Posts Tagged ‘O.V. Wright’

‘Eight’

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

The integers march again . . .

Sorting the 67,000-some mp3s on the digital shelves for the word “eight” brings up 194 titles, most of which we cannot use. Anything about a freight train goes by the wayside, as does Nanci Griffith’s “White Freight Liner.” The entire output of a 1970s band named Jackson Heights is crossed off our list, as is Michel Legrand’s soundtrack to the 1970 film Wuthering Heights.

And we also have to discard twenty-nine versions of the Robbie Robertson song, “The Weight.”

Still, we’re left with enough tunes to be able to pick and choose a little bit, starting with one of eight versions – how appropriate! – of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High.” The one I settled on is a 1969 cover of the tune from the Canadian band Lighthouse. Still two years away from having a hit with “One Fine Morning” – it went to No. 24 in 1971 – the band covered the Roger McGuinn song on its first, self-titled album, and an edit was released as a single. As far as I can tell, Lighthouse’s take on “Eight Miles High” never showed up on any chart anywhere although I’m not sure about Canada. Nor am I certain the video to which I’ve linked is the single. I think it is. In any case, it’s a decent enough cover but nothing amazing.

The Walkabouts’ “Train Leaves at Eight” is the title track of an album released in 2000 by the sometimes dark but always intriguing Seattle band. The album serves as a tour of European music, and “Train Leaves at Eight” takes the listener to Greece: The song was written by Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis and came from Ta Laika, or The Popular Songs, a project Theodorakis and Greek poet Manos Eleftheriou completed in 1967 but which went unreleased after a military coup in Greece that year. The work was released in 1975 after the military government fell.

David Castle’s 1977 single “Ten to Eight” was the first single released on the Parachute label and went to No. 68 (No. 45 on the AC chart). That was the first of two times Castle broke into the Billboard Hot 100: “The Loneliest Man on the Moon” went to No. 89 in early 1978. Both singles were pulled from Castle’s 1977 album Castle in the Sky. Castle’s website says a third single, “All I Ever Wanna Be Is Yours,” made the Easy Listening chart, but I can find nothing about the record in Joel Whitburn’s Top Adult Songs. “Ten to Eight” was originally recorded by Helen Reddy and released on her 1975 album No Way to Treat a Lady, leaving Castle in the well-populated but nevertheless interesting position of covering his own song.

Steve Goodman’s “Eight Ball Blues,” is not a blues at all, at least in its musical construction. Pulled from his self-titled 1971 album, it’s nevertheless the plaint of a man who wishes he and life were different and does so with regret: “I wish I had the common sense to be satisfied with me.” And the chorus tells us a bit more:

Is this the part where I came in?
I’ve heard this song before.
Had a couple too many
But I think I can find the door.
And I do not know your name, my friend
But I’ve seen that face before.
Well, I saw it in the jail house
And I saw in the war,
And I saw it my mirror,
Well, just a couple of times before.

This was 1971, and the war was in a place called Vietnam, but it could just as well be 2013 and places called Iraq and Afghanistan.

O.V. Wright came out of the gospel music circuit before going secular in the mid-1960s, eventually ending up in the 1970s with Willie Mitchell at Hi Records in Memphis. That’s maybe where Wright did his best work, but his mid-1960s singles for Backbeat are superb. “Eight Men, Four Women” from 1967 is likely the most atmospheric. It went to No. 4 on the R&B chart – one of eight singles Wright placed in the R&B Top 40 between 1965 and 1974 – and to No. 80 on the pop chart.

On its third album, 1990’s A Different Kind of Weather, the English trio Dream Academy included a tune called “Twelve Eight Angel.” A year later, the group released its final single before disbanding. That single was “Angel of Mercy,” and from what I can tell, the single was simply “Twelve Eight Angel” renamed. The single failed to chart, and the band called it quits. Dream Academy is best-known, of course, for the shimmering “Life in a Northern Town,” which went to No. 7 in 1986. (Those sharp of ear might notice the voice of the single’s producer, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, in the background during the instrumental break.)

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dylan!

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Whenever a pop culture icon reaches an age of, oh, fifty or greater that ends with a zero, the mass media finds itself cluttered for a few days with rethought biographies, appreciations, and assessments of said icon’s influence on our popular culture. The zero rule has held true again in the past few weeks regarding Bob Dylan, who turns seventy today: I’ve seen numerous magazine pieces and book reviews in the past weeks re-examining the life, music and impact of the Bard of Hibbing, and I expect that if I watch one of the national newscasts tonight – I generally watch CBS – I’ll see a piece that looks at all of those things and adds to it a commentary on the aging of the Baby Boom generation.

(I should note that there was not long ago a similar appreciation and assessment of a pop culture icon for a birthday that did not end in zero: In June of 2006, Paul McCartney was, quite appropriately, thus feted and assessed as he turned sixty-four.)

I’ve written and presented at this blog over the years a fair amount of my own assessments and appreciations of Mr. Dylan’s work. I think it’s almost enough to say this morning that Bob Dylan’s music is one of the foundations on which my own life in music comfortably rests. He wasn’t the first artist whose music captivated me – those honors, such as they might be, go to Al Hirt, John Barry and the Beatles, with Dylan coming along shortly thereafter. But, as he did for the culture at large, it was Dylan who taught me that the music I listened to – and the music I wrote – could be lyrically and topically challenging.

(That lyrical liberation brought with it its own burden, one that has been hefted by creative people around the world, many of them better at their crafts than I: It’s all too easy for writers to lapse into Dylanese while crafting lyrics, with the resulting product coming off more as pale imitation than influenced creation. That can happen, of course, with any artist and in the context of any art-form. I’ve discarded many a lyric because it comes off as faux Dylan or stale Springsteen, and I assume – as an example – that many screen writers have reread their works in progress and mourned the presence of limp Scorsese.)

So, rather than assess, analyze or rehash Bob Dylan’s career and influence here this morning, I thought I’d just stack up a set of six cover versions of his work that I enjoy or admire. My favorite among the cover versions of Dylan’s tunes is not listed among them; I’ve written before about Eric Clapton’s bluesy reconstruction of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” during the 1992 celebration of Dylan’s career. But the cover versions that follow rank high on my list.

The album Tangled Up In Blues: Songs of Bob Dylan was released by the House of Blues in 1999, pairing a selection of twelve Dylan tunes with performers steeped in the blues, rock or R&B traditions. Among the performers and tunes paired on Tangled Up In Blues were Taj Mahal with “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” Leon Russell with “Watching the River Flow,” Mavis Staples with “Gotta Serve Somebody” and R.L. Burnside with “Everything Is Broken.” But one of my favorite tracks on the CD is “Ballad of a Thin Man” as interpreted by James Solberg. Solberg, whose band spent much of the 1990s backing bluesman Luther Allison, delivers a biting performance, instrumentally and vocally, of Dylan’s long-ago shredding – if legend is to be believed – of a New York Times reporter.

Covers of “Blowin’ In The Wind” are not scarce, of course. I’m not going to even try to estimate how many there might have been, but four of them reached the Billboard Hot 100 (or bubbled under): Peter, Paul & Mary in 1963, Stan Getz in 1964, Stevie Wonder in 1966 and the Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969. The version that soul performer O.V. Wright released in early 1970 wound up as the B-Side to a tune titled “Love The Way You Love,” which made neither the Billboard Hot 100 nor the magazine’s R&B Top 40. I found Wright’s version of the Dylan tune on a 2010 collection on the Ace label titled How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan.

Maria Muldaur has moved in and out of public view for years, often performing in a folk-roots vein since growing up – according to All-Music Guide – in New York’s Greenwich Village and then joining, in the mid-1960s, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Likely best-known for her 1974 hit, “Midnight at the Oasis,” she’s released in recent years a series of bluesy, rootsy albums, one of which was the 2006 CD Heart Of Mine (Love Songs Of Bob Dylan). That’s where I found her very good cover of “Buckets of Rain” from Dylan’s 1975 classic album Blood on the Tracks.

Of all of the folks who’ve covered a Dylan tune, one of the least likely names I’ve come across is that of Julie London, the late 1950s and early 1960s chanteuse. Described by AMG as a “sultry, smoky-voiced master of understatement,” London shone on titles like “Cry Me A River,” “September In The Rain” and “Black Coffee.” That’s why her turn on “Mighty Quinn (Quinn, The Eskimo)” seems at first thought to be a mismatch and at second thought to be surreal. But the understatement that AMG cites makes the tune work for London. At least it works for me. The track comes from London’s 1969 album Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, on which she also takes on – among other things – the title tune (which was a No. 4 hit for the Ohio Express; London’s version, released in 1968, bubbled under at No. 125) and the venerable “Louie Louie.”

Odd pairings are, it seems, easy to find when one is digging into covers of Bob Dylan tunes. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” remains one of Dylan’s most cryptic and most bitter songs, a seeming stream-of-consciousness epic that timed out at 7:33 on his 1965 masterpiece, Bringing It All Back Home. So seeing the tune listed with a running time of 3:49 on an album by R&B master and one-time gospel prodigy Billy Preston can bring all sorts of cognitive dissonance to the fore. But through either the song’s durability or Preston’s skill and talent, the cover version works (and I’d vote for a combination of the attributes of the song and the singer). The track comes from Preston’s 1973 album, Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music.

And I’ve saved one of my personal favorites for the last spot. During the first iteration of this blog, I wrote about the three albums released in the 1960s by Bobby Jameson. (Those posts have now been archived and are available here.) The first Jameson album I posted was 1969’s Working!, and after I wrote about it, Bobby got in touch with me. During those first few months of our friendship, he offered me a track from those 1969 sessions that had been pulled from the album and had never been widely heard. Even after a few years, I find Bobby’s take on Dylan’s “To Ramona” to be world-weary, almost desolate and utterly lovely:

Back To 1970 Once Again

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

A lot of records from 1970 have been explored in this space in the past few months, but it’s been a while – going back to July, actually – since we looked at a chart from that year, which I noted some time ago was my first great music year and the first full year I spent digging into Top 40.

So what was I doing forty years ago as October entered its final fortnight? Well, I finally got my driver’s license, passing the behind-the-wheel test on my fifth try. Nerves had been my nemesis, but knowing that another failure meant retaking driver’s training focused my attention, even if it didn’t really settle my nerves, and I squeaked through.

My afternoons and Friday evenings were spent as head manager for the St. Cloud Tech high school football team, which was struggling through the first season of two high schools in St. Cloud. We had kids on the team who’d never gone out for football before in their lives, and although some of them did quite well, our inexperience showed on the field and in our won-lost record.

Other than that, I filled my time with a number of hobbies: I was deep into making model rockets, shooting them off in the empty field just down the alley from Rick’s house. I was expanding my collection of LPs, still catching up on the Beatles; but I was also savvy enough to be one of the first people among my small group of friends to get a copy of Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And along with rockets and records, I spent a good deal of my free time pondering a group of sophomore girls, one of whom became, as I told some months ago, the recipient of song lyrics – original and otherwise – printed in purple ink.

Much of that pondering came as I listened to my old RCA radio in my room. Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from the week ending October 24, 1970, forty years ago this week:

“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5
“Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond
“Green-Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf
“We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters
“All Right Now” by Free
“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor
“Candida” by Dawn
“Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor
“Lola” by the Kinks
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross

The first seven of those are stellar. The final three, not so much. I liked “Indiana Wants Me” a lot at the time, and I still like it as an artifact of its time, but it’s aged much less well than the others on that list, with its sirens and police bullhorns. But it was fun at the time. I’ve never much cared for “Lola” or for “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” though.

But there were plenty of records further down the chart that I liked a lot. And looking at the chart this morning, there were plenty of them that I didn’t know all that well.

Mark Lindsay, previously with Paul Revere & The Raiders, had scored two hits earlier in the year: “Arizona” went to No. 10 in the early months of 1970, and “Silver Bird” had reached No. 25 during the summer. During this fourth week of October, his current single, “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind,” was sitting at No. 53. The record, which is a sweet ballad, got as high as No. 44, where it spent two weeks in mid-November, but it got no higher.

 

Sitting at No. 70 during this week in 1970 is a record I know I heard at least once, though I swear I also heard a cover version of the song as well. Jake Holmes released a few well-regarded albums in the 1960s: The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes, A Letter to Katherine December and a self-titled effort. The best known of those is probably the first, as it includes the song “Dazed and Confused,” which was later seemingly appropriated without credit by Led Zeppelin. But the song I remember was from Holmes’ lesser known fourth album, So Close, So Very Far To Go. Forty years ago, “So Close” was at No. 70, and it peaked at No. 49 during the last week of November. Since I found the record at YouTube a couple of weeks ago, I’ve listened to it several times, and although I recall Holmes’ version, I swear I remember another performer singing it, and no, it wasn’t Robert Plant. Is anyone out there aware of who might have covered Jake Holmes’ “So Close”?

It was likely during the autumn of 1970 that I made one of my worst LP purchases of all time, spending five or six bucks for Iron Butterfly Live. The review of the album at All-Music Guide nails it, noting that the album “is noteworthy for its second side, which contains a 20-minute version of ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.’ Even though it’s only three minutes longer than the original version, it’s three times as tedious.” I would have done far better to get a copy of the group’s new album, Metamorphosis, which included a pretty good single. “Easy Rider (Let The Wind Pay The Way)” was at No. 82 during this week in 1970; it peaked at No. 66 during the third week of November.

Just a little further down, we find the first record to reach the Billboard charts from one of the first country rock bands. Poco, the foundations of which had emerged from the wreckage of Buffalo Springfield, would have four Top 40 hits from 1979 through 1990, but the group’s best music, most fans would say, came in the first half of the 1970s. “You Better Think Twice,” which was at No. 88 during the week of October 24, 1970, peaked at No. 72 during the third week of November. It should have done far better.

Dipping into the Bubbling Under section of the Billboard Hot 100, we find a great slice of southern soul sitting at No. 105: “Ace of Spades” by O.V. Wright. While he never had a record reach the Top 40, Wright – according to the listings at All-Music Guide, which are sometimes incomplete – had three records reach the Hot 100 and twelve records in the R&B chart between 1965 and 1978. His highest-charting single was “Eight Men, Four Women” – a song about the jury that convicted the narrator of a crime – which went to No. 4 on the R&B chart in 1967. “Ace of Spades” didn’t do quite that well, but it did all right: No. 11 on the R&B chart and No. 54 in the Hot 100.

And closing our search this morning is a one-hit wonder by a group from Los Angeles: “Games” by Redeye. The record was sitting at No. 116 during the fourth week of October 1970; by the fourth week of January 1971, “Games” was at its peak of No. 27. The record was Redeye’s only Top 40 single, though the group did see “Red Eye Blues” get to No. 78 in the Hot 100 later in 1971.

Now that we’re facing our first week since February without an installment of the Ultimate Jukebox, Odd, Pop and I are dealing with the task of finding something else to fill our time and our posting space here. Stop by Thursday and see what we come up with. (We have no clue at the moment what that will be.)

Baseball Report
For those who are interested, this year’s Strat-O-Matic tournament, about which I wrote briefly on Saturday, went to Dan, whose 1998 Atlanta Braves defeated Rick’s 1961 New York Yankees two games to none in the finals. My 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates and 2006 Minnesota Twins both went down in the semifinals.