Posts Tagged ‘Joan Baez’

‘Stewball Was A Race Horse . . .’

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Now, about the song “Stewball.” We offered in this spot yesterday the version of the song recorded in 1940 by Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet for the Victor label. Pretty much a work song, that was the second of several iterations of the folk song that arose in England in the late Eighteenth Century.

Second Hand Songs notes: “Skewball, born in 1741, was a racehorse bred by Francis, Second Earl of Goldolphin. The horse, a gelding, was purportedly the top earning racer in Ireland in 1752, when he was 11. The song apparently originated as a ballad about a high stakes race occurring in the Curragh in Kildare, Ireland, in March 1752, which Skewball won.” The website gives a date of 1784 for the song, noting that the date “is for the oldest broadside identified of the ballad . . . held by the Harding Collection of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford.”

The webpage continues, “According to John and Alan Lomax in American Ballads and Folk Songs, the ballad was converted into a work song by slaves – which is supported by the version of the lyrics published in their book. ‘Skewball’ apparently became ‘Stewball’ after the song migrated to the United States.”

Beyond the work song version of “Stewball,” the original story-song continued to be recorded. A 1953 recording by Cisco Houston is the earliest listed in the on-going project at Second Hand Songs, but Woody Guthrie recorded the tale of the horse race in 1944 or 1945. His version was released in 1999 on Buffalo Skinners: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 4 on the Smithsonian Folkways label.

Then came along the Greenbriar Boys. A trio made up by 1960 of John Herald, Ralph Rinzler, and Bob Yellin, the group, says All Music Guide, was “[o]ne of the first urban bands to play bluegrass” and was “instrumental in transforming the sounds of the hill country from a Southern music to an international phenomenon.” The Greenbriar Boys released their first two albums of bluegrass tunes in 1962 and 1964, but of more import for us today is a tune that showed up on New Folks, a 1961 sampler on the Vanguard label. Herald, Rinzler and Yellin set the words of “Stewball” to a simple, folkish tune (written by Yellin, according to website Beatles Songwriting Academy) and recorded the song as their contribution to the album:

After that, covers of the new version followed: From Peter, Paul & Mary in 1963 (a single release went to No. 35 and is the only version to chart), from Joan Baez in 1964 and from the Hollies in 1966, according to Second Hand Songs. And I know there are many other covers. Most of those take on the Greenbriar’s Boys’ version (including one by Mason Proffit on its 1969 album Wanted), but there are other covers of the early folk version and the work song version as well. I didn’t go digging too deeply, though, because something else about the song grabbed my attention this week.

Now, I’ve heard the version of “Stewball” using the Greenbriar Boys’ melody several times over the years, notably the versions by Mason Proffit and Peter, Paul & Mary. Heck, I even sang it along with Peter Yarrow at a concert a year-and-a-half ago. But I’d never noticed or thought about the tune’s similarity to another famous song until this week.

Last Tuesday, I ran past Second Hand Songs while looking for an interesting cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1971 single “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, and when the results came up that put the Lennon/Ono tune in the adaptation tree for “Stewball,” I did a mild double-take. And then I thought about it, running the two tunes through my head. And yeah, John (and Yoko, to whatever degree she was involved in the writing, listed as she is as a composer) lifted the melody and chord structure from the Greenbriar Boys’ version of “Stewball.” There were a few changes, notably a key change and the addition of the “War is over if you want it” chorus, but it was essentially the same song.

And I’m not at all sure why Herald, Rinzler and Yellin didn’t complain. Does anybody know?

Uncovering More Browne Covers

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

This morning, as I scanned the lower depths of the Billboard Hot 100 from November 29, 1975, I saw the name of a group that tickled some vague place in my memory: Prelude.

I let the circuits connect – it took a few seconds – and came up with a reference: I’d mentioned the folk-rock trio from England a couple of years ago and shared its cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” in the context of looking at a chart from November of 1974. Prelude’s cover of the Young song had gone to No. 22.

The chart I was looking at – the one from about a year later – showed Prelude with another cover, this time of Jackson Browne’s “For A Dancer.” As November 1975 came to a close, the Prelude’s single was sitting at No. 100 in its first week on the chart. It spent another seven weeks on the chart and peaked at No. 63, far lower than had the 1974 single. And it was the last appearance on the American pop chart for the English trio. I remembered liking the trio’s cover of “After The Gold Rush,” and the group’s take on “For A Dancer” has its charms as well.

From there, I had a few possible routes. Had Prelude had a third single listed in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, I might have dug for some more of the group’s music. I imagine that some of the group’s five albums are floating around out there, and there are two CD collections available, including one that offers everything the group recorded for the Pye and Dawn labels between 1973 and 1977.

And I pondered digging into more of that chart from the autumn of 1975. Despite my mining of that season numerous times, there are likely a few nuggets still to be found. But having found that Prelude cover of a Jackson Browne song, I decided to look for more Browne covers (something I did in two consecutive posts last spring).

My first stop was Joan Baez. On her 1975 album Diamonds & Rust, she offers a sweet cover of “Fountain of Sorrow,” a track I’d not been able to find at YouTube the last time I went digging for Jackson Browne covers. This time, it was available. Now, I enjoy Diamonds & Rust so much that it’s hard to pick out highlights beyond the title track, but, powered by Larry Knechtel’s piano and Jim Gordon’s drumming, “Fountain of Sorrow” is pretty close to the top of the list.

Perhaps the most-remembered accolades bestowed early on Baez had something to do with the purity of her voice, which was remarkable. These days, the same is often said about Alison Krause. The clarity of her voice is, in fact, one of the things that have moved her beyond the bluegrass niche in which she was first placed. Yes, she fiddles well, but, to me, it’s her singing – along with the quality of her backing band, Union Station, and the crafty selection of good material – that has brought her to a wider audience. On 2011’s Paper Airplane, she covered Browne’s “My Opening Farewell” with her customary brilliance.

We’ll close today’s post with a cover that on first thought surprised me and on second thought didn’t. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never quite embraced Browne’s two late-1980s albums Lives in the Balance and World in Motion, probably because they were so vastly different in focus from his earlier albums, from 1972’s self-titled debut through 1980’s Hold Out. (I tend to disregard Lawyers in Love from 1983 because it seems to have no focus.)

But when I heard Richie Havens’ take on “Lives in the Balance” (a performance I shared in one of those earlier posts of covers), I began to think that perhaps my main difficulty with those late 1980s albums isn’t the material but Browne’s performance of that material. I’ve come to no conclusion yet, but I think I’m going to have consider that possibility a bit more closely after coming upon a very accessible cover of “World in Motion” by the late Roebuck “Pop” Staples. With some help from Bonnie Raitt (and what sounds like Jackson Browne himself), the track showed up on Staples’ 1992 album Peace to the Neighborhood.

Chart Digging: Late August 1972

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

A couple of days ago, an online news site – it might have been the Christian Science Monitor; I’m not sure – asked readers to list their most memorable astronomical sights. The comments covered a lot of ground: Some comets (Halley’s and Hale-Bopp were, I think, the most frequently mentioned), an eclipse here or there, some meteor showers, and a couple of mentions of the Northern Lights.

That’s what I mentioned in my comment, the Northern Lights. The moment came in August 1972, when Rick, Gary and I camped under the stars during the first night of our trip to Winnipeg. We’d emptied a few cans of beer that evening in the provincial campground, and we were a bit wobbly as we unrolled our sleeping bags onto a tarp sometime after midnight.

A little bit later – maybe an hour, maybe two – Rick poked me as I slept. I rolled over. “What?”

He pointed to the sky. I put on my glasses and saw the Northern Lights rolling and rippling in shades of blue and green. I’d seen the aurora borealis before, but only on the distant horizon; this time, the lights danced across half the sky, stretching from the northern horizon to straight above us. We couldn’t rouse Gary, so Rick and I watched the eerie spectacle for a while, then went back to sleep.

That’s the most memorable single moment of that four-day trip. For me, nothing else quite touched those minutes lying on the dark prairie ground with the curtains of light waving above us.

Except for that moment, the trip was your standard road trip for three young men: We saw some museums, some music shops, a zoo, and bits of a downtown music festival. On our way home, we spent a few hours in a campground with two girls from Okemos, Michigan, who were traveling with their folks. (And why I remember Okemos, Michigan, I have no idea.) We drank a bit more beer on that first night than we should have. And we listened to a lot of music as we drove something like 1,200 miles.

We had a few tapes – the new Rolling Stones hits package Hot Rocks chief among them – but we generally saved the batteries in the tape player for the evenings in the campgrounds and in the motel in Winnipeg. On the road, we were able to find a listenable Top 40 station pretty much anywhere we were. As a result, the Billboard Top Ten from this week in 1972 (released August 26) is filled with very familiar records:

“Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass
“Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan
“Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)” by the Hollies
“I’m Still In Love With You” by Al Green
“Hold Your Head Up” by Argent
“(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” by Luther Ingram
“Goodbye to Love” by the Carpenters
Coconut” by Nilsson
“You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” by Jim Croce
“Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” by Mac Davis

That Top Ten might set a record for the most record titles with parentheses. And, even with Nilsson’s silliness, it’s a good set. I – like many, I imagine – got tired of “Alone Again (Naturally)” that summer when it was No. 1 for six weeks, but now, it’s a nice period piece. And when the others show up during random play, they’re all very welcome here.

So, too, are some things found lower in the Hot 100 that was released thirty-nine years ago this week. And looking into a record found at No. 71 brought me one of the more interesting bits I’ve found in digging through charts, so we’ll go there first and then backtrack a little.

Jerry Wallace was a pop/country singer who was born in Missouri and raised in Arizona. From 1958 into 1972, he put seventeen records in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section; the best-performing of those was “Primrose Lane,” which went to No. 8 in 1959. His success on the country chart covers a few different years; he hit the Country Top 40 nineteen times between 1965 and 1978. During the summer of 1972, “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry” hit both charts, starting out on the country chart – where it spent two weeks at No. 1 – and moving to the pop chart, where it peaked at No. 38. What piqued my interest was the fine-print note under the song’s listing in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: “From TV’s Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Tune in Dan’s Café.”

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery was an extension of the idea of Serling’s late-1950s and early 1960s classic show The Twilight Zone: Tales of the odd, eerie, macabre and unexplainable. Instead of The Twilight Zone’s one episode presented in thirty minutes (sixty minutes in the case of several episodes in 1963), Night Gallery presented three tales in an hour (changed to one tale in thirty-minutes in its last season, 1972-73). The show ran more or less weekly, based on what I see at Wikipedia, and it was during the January 5, 1972, show that viewers saw ‘The Tune in Dan’s Café.”

The tune in question was Wallace’s “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry,” and the piece was centered around a jukebox in a small town bar and restaurant. I’ll say no more about the episode, except to note that its use of the record no doubt boosted the record’s sales. And Wallace’s position on the country chart wasn’t hurt, either: his next hit, “Do You Know What It’s Like To Be Lonesome,” went to No. 2, and he was a regular presence in the country Top 40, with a couple more Top Ten hits, into 1978.

As to “The Tune in Dan’s Café,” it’s available on YouTube in two parts. Here’s the first part. (The link to Part 2 can then be found in the suggested links that follow.)

Video deleted.

Joey Heatherton was a movie and television actress who did some singing, and I’m always surprised to see her pop up in the 1970s because I tend to lump her with Sandra Dee and Connie Stevens and a number of other young women who were similar performers during the late 1950s and early 1960s. But Heatherton was of the next generation, and in late August 1972, her cover of “Gone” – made famous by Ferlin Husky’s No 1 country hit in 1957 – was at No. 35, coming down after peaking at No. 24. Later in the year, Heatherton’s “I’m Sorry” – a cover of the tune made famous by Brenda Lee in 1960 – went to No. 87. Both singles came from The Joey Heatherton Album, an album that All-Music Guide likes a fair amount. (The album was released in an expanded version on CD in 2004 with a racy picture of Heatherton on the cover.)

The band Uriah Heep had one Top 40 hit: “Easy Livin’” was at No. 54 and was climbing up the chart during this week in August 1972. The record would peak at No. 39, by far the best-performing single for the English band; three other records would peak in the 90s, and one more would bubble under. But “Easy Livin’” deserved its place. In a time of singer-songwriter confessionals, light pop, Hi Records-type soul and lots of other mellow sounds, the Uriah Heep single was without doubt one of the toughest things coming out of the Top 40 speakers at the time. I was a mellow kind of guy myself in a lot of ways at the time – I was just beginning to dig into Eric Clapton and related musicians that summer and I was still more than a year away from the Allmans – but I loved “Easy Livin’” as it thundered out of the car radio, pulling us up the highway toward Winnipeg and beer.

The Janis Joplin remembrance “In The Quiet Morning” was written by Mimi Fariña and first appeared on Take Heart, a 1971 album she recorded with Tom Jans. In 1972, Joan Baez – Fariña’s sister – recorded the tune for her album Come From the Shadows and released the tune as a single. By the fourth week of August, the record was at No. 73. It would climb only a little higher, to No. 69, before falling back down the chart. Baez would have two more singles reach the pop chart: In 1975 “Blue Sky” would go to No. 57 and “Diamonds and Rust” would go to No. 35. (Before that, she’d had five singles hit the chart, with her 1971 cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” going to No. 3.) Whatever its chart failures, “In The Quiet Morning” is nicely done.

I’ve written about Leon Russell before, but the success in the past year of The Union, the CD he recorded with Elton John, has had me reviewing the work I knew by Russell and digging at least a little bit into the stuff I missed along the way. So when “Tight Rope” popped up at No. 82 in the Hot 100 from August 26, 1972, I knew I had to present it here. The record was in its first week on the chart, and it would peak at No. 11, by far the best performance on the pop chart of any Leon Russell single. (“Lady Blue” went to No. 14 in 1975; eight other Russell singles peaked in the lower half of the Hot 100 or bubbled under. He did hit No. 1 on the country chart in 1979 via a duet with Willie Nelson on “Heartbreak Hotel.”) I can’t say “Tight Rope” is my favorite Leon Russell track. Of the singles, I’d probably choose “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” which went to No. 105 in 1971; from the other studio tracks, I’d take “Beware of Darkness” from 1971’s Leon Russell & The Shelter People, but my favorite Leon Russell performance of all time is his “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley from The Concert for Bangla Desh.

The ills of society were always fair game for musicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but a record addressing those ills that I’d never heard until recently popped up in the Hot 100 we’re looking at today: “A Piece of Paper” by the Texas group Gladstone. In short order, the group takes on marriage, religion, abortion (this was while abortion was still widely illegal in the U.S.) and war. Talk about a multi-purpose protest song! The record was at No. 99 during the week in question and would peak at No. 45. It was Gladstone’s only appearance on the pop chart.

‘It’s A Restless Hungry Feeling . . .’

Friday, March 25th, 2011

With a nearly complete* collection of Bob Dylan’s work available, I can pick and choose when I want to listen to an hour’s worth of the Bard of Hibbing. And there are a few of Dylan’s albums that rarely make it to the CD player or turntable or mp3 player.

Chief among those are Saved, the 1980 release that was the second of the three Christian-era albums; At Budokan and Dylan and The Dead, two pretty bad live albums; his debut album, titled simply Bob Dylan; and his third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’.

That last album, The Times They Are A-Changin’, was released in 1964 and was Dylan’s most topical during his early folkies-can-change-the-world days, and as such, it’s not aged well. Not all the songs are tied to then-current events, but enough of them are – “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “Only A Pawn In Their Game,” for example – that it’s not an album I play very frequently. And that’s too bad, as it means I have to find other settings – beyond the hope of a random play – for some strong songs that aren’t tied to those times, like “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Restless Farewell,” to name two.

The same holds true for my favorite on the album, “One Too Many Mornings,” which was written for Suze Rotolo, Dylan’s girlfriend at the time. (Rotolo, who crossed over February 25 at the age of sixty-seven, was the girl walking with Dylan on the cover of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. In the evocative words of Jeff Ash of AM, Then FM: “The girl on the cover, now forever young.”) Their relationship lasted into 1964, and Rotolo was the inspiration for some of Dylan’s most enduring songs, including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” and “Boots of Spanish Leather.” But out of the cluster of songs that I’ve read were inspired by Rotolo, “One Too Many Mornings” is my favorite:

Down the street the dogs are barkin’
And the day is a-gettin’ dark
As the night comes in a-fallin’
The dogs’ll lose their bark
An’ the silent night will shatter
From the sounds inside my mind
For I’m one too many mornings
And a thousand miles behind

From the crossroads of my doorstep
My eyes they start to fade
As I turn my head back to the room
Where my love and I have laid
An’ I gaze back to the street
The sidewalk and the sign
And I’m one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

It’s a restless hungry feeling
That don’t mean no one no good
When ev’rything I’m a-sayin’
You can say it just as good.
You’re right from your side
I’m right from mine
We’re both just one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

Dylan’s version of the song from The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a solo take, with just his guitar and harmonica. It’s thoughtful and gentle. That wasn’t the case with the next version of the tune in Dylan’s catalog. On stage during a 1966 concert in Manchester, England (erroneously and eternally known as “The Royal Albert Hall Concert” and released in 1998), Dylan and his band – four-fifths of The Band and drummer Mickey Jones – tear into the song with gusto, and Dylan makes his way raggedly through the song in the weary, half-sneering voice that every Dylan imitator prizes. It’s a fun trip.

The third version of the song that Dylan released, a take from the 1975 Rolling Thunder tour that was released in 1976 on Hard Rain, is maybe the most interesting. Still ragged, but less frenetic than the 1966 version, the version on Hard Rain finds Dylan seeming to actually think about what he’s singing as he provides slight changes from the 1964 melody.

Still, as much as I love Dylan, none of his versions of “One Too Many Mornings” provide my favorite take on the tune. For that, I have to turn to a cover. And there are plenty of them from which to choose. All-Music Guide lists 196 CDs that include a song with that title. At a guess, two-thirds of those are duplicates or different songs with the same title. That kind of blunt math leaves us with about sixty-five different versions of the Dylan tune.

I’ve posted videos in the past couple weeks of two of those covers: a 2007 release by David Gray this week and a 1989 release by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings in February. That last outing wasn’t the first time Cash had taken on “One Too Many Mornings.” He and Dylan gave it a try – I believe there are bootlegs out there – during the sessions for Dylan’s 1969 album, Nashville Skyline, and he recorded a solo version in 1964 with help, it seems, from June Carter Cash. That one was released in 1978 on Johnny and June:

A lot of familiar names pop up in the list of covers. The Association released the song as a single in 1965, and it showed up on the group’s 1970 live album. The Beau Brummels also released the tune as a single; it went to No. 95 in 1966. Joan Baez took a couple of shots at the song; her first version showed up as a bonus track on the CD reissue of her 1964 album, Farewell Angelina, and a version with a slightly Latin tinge to it – one I like a lot – came out in 1968 on Any Day Now.

Perhaps the most surprising name on the list of those who’ve covered “One Too Many Mornings” is that of Bobby Sherman, whose 1969 version – from his Bobby Sherman album – isn’t bad at all.

The list of names goes on, some familiar and some not: The Dillards, the Kingston Trio, Jerry Jeff Walker, Radio Flyer, Robyn Hitchcock, Jaime Brockett, Tony Furtado with Jules Shear, Steve Howe with Phoebe Snow, Ralph McTell, the Alan Lorber Orchestra and more.

But my favorite take on the song comes from the later version of The Band. Released as the closing track of the 1999 CD Tangled Up In Blues: Songs of Bob Dylan, it’s a cover that echoes the classic sound of The Band, with Dylan’s old friends Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson joined by new members Jim Weider, Richard Bell, Randy Ciarlante and guest Derek Trucks.

*A while back, I wrote that I owned a copy – vinyl or CD – of everything Dylan has ever released. I was in error. I forgot about Live at the Gaslight 1962, which was sold through a chain of coffee shops that has no St. Cloud outlet (though a friend was nice enough to provide me with a digital copy, which is good, with even used copies of the CD going for more than $22), and I do not have Christmas in the Heart because I don’t do Christmas records, not even Dylan’s. Since I wrote the post overlooking those two albums, Dylan has released Bob Dylan In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963, which I plan to get soon. I also see limited copies for sale of Live At Carnegie Hall 1963, which isn’t yet listed on Dylan’s website, but when it is officially released, I’ll make sure it’s soon on my shelves.

(Lyrics copyright © 1964, 1966 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992, 1994 by Special Rider Music)

The Lingering Memory Of Sour Lime

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Not far from our home, down where Lincoln Avenue intersects with Minnesota Highway 23, there’s a Burger King restaurant. We’re occasional customers there. While BK happens to be one of my favorite fast food places, the Texas Gal prefers others. Still, I imagine we bring home dinner from there about once a month.

And every once in a while, as I walk from my car across the parking lot to the building – I utterly hate drive-through windows – I see myself walking in the same parking lot almost fifty years ago, long before there was a Burger King on that spot. I’d be with my family, and I’d be about as pleased as a ten-year old boy could be as I headed for an evening snack at Kay’s Motel Cafe.

Like most 1960s families, we didn’t go out to eat very often. On special Sundays – Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and perhaps a few more – we might drive across town after church, heading for the Log Lodge (another place long gone), which meant steaks for Mom and Dad, maybe chicken for my sister and fried shrimp for me. Dining out during the week was very rare, limited pretty much to special times during the summer months, when we might celebrate Mom and Dad’s anniversary or a visit from Lamberton by my Grandpa and Grandma and Aunt Tudy. (Her name was Ruth, but as a toddler, either my mom or my Aunt Margie had trouble with the name Ruthie; it came out “Tudy,” and the name stuck.)

But whenever there was an evening event for our family – a piano recital, a school play, a performance by a school choir, orchestra or band – our evenings would end with a stop for a snack. And Kay’s Motel Cafe was one of our frequent stops for those snacks. What made Kay’s a special place wasn’t the food. A fried hamburger patty served on a buttered white bun with a pickle chip on the side is pretty much the same, no matter where you go. But being the restaurant for a motel meant that Kay’s not only had food but a gift shop area as well.

There were racks of postcards and shelves of tacky souvenirs and trinkets. There were a few books and magazines. And there were display cases filled with Native American jewelry, carved stones, agates and other bits and pieces of 1960s kitsch, all of which interested my sister and me. The jewelry cases themselves were fascinating, as the long shelves were suspended on a rotating track, like a Ferris wheel: Push a button on the side, and the shelves came up out of the back of the case, passed by under the glass top and then moved slowly down the front of the case in a never-ending rotation of gems and glass and glitter. Push the other button, and the shelves reversed, coming up the front and disappearing down the back. The combined novelty of the exotic wares in the cases and of the rotating cases themselves made a stop at Kay’s an event.

And then there was the candy counter. Kay’s was the only place in St. Cloud where one could buy my favorite candy: the sour candies made by Regal Crown and imported from England. They came in rolls that were about six inches long and not quite the diameter of a quarter, with each piece of candy wrapped in wax paper. There were several flavors available, among them sour cherry, sour grape, sour lemon and my favorite, sour lime. If you were undecided or needed variety, you could get a roll of mixed candies, but that wasn’t for me. Not every visit to Kay’s ended with a roll of candy in my pocket, but when I was allowed to bring home a roll of Regal Crown, I almost always chose the sour limes.

Time takes its toll. I don’t know when Kay’s cafe closed and was torn down to make way for Burger King, but – based on separate memories – it was sometime after 1974 and before 1987. The lot where Kay’s Motel sat is now home to a self-storage place that also rents trucks. I don’t remember at all where the Log Lodge was on the other end of town, but wherever it was, something else sits there now. And it’s been years since I saw Regal Crown sour candies anywhere; chatter on a few on-line bulletin boards tells me they’ve long been unavailable.

But memory persists. I see in my mind a ten-year-old whiteray leaving Kay’s Motel Cafe with his family, clutching a roll of candy as he walks across the parking lot and gets into the back seat of the brown 1952 Ford. As his father starts the car and backs out, whiteray carefully unfolds the foiled paper on the end of the roll and eases out one wrapped candy. Just as carefully, as his father takes the car across Highway 23 and down Lincoln Avenue toward Kilian Boulevard, the young whiteray folds the foil paper back in place, then unwraps the candy and lays it on his tongue.

And forty-seven years later, I can still taste that first delicious bite of sour lime on my tongue.

I don’t know that we went to Kay’s Motel Cafe during this week in 1963. We certainly could have. And I don’t recall what – if any – type of music we would have heard there. But somewhere, sometime, during this week in 1963, I would have heard pop music, even if I didn’t pay it much attention. And if I came across any of the Top Ten from November 9, 1963, here is what I would have heard:

“Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs
“Deep Purple” by Nino Tempo & April Stevens
“Washington Square” by the Village Stompers
“It’s All Right” by the Impressions
“Mean Woman Blues” by Roy Orbison
“I’m Leaving It Up To You” by Dale & Grace
“Maria Elena” by Los Indios Tabajaras
“Busted” by Ray Charles
“Bossa Nova Baby” by Elvis Presley
“I Can’t Stay Mad At You” by Skeeter Davis

I recognize the first six of those and certainly recognize the last three artists if not those specific records, but I don’t have a whole lot to say about whether that’s a good Top Ten or not; this is not my era, and anything I know about almost all of those records comes from things learned after the fact. In fact, the only one of those records I think I heard often enough at the time to recognize is “Washington Square,” which I would guess I heard on WCCO. Or it could have been on one of the two local stations; I would guess that five of those Top Ten records (“Deep Purple,” “Washington Square,” “Maria Elena” and the Dale & Grace and Skeeter Davis singles) might have gotten airplay on middle-of-the-road stations as well as Top 40 stations.

The one that intrigues me today is “Maria Elena.” According to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Los Indios Tabajaras was a pair of Native American brothers from Ceara, Brazil. Born as Musiperi and Herundy Lima, the duo later called themselves, respectively, Natalicio and Antenor Lima. “Maria Elena” had been recorded as a fairly standard ballad in 1941 by Jimmy Dorsey; the Lima brothers recorded their version in 1958, and in 1963, it spent fourteen weeks in the Hot 100, peaking at No. 6. (The duo had one other record reach the Hot 100: “Always In My Heart” got to No. 82 in March of 1964.)

Heading out of the Top 40, we’ll stop at No. 42, where Richard Chamberlain sat with “Blue Guitar,” a song from the soundtrack of Twilight of Honor, a film starring Chamberlain as “a fearless trial lawyer in a drama of love, courage, and murder,” according to the film’s promotional material. Chamberlain was better known as television’s Dr. James Kildare and had a 1962 Top Ten hit with “Theme from Dr. Kildare (Three Stars Will Shine Tonight)” and reached the Top 40 with covers of “Love Me Tender” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” “Blue Guitar,” which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, has an atmospheric backing, but Chamberlain’s bland vocal takes a lot of the interest out of it. The record went no higher.

Robin Ward was born in Hawaii as Jacqueline McDonnell and was raised primarily in Nebraska, according to All-Music Guide. She went on to success as a session singer under her married name of Jackie Ward, but in 1963, singing as Robin Ward, she had a Top 20 hit with a sweet girl-groupish single. Forty-seven years ago today, “Wonderful Summer” was at No. 53 and was on its way to No. 14. After its success, Ward released several other singles. Only the follow-up, “Winter’s Here,” came close to charting; it got to No. 123 in March of 1964.

In the twenty years since the 1990 film Ghost brought it back off the oldies shelf, versions of “Unchained Melody” have proliferated like weeds. But in 1963, “Unchained Melody” was already an oldie, having been written as the theme to a 1955 prison film, Unchained. Four versions of the song made the various Top 40 charts that year: Les Baxter’s version from the film went to No. 1, Al Hibbler’s cover went to No. 3, Roy Hamilton’s went to No. 5, and June Valli’s version went to No. 29. And in 1963, the Righteous Brothers’ iconic cover was still two years away. (It would go to No. 4.) But there was this: At No. 71 in the Billboard Hot 100 for November 9, 1963, we find a doo-wop version of “Unchained Melody” by Vito and The Salutations, which would peak three weeks later at No. 63. (The video below gathers the doo-wop version and a ballad version of “Unchained Melody.” From what I can tell, it was the doo-wop version that was in the Hot 100. If anyone knows differently, let me know.)

Stopping at No. 80, we find one of two Top 40 hits for the Dayton, Ohio, duo of Dean & Jean. “Tra La La La Suzy” was on its way to No. 35, and in the spring of 1964, the duo would reach No. 32 with “Hey Jean, Hey Dean.” Later in the spring of 1964, “I Wanna Be Loved” would reach No. 91. I’ve never heard any of them until this morning, and I kind of like “Tra La La La Suzy.”

Finally, forty-seven years ago today, Joan Baez made her first appearance in the Billboard Hot 100, as “We Shall Overcome” sat at No. 90. The record dropped out of the Hot 100 after that and spent five weeks in the Bubbling Under portion of the chart. Baez would reach the Hot 100 eight more times – according to AMG – and chart in the Top 40 twice, with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” reaching No. 3 in the autumn of 1971 and “Diamonds & Rust” going to No. 35 in the autumn of 1975. (The sound quality of the video could be better, but I thought it was historically significant enough to put up with some crackles.)

The Ultimate Jukebox, Part Two

Monday, February 1st, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–whiteray