Posts Tagged ‘Judy Collins’

Saturday Single No. 392

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

It’s time to be random. We’re going to fire up the RealPlayer this morning and land on four random selections. After that, we’ll choose from those four a single for the day. We’ll ignore anything from before 1940, but weirdness will be embraced.

First up is “I Am Not A Poet (Night Song)” by Melanie from her 1972 album Stoneground Words. “I am not a poet, living is the poem. I am not a singer, I am in the song,” Melanie sings. It sounds like standard Melanie in her seventh charting album of new material since 1969, but the album is well-regarded by All Music Guide, which calls it “mature, intelligent and ambitious” and an “under-heard classic” on which Melanie Safka “effectively shed her cuteness but didn’t get cynical, either.” “I Am Not A Poet” is a pleasant song, mainly about the struggle to be heard and understood – “I’ve found a tearful language that translates what I am/And I cried out loud, but you didn’t understand” – and from more than forty years down the pike, its simplistic hippie mysticism, and its long mid-point vamp with its gradual sonic build-up and drop-out, still have their attractions.

We stay in that era for our second stop this morning, landing on “Watermelon” from guitarist Leo Kottke’s 1971 album on John Fahey’s Takoma label, 6- and 12-String Guitar. I often get this album confused with 12-String Blues, an album released in 1969 on Oblivion, and when tunes from either one of them pop up, I have to stop and sort them out. Also confused is Wikipedia, which has 6- and 12-String Guitar on the correct label but in 1969. Someone should correct that, I suppose, but it’s not going to be me this morning. I’m just listening to Kottke’s rhythmic thrumming as he makes his way through the instrumental. I know from having heard him three times in concert that his pieces can eventually all sound numbingly similar, but taken one at a time, the artistry and singular style is evident, and “Watermelon” is no exception.

Moving on, we don’t move far, staying in the Woodstock era with a visit to “Sons Of” from Judy Collins’ 1970 album Whales & Nightingales. Written by the imposing quartet of Eric Blau, Gérard Jouannest, Jacques Brel and Mort Shuman (Jouannest and Brel wrote the original French version and Blau and Shuman crafted the English lyrics), the song is one I’ve not noticed before (despite occasional listens to Whales & Nightingales). It’s an affecting piece:

Sons of tycoons, or sons from the farms
All of the children ran from your arms.
Through fields of gold, through fields of ruin,
All of the children vanished too soon.

Collins’ voice and delivery and the understated accompaniment work brilliantly, making the song something that draws on both her folk roots and on her late-1960s art song period. (Its sound reminds me very much of Wildflowers, the Collins album I know best.) It is folk? Is it art song? Is it pop? Who cares? It’s beautiful.

And we break from the late 1960s/early 1970s era in style if not in actual time by landing on “Winnie Widow Brown” by one of my R&B faves, Big Maybelle. The thumping tale of the woman with ball and chain who is “a widow ’cause she shot her man” chugs along with a blues harp riding high in the background. I’m not sure when the track was recorded, but it showed up in 1973, a year after Maybelle Brown passed away, on a collection called The Last of Big Maybelle. Some of the tracks on the album – which I found on CD – were from an entire 1969 album, and some were listed in the notes as having been released as singles over a period of ten years, from 1963 through 1973. Six of the tracks, however, were less well-documented, and sadly, “Winnie Widow Brown” is one of those. Its style is of a kind with Big Maybelle’s other work, and it’s a lot of fun, but I’d be happier if I knew more about it. If I don’t know where something comes from, I’m not very happy about sharing it.

And it’s really no contest this morning. The beautiful “Sons Of” by Judy Collins is today’s Saturday Single.

‘You’re Never Too Old To Change The World . . .’

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Pete Seeger passed away yesterday. His story is well told in today’s edition of the New York Times (and told in great detail at Wikipedia), and I thought that instead of trying (and failing) to tell the whole story this morning, I’d just share a few moments of Seeger’s musical life and heritage.

Seeger was a founding member of the Weavers, the early 1950s folk group that had a No. 1 hit with Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” and was blacklisted for its liberal leanings during the 1950s Red Scare. This is the Weavers’ 1950 recording of “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song),” written by Seeger and fellow Weaver Lee Hayes.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Seeger was considered by many to be a dangerous man. As Wikipedia relates, “In 1960, the San Diego school board told him that he could not play a scheduled concert at a high school unless he signed an oath pledging that the concert would not be used to promote a communist agenda or an overthrow of the government. Seeger refused, and the American Civil Liberties Union obtained an injunction against the school district, allowing the concert to go on as scheduled. In February 2009, the San Diego School District officially extended an apology to Seeger for the actions of their predecessors.”

Seeger’s songs and music were without doubt popular and important far beyond the reach of radio and pop music. Still, in the 1960s, a few of his songs provided hits. “If I Had A Hammer” was a hit for both Trini Lopez (No. 3, 1963) and Peter, Paul & Mary (No. 10, 1962). (It’s likely, for what it may matter, that Lopez’ version of the song is the first Pete Seeger song I ever heard, as a copy of Lopez’ single came home with my sister one day in one of those record store grab bags of ten singles for a dollar. I still have the single, with “Unchain My Heart” on the flipside.) The Byrds (No. 1, 1965) and Judy Collins (No. 69, 1969) reached the charts with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” And “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” was a hit for the Kingston Trio (No. 21, 1962) and Johnny Rivers (No. 26, 1965), while a version by guitarist Wes Montgomery bubbled under the chart (No. 119, 1969).

Perhaps the greatest attention Seeger got in the 1960s was when he was scheduled to perform his Vietnam allegory, “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy” on the CBS television show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, in September 1967. Wikipedia notes, “Although the performance was cut from the September 1967 show, after wide publicity it was broadcast when Seeger appeared again on the Smothers’ Brothers show in the following January.” Here’s that January 1968 performance:

This morning, after I heard the news of Seeger’s passing, I dug around at YouTube for something different to post at Facebook. I came across a mini-documentary detailing how Seeger came to recite Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” for the 2012 collection Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. It’s a piece that tells as much about Seeger as it does about the recording he was invited to make. I was especially moved at the end of the piece when one of the Rivertown Kids, the Seeger-organized choir of young people involved in the recording, seemed to sum up Seeger’s life about as well as can be done: “You’re never too old the change the world.”

‘Beauty In That Rainbow In The Sky . . .’

Friday, May 17th, 2013

So, about “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” . . .

As I noted yesterday, and as was the case for a couple of other sturdy songs I’ve written about in the past ten days or so, it was Glenn Yarbrough’s 1967 album, For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, that introduced me to “Tomorrow,” which I’ve long thought to be one of Bob Dylan’s most beautiful songs.

The first released version of the song was recorded by Ian & Sylvia for their 1964 album, Four Strong Winds. Regular reader David Leander noted in a comment yesterday that “at one point Dylan told them he’d written it for them to record, but I think he told anybody that might record one of his songs that he’d written it for them.” I’ve read in a number of places that the song was inspired by Dylan’s early 1960s relationship with Suze Rotolo (the young woman shown with Dylan on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan), but that doesn’t mean that he might not have had Ian & Sylvia – or Judy Collins (from her Fifth Album in 1965) or someone else or no other performer at all – in mind when he wrote the song.

As I also noted yesterday, Dylan has officially released two versions of the song: The first recorded, a demo, was officially released in 2010 as part of the ninth volume of Dylan’s ongoing Bootleg Series, and – according to Wikipedia – has been available as a bootleg for years. The second version he recorded, a live 1963 performance of the song in New York City, was released in 1972 as a track on Dylan’s second greatest hits album. Wikipedia also notes that a “studio version of the song, an outtake from the June 1970 sessions for New Morning, has also been bootlegged.”

The first Dylan version I heard of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” was on that second greatest hits package. (The only video I can find at YouTube with that 1963 live version is from an episode of The Walking Dead. Zombies and a love song don’t match well for me.) By that time, of course, I’d absorbed the Yarbrough version from his For Emily album:

Over the years, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” has been a generally popular song for covers. Second Hand Songs lists a total of thirty-one English-language versions, and more (I didn’t bother to count) are listed at Amazon. I imagine that iTunes and other similar sites would have more yet. As is generally the case, the list of folks and groups who’ve covered the song include the unsurprising and the surprising alike: Among the first category are the Brothers Four, the We Five, the Kingston Trio, Linda Mason, Chris Hillman, Bud & Travis, the Silkie, the Earl Scruggs Revue and Sandy Denny. Less expected (or even unknown in these parts) are Hipcity Cruz, Deborah Cooperman, Barb Jungr, Sebastian Cabot, Magna Carta and Danielle Howell.

I’ve heard at most bits and pieces of those covers in the above paragraph, but over the years, I’ve listened to many other covers of the song, and I’ve tracked down even more in just the past couple of days. One version that’s been mentioned here at least twice in the past six years is the version by Elvis Presley that showed up in his 1966 movie Spinout. Regular reader Porky noted yesterday that Elvis “supposedly learned it from Odetta’s version,” which was on the 1965 album, Odetta Sings Dylan. I like Elvis’ version more than I used to, but the austere dignity which Odetta brought to her music doesn’t seem to work for the song.

I was surprised to find the name of Hamilton Camp among those who’d covered “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” Camp, a mid-1960s folkie, released the song on his 1964 album Paths of Victory. That album is likely better known for his version of Dino Valente’s “Get Together,” which became a No. 5 hit for the Youngbloods in 1969 (after being a No. 31 hit for the We Five in 1965).

Another, far more recent name that surprised me was that of the country-folk group Nickel Creek, which put the song on its 2005 album, Why Should the Fire Die? I enjoyed the group’s self-titled debut in 2000, but wasn’t at all pleased with the follow-up, This Side, in 2002. I may have to give the group another try.

The most enjoyable version of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” that I came across this week came from a one-off album from 1973. Several blogs have featured the album Refuge by the duo calling itself Heaven & Earth, and one of my favorite blogs, hippy-djkit, calls the album a “psych folk funk beauty from the early 70’s featuring the gorgeous voices of Jo D. Andrews & Pat Gefell.” There are a couple of other notable covers on the album, specifically takes on Stephen Stills’ “To A Flame” and the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic, “60 Years On,” but the best thing on the album – and maybe the prettiest version I’ve ever heard – is Heaven & Earth’s take on “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”

Reference to “Get Together”  corrected June 8, 2013.

One Chart Dig, April 1973

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

There’s a minor tale sitting on the shelves that hold my memories of the spring of 1973, but it needs to be levered out of its niche and then dusted and polished a little. There should be plenty of time to do that, if the weather forecasts are correct: A late winter storm is heading our way, and some forecasts say we could get as much as twelve inches of snow by Thursday evening.

So I’ll keep tugging at the corners of my tale this week, and along the way, we’ll consider the tunes that were in the air during the second week of April forty years ago. Here are the top five singles in that week’s Billboard Hot 100, released April 14, 1973:

“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” by Vicki Lawrence
“Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)”
by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree”
by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando
“Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I Got)” by the Four Tops
“Sing” by the Carpenters

And just fun, here are the top five albums in Billboard that same week:

Lady Sings the Blues soundtrack by Diana Ross
Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper
Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player by Elton John
Prelude by Deodato
The World Is A Ghetto by War

Boy, I can live quite nicely without ever hearing three of those top five singles again; the two I’d welcome to a playlist would be the Gladys Knight and Four Tops singles. On the album list, I’d pass on the Deodato; without even listening to it, I think it would be badly dated. The Alice Cooper album never meant much to me, but I don’t hate it. I heard the title track on the radio yesterday, and it sounded good coming out of the speaker. And I’d be happy with the other three on the list.

But for a tune for the morning, we’re going to drop down to No. 35 in that Hot 100, where we find Judy Collins’ single “Cook With Honey,” a Valerie Carter tune that Collins recorded for her True Stories & Other Dreams album. (Carter’s group Howdy Moon covered the song on its self-titled album released in 1974.) By the middle of April of 1973, Collin’s version had peaked at No. 32 and was beginning to head back down the chart. The album itself peaked at No. 27.

‘And In The Night, The Iron Wheels . . .’

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

I’ve been thinking about Judy Collins lately. She’s popped up on the RealPlayer a couple of times, and a long-term writing project I’ve been pondering lately name-drops her in a chapter that’s set in 1970. So her name – and her catalog – have been in the back of my mind on and off for the past couple of weeks.

Regular readers can see where this is going: I failed to include even one track by Collins in my massive Ultimate Jukebox last year. And when I think about a performer in that context, two questions arise: Is the performer significant enough in a historical context or – more importantly – a personal context to add to what I call my Jukebox Regrets, my list of records that I acknowledge should have shown up in that 228-record collection.

(Every once in a while, when I ponder that long project, I think to myself, “I knew I should have made it 240 records!”)

Historically, of course, Judy Collins shines brightly as one of the major interpreters of the folk catalog during the early-1960s folk boom. In the space of four studio albums from 1961 into 1965, she changed from a classic interpreter of the traditional folk catalog to one of the key interpreters of current folk music. Her first album, 1961’s Maid of Constant Sorrrow, is a collection of twelve folk tunes all credited as “traditional.” It seems that in the folk boom – just as happened in the concurrent blues revival – the lineages of some songs got lost as tunes went from one person to another, and at least one of the twelve songs on Maid – Ewan MacColl’s “Tim Evans (Go Down You Murderers)” – was mis-credited as traditional. In any case, it was an album of traditionally presented folk music.

That had changed by 1965, when the release of Fifth Album found Collins hewing to traditional folk for a few tracks – “So Early in the Morning” and “Lord Gregory” – but building the bulk of the album’s twelve tracks from the work of current singer-songwriters: Phil Ochs, Richard Farina, Eric Andersen, Gordon Lightfoot and, of course, Bob Dylan. A year later, In My Life would find her adding the names of Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel and John Lennon and Paul McCartney to the songwriting credits with not one of the eleven songs drawn from the traditional folk canon.

All-Music Guide ranks In My Life as Collin’s finest work, giving it 4.5 stars. Based on that benchmark, her second-best album is 1968’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes, which finds her backed by a stellar band – most notably Chris Etheridge on bass, Jim Gordon on drums, James Burton, Stephens Stills (whose “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” stems from this period) and Buddy Emmons on guitars, and Van Dyke Parks on keyboards.

From that point, according to AMG’s ratings, Collins’ work began to slowly decline, and I tend to agree. She had her second Top 20 hit in 1970 with “Amazing Grace” from Whales & Nightingales, a good but not great album that found her writing some of her own material for what I think is the second time, as well as drawing on familiar names like Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Brel and Dylan. Whales was less star-studded, with a good band whose most recognizable names were likely Dave Grisman and Richard Bell.

To me, her last real good work came in 1975 with Judith, an album that brought her another Top 40 hit in Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” which went to No. 36 in 1975 and to No. 19 upon a re-release two years later. Judith also included an idiosyncratic take on the standard “I’ll Be Seeing You” that I enjoy but that would likely be an acquired taste for those unfamiliar with the tune’s haunting popularity during World War II.

After that, I lost interest. I found Bread & Roses from 1976 to be dull, and 1979’s Hard Times for Lovers to be shrill, especially its title track, which got some airplay and went to No. 66. And then I quit listening.

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed a gap: I have not mentioned Wildflowers from 1967. Well, one does save the best for last. The question I have to deal with is whether I consider that 1967 album as Collins’ best solely on merit or because it’s undoubtedly the album of hers with which I am the most familiar. And I don’t know the answer.

After my health concerns in the summer and autumn of 1974 – a lung ailment and an auto accident – I found my stamina gone. The young man who a year earlier had racked up six to eight miles a day walking through Western Europe’s great cities was now exhausted when he got home from a day of college coursework. And I settled into a pattern for the rest of my years at the house on Kilian Boulevard: When I got home about four each afternoon, I’d head to the basement rec room, stack seven or eight LPs on the stereo and lie down on the green couch.

Sometimes I’d sleep until Dad flipped on the light switch at the top of the stairs, altering me that it was dinner time. Sometimes I’d just rest as the music washed over me: The Band, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, the Moody Blues, Mountain, Traffic, the Rolling Stones and so many more. And Judy Collins’ Wildflowers.

That last album was one of my sister’s, and it’s one she evidently didn’t take with her when she moved to her own place with her new husband in 1972. Because the songs on Wildflowers are incised deeply in me from those late afternoon hours in the darkened rec room: From the opening track of Joni Mitchell’s “Michael From Mountains” through the Side Two opener of Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” (which went to No. 8 in December 1968) and on to the closer of Cohen’s “That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” Wildflowers is one of those albums that I feel as if I’ve lived through more than listened to.

I should have made certain when I selected the tunes for my mythical jukebox that at least one Judy Collins track was there. Her absence isn’t the first puzzling oversight, of course, and I imagine it won’t be the last. But she should have been there. As I’ve written this, I’ve listened to and considered a number of Collins’ tracks I might have chosen: Dylan’s “Tom Thumb’s Blues” from 1966; Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” and Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon” from 1968; maybe even “Send In The Clowns.”

But the track should have come from Wildflowers. Its melodies are in my marrow. And the one embedded most deeply is Collins’ own “Albatross,” with its haunting “And in the night, the iron wheels rolling through the rain . . . Come away alone.”