Posts Tagged ‘Lighthouse’

‘Eight’

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

The integers march again . . .

Sorting the 67,000-some mp3s on the digital shelves for the word “eight” brings up 194 titles, most of which we cannot use. Anything about a freight train goes by the wayside, as does Nanci Griffith’s “White Freight Liner.” The entire output of a 1970s band named Jackson Heights is crossed off our list, as is Michel Legrand’s soundtrack to the 1970 film Wuthering Heights.

And we also have to discard twenty-nine versions of the Robbie Robertson song, “The Weight.”

Still, we’re left with enough tunes to be able to pick and choose a little bit, starting with one of eight versions – how appropriate! – of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High.” The one I settled on is a 1969 cover of the tune from the Canadian band Lighthouse. Still two years away from having a hit with “One Fine Morning” – it went to No. 24 in 1971 – the band covered the Roger McGuinn song on its first, self-titled album, and an edit was released as a single. As far as I can tell, Lighthouse’s take on “Eight Miles High” never showed up on any chart anywhere although I’m not sure about Canada. Nor am I certain the video to which I’ve linked is the single. I think it is. In any case, it’s a decent enough cover but nothing amazing.

The Walkabouts’ “Train Leaves at Eight” is the title track of an album released in 2000 by the sometimes dark but always intriguing Seattle band. The album serves as a tour of European music, and “Train Leaves at Eight” takes the listener to Greece: The song was written by Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis and came from Ta Laika, or The Popular Songs, a project Theodorakis and Greek poet Manos Eleftheriou completed in 1967 but which went unreleased after a military coup in Greece that year. The work was released in 1975 after the military government fell.

David Castle’s 1977 single “Ten to Eight” was the first single released on the Parachute label and went to No. 68 (No. 45 on the AC chart). That was the first of two times Castle broke into the Billboard Hot 100: “The Loneliest Man on the Moon” went to No. 89 in early 1978. Both singles were pulled from Castle’s 1977 album Castle in the Sky. Castle’s website says a third single, “All I Ever Wanna Be Is Yours,” made the Easy Listening chart, but I can find nothing about the record in Joel Whitburn’s Top Adult Songs. “Ten to Eight” was originally recorded by Helen Reddy and released on her 1975 album No Way to Treat a Lady, leaving Castle in the well-populated but nevertheless interesting position of covering his own song.

Steve Goodman’s “Eight Ball Blues,” is not a blues at all, at least in its musical construction. Pulled from his self-titled 1971 album, it’s nevertheless the plaint of a man who wishes he and life were different and does so with regret: “I wish I had the common sense to be satisfied with me.” And the chorus tells us a bit more:

Is this the part where I came in?
I’ve heard this song before.
Had a couple too many
But I think I can find the door.
And I do not know your name, my friend
But I’ve seen that face before.
Well, I saw it in the jail house
And I saw in the war,
And I saw it my mirror,
Well, just a couple of times before.

This was 1971, and the war was in a place called Vietnam, but it could just as well be 2013 and places called Iraq and Afghanistan.

O.V. Wright came out of the gospel music circuit before going secular in the mid-1960s, eventually ending up in the 1970s with Willie Mitchell at Hi Records in Memphis. That’s maybe where Wright did his best work, but his mid-1960s singles for Backbeat are superb. “Eight Men, Four Women” from 1967 is likely the most atmospheric. It went to No. 4 on the R&B chart – one of eight singles Wright placed in the R&B Top 40 between 1965 and 1974 – and to No. 80 on the pop chart.

On its third album, 1990’s A Different Kind of Weather, the English trio Dream Academy included a tune called “Twelve Eight Angel.” A year later, the group released its final single before disbanding. That single was “Angel of Mercy,” and from what I can tell, the single was simply “Twelve Eight Angel” renamed. The single failed to chart, and the band called it quits. Dream Academy is best-known, of course, for the shimmering “Life in a Northern Town,” which went to No. 7 in 1986. (Those sharp of ear might notice the voice of the single’s producer, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, in the background during the instrumental break.)

The Baton Twirler & The Red Army

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

One of the things about music that fascinates me is my reactions to pieces I’ve long loved. When one of those songs cycles randomly through the mp3 player in the kitchen or shows up on the radio while I’m driving down St. Germain, what are the first thoughts, the first images that come to mind?

Mostly, those long-loved songs bring back people, times and places that are also cherished. Sometimes, the connections between the record and the memory images are harder to figure out. I wrote a while back about “Desiderata,” the spoken-word record that was a hit for Les Crane in 1971 and how its strains take me back to a corridor as it existed in 1971 just outside the bookstore at St. Cloud State. Ever since I wrote about that, I’ve pondered at odd moments why that is, what – if anything – that juxtaposition means. And I still sit clueless.

Another record, one I like much more than I like “Desiderata,” presents me with an odd collage of images. Whenever I hear its percussive introduction and its swelling harmonies, I see in my mind – jarringly – Soviet tanks and troops entering Prague, Czechoslovakia, in August 1968, crushing the liberalization of government and life there, a period now known as the Prague Spring.

And after a split-second of that, the strains of “Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues bring to mind something far more normal: the image in memory of a young woman, one who was a baton twirler for the marching band and so much more, walking between classes at South Junior High, looking for something she’s unable to find in front of her. If only she’d turn around, I often thought during that summer of 1968, the summer between freshman and sophomore years, the summer when “Turn Around, Look At Me” went to No. 7.

With its strings piled on top of horns and its lush vocals (ending with what a musician friend of mine used to call “an MGM climax”), “Turn Around, Look At Me” is a beautiful record that is not at all of its time, 1968. Listening to it this morning, I pegged it as being far more appropriate for the years 1957-62, perhaps recorded by one of those male vocal groups with a number in its name: the Four Freshmen, the Four Lads, the Four Dorks. But that displacement in style and time probably worked for the record among the listening public. The week “Turn Around, Look At Me” reached its peak at No. 7, the other songs in the Top Ten were:

“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“Hello, I Love You” by the Doors
“Classical Gas” by Mason Williams
“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“Light My Fire” by José Feliciano
“Stoned Soul Picnic” by the 5th Dimension
“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela
“Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan

That’s a great bunch of songs, but the nearest things to the lush pop of the Vogues there are the Latin-tinged cover of “Light My Fire” and Mason Williams’ instrumental, and neither of those are really in the same block. I don’t have any idea how “Turn Around, Look At Me” did on the chart that’s now called Adult Contemporary, but while the record was still in the Top 40, Reprise released another Vogues’ single, “My Special Angel,” and that one spent one week two weeks atop the AC chart (and peaked, like its predecessor, at No. 7 in the Top 40). So I’m guessing that “Turn Around, Look At Me” did pretty well on the AC chart, as lush as it was.

And for me, the lushness of the Vogues’ pop was certainly one of the attractions of “Turn Around, Look At Me.” Rock music was not yet my thing, and it was nice to hear something easy to listen to coming from the radio, and it was even nicer that the record spoke to my life. As the summer faded and the school year began, I still hoped that the baton twirler might figuratively turn around. She didn’t. The time wasn’t right (although it never would be in her case), and I knew that even as I hoped for a different outcome.

So the song slid from the charts and quit coming out of the radio, but sometime during August, I must have heard the song at least once very close to the time when international news reporters were giving us the lowdown on what was happening in Prague and elsewhere in Czechoslovakia. Because for some forty-two years, when the first strains of that lovely song reach my ears, it seems as if I have to fight my way through the Red Army to get to the sweet object of my hope. And how’s that for a romantic notion?

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Juke Box, No. 20
“Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1008 [1961]
“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers, Columbia 44414 [1968]
‘Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues, Reprise 0686 [1968]
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, United Artists 50721
[1971]
“One Fine Morning” by Lighthouse, Evolution 1048 [1971]
“Galileo” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage [1992]

Because of – as I understand it – a record label’s promotional hi-jinks, “Quarter to Three” and the hit that preceded it, “New Orleans,” were credited to one U.S. Bonds rather than to Gary Bonds, which is the singer’s real name. Although the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits lists him as “Gary Bonds (U.S.),” over the years, it’s become commonplace to simply call the performer, as I have, “Gary U.S. Bonds.” Whatever name you call him, his body of work is a good one, and “Quarter to Three,” especially, is a great and infectious party song, one that spent two weeks at No. 1 during the summer of 1961.

With “Time Has Come Today,” the Chambers Brothers added psychedelia to their menu of blues, gospel and R&B. This was one of those records that could not be ignored as it came out of the radio, even if the listener were more attuned to other styles. In other words, as “Time Has Come Today” entered the room, it demanded attention, right from the “tick-tock” of the percussion and the lightly spoken “cuckoo!” On the album – The Time Has Come, released in 1967 – the track ran a little longer than eleven minutes; the single edit released in the autumn of 1968 spent nine weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 11.

I wrote a brief bit about the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose about a year ago, and those words still hold true: “The Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose had two Top Ten hits, and what great records they were! ‘Treat Her Like A Lady’ was the first of them, riding that chugging guitar, superb hook and gospelish call-and-response all the way to No. 3. ‘Too Late To Turn Back Now,’ which went to No. 2 during the summer of 1972, was also a good record, but it was smoother and somehow less demanding. If forced to choose, I’d give the decision to ‘Treat Her Like A Lady’ on points, but both sounded great coming out of the car radio. (The group had two other Top 40 hits, ‘Don’t Ever Be Lonely (A Poor Little Fool Like Me)’ and ‘I’m Never Gonna Be Alone Anymore,’ neither of which reached the Top Twenty.)” “Treat Her Like A Lady” peaked at No. 3 in July of 1971.

Percussive and jazzy, with a great horn chart, Lighthouse’s “One Fine Morning” probably should have done better than No. 24, which is where the single spent two weeks during November of 1971. But better singles have performed less well, and the charts – and record bins – were crowded with horn bands in those days: Chicago, BST, Mom’s Apple Pie, Chase, the Ides of March and more. And Lighthouse was from Canada, which might have limited the group’s appeal here in the U.S. But it’s still a great tune: “We’ll fly to the east! We’ll fly to the west! There’s no place we can’t call our own.”

“Galileo,” the Indigo Girls’ meditation on reincarnation, came along at an awkward time for me as a collector. By 1992, when the Indigo Girls released Rites of Passage, I was happily using my growing LP collection to make about one mix-tape a week for friends. But almost no new music was being released on vinyl, and I was still a few years away from having a CD player. So when I heard “Galileo” on the radio, I knew, first, that it was a song I wanted to include on mixes, and second, unless I bought a CD player or ran into some sort of miracle, I’d have to live without it. And I went without for a few years. I eventually got a CD player, and began collecting lots of new music I’d gone without, but at the same time, I kept on buying vinyl. And in late 1999, I found a white-labeled promo album in one of the bins at Cheapo’s. The label was blank and the white jacket had only a sticker that asked three questions, the first of which was: “What artist has been nominated for 4 Grammy awards, won 2, sold over 3 million records and doesn’t get played on very many commercial radio stations?” There was a toll-free phone number listed for those who wanted answers. But what interested me more than the sticker with the questions was the little scrawl on the other side of the front cover: “Indigo Girls, Rites of Passage.” So I bought it, and after I figured out which track was “Galileo,” the song began to show up on my mix-tapes. Eleven years later, and eighteen years after I first heard the song, it remains a favorite of mine, partly for the thoughtful and sometimes witty lyric, partly for the guest spot on the chorus from Jackson Browne and partly because miracles – even small ones – should be embraced.