I got distracted yesterday, working on a song. Another member of the St. Cloud Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and I are going to be performing one of my original songs sometime this month, so I spent yesterday working on notation, fine-tuning the lyrics and chords and continuing to sharpen my keyboard skills, which have been pretty much dormant since Mom moved out away from the house on Kilian Boulevard in 2004 and left my piano behind.
The keyboard setup here is pretty rudimentary: I have a full-size Fatar keyboard, which is pretty good, and I run it through an old Yamaha sequencer and into the stereo system. The piano sound is a bit tinny, and the sustain pedal doesn’t hold the tones as long as I’d like, but considering that I’d had no keyboard to play until I jerry-rigged things last week, I’m fine with it. Something a little more elegant would be nice down the road, as I think my musical involvement with the fellowship will continue.
Anyway, I spent a good share of yesterday’s time practicing the song that my musical partner – a long-time choir member at the fellowship – and I will be performing. I bought and downloaded a composition and notation program and got the sheet music printed. And I pulled my book of original lyrics – some of which have melodies – off the shelf and organized that. And when the Texas Gal came home a little later than normal because of some errands, I realized I’d made no plans for dinner. I’d gotten the kitchen cleaned and dishes done but had given no thought to a menu.
She wasn’t upset. She’s quite pleased that I’m getting involved in creating music again. It’s something that she’s been urging me to do at the Fellowship for some time. But that still didn’t put dinner on the table. So we decided on a fast food alternative, a Mexican place downtown, and I headed out into the cool evening. And that’s when things got even more fun.
As I headed down Lincoln Avenue toward the railroad crossing, I heard a record with a joyous piano solo coming from the car radio, which is almost always tuned to WXYG. (The only exception would be for sporting events – Twins baseball, Viking and Gopher football and so on.) As I listened to the piano, I thought, ‘Nice! Joy of Cooking!” And I was right. The track was “Hush” from the group’s 1971 self-titled debut album.
As I crossed the railroad tracks and headed for Riverside Drive, the next track started, offering a mellow rolling electric piano introduction backed by strings and then flute. I knew I’d heard it before, but I cocked my head, waiting for the vocals. And then I heard a sweet female voice: “Come take a walk . . .” And I listened, mentally sorting possibilities as I headed across the Mississippi River. The track ended just before I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, and I thought to myself, “That’s Sweetwater, I bet.” I made a note to check the radio station’s website when I got home with a bag full of dinner, and I got out of the car as a dissonant and rough version of David Bowie’s “China Girl” was roaring out of the speaker.
Twenty minutes later, I got to the computer and pulled up the WXYG website. The song that followed Joy of Cooking was in fact by Sweetwater (“Yesssssss!” I hissed, pleased by my accuracy), a track unsurprisingly called “Come Take A Walk” from the group’s rather jumbled 1968 self-titled debut.
But that was when I got home. In between, as I was heading from downtown toward the river and home, came another pleasant few minutes. It began with an organ wash backed by mellow drums, with the sounds of either an acoustic guitar or a plucked violin then added in front. (I vote for the violin). And after that languid introduction, in came the voices of David and Linda LaFlamme of It’s A Beautiful Day: “White bird in a golden cage, on a winter’s day . . . alone.”
I listened to “White Bird” – a track from yet another self-titled debut album, this one from 1969 – through downtown, across the river, along Riverside Drive, Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue and up our driveway. The six-minute track wasn’t quite finished as I pulled up to the house, but I didn’t want the burrito and the potato hot dish to get cold, so I let the LaFlammes finish without me and headed into the house with dinner.
Something cool happened this week, in connection with the Echoes In The Wind Archives, the site where I’m collecting the blog posts published between early 2007 and early 2010, when the blog got its own space on the ’Net.
Three or four times a month, I head back into the archives – which currently end in late May of 2009, leaving about eight months of posts yet to be resurrected – and wander around. As was the habit back then, music included in the original posts was downloadable, leaving the archived posts with lists of song titles that don’t do anything but sit there. So I’ve taken to finding YouTube videos and linking them (as I do here) to those old posts. If there’s no video of a specific track available, I create one and see if YouTube allows it to be posted, and then either link or embed it.
The linking to existing videos is easy, but creating videos goes a little slowly and can be a little time-consuming, so I don’t do it often. And one day not long ago, as my computer was slowly chugging through the creation of a video, I wondered if it was worth my time to make videos specifically for the archives.
Well, yes, it is. At the end of August, I made and uploaded a video for the song “Do You Remember The Sun” by the San Francisco group It’s A Beautiful Day. The track was the closer to the group’s 1970 album, Marrying Maiden, and I’d included it in April 2007 in a Baker’s Dozen from that year. I didn’t write anything about the song; it popped up in a random draw and was one of those I didn’t know particularly well.
I listened more closely this week, because the other day, a man named Robert Lewis posted a message at the video on YouTube.
“I wrote this,” he said, “as a poem to my mother who suffered from great sadness.” He went on to say that he and Fred Webb, the keyboard player for It’s A Beautiful Day, “hammered out the concept of the music and the melody together, sitting at a grand piano in an old Victorian house in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.”
See the sky The celebrated rainbow, In your eye The concentrated moonglow, In your eye
Mocking you, The nickel-plated night-time, Nice and new You realize the right time
Shiver softly, summer lady Cast a glance and tell me, maybe? Do you remember the sun? Do you remember the sun?
So a child, The light is like a comet, Going wild The syncopated sonnet
Shiver lightly, lovely lady Cast a glance and tell me, maybe? Do you remember the sun? Do you remember the sun?
When we sort the mp3s on the shelves looking for titles with the word “orange” – the second of nine stops on our tour of Floyd’s Prism – we don’t have a lot of irrelevancies to discard. The search brings up fifty-three mp3s, a good share of which will be useful.
We do have to discard the eleven tracks from the 1970 self-titled album of the group Orange Bicycle (a group whose “Jelly on the Bread” showed up on a recent Saturday), and we set aside as well the 1970 album by Paul Siebel titled Woodsmoke and Oranges. We also have to drop tracks from two similarly titled bands: “Your Golden Touch” by the Clockwork Orange, which I believe was a garage rock band from Paducah, Kentucky; and both sides of a single on the Liberty label, “After Tonight” and “Ready Steady,” by the Clockwork Oranges. The latter group was evidently from England, based on the note at the Lost Jukebox discography that calls the single an “Ember Records Production [f]rom London.”
We also lose a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album Orange Blossom Special, both sides of a 1966 single by the Palace Guard on the Orange Empire label, both sides of a 1969 single by the group Orange Colored Sky, and an odd piece of leftist theater titled “Operation Godylorange” by a Danish ensemble called Totalpetroleum.
But we do have enough to work with, which is a relief, as I was worried about “orange” when I began to look at Floyd’s Prism. (I have my concerns about “indigo,” but we’ll deal with that when we get there.) We’ll start with the oldest of our six recordings and more forward from there.
A couple CDs’ worth of Nat King Cole’s music came my way a few years ago, and on one of them, I found our first record for this morning: “Orange Colored Sky” by the King Cole Trio. Recorded in August 1950, the track comes from a time when Cole’s recordings were sometimes credited to the trio and sometimes to Cole as a solo artist. The record, which was recorded with Stan Kenton and his orchestra (according to the notes of the 1994 CD Nat King Cole: The Greatest Hits) did not show up in the R&B Top 40. Given that, I’m not sure why “Orange Colored Sky” shows up in that hits package. It’s not like there was a dearth of material to choose from; between 1942 and 1964, Cole had forty-six records reach the R&B Top 40, and starting in 1954 and going into 1964, he placed sixty-six records in or the Billboard Hot 100. (In 1991, both charts – as well as the Adult Contemporary chart – hosted “Unforgettable,” the creepy hit that paired the long-dead Cole’s 1961 vocals with those of his daughter Natalie.)
I noted above that today’s winnowing took away a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album, Orange Blossom Special. One track that survived, of course, is the title track. Recorded in December 1964 and released as a single, Cash’s take on “Orange Blossom Special” went to No. 3 on the country chart and to No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, long a country and bluegrass standard, was written in 1938 by fiddler Ervin T. Rouse and first recorded by Ervin and Gordon Rouse in 1939. Their version is no doubt widely available; I found it on East Virginia Blues, one of the eleven CDs in the remarkable series of roots music titled When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll. Cash recorded the tune at least one more time: The live album recorded in 1968 at California’s Folsom Prison includes a pretty good version of the song.
One of the stranger tracks I came upon this morning – not quite as strange as the Danish “Operation Godylorange” but still odd – was “Orange Air” from the 5th Dimension’s second album, the 1967 release The Magic Garden. Written by Jimmy Webb, the song notes in its chorus: “And then the night Jasmine came clinging to her hair and lingered there, and there was orange air.” At All Music Guide, Matthew Greenwald says the song is “another one of Jimmy Webb’s emotionally intense, slightly depressing lyrics that make up this brilliant concept album. The downcast message of being let down by the disintegration of a love affair is nicely juxtaposed by a buoyant arrangement and vocal performance.” I’m glad he got it, because I sure didn’t, but it’s still a nice track.
Staying in 1967 for another moment, we land on an outtake from the sessions that provided us with Music From Big Pink, the first album by The Band. “Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast)” first showed up as a track on The Basement Tapes, a 1975 release of some of the music The Band and Bob Dylan recorded in the months after Dylan’s July 1966 motorcycle accident and before the releases in 1967 of his John Wesley Harding and in 1968 of The Band’s Big Pink. The version of the Richard Manuel tune linked here is, I believe, the one included on the expanded edition of Music From Big Pink released in 2000 and labeled there as a demo.
And it’s off to San Francisco in 1971 and an album that reflected as it was being recorded the changing membership of the group It’s A Beautiful Day. The album Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime, notes Lindsay Planer of AMG, was recorded as “lineup number two was replaced by lineup number three – netting a separate band for the Choice Quality Stuff side and the Anytime side.” The sprightly instrumental “Oranges & Apples” shows up on the Anytime side of the LP, and it turns out to be an offering that sounds more like something from a middle-of-the road ensemble than a track from one of the great hippie bands of its time. David LaFlamme’s famous violin is hardly there at all, which is just weird. But then, the track is titled “Oranges & Apples,” which probably means something about comparisons.
And we close this edition of Floyd’s Prism with a stop in 1989 and a track from one of my favorite Van Morrison albums. “Orangefield” was tucked on the second side of Avalon Sunset, and I’m of two minds about it. It’s repetitious, both lyrically and musically, which should make the track a little tedious. But there’s something thrilling about it, too, with the string and percussion accents and the backing vocals of Katie Kissoon and Carol Kenyon pulling me in and drawing me briefly into another Morrison-inspired trance.
Even during my student and young adult years – the years 1970 to 1983 – I never went to a large number of concerts. I saw acts as they came through St. Cloud – most of those at St. Cloud State – and on occasion went to the Twin Cities for a show.
In St. Cloud during that time, my concerts began with the Fifth Dimension in the autumn of 1970 and closed with Leon Russell in the autumn of 1977. My Twin Cities concert list during those years started with a Joe Cocker show in April 1972 and ended with a Jackson Browne performance during the summer of 1980.
I remember pretty well almost every concert I went to during those years. That’s why it sometimes surprises me when I realize that I once saw the San Francisco band It’s A Beautiful Day in concert and don’t recall much about the show. The concert took place in St. Cloud State’s Halenbeck Hall gym, and it was sometime in early 1973, I think, most likely in the spring. But not much of it stuck with me.
(As it turns out, as indicated in the note below from the St. Cloud State University archivist, the concert actually took place in the autumn of 1971 during St. Cloud State’s Homecoming celebration. So most of the following reasons as to why the concert is dim in my memory do not apply. It may simply be, as I note a couple paragraphs below, that I was unfamiliar with most of the band’s music so not much stuck with me. Note added September 29, 2015.)
I suppose it might have been 1972, but I don’t think so, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the major spring concert at St. Cloud State in 1972 was by Elton John, and I recall that show well. And it makes some sense that a concert by It’s A Beautiful Day in spring 1973 might be dim in memory:
First of all, that was the spring when I was preparing to spend my next school year in Denmark, and planning for that adventure took up a lot of time and a lot of my mental energy. Second, that spring followed the winter during which I discovered The Table at the student union, and the sudden influx of a large number of friends into my life took a lot of my attention, too. Not that I began to ignore the friends who’d gotten me that far; I think I saw It’s A Beautiful Day with Rick. But my social life was more full and diverse than it had ever been, and it’s possible that the concert – instead of being a major event – became just one tile in the mosaic that was my life at the time.
Finally, I think the concert has faded from my memory because I really didn’t know the band’s music all that well. I had none of the group’s five albums, and there was only one recording by the band that I was truly aware of. It’s the same recording that I think everyone thinks of at first when It’s A Beautiful Day is mentioned: ‘White Bird.”
And I do recall the murmur in the crowd followed by applause when David LaFlamme began to pick the song’s opening riff on his five-string violin. And he and singer Patti Santos and the rest of the band gave us about ten minutes of “White Bird.” (Linda LaFlamme, who shares the vocal with her husband of the time on the original 1969 recording, had long since left the group by the time of the St. Cloud concert.) I also have a vague visual memory of David LaFlamme going all gypsy on his violin during an extended solo. But that one song is all I remember.
There’s no doubt that “White Bird” is a haunting piece of music, one that got a tremendous amount of FM airplay during 1969 and the first years of the 1970s. There were other tracks on the band’s albums that likely deserved some attention, too, but as it’s turned out, “White Bird” somehow sums up at least one portion of the San Francisco musical ethos of the era. And that’s why it’s one of the tunes on the Ultimate Jukebox.
White bird Dreams of the aspen trees with their dying leaves turning gold.
But the white bird just sits in her cage growing old. White bird must fly or she will die. White bird must fly or she will die.
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 6
“White Bird” by It’s A Beautiful Day from It’s A Beautiful Day 
“O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps, Buddah 165 
“Out In The Country” by Three Dog Night, ABC/Dunhill 4250 
“What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, Tamla 54201 
“T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia),” by MFSB featuring the Three Degrees, Philadelphia International 3540 
“The Captain of Her Heart” by Double from Blue 
As I wrote once before, hearing the Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child” always reminds me of the morning I pulled into a parking lot and jumped from my car to call a oldies station’s trivia line – this in the days before cell phones – and then watched my car begin to roll back into the street as I was hanging up. I was lucky twice that morning: First, there was no traffic heading my car’s direction as I ran to it and found the brake, and second, I won a free pizza for identifying the record just from its introduction. And you know what? I still like the record, which went to No. 8 during the summer of 1970. Key lines:
Some day, yeah, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun. Some day, when the world is much brighter.
“Out In The Country” fits into a couple of categories as a pop song. It falls right into the clutch of songs and records that I call “get back to the land” tunes. It’s hard to tell whether the narrator – the song was written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols – is heading to the country forever or just for the afternoon, but it still holds the idea that things are better away from the city. And it is, I think, one of the earliest-charting pop songs to have a clear ecological bent; we’d call it a “green record” these days. The record was Three Dog Night’s seventh Top 40 hit, rising to No. 15 during the late summer and early autumn of 1970. Key lines:
Before the breathin’ air is gone, Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime. Out where the rivers like to run, I stand alone and take back somethin’ worth rememberin’.
In The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh wrote: “‘What’s Goin’ On’ is the matrix from which was created the spectrum of ambitious black pop of the seventies: everything from the blaxploitation sounds of Curtis Mayfield to Giorgio Moroder’s pop-disco. Not bad for a record whose backing vocalists include a pair of pro football players.” The football players were Mel Farr and Lem Barney of the Detroit Lions, and according to Songfacts.com, the pair and Gaye used the phrase “What’s goin’ on?” as a frequent greeting, providing Gaye with the title for not only his socially conscious song but for his equally aware album. The record – as beautiful as it is powerful – spent three weeks at No. 2 on the pop chart and five weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart. (The album went to No. 6, with two more songs hitting the Top 40: “Mercy Mercy Me” went to No. 4, and “Inner City Blues” went to No. 9.) Key lines (that sadly still resonate today):
Mother, mother, There’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, There’s far too many of you dying.
Turning to Dave Marsh once again, he said that “T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia)” was what disco sounded like in the test tube. And he’s right. It would still be a couple of years before disco would take over the airways and the dance floors, but when you listen to MFSB and the Three Degrees, you can hear what was the future – or a good-sized slice of the future, anyway – in the grooves. Most disco music, as it turned out, eventually bored me (and I don’t think I was alone in that reaction), and only two true disco records will show up in this feature as we move along, but “T.S.O.P.” was something fresh and new and exciting when it hit the airwaves and went to No. 1 for two weeks in the spring of 1974. It may no longer be fresh and new, but on those rare occasions when it pops up, it’s still exciting. And the record’s only real lyrics were nevertheless right on message:
People all over the world: It’s time to get down!
Some records simply sound like a certain time of the day or night, no matter when one hears them, as I alluded to not long ago when I wrote about the Church’s “Under The Milky Way.” To me, Double’s moody “The Captain of Her Heart” is two in the morning. It’s a cold cup of coffee and a window and a city street with maybe one car passing by in an hour’s time. But it’s still a beautiful piece of work. The single edit of the record went to No. 16 in the late summer and autumn of 1986. The group produced two videos for the record: one evidently intended for the European market based on the single and the one embedded below that used the album track and was tagged as the “United States version.” And I guess the opening lines remain the key lines:
It was way past midnight, And still she couldn’t fall asleep. This night the dream was leaving She tried so hard to keep.