Posts Tagged ‘Neil Diamond’

One Chart Dig: May 30, 1970

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

With the Texas Gal on vacation for a couple days following the holiday, it’s been a lazy time here. But I thought I’d take a few moments during a humid afternoon to look briefly at the Billboard Hot 100 from May 30, 1970, forty-eight years ago today.

Sitting at No. 1 was Ray Stevens’ “Everything Is Beautiful,” a record I might have liked the first time I heard it. I soon tired of it, and today I find it trite and bathetic. But we rarely do much business around here with the top of the charts, and today, Odd, Pop and I are playing a quick bit of Games With Numbers and looking at the record parked at No. 30.

And we find a record that’s never once been mentioned here in more than eleven years and about 2,400 posts: “Soolaimon” by Neil Diamond. That’s a little odd, given that I like Diamond’s work enough that his name is among the artists listed in the side column of both this site and the Echoes In The Wind Archives, which collects posts from early 2007 into 2009.

“Soolaimon” came from the 1970 album Tap Root Manuscript, where it was part of “The African Trilogy (A Folk Ballet),” a suite that took up the entire second side of the LP. I do wonder today exactly how African the suite truly is, but that’s a question for another time and for others more qualified than I to answer. (And I fear getting caught up in questions like: Should current concepts like cultural appropriation be applied to artistic works from earlier – and different – times?)

But back to “Soolaimon” the single: I liked it well enough when it was on the radio, I liked it when I heard it across the street at Rick’s place, and I still liked it when I heard it from my own vinyl copy of the album, which I finally collected in Wichita, Kansas, twenty years after its release. (And as I write, I’m pondering whether I should shell out a few bucks to get the CD; I likely won’t.) So why have I never written about it? I have no idea.

As it happens, we’re catching the record on the anniversary of its peak, as it had been at No. 31 a week earlier and would return to that spot as June began. So, with all that, here’s Neil Diamond’s “Soolaimon.”

Back To Garden City

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

As you might recall, we spent a little bit of time last Saturday poking around a music survey released on March 15, 1974, by radio station KUPK of Garden City, Kansas. The thirty-record survey showed some familiar records, mostly at the upper end, and a fair number of records not so familiar. Four of the records on the KUPK survey, I noted, didn’t even dent the Billboard charts or its Bubbling Under section, and I chose one of those four – “Roll It” by Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax – for our Saturday Single.

In addition, I noted that nine other records on the Garden City survey were ranked a good deal higher than they ever got on the Billboard charts. Now, it’s not out of the ordinary for records to do better in one market than they do nationally. But thirteen out of thirty? That seemed a bit odd. Here, listed by their rankings on the KUPK survey, are those thirteen records and their Billboard peaks:

No. 12: “Star” by Stealers Wheel, No. 29.
No. 16: “On A Night Like This” by Bob Dylan, No. 44.
No. 19: “I’m A Train” by Albert Hammond, No. 31.
No. 20: “Music Eyes” by Heartsfield, No. 95.
No. 22: “Roll It” by Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax, did not chart.
No. 23: “Skybird” by Neil Diamond, No. 75.
No. 24: “Loving Arms” by Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, No. 86.
No. 25: “You’re So Unique” by Billy Preston, No. 48.
No. 26: “When The Morning Comes” by Hoyt Axton, No. 54.
No. 27: “All The Kings And Castles” by Shawn Phillips, did not chart.
No. 28: “Stone Country” by Johnny Winter, did not chart.
No. 29: “Invisible Song” by the Rainbow Canyon Band, did not chart.
No. 30: “Pepper Box” by the Peppers, No. 76.

Seven of those records were unfamiliar to me, though I knew most of the performers and one of the songs. I’d never heard of the Rainbow Canyon Band (listed only as “Rainbow Canyon” on the KUPK survey) or the Peppers. And I’ve known the song “Loving Arms” for years, but I’d never heard Kris and Rita’s cover. So after sharing “Roll It” last Saturday, I went and found videos of the six remaining unfamiliar records. Then, even though the Shawn Phillips track was one that I knew, I posted a video of it because it was one of those listed that did not chart in Billboard.

The Rainbow Canyon Band, according to the YouTube poster, was a well-known Cleveland group that came to the attention of James Gang drummer Jim Fox, who produced “Invisible Song” and brought James Gang guitarist Tommy Bolin to the sessions. The Peppers, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, were an instrumental duo from Paris; “Pepper Box” was the duo’s only charting single.

As I noted last week, I’m not a chart maven; I do have a sense that the KUPK survey is odd in hosting so many singles that out-perform their national ranking. And I noticed a couple of other things that intrigued me about the KUPK survey.

First, in addition to the “Pop & Contemporary” listing, the survey – seen here – had a ten-record listing for easy listening and a twenty-record listing for country, so just from those three lists, it’s evident that the station had vastly different sorts of programming for different day-parts, something not at all rare for small town stations (and, by our estimate based on the 1970 and 1980 censuses listed at Wikipedia, Garden City had about 16,000 residents in 1974).

Supporting that assumption are three notes in the text at the top of the survey: “Capt. Weird, Roger Unruh” offered listeners the program Rock Garden on Saturday nights from 10:30 p.m. to 4 a.m.; Jim Throneberry, the “Morning Mayor” was on the air from 7 to 9; and a new voice on the station was that of Bob Hill, who ran the Country Show from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (And I wonder if some of the records in the “Pop & Contemporary” listing might not have been heard on Capt. Weird’s Rock Garden.)

Here’s a guess at KUPK’s weekday: A morning show with news and farm reports from 4 to 7 a.m. followed by Jim Throneberry until 9 a.m., and then maybe easy listening (with some news at noon) until 5 p.m. After more news, country music from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Then more news, and “Pop & Contemporary” until 4 the next morning. (Perhaps on the FM side; the AM side went off the air at sunset, as friend and faithful reader Yah Shure notes below.)

After pondering that, I took a closer look at the “Pop & Contemporary” listing, and I was struck by the volatility of the survey. Of the thirty records listed, sixteen were new to the survey that week, including two in the top ten: Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling” and Rick Derringer’s “Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo.” I’d love to have seen the KUPK surveys from the week before and the week after, but unfortunately, the March 15, 1974, survey is the only one from KUPK available at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, and a quick Googling found no others (although I did learn that the Davis Sisters of nearby Meade, sponsored by KUPK, won the 1973 Kansas State Fair Talent Contest).

As it happens, KUPK radio is no longer on the air; KUPK-TV is a satellite station of KAKE-TV in Wichita, about two hundred miles away; a segment of KAKE’s nightly show originates from a newsroom at the KUPK studios. I assume that arrangement dates from the Garden City station’s founding in 1964, as the call letters KUPK, according to Wikipedia, are meant to symbolize Kup-Kake.

(The station’s history is not quite right in that preceding paragraph. Yah Shure also untangled the KUPK story in his note, and he gets my thanks.)

So what does all this mean? I have absolutely no idea. It’s just interesting stuff – interesting to me, anyway – from forty years ago. And we’ll close this morning with what’s likely my favorite record of the thirty listed on the KUPK Music Survey from mid-March 1974: “When The Morning Comes,” on which Hoyt Axton got some help from Linda Ronstadt. As noted above, the record – from Axton’s 1974 album Life Machine – went to No. 54 on the Billboard pop chart (and to No. 10 on the country chart).

‘Red’

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Having brought the March of the Integers through ten steps (and not seeing a search for ‘Eleven” offer much of a return), I’ve been pondering what other ways there might be to sort the nearly 69,000 tunes in the RealPlayer that would provide interesting cross-sections of what is a wide range of music.

And then I dropped Dark Side of the Moon into the upstairs CD player late one evening. As the heartbeat faded in to start the epic album’s first track, “Speak To Me,” I looked idly at the iconic album cover with its prism. And I thought, “The spectrum. Sort titles by color.”

So this is the first of nine planned posts in a series that my pals Odd and Pop insist on calling “Floyd’s Prism.” Nine? Yes, because we plan on covering the seven colors of the spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet – and then adding black and white.

Here we go with “Red.”

Our search through the mp3 shelves brings up 1,878 files, most of which we’ll not be able to use. We discard immediately anything performed or conducted by anyone named “Alfred,” which eliminates the Philharmonia Slavonica performances of two symphonies by Robert Schumann (Alfred Scholz conducting),  Alfred Newman’s soundtrack to the 1962 movie How The West Was Won, the 1929 plaint by Blind Alfred Reed, “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” (revived in recent years by Bruce Springsteen) and Alfred Lewis’ whooping and harmonica-honking take on “Mississippi Swamp Moan” from 1930.

Numerous other artists that pop up in the search are set aside (unless further search finds in their catalog a title with “red” in it): bluesman Tampa Red; Don Redman & His Orchestra (with the oddly titled 1931 single “Chant of the Weed’); Mississippi Fred McDowell (many tracks including the great soliloquy “I Do No Play No Rock ’N’ Roll”); an early 1970s band, Fred, that released, from what I’ve been able to tell, one self-titled album between 1971 and 1973; and Fred Astaire, Fred Hughes, Fred Hess, Fred Neil (who wrote “The Dolphins” and “Everybody’s Talkin’”); Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns; Freddie King, Freda Payne and a few more.

Albums take a hit, too. We lose most tracks off numerous albums, including Basil Poledouris’ soundtrack to the 1990 movie, The Hunt for Red October, Brooks & Dunn’s Red Dirt Road, Bob Dylan’s Under the Red Sky, Chris Rea’s Wired to the Moon, Chris Thomas King’s Red Mud, Dan Fogelberg’s Captured Angel, Jane Bunnett’s Red Dragonfly, Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus and Jimmy McGriff’s Red Beans.

Individual titles go, too. Among them: “My Days Are Numbered” by the Bad Habits, “Blistered Heart” by Badly Drawn Boy, versions of “I’m So Tired” by the Beatles and Billy Preston, “Rip Her To Shreds” by Blondie, “Blues for Big Fred” by Richard “Groove” Holmes, “High Powered Love” by Emmylou Harris, “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” by the Marvelettes, three versions of Dylan’s “Nothing Was Delivered,” five versions of the standard, “It Never Entered My Mind,” and – as we close this section to keep it somewhat under control – Keld Heick’s Danish tune, “Jeg Ringer På Fredag” (which translates to “I’ll Call You On Friday”) and a track titled “Es Redzeju Jurina” from the album Beyond The River: Seasonal Songs of Latvia.

There are, however, many recordings with “red” in their titles, and as we select six this morning, we’ll no doubt miss some good ones.

Before Muddy Waters found his way in 1947 to the Aristocrat and Chess labels in Chicago, he recorded for Columbia. The label, along with other major labels, was struggling with change, according to the notes in the British-issued box set Chicago Is Just That Way: “The major companies . . . retained such a hidebound attitude toward their product that younger artists coming forward, like Johnny Shines and Muddy Waters, seemed to be beyond their comprehension.” Waters recorded several sides for Columbia, mostly with only his slide guitar as accompaniment. But in 1946, he recorded “Mean Red Spider” with a band, and then Columbia for some reason released the record under the name of James “Sweet Lucy” Carter.

The entry for Billy “The Kid” Emerson at Wikipedia tells an interesting story: “William Robert Emerson, known during his recording career as Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson and more recently as Rev. William R. Emerson . . . is an African American preacher and former R&B and rock and roll singer and songwriter, best known for his 1955 song, ‘Red Hot’.”  We may dig into that story more in the future, but for today, “Red Hot” is where our interest lies. Emerson wrote the song after hearing a football cheer, “Our team is red hot . . .” and recorded it on May 31, 1955, at the Sun studios in Memphis. It was released as Sun 219 but it failed to chart. (The better-known version is probably the 1957 cover by Billy Lee Riley; versions by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs and by Robert Gordon with Link Wray made the lower portions of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 and 1977, respectively.)

Teach a monkey to play poker, and you’re asking for trouble. That’s the surface moral in “Run Red Run” by the Coasters. The fanciful tale of a monkey who turns on its owner for cheating at cards came from the minds of songwriting geniuses Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s one of the Coasters’ lesser-known hits today, but it has everything a Coasters fan would need: A good if fanciful story, great vocals (including the classic “boogetty boogetty boogetty boogetty” behind the chorus) and two sax solos that are almost certainly by King Curtis. The 1959 record went to No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 29 on the R&B chart. I especially like the mention in the final verse of the “brand new Stetson hat,” which has to be a clear reference to “Stagger Lee,” which Lloyd Price had taken to No. 1 in early 1959.

Another record that tends to get lost, I think, is “Red Red Wine” by Neil Diamond, overtaken by both the more popular hits in his vast catalog and by the two 1988 covers of the song by the English reggae group, UB40. The standard version by UB40 went to No. 34 in the U.S., and the version with a rap by Astro went to No. 1. There’s no doubt that UB40 reinvented the song memorably, and it’s true that Diamond’s original went only as high as No. 62. But Diamond’s 1968 version is worth a listen, too, either to examine the source of the later hit or just to hear a good record.

I have no idea who was in the group Kansas City, which released “Red Tower Road” as a single on the Trump label in 1970. I got the record as part of the Lost Jukebox series, and all I know from the barebones index I’ve found and from looking at the single’s label online is that the record was produced by the well-known and highly regarded Tommy Cogbill. (The video I found notes the involvement as well of Chips Moman, but a quick search this morning leaves me uncertain as to his ties to the record, although I could guess that it was recorded at Moman’s studio in Memphis.) According to one website, “Red Tower Road” was the B-side to “Linda Was A Lady,” but to my ears, it was good enough to be an A-side.

So what’s our last stop? “Red Dirt Boogie, Brother” by Jesse Ed Davis” “Red Hot Chicken” by Wet Willie? “Rusty Red Armour” by Vinegar Joe? Well, having visited one keyboard genius earlier this week in Richard “Groove” Holmes, it only seems right that we pick up on a chance to listen to “Red Beans” by Jimmy McGriff. It’s the title track of the earlier mentioned 1976 album, and although there’s not as much keyboard in the track as one might like, it’s still a sweet workout for a Thursday.

Nos. 17 & 76

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

So it’s July 4, Independence Day. And rather than get all philosophical about the meaning of the day or get all curmudgeonly about how that meaning gets ignored in favor of barbecues and fireworks – both of which I’ve done in the past – we’ll just talk about music. What we’ll do is dig into three separate editions of the weekly Billboard Hot 100 for a taste of what we were hearing on three July Fourths in the past. In a nod at history we’ll check out the records that sat at No. 17 and No. 76. And we’ll note, as we go by, the No. 1 record at the time.

We’ll start with 1966, go to 1971 and then finish in the Bicentennial year of 1976.

The Beatles were sitting atop the Hot 100 on July 4, 1966, as “Paperback Writer” was in its second week at No. 1. (It had been No. 1 two weeks earlier, was pushed to No. 2 for a week by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” and then moved back to No. 1 for another week.)

Another familiar tune was at No. 17: Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” was heading down the chart after peaking at No. 3, the fifth of an eventual twenty records the duo would put in or near the Hot 100. During high school a couple of years later, when I really listened for the first time to Paul Simon’s lyrics on the record, I admired the narrator’s stance for what I saw as his self-sufficiency. Now, more than forty years later, I hear Simon’s words and think, “Boy, what a lonely life that would be.”

R&B singer and songwriter Joe Simon had a long and productive career, with a total of thirty-five singles in or near the Hot 100 and a total of forty singles in the R&B Top 40 between 1964 and 1978. He shows up today with “Teenager’s Prayer” sitting at No. 76 on July 4, 1966. It’s a pretty but lyrically vague tune (the teenager in question asks for love and peace of mind, which are not bad things to pray for) that would peak at No. 66 on the pop chart and at No. 11 on the R&B chart.

When the fireworks went off on July 4, 1971, Carole King’s double-sided single, “It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move,” was in the fourth week of a five week stay at No. 1.

Just down the chart a ways, we find the only Top 40 hit by the Beginning of the End, an R&B group from the Bahamas. The groove-shaking “Funky Nassau – Part 1” was sitting at No. 17 in the first week of July 1971, heading to a peak position of No. 15. On the R&B chart, the record peaked at No. 7.

Near the other end of the chart at No. 76, we find one of the classic R&B records: “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics. The first charting single for the group from Detroit, the record was in the early weeks of its climb to No. 9 on the pop chart and No. 3 on the R&B chart. The Dramatics would end up with a total of fourteen singles in or near the Hot 100 and twenty-two singles in the R&B Top 40.

As the U.S. celebrated its Bicentennial in 1976 (the only Independence Day for which I have a concrete memory: It was a Sunday, and I joined my parents for a community commemoration of the day at St. Cloud’s Lake George downtown), the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 was occupied by a single that appropriately mentioned “skyrockets in flight” (though the fireworks on the record came from a markedly different source than the Jaycees’ annual fireworks show): “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band was in the first of two weeks at No. 1; it peaked at No. 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

At No. 17 during that Bicentennial celebration was Neil Diamond’s “If You Know What I Mean” from his Beautiful Noise album, which for a few years found its way regularly onto my turntable. (A note to myself: Give it another listen and see how it sounds nearly forty years on). The single, produced – as was the album – by Robbie Robertson, was on its way to No. 11 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the AC chart. The record was the thirty-eighth of an eventual (and remarkable) fifty-six records on or near the pop chart for Diamond.

And our Independence Day observance ends at No. 76 on July 4, 1976: “Crazy on You” by Heart. The Seattle group’s first charting hit, the record was coming down the chart after peaking at No. 35. (A reissue of the single after the band had some hits performed less well, getting only to No. 62 in early 1978.) Heart was, of course, an regular chart presence during into the 1990s, with a total of thirty-two records in or near the Hot 100. (I should note that the linked video is the track as it appeared on the album Dreamboat Annie; I think the single eliminated the acoustic intro.)

‘Run Just Like The Wind Will . . .’

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Doing some of my usual wandering through Billboard Hot 100 charts and videos at YouTube this morning, I found myself sifting through several reggae versions of the same Neil Diamond song. I started here:

The 1970 cover by Jr. Walker & The All Stars of Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy” – a No. 6 hit from 1969 – got only as high as No. 75 in the Hot 100. In fact, that’s where the record was sitting forty-two years ago today: No. 75. (It went to No. 33 on the R&B chart.) Even though I was a dedicated Top 40 listener back in those days, I don’t recall hearing the Walker cover, which is not at all surprising. At Oldiesloon, a quick scan of surveys from the Twin Cities’ stations KDWB and WDGY around the time 1970 turned into 1971 showed no sign of the Walker version. (The highest Walker’s cover of “Holly Holy” got in any survey listed at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive is No. 14, at KASR in Astoria, Oregon, which is surreal even for 1971.)

I wondered, as I often do, about other covers, so I took a quick look at Second Hand Songs. Now, I imagine that I’ve dug into titles at that website more than a hundred times over the past few years, and on occasion, I’ll find a listing for a reggae cover of a specific tune. But four reggae covers of the same song? Never.

I don’t know much about reggae, being at best a casual listener. There are some LPs in the stacks, mostly Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Ziggy Marley. I recognize Marley’s stuff when it comes on the radio on WXYG. But beyond that, the data banks are pretty clean. So I did not recognize the three solo performers listed at Second Hand Songs as having recorded covers of “Holly Holy.”

The 1970 cover by John Holt, which sounds to me a little like reggae light for some reason, was released as a single on the Bamboo label. Also in 1970, Jackie Mittoo recorded “Holly Holy,” releasing it on his album, Now. Four years later, Willie Lindo included the song on his album Far & Distant. Of the three, I think I prefer the Lindo version, but Mittoo’s is okay. (There are entries on both Holt and Mittoo at Wikipedia. Information on Lindo is a little sketchier, but there are a few pages out there with some stuff.)

The fourth reggae version listed at Second Hand Songs was by a more familiar group: UB40. The group from Birmingham, England, included the tune on their 1998 album, Labor of Love III, and it’s pretty good:

‘I Could Have Loved You Better . . .’

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

So, what is it about “The Last Thing On My Mind”?

I’ve been pondering the song – written by folkie Tom Paxton and first released on his 1964 album, Ramblin’ Boy – for a couple of days, and I’ve come to only one thought about it: Despite some references to modern life – like subways – it has to me the feel of one of those songs that’s always existed, a song that’s evolved and come down through the years, loved and passed on from one generation to another.

Here’s Paxton performing the song live in England in 1966:

From the time Paxton wrote the song, it’s been covered regularly (and in several different styles). According to the generally reliable site Second Hand Songs, the first cover was in 1964 by American singer Julie Felix, who was far more popular in the mid-1960s in England than here, and the most recent cover came last year from Tim Grimm, an Indiana musician who recorded the song for an album of covers titled Thank You Tom Paxton. From 1964 to 2011, Second Hand Songs counts forty-nine covers of the Paxton tune. (As I said above, the site is generally pretty reliable, but I know of one cover that was overlooked: The Dubliners, an Irish folk band, released their rather ordinary recording of the song on a 2002 compilation titled 40 Years; some mild digging has not yet revealed when that version was originally recorded.)

I’ve been able to track down quite a few versions of the tune. Among the earliest are those from the Vejtables (the California band I featured two days ago) and the soul/gospel duo Joe & Eddie, both from 1965.

The Vejtables’ version bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 117, and a year later, a version by a folk quintet called the Womenfolk went to No. 105. The only version of the tune to actually make it into the Hot 100 was a limp rendition by Neil Diamond, which went to No. 53 in 1971. And in 1968, the duo of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton took the song to No. 7 on the country chart, making “The Last Thing On My Mind” the first of many charting hits for that long-lasting partnership.

British folk singer Sandy Denny recorded the song for a 1967 album featuring solo performances by her and by Johnny Silvo; the track was re-released in 1970 on Sandy Denny, a collection of Denny’s early solo work. I found the track that I used for the linked video on a German version of that 1970 album, and I thought it was worth hearing simply for the beauty of Denny’s voice, even though the backing track seems intrusive.

One cover that seems familiar, though it got no Top 40 radio play, comes from the Seekers, found on their 1966 album Comes the Day. I suppose I might have heard it on an MOR station or two during the mid-1960s, but All-Music Guide does not list it among the group’s Adult Contemporary hits. So I have no idea where I heard the Seekers’ version long ago, but I think I did.

Not everyone who covered the song approached it as a folk song. The British group the Move turned Paxton’s tune into a trippy seven-minute opus on its 1970 album, Shazam.

As for my favorite versions of the tune, I like the Seekers’ version a lot, and the same goes for the Womenfolk’s take on the tune. And Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld and Eric Andersen, recording as Danko/Fjeld/Andersen, did a nice version of the song – with Andersen taking the lead vocal – on their self-titled 1991 album.

But my list of favorites is going to have to make room for a new version of Paxton’s song. Judy Collins – who recorded the song on her live 1964 album, The Judy Collins Concert – revisited the song in 2010 for her Paradise album, bringing Stephen Stills into the studio to give her a hand.

‘And Sitting At No. 87 . . .’

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

It’s another edition of “Games With Numbers,” this time turning today’s date, August 7 into No. 87 and seeing what records occupied that spot in the Billboard Hot 100 on this date during six years in the 1960s and 1970s.

We’ll head back to August 1960 and start there, landing on “You Mean Everything To Me” by Neil Sedaka. A mostly minor key outing, the tune would – I think – rapidly become wearisome. Enough listeners liked it, however, for the record to make it to No. 17 (while the flipside, “Run Samson Run,” got to No. 28). The two sides are sandwiched in the Sedaka listing in Top Pop Singles between two of Sedaka’s bigger hits: “Stairway to Heaven,” which went to No. 9, and “Calendar Girl,” which went to No. 4. The final tally shows Sedaka with thirty-seven records in or near the Hot 100 between 1958 and 1980.

Three years later, we find an early Tamla single sitting at No. 87, with the Marvelettes admitting in the tumbling “Daddy Knows Best” that all the advice a young girl gets from her father may make some sense. The record was the sixth by the girls from Inkster, Michigan, to hit the Hot 100, and it went to No. 67. The Marvelettes would continue to put records into and near the Hot 100 into 1969, but none of the other twenty-four records ever equaled the performance of their first hit, 1961’s “Please Mr. Postman,” which went to No. 1 (No 7 on the R&B chart).

Traditional pop shows its head as we look at early August 1966, with Al Martino’s “Just Yesterday” sitting at No. 87. I’ve never heard the record before, but as I listen this morning, I hear what are to me unmistakable echoes – melodically, harmonically and thematically – of Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night,” which had gone to No. 1 just a month earlier. Martino’s single peaked at No, 77, one of forty singles he placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1959 and 1977. The best-performing of those was 1963’s “I Love You Because,” which went to No. 3 on the pop chart and No. 2 on the adult contemporary chart (although I have a fondness for some reason for 1967’s “Mary In The Morning,” which went to No. 27).

Sitting in the No. 87 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 on August 8, 1969 was a single that featured names that in a few years would be among the best-known in R&B. “One Night Affair” was the ninth single by the O’Jays to show up in or near the Hot 100. The previous eight had been on the Imperial and Bell labels; this one was on the Neptune label (a division of GRT Records), which called itself “The Sound of Philadelphia.” The label’s founders – who also wrote the song and produced the record – were Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who in a few years would spread the Sound of Philadelphia all around the world on their Philadelphia International label. And the record’s arrangement came from Bobby Martin and Thom Bell; I don’t know what happened to Martin, but in the 1970s, Bell – who’d already struck gold working with the Delfonics – would arrange and produce numerous hits for the Spinners, the Stylistics and more. “One Night Affair” peaked at No. 68 (No. 15 R&B), but in three years, the O’Jays – by then recording for Philadelphia International – would see “Back Stabbers” go to No. 3, and six months later, in early 1973, “Love Train” would go to No. 1.  The O’Jays would end up with thirty-three records in or near the Hot 100 between 1963 and 1997.

In the early days August of 1972, the No. 87 single was one of the slightest hit singles Neil Diamond had to that point placed into the Hot 100. “Play Me” would eventually rise to No. 11, the thirty-first of an eventual fifty-six singles Diamond would place in or near the Hot 100. At the time, I thought “Play Me” was an insubstantial piece of fluff as it trailed in the wake of Diamond’s earlier work like “Sweet Caroline,” “Solitary Man,” “Kentucky Woman” and more (including the album track “Done Too Soon,” which remains my favorite Diamond track). But listening to “Play Me” this morning, and looking at the hits that came later – records like “Love On The Rocks,” “Heartlight” and “America” – I find myself liking “Play Me” a lot more than I did forty years ago. It’s still not a great record; but it’s better than I remembered.

Larry Graham was the bass player for Sly & The Family Stone until 1972. A year later, says All Music Guide, he joined an Ohio R&B/funk band he’d been producing and renamed it from Hot Chocolate to Graham Central Station. In early August of 1975, a single from the group’s third album was sitting at No. 87, on its way to No. 38 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart. “Your Love” is a sleek and only occasionally funky piece of work that turned out to be the best-charting of the four singles Graham Central Station got into the pop chart; as a solo artist, Graham placed five records in or near the Hot 100 and had a No. 9 hit (No. 1 R&B) in 1980 with “One In A Million You.”

Chart Digging: May 11, 1968

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

A couple of days ago, I posted a preview of today’s post, a video of Los Bravos’ 1968 single “Bring A Little Lovin’,” which ended up peaking at No. 51. What I forgot to mention in that preview was that in the Billboard Hot 100 of May 11, 1968 – forty-three years ago today – the record was sitting at No. 135, on the very last rung of the Bubbling Under section of the chart, with nothing underneath it but air.

And it was a great record.

That, to me, is the joy of these Chart Digging posts, finding record that were never huge hits but are still records worth hearing. Now, a good number of the records I highlight from the lower levels of the Hot 100 aren’t nearly as good as the Los Bravos side I highlighted earlier this week. After all, I do enjoy records that are odd, and I do shed light on some that are horrendously bad. But they’re all fun, especially those that deserved a wider hearing than they got.

So, armed with some books and the irreplaceable assistance of folks who post obscure music at YouTube, I went looking for gems in the lower levels of the May 11, 1968 chart.

As a point of reference, here are the tunes that were in the Top Ten in that chart:

“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers
“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles

Well, except for the Goldsboro single, that’s a nice set. The Irish Rovers’ tune isn’t all that great, either, but it’s not nearly as bad as “Honey.” And there are some obvious gems in there.

There are a few gems in the far reaches of the Hot 100, too. And I’ve found a couple of things that are more cut glass than gem, but they’re worth a look, too.

 Among the music the Texas Gal brought with her to Minnesota almost a decade ago was a multi-disc set of Neil Diamond’s music. For me, one of the great surprises in that set was a tune called “Brooklyn Roads.” Brooklyn after World War II – because of its ethnic make-up, because of its proximity to and distance from Manhattan, because of the Dodgers – has become a myth unto itself, and it seems to me that any creative artist who makes the post-war borough a central part of any work risks sliding into cliché. But drawing on his childhood and youth in that New York borough, Diamond manages not only to avoid most clichés (the butcher shop downstairs, true though it might be, is one), but sketches a detailed and moving portrait of himself in that urban setting.

“Brooklyn Roads” was at No. 98 forty-three years ago today and would climb as high as No. 58. By May 1968, Diamond had already placed nine records in the Hot 100; he’d wind up with fifty-six, thirteen of them in the Top Ten and three at No. 1.

Most folks my age think of Michelle Lee as the gal who played Karen MacKenzie on Knots Landing, the CBS television drama that ran from 1979 into 1993. (That span of years surprised me; I had no clue the show was around for that long.) But in 1968, Michelle Lee made her one appearance in the Hot 100 when “L. David Sloane” went to No. 52. It’s a cute record, and in the Hot 100 from forty-three years ago today, it was at No. 72.

As 1967 had turned to 1968, the Lemon Pipers had found their way to No. 1 with “Green Tambourine,” a pleasant confection from the bubblegum factory at Buddah. By the time the spring of 1968 rolled around, the Pipers and the Buddah production folks were grasping at straws. Sitting at No. 101 in the Bubbling Under portion of the chart was “Jelly Jungle (Of Orange Marmalade),” a mess of a record redeemed only by what I think are a few slightly naughty double entendres. (Read the lyrics included with the video.) Abysmal as it was, “Jelly Jungle (Of Orange Marmalade)” managed to get to No. 51. [In a comment below, friend and frequent commenter Yah Shure notes that the video originally linked was the album version of the recording. I’ve since linked to the single version. which he said was a favorite of his at the time. The album version is here.]

Despite knowing many bits of Beatles trivia, I was unaware of the group called Grapefruit until this morning. My first thought when I listened to “Elevator” was that it sounded a fair amount like the Beatles and Badfinger. So I did some digging: Grapefruit was formed by George Alexander, who was also signed as a songwriter by the Beatles’ Apple Music Publishing Ltd. And the group, according to Wikipedia, got some help from the Beatles: “The group was launched by the Beatles with a press conference in 1968, on January 17, with the first single ‘Dear Delilah’. It went to number 21 in the UK single chart in February 1968. Paul McCartney directed a promo film (never released) for the single ‘Elevator’. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison attended and helped in their recording sessions for the singles, as Grapefruit didn’t have a producer at the time.” Forty-three years ago today, “Elevator” was at No. 113, and it would go no higher. But it sounds better than that. So I consider the information from Wikipedia, the credit “Produced by: Apple Music Ltd.” on the single and the general sound of the record, and it all makes sense.

Another good track I found this morning was a slice of propulsive British R&B. Sitting at No. 126 in the Bubbling Under portion of the chart was “Looking Back” by the Spencer Davis Group. I have to wonder how a record this good can miss, but it didn’t do well, climbing only another thirteen spots before disappearing. It was the last time the Spencer Davis Group would come close to the Hot 100.

Near the bottom of the Bubbling Under section from the May 11, 1968, Hot 100, we find the Gentrys. After “Keep On Dancing” got to No. 4 in 1965, the band from Memphis kept on trying to replicate that record’s performance. Five more singles on MGM failed to reach the Top 40 (three of them bubbled under but failed to crack the Hot 100), and the band ended up at Bell Records in early 1968. “I Can’t Go Back To Denver” was at No. 133 in the Bubbling Under section on this date in 1968. It would rise one more spot, to No. 132, before falling out of the chart. I thought it was a pretty good single. (After that, the Gentrys went to Sun Records and saw five more singles reach the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section although none hit the Top 40. The best performance came from their No. 52 version of “Cinnamon Girl,” which I wrote about briefly last month.)

Chart Digging: January 27, 1968

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

So what was your faithful narrator doing as January rolled toward its ending in 1968? Well, besides playing my very first tabletop hockey season with Rick and Rob – I’d gotten my game for Christmas the month before – I was heading into the second semester of ninth grade. And one of the classes I recall best from that time is Dick Wilger’s social studies class.

On a regular basis, the students in Mr. Wilger’s class were required to give brief reports on current events, basically reviews of newspaper or magazine pieces. It seems, thinking back, that I gave about four such reports during the school year, all of them based on stories pulled from Sports Illustrated. (I’d begun subscribing to the magazine earlier in the school year, my passion for spectator sports having just started to flower.) I recall that one of the reports I presented was about the early days of the American Basketball Association, then in the first year of its brief life (1967-76). Another was likely about the death in January 1968 of hockey player Bill Masterson of the Minnesota North Stars, which remains the only fatality from a game injury in the history of the National Hockey League.

But I recall Dick Wilger’s ninth-grade social studies class even more because of the career aptitude test we took one day. The results said the communications field would likely suit me; among the careers listed there were disk jockey and sports play-by-play announcer. I imagine newspaper reporter was also listed there, but I didn’t notice anything once I saw those first two jobs listed. I pretty much decided right then that I was going to get a degree in radio, and I was going to earn my living as a sports reporter and play-by-play announcer, probably covering hockey.

That’s not quite how it worked out, of course. I got my degree in radio-TV, yes, but I ended up in newspapering for a number of reasons, the largest one being my ability to imitate a wooden statue when confronted with camera or microphone. But being a newspaper reporter instead of broadcasting Minnesota North Stars games was really only a shift inside the larger world of mass communications; the path to the Monticello Times and all the other newspapers where I left my byline over the years began with the results of that aptitude test in Mr. Wilger’s classroom sometime in early 1968.

The idea of following the other path mentioned – being a disk jockey – did have some appeal. But I didn’t know Top 40 music well enough yet for that idea to grab hold of me and shake me all over. That music was all around me, of course, but I had yet to embrace it the way most of my peers had. Here’s what they – and I, by default – were listening to that week in the Billboard Top Ten for January 27, 1968:

“Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band
“Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
“Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers
“Woman, Woman” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Bend Me, Shape Me” by the American Breed
“Hello Goodbye” by the Beatles
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“Daydream Believer” by the Monkees
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Gladys Knight & the Pips
“If I Could Build My Whole Word Around You”
                      by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

That’s a great Top Ten. Puckett could be a little overblown, I guess, but other than that, there’s not a thing wrong with that bunch. And, as usual, there were some interesting things further down in the Billboard Hot 100.

Henson Cargill’s “Skip A Rope,” a laconic cataloging of social ills, was sitting at No. 35 on its way to No. 25. If that description – an accurate one – makes the record sound unappealing, think again. Cargill’s only Hot 100 hit is a compelling listen, and it was No. 1 on the country chart for five weeks. Cargill – who died in 2007 at the age of sixty-six – later had two other singles reach the country chart, one in 1973 and one in 1974, but neither went higher than No. 28.

One of the joys of digging into various weeks’ worth of the Billboard Hot 100 is finding records I’ve never heard before. And when one of those records comes from someone with a hit catalog as deep as Neil Diamond’s, the joy is increased. (And along with the joy comes the thought of “Why the hell haven’t I ever heard this before?”) In the January 27, 1968, Hot 100, my newly discovered Diamond is “New Orleans,” which was sitting at No. 52. A week later, it would peak at No. 51. It was Diamond’s tenth record in the Hot 100; he’d add forty-six more before the string ran out in 1986.

I shared a Jerry Butler album – The Ice Man Cometh – in this space about three years ago, and I think I’ve written briefly about him a couple of other times. I really don’t know the man’s career well, except that I can say that I like everything of his I’ve ever heard. And that includes “Lost,” which was on that album and which I’d probably not thought about during the last three years. The record was sitting at No. 62 in the Hot 100 forty-three year ago today, and it would go no higher there, though it went to No. 15 on the R&B chart. It was Butler’s twenty-fourth record in the Hot 100; he’d end with up with forty-six, the last coming in 1977. (According to the list at All-Music Guide, which may or may not be complete, he had a few more records than that reach the R&B chart.) As the video poster’s introduction notes, “Lost” was produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who – in the 1970s – were among the chief architects of what was called the Philadelphia Sound.

From Chicago/Philadelphia soul, we shift to deep Southern Soul, as we find James Carr and “A Man Needs A Woman” at No. 80. Despite critical accolades, Carr’s imprint on the charts was relatively slight: six singles in the Hot 100 and nine on the R&B chart. Steve Huey of All-Music Guide notes: “Carr never achieved the pop crossover success that could have made him a household name, and his material wasn’t always as distinctive as that of Stax artists like [Otis] Redding or Sam & Dave. Ultimately, though, Carr’s greatest obstacle was himself: he was plagued for much of his life by severe depression that made pursuit of a career – or, for that matter, even single recording sessions – extraordinarily difficult, and derailed his occasional comeback attempts.” “A Man Needs A Woman” peaked at No. 63, where it spent the last week of February and the first two weeks of March. That equaled Carr’s best performance in the Hot 100; “You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up” had reached No. 63 in 1966. On the R&B chart, “A Man Needs A Woman” peaked at No. 16.

From soul and soul to sunshine pop: At No. 87 during the week of January 27, 1968, sat the Epic Splendor and its one Hot 100 hit, “A Little Rain Must Fall.” The Epic Splendor – what a great name for a band! – was made up of five guys from Long Island who recorded this and at least one other single – based on a brief online search – for the also wonderfully named Hot Biscuit Disc Company. The record spent seven weeks in the Hot 100 and got no higher than No. 87.

The Mills Brothers’ career doesn’t look very impressive from the first glance at the group’s entry in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: Nine records in the Hot 100 between 1955 and 1968. But a look at the fine print at the top of the entry shows another story: Between 1931 and 1954, the legendary vocal group had sixty-one hits, including five that went to No. 1. The record that caught my eye today was “Cab Driver,” the seventh of the Mills Brothers’ modern-era hits, sitting at No. 92 forty-three years ago today, en route to No. 23. The record also went to No. 3 on the chart that is now called Adult Contemporary, and that explains why I know the record as well as I do: I’m absolutely certain I heard it more than once from Dad’s bedside transistor radio – tuned as always to St. Cloud’s middle of the road station, KFAM – as we all prepared to retire.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but I’ll certainly be back in two days with a Saturday Single.

My Verdict: ‘Rocket 88’ Was The First

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

It’s time to throw my nickel into one of rock music’s enduring debates this morning: What was the first rock ’n’ roll record?

To my mind – dim as it sometimes can be – there are two candidates: “The Fat Man,” a 1950 record by Fats Domino, and “Rocket 88,” a 1951 single from Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (which was really Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm with saxophonist Brenston taking the lead vocal).

I come down on the side of “Rocket 88.” There’s nothing wrong at all with the Domino track: It’s got a rollicking beat, courtesy of its hometown, New Orleans. “They call, they call me the fat man because I weight two hundred pounds,” the record starts, and – co-written and co-produced by Domino and his long-time partner Dave Bartholomew – the single gets its business done in a tidy two minutes and thirty-six seconds and includes a middle section that showcases Domino’s falsetto.

Wikipedia says: “‘The Fat Man’ features Domino’s piano with a distinct back beat that dominates both the lead and the rhythm section. Earl Palmer said it was the first time a drummer played nothing but back beat for recording, which he said he derived from a Dixieland “out chorus.” Domino also scats a pair of choruses in a distinctive wah-wah falsetto, creating a variation on the lead similar to a muted Dixieland trumpet.”

As I said, there’s nothing wrong with “The Fat Man.” It’s got a great vocalist, a great team of writers and producers. The band was made up of top session players, including the magnificent Earl Palmer on drums. And it came out of New Orleans, a city and source of music that – based on my reading, my pondering and my gut – was the second most important city in the development of rock ’n’ roll.

The advantages that “Rocket 88” has over all of that history come down to two: It was recorded in Memphis, the most important city in rock ’n’ roll history, and it was recorded/produced by Sam Phillips.

Like “The Fat Man,” “Rocket 88” has a groove, but while Domino’s record seems dance, Brenston’s record drives, pulling the band and the listeners down the highway.

Wikipedia says: “The song was based on the 1947 song ‘Cadillac Boogie’ by Jimmy Liggins. It was also preceded and influenced by Pete Johnson’s “Rocket 88 Boogie” Parts 1 and 2, an instrumental, originally recorded for the Los Angeles-based Swing Time Records label in 1949.”

Wikipedia continues: “Working from the raw material of jump blues and swing combo music, Turner made it even rawer, starting with a strongly stated back beat by drummer Willie Sims, and superimposing Brenston’s enthusiastic vocals, his own piano, and tenor saxophone solos by 17 year old Raymond Hill . . . . The song also features one of the first examples of distortion, or fuzz guitar, ever recorded, played by the band’s guitarist Willie Kizart.”

(Basing new songs on versions of earlier songs – a practice that could draw charges of plagiarism today – was an accepted practice among musicians in the folk, blues and rhythm & blues communities and traditions. Domino’s song, Wikipedia notes, “is a variation on the traditional New Orleans tune, ‘Junker’s Blues’ number by Drive’em Down, which also provided the melody for Lloyd Price’s ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ and Professor Longhair’s ‘Tiptina.’” Two years later, with a faster beat and a few minor lyric changes, Big Mama Thornton released essentially the same song as Domino’s from a Los Angeles date for Peacock, singing, “Well, they call me Big Mama ’cause I weigh three-hundred pounds.”)

So what makes “The Fat Man” a good R&B song and what makes “Rocket 88” rock ’n’ roll? Well, one hesitates to pull the watch apart too much for fear of being left with a pile of gears, springs and little screws, but the Wikipedia quote above does identify the key ingredients of “Rocket 88”: Sims’ back beat, Brenston’s vocal, the solos and the fuzz guitar.

And then there’s Memphis and Sam Phillips, the owner and operator of the Memphis Recording Service, where “Rocket 88” was cut. I think, and I’m certainly not alone in this, that Memphis is the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll. Chicago, New York, Detroit, Cincinnati (home of King Records) and, yes, New Orleans (and probably several other cities I have not mentioned) were instrumental in the development of the music, but – as Robert Gordon titled his fascinating book about the city’s musical traditions – it came from Memphis.

And it came from Sam Phillips’ studio. Jimmy Guterman, in Runaway American Dream, his 2005 assessment of Bruce Springsteen’s recording career, calls Phillips “the single most important non-performing figure in rock’n’roll,” noting that it was Phillips who, “along with folks like Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Charlie Rich, invented the past 50 years of popular music.”

There are other acceptable answers to the question “What was the first rock ‘n’ roll record?” All of those answers have reasons behind them: the recording date and location, the session personnel, the lead performer and ultimately, the way the record sounds and the way it makes the listener feel. My answer, as I indicated above, rests on its creation in Memphis and on Sam Phillips’ role in its creation. Oh, and one more thing: “Rocket 88” just flat out rocks.

(And no, I don’t know why Bettie Page shows up in the video.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 15
“Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, Chess 1458 [1951]
“Ferry ’Cross the Mersey” by Gerry & the Pacemakers, Laurie 3284 [1965]
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond, Uni 55175 [1969]
“Come And Get Your Love” by Redbone, Epic 11035 [1974]
“While You See A Chance” by Steve Winwood, Island 49656 [1981]
“A Long December” by Counting Crows from Recovering the Satellites [1996]

In the box in which I keep the best of the four hundred or so 45s that I own, there resides a copy of Gerry & the Pacemakers’ “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey.” It belongs, actually, to my sister, who brought it home sometime during the early months of 1965, when the record was on its way to No. 6. I don’t think it was the first record she bought; I recall her buying bargain bags – ten 45s for a dollar – sometime earlier, but the thought tickles at me that “Ferry” might have been the first single she actively sought out when it was on the charts. I do remember her playing it for the first time on our old portable player, and I liked it at the time far more than I expected. Obviously, I still like it. And no, she can’t have it back.

The spookiness of “Holly Holy” grabbed hold of me late one evening in the fall of 1969 when I heard the record on – I assume – WJON shortly after I’d turned out the light to go to sleep. I wrote once before about hearing the song at dusk on a sliding hill, and that happened, but my first hearing was in the dark of my room. I found the song a little unsettling, what with the choir chanting – or seeming to – behind Diamond’s vocal, the percussion (tympani?), the swelling climax and the frequent use of what I now recognize as minor thirds. Nevertheless, I found the record appealing as well. I’m not sure about the unsettling part, but plenty of other folks found the record appealing, too, as it went to No. 6

The Redbone single is one of those I caught up to sometime after the fact. I was in Denmark when “Come And Get Your Love” entered the Top 40 and climbed to No. 5. By the time I got home in the latter portion of May, the record was in the last couple weeks of its eighteen-week stay in the Top 40, and its airplay was diminishing. I likely heard it during the last couple of weeks of spring and during the summer of 1974, but never enough to dig any further into Redbone or its music. That digging came later, during the vinyl-crazed years of the 1990s, probably after I found a Redbone LP at Cheapo’s and vaguely recalled the hit. With the possible exception of “The Witch Queen of New Orleans,” – a record that went to No. 21 in 1972 – nothing else in Redbone’s catalog approaches “Come And Get Your Love,” and it’s fun to hear it pop up every now and then surrounded by the other tunes in the Ultimate Jukebox.

Over all the years since I first dug into rock and pop and their relatives in the autumn of 1969, very few contemporary records have ever moved me to run off to the store in search of them. The last two of these six did just that. I was living in Monticello when Steve Winwood’s “While You See A Chance” started to get airplay on its way to No. 7 in early 1981. (It was also on its way to being Winwood’s first Top 40 hit, a fact that’s a little surprising in light of his long and celebrated career to that point.) Loving the synth-based intro and solos and the groove of the body of the song, my wife of the time and I invested a portion of a weekend in a shopping trip to one of the Twin Cities’ major malls. We picked up some other, more useful items – clothes, kitchen stuff and so on – but the highlight of the day for me was Winwood’s album Arc of a Diver, where the album track of “While You See A Chance” resided. (I believe the single was an edit, and I think that’s the audio on the linked YouTube video.) And twenty-nine years later, I still find the sound a little thrilling.

Another record that got me out into the shops was Counting Crows’ “A Long December,” which I heard on a Twin Cities’ radio station late in 1996, soon after Recovering the Satellites was released. (The track was never released as a single, if I read the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits correctly, but went to No. 6 on a chart based on airplay.) Seeking a vinyl copy of the album, I spent a good chunk of a Saturday morning making the rounds of four or five music stores near my home. I was discouraged and wandering the aisles of the last of the stores when another music lover came through the door and sold his copy of Recovering the Satellites. After the seller left, the clerk looked at me, eyebrows raised, and named a price. I paid it and went happily on my way. I still love the track, even after repeated listenings over the last thirteen-plus years, and I still marvel at one particular line: “The feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters but no pearls.”