Posts Tagged ‘Moody Blues’

Saturday Single No. 525

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Wandering through the digital stacks this morning, I found a few tracks tagged as having been recorded on January 28 over the years. (I have session date information for perhaps five percent of the 90,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer.) Let’s take a look at them.

The oldest comes from Frank Hutchison, who recorded “Stackalee” in New York City in 1928. An early version of the tale of bad man Stagger Lee that Lloyd Price turned into a No. 1 hit in 1959, Hutchison’s spare take on the song – with his guitar on his lap and a harmonica in a rack – came to me through the CD box set of the legendary Anthology of American Folk Music compiled by Harry Smith and released in 1952.

Next along the timeline for January 28 are a couple of western swing tracks laid down in Chicago in 1935 by Milton Brown & His Brownies. “Crafton Blues” is an instrumental composed by the band’s Ocie Stockard, and “Who’s Sorry Now” is a cover of the 1920s standard first recorded and released in 1923 by Bob Thompson. The two tracks came my way on Western Swing, a three-CD set that billed itself as “The Absolutely Essential” collection.

On January 28, 1953, most likely in Los Angeles or Hollywood (a judgment based on the fact that the arrangements and backing were from Nelson Riddle), Nat King Cole recorded “Almost Like Being In Love.” The track was released that year on Nat King Cole Sings For Two In Love, an eight-track, ten-inch LP. I found “Almost Like Being In Love” on the compilation CD The Very Best of Nat King Cole.

Big Joe Turner had a busy day on January 28, 1955, in New York City, and four tracks from that day’s session have made their ways to my stacks: “Morning, Noon and Night,” “Ti-Ri-Lee,” “Flip Flop and Fly” and “Hide and Seek.” Of the four, “Ti-Ri-Lee” is a little less frantic but still nowhere near a slow dance, and the other three are your basic (but still enjoyable) Joe Turner joints. I found “Morning, Noon and Night” and “Ti-R-i-Lee” on a Turner compilation titled Big. Bad & Blue, and the other two came from the CD The Very Best of Big Joe Turner (which I happened to be playing in the car this week).

Jumping ahead in the timeline a little bit, two Johnny Cash-related tracks show up. On January 28, 1971, Tammy Wynette appeared on The Johnny Cash Show on ABC. Her performance of “Stand By Your Man” showed up on The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show. And on January 28, 1974, in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Cash recorded “Ragged Old Flag,” which was released as a Columbia single and was later included in the CD collection The Essential Johnny Cash.

Heading back a few years from that, in 1969, George Harrison brought Billy Preston to a Beatles session at the Apple studios on January 28. Among the results was the single version of “Get Back,” on which Preston provides an electric piano solo and became, if I recall things correctly, the only non-Beatle credited on a Beatles record. The track was included in the Mono Masters CD package.

And last, we’ll head back another year to 1968 and a recording session for the Moody Blues at the Decca Studios in the West Hampstead area of London. The group was working on In Search of the Lost Chord, and among the results of the session was an early version of “What Am I Doing Here?” The track got left off the album, and in November of that year, it was given some overdubs and a new mix. Still, “What Am I Doing Here?” was unreleased until 1977, when the November version was included in the Caught Live + 5 collection.

I found the original version of “What Am I Doing Here” on the expanded CD release of In Search of the Lost Chord, and I prefer it to the overdubbed November version. At any rate, a November track doesn’t meet our requirements today, so the January 28, 1968, recording of “What Am I Doing Here?” is today’s Saturday Single.

First Days On The Job

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Even after more than forty years pondering memory and time as an adult and almost ten years writing here about the two (along with music), sometimes the blurring and blending of my days, months and years holds me still for a moment or two. This week, it was this photo.

edit-for-echoes

That, of course, is me, in a photo taken thirty-nine years ago this week during my first day of work at the Monticello Times. I started there on Monday, November 28, 1977, and the first edition with my byline in it was dated Thursday, December 1. And I remember a few things about that first day:

I rode with our photographer, a fellow named Bruce, to the crossroads hamlet of Hasty – about nine miles up Interstate 94 from Monti – to interview the owners of a newly opened cheese shop based in an old creamery. The Milky Whey, as they called it, was in a decent location on a county road that intersected the freeway, not far from from the exit. I’m not sure when the shop closed, but by the time I left Monticello for grad school not quite six years later, the creamery was once again boarded and shuttered.

My boss, DQ, took me over to the high school, where a lot of my newsgathering would take place over those nearly six years. He introduced me to some of the administration and then we ate lunch in the faculty lounge, which had long been his habit on Mondays. I did the same for several of the following Mondays, but I felt like an interloper. Those folks didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them (although I would get to know some of them well as the years went by). So by February of 1978 or so, I had developed my own schedule for getting news at the high school on Mondays, and my lunch hour found me in another place.

That afternoon, Bruce took the photo above and another one, more of a portrait shot, for use in that week’s paper. It was the portrait that ran, along with a brief bit of copy I wrote, introducing our readers to the new guy at the paper.

And that evening, I think I covered a girls basketball game at Monticello; if I did, it was the first time I’d covered girls athletics. This was only a few years after girls began to play interscholastic sports, and the game was a bit ragged, not the fluid, well-played game that one saw on occasion then and sees these days from high school on up.

And after that day – a long one that was capped, no doubt, with some television and a frozen dinner – the rest of the first publication week moved rapidly. Tuesday, I wrote most of the day, learning more and more about my slate of responsibilities, and that evening, I covered a wrestling match, writing the story early on Wednesday, just hours before the paper went to press.

That evening, I looked at the paper’s front page and my first professional byline. I remember staring at it, wondering if I would be able to stick, to do the job well enough. And, with a few missteps here and there, I did stick, and that byline – one I can still see in my head – turned out to be the first of probably a few thousand over the years.

So, is there any music attached to those first few days? Not really. I can’t think of anything that I heard either driving from place to place or at home in the evenings. But on Thursday that week – technically our publication day, but a light day at the office – I drove the thirty miles to St. Cloud and had dinner with my girlfriend and my parents (it was Mom’s birthday) and took time out to do some record shopping downtown, buying one album, Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus.

After dinner, I headed back to Monti, and before driving to the mobile home park just south of town, I stopped at one of the few places in that small town that sold LPs and bought two more records, Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees and the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed.

I remember playing the Moody Blues’ 1967 album that evening in my half of a mobile home duplex. I’d had a busy few days: the rush of moving during the weekend before, my first days at the paper, my first byline, my excursion to St. Cloud. I recall sitting there as the music played, thinking that my job was in Monticello, but my girlfriend and my family and all the rest of my life, all of that was still in St. Cloud.

And I don’t know if I felt as melancholy as the album’s last track sounds (even though the song proclaims love, it always has and always will sound more like a plaint to me), but looking back at those combined feelings of accomplishment and dislocation, it seems somehow appropriate that the last music I likely heard on that first publication day was the Moodys’ “Nights In White Satin” and the album’s closing bit of verse.

7

‘It’s Not A Lot . . .’

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

I thought some more this week about the young reporter I once was – the one we visited here last week – and as I did, I wondered what else besides Dan Fogelberg he might have had on the stereo when he spent an evening at home in the early years of the 1980s. The LP log shows a fair amount of classical music coming in to the house during the first years of that decade, as well as some big band music. As has been noted here before, that young man was dissatisfied with much of the popular music he heard, and he was looking for alternatives.

Still, the log shows purchases in those years of either new or relatively recent albums by Steve Winwood, Jackson Browne, and the Moody Blues as well as the aforementioned Dan Fogelberg. And he filled gaps in his collection with the purchase of older albums by Carly Simon, Steely Dan, the Bee Gees, and the Allman Brothers Band.

One of the tracks that caught his attention in those days came from the Moody Blues’ 1981 release, Long Distance Voyager. The tune “22,000 Days” is a lumbering meditation on mortality and time, topics that caught that young reporter’s attention even when he was on the short side of thirty. The verses were a little vague, but the chorus was blunt:

22,000 days. I’ve got 22,000 days.
It’s not a lot. It’s all you’ve got.
22,000 days.

At the time he got the album – thirty-four years ago this week, as it happens – his cosmic odometer had clicked over to 10,247 days. The Moodys’ benchmark of 22,000 days was far in the future. As he writes this morning, he hit that benchmark some time ago, as his odometer now reads 22,670. Theoretically, then, he’s living on borrowed time and has been since November 28, 2013.

But the 22,000 days is a symbol, not a measurement (though I do wonder why songwriter Graeme Edge didn’t use as a life span something not far off the Biblical three-score-and-ten and make the song “25,000 Days”). And I don’t expect to shuffle off anytime soon. Still, the track is a reminder that every once in a while we should remember that we are temporary beings and that life – on this plane, anyway – is finite.

And there aren’t many better days to ponder those facts than the last day of September, when the temporary nature of life presents itself clearly in the first days of autumn. Here’s the Moody Blues and “22,000 Days” from 1981.

‘Details’

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

When I wrote Tuesday about Vanity Fare’s 1970 record “(I Remember) Summer Morning,” I said:

It’s possible, however, that even as he liked the record back in 1970, the young whiteray might have noticed even back then that the tale of romance is strong on generalities and very light on details of what the two innocents did during their summer: Did they ride the roller coaster at Beckman Park, or swim to the raft in the sunshine at Lake Anna, or walk along Crescent Street in the rain? The record doesn’t say.

It’s possible I noticed, but today I’d guess that during the summer of 1970, when the Vanity Fare record sat for two weeks at No. 98 in the Billboard Hot 100, I wouldn’t have noticed that absence of details.

Why do I guess that? Because I remember a gentle and kind English teacher from my senior year at St. Cloud Tech High School, a time that was just a week or two away when the Vanity Fare single failed to do much in the charts. It was during that senior year that I began to write my own lyrics, most likely inspired by both my immersion in Top 40 listening and my quest to win the affections of a blonde sophomore girl. Not all of those early lyrics were love songs, but a lot of them were. And one day, probably early in 1971, I summoned up the courage to show a few of my efforts to my English teacher, Mrs. Spanier, and ask her what she thought of them.

I recall particularly well her comments about one of those lyrics, a brief entry titled “If You Need Me.” I’ll spare you most of it, but the final verse was:

I know you never will
But I wish you felt the same.
For you know I won’t forget you.
I’ll always know your name.

“That’s nice,” said Mrs. Spanier, “but is that all you’re going to remember about her? Her name? I don’t think so.”

She circled that verse and wrote in the margin of the paper “Details.”

“I don’t know who this is written for,” she said, “but I’m sure you’ll remember more than that. You’ll remember the way she held her head when she laughed, the way the sun shone on her hair, maybe just the way she ate a candy bar. Those are the details that can make a poem or a song memorable.”

In other words, details like the roller coaster at Beckman Park, the raft at Lake Anna and the rain on Crescent Street – all of them fictional, as far as I know – that showed up in Tuesday’s post. When I thought about it later on Tuesday, I realized that I’d used Mrs. Spanier’s advice as I wrote.

Her critique of my early and awkward work was one of the more important and memorable lessons of my life. It’s helped me tell other people’s stories during my reporting years, and it’s helped me tell my own story in my lyrics, in my fiction, and at this blog.

And here’s a track with a story-related title that was sitting at No. 41 in the Hot 100 on August 28, 1971, forty-three years ago today, when I was likely pondering my upcoming freshman year of college and perhaps even writing a lyric and trying to use Mrs. Spanier’s advice while doing so. Here’s “The Story In Your Eyes” by the Moody Blues.

‘I Know I’ll See You Shining . . .’

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Forty years ago this week, I was getting to know the album that was on top of the Billboard pop chart: Rick had stopped over a couple of days before Christmas 1972 so we could exchange gifts. I don’t recall what I gave Rick that Christmas. It was probably an LP, just like his gift to me. He handed me a carefully wrapped copy of Seventh Sojourn, the most recent album by the Moody Blues.

As I dropped the album on the turntable for the first time – probably sometime during the days just after Christmas – I knew one of the tracks on the record: “Isn’t Life Strange” had been released as a single in the spring, reaching No. 29 in the Billboard Hot 100. I liked the single pretty well; I remembered it from the radio and recalled hearing it that summer on the big speakers at the municipal swimming pool as I took breaks during my regular Saturday evening bicycle rides.

And the rest of Seventh Sojourn was pretty good, from the opener of “Lost in a Lost World” through the closer of “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” which was released as a single in early 1973 and went to No. 12. The lyrics told tales without the quasi-mysticism that had dominated so much of the group’s work since, oh, In Search of the Lost Chord in 1968, and the musicianship and production were solid. All of it worked well with what I perceived as the album’s themes of displacement, loss and love, themes that were summed up, I’d venture now, in the title of that opening track: “Lost in a Lost World.”

What I didn’t know as I opened Rick’s gift – not being a chart watcher or even particularly interested in the charts – was that Seventh Sojourn was in its fourth week as the No. 1 album in the U.S., with one more week yet to come in early January. Looking back, and knowing that I’ve spent much of my musical life trying to catch up with music that was released years earlier, I would guess it was pretty rare for me to own an album at the time it topped the charts. How rare?

Well, I did some digging this morning in The Billboard Book of Number One Albums by Craig Rosen, in Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Top Ten Album Charts (1963-1998) and in my own LP database. It turns out that out of the nearly 3,000 LPs sitting in the stacks (or in crates on the floor), I owned four of them at the time they were No 1. I think that’s the case with a fifth LP, and there’s a sixth album that I owned on cassette when it was No. 1.

Beatles ’65 was the No. 1 album for nine weeks between January 9 and March 6, 1965. During my attempt in about 1970 to estimate when I got my early albums, I guessed – because of the year in the title – that my sister and I had been given Beatles ’65 for Christmas 1965. Given that the album was actually released in December 1964, we probably got it for Christmas in 1964. I’m not sure, but it makes sense.

Johnny Cash at San Quentin­ was the No. 1 album for four weeks between August 23 and September 16, 1969, and I got the album sometime during August that year. I’d guess – from this distance – that my interest in the album was piqued by hearing the album’s single, “A Boy Named Sue,” on the radio. The single entered the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of July 1969 and peaked at No. 2.

Abbey Road by the Beatles was the No. 1 album for eleven non-consecutive weeks between November 1, 1969 and January 24, 1970. It’s one of the few albums I’ve owned in three different formats: cassette, LP and CD. I got the tape first. Having heard “Come Together” several times since its early October release, I was intrigued, and I noticed in late October that the local J.C. Penney’s store was selling the cassette of the recently released Abbey Road at what seemed like a low price even then: $3.50. Why the cassette? Because I had gotten my cassette player that summer and still had only one cassette to play: Blood, Sweat & Tears’ second, self-titled album. My sister worked at the mall, and I handed her my cash and asked her to pick up Abbey Road for me.

Let It Be by the Beatles was No. 1 for four weeks, from June 13 through July 4, 1970. Having been influenced by Abbey Road, I bought Let It Be – the LP – either on the day it was released or the day after: May 18 or 19, 1970. I was no doubt also influenced by the title track, which entered the Hot 100 in mid-March and spent two weeks at No. 1 in April.

I wrote about Seventh Sojourn above. After that, I went almost fifteen years before owning an album while it was at No. 1.

The soundtrack to Dirty Dancing was No. 1, according to Rosen’s book, for eighteen non-consecutive weeks in 1987 and 1988. Whitburn’s Top Ten Album Charts shows the album at No. 1 seventeen times between November 14, 1987 and May 7, 1988. I can’t find the eighteenth week, but never mind. I got my copy on November 27, 1987. A lady friend and I had seen the movie the night before in St. Cloud and, after the movie, tried to get to a nearby Kmart or Shopko before closing time to get the soundtrack. We were late, and we had to wait until the next day. That’s when we grabbed a copy of the LP during a previously planned trip to the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis, near the University of Minnesota’s main campus.

Those are six pretty good albums. I won’t say that Seventh Sojourn is my favorite among them – Abbey Road is pretty high on my list – but as it was the Moody Blues’ album that sparked this morning’s research, here’s one of my favorite tracks from the album. Michael Pinder’s “When You’re a Free Man” is the next-to-last track on the album. It’s directed, I’m pretty sure, to an American – real or imagined, I don’t know – who went to Canada to evade the draft during the Vietnam War. I found it haunting in early 1973, and I still do today.

Saturday Single No. 296

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

It’s still early here on the East Side, and the Texas Gal just came in from an hour of weeding in the one of the gardens. Most of the weeds she’s fighting are plain old strains of grass, trying to survive in areas that once were – literally – their turf. With the grass having been plowed under not all that long ago – four years in the case of our first garden and just this spring for the new garden – it’s a battle to keep the rows clear, especially since we didn’t put down mulch this year.

Anyway, the Texas Gal was hoping to get a good chunk of at least one of the gardens cleared before the humidity overwhelmed her or the rain moved in. She said she got half of the older garden weeded before the sticky air became too much, and a look at the radar shows a good-sized blue and green blob just west of St. Cloud, heading northeast. If it misses us, it won’t be by much. And there will likely be other storms popping up on the radar throughout the day.

Along with the weeding this morning, she cleared out our first crop of radishes, bringing in a full basket for the third time in ten days. That leaves us with more radishes in the refrigerator than twenty people can use on salads in a week, so the Texas Gal’s next step will be to find a recipe for pickled radishes. I’ll help with the literal heavy lifting, bringing the canner upstairs and then moving it around the kitchen when it is filled with water.

There is news as I write: Before the pickling begins, there will be a trip to the local farmers market. We may have a lot of radishes, but the Texas Gal says we will need more to fill the canner. Along the way, we’ll stop at the nearby grocery store for spices and other ingredients we do not already have on hand. (We’ll likely get more prosaic items, as well: milk, cheese, lunchmeat and more, stocking up for the week ahead.)

When we return, I’ll be heading to the cookbook shelf in the dining room, where I’ll spend an hour or so looking for something both interesting and healthy to do with the package of turkey tenders that we thawed overnight. I suggested doing something with flour and paprika and a yogurt sauce (plain yogurt works very well as a low-calorie substitute for sour cream), served over pasta – kind of a Hungarian approach – but the Texas Gal’s reaction was not encouraging. So I’ll see what else I can find. That should not be difficult, as we have a collection of maybe sixty different cookbooks.

What I am saying here, I guess, is that we have a relatively busy day planned. We may get a chance to sit out on the lawn with a beverage after the pickling is done and the storms have passed, but until then, this is not nearly going to be the lazy day the Moody Blues sang about on their 1969 album On The Threshold Of A Dream. But then, the Moodies were singing about Sunday and we haven’t gotten there yet. So, in a kind of hopeful projection, the Moody Blues’ “Lazy Day” is this week’s Saturday Single.

In The Midst Of The Busy Season

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Combine the holiday season with a reorganization project that entails boxing and then moving maybe 15 percent of our household goods up and down stairs, and the weeks finds us with little time to rest. But our holiday preparations are, I think, mostly completed.

I was reminded yesterday of a fundamental difference between the Texas Gal and me, one that I think is echoed in many couples along gender lines: The difference between shopping and buying. When the Texas Gal is going to give a present to someone, she goes shopping, going from store to store to see the possibilities, weighing ideas, looking at alternatives and then finally making a selection, which might entail heading to an establishment she visited some five or six stops ago. That’s shopping.

As for me, I buy. I spend nearly as much time selecting a gift for her or for others, I think, but I do the selection process here at home (or perhaps in the car). By the time I head out the door with my wallet in my hand, I’m ready to buy. If I have three gifts to buy, I make those three stops. Oh, I’ll look at other things as I go, but any additional other items I consider adding to the haul are almost always on a direct line between my planned stops. It happened yesterday as I went out to get the Texas Gal’s main gift. (Well, that’s not quite true; about a month ago, we saw on sale a dock for her iPod Touch – with CD player and radio – that she’d scoped out some time ago, so for her the holidays began early.) But as I walked along the aisles of the selected store yesterday en route to the place where my intended gift was shelved, I scanned the assorted goods along the way. I grabbed a couple of them as I went, but my errand at that store was done in less than twenty minutes, half of that spent in the checkout line.

Of course, all that shopping and buying during this busy month has a purpose: Giving to one another. Whether it’s Christmas or the winter solstice or another event or holiday that comes along at this time of year, to me it’s the giving that matters, whether it’s giving of one’s material resources, one’s time or one’s affection.

And now for some music. Long-time readers might recall that I share only two songs during this season, one of them penned by John Lennon. This is the fifth December for this blog, and from what I can tell, I have not shared this particular cover before. In 2003, the Moody Blues released December, a Christmas album with several original pieces, some traditional pieces and a pretty good cover of Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”

I’ll be back Thursday with a version of the other Christmas song I traditionally post here.

‘The Music To The Story In Your Eyes . . .’

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

I’m on home duty today for a wonderful reason: The Texas Gal had surgery this morning to remove a cataract from her right eye. And while the surgery has become fairly routine – I find myself astounded that replacing an eye’s lens has become routine! – I’ll be too distracted today to be able to focus on much.

So here’s an apt song for the day, and if I’m not here tomorrow, I’ll certainly be here on Saturday.

One Chart Dig: June 28, 1969

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

 Other things call me this morning, so I’m stopping by just long enough to take a one-tune look at the Billboard Hot 100 from June 28, 1969, forty-two years ago today. Starting my digging at the bottom of the chart, as I generally do, I came across a familiar tune at No. 92: “Never Comes the Day” by the Moody Blues.

I was surprised. “Never Comes the Day” is a track from the Moody’s album On the Threshold of a Dream, and that’s where I heard it when I discovered the album a few years later. I don’t think I ever heard it on the radios around me during the summer of 1969. But then, not many other people did, either: The record spent four weeks in the Hot 100 and peaked only one notch higher, at No. 91. (The Moody’s next charting single, “Question” – which would show up in a slightly different version on their album A Question of Balance – would do much better, climbing to No. 21 about a year later.)

But even if I don’t recall hearing “Never Comes the Day” on the radio, it’s a lovely piece of work, written by Justin Hayward.

Revisiting Jesse Winchester’s ‘Biloxi’

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

In February of 2007, I wrote about Jesse Winchester and my favorite among his songs. Here, updated and revised slightly, is what I said:

One of the great themes of popular music – from the pre-recording days when music’s popularity was measured only by sales of sheet music, through the entire Twentieth Century to today – is displacement. From the day in 1853 when Stephen Foster – America’s first popular songwriter – wrote “My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight,” American musicians and listeners have celebrated places dear to them, often longing for those places and grieving their separations from them.

The separation need not be physical: Time pulls us away, too, as places change and we ourselves are altered by the turning of the calendar. Joe South’s 1969 lament, “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” mourned the changes brought to his home place – and by extension, the entire south – by the so-called progress of that decade, which replaced orchards with offices and meadows with malls (and the orchards and meadows continue to disappear to this day, of course, not just in the south but all across the country).

The era during which Joe South sang – those volatile years from, say, 1965 to 1975 – was one of displacement for a lot of folks. Many of those who were displaced, of course, had not one bit of use for rock or soul or any of their relatives; they instead found their solace in gospel music or in the country stylings of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and their contemporaries. But the sense of longing wasn’t limited by genre. It’s not an accident that one of the better singles of the Beatles, the best group of the time – or any time, for that matter – told us all to get back to where we once belonged. We all wanted to go home.

One of those who couldn’t go home was Jesse Winchester, a native of Memphis who’d left the U.S. for Canada in 1967 instead of reporting for military service (and most likely an assignment to the war zone in Vietnam) when he got his draft notice. Living in Montreal in 1969, he met Robbie Robertson of The Band – himself a Canadian, of course, like three of the other four members of The Band. Robertson produced and played guitar on Winchester’s first album, Jesse Winchester, and brought along his band-mate Levon Helm to play drums and mandolin. The record, says All-Music Guide, “was timely: it spoke to a disaffected American generation that sympathized with Winchester’s pacifism. But it was also timeless: the songs revealed a powerful writing talent (recognized by the numerous artists who covered them), and Winchester’s gentle vocals made a wonderful vehicle for delivering them.”

Winchester, of course, was unable to perform in the U.S. to promote either the record or his career, and thus never was able to capture the attention of the listening and buying public as well as he likely deserved. He recorded four more albums in Canada until an amnesty proclaimed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 allowed him to return to the U.S. He’s recorded sporadically since then but has been an active performer, with several recent live albums preceding last year’s studio album, Love Filling Station.

Among all of Winchester’s fine songs, I find my favorite to be “Biloxi” from that first, self-titled album. Winchester’s back story comes along when I hear it, and regrets and longing linger under the gentle vocal as Winchester seems to recall the joy and solace he once found in a place he might never be able to see again. And all of that is why “Biloxi” belongs in the Ultimate Jukebox.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 10
“Question” by the Moody Blues, Threshold 67004 [1970]
“Biloxi” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester [1970]
“All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople, Columbia 45673 [1972]
“Oh, Babe, What Would You Say” by Hurricane Smith, Capitol 3383 [1972]
“Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash, Geffen 49824 [1981]
“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, Elektra 96412 [1988]

“Question” was my introduction to the Moody Blues. I think that introduction took place across the street at Rick’s, when he and Rob shared some albums Rob had borrowed from a friend. One of those albums was A Question of Balance. I was entranced by the group’s sound and the songs’ content: These guys were singing about the same kinds of questions I was grappling with at the time. I’ll acknowledge that the lyrical content of some of the Moodys’ albums has not aged well, though the songs on A Question of Balance do not seem now as overcooked as do many of those on the other albums. And “Question” – which went to No. 21 during the spring and early summer of 1970 – still sounds good today, although I’m not sure if that’s a matter of the song’s maturity or of my carrying inside me a perpetual sixteen-year-old. Over the years, on oldies radio, the album version – with the (synthesized?) horns calling out during the introduction – has pretty much driven the simple strummed guitar introduction of the single edit out of circulation. The version I found at YouTube seems to be a hybrid: it has the single’s introduction but runs longer – by my reading – than the single edit ever did.

None of the kids I was hanging around with during the autumn of 1972 were listening to Mott the Hoople, so neither was I. But when “All the Young Dudes” began to push itself out of the radio speakers from time to time that November – the record spent just three weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 37 – I put the band on my list of music to check out. It took me years to get there, having detoured figuratively through Muscle Shoals and Macon, Georgia, but the crunchy chords of “Dudes” remained fresh over the years, even as the glam poses of Ian Hunter and his band got very old. I never thought the record was all that much a tribute to glam rock, anyway, no matter what David Bowie might have had in mind when he wrote the song. And this morning, I read Mark Deming’s review of the song at All-Music Guide: “In Bowie’s version, there seems to be a vague, under-the-radar suggestion that the ‘dudes’ in question were rent boys or glammed-out fashion victims, but Hunter’s vocals (buoyed by Mick Ralphs’ soaring lead guitar and Verden Allen’s superbly sympathetic organ swells) turned the song into an anthem for the guys on the corner, sticking by each other through the ups and downs of their lives.” Sounds about right to me.

Sometimes a hit record comes along that is so utterly out of step with current trends that I imagine some listeners assume that its popularity is a joke or an ironic comment. So there likely were folks out there in radioland as 1972 turned into 1973 who were chuckling or raising irony-laced eyebrows every time Hurricane Smith came out of the speakers singing “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” The faux Twenties/Thirties backing track, the pinched and sometimes awkward vocal and the guileless and romantic lyrics made the record unlike anything around it in the Top 40. (When “Oh Babe” reached its peak at No. 3 during February 1973, it was bracketed by Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and “Dueling Banjos” by Eric Weisberg and Steve Mandell, which itself was unlike anything else in the Top 40, of course.) As is well known now, the singer’s real name was Norman Smith, and he’d been an engineer and producer for EMI in England, working with – among many others – the Beatles and Pink Floyd. “Oh Babe” was his only hit in the U.S. although he had better success in the U.K., where eccentricity sells better, I guess. Eccentric or not, when “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” comes out of the speakers when I’m around, it’s greeted with a smile that hasn’t the faintest trace of irony.

Given my general disinterest in music from the 1980s – it wasn’t as awful as I thought it was at the time, but I still don’t think it was as good as recent waves of Gen X nostalgia have posited – I wondered as I trimmed my list of songs how many tunes from that decade would end up in my metaphorical jukebox. As I detailed in an earlier post, twenty-two songs from the Eighties survived the trimming. Two of them are in this grouping, and they were selected for diametrically opposite reasons, one for sound and the other for story. From the opening sax riff by Rindy Ross through her vocals to the end of the song, “Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash just sounds good. The lyrics tell a universal tale, the songs lopes along, Ross’ vocals are believeable and, best of all, that sax riff is one of the greatest of all time. At the time the song was on the charts – it went to No. 3 during a nineteen-week stay after entering the Top 40 during early November 1981 – I wasn’t listening to a lot of Top 40, but “Harden My Heart” was inescapable. The radio station I listened to most often at home in those days was more focused on what I think was called adult contemporary, and Quarterflash was there, too.

By the time the end of the Eighties was drawing near, I was listening to newer music again, and when Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” hit the charts during the summer of 1988, I was fascinated by the record. It’s a no-frills recording: a simple acoustic guitar riff most of the way through with the drums and bass blowing in for the choruses. But it makes my list for its story, with its detail-studded portrait of a life on the fringes of American society, a life spent working in the check-out lane where the big house in the suburbs is unattainable, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether fate or frailty creates the barriers. “Fast Car” went to No. 6, and I sometimes wonder which reaction to the record was more prevalent among those who helped it get that high in the chart:  Was it “My God, that’s my life she’s singing about”? Or was it “Thank God that’s not my life she’s singing about”?