Well, it’s seven in the morning and the weather forecast calls for a sunny day with no chance of precipitation. But it’s darker than December outside, the thunder is rumbling, and the weather radar shows a green blob with yellow highlights heading this way from the northwest.
But that’s not ruining my day. Instead, it moves me to offer a random selection from the RealPlayer, where the tracks on the digital shelves now total more than 89,000. (I have about the same amount of music from various sources – friends, libraries, dark corners of the ’Net – sitting unsorted in folders on my external hard drive. If I were so inclined, I could work on sorting and tagging that for days.)
Anyway, here are three about thunder:
First up is“Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder)” from the Brian Setzer Orchestra. One of the first CDs I owned – obtained through a record club in 1999 – was the group’s 1998 effort The Dirty Boogie, which featured a cover of Louis Prima’s “Jump Jive an’ Wail” that went to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. (The album itself went to No. 9 on the Billboard 200.) After a while, I tired of the group’s work and traded the CD for something else; Setzer’s approach to the jump blues he so obviously loves didn’t – for some reason – settle into my system well. “Drive Like Lightning” is from the group’s 2000 album Vavoom!, and it’s got a sound more rooted in a mythical late 1950s aesthetic (with some 1960s surf guitar tossed in), and like 1940s jump blues, that’s another interesting place to be. But even though I have a fair amount of music by the former Stray Cat front man and his group on the digital shelves – including another copy of The Dirty Boogie – Setzer’s work remains only of passing interest to me. Whenever I listen to more than one track at a time, I get the sense that Setzer and his mates are more interested in mugging at the audience than focusing on the groove.
From there, we bounce back to the late 1970s and some sessions that Bobbie Gentry did, evidently, for Warner Brothers. “Thunder In The Afternoon” and a few other tracks wound up on an early 1990s best-of release in the United Kingdom and were the subject of some discussion on a music board I stumbled upon about a year ago while putting together a post about Gentry’s version of Patti Dahlstrom’s “He Did Me Wrong But He Did It Right.” Likely recorded in 1977, “Thunder In The Afternoon” fits in nicely with the rest of Gentry’s oeuvre, though perhaps with a little less tang than her Delta-tinged early stuff. The question of what happened to Bobbie Gentry is one that music fans and writers return to from time to time. One of the latest writers to take on the topic was Neely Tucker of the Washington Post. Tucker’s piece, from June of this year, includes this teasing passage near the top: “Gentry spoke to a reporter, for this story, apparently for the first time in three decades. We caution you not to get too excited about that. It’s one sentence. Could be two. Then she hung up.”
The track that made me focus on “thunder” in this morning’s exercise instead of “rain” is, happily, our third random track today: “You’ll Love The Thunder” by Jackson Browne. Found on Browne’s 1978 live album Running On Empty, the track has long been one of my favorite Browne tracks, certainly my favorite from the live album. I think I just got tired of hearing “Running On Empty” and “The Load-Out/Stay” when they were overplayed on radio back in 1978. (The title track went to No. 11, and “Stay” – with “The Load-Out” on the B-side – went to No. 20.) The track still seems fresh almost forty years after I first heard it, and – as happens every time one of Jackson Browne’s early pieces pops up – I think briefly that maybe I should dig more deeply into the music he’s done in recent years. But even minor excavations into Browne’s later work always seem to leave me luke-warm. Why? I dunno, and I no longer try to figure out why. I have better ways to spend my time, like cuing up “The Late Show” or “Here Come Those Tears Again” or even “That Girl Could Sing.” Or “You’ll Love The Thunder.”
The invitation came in the mail yesterday: In September, the 1971 graduating classes of St. Cloud Tech and St. Cloud Apollo high schools will gather for a reunion. That will, of course, include me, as I graduated from Tech that year.
Why in September and not in May or during the summer? I don’t know. Maybe because May and summer are busy months. It doesn’t matter. After forty-five years, a month or two of delay is small change.
And I’ll likely go. I’ll hobnob with my fellow Tigers and with the Eagles from the North Side, wander through the taco bar for dinner, drink a few beers and probably just stand and listen as a deejay plays what I assume will be music from our youth.
And I’ll miss my friend John. I’m not sure I’ve ever written much about him; he and I were pals in Sunday School from as early as I can remember. He lived across the Mississippi River, over on the North Side of town, and he went to Roosevelt Elementary, which was just half-a-block north of his house.
We’d see each other pretty much every Sunday during the school year and only a couple of times during the summer, at least during the early years. When the St. Cloud schools began offering summer enrichment classes in 1964 or so, John and I would see each other daily for the first half of the summer. Then, when we’d gotten through sixth grade, we learned that boundary lines dividing those students who went to North Junior High and those who went to South fell in our favor: John, like I, would attend South and then, for two years as Apollo was being planned and built, Tech.
But we grew apart, as friends often do. By the time we headed to Tech for our sophomore years, we were friendly but no longer spent much time together. We saw each other on Sundays, as we both sang in the church choir, but whatever it was that had made us close friends not that many years earlier was gone, and it had gone away so slowly that I never really noticed.
We graduated from our respective high schools and both went to St. Cloud State, where we must have played together in band at least one quarter, though I do not remember it. He studied the sciences and then went off to the University of Minnesota to study pharmacology; he eventually got his doctorate and taught at the U of M. I wandered into a career of reporting, editing and research. We saw each other at a couple of reunions and, after his mother passed in 2003, we spent a few minutes talking at the reviewal.
We talked vaguely during those few minutes about getting together, but nothing came of it. A little more than three years ago, he himself passed. I read that there would be a memorial service in St. Cloud during that summer of 2013, but I never saw anything more about that. And there things would sit, except . . .
Two years ago this month, Roosevelt Elementary School burned. Built in 1920, it was probably the most attractive of St. Cloud’s elementary schools, having an actual design instead of the functional blockishness of later schools (Lincoln included). Its location on a main traffic route across the North Side meant I drove past the school – and now drive past the location of what is called the Roosevelt Education Center, a blockish construction that incorporates some remainder of the old school – once every couple of weeks.
The first time I drove past the site after the fire – three years ago when the ashes were still smoking – I thought, “I wonder what John thinks about this. I should ask him.” And I recalled with a start that he was gone. And I now remember that moment every time I drive past there.
I had other friends during my schoolboy years; most of them are still around, I think. And I’ll be glad come September to chat with whoever remembers me kindly from those days long ago. But with no disrespect meant to the living, I fear that John in his absence will be for me a larger presence at the reunion.
So what comes to mind this morning is Jackson Browne’s 1974 meditation on death, loss and grief: “To A Dancer.” And it’s today’s Saturday Single.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I was pretty disappointed during the summer of 1980 when Jackson Browne’s Hold Out was released. The Other Half and I had gone to St. Paul to see Browne in June of that year, just after the album came out, and I’d been underwhelmed by the new stuff I’d heard at the concert. The music was fine but the lyrics had seemed a bit lacking.
(The same was true for Jon Bream, who reviewed the show for the long-departed Minneapolis Star. In a review that I clipped and stuck inside one of my music books, Bream wrote: “Oddly, the tunes from Browne’s new album, Hold Out, were more noteworthy for their musical adventurousness than their meaningful lyrics, something he usually has been self-conscious about in the past.”)
Still, I bought the album and learned to at least like it. Not so the Other Half. She’d rather have had silence. And it wasn’t just Hold Out. That had been the case for some time for Browne’s earlier work as well as work of many other artists and groups I loved. So she bought me a gift, probably in 1979 when I got the first major stereo system of
my life, and here I am using it in a photo found in the old scrapbook that I pulled apart recently.
I have no idea what I was listening to when she took that picture. It might have been a record. It could have been the light jazz radio station in Anoka that got my attention for a while around 1980. But let’s assume that I’d just laid Hold Out on the turntable. Here’s the opener, “Disco Apocalypse,” a track that seems better now, thirty-five years on, than it did that summer.
I don’t know how many times in the last nine years and four months I’ve seen something as I go through my day and I’ve thought about telling Dad about it.
Dad left us on a sunny June afternoon in 2003, and for the next two years or so, I’d see something Dad would have appreciated – anything from a bit of folk art in someone’s front yard to a magazine piece about the China-Burma-India front where he served in World War II – and think briefly about sharing it with him. Then I’d remember that he was gone.
The first few times that happened, I felt horrible for forgetting that he’d passed on and sad that I couldn’t share that little bit of a moment with him. Then I realized that it was those little moments – noticing something he would have appreciated – that were keeping Dad’s memory alive in me. So it was okay in those first few years to forget for a moment that he was gone. And in time, those moments shifted from “I’ve gotta tell Dad about that” to “I wish I could tell Dad about that.”
I was going to say, too, that those moments come by less and less frequently as the years pass, but I’m not sure they do. I don’t keep track, but I have a sense that I quite often see something and think about mentioning it to Dad. I wish now that I’d had the foresight to start a notebook in June of 2003 titled “Things I’d Like To Tell Dad.” I think I’d have filled quite a few pages.
Nine years is a long time. Ninety-three years . . . well, I haven’t got a frame for that. I know how long fifty years feels. That gets me back to when I was nine, and I know how distant fourth grade seems to me now. But I can’t wrap my head around ninety-three years. Well, in a historical sense, I can: Dad was born less than a year after the end of World War I, into a world where not every house had electricity or a telephone, where radio was a novelty, movies were silent, moon landings and nuclear weapons were science fiction and the Twenty-First Century was a distant fantasy.
Okay, it was a long time ago. I’m not discounting historical context, but today, that feels empty, and I guess the only way I’ll ever have a frame for ninety-three years is if I make it to September of 2046.
The other week, Mom and I were going through a box of papers that had been up in the storage unit. Most of the papers were records of the costs and materials used for the various remodeling projects they did on the house on Kilian Boulevard during their forty-six years there. But one of the envelopes contained a certified copy of my dad’s birth certificate, something I’d never seen.
It doesn’t tell me much that I didn’t know, and I doubt that I’ll ever need it for any proceeding. And it’s not like I need a reminder that my dad was born in North Branch Township, Minnesota, on October 18, 1919. But it’s going into our documents safe. I imagine it will sit there until I’m gone, and then the Texas Gal or my sister or my niece and nephew can figure out what to do with it. Maybe whoever it is will think of something they wish they could tell me as they go through the stuff I’ve left behind. If so, I hope they write it down.
Here’s a tune I’ve shared here before, but it’s the only one that makes sense for me today: “Daddy’s Tune” from Jackson Browne’s 1975 album, The Pretender. I don’t know that Dad and I argued as much or as angrily as the song’s narrator and his pop did, but my dad and I did have a few major differences of opinion along the way. Luckily, we parted on good terms.
Well, thanks to reader and friend Yah Shure, we’re still digging around in Jackson Browne covers this morning. After Tuesday’s post about such covers, Yah Shure commented, “How about the cover of “Rock Me On The Water” by . . . Jackson Browne? He redid it from scratch for the 45. Much better than the cut from the self-titled album, IMO.”
Until then, I’d had no idea that the single version of “Rock Me On The Water” was a different beast. I plead unfamiliarity: “RMOTW” went only to No. 48 as the autumn of 1972 set in, and I evidently didn’t hear it much, if at all, on the radio. And by the time I was catching up to Browne’s music and got around to that first, self-titled album, it was 1978. Thus, the only version I’ve really known has been the one on the album.
So I went hunting. And I think that this (scratchy) video features the single version (although final judgment will be reserved for Yah Shure). And yes, I also think it’s a better version than the one that showed up on the album.
And we might as well listen to another version of “Rock Me On The Water” while we’re at it. Here’s Linda Ronstadt from her self-titled 1972 album. A single release of the track went to No. 85 in March of 1972. (I’ve seen 1971 listed as the issue date for the album, but I’m going with the date on the CD package The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years, which says the record came out in 1972. I’m open to correction, though.)
Moving up in time a bit, here’s Bonnie Raitt with her cover of Browne’s “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” from her 1979 album The Glow. It’s not bad, maybe a little too forceful.
I was going to close today’s coverfest – and at least for a while, I think, the exploration of Jackson Browne covers – with one of my favorites: Joan Baez’ take on “Fountain of Sorrow,” which was the second track on Baez’ 1975 album Diamonds & Rust. But the video I put up was blocked in 237 countries, including the U.S. So I pulled it down, and we’ll instead close shop today with a tender cover of Browne’s “Jamacia Say You Will” by Tom Rush. Rush included the song on his 1972 album Merrimack County, but this version is a live performance – I don’t know the date – that was released on the 1999 collection The Very Best of Tom Rush: No Regrets.
Among the recent late-night listening around here has been some Jackson Browne, especially his 1974 album, Late For The Sky, which remains among the saddest and most reflective records I’ve ever heard. But then, Browne was always most effective, it seems, when he was cataloging life’s difficulties and disappointments, which seemed to be the case on his first four studio albums way back when. (Jackson Browne from 1972; For Everyman from 1973; Late For The Sky from 1974; and The Pretender from 1976.)
When he found love and happiness after 1977’s live Running on Empty, he told that tale – with a few side turns – on 1980’s Hold Out. The music on that 1980 album was among the best Brown had ever written, but the lyrics were lacking, studded with vagueness and stock images that he likely would have sidestepped in earlier years. After that came the inscrutable Lawyers In Love and his two agit-prop albums, Lives In The Balance and World In Motion (1983, 1986 and 1989, respectively), and I wasn’t all that interested.
I’ve not listened to much of Browne’s work since then, and what I have heard hasn’t grabbed me. I’m intrigued, however, by what I’ve read about the two Solo Acoustic albums, from 2005 and 2008. They’re now waiting for me in a Spotify playlist. And I suppose I should go back and give a listen to the other stuff of his that I let pass by, as well. (Too much music to catch up on and not nearly enough time . . .)
But this week, I’m listening to Late For The Sky, especially “The Late Show,” the track that’s felt like the heart of the album since the first time I heard it, back in the summer of 1978 when I was catching up with Browne’s work for the first time. From that first listening, there’s been something about the third verse and the ending of the song that’s made me catch my breath every time I hear it:
Well, I saw you through the laughter and the noise; You were talking with the soldiers and the boys. While they scuffled for your weary smiles, I thought of all the empty miles And the years that I spent looking for your eyes . . . It’s like you’re standing in the window of a house nobody lives in, And I’m sitting in a car across the way. (Let’s just say) it’s an early model Chevrolet. (Let’s just say) it’s a warm and windy day. You go and pack your sorrow, the trashman comes tomorrow; Leave it at the curb, and we’ll just roll away.
I went looking for covers of “The Late Show,” but according to the website Second Hand Songs, there are none (and the info there is usually pretty accurate). I’ve found a few interesting covers of some other Jackson Browne tunes, but they don’t match the mood right now, so for today, we’ll leave it at the curb, and we’ll just roll away.
For thirty years now, every time I’ve heard Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust,” I’ve had this vision in my head of large men clad in Honolulu blue and silver dancing ecstatically in a stadium in Michigan.
Those men were members of the Detroit Lions football team, of course, and they were dancing to the Queen anthem after defeating the Minnesota Vikings 27-7 in the fourth game of the 1980 season at the Pontiac Silverdome. The game took place September 28 and marked only the fifth time in twenty-seven games between the two – dating back to 1967 – that the Lions had defeated the Vikings.
The Lions had once – in the 1950s – been a great NFL franchise but spent most of the 1960s and 1970s as mediocre at best. Coming into the 1980 season, however, the team’s coaches and players had what they thought were realistic aspirations of playoff glory. Either during pre-season practices or at the start of the season, the players adopted Queen’s recording – a celebration of murder by machine gun with a catchy beat and a great riff – as their talisman; I assume that they danced to the tune after winning their first home game a week before they played the Vikings. In that game, the Lions defeated the St. Louis Cardinals – as many remember, the Cardinals called St. Louis home from 1960 through 1987 – by a score of 20-7, putting their record at 3-0.
And when they defeated the Vikings the following week, going to 4-0, the Lions danced gleefully to the week’s No. 1 song. It was hard to watch as a fan back in Minnesota. And I gathered from comments I read in the newspaper the next day that it was a difficult sight for the defeated Vikings to see as they made their ways into the locker room. Such post-game behavior today would hardly draw attention; at the time, though, it seemed excessive. Even so, one could hardly blame the Lions for celebrating what they saw as a major step. It was too bad for them, however, that the victory most likely turned out to be the high point of the season.
The Lions won five more games that season and lost seven. The Vikings, who were 2-2 when they left the field of dancing Lions, won seven more games and lost five. That left the two teams tied for the Central Division title; as each team had a 5-3 record in games in the Central Division, the tiebreaker came down, I believe, to which team had the better record in games against teams in the National Conference. The Vikings were 8-4 in those games, a winning percentage of .667; the Lions were 9-5, which gave them a winning percentage in those games of .642. (Having finished last in the five-team Central Division the season before, the Lions schedule for 1980 had more conference games and was substantially easier, to be honest.) After sorting that out, the Vikings had the edge in conference play and thus won the Central Division title (for the eleventh time in thirteen years).*
Dissecting all of this after the fact, it means that the second game between the two teams decided the Central Division title. It was a November 9 meeting at Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium, an open-air stadium now gone nearly thirty years. In the days leading up to their home game with the Lions, the Vikings players were, as I recall, circumspect, saying little beyond the standard clichés. But there were a few unguarded moments when it became obvious that the sight of the exultant Lions dancing giddily on the field after that fourth game the season had rankled. One got the sense that the Vikings were planning to crash the dance party. And they did, winning 34-0.
And that’s what I think of when I hear “Another One Bites The Dust,” which was No. 1 not only during the week the Detroit Lions pissed off the Vikings with their dance but also the next week, in the chart released thirty years ago today.
So what else was in the Top Ten thirty years ago today?
“All Out Of Love” by Air Supply
“Upside Down” by Diana Ross
“Give Me The Night” by George Benson
“Drivin’ My Life Away” by Eddie Rabbitt
“Late In The Evening” by Paul Simon
“Woman In Love” by Barbra Streisand
“I’m Alright” by Kenny Loggins
“Lookin’ For Love” by Johnny Lee
“Xanadu” by Olivia Newton-John & the Electric Light Orchestra
That was an okay Top Ten. As over-familiar as “Another One Bites The Dust” became – and despite its associations with large men in blue and silver – I enjoy it when it pops up these days. I can live without the Air Supply and the Diana Ross, and “Xanadu” never meant much to me. On the other hand, the Eddie Rabbitt and Paul Simon tunes were favorites at the time and remain so. But let’s take a look at what we might find further down the Billboard Hot 100 from thirty years ago today.
At No. 31, we find what I think is a gem: “Who’ll Be The Fool Tonight” from the Larsen-Feiten Band, with a sound that’s not all that far from Boz Scaggs. The record would be at No. 29 the next two week and then begin its tumble off the chart. It was the only Top 40 hit the Larsen-Feiten Band ever had.
“That Girl Could Sing,” a tune pulled from Jackson Browne’s uneven Hold Out album, was sitting at No. 49, on its way to No. 22. Musically, I’ve always thought that “That Girl Could Sing” – along with its fellow single from Hold Out, “Boulevard” (which had peaked at No. 19 and was at No. 75 by October 4) – were musically fine but lyrically so uneven that they almost didn’t seem like they’d come from the same musician who wrote “Fountain of Sorrow” or “These Days.” And I quit paying close attention to Browne. I suppose I should catch up again.
A record that I do not ever remember hearing back in 1980 is one that I’ve seen mentioned affectionately in numerous blogs over the past three years. Maybe if I’d heard it back then, it would sum up the autumn of 1980 for me as it seems to do for so many other people. I like it plenty, but to me it’s just a good record, not a time and place. And that’s my loss, as I never noticed when the Kings’ “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide” got to No. 56 thirty years ago this week and stayed there another week before heading off down the chart to No. 98 before rebounding to No. 43 in mid-December. (Chart position corrected based on comment from Kings member John Picard. See comments for a link to a different – and “much more fun,” according to Picard – video.)
“If You Should Sail,” which turned out to be the only Top 40 hit for the Sacramento duo Nielsen/Pearson, was sitting at No. 69 thirty years ago. It’s a soft rock song that sounds like a thousand other records that came out at the time. It’s nice, and I imagine it sounded okay coming out of the speakers back in the autumn of 1980 as it went to No. 38. But it’s nothing I would have stormed the record store to get.
Jimmy Hall was the lead singer and harp player for Wet Willie, and in 1980, he released his first solo album, Touch You, from which the single “I’m Happy That Love Has Found You” was pulled. I don’t know about the rest of the album, but the single bears little sonic resemblance to the work that Wet Willie did. Still, the record got Hall onto the chart: On October 4, the record was at No. 79; it would peak at No. 27 right the fourth week of November.
Memphis-based singer Joyce Cobb, according to several websites, is still recording and touring widely; tomorrow, she begins a twelve-city tour in north central Europe. Thirty years ago, Cobb’s single on the Cream label, “How Glad I Am,” was in its sixth and last week in “Bubbling Under” portion of the Billboard Hot 100, never having risen above No. 107. The single was a cover of a Nancy Wilson recording that went to No. 11 in 1964. Earlier in the year, Cobb – who had once been signed by Stax Records – saw her “Dig the Gold” single peak at No. 42 in early 1980.
That’ll do it for today. I hope to be here Wednesday with the next six selections from the Ultimate Jukebox.
*I should note that the first tie-breaker for a division title is head-to-head competition. Since the Lions and the Vikings split their two games, other tie-breakers ensue. And it might have been that the next tie-breaker was points scored in those two games, rather than won-lost records in first division and then conference games. If that was the case – and I can’t find anything online this morning one way or the other – then the Vikings won that tie-breaker 41-27.
July muddles along. It’s been a quiet month, one perfect for gardening, reading and digging into some newly acquired music. Perhaps the most fun of those has been digging into box sets of the music of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, both of which arrived in June; their sheer size has made absorbing them lengthy processes.
The easiest of the new musical arrivals to process was an anthology that’s part of a series on the Hip-O label: No. 1’s, ’60s Pop. None of the twenty tracks on the disc is very rare; they range from Little Eva’s 1962 hit, “The Loco-Motion” to “In the Year 2525,” the Zager & Evans hit from 1969. What the CD’s arrival did allow me to do was to rip new files of many of its tracks at a better bitrate than I’d previously had. One of those was Lesley Gore’s anthem, “It’s My Party,” which was still on the charts on this date in 1963, sitting at No. 27, on its way down the chart after peaking for two weeks at No. 1. (Interestingly enough, her own answer record, “Judy’s Turn To Cry” was sitting at No. 11.)
And here’s a television appearance of Gore lip-synching to “It’s My Party.” It’s evidently from the episode of the syndicated music program Hollywood A Go Go recorded on December 25, 1965. (Others on that episode were the Association, the Dixie Cups, Bobby Freeman, Donna Loren, Simon & Garfunkel and the Sunrays.)
So what other records were at No. 27 on this date over the years?
In 1968, it was “Don’t Take It So Hard” by Paul Revere & The Raiders. This was the record’s peak; it stayed at No. 27 for one more week and then began to drop down the charts. I can’t show the video here, but here’s the link to the page at YouTube.
On this date in 1973, the No. 27 record was “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich. A week earlier the record had peaked at No. 15. Later in the year, Rich would have his biggest hit when “The Most Beautiful Girl” was No. 1 for two weeks and topped both the country and adult contemporary charts for three weeks.
Five years later, a two-sided single from Jackson Browne’s live album, Running On Empty was in spot No. 27 on the Billboard chart. “Stay/The Load-Out” would peak two weeks later at No. 20, where it spent two weeks before tumbling back down the chart. I don’t have the edited single, nor can I find a video of it, but here’s a live version of “The Load-Out/Stay” from a 1978 performance in Shepherds Bush Theatre at the BBC Television Centre in London.
Jumping ahead yet another five years, we find the seventh Top 40 hit for the enigmatic David Bowie at No. 27. “China Girl” would peak at No. 10 during the last week of August 1983.
And there, we’ll call a halt to this morning’s exercise. The No. 27 record on this day in 1988 was Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” which we’ve talked about here before, and – this morning, at least – I’m not interested in pushing on into the ’90s. I’ll be back in two days with a Saturday Single.
In my early days online, years before I knew there were such things as blogs, much less blogs about music, and long before I had an inkling that I would write such a blog, I was looking for information about The Band. These days, even after learning about hundreds of other musicians and absorbing their work, The Band remains my favorite all-time group. (The Beatles rank second, and I’m not going to figure out who comes third right now.)
And I found myself, probably sometime in 2001, at a pretty extensive website about The Band, covering not only the group’s history and music as The Band but the group members’ history and music before the group formed in the late 1950s and after the original group split up in 1976. The website also had an extensive list of folks who’d covered songs by the band over the years, and I began to dig into the performers listed there who’d covered “The Weight.” One name baffled me: Bobby Jameson.
I’d never heard of the man, never knew – as I know now – that he’d once been promoted as pop-rock music’s next big thing, never knew that he’d worked in studios with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, with Frank Zappa, with Crazy Horse and with others who would become household names (at least in those households that loved pop-rock music). As I got better at navigating the ’Net, I learned that Working! – the album on which Bobby’s version of “The Weight” appears – commanded prices ranging from $40 to $100 on the used LP market. I also learned that his other two albums – Color Him In, which was released under the name of just Jameson, and Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest, released under the name of Chris Lucey – were nearly just as rare on vinyl.
Sometimes being slow, I didn’t discover music blogs until the summer of 2007 2006, and – like a starving shopper on sampling day at the supermarket – I gobbled up lots of music new to me. Among that music I found Bobby’s three albums, starting with Working! As it was utterly out of print, I shared it and soon found myself in an email and message conversation with Bobby Jameson, who was living in California. He was pleased with my assessment of the album, and a long-distance friendship developed that’s still growing today. (I later found a copy of Working! online for the ridiculously low price of $10 and sent it to Bobby for an autograph. He happily complied.)
All of this is a long way to get around to the fact that “Palo Alto” from Working! is one of the records I’ve put into my Ultimate Jukebox. It was an easy choice. It’s not like I sat down and thought, “Boy, I need to get one of Bobby’s songs in there. Which one should it be?”
No, it was more simple than that. The first time I scrolled through the songs in my collection from 1969, I typed in “Palo Alto” without hesitation. Why? Well, first, I like it. There won’t be any music I don’t like on some level in the jukebox. By itself, though, that’s not enough. I like the Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding” plenty, too, but it’s not going to show up in these posts. There needs to be an attachment of some sort: historical, intellectual, emotional. With “Palo Alto,” it’s the latter. There is such a sense of yearning, of regret in the song. Here’s a video Bobby put together for the song since he’s become a presence on the ’Net in the past few years.
When I shared Working! in late 2007, I simply said that Palo Alto sounded to me like the early work that Jimmy Webb was doing with Glen Campbell a few years earlier, songs like “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.” Bobby never said a thing about that, and I thought I’d missed the point entirely of what he’d been trying to do. But not long ago, when he posted his video for “Palo Alto” (he’s since removed it and then reposted it so the comment is gone), he mentioned that he and the crew he was recording with had been aiming for a “Jimmy Webb, Glen Campbell kind of sound.”
Sometimes I get one right.
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 9 “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price, ABC-Paramount 9972 
“Palo Alto” by Bobby Jameson from Working! 
“What About Me” by Quicksilver Messenger Service, Capitol 3046 
“Taxi” by Harry Chapin, Elektra 45770 
“When Will I See You Again” by the Three Degrees, Philadelphia International 3550 
“Here Come Those Tears Again” by Jackson Browne, Asylum 45379 
“Stagger Lee,” the tale of a craps game gone bad and the pissed-off player who won’t let it rest, has one of the more compelling introductions in early rock ’n’ roll (or maybe in all of rock ’n’ roll), with Lloyd Price singing atop a vocal chorus with just a tinkling of piano: “The night was clear and the moon was yellow, and the leaves came tumbling down.” And the drums bomp in (Earl Palmer, perhaps?) and we’re off into the tale of Stagger Lee, Billy Lyons, a Stetson hat, Billy’s sickly wife and the bullet that broke the bartender’s glass. The story of Stagger Lee came to Price and his collaborator Harold Logan from an old folk song – there are hundreds of verses to the song – that itself evolved from tales of a Nineteenth Century Memphis waterfront gambler named James “Stacker” Lee. (The tale of the song is told in Greil Marcus’ book Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock & Roll Music .) The song’s genesis is fascinating, as is the fact that Dick Clark insisted that Price record a bowdlerized version of the record – in which Billy Lyons’ life is spared – before Clark would allow Price to perform on American Bandstand. But none of that seems to matter if you’re ever out on the dance floor while the original record is playing.
My data banks were pretty empty when I first got Quicksilver Messenger Service’s 1970 album What About Me at a flea market in North Dakota in 1989. I knew the band had sprung up in the San Francisco area in the late 1960s, the same period that has produced the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Company and many others. But I don’t know that I’d heard much of Quicksilver before. Digging into first What About Me and then the rest of the group’s catalog was rewarding. There was some aimless noodling, but there was also some brilliant playing, more of the latter than the former, I thought (and still think). And, getting back to the first album I found, there was “What About Me” with its straightforward message of environmental damage and social revolution and its nearly perfect hook of a chorus. The record was released as a single, but I don’t recall hearing it and don’t know how well it did.
The first few times I heard Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” in early 1972, I felt like I was listening to a movie, one studded with details that emerged bit by bit with each successive listening/viewing. The layers of detail and the strength of the story-telling fascinated me (and as I was beginning to write song lyrics at the time, humbled and inspired me at the same time), and over the years, I’ve lost myself in the story of Harry and Sue time and again. There has always been one portion of the record that’s confused me, though: I’ve never been able to understand the high female vocal in the middle of the song. I finally looked it up this morning. The words are:
Baby’s so high that she’s skying,
Yes she’s flying, afraid to fall.
I’ll tell you why baby’s crying,
Cause she’s dying, aren’t we all.
And as 1972 wandered on and “Taxi” went to No. 24, I thought I’d be perfectly happy to let the story of Harry and Sue end with Harry driving away with his twenty-dollar bill. But eight years later, Chapin released “Sequel,” a record that takes the couple’s story further. It’s maybe not quite as good a record, which is why it was one of those I trimmed as I was filling my jukebox, but it was still fine to catch up with those old friends Harry Chapin had introduced us to eight years earlier. (“Sequel” went to No. 23.) There are many reasons to mourn Chapin’s death in 1981, but one of them for me is that I tend to think he had a song planned for 1990, one called “Finale,” in which he’d let us know where Harry and Sue finally landed.
(The video I found for “Taxi” at YouTube is the original video made by Elektra to promote Chapin in 1972; the backing track is slightly different than the one that was released on the Heads & Tales album, and the video ends with a promotional message from Jac Holzman, at the time the head of Elektra Records.)
The sweet Philly soul of the Three Degrees’ “When Will I See You Again” has always carried a riddle of time for me. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits tells me that the record was released as a single in the autumn of 1974, peaking at No. 2, where it spent two weeks. That doesn’t jibe with my memory at all: To me, “When Will I See You Again” is the autumn of 1975, as it showed up on the radio about the same time as I met a young lady with whom I spent more than a decade. It was, for a brief time during that first season, “our song.” And I know for certain that we met in 1975. Did the record get ignored by Minnesota radio stations and jukebox jobbers for more than a year? Or did I just miss it? I don’t know the answers (I’m sure someone does), but I do know that the record is a lovely piece of music, and whenever I hear it, I remember the way the record would make the college-aged whiteray smile, and I smile back.
I wrote a while back about hearing “Here Come Those Tears Again” on the radio in February 1977, noting that it was one of the first recordings I ever owned that showed up after that on radio playlists: “Wow, I have that song already!” (The record went to No. 23.) Why is it in the Ultimate Jukebox? Because so many things are so good about it: Jackson Browne’s measured – for a while – vocal; the extraordinary foundation provided by the rhythm section of Bob Glaub and Jim Gordon; the guitar solo from John Hall (then of Orleans, now a U.S. Congressman), and, among more, the final couplet before the chorus repeats:
I’m going back inside and turning out the light,
And I’ll be in the dark, but you’ll be out of sight.