I don’t remember the product – probably Excedrin – but I remember the commercial:
A thirty-something woman dressed in her best Eighties office clothes strides along the street and tells the camera (and those of us who were watching): “Life got tougher.”
And she catalogs all the ways life in 1982 (I think) was so much harder than it had been, oh, maybe ten years earlier. And then tries to sell us something to ease the resulting headache.
Back in its day, I used a reference to that commercial as a lead paragraph for an editorial at the Monticello Times, writing about how we cope with the harsh realities of life and how we sometimes don’t. And it came to mind the other day. My mom was in the hospital for a few days this week with pneumonia. She’s recovering, and she’s been transferred to a short-stay care facility for some physical therapy with the hopes of rebuilding her strength and balance so she can return to her apartment in her assisted living center.
I think she’s going to be okay. But my week has been a little stressful: getting her to the hospital and then to the short-stay facility; talking to doctors, nurses, physical therapists, social workers and case managers at both facilities; making decisions about her preferred location on the fly; keeping my sister informed about it all; taking care of some things for church; and keeping our house running as smoothly as possible. It’s been wearying. And during one of these days as I was driving from one place to another, I thought about that 1982 commercial.
And I thought, “Lady, if you thought life was tough thirty-four years ago when you were in your thirties, just wait.”
Then I thought for a bit more as I drove, and I realized that had that fictional woman in the commercial actually been living a big city, power-suit life, going home to a husband and kids in the suburbs, she’d now be – like me – in her early sixties. She’d probably be thinking about retirement and Medicare, worrying about her adult children and maybe indulging her grandchildren, and very possibly caring in one way or another for an elderly parent or two.
So, yeah, life got tougher.
But you know, maybe it’s always been this tough, and we Baby Boomers – the vast majority of whom, if we’re honest, had it pretty good and were pretty sheltered for our first twenty or so years – just didn’t know. That would explain the surprise and frustration proclaimed in that 1982 commercial, a proclamation that echoed what we were feeling out there in consumer-land, for the ways in which things are sold to us is a good a mirror of who we are.
You want tough? Consider my folks’ early years: Wall Street crashed and triggered the Great Depression during the year my dad turned eleven and my mom turned nine. Dad went into the army in the late 1930s, about the time my mom was teaching elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse with a woodstove for heat and no running water. Then came World War II. And then things got better, but it still took a lot of hard work.
So yeah, in 1982, life probably got tougher for us as we were dealing with the realities of the adult world that maybe surprised us as a generation. But you know, I have a sense that life has always been tough and we learn that as we mature and grow older; and we need to remember that there are times that are not as tough as others.
So all of that is what I’ve been pondering as I make my way from one task to another this week, aware through the worry, the frustration and the fatigue that maybe life got tougher for me, yeah, but I’m coping, as most of us find a way to do.
And here are Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men with “Times Are Getting Tougher Than Tough” from 1964.
I’m out of commission today, the combination of a spring cold and muscles still aching from Saturday’s construction and garden efforts. So I’m punting, but here’s a 1964 release from Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men (with, according to several things I’ve read, Rod Stewart’s recording debut). Written by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, here’s “Up Above My Head.”
Here’s a preview of a post that should be – if all goes well – up tomorrow.
In 1967, the Doors had a No. 25 hit with “Love Me Two Times,” a bluesy tune with a great guitar riff and a harpsichord solo. Fast forward thirteen years, and Long John Baldry snarled his way through a pretty tough cover of the Doors’ tune for a self-titled album.
As the RealPlayer wandered randomly through the mp3s the other day, it settled on an acoustic version of “Got My Mojo Working” by John Hammond, found on his 1976 album Solo. As Hammond ran through the classic blues song, accompanying himself on harmonica, I wondered how many versions of the song are out there. And before I got into that question, I found myself wandering through the history of the song.
The bare bones of the tale are pretty well known to blues fans: A singer named Ann Cole was on tour in 1956 with Muddy Waters’ band, and for their performances, she taught Waters and his band a song she was planning to record, “Got My Mo-Jo Working (But It Just Won’t Work On You).” Waters liked the song – written by Preston Foster – and when he got back to Chicago, he changed up some of the lyrics and recorded the tune for Chess.
Many accounts say that Waters recorded the song after Cole recorded it with the backing group called the Suburbans, but the notes in the Muddy Waters Chess Box say that Waters recorded the tune on December 29, 1956, while Cole – according to Black Cat Rockabilly – cut the song on January 27, 1957 (in New York City, according to a source I’ve seen but cannot find this morning). Those dates, then, say that Waters recorded it first, but I’m not certain. (I’m pretty confident the Waters date is correct, but I don’t know the source of the date I’ve seen for Cole’s recording.) In any event, both recordings were released as singles, and the confusion continues: I’ve seen some accounts that say that both were Top Ten singles, but neither version is listed as having made the charts in Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits or his Top Pop Singles. The only version of the tune mentioned in either book as having made the charts is the cover by jazz organist Jimmy Smith, whose “Got My Mojo Working (Part I)” went to No. 51 on the pop chart and to No. 17 on the R&B chart in 1966.
As to the origins of the song itself, both Waters and Foster claimed to have written the song. There were some lyrical differences, which I’ve seen attributed to Waters’ being unable to correctly remember the words Cole sang on tour, but according to Black Cat Rockabilly, “Eventually the matter went to court, where it was ruled that Foster was the composer. But the two versions are still separately copyrighted.” I dug into my Waters collection to check the composer credit. The Chess box set, released in 1989, credits Waters by his real name, McKinley Morganfield, as does a 1984 anthology of Waters’ work titled Rolling Stone. The Fathers and Sons album, however, tells the tale differently: The 1969 vinyl release credits both Morganfield and Foster, while the 2001 CD release credits Foster alone.
Anyway, here’s Cole’s very good version:
Waters’ studio version was good, too, but it pales in comparison to the version he and his band offered up at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960, a two-part performance released on the 1960 album At Newport and happily preserved on film:
Getting back to the question I started with, fifty-two groups or performers are listed at Second Hand Songs as having recorded versions of “Got My Mojo Working,” ranging from the versions by the Nightcaps and by Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated in 1962 to Johnny Winter’s cover of the song on his album Roots in 2011. I have sixteen versions of the tune in the mp3 library (and probably a few more on vinyl that have not yet been ripped to mp3s), including a version by Long John Baldry from his 1964 album, Long John’s Blues. Digging around for a video of that track this morning led me to the following fascinating video from an April 28, 1964 taping of a British television program called Around the Beatles:
(Despite the comments from the original YouTube poster, I saw no Rolling Stones there, and the website The Beatles Bible does not list them as being guests on the program. The guests were P.J. Proby, the Vernons Girls, Long John Baldry, Millie, The Jets, Cilla Black and Sounds Incorporated. The show was aired in Britain on May 6, 1964, and in the U.S. on November 15, 1964.)
Other noteworthy versions of “Got My Mojo Working” on my dusty shelves come from Manfred Mann, Canned Heat and Etta James and from Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars. Others from the list at Second Hand Songs that I’d like to hear are the previously mentioned cover by Johnny Winter and versions by Pinetop Perkins, Magic Sam, Ike & Tina Turner. (One version that I heard for the first time this morning that’s likely to get a fair amount of play here is, oddly, by Melanie.)
One version not listed at Second Hand Songs is one that I saw mentioned as I stumbled through some research this morning and that I managed to find at YouTube. It’s a smoldering take on the tune by a singer whose name I first came across at the very end of Dave Marsh’s listing of the 1,001 best singles, The Heart of Rock & Soul. Marsh tells the tale of Michael Goodwin and a long-buried tape from Goodwin’s college radio station days. Listening to the tape years later, Goodwin came across a unidentified song that – after much searching – was found to be “No Way Out” by Joyce Harris, a piece of New Orleans-inflected rockabilly that’s as incendiary as anything I’ve ever heard.
“No Way Out” was recorded for the Texas-based Domino label, and I learned this morning that Harris also took on “Got My Mojo Working” for Domino, recording a track in 1960 that wasn’t released until 1998 (evidently on the import package The Domino Records Story). It’s not my favorite version of “Got My Mojo Working” – that would be Waters’ performance at Newport – but it’s pretty high on the list.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve indulged myself here with random six-song tours of the Seventies and the Eighties, and a rainy Saturday morning seems like a good time to keep the sequence going. So this morning, in search of our weekly treat, we’ll wander through the Nineties.
(I should note that I was baffled why the video I put together for the final tune in our Eighties exploration got so few hits. And I learned this morning that the video had disappeared because the HTML was incorrectly tinkered with, and that’s my fault. I’ve repaired the post, and if anyone wants to take in the Tom Jans performance of “Mother’s Eyes” that closed Jan’s final album, Champion, it’s here.)
There are about 6,800 tunes in the RealPlayer from the 1990s. The mix is far different than those from earlier decades, I would guess. There’s probably much less Top 40, much more adult contemporary, some alternative stuff (especially alt. country, leading to Americana, I would think), some blues, and a fair amount of regular country. So let’s see what pops out of the random slot:
First up are the Spin Doctors and their cover of “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” from the soundtrack to the 1993 movie Philadelphia. The Spin Doctors’ second album, a 1991 effort titled Pocket Full of Kryptonite, went to No. 3 on the Billboard 200, and a single from Pocket – “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” – was everywhere in the autumn of 1992 and the early weeks of 1993, reaching No. 17 in the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the Mainstream Rock chart. So the Spin Doctors were at their peak when they took on the John Fogerty tune for Philadelphia. Their cover’s not bad, but there’s nothing in it that’s new, either.
Stop No. 2 this morning is a track from the last album by the late Richard Newell, a blues harpist better known as King Biscuit Boy. Long considered, says All-Music Guide, “the premier practitioner of blues harmonica in Canada,” Newell toured with and jammed with many folks during his fifty-eight years, including Muddy Waters, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John and John Lee Hooker. His recorded output is slender: Five albums between 1970 and 1995 (he crossed over in 2003), but all are good listening. The tune we’ve come across this morning is a nifty little workout called “Down On The Farm” from his 1995 album Urban Blues Re: Newell.
We move on, finding ourselves in Walkabout territory. I’ve seen the group tagged as alternative country rock, and that seems to pretty much sum it up. The tune we’ve fallen on is “Polly” from Satisfied Mind, a 1993 collection of acoustic covers. Written by the late Gene Clark, a founding member of the Byrds, “Polly” first showed up on Through the Morning, Through the Night, the 1969 album Clark recorded with Doug Dillard. As much as I like Dillard & Clark, I prefer the Walkabouts’ almost eerie version of the song.
And from there, we tumble into the world as seen by Alabama 3 (known as A3 in the U.S.), the group that came to wide attention when “Woke Up This Morning” was used as the opening theme for the HBO series The Sopranos. “Bourgeoisie Blues” comes from the same album, 1997’s Exile on Coldharbour Lane, and sports the same mix of sound collage, driving rhythms and vocals that to my ears sound ironic, all stirred into a tune that AMG calls an “electro-Marx-house combination.” Sample lyric: “Temptation’s got a hold on you/She’s eating away at your dreams.” Odd but gripping.
Our fifth tune this morning is “Moon Over Catalina,” a surf instrumental from the Blue Stingrays’ lone album, a 1997 effort titled Surf-N-Burn. It turns out that the Stingrays were actually members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers taking a busman’s holiday. The album, which is a lot of fun, includes what seem to be fourteen original tunes and a surf-washed take on John Barry’s main theme from Goldfinger. All of it, including “Moon Over Catalina,” is a lot of fun.
And we come at last to a tune from one of the last albums from the late Long John Baldry. A blues singer during the early days of the British blues scene, Baldry shifted to pop for a brief period in the the 1960s and then slide into blues rock, with the 1971 album It Ain’t Easy being one of the peaks of his career. The tune we’ve landed on this morning comes from the 1996 album Right To Sing The Blues, a project that showed off Baldry’s gravelly delivery to good effect. So “Midnight Hour Blues” is today’s Saturday Single
Sometimes new stuff comes at you when you don’t expect it. By the summer of 1989 – when I landed in Anoka, Minnesota, for an eight-month stay – I was digging into musical performers and styles new to me (though some of those performers and styles had been around for some time). The digging was for the most part spurred by the contents of two boxes of records I’d bought at a North Dakota flea market during the late winter of 1989, boxes whose contents had introduced me to Mother Earth and had encouraged me to dig into performers about whom little I knew but their names, like Quicksilver Messenger Service, Ian Lloyd, Thin Lizzy, Terri Garthwaite and more. After years of letting music come to me when it would, I began to actively seek out new sounds.
And in July of 1989, a ladyfriend and I went to a concert in St. Paul, a show featuring Ringo Starr with the first incarnation of his All-Starr Band. Beyond Ringo himself, familiar names studded the lineup: Dr. John, Billy Preston, Clarence Clemons, Joe Walsh, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Nils Lofgren and drummer Jim Keltner. Of all of them, I probably knew Lofgren and his work the least. I knew he’d been in Grin and that he’d worked some with Neil Young. And I was aware that he’d filled the spot created when Steve Van Zandt left Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band in the mid-1980s. And in the interims, I knew, he’d done his own work. But I knew nothing about that work at all.
At mid-concert, as the musicians supporting Ringo were taking their solo numbers, Lofgren counted in a song that started with a shimmering figure above a descending bass. My date and I, standing on our chairs in the sixth row, looked at each other. “You know this one?” she whispered to me. I shook my head, but as I listened, I told myself that I was going to learn about that song starting very soon.
The first step was the song’s name, “Shine Silently,” which my ladyfriend and I learned the following morning as we read reviews of Ringo’s show in the Twin Cities newspapers. From there, finding the song took a little longer than I’d expected; I had to work for a living, and there was so much music out there and so much to do at home. But I continued to keep Lofgren’s name and music in mind as I wandered shops and flea markets. And in February 1990, I found in an Anoka shop a 1981 Lofgren anthology titled The Best, which included “Shine Silently.” A little more than a year later, in 1991, Ringo released an album pulled from his 1989 concert tour that included Lofgren’s live version of the song, and I grabbed that album the first day it was out. The song originally was on Lofgren’s 1979 album Nils in a slower – and lower-pitched – version than the one that showed up on The Best. Without knowing for sure, I’m thinking that the version on The Best was the single version released in 1979 as A&M 2182. I prefer that take and the one from the Ringo Starr tour to the one on Nils.
Here’s the concert version:
The song remains a favorite of mine, partially because I’m a sucker for a descending bass line but mainly for its gentle and loving tone. Here are the key lines:
I don’t need no light in the darkness.
No I won’t get lost while your love shines,
Shines on me, shines on me.
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 5
“I’m Gonna Make You Mine” by Lou Christie, Buddha 116 
“Eli’s Coming” by Three Dog Night, ABC/Dunhill 4215 
“Trust Me” by Janis Joplin from Pearl 
“Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” by Long John Baldry from It Ain’t Easy 
“Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson from Right On Time 
“Shine Silently” by Nils Lofgren reissued on The Best 
“I’m Gonna Make You Mine” was the last of five Lou Christie records to reach the Top 40, and it was separated from his last hit by more than three years, which is an eternity in the singles biz. In addition, the record was kind of clunky at moments, especially in the middle eight. But none of that mattered during the autumn of 1969, when the record went to No. 10, as “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” was the first record of that first Top 40 season that felt like it was about my life. There were no key lines, as the entire record spoke to me and, through me, to someone else. She wasn’t interested then, but five years later, for a too-brief time, she was mine.
Not quite a year ago, my blogging colleague jb wrote at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ about the television series Sports Night and the use of pop music by producer Aaron Sorkin to, as jb put it, “punctuate storylines.” One of those so used, in an episode that jb called the best in the series’ history, was Three Dog Night’s “Eli’s Coming,” a Laura Nyro song about a womanizer best avoided: “Eli’s coming, hide your heart, girl.” (Though I still wonder about the line “I went to Apollo by the bay.”) In his post, jb noted that one of the characters on Sports Center, even though he knows better now, still hears the song as he did the first time, as something more sinister: “There’s a strangeness about this day. Eli’s coming. . . . From the Three Dog Night song . . . Eli’s something bad. A darkness.” The character continues: “I know I’m getting the song wrong, but when I first heard it, that’s what I thought it meant. Things stay with you that way. . .” Indeed they do. For me the record – which went to No. 10 as 1969 turned into 1970 – was a slightly spooky, idiosyncratic piece of work and nothing more. Since I read jb’s post, however, the song sets me on edge more than it ever did. Thanks, jb. Still, it’s a great record. The key line? Right near the start, riding above that spooky organ for one more instant before the record takes off: “Eli’s a-comin’ and the cards say . . . a broken heart.”
It seems to me that the late Janis Joplin’s reputation rest in large part these days on her admittedly great facility as a blues shouter. She could wail, of course. Much of her work with Big Brother & The Holding Company – “Down On Me” and “Piece of My Heart” come to mind most quickly – was loud and insistent. (And good: One of those two records will show up here before this project is through.) Given the strength of those performances and her work on I Got Dem Ol’ Kosmic Blues Again Mama!, that image of Joplin as a wailer is understandable. Perhaps that’s why of all of Joplin’s work, I prefer Pearl, the posthumously released 1971 album. There are some workouts: “Cry Baby,” “Move Over” and “My Baby” come quickly to mind, and Joplin also takes the quiet start of “A Woman Left Lonely” to places not anticipated. But several times on Pearl, Joplin lets the song tell the story, seemingly holding back. The best of those tracks is her work on Bobby Womack’s “Trust Me.” That’s not to say Joplin’s interpretation doesn’t get intense. But it’s an intensity that seems to me, anyway, to have been very much under control. Key lines:
So if you love me like you tell me that you’re doing, dear,
You shouldn’t mind paying the price, any price, any price.
Love is supposed to be that special kind of thing,
Make anybody want to sacrifice.
I went over the history of the Long John Baldry track “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” in its various title permutations over the course of several posts a while back. (Those post are available here, here and here.) Of the various versions I know about, though – by Gator Creek, Crow, songwriter Jeff Thomas and Baldry – this one remains the favorite. Even with the shaggy dog story about Baldry playing his guitar in the street for pennies as prelude, the track from It Ain’t Easy still makes me wanna dance once pianist Ian Armitt starts accelerating. Key lines: “It ain’t a matter of pork ’n’ beans that’s gonna justify your soul/Just don’t try to lay no boogie woogie on the king of rock and roll!”
The Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23” slipped past me when it was on the charts in the late summer of 1977. I assume I heard it, as it got as high as No. 5 on the Billboard Top 40 chart (No. 1 on the R&B chart), but beyond a vague echo, the song spurs no memories for me. So why is it here in the Ultimate Jukebox? Because after the little filigree intro that was tacked on for the album, the song quickly finds an insistent groove that grabs one’s attention and anchors a great R&B record despite the sometimes surreal lyrics. The instrumental break by guitarist Lee Rittenour breaks into the groove, yes, but it delivers us back there as it fades, and we stroll along. As I noted here the other day, I sense an audio kinship between this record and the Isley Brothers’ long 1973 version of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” and that remains true, I think, as does the record’s lineage back to Shuggie Otis’ 1971 original recording of the song. Key lines (I think):
A present from you: Strawberry letter 22. The music plays, I sit in for a few.
(Post revised slightly with new links December 22, 2012 and January 9, 2014.)