ll be quiet again.

I do wonder sometimes how I wound up with an entire CD’s worth of music by Reparata & The Delrons, but these things just happen. And the parrot weirds me out, so on we go.

There are, of course, many Saturday night records: It’s a night that’s all right for fighting (Elton John, 1973), or spending at the duck pond (Cougars, 1963), or hanging out in Oak Grove, Louisiana (Tony Joe White, 1973), or having a fish fry (Louis Jordan, 1949). Or else, as Frank Sinatra told us at least twice (1944 and 1959), it’s the loneliest night of the week.

But if we’re going to think about Saturday night, as far as I’m concerned, we’re heading right into Gordon Lightfoot territory after the party winds down:

I feel a little blue ’cause I can’t sew
There’s still a lot of things that I should know
Anyone can guess
I don’t know how to press
My Saturday clothes
And everyone’s goin’ home

I feel a little sad to watch them leave
But I’ll be cool because I don’t believe
The happy times are gone
I can still put on
My Saturday clothes
Every warm body knows

I’ve got to tell you that was a swell time
Now I’ll take the butts away
And put the glasses on the tray
I’ll see you all next Saturday

I feel a little off because they’re gone
And if my gal were here, I’d still be on
But in a week or two
There’s lots of things to do
In my Saturday clothes
And everyone’s gone home

I’ve got to tell you that was a swell time
So now I’ll take the butts away
And put the glasses on the tray
I’ll see you all next Saturday

There are some odd corners in there, to be sure, but “Saturday Clothes” has been a favorite of mine from the first time I heard Lightfoot’s 1970 album If You Could Read My Mind, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Out From The Sun, Part 1

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

It’s time for a trip, starting right at the center of the Solar System. Along the way, we’ll check in at the eight planets, a couple of moons and maybe a comet. Why? Well, maybe I’m in a space/science mood from watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s 1980 TV series Cosmos. Whatever the reason, it seemed like a good idea this morning.

We’ll start at the center, with the Sun. There were lots of titles to choose from on the digital shelves, even after I weeded out all the mp3s originally released on the Sun label. I dithered a while, and then remembered something I read long ago written about solar exploration either by a second-grader or a slow learner: If the surface of the sun is too hot for humans to survive, then we can go at night. Well, we’ll go at sundown and listen to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” as we travel. Pulled from his 1974 album of the same name, “Sundown” went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop and adult contemporary charts and to No. 13 on the country chart.

Heading outward from Sol, our first stop is Mercury. After we eliminate the records on the Mercury label, we’re left with a few tracks about the element and a few tracks about the car but none about the planet itself. That’s okay. We’ll settle for the car, which might as well be our mode of transport on this journey. So here is “Mercury Blues” from Fly Like An Eagle, the 1976 album by the Steve Miller Band that went to No. 3 in the Billboard 200. The band had recorded a much more up-tempo version of the tune for the soundtrack to the 1968 movie Revolution, but I like the slower version. After all, we may as well take our time and see the sights.

Next stop as we head out from the Sun is Venus, and there are a few tunes to choose from about the goddess, if not the planet. Considered for an instant and discarded just as quickly was Frankie Avalon’s “Venus,” a No.1 hit from 1959, although I considered for a moment a 1962 version of the same tune by the Ventures. But if we’re going to land on Venus, then we’re going to land on “Venus” by the Shocking Blue. The record was a No. 1 hit for the Dutch group in February 1970, jumping out of millions of radios around the world – including my old RCA upstairs on Kilian Boulevard – with its ringing introductory riff. (I passed a little regretfully on a 1972 cover of the same tune by organist Zygmunt Jankowski. Maybe another time.)

Leaving Venus and its clouds and ringing riff behind, we head to our home planet. And we dig deep into Motown’s huge catalog for the 1970 cautionary tune “You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth” by the Temptations. I’ve noted in the past my general preference for the Four Tops over the Temptations, but I do love the freaky, funky and atmospheric production that Norman Whitfield brought to this tune and the others that he and Barrett Strong wrote for the Psychedelic Shack album. The album went to No. 9.

Leaving Earth, we’ll make a brief stop at the Moon before heading further out into the Solar System again. I was very tempted to go into my Al Hirt collection for his 1963 rendition of “Fly Me To The Moon,” but having dropped Big Al in here the other week when I looked at “I’m Movin’ On,” I passed on the horn. Instead, I opted for a track by the Doors that I first heard in 1971 when I picked up 13, the band’s greatest hits album. The slightly spooky “Moonlight Drive” comes from the 1967 album Strange Days and showed up as the B-side to “Love Me Two Times” late that year.

Our last stop today, as we cross the Asteroid Belt and finish the first half of our trek out into the Solar System, is Mars. A search for “Mars” in the RealPlayer’s files brings up a lot of stuff we can’t use, including lots of music from Marsha Hunt, the Marshall Tucker Band and Wynton Marsalis. But one single stands out among the unusable: “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” by Wings. Pulled from the Venus and Mars album, the record went to No. 12 in December 1975, and it provides a very hummable tune as we pause here on Mars before continuing our journey and heading to the giant planets.

“Cold’

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

As I write, the WeatherBug program tells me that it’s -20 Fahrenheit out at the St. Cloud Municipal Airport just a mile or two away. Factor in the 3 mph wind, and it feels like it’s -30. (Those temperatures are -29 and -34 for those keeping score in Celsius.)

I’m just back from dropping the Texas Gal at her workplace downtown so she wouldn’t have to walk either two blocks from the parking lot or four blocks from the downtown bus terminal. And although I have one errand to run later today – and of course have to go pick up the Texas Gal at the end of the workday – I will be content to spend the bulk of the day inside where it’s warm. To mark the chill, however, here’s a three-song sampler of “cold.”

Bobby Sherman was a regular chart presence on the Metromedia label between 1969 and 1971 – “Little Woman,” “La La La (If I Had You),” “Easy Come, Easy Go” and “Julie, Do Ya Love Me” all hit the Top Ten and a few others made the Top 40 – but before that, he scuffled around on at least two other labels. His “It Hurts Me” on Decca bubbled under the chart at No. 116 in 1965, and in 1967, his Epic single “Cold Girl” made no dent in the chart at all. I came across the record in the massive Lost Jukebox files I’ve mentioned several times before. Much of the stuff in those files is easily ignored, but “Cold Girl” is pretty good.

I’m not at all certain what Gordon Lightfoot is singing about in “Cold On The Shoulder.”

All you need is time
All you need is time, time, time to make me bend
Give it a try, don’t be rude
Put it to the test and I’ll give it right back to you

It’s cold on the shoulder
And you know that we get a little older every day

But it really doesn’t matter. Like most Lightfoot tunes, especially those from the mid-1970s, the title tune to his 1975 album Cold On The Shoulder is atmospheric, tuneful and catchy, all of which helped the album go to No. 10 on the Billboard chart. Many of Lightfoot’s lyrics became a little elliptical during those years (and continued to be so for a few years to come). That indirection, as I understand from various interviews, was because he was writing about things in his life that were difficult to come at from the front, so that’s understandable. And metaphor is generally easier to listen to than straight-on blood-letting anyway.

Speaking of metaphor, “Cold Bologna” by the Isley Brothers is both metaphor and tale, as the narrator notes that he’s five years old and “Mama’s out cookin’ steak for someone else,” with that someone else being the rich folks Mama works for. The track, written by Bill Withers, is from the brothers’ 1971 album Givin’ It Back, which went to No. 71 on the Billboard Hot 200 and to No. 13 on the R&B albums chart. Three singles from the album reached the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B singles chart. “Cold Bologna” was not one of them.

As 2013 winds down today and midnight leads us into 2014, the Texas Gal and I would like to pass on our hopes that the New Year will be one of those years that shines while you’re living it and shines even more brightly as it recedes in the past. See you on the other side of the calendar!

‘Green’

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

So today, in the fourth installment of Floyd’s Prism, we come to “Green,” the “G.” in the famous mnemonic for recalling the colors of the spectrum: “Roy G. Biv.”

The RealPlayer provides a total of 576 mp3s to sort. The first tracks to be trimmed are the sixteen covers of 1960s folk from the fine 1999 collection Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village in the ’60s and the thirteen covers from a similar 2009 album, The Village: A Celebration Of The Music Of Greenwich Village.

We also lose many, if not all, tracks from other albums: The Stone Poneys’ Evergreen, Vol. 2, Dana Wells’ The Evergreen, Steel Mill’s Green Eyed God, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River, Dar Williams’ The Green World, Leo Kottke’s Greenhouse, the Pete Best Band’s Hayman’s Green (yes, that Pete Best; it’s a pretty decent album from 2008), the bluesy Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, the Jayhawks’ Tomorrow the Green Grass and a few others, including Sibylle Baier’s Colour Green, an album featured here not long ago that was made up mostly of home recordings from the early 1970s and released in 2006.

We set aside multiple albums by Al Green and country singer Pat Green, and single albums from songwriter Ellie Greenwich, the 1960s groups Green and Evergreen Blue Shoes, and a 2010 album by a European electropop duo called the Green Children.

We also lose tracks by performers Barbara Greene, Cal Green, Eli Green (with Mississippi Fred McDowell), Grant Green, the Greenwoods, Jackie Green, Johnny Green & The Greenmen, Judy Green, the little known R. Green (of R. Green & Turner, who recorded two blues sides for the J&M Fulbright label in Los Angeles in 1948), Rudy Greene, Rudy Green & His Orchestra, Lorne Green, the marvelously named Slim Green & The Cats From Fresno and, of course, Norman Greenbaum.

And a few songs fall by the wayside because of their titles: Jackie DeShannon’s “The Greener Side,” five mp3s titled “Evergreen” (some with numbers attached and none of them the 1976 Barbra Streisand record), Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Greenland Whale Fisheries,” Tony Rice’s “Greenlight on the Southern,” a couple versions of “Greensleeves,” three of “Greenback Dollar,” and six tracks with “Greenwood” in their titles, including the wonderful 1970 single “Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard.

But that leaves us many titles yet to work with. We’ll start with a country favorite of mine from 1993.

I didn’t know about the tune in 1993, of course, as I rarely listened to country music then. (A work friend of mine in those days suggested I give a Brooks & Dunn album a listen; I returned it to him regretfully, not yet ready for boot-scootin’.) But come the year 2000, with the Texas Gal on the scene, I began to catch up at least a little on what I’d been missing. And one evening, as we were passing time watching country music videos on CMT, there came Joe Diffie’s “John Deere Green.” The story of Billy Bob and Charlene and the tall green letters on the water tower amused me, and it touched memories of both summer weeks on my grandpa’s farm and of Gramps’ allegiance to John Deere farm equipment. I don’t follow country closely, but it’s on the radio and the CD player occasionally; it’s not nearly as foreign as it was, thanks mostly to the Texas Gal and at least in part to Diffie’s single (which went to No. 5 on the country chart and to No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100).

There are five versions of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Bitter Green” in the digital stacks: covers by Ronnie Hawkins, Tony Rice and fellow Canadian folk singer Valdy and studio and live versions by Lightfoot. I like them all but decided to go with Lightfoot’s version from his 1968 album, Back Here On Earth. At the time, Lightfoot was known mostly in the U.S. as a songwriter; his performing career was much stronger in Canada (and that imbalance remained until 1970 or so). “Bitter Green” and the story it tells are vintage Lightfoot: an easily embraced melody backed only by guitar and literate and clear lyrics. He’d go on to great critical and popular success in the 1970s and beyond, but many of his early recordings are still worth close listening. This is one of them.

Gods and Generals, a 2003 film based on a 1996 novel by Jeffrey Schaara, was focused, says Wikipedia, on “the life of Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson,” the God-fearing and militarily brilliant yet eccentric Confederate general.” I’ve not seen the film, and perhaps I should, but my interest in Gods and General this morning is the soundtrack, itself notable to me because Bob Dylan’s haunting “’Cross the Green Mountain” is its closing track. In her review of the soundtrack at All Music Guide, Heather Phares notes that Dylan’s contribution “sounds more contemporary than most of the rest of the album, but still has enough rustic warmth to complement it gracefully.” The video to which I’ve linked has a shorter version of the tune than does the soundtrack; the original version, which runs eight-plus minutes, is available on the soundtrack CD and on Dylan’s 2008 release, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8.

Although I try to dig up relatively rare and different tracks when I do sets like this – for Floyd’s Prism or the earlier March Of The Integers – there are times when familiar tracks simply demand to be included. Such is the case with “Green Onions” by Booker T. & The MG’s. The record – familiar and forever fresh – went to No. 3 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1962. In his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh wrote that “Green Onions” is “what happens when the best backup band in the universe decides it’s time to get noticed.”

In early 2007, a Houston, Texas, music producer named Kevin Ryan went into his home studio and, as Dan Brekke of Salon wrote that April, “engineered a sort of retro mash-up of two of his favorite artists, Bob Dylan and Dr. Seuss. . . . Ryan took the text from seven Seuss classics, including ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ and set them to original tunes that sounded like they were right off Dylan’s mid-’60s releases. He played all the instruments and sang all the songs in Dylan’s breathy, nasal twang. He registered a domain name, dylanhearsawho.com, and in February posted his seven tracks online, accompanied by suitably Photoshopped album artwork, under the title Dylan Hears A Who.” The Salon piece tells the tale of the copyright claims that followed from the folks who own the Dr. Seuss material, examines the copyright issues at hand and notes that the material is still widely available on the ’Net. That’s true, of course, at YouTube, where Ryan’s version of “Green Eggs & Ham” remains a delight.

When Joni Mitchell released Blue in 1971, the lyrics to “Little Green” must have seemed like typically elliptical Joni Mitchell lyrics, telling a story by circling around it with vague hints and references:

Born with the moon in Cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her
Little green, be a gypsy dancer

He went to California
Hearing that everything’s warmer there
So you write him a letter and say, “Her eyes are blue”
He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you
Little green, he’s a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed
Little green, have a happy ending

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

When one reads those lyrics now, in the light of Mitchell’s having given birth to a daughter in 1965 and giving her up for adoption – a tale that became public in 1993 – “Little Green” becomes a heart-breaking piece of work.