Posts Tagged ‘Little Richard’

Of Spaghetti & Meatballs

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

I remember seeing the saucepan on the stove, with a slight bit of steam rising from it. The burner was turned down low, and when I peered over the edge of the saucepan, I could see a fine mess of spaghetti and meatballs, my intended lunch.

But where was Mom? I was nine years old, and I’d biked home for lunch from my fourth-grade studies at Lincoln School. There was the spaghetti on the stove; there was my plate on the table, attended by the tall green can of parmesan cheese; but where was Mom?

I still don’t know where she was on that day in early 1963; it was probably late March from what I remember of the state of the yard and the trees and such. My guess is that she ran over to the neighbors on a quick errand and had been detained by chit-chat. In those days, it would have been standard to leave the back door unlocked during a brief errand like that.

I looked at the spaghetti in the bottom of the pan. Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, my favorite lunch, with four meatballs. But was it ready? I didn’t know. After all, I was nine; I didn’t know much about food preparation. I did know on that late winter or early spring day that I didn’t have a lot of time to figure things out. I waited a few minutes, and Mom didn’t show. So I scribbled a note on the pad on the table, and with a longing glance at the spaghetti in the pan, I went out the door and bicycled back to Lincoln School with an empty tummy.

A little more than twelve years ago, I ran into some medical problems that required a lot of changes. Basically, I had to watch my environment and I had to change my diet. One of the diet changes was the elimination of refined grains; I was on a whole grain diet.

I soon learned to read ingredient labels. As an example, a few products at the time trumpeted “whole wheat” on the fronts of their boxes, but a careful reading of the ingredients would reveal that the products also include enriched wheat flour along with the whole grains. I soon learned that if I were to trust the words on the front and choose such a product for my lunch, I’d spend the entire afternoon and a portion of the evening in great discomfort. Thankfully, I’ve been careful enough that such discomfort has been rare.

Things have gotten better over the last twelve years in a couple of ways. First, I’ve learned that my system can tolerate small portions of regular flour. Among my favorites along that line are the shrimpburgers from Val’s Drive-In down on Lincoln Avenue. I can’t eat the buns, but I pull the thinly breaded shrimpburgers out of the buns and eat them from a plate like shrimp steaks. The same holds true with rice. I generally eat brown rice, but I can eat a small portion of enriched rice on occasion, so I’ve been able in the past few years to join my family in our traditional Christmas dessert of rice pudding.

Also, it’s gotten easier to find products on the grocery shelves that I can eat. (It’s still challenging in a lot of restaurants, but it’s getting better there, too.) And a little more than a week ago, I learned something. Some time ago, we picked up a few rice mixes in envelopes, with the legend on the front promising “All Whole Grain.” When we got them home, I read the ingredients, and saw that the pasta in the mix was made with Durum semolina flour. As I generally rely only on products that say “whole grain flour,” I was skeptical and was pretty much ready to toss the three envelopes into a box to donate to a social services agency across town.

Then I started to think: In the past twelve years, I’ve seen many products list Durum semolina flour in their ingredients without saying it’s a whole grain. What if it is? The listing on the front of the rice mix seemed to indicate that it was. I Googled, and I learned that semolina flour is indeed considered a whole grain. The next question I had was: Would it function in my system like a whole grain? We made the rice mix last week, and I had plenty, enough to trigger discomfort if I were wrong. I had not a hint of trouble, and the thought of being able to add more options to my menu was a pleasant one.

The day I left the spaghetti on the stove had not been a pleasant one to that point. During the morning, Mrs. Mayer had called the fourth-graders in our fourth/fifth combination class to get out their arithmetic homework, probably some long division problems. Of the ten of so fourth graders, nine had their work done; I didn’t, and that was not a rare occurrence.

It wasn’t that I was incapable of doing the work. Long division was easy. So was reading. So were social studies and science and any other bits of academic work that came my way. (Well, except for penmanship. My handwriting remains to this day nearly illegible.) As the bulk of the work was easy, I was, for the most part, bored with school. Pair that with what I now know to be Attention Deficit Disorder – a condition neither recognized nor understood in 1963 – and you have a student who could rarely get his work done on time. As a result, school frustrated me, and I frustrated my teachers. And on that one morning in early 1963, Mrs. Mayer told me that, one way or another, I would have my arithmetic work done by the time lunch hour ended.

So after seeing the spaghetti on the stove and not having any idea whether it was ready to eat, I biked the five blocks back to Lincoln School and got to my arithmetic. I finished the assignment in time, done neatly enough for Mrs. Mayer to read it. I think she was pleased, though it was hard to tell. She always seemed a bit cranky, though she may have had reason, now that I think about it. It was just two years later, when I was in sixth grade, that the cancer finished its work and Mrs. Mayer passed on.

But I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that I’d gotten my work done by her deadline, and I’d had to skip lunch to do so. Not just lunch, but Chef Boy-Ar-Dee spaghetti!

During our next shopping trip after I’d researched semolina flour, the Texas Gal and I wandered past the canned pasta. And there was Chef Boy-Ar-Dee lasagna and beefaroni, in cans that pronounced the use of whole grains. I looked at the labels: whole wheat flour and semolina flour. We bought some for my weekday lunches, and I’ve had no problems.

So I’m moving another step forward. On the counter in the kitchen is a can of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee spaghetti and meatballs, listing semolina flour for the pasta. I might have a problem with the meatballs, as they have some cracker crumbs as filler, but I think it will be okay. So someday soon – probably not today, but maybe tomorrow – I’ll eat Chef Boy-Ar-Dee spaghetti and meatballs for lunch.

And I know I’ll think about the day I had to leave my lunch behind on the stove in order to go finish my arithmetic. I can still see the spaghetti in its orange sauce, heating in that pan, as I turned away hungry and headed back to school.

I was going to end this post with a selection of tunes from the Hot 100 from this week in 1963, but the Texas Gal insisted there was only one song that would work. As it turns out, she was right (as she so often is): A little bit later in 1963, Tom Glazer, a folk singer from Pennsylvania, got together with a bunch of kids he called the Do-Re-Mi Children’s Chorus and recorded a marvelous children’s song to the melody of “On Top Of Old Smokey.” Released as a single on the Kapp label, “On Top Of Spaghetti” went to No. 14 during the summer of 1963.

Even after finding a video of that 1963 single, though, I wasn’t entirely persuaded. But as I dug around YouTube this morning, I changed my mind. Why? Because in 1992, Disney included the song “On Top Of Spaghetti” on its kids album Shake It All About. And who did Disney get to record “On Top Of Spaghetti”? None other than Little Richard, helped out by – among others – Zaina Juliette Ark’Kenya, also known as Arkeni. Enjoy!

Crossing Into Unknown Territory

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Okay, I’m a fifty-six-year-old white guy (soon to be fifty-seven). The territories of rap and hip-hop are alien lands for me. I don’t know where the line is between the two, and when I do tentatively cross the border into one or the other of those genres, I have no idea where the neighborhoods of the various subgenres lie.

It’s not that I disdain the two. I respect both rap and hip-hop as vital expressions of subcultures I can never, ever truly know. I am aware that hip-hop, especially, is now one of the world’s major and most vibrant musical genres. And the fact that I know so little about it and its cousin, rap, dismays me.

(As I write, I think about Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote some of the classic R&B songs of the 1950s [“Hound Dog,” “Kansas City,” “Youngblood,” “Searchin’,” “Yakety Yak,” “There Goes My Baby” and many, many more]. The two of them, I’ve read in numerous places, immersed themselves in southern California’s black culture of the time, which is why – as I’ve also read many times – they were able to tap into the streams of that culture for their songwriting and production. That was remarkable then, and I think it would be remarkable now. A current performer who comes to mind in that context is Eminem. I can’t make the judgment, not knowing enough about the man’s work, but from my distant view, he seems to have also bridged the gap between white and black cultures as a writer and performer. Those readers who know these genres better than I are invited to respond and tell me if I’m right or wrong about that.)

The barrier facing me is more than racial and cultural, of course. Those, in fact, might not be the greatest barriers between me and an understanding of rap and hip-hop. In understanding popular music of any genre, it seems to me that the larger barrier is always age. The musical styles and genres we hear during our formative years are the ones that stay most dear to us and most ingrained in us. Somewhere along the line – after high school, after college, after graduate school, after marriage – we join the adult world, and that world (unless we work in the music business or an area closely related to it, like radio) pulls us away from the culture of youth and the immersion into current music that is such a large part of that culture. As we age, we can learn about and listen to current and new genres and styles, of course, and many of us do, but I doubt that most of us can ever immerse ourselves into new music the way we did when we were younger and the tablet of our tastes and experiences was mostly blank.

So how, then, does Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” show up as one of the records in my Ultimate Jukebox? Because it’s an incredibly compelling piece of music, reflecting an experience I can never know. I first came across the record – as did many folks with my skin tones, I imagine – when it was used in the soundtrack to Dangerous Minds, a 1995 film that Wikipedia describes as “based on the autobiography My Posse Don’t Do Homework by former U.S. Marine LouAnne Johnson, who took up a teaching position at Carlmont High School in Belmont, California, where most of her students were African-American and Hispanic teenagers from East Palo Alto.”

When I saw the film – years after it came out, unfortunately – the soundtrack intrigued me as much as the story. After a few listens, some of it grabbed me and some didn’t, but “Gangsta’s Paradise” was one of the keepers, chilling, haunting and beautiful. All-Music Guide notes that after Coolio and rapper L.V. crafted the song, which sampled the chorus and music of the Stevie Wonder song “Pastime Paradise,” Coolio’s label, Tommy Boy, “discouraged him from putting it on an album” and placed it instead on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack. “Gangsta’s Paradise” was also released as a single and spent thirty-six weeks in the Top 40, including three weeks at No. 1. The record became the title track for Coolio’s next album, released toward the end of 1995; that album went to No. 9 on the pop chart and to No. 14 on the R&B chart.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 30
“Rainy Night in Georgia” by Brook Benton from Brook Benton Today [1970]
“I Saw Her Standing There” by Little Richard from The Rill Thing [1970]
“Let It Ride” by Bachman Turner Overdrive from Bachman-Turner Overdrive II [1974]
“Lowdown” by Boz Scaggs from Silk Degrees [1976]
“Dancing Queen” by ABBA, Atlantic 3372 [1977]
“Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio from the soundtrack to Desperate Minds [1995]

The quiet organ wash and guitar licks that open Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” are among the most powerful of the sounds that can pull me back to my room during the early months of 1970. I spent a fair amount of time there that winter, finding a refuge in the sounds that came from my old RCA radio, and “Rainy Night In Georgia” is one of my most-loved songs from that time. I heard it a lot, too, as it went to No. 4 and gave Benton his first Top 40 hit in almost six years, which is an eternity in pop music. And the record is kind of an anomaly: It’s closer to traditional pop than to anything else (though no one should try to deny the soulfulness of the vocal), and although traditional pop wasn’t entirely banished from the Top 40 at the time, it was getting more and more rare. (As is the case with a few of these tunes, the video I’ve linked to offers the longer album track instead of the single edit, which was labeled as shorter; as I do not have the 45, I can’t say how much shorter it actually is, given that running times on 45 labels are notoriously untrustworthy.)

When I make a CD of assorted music for friends, one of the things I like to do is include covers of Beatles records by the folks who inspired the Beatles to begin with. One of the least likely of those – and one that will not show up in this project, though maybe it should have – is Fats Domino’s 1969 cover of “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey.” There are a few other good coverbacks of Beatles records, as I call them, but my favorite is Little Richard’s cover of “I Saw Her Standing There.” It was released on The Rill Thing, one of four albums – one unreleased until it came to light a few years ago in a limited box set – that the flamboyant genius recorded for Reprise in the early 1970s. The three released albums didn’t do so well: According to AMG, two singles from The Rill Thing made it into the Billboard Hot 100: “Freedom Blues” went to No. 47 (No. 28 on the R&B chart) and “Greenwood, Mississippi” got to No. 85, although the album did not chart. The follow-up album, 1971’s King of Rock and Roll, got to No. 193 on the album chart but didn’t chart any singles, and the third of the released Reprise albums, 1972’s The Second Coming, made no dent on any chart at all that I can find. I sometimes wonder if those albums would have done better if Reprise had issued “I Saw Her Standing There” as the A-side of a single instead of as the B-side to “Greenwood, Mississippi.”

Little Richard – “I Saw Her Standing There” [1970]

With its irrepressible “Ride, ride, ride, let it ride!” hook and its churning instrumental backing, Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s first charting single pounded out of the radio in early 1974 on its way to No. 23. And for a few years, Randy Bachman (formerly of the Guess Who) and his brother Robbie joined up with C. Fred Turner and Blair Thornton to provide decent radio fare and a few pretty good albums. And I learned something new while glancing at the band’s entry in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: On BTO’s final charting single, 1976’s “Take It Like A Man (No. 33), backing vocals were provided by Little Richard. (The video I’ve linked to again provides the album track. The charting single was labeled with a shorter running time, though again I have no idea how much shorter it actually was.)

Boz Scaggs’ only Top Ten hit, “Lowdown,” seemed inescapable in the late summer and early autumn of 1976. Actually, for me, it was inescapable; I was living with three guys in a decrepit house on St. Cloud’s North Side, and one of the guys owned Silk Degrees, the album from which Scaggs’ single was pulled., So I heard the album at least three times a week for the four months that Kevin and I shared living quarters. Well, it could have been worse. Silk Degrees is a hell of an album, and “Lowdown”  is a great track. As well as being omnipresent on the North Side, it was all over the charts: It went to No. 3 on the pop chart, No. 5 on both the R&B chart and the disco singles chart, and to No. 4 – listed as “Lowdown/What Can I Say” – on the dance music/club play singles chart. (Once more, the video I’ve linked to offers the album track; similarly, the single was labeled as being shorter, though once more I have no idea how much shorter it was.)

I wrote once that the piano glissando that kicks off ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” is one of the greatest musical moments of the 1970s. Well, there were a lot of good moments in that decade, so that was likely overstatement. But there’s no doubt that it’s a great start to a great pop record. There is a temptation to call ABBA’s music – and I also like several of the group’s other singles, “Waterloo” and “SOS” to name two – a guilty pleasure. But that’s inaccurate, as I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about enjoying brilliantly produced pop music. And that includes “Dancing Queen,” which went to No. 1 and was the seventh of ABBA’s fourteen Top 40 hits.

We’re Back In 1970 Again

Friday, May 28th, 2010

This morning, I thought I’d sneak a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1970 and see what might be found there. I was finishing my junior year of high school and was heading into my last year of summer freedom. The only remunerative work I would do that summer would be the four days I spent in the trap pits at the state trapshoot; in 1970, I would get sixty dollars for four days of dirty, somewhat dangerous work at the gun club.

Other than that, and the normal run of backyard chores, the summer was mine. I don’t recall that I had any special plans for it, just a lot of hanging around on the front porch and in the basement rec room. And looking back, I don’t recall that all that much happened.

But whatever did happen, music was no doubt a large part it. Here’s the Top Ten from May 30, 1970:

“Everything Is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens
“American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who
“Love On A Two-Way Street” by the Moments
“Cecelia” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Up Around The Bend/Run Through The Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Which Way You Goin’ Billy” by the Poppy Family Featuring Susan Jacks
“The Letter” by Joe Cocker
“Turn Back The Hands Of Time” by Tyrone Davis
“Vehicle” by the Ides of March
“Let It Be” by the Beatles

Well, nothing there is truly awful except maybe “Which Way You Goin’ Billy,” although even after forty years, I am still weary of “Everything Is Beautiful.” The one record from that list that could likely use some more airplay is the Moments’ gorgeous “Love On A Two-Way Street.”

Oddly, I do not have that recording on either vinyl, CD or mp3, so I will have to assume that the video below includes the LP version. The record was the first of three hits for the Moments, and it was by far the most successful, peaking at No. 3 in the Top 40 and spending five weeks at the top of the R&B chart.

A little further down the list, at No. 37, we find a sad tale of a new marriage quickly gone bad. This was the first of fifteen weeks that Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” would be in the Top 40, and it would peak at No. 3. (Through one of those bits of luck that sometimes happen, my copy of LP, Band of Gold, is autographed. I bought it at a garage sale from one of a quartet of sisters who had seen Payne perform in later years and had brought along the LP. The LP also includes “Deeper and Deeper,” which went to No. 24 in the autumn of 1970.)

The next title that caught my eye was “So Much Love” by a group called Faith, Hope & Charity, a Tampa trio whose tale is told here. “So Much Love” was at No. 70 in the last week of May. It went to No. 14 on the R&B chart and – to my ears – should have done much better than No. 51 on the Hot 100, which is where it spent the second and third weeks of July before falling back down the Hot 100.

And finally this morning, here’s a record I once quoted but I don’t think I ever posted it: “Freedom Blues” by Little Richard. It was part of the work he did for Reprise in the early 1970s: three released albums and one put on the shelves. The record peaked at No. 47 during the week of July 11, 1970, and two weeks later it was gone from the Hot 100. “Freedom Blues” did a little better on the R&B chart, peaking at No. 28.

See you tomorrow!