Posts Tagged ‘Roy Orbison’

A Field Of 43s (And One 44)

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Heading home the other day, I drove along the frontage road that parallels U.S. Highway 10 not far from our house. There’s a stretch there that bears watching for a driver, with lots of vehicles turning onto and off of the frontage road from various businesses: You’ll pass a bank, a tire place/tune-up garage, the main entrance to a mobile home park, a used car dealer, a Dairy Queen, a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet and finally, a porn shop.

Being the height of the warm season – and with Highway 10 being one of the main routes from the Twin Cities to the northern part of the state, where many folks have vacation homes – the frontage road is appreciably busier at this time of year than others, especially where the two fast food joints sit side-by-side. Vehicles entering and exiting the two parking lots – with drivers distracted by appetites and possibly small children – make for a mini-jam.

And as I sat in the mini-jam the other day, I noticed the license plate on the car in front of me. It was an Idaho plate. About three years ago, I wrote about my one-time hobby of keeping track each year of the out-of-state license plates I saw, and I noted that the two rarest plates to see in Minnesota were those from Hawaii and Idaho. As I looked at the plate with its “Famous Potatoes” legend, I was tempted for an instant to resume that hobby from my teen years.

But no, I won’t do that. I’ve got my adult manias to feed now. Like noticing that Idaho was the forty-third state admitted to the Union and wondering what tunes were No. 43 on this date, ending with one of those years when I was looking for a license plate from Idaho.

We’ll start with 1956: The brief biography of Don Robertson in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles is pretty impressive. Robertson was born in Peking (now Beijing), China, in 1922 and was raised in Chicago. A pianist/composer, he was one-half of the pop duo The Echoes and wrote their best-known single “Born To Be With You,” which topped out at No. 101 in 1960. (The Chordettes took the song to No. 5 in 1956, and it’s been recorded by many artists and groups since.) Robertson also wrote, Whitburn notes, several of Elvis Presley’s hits and – with Hal Blair – Lorne Green’s No. 1 hit from 1964, “Ringo.” He’s also credited by Whitburn with creating the Nashville piano style. And fifty-five years ago this week, his “Happy Whistler” was the No. 44 song in the U.S. (Wait, I can hear you say. We were looking for songs that were No. 43. Yes, we were, but the Billboard Hot 100 for August 1, 1956, lists two songs tied at No. 42. Instead of trying to break the tie, I took the next song down the list.) Robertson has one other single listed in Whitburn’s book: His version of the “Tennessee Waltz” bubbled under at No. 117 in the summer of 1961.

Getting back to our original intent, the No. 43 tune during this week in 1959 was a sprightly ditty titled “Keep It Up” from Dee Clark, who is likely best known for “Raindrops,” his 1961 hit that went to No. 2. Clark, who hailed from Blytheville, Arkansas, racked up ten Hot 100 hits between 1958 and 1963. “Keep It Up” was his second-most successful single, getting to No. 18. Whitburn notes that before becoming a solo performer in 1957, Clark sang in groups known as the Hambone Kids, the Goldentones, the Kool Gents and the Delegates. Clark last showed up near the chart in 1965, when his “T.C.B.” went to No. 132.

In the autumn of 1961, Jimmy Dean had a No. 1 hit with “Big Bad John,” his tale of tragedy and heroism in a coal mine. The next spring, Dean’s “P.T. 109,” an account of the heroic actions of then-President John F. Kennedy during a World War II naval engagement, went to No. 8. In the summer of 1962, Dean’s “Steel Men” combined working class tragedy and real life events, relating the tale of the collapse of a bridge under construction in British Columbia, Canada. The collapse, which took nineteen lives, according to Wikipedia, resulted in the completed bridge being named the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing. Dean’s record about the event, which was at No. 43 forty-nine years ago this week, didn’t fare as well as his previous efforts, reaching only No. 41. Dean would have four more hits in the Hot 100, with “Little Black Book” from the autumn of 1962 doing the best by reaching No. 29.

Between 1956 and 1980 (with some admittedly long gaps), Roy Orbison notched thirty-eight records in or near the Billboard Hot 100. During the last week of July 1965, the record at No. 43 was Orbison’s “(Say) You’re My Girl,” which is kind of a herky-jerky tune, one that I’d call idiosyncratic. The record went only to No. 39, and for the rest of his long career, the lower reaches of the Top 40 was about the best that Orbison did, until “You Got It” went to No. 9 in early 1989, shortly after Orbison’s death in late 1988.

Billy Vera’s name is most familiar to music fans, I’d guess, from “At This Moment,” his 1987 No. 1 record with his R&B backing group, The Beaters. But he’s had some success as a songwriter and in early 1968, he and Judy Clay hit the Top 40 with their duet “Country Girl – City Man,” which went to No. 36. That summer, Vera released his version of the divorce-themed “With Pen In Hand” and saw it get as high as No. 43, which is where it sat during the last days of July. The more successful version of the tune was by Vicki Carr, whose single went to No. 35. (I was surprised for an instant – and then, after some thought, not so surprised – to see that the song was written by Bobby Goldsboro.)

In an era when numerous hit records touched on or clearly promoted the Christian faith – the best example, offhand, might have been Ocean’s “Put Your Hand In The Hand,” which went to No. 2 in May of 1971 – perhaps the most moving of those records was “Mighty Clouds of Joy” by  B.J. Thomas. I’d not heard it for years until this morning, and the faith expressed is one I don’t share, but I still found it musically thrilling, as I did forty years ago when I occasionally heard it coming out of the radio speakers. As July ended in 1971, the record was sitting at No. 43 on its way to No. 34, one of twenty-five records Thomas placed in the Hot 100. His best performing records were two that reached No. 1: “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” was No. 1 for four weeks in early 1970, and “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” topped the chart for a week in 1975.

‘Shahdaroba’ Is The Word They Whisper Low . . .

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Last television season, one of my favorite shows, Mad Men, ended its season finale – as it does all its episodes – with a popular song framing the last moments. As ad man Don Draper’s wife, Betty, flew to Nevada with her lover to get a divorce, Draper found himself checking into a hotel, and the mournful music – though it had a positive final lyric – underlined the melancholy and uncertainty of the moment. As I watched, I recognized the voice: It was unmistakably Roy Orbison. But the song?

I had no clue. The melody and accompaniment were clearly based on Middle Eastern themes, as was the lyric:

Where the Nile flows
And the moon glows

On the silent sand
Of an ancient land

When a dream dies
And the heart cries
“Shahdaroba”
Is the word they whisper low

Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
Means the future is much better than the past
Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
In the future you will find a love that lasts

So when tears flow
And you don’t know
What on earth to do
And your world is blue

When your dream dies

And your heart cries
Shahdaroba
Fate knows what’s best for you

Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
Face the future and forget about the past
Shahdaroba, Shahdaroba
In the future you will find a love that lasts

Shahdaroba

As soon as the show was over, I wandered to the record stacks and pulled out The All-Time Greatest Hits Of Roy Orbison, and on Side Three I found a song titled “Shahdaroba” and put it on the turntable. That was the tune. And it was just as haunting without the visuals of the television show.

I’ve seen the title spelled numerous ways. The listing inside the jacket of the two-LP set I pulled from my shelves listed the song as “Shahadararoba,” which I knew wasn’t right. The listing at All-Music Guide for the album I have has the title as “Shahadaroba,” while the CD version of the two-LP album I have now – listed at Amazon – spells the title “Shadaroba.” And on-line listings for merchants selling the record include several spellings, with “Shahdaroba” being the most frequent (although frequency in those precincts is certainly no guarantee of accuracy). The generally accurate folks at the Both Sides Now discography site have it as “Shahdaroba,” as does the label on the LP I have, so I’m going with that.

Whatever the spelling, the haunting recording used to close last season’s Mad Men was from 1963 and was released as the B-side of Orbison’s No. 7 hit, “In Dreams.” And although I know I’d heard it before – no LP goes into my stacks without being played at least once – it evidently didn’t leave much of an impression when I got the album in February 1998. (I do remember being intrigued by “Leah” on the same album and immediately using it in several mixtapes for friends; I wish now I’d paid more attention to “Shahdaroba.”)

I’m not entirely certain when the practice began of closing television shows with an entire popular song in the soundtrack continuing over the credits. Sometime in the 1990s, when I watched very little television? Or earlier? I don’t know. I do know that I’ve listed in recent weeks two songs from the 1960s that were brought to my attention in that way: “Shahdaroba” today and Richie Havens’ “Follow,” which I wrote about two weeks ago.

The virtues of “Shahdaroba” – written by one Cindy Walker – are clear and include a great vocal from Orbison, an eerie melody with what I think is an oboe providing the sinuous counter-melody, and an enigmatic yet hopeful set of lyrics. There’s clearly room for it in the Ultimate Jukebox.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 34
“Shahdaroba” by Roy Orbison, Monument 806 [1963]
“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” by the 5th Dimension, Soul City 772 [1969]
“Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band from The Band [1969]
“Minnesota” by Northern Light, Glacier 4501 [1975]
“Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band, Warner Bros. 8370 [1977]
“Mandolin Rain” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range from The Way It Is [1986]

I’ve written before about the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” and its place as the first musical 45 I ever bought with my own cash. (Long-time readers will remember my discovery of Dickie Goodman’s “Batman and His Grandmother” in a box and my memory of that being my first 45 purchase of any kind.) Why does “Aquarius” belong here? First, having been pulled from the musical Hair, the two songs that were merged to form a medley reflect a good portion – some of the most positive portions – of the spirit of the late 1960s. Second, the 5th Dimension’s pop-soul sounded good then and still sounds good today, with production by Bones Howe and backing provided by a large cast of session stars that included Larry Knechtel and Hal Blaine. Third, and most importantly, I guess, I just like it.

I was out on an errand with my mother sometime in January 1970, and I had the radio tuned to KDWB, one of the Twin Cities’ Top 40 stations. I remember exactly where we were – I drive past the spot on St. Cloud’s North Side on occasion – when the strains of The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” came out of the radio. I’d been listening to Top 40 for a few months, and I’d heard the song before, but for some reason, this was the first time I’d really listened. I took in the drum and guitar riff introduction, Levon Helm’s countryish vocal with its sly “hee-hee” along the way, the ensemble choruses and Garth Hudson’s twangy fills that sounded like a jew’s harp (I had one of those at home and twanged it on occasion), and I wondered why I hadn’t paid the song any attention before. Every evening from then on, I listened for “Up On Cripple Creek” as I tuned into WJON, just down the street and across the tracks. Why I just didn’t go out to Musicland and buy the single or the album, I have no idea. I wouldn’t buy any LPs until May of that year, when I would get stuff by the Beatles and Chicago. By that time, I’d likely forgotten about The Band.  “Up On Cripple Creek” peaked at No. 25 in early January 1970, and by the middle of the month, the record had dropped out of the Top 40 and consequently faded from the airwaves and, evidently, my memory. That Christmas, in 1970, Rick brought The Band back into my life when he gave me The Band, the group’s second album. I loved most of it, and made a vow to look into the group’s other work. I did so eventually, and The Band is still my all-time favorite group. And “Up On Cripple Creek” is about as good a track as that talented group ever recorded.

Every state should have its own popular song. Sorting through songs whose titles refer to states – just off the top of my head – maybe the best would be “Georgia On My Mind.” In the spring of 1975, Minnesota got its own popular song when the group Northern Light released “Minnesota.” With its harp glissandos, Beach Boys-inspired harmonies, a great blues harp solo and its iconic opening of a loon calling across the water, “Minnesota” reeled me in right away. I don’t have access to any Twin Cities charts from that spring, but the record, as you might expect, got a lot of airplay here. It did get a little bit of national attention, peaking at No. 88 in the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-May and reaching No. 77 on the Cashbox chart a few weeks later. I was lucky enough to find a near-mint copy of the 45 at a garage sale here in St. Cloud a few years ago, so I can hear the tune whenever I want, but I feel even luckier when I’m in the car and I hear the call of the loon and the rest of the single on the oldies station.

(For more on “Minnesota” and Northern Light, check out the post my friend jb put up at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ in May.)

A true one-hit wonder, “Smoke From A Distant Fire” came from the first, self-titled album by the Sanford/Townsend Band. And nothing else on the group’s first album or on its two follow-up albums was ever quite as good as that single. Bursting from the speakers with a drum intro followed by a bluesy guitar solo, the record grabbed one’s attention from the start. Add the solid vocal and great guitar and saxophone solos, and you have a hit single. The record went to No. 9 in the late summer of 1977 and was a vital part of the soundtrack to my life as I was finally finished with school and tentatively began to find my place in the working world.

Sanford/Townsend Band – “Smoke From A Distant Fire [1977]

The gorgeous piano introduction to “Mandolin Rain” pulls me back to a place of refuge. During the winter of 1986-87, I made a number of poor life decisions, and for several months, the only place I felt I could relax was in my teaching office at St. Cloud State, a tiny space in the offices of the Performing Arts Center. I had a cassette player there, and I’d retreat there for lunch, eating the same thing every day for most of those months: egg salad on wheat bread and black coffee. A friend in the public relations office frequently loaned me music from his large tape collection, and one day he handed me The Way It Is, the first release from Bruce Hornsby & The Range. I liked most of it but loved “Mandolin Rain.” The record went to No. 4 early in 1987, but it was No. 1 on my list, and I listened to that side of the cassette two or three times a week that winter and early spring. Late in the spring of 1987, I emerged from my cocoon, thirty pounds lighter, a little bit wiser, and ready to live again. I’ve never been certain what the lyrics of the song are really about, but to me they sound like a tale of necessary and welcome transformation.

Bruce Hornsby & The Range – “Mandolin Rain” [1986]

 

(“Shahdaroba” © Combine Music Corporation)

(Chart error corrected since first posted,)