Posts Tagged ‘Little Milton’

Dinner’s On Me!

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

How about a five-course meal?

“Cheese & Crackers” by Rosco Gordon is our appetizer. This disjointed, stop-and-start track from 1956 came to me on the two-CD set The Legendary Story of Sun Records, and I admit it’s confused me. At points it sounds like classic rock ’n’ roll, at other moments I hear rockabilly (and neither of those would be startling for Sun Records in 1956) and then I hear something else. A hint of what that is might come from a comment on Gordon by Bryan Thomas at All-Music Guide:

Rosco Gordon was best known for being one of the progenitors of a slightly shambolic, loping style of piano shuffle called “Rosco’s Rhythm.” The basic elements of this sound were further developed after Jamaican musicians got a hold of 45s Gordon recorded in the early ’50s – which were not available to Jamaicans until 1959 – and created ska, which took its name for the sound of this particular shuffle as it sounded being played on an electric guitar (ska-ska-ska).

“Soup For One” by Chic is the soup course. It’s a fairly straightforward serving from the R&B/disco group that producers and musicians Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers loosed on the world in the late 1970s. While not nearly as propulsive as “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” or “Le Freak” from their early days, “Soup For One” glides nicely across the floor. The 1982 release – the title song from the movie Soup For One – went to No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 14 on the R&B chart), the last charting single for the group.

“Poke Salad Annie” by Little Milton is the salad course for those who prefer greens. It’s a fine cover of the Tony Joe White swamp song from Little Milton’s 1994 album, I’m A Gambler. There’d been a time when Little Milton was a pretty regular presence on the charts, with thirteen records in or near the Hot 100 between 1965 and 1972 and twenty-one records on the R&B chart between 1962 and 1976. Even when the hits dried up, though, Little Milton kept on working, releasing twenty-three more albums from 1981 until 2005, when he passed on at the age of 70. And no, I don’t know why Little Milton (or whoever made the decision) spelled the song “Poke Salad Annie” instead of the original title of “Polk Salad Annie.” Makes no difference; Little Milton kills it.

“Memphis Women & Chicken” by T. Graham Brown is our main course. I mentioned Brown’s version of the Dan Penn song a couple of years ago, when I wrote about all the songs I have that mention Memphis in their titles. Greasy, juicy and a little bit sly, this track from Brown’s 1998 album Wine Into Water is a tasty main dish for this musical dinner. I’ve only heard a little bit of Brown’s work – one full CD and a few other tracks – but his name is high on my list of artists to listen to further.

“Chocolate Cake” by Crowded House is one of our two dessert choices. Even though it’s snarky and surreal, this track from 1991’s Woodface nevertheless has that Crowded House sound to it, a glossy finish that the Finn brothers lay on most everything I’ve ever heard from them. The pop culture references date the song considerably, placing it in a post-Soviet and pre-9/11 niche, which makes its ironic shadings seem like more of a pose than anything thoughtful. Or maybe the record was itself an ironic comment on post-Soviet irony. And then again, it might have been just a record.

“Ice Cream” by Sarah McLachlan is our alternate dessert. What better way to close out dinner than with a light, jazzy and sweet love song? “Your love is better than ice cream . . . It’s a long way down to the place where we started from,” McLachlan sings. “Your love is better than chocolate.” That’s pretty damned good, and with this sweet tune from 1993’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, our meal is over. I’ll take care of the bill.

Chart Digging: July 24, 1965

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Sometimes plans just kind of wither away, leaving empty spots in, well, in the blog. I had a topic for this morning on which I planned to muse for a while and then link to music, as I often try to do, but that topic has proved less hardy than an ice cube on the sidewalk.

But I still have the Billboard Hot 100 from July 24, 1965, the summer of preparation that I mentioned yesterday. So let’s look at the summer music that was entertaining the hipper kids I’d encounter that autumn at South Junior High as I listened to Al Hirt play “Malibu” and pondered the changes to come.

The Top Ten for this week forty-six years ago was:

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones
“I’m Henry The VII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits
“I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops
“What’s New Pussycat” by Tom Jones
“Cara, Mia” by Jay & The Americans
“Yes, I’m Ready” by Barbara Mason
“What The World Needs Now Is Love” by Jackie DeShannon
“Seventh Son” by Johnny Rivers
“Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds
“You Turn Me On (Turn On Song)” by Ian Whitcomb & Bluesville

I’m a little chagrined to realize that the first title out of those ten that I’d ever own would be “I’ve Henry the VIII, I Am,” which was the featured title on a Herman’s Hermits album my sister would give me for my birthday in early September of 1965. If it had been my choice, based on my memories of an about-to-be-twelve whiteray, I think I would have selected an album by the Byrds, whose sonic attack interested me. Either that, or something by Tom Jones, whose bombast intrigued me.

Overall, that’s a good slice of listening. Eight of those ten would be tolerable coming from the radio speakers. I’ve never cared for “Cara, Mia” or for much else by Jay & the Americans except 1969’s “Walkin’ In The Rain.” (And that record’s attractions paled once I heard the Ronettes’ original.) The Whitcomb record is a goof but not one I enjoy.

So what do we find as we leave the Top Ten and the Top 40 and begin digging a little bit lower in that chart of July 24, 1965?

The first thing that catches my eye is a bit of down-home soul. Little Milton – born James Milton Campbell in Inverness, Mississippi, in 1934 – had reached the Top 40 earlier in 1965 with “We’re Gonna Make It,” which went to No. 25; on the R&B chart, it was No. 1 for three weeks. “Who’s Cheating Who” (the clip is from a television performance with Little Milton lip-synching) was his follow-up, and during the week in question, it was at No 49 and was on its way down the chart after peaking at No. 43; it went to No. 4 on the R&B chart. Although he had six more records reach the Hot 100 into 1972 (and four that bubbled under), Little Milton would never reach the Top 40 again. On the R&B chart, as might be expected, he remained vital, notching Top 40 singles into 1976, with six of his twenty-one charting singles reaching the Top Ten.

From there, we drop a long way in the Hot 100, down to No. 73, where “Candy” by the Astors was moving up the chart. The Astors were an R&B vocal group from Memphis, and “Candy” was their only charting single, peaking at No. 63. As happened with Little Milton (and so many more R&B acts), the Astors did appreciably better on the R&B chart, with “Candy” reaching the Top 20 and peaking at No. 12. In The Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits, Joel Whitburn notes that “Candy” was based on the On The Trail movement of the Grand Canyon Suite, a 1931 piece by American composer Ferdie Grofé. The words to “Candy,” on the other hand, were written by Isaac Hayes.

Moving to No. 82, we find a cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” from Gloria Lynne, whom Whitburn calls a “jazz-style vocalist.” Born in Harlem in 1931, Lynne had nine records in the Hot 100 or in the Bubbling Under section between 1961 and 1965. Of those, “Only Love” would be the only record to reach the Top 40, peaking at No. 25. (“Only Love,” which Whitburn notes was a French tune from 1946 with English lyrics added in 1955, reached No. 3 on the R&B chart.) “Watermelon Man” would be Lynne’s last charting record, eventually peaking at No. 62 on the pop chart and at No. 8 on the R&B chart.

Earlier in 1965, the Sir Douglas Quintet had a No. 13 hit with “She’s About A Mover.” That summer, “The Tracker” was the follow-up, and on July 24, it was sitting at No. 118 in the Bubbling Under section of the Billboard Hot 100. It would peak at No. 105. But the quintet – about which I’m planning to write more tomorrow – would rebound early in 1966 with “The Rains Came,” which went to No. 31, and three years later, after a switch from the Tribe label to Smash, the group would have its largest hit with “Mendocino,” which went to No. 27. But all that was yet to come. In the summer of 1965, the Sir Douglas Quintet was trying to get “The Tracker” up the charts, and they “performed” their new record on the July 21, 1965, episode of the TV show Shindig. Here – clipped a little at both ends – is that “performance.”

Nina Simone’s eclectic – and from this chair, eccentric – approach to her jazz stylings must have left producers, promotion men and the listening public wondering what the heck she was going to do next. Every time I listen to Simone’s work, I hear something I’ve not expected to hear. That’s fine with me; for the most part, I like listening challenges. But it must have been difficult for those aforementioned producers and promotion men to dent the charts. I don’t know what charts Simone might have done best on; I assume there’s a jazz chart where Simone’s music might have found a home, whatever it was be called. (These days, there is a chart for Smooth Jazz Songs, but I doubt that’s where one would find Simone’s work.) Anyway, Simone’s take on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” was sitting at No. 123 in the next-to-last week of July in 1965. It would peak at No. 120, which is unsatisfying; I think it’s a great version of that spooky song. Simone – who was born Eunice Waymon in South Carolina in 1933 and crossed over in 2003 – would end up with ten records in the Hot 100 or Bubbling Under between 1959 and 1969. Her 1959 version of “I Loves You, Porgy” from Porgy and Bess went to No. 18, by far the best result on the pop chart in her career. (During those same years, five of her records reached the R&B Top 40, with “I Loves You, Porgy” reaching No. 2 for a week in 1959. “I Put A Spell On You” got to No. 23 on the R&B chart.)

Jimmy McCracklin is a blues singer and harmonica player from Helena, Arkansas, a place-name that conjures up musical memories for a lot of folks, me included. Images of Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Levon Helm of The Band immediately come to mind. But as far as I know, I’d never heard of McCracklin until I saw his “Arkansas” – listed by Whitburn as “Arkansas, Part 1” – in the Hot 100 of July 24, 1965. Maybe I should have known of him, as McCracklin’s “The Walk” had gone to No. 7 in early 1958. None of his other releases reached the Top 40; seven of them – including “Arkansas” – reached the Hot 100 or Bubbled Under. On the R&B chart, McCracklin had seven records reach the Top 40: “Just Got To Know” reached No. 2 while “The Walk” went to No. 5. “Arkansas” didn’t hit the R&B chart, and it didn’t stay long on the pop chart. On July 24, 1965, the up-tempo record was at No. 132 in what turned out to be its only week on the chart.

Peak chart position for “She’s About A Mover” corrected after original posting.