So what other covers did I run across this week as I dug into Hank Snow’s 1950 classic song “I’m Movin’ On”? Well, using the list at Second Hand Songs and the list of performers available at BMI, I found a bunch that I thought were interesting and a couple that I really liked.
My favorite? Well, that can wait for a bit, but second place goes to the version that Leon Russell released in 1984 recording as his alter ego, Hank Wilson. Here’s that rollicking cover, from Hank Wilson Vol. II.
As I dug, I was particularly interested in giving a listen to the first cover listed at SHS, a performance by Hoagy Carmichael, but I think that’s an error, maybe a different song with the same (or a similar) title, as Carmichael is not included in the BMI list of performers who’ve recorded the song. Given that, it seems – and I’m not at all certain, as the BMI listings don’t include dates – that the first cover of “I’m Movin’ On” came in 1955 from Les Paul and Mary Ford.
In 1961, a rockabilly musician named Dick Hiorns – whose resume included a couple of daily performances during the early 1950s on WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin – recorded a version of Snow’s song for the Cuca Record Company of Sauk City, Wisconsin. A year later, Jerry Reed – at the time a session guitarist in Nashville – teamed up with some background singers who were called the Hully Girlies for a version of Snow’s tune, and a few years after that, in 1965, the Rolling Stones took on the tune and released it on the EP Got Live If You Want It!
Genius organist Jimmy Smith took a whack at the tune in 1967, and two years later, Elvis Presley included it on his From Elvis in Memphis album. In 1978, New Orleans’ Professor Longhair (aka Henry Byrd) took Snow’s song, altered the verses and made it into a Crescent City shuffle. It’s included on Big Chief, a 1993 Rhino album. (And I have no idea if the fourteen tracks on Big Chief were released during the intervening fifteen years).
There were others, of course: Versions that I didn’t track down or that didn’t grab me came from, among other, Del Reeves, Clyde McPhatter, Timi Yuro, Connie Francis, Johnny Nash, Burl Ives, the Box Tops, Sammy Kershaw, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Mickey Gilley, Loggins & Messina and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
But after all of that, I think my favorite cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” that I found this week was actually a rediscovery. Rosanne Cash included the tune on her 2009 CD The List, an album of songs pulled from a list her famous father once gave her of essential American music. I’ve often thought that too many versions of the song – Snow’s included – have sounded almost celebratory. Not Cash’s. She pulls the tempo back, and amid a nest of atmospheric guitars and percussion, she makes the song something closer to a dirge, and that fits.
A few times over the past five years, I’ve written about the building at 508 Park Avenue in Dallas, the building where Robert Johnson spent two days recording in 1937. I’ve written about the possibility that the building – dilapidated and in a difficult neighborhood – might be torn down. I’ve written about the sessions that Eric Clapton conducted there in 2004, recording several of Johnson’s songs in the same room where Johnson recorded them in 1937. And I’ve written about my two visits to the building, about standing at its doorstep and standing in the same place where both Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton had been.
But I’m not sure I ever shared here the very good news that, through a project headed by the Stewpot – a homeless shelter across the street from 508 – and the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, the building at 508 Park will be preserved and will become the centerpiece for what’s being called the Museum of Street Culture. The vacant building on the north side of 508 has been razed to create a space that will include an amphitheater, and a now-vacant lot on the south side of the building will become a community garden.
The plans for the museum and its programs are available at the website for the Museum of Street Culture, a website that includes a photo of Steven Johnson, the grandson of Robert Johnson, standing in front of the building where his grandfather recorded some of the most influential songs in blues history.
Here’s my photo of the door of 508 from one of my trips to Dallas.
And here is a selection – offered once before, in 2009 – of covers of some of the songs that Robert Johnson recorded during his two sessions in 508 Park Avenue in 1937:
I began a long piece this morning planned for this space, a comparison of the two most recent compilations of the five hundred greatest albums by Rolling Stone. But my fingers will not obey my commands this morning; it takes great effort to type a simple sentence. And it feels as if a furry weasel has taken up residence in my cranium: Those thoughts that do emerge seem to do so through layers of fuzz. And I have no energy.
A summer cold, even though summer has not yet begun, either meteorologically or culturally, seems to have set in, and it’s augmented in this case by the various and generally tolerable ailments that accompany me every day.
What it all means is that I sat down at the desk today, rolled boxcars and was out of the game just like that. So here’s a record about tumbling dice, recorded by the Rolling Stones during their U.S. tour in the spring of 1972.
The first bit of a Robert Johnson song I ever heard, I once theorized, was the short excerpt of “Come On In My Kitchen” that started off “49 Bye-Byes” on the album Crosby, Stills & Nash. I can’t put a specific date on when I heard it, but I know I got the album in early May of 1971.
Nor, it turns out, can I put a precise date to the first time I heard one of Johnson’s song performed in its entirety. I do, however, remember the circumstances. It was a Friday in the spring of 1972, almost certainly April. I headed out for some record shopping that evening, no doubt beginning at Axis, the store on St. Germain – St. Cloud’s main street – that stocked a good selection of new and used LPs as well as leather coats, hats and other goods. I went pretty quickly to the used records.
It should be remembered that in the spring of 1972, I was still catching up on about eight years of pop and rock history. I’d listened pretty consistently to Top 40 music during my last two years of high school, and had caught up then on some things I’d missed. I’d spent a good deal of my first year of college hanging around the campus radio station, and now I was digging into albums, trying again to catch up at least a little, this time with my radio station colleagues and my buddies in the dorms.
And in the bins at Axis, I found a record with a strange cover: It showed a flat landscape, and in the foreground there was a leaping, grinning man dressed in white, a guitar in each hand and an absurd Uncle Sam hat topping things off. To his right was a donkey laden with a drum set and another guitar. The record was, of course, ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out’, subtitled The Rolling Stones in concert.
Well. I knew of the Rolling Stones, of course. Like the Beatles, the Supremes and a few other performers and groups, they’d been an inescapable portion of the musical landscape through the years when my peers listened to Top 40 and I had my ears still tuned elsewhere. I might not have known the names of all the Stones’ hits from the years before I began listening, but I knew the records. And I knew “Honky Tonk Women,” the single that had been No. 1 for the first four weeks of my tenure as a football manager during my junior year of high school.
Intrigued, I turned the record over and scanned the titles. There was “Honky Tonk Women” on the second side. Other than that, I sheepishly admit, I recognized only one title: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” But I didn’t know the Stones’ version well. My best knowledge of the song came through Leon Russell’s performance of it during the Concert for Bangladesh; I’d gotten that box set for Christmas. Given those two bits of familiarity – and my knowledge that the Rolling Stones were important and thus it was important for me to know more about them – I took the record to the counter. The price tag is still on the front of the record, some thirty-eight years later. I paid $1.99 for it.
Anxious to show off my find to a buddy or two, I stopped at St. Cloud State’s Stearns Hall on my way home. I found my pal Dave and his girlfriend hanging around in his room, and they chuckled when they saw “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” listed on the back; I’d made no secret of my admiration for Leon Russell’s performance. Dave cued up the record, and we listened to that track, the first on the record. After that, as it was obvious I’d interrupted something that Dave and his girl wanted to resume, I took my record and headed home.
And in the basement rec room, I cued up the record once again and listened to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Chuck Berry’s “Carol” and “Stray Cat Blues.” I was pleased but puzzled. This wasn’t the Rolling Stones that I remembered from the radio. Keep in mind, first, that I only vaguely recalled the Stones’ studio version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and that I’d not heard the album tracks from Beggar’s Banquet. Secondly, since no singles from it had reached the Top 40, I’d likely never heard anything from Let It Bleed. And there was no way that “Honky Tonk Women” – the only Stones’ song I knew at all well – could have prepared me for this earthy and bluesy music.
Then came the introduction to “Love In Vain.” And I heard an entire Robert Johnson song for the first time. I stared at the floor as Mick Jagger bit off the desolate words and I stared at the stereo across the room as Mick Taylor took his slide solo, and then I heard Jagger sing about the blue light and the red light, all of it pulling me along into the blues.
I didn’t stay there long that time; I was eighteen. In later years, of course, I’d delve deeply into the blues and wander through all the genres, including blues rock. Much of that later exploration opened another world to me – especially the larger-than-life work of Howlin’ Wolf – but I’m not sure I’ve ever been pulled into a song as deeply as I was that evening when I heard “Love In Vain” for the first time.
(I should note that when I first heard the Stones’ live version of “Love In Vain,” it wasn’t listed as a Robert Johnson composition; the album credits said the song was “Traditional arr. Jagger/Richard.” I’m not sure when the songwriting credit was changed – I’d guess the early 1990s – but the 2002 reissue of the CD credits the song to Johnson.)
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 33
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White from Black and White 
“Love in Vain” by the Rolling Stones from ‘Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out’ 
“Love Train” by the O’Jays, Philadelphia International 3524 
“December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the 4 Seasons, Warner/Curb 8168 
“Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen from Darkness on the Edge of Town 
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House from Crowded House 
Talk about another world! The swamp rock of Tony Joe White was unlike pretty much anything else in the Top 40 during the last weeks of August 1969, when “Polk Salad Annie” went to No. 8. (Creedence Clearwater Revival had two songs in the Top 40, but I think Tony Joe came from a little deeper in the swamp.) The bluesy tale of the gal whose mama was workin’ on a chain gang intrigued me whenever I heard it coming out of the radio speakers, especially White’s growled introduction and his spoken interjections. Of course, I didn’t do anything about it: I never bought the single, and I didn’t get the album that was home to the single – Black and White – until sometime in the 1990s. But I still love the record. “Polk Salad Annie” brought White his only hit, although he continues to perform and record; his most recent album, The Shine, came out earlier this year.
When the O’Jays called us out to the station in 1972, I’m not sure that anyone who heard the infectious “Love Train” didn’t want to get on board. As I detailed the other day when I wrote about “Back Stabbers,” the group had seen singles move into the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B chart for years before Top 40 success arrived. And arrive it did: “Love Train” went to No. 1, and was No. 1 for four weeks on the R&B chart as well. The group would hit the Top 40 seven more times before the string of hits ended in 1980. (The hits on the R&B and related charts continued, and as recently as 2004, the O’Jays had a track – “Make Up” – get to No. 74 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.)
I was sitting at The Table at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center in early 1976 when the 4 Season’s “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” came on the jukebox. My friend Stu shook his head. “Man,” he said, “what a great bass line. One of the best ever.” I took that judgment under advisement, and over the years, I’ve polished it to the point where I credit the 4 Seasons’ hit – it was No. 1 for three weeks – with having the best pop music bass line ever. And it is the bass line that moves the song along as it tells its tale of a one-night stand. The 4 Seasons had thirty Top 40 hits between 1962 and 1976 (with a dance remix of “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” going to No. 14 in 1994 for a thirty-first hit). But “December 1963” is the only one that does anything at all for me.
“Badlands” was the first Bruce Springsteen song I recall hearing. As I’ve noted before, I was aware of the hoopla surrounding Born To Run when it came out in 1975, but I don’t recall ever hearing the title track on the radio (which is odd, as it went to No. 23). I suppose I heard it but didn’t pay much attention. But I do remember hearing “Badlands” one day when I was working for the Monticello newspaper. My boss had a new Suburban, which we used to bring the 3,000 or so copies of each weekly edition back from the printer in a town ten miles away. One Wednesday during the summer of 1978, it was my job to drive to Buffalo, put the final touches on the newspaper and then bring back the finished product. One of the benefits of driving the Suburban was the FM radio, something my vehicle did not have. So after I started the Suburban, I tuned it to KQRS, an album-rock station in the Twin Cities, and the first thing I heard was Max Weinberg’s brief drum riff and then – I had the volume turned up high – the crash of “Badlands,” with its stinging, octave-jumping guitar riff and Clarence Clemons’ own defiant solo. Over the years, because of that moment and because of its musical and lyrical toughness, “Badlands” has remained one of my favorite Springsteen songs. It just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 42 in the Billboard Hot 100, but it deserved better, if for no other reason than the line: “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”
We’d had a spat one day, the Texas Gal and I. It was the summer of 2000: She was still living and working in the Dallas area, and I was living in my apartment on Minneapolis’ Bossen Terrace, a half-block from the international airport. I don’t recall what the argument was about, but troubled, I tried to think of a way to apologize without interrupting her during a busy afternoon. I wasn’t quite certain she wanted to talk to me at the moment, anyway. As I sat at my computer, my RealPlayer settled on a Crowded House tune, one that I liked a fair amount. It had been a No. 2 hit in early 1987, but I recalled it from my second year in Minot; one of the young women who edited the Minot State yearbook brought mixtapes in for the yearbook production sessions, and the sounds of those mixtapes came unavoidably through my door into my office. Happily, I’d liked most of the tunes I’d thus heard, including the Crowded House record that was now playing. As the song went on and I worried about how the Texas Gal felt after our argument, I opened my Yahoo! messenger and changed my status to: “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” I knew that the program – which she also had on her computer at work – would alert her to my change of status. A few moments later, I got an alert that her status had also changed. I don’t recall the exact wording – and neither does she – but her message was reassuring. And since that day, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” – a beautifully written, performed and produced piece of pop music – has been one of our favorite songs.
According to the eighth edition of the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits – which covers the years from 1955 through 2003 – the group Chicago had thirty-five Top 40 hits, with twenty of those reaching the Top Ten. According to that same volume, Chicago was the nineteenth most successful act of those years from 1955 through 2003.
(The top five? Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Elton John, Madonna and Stevie Wonder.)
My shelves are stocked with plenty of the group’s records – thirteen of them, ranging from 1969’s Chicago Transit Authority through 1982’s Chicago 16. A few of those are duplicated on CD and in the mp3 files, and a few other Chicago albums exist here only as mp3s. But I listen purposely to very little of all that music these days. If something pops up on random on the RealPlayer, that’s fine. On the rare occasion that I pop a Chicago CD into the player, it’s almost always Chicago Transit Authority or its two follow-ups, Chicago and Chicago III. And I skip a lot of the tracks on those albums.
But there was a time during the years 1970 to about 1973 when I thought that Chicago’s music was just about the best thing this side of a lobster dinner. I loved Chicago – the silver album often called “Chicago II” – and played all four sides frequently. A little later on, I bought and liked most of Chicago Transit Authority and played that one a little less often than the follow-up but still with some frequency. I did not own Chicago III, but a college pal did, and I taped his copy and enjoyed it, too.
The group performed at St. Cloud State during the spring of 1970; I got there late because of an orchestra concert, but Rick had somehow managed to save me a place. I didn’t recognize everything the guys played; I owned Chicago but I’d heard only portions of Chicago Transit Authority. Even so, it was a great show. Sometime around 10:30 or so, the band started an encore; forty-five minutes later, that encore was still underway when Rick and I had to leave to meet our parental curfews. (I was a high school junior and he was a sophomore; half past eleven was pretty late for a school night in 1970.)
That show still ranks pretty high on my list of concerts I’ve attended, probably in the top five.
And then, my fascination with Chicago went away. It took some time, of course, but I think the first blow was the release in 1971 of Chicago IV: Live at Carnegie Hall, a bloated four-record set of what to my ears were ragged and mediocre performances. (I didn’t buy it until years later; Rick bought it when it came out and we listened to it at his place, and I remember our looking at each other and shaking our heads as the shabby record played.) Chicago V came out in 1972, and then, once a year, the group dropped another album onto the table, VI, VII and VIII into 1975. And I didn’t buy any of them. (At least not when they came out; as I said above, I have a good number of Chicago LPs, but most of those came home in the 1990s, when I was buying a lot of everything, and for the most part, they’ve stayed on the shelves after being played once.)
I heard the hits, of course: “Saturday In The Park,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” “Just You ’N’ Me,” “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” and on and on. None of them grabbed me at all. I thought as I heard them that the band had lost any sense of direction beyond the goal of another Top 40 hit. The inventive arrangements, the interplay of the horns with the other instruments and with each other, the drive and fire I’d heard in the first three albums – all of that was gone. And I gave up on Chicago. I’ve listened to very little of what the group has done in the years since.
And as the band – in my eyes, anyway – got fat and happy, I occasionally thought about the pledge that the members of Chicago had made in the notes to their second album: “With this album, we dedicate ourselves, our futures and our energies to the people of the revolution . . . and the revolution in all of its forms.” I don’t know if I ever took those words seriously, but I have to assume the band did when they were printed inside the record jacket. Did the members of Chicago keep that promise? I’ve realized over the years that it’s not my place to decide, and I wonder if I would want to be called to account for promises I made when I was in my mid-twenties. But then again, I never put any of those promises on a record jacket almost certain to be seen by millions of people.
All of this may seem a bit disjointed, but I’ve never put my thoughts about Chicago into any kind of order before, and as I’ve been writing, I’ve begun to think that I may revisit the group’s output to see if it was better than I think it was. And I realize as well that my early passion for the group might have kept me from making critical judgments. I think now that those first three albums could have used an editor: Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago and Chicago III would likely have been better as single-record albums than the double albums they were. (Fodder for some posts down the road, perhaps.)
Even with all that, the band in its early years provided some transcendent moments: The first that comes to mind is the nearly side-long “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon,” from which were pulled the wedding standard “Colour My World” and the group’s first hit single, “Make Me Smile.” Then there’s “Beginnings,” with its glorious horns, great vocals and the long percussion fade out.
And finally, there is that first hit single, an edit of “Make Me Smile” that never fails to do just that, no matter where I am when it comes out of the speakers. When I first heard it as it headed to No. 9 during the spring of 1970, I thought to myself that I’d never heard anything like it. And forty years later, with the record as familiar as the grey in my beard, I still feel the same way.
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 23
“Spanish Harlem” by Ben E. King, Atco 6185 
“Make Me Smile” by Chicago, Columbia 45127 
“Statesboro Blues” by the Allman Brothers Band from Live at Fillmore East 
“Stop Breaking Down” by the Rolling Stones from Exile on Main St 
“In A Daydream” by the Freddy Jones Band from Waiting For The Night 
“Twilight” by Danko/Fjeld/Andersen from Ridin’ On The Blinds 
Looking for a version of “Spanish Harlem” to celebrate, I imagine that lots of folks would choose Aretha Franklin’s imaginative 1971 cover, which went to No. 2. But there’s something I prefer about Ben E. King’s original, which went to No. 10 in early 1961. Maybe it’s the tropical lilt brought out by the marimba during the introduction and throughout the record, maybe it’s the baion bass provided by producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (Leiber co-wrote the song with Phil Spector), maybe it’s King’s hushed, almost serene vocal, or maybe it’s the saxophone solo. Maybe it’s all of those or something else entirely. Whatever it is, it makes Spanish Harlem into a place I wish I’d seen through the eyes of all of those involved.
There’s little doubt, I would think, that the Allman Brothers Band album Live at Fillmore East is one of the greatest live albums ever, showing a ground-breaking band at the peak of its existence. (Looking at the list of the 500 greatest albums of all time published in 2003 by Rolling Stone, the only live album placed ahead of Live at Fillmore East is James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, which certainly makes sense.) And the Allmans’ opening number – presented on the album with the laconic introduction intact – was a fiery interpretation of Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues.” I won’t say that “Statesboro Blues” was the best performance on the album; I might give that accolade to the long versions of “Whipping Post” or “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” but it still strikes me as ballsy to open a show with a song that you’ve not already released, a song that might not be all that familiar to the audience. And then, in the terms of a jukebox, which is what we’re theoretically discussing here, “Statesboro Blues,” allows the band to put on display all its stellar attributes – a tough and supple rhythm section, superb lead guitar work, great bluesy vocals and more – in the concise running time of just more than four minutes.
Amid all the hoopla about its re-release a few weeks ago, I realized that it took me a long time to appreciate the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. I’d thought the singles, “Tumbling Dice” and “Happy” were murky and indistinct when I heard them during the spring and summer of 1972, and I thought I’d give the album a pass. A year later, a friend of mine was clearing space on his record shelves and handed me his copy of Exile. I was glad to have it, but at the time, I wouldn’t have put it on my list of essential listens. I’m not exactly sure when the album got on to that figurative list, but it was sometime during the mid-1990s when I spent a few weeks listening to Exile on Main St back-to-back-to-back with the Robert Johnson box set and some 1950s recordings by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. And the track that has always jumped up as my favorite – the first of two Rolling Stones recordings in the Ultimate Jukebox – is the cover of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down.” (A note on the title of the album, which I’ve long offered incorrectly as Exile on Main Street: The LP jacket has it as Exile on Main St, while my CD copy adds a period to make it Exile on Main St. Finally correcting myself this morning, I went with the original presentation from the vinyl.)
I learned about the Freddy Jones Band when the group’s music showed up from time to time during the 1990s on the Minneapolis station Cities 97. In those pre-CD player days, I found on quiet evenings that I could get lost in the band’s “In A Daydream,” which comes from the group’s 1993 album Waiting for the Night. Later on, when I picked up that CD and another by the group, I found a number of other songs that have the same effect. But “In A Daydream” remains my favorite among them and can still pull me away to somewhere else. And there are far worse ways to spend an evening.
The Band recorded at least two versions of “Twilight,” one of Robbie Robertson’s most elegiac songs in a career filled with elegies. There was the sprightly version released on the 1976 anthology Best of The Band with Rick Danko handling the lead vocal. Then there’s a slower version that opens with Levon Helm singing the chorus before Danko handles the verses; that one showed up as a bonus track on the Islands CD and might be the version released as a single on Capitol 4316. (Does anyone out there know which version was the single?) The slower take is better than the version on The Best of The Band. But it’s Danko who recorded the best available version of the song during his work in Norway with Eric Andersen and Norwegian performer Jonas Fjeld. That version, on the trio’s second CD, Ridin’ on the Blinds, is closer in tempo to the faster of the two versions by The Band, but it has a sorrowful, reflective quality that the earlier versions seem to have missed. And along with the Norwegian musicians that back the titular trio, “Twilight” also has keyboard parts supplied by Danko’s former Band-mate Garth Hudson.
(I noticed something odd while researching “Twilight” this morning. Most listings at All-Music Guide credit the piece to Robertson alone, but some links also give writing credit to Wynton Marsalis and Michael Mason. Does anyone out there know the story behind that?)