Posts Tagged ‘Isley Brothers’

Saturday Single No. 445

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

A little later than usual, the spring season of outdoor chores is on us.

The Texas Gal’s broken fibula has limited her, and she’s been fretting in the past few weeks, wondering when she would get to uncover the strawberries, clear the leaves from the near garden and begin implementing this year’s garden plan. (More cabbages, more cucumbers and fewer tomatoes, as I understand it.)

And I’ve let a few body aches and some other things keep me from changing the kitchen and dining room windows from storms to screens. I’ll get that done today. (The house has central air, but it’s nice to have the occasional light breeze waft through, and the cats dearly love to sit on the dining room window seat with their noses to the screen, checking out the neighborhood aroma news.) I’ll also haul some of the summer necessities up from the basement and do some general pick-up around the yard.

All of that and more – we hope – gets done today, as we mark what could be designated as Outdoor Work Day No. 1. I’m going to make certain the Texas Gal doesn’t overburden her healing leg, and we’ll see how much energy I have myself. But we should get enough done that come early evening, I’ll have hauled out a couple of lawn chairs and we’ll take our reward for our work, sipping beverages in the springtime sunlight.

And here’s an entirely appropriate tune for the day. We have offered it here before, but that was back in 2008, and seven years is a long time in blogyears, so here’s the Isley Brothers’ “Work To Do” from 1972, today’s Saturday Single.

More Chart Digging, August 1969

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Yesterday, as we dug in the Bubbling Under section of the Billboard Hot 100 released August 23, 1969, we pulled out Henry Mancini’s truncated version of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” At the same time, we ran across five other records in that Bubbling Under section that seemed worth notice, if not exactly deserving of more attention than they got forty-five years ago.

The New Colony Six kind of baffles me. They had two medium-sized hits – “I Will Always Think About You” (No. 22) and “Things I’d Like To Say” (No. 16) – in 1968, but I have no recollection from the time of having ever heard the records or having even heard of the group. Admittedly, I wasn’t listening to Top 40 very avidly in 1968, but it was all around me, and most records of the time were familiar to me in later years when I finally was catching up. So I was a little taken aback in the early 1970s when a couple of college friends sang the praises of the group and I had no clue what they were talking about. Ah, well, I’ve been clueless plenty of other times in this life, too, so we’ll just note that the New Colony Six’s “I Want You To Know” was parked at No. 105 during this week in August 1969; it would eventually climb to No. 65.

Just below that, at No. 106, the Isley Brothers were offering the world the notion that “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” The thundering, almost lumbering “Black Berries – Pt. 1” was ostensibly about life in the berry patch as the Isleys grew up in Cincinnati, but the just-naughty-enough tagline was perfect for an era during which racial attitudes and sexual mores were changing rapidly and becoming suitable topics for (slyly coded) pieces of pop culture. The record made it to No. 79, one of more than fifty records the Isleys – in various combinations – put in or near the Hot 100 between 1959 and 2004.

As I noted a couple of years ago, Marva Whitney was a soul/R&B singer from Kansas City, Kansas, who toured between 1967 and 1970 as a featured performer in the James Brown Review. She recorded a fair number of singles during that time and on into the 1970s, with most of them released on the King label. Earlier in 1969, the Brown-produced “It’s My Thing (You Can’t Tell Me Who To Sock It To),” an answer record to the Isleys’ “It’s Your Thing,” went to No. 82 (No. 19, R&B). In late August, “Things Got To Get Better (Get Together)” – also a Brown production – was sitting at No. 112; it would move up only two more spots, but it would get to No. 22 on the R&B chart.

By August 1969, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass had not had a Top 40 hit since “A Banda” went to No. 35 in September 1967. (“This Guy’s In Love With You,” which went to No. 1 in the spring of 1968, was credited to Alpert alone.) And a summer 1969 cover of the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” didn’t do it for Alpert and his men. The record, which was sitting at No. 118 forty-five years ago this week, isn’t all that great and actually seems kind of joyless, which to me is the antithesis of the best TJB records. It would spend one more week at No. 118 and then go away for good.

In the spring of 1969, long-time band leader and arranger Dick Hyman had a mild hit (No. 38) with “The Minotaur,” a synthesizer piece credited to “Dick Hyman & His Electric Eclectics.” The record was three minutes of the kind of noodling that ends Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s 1970 single, “Lucky Man.” Hyman stayed with the synthesizer as the summer came on, releasing the album The Age Of Electronicus, from which he offered “Aquarius” as a single, which was okay, if you like a healthy dose of R2-D2 with your music. Forty-five years ago this week, Hyman’s “Aquarius” was at No. 126. It got no higher.

“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!

Chart Digging: October 30, 1971

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

By the time the end of October rolled around in 1971, your narrator, in the midst of his first quarter of college, had realized a few things: First, he was likely going to fail chemistry and African history. Second, the young lady who sat next to him in sociology was kind of cute and was also a Minnesota Vikings fan. And third, he didn’t particularly like a lot of what he was hearing on the radio anymore.

As I’ve related before, I did fail the two courses, mostly because I didn’t know how to study; I’d never had to do so to get through high school. I did not fail sociology. I got a B, and by the end of the quarter, I was spending several evenings a week with the young lady who sat next to me. (That didn’t last, and it was my fault: I got nervous, never having had a girlfriend before, and I backed off abruptly when the quarter ended.)

As to the radio, I was getting tired of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” which by the end of October that year had been in the No. 1 spot (along with its flipside, “Reason To Believe’”) in the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks. The rest of the Top Ten was:

“Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” by Cher
“Yo-Yo” by the Osmonds
“Superstar/Bless The Beasts & Children” by the Carpenters
“Theme from ‘Shaft’” by Isaac Hayes
“Imagine” by John Lennon Plastic Ono Band
“Do You Know What I Mean” by Lee Michaels
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by Joan Baez
“Peace Train” by Cat Stevens
“I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” by the Free Movement

I liked – and still like – the Lennon and Hayes singles. Some of the rest looks better from the distance of more than forty years than it sounded to me back then. I still dislike the singles from the Osmonds and (viscerally) from Joan Baez. If I heard the Free Movement single, it was only if I went to sleep with the radio set to Chicago’s WLS (where the record went to No. 2), as it doesn’t show up on the KDWB surveys collected at Oldiesloon. (Either Google search failed me here or, more likely, I failed to use it carefully, as the Free Movement record did chart in the 30s for two weeks at KDWB, as noted below by our pal Yah Shure.)

Looking deeper into that end-of-October Hot 100, I find – as I usually do when scanning old charts – some singles that I’m generally unfamiliar with even today. Would I have liked them forty-two years ago? I don’t know. I remember a general dissatisfaction with Top 40 during that first quarter of college. Maybe there was something else going on specific to that quarter, as I do recall numerous Top 40 tunes from 1972 with affection. But however I would have felt back then, as I dig in the lower depths of that Hot 100 today, I find some nice things I’ve never heard before.

Sitting right at the bottom of the chart, at No. 100 and No. 99 respectively, we find some nice vocal soul/R&B: “Walk Right Up To The Sun” by the Delfonics and “I Bet He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” by the Intruders. The Delfonics’ single would peak at No. 81 and go to No. 13 on the R&B chart, while the Intruders’ record would peak at No. 92 and reach No. 20 on the R&B chart. Both groups obviously had better performing singles on both charts, and both probably had singles that were just better records, but to fresh ears forty-two years later, those are pretty good records.

The James Gang is a group that I gave little attention, and I’m not sure why. What I heard of the group in folks’ dorm rooms and at parties seemed too hard, too raucous, I think. Now, of course, it seems almost tame. The group’s “Midnight Man” was sitting at No. 94 at the end of October 1971, and it’s not at all what I would have expected from the James Gang; the eighteen-year-old whiteray would have found it much more accessible than he expected, had he heard it as it headed on its way to No. 80.

One of the constant presences in the budget bins at Woolworth’s and Musicland through the first half of the 1970s was the Beach Boys’ 1971 album, Surf’s Up. Its cover art puzzled me, with its depiction of the James Earle Fraser sculpture End Of The Trail as it might have been painted by Vincent Van Gogh. Every time I saw it, it baffled me, and it still does. The cognitive dissonance offered by the cover hid some music that perhaps I should have sampled; the single “Long Promised Road” is intriguing enough. It was sitting at No. 93 forty-two years ago, on its way to No. 89. (My bafflement and avoidance is not limited to Surf’s Up. Over the decades, that’s been my reaction to pretty much anything the group did after “Good Vibrations.” Maybe I need to go back and listen. On the other hand, I recall clearly my reaction of bemused indifference to Brian Wilson’s supposed epic Smile when it was released in 2004. I rarely sell CDs. I sold that one.)

Once the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had its hit single on the Liberty label – “Mr. Bojangles” went to No. 9 in early 1971 – the band moved to United Artists. And in the autumn of 1971, UA went into the group’s back catalog and released “Some Of Shelly’s Blues” as a single. Two years earlier (and before “Mr. Bojangles”), a Liberty single of the song – written by Mike Nesmith – had bubbled under at No. 106. The United Artists release did a little better but only a little, rising to No. 64. It likely deserved more attention.

I first encountered the Isley Brothers’ cover of “Spill The Wine” – the 1970 Eric Burdon & War hippie dream anthem – when I came across the Isleys’ 1971 album Givin’ It Back. I was skeptical. And, as I scanned the Hot 100 from the end of October 1971 and noticed the entry at No. 49, I recalled that skepticism. Yes, the Isleys at the time covered some iconic singles and made them their own – “Summer Breeze,” “Listen To The Music,” “Lay Lady Lay” and others – but “Spill The Wine”? I should have known better. The Isleys gave melody to the recited portion of the Burdon single and took it from there. The record went no higher, but on the R&B chart, it went to No. 14. (The video embedded below is from the album. Scans of the 45 label show a running time of 2:40.)

One Chart Dig: December 4, 1971

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

I got up well before my scheduled time this morning, as the Texas Gal had to head into work at an ungodly hour, and I do like to see her off. (I’m the lunch-packer, making sure she has enough nutrients and goodies to get through the day.) There are days – there were a few last week – when I crawl back to bed after shooing her out the door, but most of the time, I turn from the door as she drives off, make myself some breakfast and then head to the study to see what damage I can do.

So early this morning, I took a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from December 4, 1971, forty-one years ago today. I was heading into the final three weeks of my awful first quarter of college (a disaster I’ve discussed several times before) and hanging around with some guys from the college dorms as well as with Rick from across the street. (It was sometime around that time that Rob decamped to Colorado for maybe two years, interrupting our 1971-72 table-top hockey season and leaving Rick and me to finish up during the spring of 1973.)

Anyway, I dug into the lower reaches of the Hot 100 from this date in 1971 and found a tune at No. 82 that I thought I’d throw onto the table this morning. (There will likely be more later this week.) I don’t recall hearing the Isley Brothers’ take on Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lady” during the latter days of 1971; I caught up with the track a couple of years ago when I happened upon the anthology How Many Roads – Black America Sings Bob Dylan, which was released in the U.K.

The single went to No. 71 on the pop chart and No. 29 on the R&B chart. A ten-minute version of the track showed up on the Isleys’ 1971 album Givin’ It Back.

Cosmic Marker? Or Just Another Day?

Friday, November 11th, 2011

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.

Chart Digging: A Six-Pack From July 26, 1969

Monday, July 26th, 2010

With some time and energy available on a Monday morning, I thought I’d pull a Billboard chart from a long-ago July 26 and dig around in its depths, with the only requirement being that I’d stay away from 1970, as we’ve been spending a fair amount of time there in recent months. I needn’t have worried. The years during which a rendition of the Billboard Hot 100 has been released with a date of July 26 are 1969, 1975, 1980, 1986, 1997 and 2003. (I think I got them all; if not, oh well.)

After that, it was a relatively easy choice. The latter two don’t interest me much at all, and although I don’t dislike the tunes of the 1980s as much as I once thought I did, I’m still happier messing around in the music of times earlier than that. So I looked at 1969 to see what interesting artifacts lay around in the tunes in the lower portions of the Top 40 and further down the chart.

First, though, to get grounded, here’s the Top Ten from that week ending July 26, 1969, forty-one years ago today:

“In The Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)” by Zager & Evans
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & the Shondells
“Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder
“What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” by Jr. Walker & the All Stars
“Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver
“One” by Three Dog Night
“The Ballad of John and Yoko” by the Beatles
“Baby, I Love You” by Andy Kim
“Love Theme from ‘Romeo & Juliet’” by Henry Mancini & His Orchestra

That’s either a great or only tolerable Top Ten, I imagine, depending on how one feels about the No. 1 song of the week. This was the third week at No. 1 for “In The Year 2525.” (It would stay there for three more weeks before being dislodged by the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”) And there are, I think, very few music fans who are noncommittal about the record. It’s either loved or detested. In these precincts, it’s loved.

So for me, this is a stellar Top Ten. July 1969 found me on the verge of becoming an active Top 40 listener – my work as a football manager that tipped the balance would begin in another three or so weeks – and I remember most of these as radio tunes rather than as something I learned about some time later. Go down the list, and there’s some R&B, some ballads, some psychedelic sounds, a Beatles tune and a sweet instrumental. What more do ya want?

Things were just as interesting a little further down. “I Turned You On,” a funky slice of R&B by the Isley Brothers, was at No. 30, having spent the past two weeks at its peak position of No. 23. It was the fourth of an eventual fifteen Top 40 hits (through 2001) for the group from Cincinnati, Ohio.

 

From there, we go to what I guess would be called a slice of Bazooka from a group from Baltimore, Maryland. The Peppermint Rainbow had scored a Top 40 hit earlier in 1969, when “Will You Be Staying After Sunday” went to No. 32. By the week of July 26, a follow-up, “Don’t Wake Me Up In The Morning, Michael,” was at its peak position of No. 54. It would stay there another week before first dropping two places and then falling off the chart entirely.

The Happenings – a quartet from Paterson, New Jersey – reached the Top 40 four times between July 1966 and July 1967, with the best known of their hits most likely being their first: “See You In September,” which went to No. 3. After “My Mammy” went to No. 13 during the summer of 1967, the group had four other singles enter the Hot 100 without reaching the Top 40, according to All-Music Guide. The last of them turned out to be a double-sided single pulled from the album Piece of Mind. The A-side, I assume, was “New Day Coming,” but the presumptive B-side got some airplay, too,  and was sitting at No. 77 as July 26 rolled around. That rather odd track, “Where Do I Go/Be-In (Hare Krishna),” peaked at No. 66 two weeks later.  (Based on information from reader Yah Shure, it’s clear that “Where Do I Go/Be-In (Hare Krishna)” was in fact the A-side and “New Day Coming,” was the B-side. Thanks, Yah Shure!)

Duke Baxter never had a Top 40 hit. He did, however, get at least one record into the Hot 100: “Everybody Knows Matilda,” which was at No. 92 during the week ending July 26, 1969. The record – released on the VMC label – peaked in mid-August, sitting at No. 52 for two weeks. I know very little else about Mr. Baxter. All-Music Guide barely notes his existence. I learned from a bulletin board discussion I found through Google that Baxter released at least one album, also titled Everybody Knows Matilda. Baxter also released several other singles on VMC, Festival and Mercury. How those other singles did, I have absolutely no idea, although YouTube has a couple of them here and here.

Jefferson was the recording name of one Geoff Turton, a native of Birmingham, England. His one hit was “Baby Take Me In Your Arms,” which went to No. 23 in early 1970. The previous year, however, he got into the Hot 100 with “The Colour of My Love,” which peaked at No. 68 in early November of 1969. During the week we’re looking at, “The Colour of My Love” was bubbling under the Hot 100, at No. 106. Four weeks later, the record would get to No. 84 and then drop back under the Hot 100 before rebounding on its way to No. 68.

Further down yet in the Bubbling Under section of the July 26, 1969, chart, we find at No. 120 a single by a group from Montreal, Canada, called Life. The single in question, “The Hands of the Clock,” seems to have bubbled under for two weeks before falling out of the chart entirely. The website Garagehangover offers pretty much everything one might need to know about Life, as well as downloadable mp3s of “The Hands of the Clock” and the B-side of one of the group’s Canadian singles.

That’s enough digging today. I’ll be around Wednesday with the next six selections from the Ultimate Jukebox.

The Ultimate Jukebox, Part Two

Monday, February 1st, 2010

We’re back – that would be Odd and Pop, the two little imaginary tuneheads who sit on my shoulders, and me – from our unplanned time off. And we have our very own domain name now, which should provide some insulation as we continue to examine music and my life and how the two intersect.

We began the exploration of the Ultimate Jukebox in one of our last posts at the other location, and I mentioned a few of the notable records that weren’t among the two-hundred and twenty-eight that would play in that mythical jukebox. Some of them were likely surprises. Two of them –  Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” – were in fact the last records trimmed. And I should note that I’ve only replaced one of them for sure: I have one slot that I’m keeping as quasi-available among the six selections for Week 38, the last week of this tour. I have a record in that slot right now, but if something comes into view that I think works better, I’m reserving the right to switch it. That might even turn out to be “Baker Street” after all. But the other two-hundred and twenty-seven songs are set.

What eras do they come from? Well, the earliest was released in 1948, and there are three from 1999, the last year I examined. Even before I count, I’m certain that the years 1969 and 1970 will be heavily represented. Let’s take a look:

1948: 1
1949: 0
From the 1940s: One

1950: 0
1951: 1
1952: 1
1953: 0
1954: 0
1955: 0
1956: 0
1957: 1
1958: 3
1959: 2
From the 1950s: Eight

1960: 0
1961: 3
1962: 0
1963: 2
1964: 2
1965: 4
1966: 6
1967: 7
1968: 13
1969: 23
From the 1960s: Sixty

1970: 32
1971: 15
1972: 17
1973: 12
1974: 9
1975: 11
1976: 10
1977: 5
1978: 7
1979: 3
From the 1970s: One-hundred and twenty-one

1980: 3
1981: 2
1982: 3
1983: 3
1984: 3
1985: 0
1986: 3
1987: 2
1988: 3
1989: 0
From the 1980s: Twenty-two

1990: 1
1991: 2
1992: 2
1993: 4
1994: 1
1995: 1
1996: 1
1997: 1
1998: 0
1999: 3
From the 1990s: Sixteen

So there you have it: Massive domination by the 1970s, with the period 1968-1976 providing one-hundred and forty-two of the two-hundred and twenty-eight records – about sixty-two percent – of the tunes in my Ultimate Jukebox. Is this a surprise? Anyway, here’s the second cluster of six songs:

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 2
“Comin’ Back To Me” by Jefferson Airplane from Surrealistic Pillow [1967]
“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers from Realization [1967]
“Black Diamond” by the Bee Gees from Odessa [1969]
“Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers from 3+3 [1973]
“Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez from Diamonds and Rust [1975]
“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen from Born To Run [1975]

More than forty years after the fact, it might be difficult to realize, and instructive to do so, that the acid-folk rock of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow was once revolutionary. Today, even the crunchy chords of “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover” – the album’s heaviest sounds, by my reckoning – are pretty mellow. Back in 1968, when my sister brought the record home, however, I thought it was a little loud. But there was one moment of mellow bliss on the record: “Comin’ Back To Me.” Hushed, lyrical, thoughtful and heart-breaking, “Comin’ Back To Me” just might be the oft-ignored heart of Surrealistic Pillow. Key lines: “Strollin’ the hill overlooking the shore, I realize I have been here before. The shadow in the mist could have been anyone. I saw you. I saw you comin’ back to me.”

I’ve written before about “Summer Rain,” although none of those words are easily accessible. I don’t know for sure why the record remains among the top four or five of all time for me. Part of it, I think, is the descending bass line in the verse, a compositional technique – some might call it a gimmick – that always pulls me into a song. Part of it, I’m sure, is that the story the song tells is a happy one: Boy meets girl, boy woos girl (with the help of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), boy wins girl. And part of the attraction is the way Rivers sells the song. In a long career filled with good performances, this might be Rivers’ best. Like the vast majority of the versions of “Summer Rain” found in hits packages, the version here is pulled from the album Realization. Thus, it includes the storm sound effects before the guitar figure opens the music, and it fades out before more sound effects arise to connect to the next track on the album. According to regular reader Yah Shure, the single – released in late 1967, about six months before the album (and which went to No. 14) – had no sound effects, opening with the guitar figure. Key lines: “We sailed into the sunset, drifted home caught by a gulfstream. Never gave a thought for tomorrow. Just let tomorrow be.”

The 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide called the Bee Gees’ Odessa “the Sgt. Pepper’s copy all ’60s headliners felt driven to attempt,” adding parenthetically, “the Bee Gees’ wasn’t bad; faulting it for pretentiousness makes absolutely no sense.” I’ve puzzled over that statement for more than ten years now, and I’m still not sure what reviewer Paul Evans was trying to say. But that’s okay: I’ve been listening to Odessa for more than forty years now, and I’m not entirely certain what the Bee Gees were trying to say, either. I shared the album here once, which indicates, generally, the regard I have for it. But there is no doubt that the album is studded with ballads whose lyrics are willfully obscure at best. “Black Diamond” might be the most obscure of all, but the opaque lyrics are offset by music so eloquently gorgeous that it might not matter at all what the Brothers Gibb are singing about. Key lines, I think: “And I won’t die, so don’t cry. I’ll be home. Those big black diamonds that lie there for me, by the tall white mountains which lie by the sea.”

The Isley Brothers’ reimagining of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” is a marvel. The original had been, of course, a folk-rock/singer-songwriter-type hit, anchored by a sweet instrumental hook and truly beautiful harmonies. The Isleys found the R&B song inside the pop-folk record and stretched it for more than six minutes. And maybe it’s just me, but I find a sonic connection between the Isleys’ version of “Summer Breeze” and two versions of “Strawberry Letter 23,” those being Shuggie Otis’ 1971 single, which predated the Isleys’ work, and the Brothers Johnson’s 1977 cover of Otis’ song. Whatever the sonic influences in any direction, “Summer Breeze” finds a sweet groove. The Isleys released a single with the album track split into parts one and two, but neither side hit the Top 40. (I have a hunch that the two-sided single might have done well on the R&B chart; does anyone out there know?) Key lines: “Feel the arms that reach out to hold me in the evening, when the day is through.”

The album Diamonds & Rust was released in April 1975, but it wasn’t until the following autumn, I would guess, that I became aware of its extraordinary title song. The record became one of my student union jukebox favorites that fall, and it did pretty well in other areas, as well, as it went to No. 35 in the Billboard Top 40, only the second Baez single to do that well. (The first was her cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which went to No. 3 during the late summer and autumn of 1971.) Musically and lyrically, “Diamonds & Rust” is quite simply the best thing Joan Baez ever wrote or recorded. The shimmering music is perfect for her unsentimental, guarded and affectionate reliving of her affair with Bob Dylan. Baez’ intimacy with the topic – as opposed to the seemingly reflexive distance she’d frequently placed between herself and even the most intimate of songs – pulls listeners into her world and helps us understand her place in a pairing that was momentous to both Baez and Dylan at a time when their work was helping to defining an era. (For a take on that topic from Dylan, whose work can often be more difficult to penetrate than a black curtain, I turn to – as starting points – “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” and “Visions of Johanna” from Blonde On Blonde.) Key lines: “Our breath comes out white clouds, mingles and hangs in the air. Speaking strictly for me, we both could have died then and there.”

I have seven versions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” in my collection, including an alternate take from 1975, some live versions (including a killer acoustic version I once shared) and a bootleg or two. All have their attractions, but I keep coming back to the original, the version that led off Side Two of the Born To Run album. And the song grabs hold of me tighter and tighter as the years go by. It’s not the tale of the mythical backstreets that holds me, although I have some affection for the kids huddled on the beach in the mist. It’s the pure sonic audacity of the song that pulls me in time and again, the young Springsteen’s ambition for musical significance that’s almost as audible as that great count-in just before the last verse. Then consider that Springsteen has almost certainly exceeded his ambitions over the thirty-five years since “Born To Run” went to No. 23, and one realizes that “Born To Run” (and the rest of the LP, of course) was neither wish nor hope nor dream but a statement of intent. (Writer and Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh had the same reaction; while reviewing Born To Run in the second edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, he said: “clarity of purpose and mammoth ambition drip from the grooves.”) Key lines: “Will you walk with me out on the wire, ’cause baby, I’m just a scared and lonely rider. But I gotta find out how it feels. I want to know if love is wild, girl, I want to know if love is real.”

Note:
Regular readers – and I have to assume they’ll find this new location – will observe that I’ve changed my approach slightly. I think all my readers will understand. 

–whiteray