Posts Tagged ‘Peter Paul & Mary’

Frozen Dinners Were A Treat

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

It was later than usual when the Texas Gal got home from work a couple of days ago. She said she’d had the day from hell and just wanted to sit in her chair and work on a quilt. I was not in great shape myself: I’d spent some of that afternoon shoveling snow from the walk and the driveway and kind of wanted to just sit myself. And the early darkness of the autumn afternoon didn’t help.

So we abandoned the minimal plans we’d had for dinner and popped two frozen dinners into the oven. Hers was chicken-fried steak, and mine was a chopped beef steak topped by some kind of southwestern sauce. And the two dinners did what they were supposed to do: fed us well enough and saved us time and effort. That’s why we keep a few in the freezer.

And as we ate, I was reminded of a time when having a frozen dinner was a real treat. Most nights when I was a kid, we ate as a family, all four of us at the kitchen table. About once a month, Dad would attend a dinner meeting of an educational fraternity, and there would be just three at the table. And every once in a while, Mom and Dad would have a dinner engagement somewhere – usually something connected with St. Cloud State – and dinner would be my sister and me.

During the early years, of course, that meant a babysitter would stay with us for the evening and get us through the evening meal. But as we got a little older – starting maybe around 1964 when I turned eleven and my sister turned fourteen – we got to stay home by ourselves and cook ourselves frozen dinners.

Folks who lived through the 1950s and the early 1960s will remember that Swanson, the most prevalent brand of frozen dinner, marketed its meals as TV Dinners, a name dating to 1952 when television was relatively new and the thought of a family huddled around a small screen eating convenient frozen dinners was, well, revolutionary in its way. By 1962, the television revolution was over – TV won – and Swanson, says Wikipedia, dropped the “TV Dinner” label. (Although the name lives on still today in common usage in our home and, I’m sure, elsewhere.) And on those evenings when Mom and Dad would be gone and my sister and I were home alone for a brief time, those frozen dinners were different enough to seem almost exotic, and I always chose my menu for those evenings carefully.

I liked the haddock, either breaded or in cream sauce, and I think there was a fried shrimp dinner. (The fried chicken, which seemed popular from what I saw in the freezer down at Carl’s Market, never thrilled me much.) I liked the Salisbury steak. And later on, in what I think was the late 1960s, Swanson began experimenting and came up with a Mexican meal I liked. But my favorite frozen dinner wasn’t a Swanson meal. I don’t recall the brand – its logo had, I think, a red flag – but it was a seafood platter: It brought me shrimp, scallops, a small fish filet and a crab cake, flanked by what were essentially hash brown patties or maybe tater tots.

Now, I’d certainly had shrimp and scallops in restaurants by the time I was, say, twelve, and I knew that the seafood in that frozen seafood platter didn’t compare to fresh seafood. But if I were going to be eating a frozen dinner at home, that platter was about as good as a Sixties kid could do.

As I think about these things, it seems to me that frozen dinner nights with my folks out somewhere were more prevalent during the late fall and early winter than at any other time of the year. That makes sense: That’s the season of holiday gatherings for the church, civic and educational organizations to which my parents belonged. So earlier this week, the darkness of an early evening in late autumn and a frozen dinner on a TV tray pushed me back to those dinners forty-some years ago. And that was a convenient hook on which to hang a look at a record chart.

I have no idea, of course, if I was dining on a seafood platter forty-three years ago this evening, but I certainly could have been. I was fourteen, my sister was seventeen, and if mom and dad were out for dinner, we almost certainly would be sitting in the kitchen with the oven on, listening to the rhythmic sound of the timer as it ticked its way toward our dinnertime.

If that were the case on December 2, 1967, we probably had the radio in the kitchen tuned to KDWB. And we would likely have heard some of the Top Ten from the list released that day:

“Daydream Believer” by the Monkees
“The Rain, The Park and Other Things” by the Cowsills
“Incense and Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock
“To Sir With Love” by Lulu
“I Say A Little Prayer” by Dionne Warwick
“Please Love Me Forever” by Bobby Vinton
“Soul Man” by Sam & Dave
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“I Can See For Miles” by the Who
“An Open Letter To My Teenage Son” by Victor Lundberg

Eight of those are pretty damned good, and one of them – “Incense and Peppermints” – is among my all-time favorites. I do not recall the Bobby Vinton tune at all (having checked it out this morning at YouTube). And then there’s the single at No. 10.

“An Open Letter To My Teenage Son” by Victor Lundberg was a response to the very real gap between generations that was getting increasingly wider by late 1967. A spoken-word record (written by Lundberg as well) that touched on long hair, hippies, religion, patriotism and the draft, the record ends with Lundberg telling his son – according to Wikipedia, he did have at least one teenage son living at home at the time – that if he burns his draft card, he can also burn his birth certificate as well, because “From that moment on, I have no son.”

The record obviously rang true with a lot of folks, as it stayed at No. 10 for two weeks. It also inspired some answer records, including “A Letter to Dad” by Every Father’s Teenage Son, which was sitting at No. 97 during that first week of December 1967. I’m not going to embed the Lundberg single here, but here’s a link to the YouTube page. I haven’t looked real hard for “A Letter To Dad,” but here’s a link to the lyrics. Now, let’s dig a little deeper into the Billboard Hot 100 released on a day when I might have had a seafood platter for dinner.

At No. 49, we find an instrumental cover of the week’s No. 7 song, “Soul Man.” Ramsey Lewis – credited either by himself or as the Ramsey Lewis Trio – reached the Top 40 twice each in 1965 and 1966, with the best performing single being the first, “The ‘In’ Crowd,” which went to No. 5 in the early autumn of 1965. Lewis’ “Soul Man” would go no higher than No. 49.

In August and September of 1967, Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” had spent four weeks at No. 1. Now, in December, her “Okolona River Bottom Band” was at No. 59 in its second week in the Hot 100 and rising toward its eventual peak of No. 54. Gentry wouldn’t reach the Top Ten again, although two duets with Glen Campbell and her own “Fancy” would reach the Top 40 in 1969 and 1970.

I was surprised as I scanned the Hot 100 from that first week of December 1967 to see a listing of “Too Much of Nothing” by Peter, Paul & Mary. The record was at No. 62 and would eventually peak at No. 35, but I don’t recall ever hearing it. Written by Bob Dylan and originally recorded during the then-unreleased (but much bootlegged) Basement Tapes sessions, the version by Dylan and The Band showed up in 1975 when The Basement Tapes album was released. I couldn’t find the studio version of the PP&M version of “Too Much of Nothing” at YouTube, but I did find a performance by the trio on the March 23, 1969, episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

At No. 80, we find a tune called “Sockin’ 1, 2, 3, 4” by a performer named John Roberts. The record – which I like quite a bit – uses the phrase “Sock it to me!” as a hook. Interestingly enough, the record predates the television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, which I always thought had been where the phrase originated. (The show first went on the air, says Wikipedia, in January 1968.) And there’s little about John Roberts out there to tell any more of the tale. The website Soulbot.com says that Roberts was a former school teacher and that the record went to No. 19 on the R&B chart. I’ve seen the record mentioned as a Northern Soul hit in the United Kingdom, and Soulbot.com notes that “Sockin’ 1, 2, 3, 4” was popular at the Blue Note and the Twisted Wheel, two clubs in Manchester, England. All I know is that the record peaked two weeks later at No. 71, spent two weeks there and then fell off the chart.

Lou Donaldson is a prolific and well-known jazz saxophone player, with numerous albums reaching the Billboard 200 and the jazz and R&B charts. And that only proves how much I have left to learn, as I’d never heard of the man. But it was forty years ago this week that his only Hot 100 hit, “Alligator Boogaloo,” stood for a second week at No. 93 after Bubbling Under for five weeks. A week later, the record was gone from the chart.

I have no idea why, but the duets between Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood fascinate me. From “Summer Wine, “Some Velvet Morning” and “Jackson” through the entire album Nancy & Lee, I hear something that I’m not sure I can explain, but it’s a sound that I find compelling. Whatever it is I hear, it’s there again in “Sand,” which during this week in 1967, was Bubbling Under at No. 110. A week later, it was gone.

Jerry’s Tiny Record Collection

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I found him in my stocking on Christmas morning in 1961, if I recall correctly. He was one of those little plastic trolls that became a major fad a couple of times in the years since, those little Scandinavian trolls that are so ugly they’re cute. I actually think the troll I found at the bottom of my Christmas stocking was one of the first on the market because he was different from the ones that came later: Jerry – and I have no idea why I called him that; it was an eight-year-old’s decision – was made of smooth shiny plastic, not with the matte finish that I’ve seen on every plastic troll since, and his eyes were colored black on the plastic surface, not made from glass beads.

Jerry came from Denmark. He even came with a passport that said so. Jerry’s passport said he was manufactured by the company founded in northern Jutland by Thomas Dam and carried the legend “Another Dam thing from Denmark.” I giggled at the faux profanity.

I imagine that I had some idea of where Denmark was when I was eight. I’m sure I knew it was one of the Scandinavian countries, as my half-Swedish heritage and things Swedish were important in our home. I probably recognized the design of the cover of Jerry’s passport: a white cross on a red field, modeled after the Danish flag just as the Swedish flag is a yellow cross on a blue field.

Anyway, I had a Danish troll. During the early times, he was pulled into the games my sister and I played. He became the very much larger brother in our family of small dolls and figures, whose adventures occupied us for hundreds of rainy and chilly days. (One of that tiny family’s favorite pastimes, I recall, was watching the fictional show Sea Urchin on a television screen drawn crudely on a small piece of wood.) And the rest of the time, when he was not cavorting with Elfy, Billy and the rest of his plastic family, Jerry sat on my desk through my childhood, my adolescence and onward.

When I went to Denmark for my junior year of college, he went with me. How could he not? It was his homeland. Most of the time there, he sat on my desks at my Danish family’s house and in my room at the youth hostel. But when I traveled, he did too, nestled inside my shaving kit. (Though I didn’t shave for most of that time, that’s what I called the little case anyway.) And for at least a moment or two at every place I stopped or stayed, from London to Moscow, from Rome to Narvik, I pulled Jerry out of the kit and let him look around.

As I write, he’s standing on the turntable cover to my left, positioned between the earpieces of my headphones, with the same impish grin and huge ears he’s always had, spreading his plastic arms wide to embrace the world, as he’s always done. (I wish I had a picture to share, but the only slide I ever took of Jerry was plagued by an eight-year-old’s photographic inexperience, and the digital camera is not available as I write. Additionally, every on-line picture I find is of later trolls with matte skin and glass eyes; I think Jerry may be the last of his kind.)

So what makes Jerry matter in this venue? Beyond the fact that he’s been my tiny companion for nearly fifty years, there’s also the fact that in the 1960s, Jerry had one hell of a record collection. Soon after I got him, I made a small house for him out of a cardboard box and set about furnishing it. A small weaving I did in school became his carpet. I found boxes that could work as cabinets, and he kept his valuables in Dad’s discarded metal canisters that had held Kodak film. And I – excuse me – jerry-rigged other things to provide him a good home.

Along the way, I found a magazine ad for one of the record clubs. Older readers will remember the ads: They were on heavy paper and showed the front covers – in graphics that were about a half-inch square – of maybe two hundred LPs. Those covers were partially die-cut so they could be punched out and glued to one’s membership application to indicate which records you wanted as your first gleanings from the record club.

And when I found one of those ads during the time I was furnishing Jerry’s home, I punched out a bunch of those little album covers and placed them in Jerry’s shoebox. He had a record collection! So what did he listen to? I don’t recall all of it, but I know there were a couple of Frank Sinatra albums, one or two records by Stan Getz, a few soundtracks – the red cover to West Side Story sticks in my mind here – and probably some other light jazz and vocal pop. This would have been around 1962, remember, when Peter, Paul & Mary and Ray Charles’ country albums would have been the edgiest things to top the charts.

So, using for the most part the list of Top Five albums from October 20, 1962, here is a six-pack of records that Jerry might have listened to in his shoebox in the autumn of that year:

“500 Miles” by Peter, Paul & Mary. This was a track on the trio’s self-titled debut album, which was No. 1 in the October 20, 1962, chart and stayed there for seven weeks. The album provided the trio with two Top 40 singles: “Lemon Tree” went to No. 35 in early June of 1962, and “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)” went to No. 10 that autumn.

“Desafinado” by Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd from Jazz Samba. This album wasn’t in the Top Five as of October 20, 1962, but it could not have been far away. (With a little bit more digging and a little luck, I learned that the album was at No. 9 that week.) By the time the No. 1 album changed on December 1 (with Peter, Paul & Mary yielding to Allan Sherman and his My Son, The Folksinger), the Getz/Byrd album was No. 5. It spent forty-four weeks in the Top 40 and was No. 1 for one week in March of 1963. As for “Desafinado,” the single spent ten weeks in the Top 40, beginning at the end of October 1962, and peaked at No. 15.

“You Don’t Know Me” by Ray Charles. Pulled from Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, “You Don’t Know Me” was at No. 2 for one week in September 1962 and spent three weeks atop the Adult Contemporary chart. The Modern Sounds album – the first of two such albums Charles would record – was No. 1 for fourteen weeks during the summer and autumn of 1962 and was at No. 3 in the October 20, 1962, chart I’m using. It had been the source in the spring of 1962 for “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” which went to No. 1 in the Top 40 (five weeks), the R&B chart (ten weeks) and the Adult Contemporary chart (five weeks).

“Tonight” from the soundtrack to the film West Side Story. Probably the most famous song from the musical created by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, “Tonight” is most likely my favorite song from a Broadway musical or resulting film (and by extension, Jerry’s favorite as well). I don’t see any singles in the Top 40 from the film, but the soundtrack went to No. 1 in May of 1962 and was No. 1 for an incredible fifty-four non-consecutive weeks. On October 20, 1962, it was at No. 2.

“Ramblin’ Rose” by Nat King Cole. Taken from the album of the same name, “Ramblin’ Rose” spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 2 in September of 1962. The album – at No. 5 on October 20, 1962 – spent fifty-three weeks in the Top 40 beginning in late September 1962 and peaked at No. 3.

“Ya Got Trouble” from the soundtrack to the film The Music Man. While “Ya Got Trouble” wasn’t a hit single – The Music Man threw off no Top 40 hits – it was nevertheless a brilliant performance, with Robert Preston’s savvy traveling con man creating a problem where none existed. And lots of folks heard it at home, as the soundtrack album was in the Top 40 for thirty-five weeks beginning in August 1962 and peaked at No. 2, staying there for six weeks. It was at No. 4 on the chart of October 20, 1962.

I made a reference to Klezmer music when I wrote about last week’s Saturday Single. I’ll be doing so again two days from now.

Just Too Early

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

The Texas Gal doesn’t have to travel often for her job, a fact that she and I both appreciate. But every once in a while, there’s no way around it. So it was this morning, as she and a few co-workers headed for Chicago. Their flight was set to leave the Twin Cities at seven o’clock, and security concerns require passengers to be at the airport an hour before the flight.

So for the past few days, the Texas Gal and her co-workers were counting hours back from six in the morning to set the schedule. They decided to meet this morning at half past four at a truck stop parking lot located near Interstate 94, their route to the Twin Cities. Thus, our alarm went off at a little past three o’clock this morning. The Texas Gal did her last bits of packing, and we got her bags into the car and headed out for the small town of Clearwater twelve miles away, where the truck stop overlooks the highway.

I’m not much of a morning person. (Neither, for that matter, is the Texas Gal.) If I had my druthers, I’d likely sleep until noon and be active each night into the wee hours. But even as a house-husband, that’s not practical. And during the years I was in the workforce, my presence was required on my various jobs at a relatively early hour. So when I was working, I trained myself to get to bed earlier and get up earlier. During my newspapering days, I was frequently the first one into the office, and I learned that I could get a lot of routine work done during those early hours.

And that remains true even when the work I do is my own. I tend to write my posts for this blog in the early hours, generally finishing before ten o’clock and almost always before noon.

But I’m still not much of a morning person. Especially today. I think as soon as I get this posted, I’ll grab a nibble and get some rest. Sometimes early is just too early.

A Six-Pack of Early
“Early In The Morning” by Buddy Holly, Coral 62006 [1958]
“Early In The Morning” by Vanity Fare, Page One 21027 [1969]
“Early Morning Rain” by Peter, Paul & Mary from See What Tomorrow Brings [1965]
“Early In The Morning” by The Cuff Links from Tracy [1969]
“Early Morning Riser” by Pure Prairie League from Bustin’ Out [1972]
“Early In The Morning” by Corey Harris from Between Midnight & Day [1995]

Buddy Holly’s “Early In The Morning” was written by Bobby Darin and recorded with backing vocals from – according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits – the Helen Way Singers, a group that did lots of session work during the late 1950s, based on a quick Google search. The record went to No. 32 on one of the various charts kept during the late 1950s and to No. 45 on another. It was Holly’s last Top 40 hit before his death: In early 1959, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” entered the Top 40 on March 9, a little more than a month after Holly’s death.

Vanity Fare was a British pop group that, quite frankly, always puts me in mind of the groups that Tony Burrows was involved with: White Plains, Edison Lighthouse, the Brotherhood of Man and so on. But the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits lists five other names and no Burrows as members. “Early In The Morning” was a pleasant little ditty and went to No. 12 during a nine-week stay in the Top 40 as 1969 ended and 1970 began. Vanity Fare’s better-known hit, “Hitchin’ A Ride,” went to No. 5 during the spring of 1970.

“Early Morning Rain” is a durable Gordon Lightfoot tune that first showed up – as far as I can tell – as the title tune for an Ian & Sylvia LP in 1965. The composer’s own version shows up on Lightfoot! in 1966. By that time, the song had been covered by numerous folk artists and a few others, too, and over the more than forty years since then, the song has continued to attract musicians: Paul Weller included it on his 2005 album of covers, Studio 150. Peter, Paul & Mary covered the song on their 1965 album See What Tomorrow Brings. Here’s a video of a performance on the BBC that was most likely recorded around that time:

If there was an American equivalent of Tony Burrows, one of the nominees has to be Ron Dante, who was the voice of the Archies and of the Cuff Links in 1969 (and had previously sung as the Detergents on the spoof hit “Leader of the Laundromat”).  “Tracy” was the hit for the Cuff Links, reaching No. 9 during late 1969. One of the bits of filler on the Tracy album was “Early In The Morning,” which wasn’t a bad piece, as those things go.

Being an early morning rise sounds more appealing when Pure Prairie League is singing about it. The song was an album track on the group’s second album, Bustin’ Out, which remains one of the great country-rock albums. The hit on the album – though it took a few years for RCA to release it as a single – was “Amie,” which went to No. 27 in early 1975.

 Corey Harris, says All-Music Guide, “has earned substantial critical acclaim as one of the few contemporary bluesmen able to channel the raw, direct emotion of acoustic Delta blues without coming off as an authenticity-obsessed historian. Although he is well versed in the early history of blues guitar, he’s no well-mannered preservationist, mixing a considerable variety of influences — from New Orleans to the Caribbean to Africa — into his richly expressive music. In doing so, he’s managed to appeal to a wide spectrum of blues fans, from staunch traditionalists to more contemporary sensibilities.” I first came across Harris through his performance of “Walkin’ Blues” on the 2000 release, Dealin’ With The Devil – Songs Of Robert Johnson. Since then, I’ve only heard a few other things from Harris, but I’ve liked what I’ve heard. “Early In The Morning” is from his 1995 debut album.

— whiteray