Posts Tagged ‘Roberta Flack’

‘Where’

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Today, we’re going to open our textbook and take on the third portion of a project we’re calling Journalism 101, looking for tracks that have the word “where” in their titles. And it has to be a stand-alone word; “nowhere,” “somewhere,” “anywhere” and all the other possible compound words won’t cut it.

The first run through the RealPlayer nets us 947 tracks. But we lose a number of entire albums (except, in some cases, the title tracks): Where It All Begins by the Allman Brothers Band, Come To Where I’m From by Joseph Arthur, Where Is Love by Bobby Caldwell, Eva Cassidy’s Somewhere, Judy Collins’ Who Knows Where The Time Goes, Somewhere My Love by Ray Conniff & The Singers, Bo Diddley’s Where It All Began, and that just gets us into the D’s with so much more of the alphabet to go until we run into Bobby Womack’s Home Is Where The Heart Is.

Lots of titles with those compound words are culled as well, including six versions of “Somewhere My Love.” (I also have ten versions of the tune under the title “Lara’s Theme.”) We also lose four versions of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” twelve versions of the Beatles’ “Here, There & Everywhere,” five versions of “Somewhere In The Night,” and more that I won’t list here.

But there are still plenty of titles to choose from, so let’s look at four:

There are a few records that bring back viscerally the last months of 1975 and the first of 1976, and Diana Ross’ “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” is one of them. Those months were my last as an undergrad; I was an intern in sports at a Twin Cities television station, with graduation quickly approaching (and no job prospects in sight). I was also in a relationship that seemed promising, but I was nevertheless very aware of the not so subtle hints being laid down by the lovely redhead who was interning in the station’s promotions department. So, to answer the record’s question, no, I had no idea where I was going to. But it wasn’t the lyrics that pulled me into the song; it was the twisting, yearning melody that caught me then and still does today (with current hearings all the more potent for the memories they stir). Whether for the melody or the words, the record caught many people as 1975 turned into 1976: It went to No. 1 on both the Billboard 100 and the magazine’s Easy Listening chart, and it reached No. 14 on the magazine’s R&B chart.

More than six years ago, I looked at Oscar Brown’s song “Brother Where Are You” and wrote:

The tune is familiar to me – and others of my vintage, I assume – because of its inclusion by Johnny Rivers in his 1968 masterpiece Realization. In those environs, the song became less a plaint about racial injustice and more a call for economic and political justice. (It was, of course, not uncommon in the late 1960s and early 1970s for young, socially aware white men to call each other “brother” with no irony and little self-consciousness.)

That post (you can read it here) gave a listen to the first version recorded of the song – Abbey Lincoln’s take from her 1959 album Abbey is Blue – and to a few other versions as well, including Rivers’ cover. Sorting through the eleven versions of the tune here on the digital shelves, I’ve decided to offer the one I found most recently: Marlena Shaw’s typically eccentric version, released in 1967 on the Cadet label. From what I can find, it made no chart noise at all.

Thinking, as we were, of records that define seasons, as soon as the list of “where” tunes got to “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, I was back in the summer of 1972, working half-time as a custodian at St. Cloud State, taking long bicycle rides on Saturday evening, driving idly around town in my 1961 Falcon with Rick as a passenger, and wondering when I was going to meet someone. I doubt if I heard the record as a cautionary tale, advising me that love was hard and not always permanent, but if that thought had ever crossed my mind, I likely would have thought in response, “But even lost love is better than no love.” (I learned years ago that such a thought is better left to songwriters and poets than to anyone in real life.) The record was everywhere that summer, going to No. 5 on the Hot 100 and topping both the R&B and Easy Listening charts.

And lastly we’ll turn to Cat Stevens’ brilliant 1970 album, Tea For The Tillerman. “But tell me,” Stevens sings in the first track, “where do the children play?” It’s a rhetorical question, of course, but it’s one that I think runs with resignation through the entire album, through “Sad Lisa,” “On The Road To Findout,” “Father & Son” and all the rest. At least that’s what I hear these days. Back in 1971, when I heard “Wild World” on the radio and caught up with the rest of the album over the next few years, the lost loves, the fragile women, the quests for place and knowledge all seemed so utterly romantic. Perhaps the resignation I hear is only the echo of being sixty-four, with eighteen so far in the past as to be unknowable. In any event, “Where Do The Children Play” is still lovely and forever haunting.

Summer Songs, Part One

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The RealPlayer hummed along the other day as I did a little housekeeping in the study, trying to do something more substantial than simply move stacks of books, paper and 45 rpm records from one flat surface to another. Not much got accomplished, especially after the RealPlayer settled on “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.

For just a few moments, it was the summer of 1972: A half-time janitor gig on campus, my sister’s wedding, my first car and a road trip to Winnipeg. While there are other records that bring back portions of that summer – “Alone Again, Naturally” has me cleaning venetian blinds and “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” has me driving north to Canada – there’s something about the Flack/Hathaway single that somehow sums up the feel of the whole summer. The record was inescapable (though I never wanted to escape it) as it went to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts.

As the mp3 played, I found the video above and posted it at Facebook and then sat and wondered what other records have such visceral connections with specific summers of my younger days. It seemed worth some digging, both in reference books and memory.

Paging through the Sixties, no records really say “Summer!” until I get to 1968. I wasn’t listening to Top 40 at home yet, but that was the first summer I worked as a setter at the state trap shoot, spending about ten hours a day for four days straight placing clay targets on a scary machine. As did the other setters, I brought a radio, and my semi-subterranean corner of the world was filled with KDWB’s Top 40 most of the day and Minnesota Twins baseball for a couple of hours in the afternoons.

Four records trigger memories as I page through Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits and look at a late July 1968 survey from WDGY, KDWB’s main competitor: “Indian Lake” by the Cowsills, “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams, “Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues and “Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela. The Vogues’ single has a niche of its own in my memory, but the 1968 record that to this day says “trap shoot” (and thus “Summer of ’68”) is “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors, which spent two weeks at No. 1 in early August that year.

Looking back to 1969, the memories of my RCA radio at the trap shoot have to compete with the memories of the radio in the training room at St. Cloud Tech, as the last weeks of summer were my first weeks of being both a manager for the Tigers football team and a dedicated Top 40 listener. But checking Bronson and a late July survey from KDWB, it’s the trap shoot that wins. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells are in the running, but nothing says “Summer 1969” for good or ill – and many folks will think it ill – like “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans, a record that sat atop the Hot 100 for six weeks and on top of the AC chart for two weeks.

The summer of 1970 was my third and final trap shoot summer, but by the time the four-day event rolled around, I’d been listening to Top 40 for nearly a year. That means there are many more songs I recall from that summer with only a little help needed from Bronson’s book or a KDWB survey. Near the top of the list (in memory and quality) are Bread’s “Make It With You,” Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold,”  “Ride, Captain, Ride” by Blues Image, “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War and the 5 Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child.” But the top spot  in my Summer of ’70 list goes to a record that I’ve mentioned numerous times in six-plus years of blogging: “Are You Ready” by Pacific Gas & Electric. The record peaked in the Hot 100 at No. 14.

That’s a good place to stop. We’ll pick up this slender thread next week and see – beyond “Where Is The Love” – which records defined summers after my high school days. In the meantime, any readers who wish can answer this question:

What are your summer records?

Chicken Livers & Art Deco

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

During the 1960s and early 1970s, my family visited downtown Minneapolis something like four or five times a year. The suburban malls and all the hoo-ha that eventually developed around them were in their infancy at the time; when you wanted serious shopping, you went downtown, maybe to St. Paul but far more often to Minneapolis.

During one of those trips to Minneapolis – occasioned, I believe by an appointment for my dad at the nearby Fort Snelling Veterans Administration Hospital – my mom and I found ourselves on our own as lunchtime approached. I was maybe ten, so call it 1964. She took me to a cafeteria called the Forum. We made our way through the line, pushing our trays along their winding paths atop the tubular steel guides. I passed on meatloaf, Salisbury steak, hambugers and fries. Something had caught my eye, something creamy on a mess of golden egg noodles.

When I got there, the sign told me that the dish was chicken livers in cream sauce over noodles. It’s not a dish one would expect to find in a restaurant menu today, in downtown Minneapolis or even in downtown Olivia in the heart of Minnesota’s farm belt. But the Forum must have sold plenty of chicken livers over egg noodles back then, certainly enough to keep the dish on the menu for years to come. Because maybe two years after Mom took me to the Forum for the first time, I was allowed to wander free in downtown Minneapolis on our visits there, and whenever my wandering included lunchtime, I went to the Forum for chicken livers over noodles. And that went on for at least another eight years, until sometime after I graduated from high school.

There was another attraction to the place, beyond the draw of chicken livers in cream sauce: The Forum’s interior was a visual feast. In later years, I saw it described as one of the premier Art Deco interiors in the country. At twelve years old, I wouldn’t have known Art Deco from Art Shamsky, but I did know that I loved the unique interior of the Forum. It was simply fun to be inside a place where there was so much going on visually. And to eat lunch there was a highlight of many trips to Minneapolis over those years.

I thought about all that yesterday when the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on the newly reopened Forum, now a bar and restaurant. In 1975, the cafeteria closed down and the space was converted to a restaurant and disco, Scottie’s on Seventh. Eventually, urban renewal closed in on the building that hosted the Forum, and the building came down. But not until after the Art Deco interior was disassembled and saved. It was installed in the new City Center that went up on the site, and during the early 1980s, Scottie’s reopened there. By 1996, it was the turn of a restaurant called Goodfellow’s to take over the space, and five years ago, the space went dark.

It’s now the Forum again, a restaurant instead of a cafeteria, and it’s a place that the Texas Gal and I are making plans to see, likely for lunch during a planned August overnight in the Twin Cities. The newspaper says the interior has been lovingly restored and renewed (there’s a slideshow about the place’s design here), and that’s good news. I spent a few minutes this morning looking at the menu online, and the food sounds fine. No chicken livers, though.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 14
“California Girls” by the Beach Boys, Capitol 5464 [1965]
‘Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson, RCA Victor 0161 [1968]
“Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman, Track 2656 [1969]
“Day After Day” by Badfinger, Apple 1841 [1971]
“Get It On” by Chase from Chase (not the single Epic 10738) [1971]
“No Tears (In The End)” by Roberta Flack from Killing Me Softly [1973]

None of these songs have any connection to downtown Minneapolis, to the Forum cafeteria or to creamed chicken livers on noodles, as far as I know. The only connection is the time. There is no doubt that during the months that the first two songs on this list were popular – and maybe during the brief popularity of the third song, too – a searcher could have found a young whiteray at least once and possibly more often sitting happily at a table in the Forum, enjoying a meal in the big city all on his own.

I think about that today, and I shudder. The downtown of a major American city is no longer a place where one would allow a twelve-year-old boy from out of town to wander freely. But forty-odd years ago, downtown Minneapolis was safe ground; the times were different. And I’m glad I grew up then instead of now.

By including “California Girls” in the selections for my mythical jukebox, I’m not by any means saying it’s one of the two-hundred and twenty-eight greatest records. It’s not. I do think it’s the Beach Boys’ greatest single, crowded for that spot only by “Surfin’ U.S.A.” And there was no real analysis or deliberation that led me to those rankings. Rather, it’s a visceral reaction. For most of their history, the Beach Boys have meant very little to me. The early stuff was pleasant but to me – looking back as I must, not having heard it much when it was on the radio – is unremarkable. The records I remember hearing as they came out, the later catalog, is stuff that I find to be artsy simply for the sake of being artsy, with “Good Vibrations” being the premier example. (Or maybe the premier example is SMiLE, the “long-lost treasure” that Brian Wilson completed and released in 2004. I should note that I rarely sell music – LPs or CDs. Once they’re home, they stay here, unless I need cash badly – as has happened at times over the years – or unless I find the music so unrewarding that I seen no need to keep it. A couple of years after I bought it, I sold SMiLE, and I didn’t need the cash.) Anyway, the thought of the Ultimate Jukebox without at least one Beach Boys’ record in it seemed odd, and I think this is the only selection I made to ensure a group’s presence in this list. Given that, I selected “California Girls,” which went to No. 3 in 1965, and I chose it partly because its essence is echoed in loving parody in the Beatles’ “Back In The U.S.S.R.”

Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” brings back echoes, of course, of the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, which used the record in its soundtrack. I have a sense that Nilsson recorded Fred Neil’s song more than once, as it seems I’ve run across several different versions of the song. And to be honest, I don’t know which is the original and which, if any, were created for the film. I believe the original version is the one that Nilsson recorded for his album Aerial Ballet in 1968, which is where I get the date I listed above. And I think that was the version that was released as a single when the movie came out in 1969, with the single reaching No. 6 in the late summer and early autumn of that year. I’ve never seen Midnight Cowboy, and every time “Everybody’s Talkin’” pops up on the radio or on my player here at home, I tell myself that I have to put the movie’s title in my video queue. And I forget to do so every time.

Dave Marsh writes in The Heart of Rock & Soul: “Of all the sixties’ testimony to the necessity for immediate social revolution, “Something In The Air” is by far the most elegantly atmospheric.” The single – and the following album, which is almost as consistently good – was produced by the Who’s Pete Townshend, with Andy “Thunderclap” Newman on piano, Speedy Keen on drums, a young Jimmy McCulloch on guitar and – Marsh says – “Bijou Drains, a bassist with a giant beak, pipestem legs and unorthodox windmill playing style.” Drains, of course, was Townshend on a busman’s holiday. The single that resulted remains at moments thrilling, though there are also moments when it sounds as if the record – which barely pierced the Top 40, peaking at No. 37 in the autumn of 1969 – was patched together with Scotch tape. As clunky as some of the production is, it’s still a fascinating and fun record.

Badfinger’s “Day After Day” remains, nearly forty years later, a gorgeous song. Written by Pete Ham and produced by Todd Rundgren for Straight Up, the group’s third album, the single went to No. 4 as 1971 turned into 1972. Badfinger’s sad story is well-known, for the most part; those who are unfamiliar can find it here. For my purposes, it’s enough today to say that the group provided some fine singles and albums, and “Day After Day” might be the best.

I’ve written several times about the horn rock bands of the early 1970s, among which Chase might have had the most talent (and likely, too, the most horns, what with three trumpets). “Get It On” came curling out of radio speakers during the summer of 1971, when the record went to No. 24. Four (pretty good) albums and three years later, the story ended when Bill Chase and three other members of the band (and two pilots) were killed in an airplane crash in southwestern Minnesota. Even after all these years, the cascading trumpets give me a little bit of a chill.

I don’t know that I’d thought of exploring Roberta Flack’s music much until late in 1974, when a friend gave me a copy of Flack’s Killing Me Softly album. I knew the title track, of course, which had gone to No. 1 in early 1973. I knew Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” which closed the album. And even though I’ve listened to the record on and off for more than thirty-five years now, the rest of the record remains vague to me, with the exception of two tracks: “When You Smile” was the song that the ladyfriend who gave me the record quoted to me one evening over a quiet drink, a wish just short of a promise that never came true. And “No Tears (In The End)” is a loping piece of light funk that never fails to make me want to dance, and it’s home to a lyric that still talks to me today.

(Revised slightly, with one correction, since first posting.)