It’s Friday the Thirteenth, and the only reasonable thing to do is to look for tracks on the digital shelves with either “thirteen” or “13” in their titles. The take turns out to be slender: four tracks.
We could expand the search into albums. A numeral search would bring us Lee Hazlewood’s 13 from 1972 or Blue Magic’s 13 Blue Magic Lane from 1975, and a word search would call up Laura Nyro’s 1968 album, Eli And The Thirteenth Confession. And if we wanted, we could look into a couple of albums from Thirteen Senses, a current British group whose own website describes its sound as “indie/melodic.”
But we’ll stay with our four titles.
First up, alphabetically, is “Thirteen” by Big Star, the legendary power pop group of the early 1970s fronted by Alex Chilton. The track is from the group’s 1972 debut album, No. 1 Record, and describes the reactions of Chilton and fellow band member Chris Bell to witnessing a performance by the Beatles at the age of thirteen. In its listing of the 500 greatest songs of all time, Rolling Stone ranked “Thirteen” at No. 406. Big Star, like a lot of other groups and performers, is something I missed (both in the 1970s and during the band’s brief reunion in the 1990s). Listening now, I wish I hadn’t. But there was only so much time and money, and at least I got to No. 1 Record and all the rest eventually.
There are three albums on the digital shelves by the British group Charlie – No Second Chance, Lines and Fight Dirty, from 1977, 1978 and 1979 respectively – and none of them really stand out. All three are pleasant, they’re competently played, and they sound as much like Southern California work of the time as anything British (except for the occasional Brit accent or bit of slang). I remember seeing the group’s albums in the store – noted as they were for the pretty young women on their covers – but I was never tempted, and listening occasionally nearly forty years later, I’m not sure I missed much. But “Thirteen” from No Second Chance is melancholy and affecting, the tale of a girl grown up too quickly:
When she fell in love with her first boy, she was only just thirteen She never had another look, this one could buy her dreams So she signed away her life at sixteen
When you cue up a J.J. Cale track, you know pretty much what you’re gonna get: A relaxed, shuffling tune with some tasty guitar fills, no matter what he’s singing about. And that holds true for “Thirteen Days” from his 1979 album 5, which turns out to be a salute to life on the road:
Thirteen days on gig down south We got enough dope to keep us all high We got two girls dancing to pick up the crowd Sound man to mix us, make us sound loud
Sometimes we make money Sometimes we don’t know Thirteen days with life to go
Having listened several times to Steve Forbert’s “Thirteen Blood Red Rosebuds” while following along with the lyrics, I have no idea what the song is about. He sings:
Hang your hopes on sun but the ships don’t sail Storm clouds rule everything Sailors pack both bars and Marlene works hard More cheap engagement rings
Thirteen blood red rosebuds Five weird weekend crimes Sixteen sincere smiles while Nobody’s lyin’
But that’s okay. It’s Steve Forbert. The track carries echoes of his 1979 hit, “Romeo’s Tune,” which I like a lot. “Thirteen Blood Red Rosebuds” is from his 2010 album, Mission Of The Crossroad Palms.
I frequently note in this space that we’re busy here under the oaks. This week, we’re busier than normal as we prepare for our End of Summer Picnic this coming Sunday. It had been an annual event, but we skipped it last year for a number of reasons, and we’re glad that we’re able to renew the festivities this year.
But that means lots of preparation, and although much has been done, much remains. And I’ll spend much of the day focused on that. So here, to get through the day and allow me to get on with my tasks, is a nifty shuffle by J.J. Cale, “Friday” from his 1979 album 5.
As we sit in early December, the tale is well known among football fans:
The Minnesota Vikings, a good bet for the Super Bowl going into the season, have disappointed their fans with less than stellar play. Despite the return of a veteran quarterback bound for the Hall of Fame, the team has floundered. And fans are left wondering what the hell happened.
Football fans among my readers will recognize the scenario above. It sounds like this year, right? Yeah, but it’s actually about 1972. The quarterback in question was Fran Tarkenton, who returned to Minnesota via a trade with the New York Giants. Tarkenton was seen as the crucial piece for a team that had been defensively dominant but offensively challenged the previous two seasons. Certainly a team that had gone 23-5 during the past two seasons without a top quarterback would achieve greatness with a quarterback as gifted as Tarkenton under center.
Well, sometimes the ball bounces funny ways. The Vikings lost four of their first six games in 1972 – twice by three points, twice by two points – and couldn’t recover. They gave it a good shot, though. By this date – December 9 – in 1972, the Vikes had won four out of five games and were 7-5 with two games remaining: One against Green Bay and one in San Francisco. If they won those two games, they’d win their fifth straight division title and head to the playoffs.
I’m tempted to say that I knew thirty-eight years ago today – it was a Saturday – that the Vikings would lose those final two games. But I was nineteen and blissfully unaware of the disappointments to come, both then and for the next thirty-eight years. So I had no doubts that the Vikings would take care of the Packers the next day and then defeat the 49ers. And on Sunday, a college friend and I headed to campus and joined a rowdy bunch in one of the dorms’ television rooms, where a newfangled thing called cable TV brought in the broadcast of one of the stations in Duluth. (The Twin Cities market was, as was the norm in those days, blacked out during Vikings home games.)
The rowdiness went away quickly that Sunday afternoon. And my pal Gary and I and a bunch of guys I never knew watched mostly in silence as the Packers of quarterback Scott Hunter and the marvelously named running back MacArthur Lane took down the Vikings 23-10 and quashed that season’s hope. (I wonder if the Packer fans among my readers recall that game.) On the following Saturday, I watched the Vikings blow a late lead and lose 20-17 to San Francisco and finish the season at 7-7.
But all that was ahead on December 9, 1972, the Saturday before the Green Bay game. There was hope. And, no doubt, there was music at one point in the day or another. If I turned on the radio at some time during that Saturday – and I probably did – I most likely heard something from the Billboard Top Ten released that day:
“I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy
“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by the Temptations
“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
“I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash
“You Ought To Be With Me” by Al Green
“Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul
“It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond
“Ventura Highway” by America
“Clair” by Gilbert O’Sullivan
“I’m Stone In Love With You” by the Stylistics
Boy, there’s some good stuff in there, but there’s also some stuff that, well, overstayed its welcome in my ears after very few listens. I can live without ever hearing “Clair” again, and I was never fond of the Albert Hammond single, either. And I’m of two minds about “I Am Woman.” Its anthemic quality and its obvious popularity make it an aural landmark, one of those time-and-place tunes that can – when I am reminded of it – toss me back into the fall of 1972 when the only places I felt sure about what I was doing were my music theory classes and the college radio station, where I dabbled in sports reporting.
On the other hand, when I hear “I Am Woman” rather than just think about it – and I do hear it on occasion, as it is in the RealPlayer and shows up every couple thousand hours or so – I note immediately that the record’s deficiencies, chiefly its clunky earnestness, have not helped it age well.
Anyway, take “I Am Woman,” “Clair” and the Albert Hammond tune out of that bunch, and you’ve got a decent half-hour of listening with a few stellar moments from the Temptations, Harold Melvin and his guys and the Stylistics.
And there were – as there almost always are – interesting things a little lower in the Hot 100. Carole King’s “Been to Canaan” was sitting at No. 40. The record, King’s seventh Top 40 hit, would peak at No. 24, spending the first two weeks of 1973 at that spot. (“Been to Canaan” would top the Adult Contemporary chart for one week.) King would have six more Top 40 hits, with the last coming in 1980.
Two spots further down, J. J. Cale’s “Lies” was in its second week at No. 42 and would go no higher. Cale’s only Top 40 hit was 1972’s “Crazy Mama,” which went to No. 22. According to All-Music Guide, Cale had two other records reach the Hot 100: “After Midnight” went to No. 42 in 1972, and “Hey Baby” got to No. 96 in 1976.
Blue Haze, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was a group of studio musicians assembled in England by producers Johnny Arthey and Phil Swern. The group’s reggae version of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” – the pop standard written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach – was sitting at No. 54 thirty-eight years ago today, on its way to No. 27 on the pop chart and to No. 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart. This was the second time a version of the song made the Top 40: The Platters’ version sat at No. 1 for three weeks in 1959. As for Blue Haze, AMG lists several other songs the group recorded, among them the standards “Unchained Melody” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Those might be interesting listening.
Dropping a little further down into the Hot 100, we find Tower of Power. “Down to the Nightclub” was sitting at No. 66 on December 9, 1972, but would go no higher. Earlier in the year, “You’re Still A Young Man” had reached No. 29. Two more Top 40 singles would follow: “So Very Hard To Go” would go to No. 17 in 1973, and “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream)” would reach No. 26 in 1974. A few other releases over the years would hit the Hot 100, and ToP had – by AMG’s count – thirteen singles on the R&B chart in the 1970s. I can’t find a video of the studio version of “Down to the Nightclub,” but I did find a good recording of a 1986 performance at the Maintenance Shop at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
I don’t recall the group Brighter Side of Darkness at all, nor do I remember the group’s one hit, “Love Jones.” But listening to it this morning, it sounds exactly like 1972. Thirty-eight years ago today, the record was sitting at No. 80, on its way to No. 16. According to AMG, the group was made up mostly of high school students from Chicago, and lead singer Daryl Lamont was only twelve years old. (The video here presents, I think, the album version of the tune. The single ran about 3:20, from what I can tell.) The record was the group’s only hit, but when you come up with something as good as this, once is good enough.
Valerie Simpson is far better known as part of Ashford & Simpson, the stellar song-writing team she formed with Nickolas Ashford. (The duo then began recording and performing in 1973 and married in 1974, reaching the Top 40 twice – in 1979 and 1985 – and the R&B and dance charts many times.) In 1971, Simpson released the album Exposed and followed that a year later with a self-titled album. “Silly Wasn’t I” came from the latter album and was sitting at No. 96 on December 9, 1972. It would peak at No. 63 on the Hot 100 and at No. 24 on the R&B chart.
Every year in late summer – the first couple weeks of September or so – something in the plant world decides to declare war on me. I don’t know if it’s pollen, but then, I’m no botanist, so I suppose it could be. Whatever it is, though, it doesn’t like me very much. And I spend, usually, a week to ten days with a sinus infection, feeling as if someone has turned my head into a block of concrete. (There are those, I imagine, who will tell me that September is no different, that I am a blockhead the rest of the year, too. Fine. Chuckle away. At least someone is getting something out of this.)
This year, however, my ailment lasted longer than usual, and I began to find myself dragging more and more each day. When I started last Friday on the fourth week of feeling crappy, I decided enough was enough. And though I could not get in to see Dr. Julie yesterday, I did get an appointment with one of her colleagues. He asked me my symptoms and nodded as I listed them. He listened to my lungs, looked in my ears and down my throat. And he told me I have a sinus infection. More importantly, he prescribed an antibiotic. So I should be perkier in a few days.
In the meantime, here are some related tunes.
J.J. Cale’s first album, Naturally, remains one of my favorites, with its slow Okie groove. The best track on the 1972 record is probably “Magnolia,” but this morning, we need “Call the Doctor.”
I won’t call the Bliss Band a favorite – I haven’t listened to the group’s stuff long enough to use the word – but I find that enjoy the group’s late 1970s work when it pops up on the RealPlayer. Here’s “Doctor” from the group’s 1979 album, Neon Smiles. The band sings, “I don’t need you, doctor to make me better . . . I need a shot of rock ’n’ roll!” A good thought.
I have eight versions of the classic R&B song “Sick & Tired” in my collection. Here’s one that I don’t have: Fats Domino’s version of the tune. Domino’s version of the tune peaked at No. 22 in the spring of 1958. The original version, by Chris Kenner, had been recorded and released in 1957.
And of course, perhaps the most appropriate tune for what I’ve been dealing with is the first hit by the Electric Light Orchestra, which went to No. 9 in early 1975: “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head.”
Along with a diagnosis, one thing the doctor provides is hope. And that was the title of a track that showed up on Quicksilver Messenger Service’s 1971 album, Quicksilver.
And of course, in a week or two, with my medicine and rest and other good stuff, I’ll find better days. So here’s the official video for Bruce Springsteen’s “Better Days,” which came from the 1992 album Lucky Town.
That should do it for today. If all goes well, then tomorrow we’ll dig into the final six records in the Ultimate Jukebox.