Posts Tagged ‘Rod Stewart’

‘Up Above My Head . . .’

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

I’m out of commission today, the combination of a spring cold and muscles still aching from Saturday’s construction and garden efforts. So I’m punting, but here’s a 1964 release from Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men (with, according to several things I’ve read, Rod Stewart’s recording debut). Written by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, here’s “Up Above My Head.”

‘Down-town! Down-town!’

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Every so often, a record makes its way up the charts and touches something in the public that makes it not just a hit record but a pop culture sensation. Even those who do not listen to pop music become aware of it, and the record might even become a tag line that sums up an era – or at least a portion of an era.

Two of the more prominent such records I can recall span a good-sized length of time and a huge distance on the quality meter: “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles in 1964 (No. 1 for seven weeks) and “Macarena (bayside boys mix)” by Los Del Rio in 1996 (No. 1 for fourteen weeks). Others that come to mind – and this will be a brief list created after minimal research, so it will necessarily be incomplete; readers are invited to leave their own suggestions in a comment – include:

“The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Fess Parker Bill Hayes, No. 1 for five weeks in 1955 (backed by the power of the Disney television show and one of the largest [and possibly earliest] marketing blitzes of tie-in merchandise in the United States).

“Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley, No. 1 for 11 weeks in 1956.

“The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley, No. 1 for six weeks in 1958.

“The Twist” by Chubby Checker, No. 1 for one week in 1960 and for two weeks in 1962.

“Ode to Billy Joe” by Bobbie Gentry, No. 1 for four weeks in 1967.

“American Pie, Parts I and II” by Don McLean, No. 1 for four weeks in 1972. (I wonder how many deejays played the split 45 – which I recall hearing on the air at least once – and how many went for the album track.)

“Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn Featuring Tony Orlando, No. 1 for four weeks in 1973. (This might be the most influential pop song of all time, given the reflexive reaction these days to mount displays of yellow ribbons for someone who is lost or gone away.)

“Convoy” by C. W. McCall, No. 1 for one week in 1976.

After that, except for “Macarena,” I’m not at all sure, given my tenuous connection to pop culture – especially pop music – during many of the years that followed. As I said, I would welcome suggestions.

So what brought that somewhat slender list to the fore today? It seems to me that the first entry in today’s selection from the Ultimate Jukebox might belong on that list. It was one of those records that seemed omnipresent at the time it was out, and it seemed at the time that everyone knew the record: the young folks who listened to Top 40 radio, the young folks who didn’t (and I, of course, was one of those) and the older folks who didn’t listen to Top 40. The record? “Downtown” by Petula Clark.

“Downtown” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 87 during the week of December 19, 1964, then skipped to No. 41. It went to No. 12 in the first week of 1965 and then to No. 5 and to No. 4 before spending the last two weeks of January at No. 1. That’s not the quickest rise ever (I recall writing about “Let It Be” and its massive leap), but it has to rank up there pretty well.

And everyone seemed to like it. It was a bouncy bit of pop sung well and produced well. (The 1992 edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide said the record had “a mild Phil Spector-ish production,” which nails it pretty well.) It wasn’t rock, by any long stretch of the imagination (despite the voters for the Grammys who honored the record as the Best Rock and Roll Recording of 1965). And it had one hell of a hook, with its “Down-town!” (Without digging around, it strikes me that songwriter Tony Hatch came up with the shortest hook possible; or can a hook be just one note?)

Anyway, while perhaps not as influential on pop culture as some of the records in the list above, “Downtown” seemed to be everywhere as 1964 ended and 1965 began. Here’s a video, probably from around that time, of Petula Clark lip-synching the song.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 26
“Downtown” by Petula Clark, Warner Bros. 5494 [1964]
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells, Atlantic 2478 [1968]
“Handbags & Gladrags” by Rod Stewart from The Rod Stewart Album [1969]
“Travelin’ Band” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy 637 [1970]
“Highway 49” by Howlin’ Wolf from The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions [1970]
“Thunder & Lightning” by Chi Coltrane, Columbia 45640 [1972]

I mentioned when I started this project that there was still one record I was uncertain about including and that I’d make that decision during Week 38 when I present the final six records in the jukebox. Actually, there’s another record whose place I’ve debated over the past few months: “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells. Sometimes when it pops up in company with the other songs on my Zen player it seems flat and blah and utterly out of place. Other times, it seems vibrant and creative and indispensible as Archie Bell calls his players out and brings them into the mix. Obviously, this week it seems the latter, and now I can quit dithering about it and just enjoy a record that was No. 1 for two weeks in the spring of 1968.

For the second week in a row, Rod Stewart shows up here, this time with “Handbags & Gladrags,” another one of those songs that I collect in as many versions as I can find. Written by Michael D’Abo (who was the lead singer for Manfred Mann as well as having a respected solo career), the plaintive song gets probably its best reading as an album track on Stewart’s first album (titled An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down in Britain). The album had no hit singles in the U.S., and that’s always baffled me; the inclusion of “Handbags & Gladrags” on Stewart’s first anthology, Sing It Again Rod, has always made me wonder if the track was released as a single in the U.K. (and if it was released here and utterly tanked). Whatever the case, the track is another bit of sweet testimony as to how good Stewart once was.

CCR’s “Travelin’ Band” peaked at No. 2 in early March of 1970. The record lasts only two minutes and seven seconds, but into those 127 seconds, John Fogerty and his bandmates pack in plenty of potent reminders of Little Richard and the rest of the artists he had to have listened to during his youth in California. As it happens, I’m not the only person to hear Little Richard in “Travelin’ Man.” According to The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles, Arco Industries, which owned the copyright to Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly,” filed suit against Fogerty for what it said was his use of the song. The Billboard book cites CCR bassist Stu Cook as saying in Bad Moon Rising: “The song is a direct rip-off of Little Richard’s style . . . I always thought it sounded more like ‘Long Tall Sally.’ Of course, Little Richard wasn’t above quoting himself, either.” The suit was settled, Cook is quoted as saying, when CCR’s label, Fantasy, bought the Little Richard tune from Venice Music.

A while back, on one of those evenings when my pal Rob and I were sifting through the mp3 collection for something he could use in one of his classes, I clicked on Howlin’ Wolf’s reading of “Highway 49” from his London sessions in May 1970. As Eric Clapton’s incendiary intro rang out, Rob stared and blurted, “That’s not blues, that’s rock ’n’ roll!” Actually, it’s both, merged in a way that points out how difficult it can be to sort genres when performances get close to the edges. Given the Wolf’s vocal performance, it would be hard to argue that “Highway 49” is not blues. Given the instrumental backing of the track, it would be hard to argue against rock. So the best thing to do, I think, is to quit worrying about labels and just enjoy the Wolf as he and his long-time guitarist Hubert Sumlin work with one of the best collections of rock musicians ever brought together as a backing band: Clapton on lead guitar, Bill Wyman on bass, Charlie Watts on percussion and Jeffrey M. Carp on harmonica. (Steve Winwood played keyboards, but according to the notes in the CD reissue, his parts were added later in Chicago.)

One of the first albums I ripped from vinyl and shared through the first version of this blog was Chi Coltrane’s self-titled debut album, anchored by her only hit single, “Thunder and Lightning.” The rest of the album was fairly good, but none of the songs matched up against that single, which turned out to be Coltrane’s only hit. I’d liked “Thunder and Lightning” a fair amount when it was on the radio, so after I posted that first album I dug around online and found two more of the Wisconsin-born singer’s albums, 1973’s Let It Ride and Road to Tomorrow from 1977. Let It Ride features a cover of “Hallelujah,” first recorded by the Clique in 1969 and later a minor hit for Sweathog in 1971, but otherwise the two albums are pretty blah. That’s okay. There remains “Thunder and Lightning,” which went to No. 17 during the autumn of 1972.

‘I’m Shinin’ Like A New Dime’

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

By the time 1989 rolled around, a casual fan might have thought – hell, I did think – that even though he was still recording, the creative portion of Rod Stewart’s career was done, leaving behind four superb albums and a lot of work that was both difficult and painful to listen to. As brilliant as his work with Faces had been, his early solo work was better, with The Rod Stewart Album, Gasoline Alley, Every Picture Tells A Story and Never A Dull Moment following one after the other during the years from 1969 through 1972.

And there were some hits in those albums: “Maggie May” was inescapable during the autumn of 1971, perching at No. 1 for five weeks. That was undoubtedly Stewart’s biggest hit, but there were others, as measured by making the Billboard Hot 100: “(I Know) I’m Losing You” (credited to Rod Stewart & Faces), “You Wear It Well,” a cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Angel,” “Cut Across Shorty,” “Reason To Believe” and “Twisting the Night Away.” And all of them were good listening.

And then, for me, Rod Stewart disappeared and some artless lookalike with a similar voice and horrible taste took his place. There are those who will argue the merits of the Tom Dowd-produced pair of Atlantic Crossing and Night on the Town, but I found both albums too slick by far, and with the puzzling success of the latter’s hit single, “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” – it spent the last seven weeks of 1976 and the first week of 1977 at No. 1 – I bailed on Rod Stewart for the rest of the 1970s and nearly all of the 1980s, never seeking out his music, wincing when I saw him perform on television and hitting the buttons on the car radio to change stations whenever I heard his voice coming from the speakers.

And then, one evening in late 1989, as I sat reading with the radio in the corner playing low, I heard an immediately haunting introduction of woodwinds and strings over piano. I stopped reading, and then Rod Stewart sang: “Outside, another yellow moon has punched a hole in the night time mist. I climb through the window and down to the street. I’m shinin’ like a new dime.”

The record blew me away, and I spent several fruitless weeks trying to find it on vinyl. It was, of course, a cover of Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train,” and Stewart’s savvy reading of the tune was the best thing he’d done in about seventeen years. (He’d had nineteen Top 40 hits in the intervening years, when I was paying no attention.) Others seemed to like the record as well: It reached No. 3 in the Top 40, and went to No. 1 for one week on the Adult Contemporary chart and for two weeks on the Mainstream Rock chart. And in doing so, it fulfilled its commercial purpose, which was to draw attention to the release of Stewart’s sixty-four song Storyteller anthology, released in December of 1989.

From there, of course, Stewart continued to release albums and have hits, none of which grabbed me too much, and after the turn of the century, he devoted much of his effort to four albums of songs from what he calls “The Great American Songbook,” covering tunes like “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Thanks for the Memory.” He’s also released one album covering classic rock songs. For my purposes, he’s become irrelevant again. But I can still listen to those four great albums from long ago and to that one incandescent single from 1989 that reminded me how great Rod Stewart could be.

A note: My pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ recommended in a post this week the 1985 collaboration between Stewart and Jeff Beck on the Impressions’ 1965 hit “People Get Ready.” The track, from Beck’s album, Flash, reached No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went to No. 5 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Being disconnected from a lot of stuff – including music – in 1985, I missed it. Go watch the video at jb’s place and you’ll know why I wish I hadn’t. Great find, jb!

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 25
“Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2365 [1966]
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy 625 [1969]
“Hallelujah” by Sweathog, Columbia 45492 [1971]
“La Grange” by ZZ Top, London 203 [1974]
“Take It To The Limit” by the Eagles, Asylum 45293 [1976]
“Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart, Warner Bros. 22685 [1988]

Is “Mustang Sally” the quintessential Wilson Pickett hit? It’s a tough question to ask about a performer who had thirty-two records in the Billboard Hot 100 – sixteen of them in the Top 40 – between 1965 and 1972, as well as thirty-six hits on the R&B chart, a run that ended in 1987. I suppose one could choose between the two Top Ten hits – “Land Of 1000 Dances” went to No. 6 in 1966 and “Funky Broadway went to No. 8 a year later – but there’s something about the insistent beat underneath “Mustang Sally” that continues to pull me in, almost forty-four years after Pickett covered Sir Mac Rice’s 1965 hit. (Rice’s version went to No. 15 on the R&B chart.) And once the beat pulls me in, the rest of it – the sax honking underneath, the organ dancing above, the horn accents, Pickett’s gritty vocal, and above all the story of Sally who just wants to ride – gets me bobbing my head for a good chunk of the day.

“Green River” wasn’t the first Top Ten hit for Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising” predated “Green River by six and three months, respectively – but it should have been. I’ve always heard “Green River” as the band’s statement of purpose, telling its listeners that even in the confused and shattered times of 1969, there was a place where things remained as they should:

Old Cody Junior took me over,
Said, “You’re gonna find the world is smold’rin’.
And if you get lost, come on home to Green River.

John Fogerty’s memories of bullfrogs, dragonflies and a barefoot girl dancin’ in the moonlight went to No. 2 for one week in September 1969.

I’ve written about Sweathog and “Hallelujah” a couple of times before, once calling the band kind of a Steppenwolf Light, and then wondering later if that was fair. I’m still not sure if that assessment is fair or not, but I can say this, for whatever conclusions it might inspire: There are no records by Steppenwolf in the Ultimate Jukebox, and Sweathog’s lone hit – it topped out at No. 33 during the last week of 1971 – is here. From the clanking introduction with its gospel piano and percussion through the workmanlike vocal and jubilant choruses, Sweathog’s single hit is fun. It doesn’t tap any major memories; it’s more of a dimly recalled artifact that it would have been nice to hear more often long ago. And that’s reason enough for it to be here.

La Grange, Texas, is a burg of less than five thousand folks lying about midway between Austin and Houston, and I would imagine that, like its not-too-distant cousin of China Grove, La Grange has had its share of visitors coming to town over the past thirty-some years with their car stereos blasting as they cross the city limits. The song, of course, would be ZZ Top’s superb boogie with indistinct lyrics, “La Grange.” Since I’ve never understood the lyrics to the song, and the LP The Best of ZZ Top doesn’t have a lyric sheet, I thought I’d clarify things for myself and perhaps provide a public service for others by putting the lyrics in this post. I found the lyrics at sing365.com, and I’ve made a revision or three based on my own listening this morning:

Rumor spreadin’ ’round in that Texas town
’Bout that shack outside La Grange.
(And you know what I’m talkin’ about.)
Just let me know if you wanna go
To that home out on the range.
They gotta lotta nice girls, ah!

Have mercy.
A-heh, how, how, how. A-heh!
A-how, how, how.

Well, I hear it’s fine if you got the time
And the ten to get yourself in.
A-hmm, hmm.
And I hear it’s tight most ev’ry night,
But now I might be mistaken.
Hmm, hmm, hmm.

“La Grange” just missed being ZZ Top’s first Top 40 hit, peaking at No. 41 during the last week of June 1974; the band’s string of eight Top 40 hits began during the summer of 1975 with “Tush,” which went to No. 20.

“Take It To The Limit” is the only record by the Eagles to make my final two-hundred and twenty-eight. Now, I enjoy the Eagles’ music just fine when it pops up on random. But back then, during the years from 1972 through 1981 when the band had sixteen Top 40 singles, I could take the Eagles or leave them. And although I enjoyed most of the singles when they came my way, I never sought the group’s music out. I didn’t add any Eagles LPs to the shelves until 1988, when I picked up Their Greatest Hits; I’ve added a few others since then. This is not to knock the group, but the music of Glenn Frey, Don Henley et al. almost never grabbed me. So why “Take It To The Limit,” which went to No. 4 in early 1976? Because more than a decade later, the song surfaced in my life as a talisman, encouraging me do everything I could to make some major and necessary changes. And that makes the song good for a smile: