Posts Tagged ‘Jigsaw’

Chart Digging: Love Songs

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

It’s Valentine’s Day today, so I thought I’d resurrect something I came across while I was posting some archival stuff the other week. It ran here three years ago today:

It being Valentine’s Day today, Blogworld is filled with love songs.

And that’s okay. If there’s one thing that should be celebrated more often, it’s love. And I can’t think of a more appropriate day to do so than today.

But what is there to say that hasn’t been said already, here and in a thousand thousand other places? Well, I think we can say that love – like the songs we write about it – is really about hope, promises, fear, joy, sorrow, yearning, bliss, despair, isolation, companionship, contentment and finally, peace.

I’ve heard it said – heck, I may have said so myself at one time or another, as many times as I’ve taken a climb on this Matterhorn of a topic – that we don’t really choose who we love. We just love, and we recognize the objects of our love when they enter our lives. The choices we make then are: first, whether to acknowledge the love, and second, how to express it. Those choices determine which of the feelings in the above list – hope, promises and so on – will embrace the two lovers.

Sometimes we choose badly. Most of the time, we hope, we don’t. And when one chooses well, when one acknowledges and expresses love in ways that nurture both souls, then the worst things on that list – isolation and despair – can be minimized, if not entirely avoided. What about fear and sorrow? Well, no person who loves another can avoid them. That’s not cynicism talking, that’s – to quote Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield by way of Marvin Gaye – the way love is. Fear and sorrow are the B-Side of hope and joy, and souls who love each other fear the inevitable parting and the resulting sorrow that comes even to those who have loved well and long.

I’d almost presume to say that if we do not grieve at a loved one’s leave-taking, we have not loved.

So, am I some kind of expert on love, to be throwing epigrams and lists of words around this morning? No, I’m just another pilgrim, one who has at times loved less than wisely and now – I believe – has learned to love well. These words are a description of my life, not a prescription for others. The only advice I would have for others on this day when we celebrate love is something someone told me long ago: Embrace love, wherever you find it.

Beyond that, all we need is a song.

One song would do, but I’ll offer a few more than that today. I thought I would dig into a number of Billboard Hot 100 charts for various February 14ths and find records in the lower reaches of those charts with “love” in their titles. We’ll start our digging in 1976 and go back a few years at a time.

The sound of “Love Fire” by Jigsaw – sitting at No. 79 on February 14, 1976 – was familiar to anyone who had heard the band’s No. 2 hit, “Sky High,” the autumn before. This time, however, the band was singing this time about love that was soaring rather than having been blown apart. Still, the twanging and booming introduction didn’t spark another Top Ten hit: “Love Fire” peaked at No. 30.

The Whispers were a Los Angeles soul group that notched twenty-one records in or near the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1990; a few of those made the Top 40, and one – 1987’s “Rock Steady – went to No. 7. (During the same general time period, the Whispers had fifteen records reach the R&B Top Ten, with “Rock Steady” and 1980’s “And The Beat Goes On” both reaching No. 1.) On Valentine’s Day of 1973, “Somebody Loves You” was at No. 94. It would go no higher.

In late 1969, Peggy Lee had reached No. 11 with the idiosyncratic “Is That All There Is,” a single pulled from the well-regarded (at least by All-Music Guide) album of the same name. By the time Valentine’s Day rolled around in 1970, Lee’s version of Randy Newman’s equally idiosyncratic “Love Story” was sitting at No. 105 in the bubbling under section of the Hot 100 chart. It went no higher and has the distinction of being the thirteenth and last of Lee’s singles to be listed in or near the Billboard Hot 100.

The Woolies were a garage rock band from East Lansing, Michigan, and as Valentine’s Day dawned in 1967, their cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” was parked at No. 113 in the Hot 100’s Bubbling Under section. Originally released on the Spirit label in 1966, the energetic workout was released on Dunhill in early 1967. The record – the only Hot 100 hit for the Woolies – eventually peaked at No. 95.

Little Johnny Taylor showed up here the other week when I dug into a chart from February 1972, and it’s never too soon for more. In mid-February 1964, Taylor’s “Since I Found A New Love” was sitting at No. 109. It would peak at No. 78. (The video shows the flip side of the Galaxy single and uses what seems to be the longer LP version of the track rather than the single, but so it goes.)

Ernestine Anderson was a jazz singer from Houston, and – like the Woolies – she shows up in the pages of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles just once: As Valentine’s Day 1961 came by, her very nice cover version of “A Lover’s Question” was bubbling under at No. 103. Clyde McPhatter’s original recording of the tune had gone to No. 6 in 1959, and Anderson’s fell far short of that, peaking a little later in 1961 at No. 98.

‘Pain! Burning In My Heart . . .’

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

I wonder how likely this story is in today’s music and radio world:

Some local kids decide to form a band, and through hard work, a love of music and a little bit of radio luck, the band records some songs, has one or two of them pressed on a 45 (or burned on a CD these days, I guess) and the music finds its way onto the air and to the top of the local Top 40 stations’ playlists.

It reads like the concept for a B-list movie, one that’s not truly awful but is nevertheless utterly predictable, its script packed to the gills with rough and ready clichés and with clueless lines like the earnest “Our record’s too good not to make it!” or the cynical “Freakin’ radio weasels! They say our freakin’ sound is out of date!”

But during the years I was a radio listener – the late 1960s and early 1970s, in case you haven’t been paying attention – stories like that (although perhaps without the radio weasels) happened frequently, from the largest markets on the coasts to the smaller markets in the Midwest and South. In my exploration of Blogworld, I often come across stories of still-beloved bands that had local hits with 45s and/or albums. My pal Jeff at AM, Then FM wrote just this week about the upsurge of “fierce Wisconsin nostalgia” for an early Seventies band named Clicker, a wave of nostalgia that it seems he had a hand in creating with earlier posts.

In Minnesota, several local bands during the early rock era reached the local charts, delighting their cadres of fans in the Upper Midwest. One of those bands, the Trashmen, hit the national stage and saw their immortal record “Surfin’ Bird” spend two weeks at No. 4 on the Billboard chart as January turned into February in 1964.

Another one of those local records played a part – how large, I’m not sure – in completing my metamorphosis to committed Top 40 listener. I’ve mentioned before that it was during the last half of August 1969 when I really began to listen to Top 40 radio. Finding myself hanging around with St. Cloud Tech’s football team during the two weeks of summer practice, I realized that the radio – likely tuned to KDWB in the Twin Cities – was providing a pretty good soundtrack for my life, at least for that portion of it spent on the sidelines of a football field and in the locker room across the way.

There were a lot of good records on the air. According to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, the Top Ten on KDWB for this week in 1969 was:

“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“It’s Getting Better” by Mama Cass
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Pain” by the Mystics
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen
“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition
“Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon        
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White

Of those ten, and there are some great ones in there, the one that matters here this morning is “Pain,” the No. 4 record from forty-one years ago this week. The Mystics were a Twin Cities group (originally called Michael’s Mystics), and the single was released on the Metromedia label. According to ARSA, “Pain” had been the No. 1 single on KDWB for the preceding week, and the same was true at WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other main Top 40 station of the time.

And when “Pain” came on the air, there was something about it that made it stand out even in the elite company of hits from the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and the rest. The hard-charging horn-laced introduction is what grabbed me, I think. The tale told by the lyric is okay, but I think it was the horns. I don’t know who to thank for the arrangement; the credit on the 45 reads only “A Path Production.” But almost every time “Pain” came on the radio that late summer and early fall, I’d stop what I was doing and just listen. It remained one of my favorite songs long after it fell down the charts and its airplay ended.

Not that I did anything about it. If I’d been thinking at all, I would have headed out to Woolworth’s or Kresge’s or Musicland and gotten myself a copy of the record. I didn’t.

But I was enamored enough of the record to pop for a ticket to a high school dance a couple weeks into the school year. The ticket cost all of fifty cents, I imagine. I had no plans of getting on the dance floor, nor did my pal Mike, who went with me. We’d be content to hang along the gym wall in the old Central School, listening to the tunes and watching the girls on the dance floor. We were there for one reason only: The band for the dance was the Mystics, and we wanted to hear “Pain.” And, of course, about two hours into the three-hour dance, the Mystics obliged. Satisfied, Mike and I made our ways home.

It was, I think, the first time I’d heard a radio hit played live by the original band. And that memory is sweet.

It was years before I ever heard the song again; in fact, after a while, it would be years before I even though about “Pain” again. You know how life goes: Things happen and more things happen, and some of the things you thought you’d never forget end up pushed to the back on the shelves of memory, gathering dust until someday for some reason, something pushes one of those things to the front of the shelf, where it seems shiny and new again.

It was the mid-1990s, so call it twenty-five years since I’d heard the Mystics’ single. One of the guys who played in the band at Jake’s had played, if I recall correctly, in another well-known Twin Cities band, Danny’s Reasons. During a break one night, he was telling tales, and he mentioned the Mystics.

“The Mystics?” I asked. “The guys who released ‘Pain’?” The very ones, Larry said. I hadn’t thought about “Pain” for years. The conversation wandered on as I made a mental note to check the singles bins at Cheapo’s every once in a while. And a couple of weeks later, when I saw a poster for a record show at no more than eight blocks from my home, I made a note to head out on Saturday and see what I could find.

Well, I found a copy of “Pain.” In its original Metromedia sleeve. For something like $100. The fellow obligingly pulled the 45 from the sleeve and put it on the turntable. I listened to the record for the first time in about twenty-five years, looked at the price tag on the plastic sleeve and shook my head. “Not this time,” I told the fellow regretfully.

From then on, I’d check for the record sporadically at the places where I bought my LPs. After I moved further south and east in Minneapolis in 1999, I had new places to check. No luck. And once the Texas Gal and I moved to St. Cloud in 2002, well, there were really no places to check except on-line stores. I took a look this morning.

There is one copy of “Pain” offered for sale through Music Stack.com. It’s priced at $46.92. One copy of the 45 was priced at $75 at the Global E-commerce Mega-Market (GEMM) but was evidently sold this morning. Prices like those have been pretty consistent over the past eight years, when there’s been a copy of the record on the market.

But I don’t need those copies. On a January Saturday in 2003, the Texas Gal and I made one of our occasional trips to the small town of Pierz to stock up on bacon at Thielen Meats. On the way back, we came through the very small town of Royalton, on U.S. Highway 10 about twenty miles north of St. Cloud. An antique shop was doing business in what appeared to be an old bank building, so we pulled over and went in.

I’m not sure what the Texas Gal looked at, but in the second room I entered, I found a tall rotating rack filled with 45s carefully put into paper and then plastic sleeves. I began digging. And about midway down the second side, I did a double-take: “Pain” by the Mystics. Eyebrows raised, I looked for the price, and I did another double-take: two dollars.

Needless to say, the record came home with me. And a few years later, when the Texas Gal gave me a USB turntable for Christmas, “Pain” was the first record I pulled from the shelves to convert to an mp3. It still sounds as good as it did coming out of the speakers on an August day forty-one years ago this week.

(The record shown and used in the video is the original release, according to reader Yah Shure, not a later release, as I originally stated. My copy of the record is Metromedia 130, and the record is credited to simply “The Mystics.” It’s worth noting that the Grass Roots also recorded “Pain,” releasing it as an album track on their 1969 LP Lovin’ Things. They did a good job, but they’re not the Mystics, you know.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 31
“Pain” by the Mystics, Metromedia 130 [1969]
“Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You)” by Lulu from New Routes [1970]
“Sky High” by Jigsaw, Chelsea 3022 [1975]
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, Cotillion 44251 [1979]
“More Than This” by Roxy Music from Avalon [1982]
“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen 29141 [1984]

Sometime in February 1970, I was home from school for a day, and I had the radio on as I was sitting up in bed sniffling or coughing or whatever I was doing. I stopped dead still, however, when I heard the quiet introduction to Lulu’s “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You).” I listened, entranced, as she took the song from that quiet start to unexpected places. I knew Lulu from “To Sir With Love,” which went to No. 1 in 1967, but this sounded like a different singer, one dealing with much more than a schoolgirl crush. From crayons to perfume, indeed. Lulu’s warm and intimate performance took the record to No. 22 in that late winter.  Add to that performance the fact that I was just beginning to know what it was like to be a fool for someone, and you have all you need to make a song a favorite for life.

Lulu – “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You)”

There are no emotional connections, no tales of hearing my life in the music, with Jigsaw’s “Sky High.” It’s just one of those records that has always been fun to listen to. The heartbreak content of the lyrics, to tell the truth, doesn’t seem to work, mostly because the guys from Jigsaw – the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits says the quartet came from England while All-Music Guide says the band was founded in Brisbane, Australia, in 1966 – seem to be having too much fun singing about their love being blown sky high to be grieving too much about it. And it is fun, from the opening twanging – what instrument makes that sound? – through the swirling strings and punchy horns of the introduction onward. “Sky High” spent two weeks at No. 3 in December of 1975.

Speaking of fun, from the instant I hear the drum figure and quick piano runs of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” there’s a smile on my face. The disco proclamation of kinship spent two weeks at No. 2 during June of 1979, brightening the summer and providing that season’s Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team with an anthem. With their athletic skills thus supplemented, the Pirates – led by thirty-nine-year-old Willie (Pops) Stargell – won baseball’s World Series that fall, winning the final three games to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in seven games. And seeing the Orioles lose – just like the effervescent vocals and sly beat of “We Are Family” – is always a reason to smile.

I love album covers. Not to the extent that I have any framed and displayed on the walls of the study, although I do have a large poster of the cover to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the wall. But I’ve enjoyed over the years the art of good album covers, and I’ve also enjoyed over time the utterly inept work put into bad album covers. But only once have I ever bought an album based only on the look of the cover. It was the summer of 1989. I’d returned to Minnesota after my generally unhappy time on the Dakota prairie, and I was celebrating my return by touring Minneapolis-area record shops. In a shop in the suburb of Richfield, I came across a cover illustration so arresting that I bought the album without having the slightest idea what I would hear.

The record was Avalon, the 1982 effort by Roxy Music. All I knew of Roxy Music at the time was that the group was British. I had no awareness of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera or any of the other members of the group over the years; I didn’t know about Siren, Manifesto, Country Life, or any of the other albums. I was clueless. But the cover to Avalon fascinated me. I took the record home and, luckily, I liked it, especially “More Than This” and the title tune. In later years, I explored the rest of Roxy Music’s catalog, and I found the earlier albums well done but a little brittle and fussy, not nearly as warm and inviting as Avalon. It’s fine when tracks from those earlier albums pop up at random. But I don’t go looking for them. Avalon I do, especially that shimmering title tune and “More Than This,” which was a No. 6 hit in Britain (No. 103 here in the U.S.).

It was almost winter – the second week of December 1984 – when Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” entered the Top 40. Even in the relatively mild winter of mid-Missouri, the wind whistled around the corners of the house, making winter seem harder. To me, that matched the sonic dish that Henley had served, and I had the sense that he was singing about things much more fundamental than the passing of one warm season:

Out on the road today,
I saw a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac.

A voice inside my head said ‘Don’t look back.
‘You can never look back.’

The final verses – I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun . . . I can tell you, my love for you will still be strong – are more traditional for making a pledge of fealty. But what sticks with me from the record – which went to No. 5 during the second week of February 1985 – is that warning, one I ignore frequently but with greater misgivings as the days race by: ‘Don’t look back. You can never look back.”

(Sequence of Mystics’ name and of record’s release have been corrected since post was first published; thanks for the info, Yah Shure.)