Posts about Shawn Phillips have rolled through this blog at all three of its locations often enough that his name is among those on the right-side indices both here and at the EITW Archives site, but I noticed the other week that I’ve never shared – either as an mp3 in the early days or as a video – the suite that opens Phillips’ 1970 album Second Contribution.
The suite starts with the first hushed a capella notes of the song colloquially known as “Woman” – a tune that actually has the unwieldy title of “She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It’s Getting Too Heavy To Laugh” – and goes on for more than thirteen minutes, taking us through the titles “Keep On,” “Sleepwalker” and “Song for Mr. C.”
There’s something – I’ve never been quite sure what – about that four-song sequence, and in fact the entire Second Contribution album, that says to me “Early Seventies” in a way that not much, if any, other music can. My early Seventies – from 1970 to 1974 – bridged the years between high school and the first few years of college, and the ideas and images that flit through my mind when I hear that four-song suite range from used record shops hiding treasures in ramshackle buildings; sunlit bicycle rides with girls I knew in both high school and college; my first beer, my first beard, my first kiss and a few other firsts; and the general sense of (sometimes amiable) confusion among me and my friends about what we would do with our lives in a world that was changing faster than we (and our parents) could truly comprehend.
I’m pretty sure that I first heard Second Contribution on Rick’s turntable not long after the record came out. I certainly knew the album well from hearing it at his place by the spring of 1972, when Phillips performed at St. Cloud State the week I was grounded (a tale I told not long ago). And whenever I heard Second Contribution or the later albums Collaboration and Faces (both of which I also heard at Rick’s, I think, as well as at parties around campus), I told myself I needed to find those albums, especially Second Contribution.
That took years, though. There was so much other music I wanted to explore, and even with used records at the various shops in St. Cloud being priced cheaply, there was only so much cash at hand. And life moved along, taking me from St. Cloud to Denmark and back and then on to the Twin Cities and back and then eventually to Monticello and a job as a reporter. And one Saturday in 1981, as I browsed a bin of used records at a flea market, I came across a copy of Second Contribution. When I got it home and onto the turntable, however, there was a fair amount of noise covering the quiet introduction of “She Was Waiting . . .” The rest of the record was okay, though, and I reveled in the remembered sounds and the images and ideas they brought back. Sadly, the Other Half was not impressed, and I played the record rarely for the rest of our time together.
I tried to upgrade the quality of my Second Contribution vinyl a couple of times during my years in Minneapolis as the 1990s turned to the 2000s, but no matter how good the records looked, Phillips’ quiet starting vocal was buried in hiss. Then, one day in late 2005, as I wandered through our local music emporium looking to spend some Christmas money, I found the album on CD, and later that day, I heard the album’s quiet and haunting opening moments the way they were recorded, just like I’d first heard them on Rick’s turntable so many years earlier.
And the entire album, especially the four-song opening suite offered below, still sounds to me like the early 1970s felt.
We all, through the courses of our lives, lose people whom we love: Parents, maybe spouses, sometimes children, certainly friends, and often lovers. When the lost one is young, the loss carries with it as well the loss of possibility, of what that young person could have built with his or her life. All of us left behind grieve the absence, yes, but we also grieve for the spouse never chosen, the children never born, the jobs never won, the music never heard. And we learn that with the passage of years, grief does become less acute, but we also learn that – like a radioactive isotope with its half-life – grief never really goes away.
That may be the final gift of grief: that it never fully goes away, that despite the passage of time it always reminds us of what we had in those who were taken from us, and it does so more and more gently with each passing year.
And we remember.
Text adapted from a May 2013 post. Music: “We” by Shawn Phillips, 1972.
As I did the dishes Thursday afternoon, I kept track of the tunes coming from the little mp3 player so I could post the list on Facebook. I no longer offer Dishwashing Music daily, but I do so maybe twice a week these days, usually when the player gives me an intriguing set of songs.
Thursday’s set was just that: “It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr, “Get Together” by the Youngbloods, “Pain” by the Mystics, “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty, “No Time” by the Guess Who, “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel and “The Ballad Of Casey Deiss” by Shawn Phillips. I chose to highlight the Shawn Phillips track, as I hadn’t heard it for a while.
And as I searched at YouTube for a video of the tune and then listened to it to make sure it would work for my post, I wondered idly when Phillips – a Texan who currently lives in South Africa – would make his way back to Minnesota for some performances. He came through St. Cloud a few years ago, and I somehow missed it. Shaking my head regretfully, I finished the Facebook post and went on with my afternoon.
The Texas Gal came home, and I walked across the street to check on the mail. When I came back in, she was on the phone with someone. That someone said something funny and she laughed, and as she did, she handed the phone to me. The caller, it turned out, was my long-time pal Rick, calling from the southern Minnesota town of Kenyon, where he and his family moved a couple of years ago.
After some pleasantries, he told me the news: Shawn Phillips was playing a concert Saturday (today) in the small town of Zumbrota, about seventeen miles east of Kenyon. “Zumbrota?” I asked.
“I know, I know,” Rick said. “It’s weird. But that’s how Phillips is. He finds small venues when he’s around Minnesota.”
That’s true, and it’s part of Phillips’ continuing affection for Minnesota, which for some reason was one of the few places – along with his native Texas – where his records sold well and his concerts were well-attended back in the early 1970s, when his unique combination of rock and folk brought him some attention and some sales.
Phillips’ chart presence was not massive: Between 1971 and 1976, four of his albums reached the Billboard 200; two others bubbled under, including my favorite, 1970’s Second Contribution; two of his singles reached the Billboard Hot 100 during those years, and two others bubbled under. Nevertheless, whenever he came through St. Cloud in those years, tickets to his shows were hard to get.
“So,” Rick continued, “there are a bunch of us going.” He mentioned a few names, and they were folks I know, some fairly well. “And,” he went on, “I was wondering if you wanted to come down and see the show. I’ll cover the ticket. I figure I owe you a ticket to see Shawn Phillips.”
Well, that was true. Back in May of 1972, I had a pair of tickets on my dresser for a weeknight Phillips concert in St. Cloud State’s Stewart Hall, one for me and one for Rick. On the Saturday evening before – and I feel as if I’ve told this tale here before although I couldn’t find it in the blog’s Word files – I saw Rick standing at the corner of his lawn, seemingly waiting for someone. I walked across the street to chat with him as he waited, and he invited me to a party – a kegger – in a place called Hidden Valley somewhere near the small town of Sartell, which at that time was about ten miles north of St. Cloud. (The cities have expanded during the past forty-two years and now border each other.)
I tagged along to the party with Rick and came home sometime after midnight, drunk and ill. My parents, to understate things, were not amused. I was grounded for the next week: Home from college right after work each day, no evening excursions, no friends visiting, no phone calls. Well, I deserved some kind of discipline, and I could still see my (potential) girlfriend during the day. The only thing that would really hurt would be missing Shawn Phillips.
I got my tickets to Rick. I think my folks called him, and he came over and picked them up. He says I dropped them to him out of my bedroom window, which is a far better tale, so we’ll go with that. I don’t know who used the ticket that would have been mine. As it happened, KVSC, the college radio station, broadcast Phillips’ show from Stewart Hall, so on the night of the concert, I was able to hear his performance. But it would have been far better to be there. So, yes, Rick was correct as we talked on the phone two days ago: He owed me a ticket to a Shawn Phillips concert.
Zumbrota, however, is 130 miles away, a lengthy drive for me. I’d stay a night in a hotel in Kenyon owned by one of Rick’s in-laws, and hotel stays present their own challenges for me. And I’ve just barely gotten over whatever bug it was that laid me cross-wise this past week. So for reasons of budget and health, I had to decline the offer. Rick understood. We talked a bit about an upcoming Strat-O-Matic get-together in St. Cloud, and then I told him to enjoy the Shawn Phillips show. And I told him that the long-standing debt is no longer on the books.
All of that, then, made it easy to find a tune for this morning. Here, from Shawn Phillips’ 1970 album Second Contribution, is “The Ballad of Casey Deiss,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
As you might recall, we spent a little bit of time last Saturday poking around a music survey released on March 15, 1974, by radio station KUPK of Garden City, Kansas. The thirty-record survey showed some familiar records, mostly at the upper end, and a fair number of records not so familiar. Four of the records on the KUPK survey, I noted, didn’t even dent the Billboard charts or its Bubbling Under section, and I chose one of those four – “Roll It” by Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax – for our Saturday Single.
In addition, I noted that nine other records on the Garden City survey were ranked a good deal higher than they ever got on the Billboard charts. Now, it’s not out of the ordinary for records to do better in one market than they do nationally. But thirteen out of thirty? That seemed a bit odd. Here, listed by their rankings on the KUPK survey, are those thirteen records and their Billboard peaks:
No. 12: “Star” by Stealers Wheel, No. 29.
No. 16: “On A Night Like This” by Bob Dylan, No. 44.
No. 19: “I’m A Train” by Albert Hammond, No. 31.
No. 20: “Music Eyes” by Heartsfield, No. 95.
No. 22: “Roll It” by Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax, did not chart.
No. 23: “Skybird” by Neil Diamond, No. 75.
No. 24: “Loving Arms” by Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, No. 86.
No. 25: “You’re So Unique” by Billy Preston, No. 48.
No. 26: “When The Morning Comes” by Hoyt Axton, No. 54.
No. 27: “All The Kings And Castles” by Shawn Phillips, did not chart.
No. 28: “Stone Country” by Johnny Winter, did not chart.
No. 29: “Invisible Song” by the Rainbow Canyon Band, did not chart.
No. 30: “Pepper Box” by the Peppers, No. 76.
Seven of those records were unfamiliar to me, though I knew most of the performers and one of the songs. I’d never heard of the Rainbow Canyon Band (listed only as “Rainbow Canyon” on the KUPK survey) or the Peppers. And I’ve known the song “Loving Arms” for years, but I’d never heard Kris and Rita’s cover. So after sharing “Roll It” last Saturday, I went and found videos of the six remaining unfamiliar records. Then, even though the Shawn Phillips track was one that I knew, I posted a video of it because it was one of those listed that did not chart in Billboard.
The Rainbow Canyon Band, according to the YouTube poster, was a well-known Cleveland group that came to the attention of James Gang drummer Jim Fox, who produced “Invisible Song” and brought James Gang guitarist Tommy Bolin to the sessions. The Peppers, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, were an instrumental duo from Paris; “Pepper Box” was the duo’s only charting single.
As I noted last week, I’m not a chart maven; I do have a sense that the KUPK survey is odd in hosting so many singles that out-perform their national ranking. And I noticed a couple of other things that intrigued me about the KUPK survey.
First, in addition to the “Pop & Contemporary” listing, the survey – seen here – had a ten-record listing for easy listening and a twenty-record listing for country, so just from those three lists, it’s evident that the station had vastly different sorts of programming for different day-parts, something not at all rare for small town stations (and, by our estimate based on the 1970 and 1980 censuses listed at Wikipedia, Garden City had about 16,000 residents in 1974).
Supporting that assumption are three notes in the text at the top of the survey: “Capt. Weird, Roger Unruh” offered listeners the program Rock Garden on Saturday nights from 10:30 p.m. to 4 a.m.; Jim Throneberry, the “Morning Mayor” was on the air from 7 to 9; and a new voice on the station was that of Bob Hill, who ran the Country Show from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (And I wonder if some of the records in the “Pop & Contemporary” listing might not have been heard on Capt. Weird’s Rock Garden.)
Here’s a guess at KUPK’s weekday: A morning show with news and farm reports from 4 to 7 a.m. followed by Jim Throneberry until 9 a.m., and then maybe easy listening (with some news at noon) until 5 p.m. After more news, country music from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Then more news, and “Pop & Contemporary” until 4 the next morning. (Perhaps on the FM side; the AM side went off the air at sunset, as friend and faithful reader Yah Shure notes below.)
After pondering that, I took a closer look at the “Pop & Contemporary” listing, and I was struck by the volatility of the survey. Of the thirty records listed, sixteen were new to the survey that week, including two in the top ten: Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling” and Rick Derringer’s “Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo.” I’d love to have seen the KUPK surveys from the week before and the week after, but unfortunately, the March 15, 1974, survey is the only one from KUPK available at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, and a quick Googling found no others (although I did learn that the Davis Sisters of nearby Meade, sponsored by KUPK, won the 1973 Kansas State Fair Talent Contest).
As it happens, KUPK radio is no longer on the air; KUPK-TV is a satellite station of KAKE-TV in Wichita, about two hundred miles away; a segment of KAKE’s nightly show originates from a newsroom at the KUPK studios. I assume that arrangement dates from the Garden City station’s founding in 1964, as the call letters KUPK, according to Wikipedia, are meant to symbolize Kup-Kake.
(The station’s history is not quite right in that preceding paragraph. Yah Shure also untangled the KUPK story in his note, and he gets my thanks.)
So what does all this mean? I have absolutely no idea. It’s just interesting stuff – interesting to me, anyway – from forty years ago. And we’ll close this morning with what’s likely my favorite record of the thirty listed on the KUPK Music Survey from mid-March 1974: “When The Morning Comes,” on which Hoyt Axton got some help from Linda Ronstadt. As noted above, the record – from Axton’s 1974 album Life Machine – went to No. 54 on the Billboard pop chart (and to No. 10 on the country chart).
This morning’s task here at the EITW studios was to sort the 73,000 or so mp3s on the shelves, looking for titles with the word “white” in them. That’s in preparation, of course, for the ninth and final chapter of the adventure we call Floyd’s Prism, which has thus far covered the seven colors of the spectrum and black.
Our sorting got complicated right away. First of all, there are many tracks in the collection by both the Average White Band and Tony Joe White. And then, not only does the RealPlayer sorting function take into account title, artist name and album title (or record label, if the mp3 was better known as a single), but it also sorts for the various notes appended to the mp3s by their creators.
And when I turn my records into mp3s, I have the habit – most of the time – of appending a note that says “Ripped from vinyl by whiteray.” So there are many, many mp3s that show up in the search that have no connection to “white” in their titles, their artists or their album titles or record label names. I don’t recall ripping a live version of Gregg Allman performing “Dreams” during a 1974 concert in Boston, but I’m glad I did. I remember ripping in its entirety the 1982 album Chipmunk Rock, and I sort of regret that (but only sort of; it is a little bit of a hoot to hear Alvin, Simon and Theodore take on Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and other tunes of that vintage).
Anyway, I’m sorting things out, looking for titles with “white” in them. I’ll have plenty to choose from, so I thought that as I sort and research, I’d offer a preview of sorts today. Here’s the title track to Shawn Phillips’ 1973 album, Bright White.
I’ll be back Saturday with a single, and we’ll dig into “White” next week.
As promised yesterday, we’ll continue today with the next installment of Floyd’s Prism, and when we search in the mp3 stacks for tunes with “violet” in their titles, we get a minimal result: only thirty-six titles.
And most of them have to be discarded, as is generally the case. First off the pile are a couple of singer-songwriter albums: Madison Violet’s Americana-tinged 2009 album, No Fool For Trying, and Sarah Alden’s 2012 effort, Fists Of Violets, which is more difficult to characterize.
Then, we lose some individuals tracks whose titles come close: “Violetta” from the 1962 album A Taste of Honey by exotica master Martin Denny; “Goodbye To the War; Goodbye To the Violets” from the 1973 album Weltschmerzen by the People’s Victory Orchestra & Chorus; “Violets for Your Furs” from Frank Sinatra’s 1954 album, Songs for Young Lovers; U2’s “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” from the 1992 album, Achtung Baby; and versions of Eric Andersen’s “Violets of Dawn” from the Robbs (1967), Rick Nelson (1969), Mary Chapin Carpenter (2009) and Andersen himself (1966, as noted here yesterday).
That leaves us with six tracks, which was our target. So on we go.
The British-based folk rock band Eclection recorded only one album during its two-year (1967-69) existence, but the self-titled album, released in 1968, is pretty good and not as Brit-centered as one might expect. In the liner notes for the 2001 reissue of the album, Richie Unterberger wrote, “The combination of male-female harmonies, optimistic lyrics with shades of romantic psychedelia, folk-rock melodies, acoustic-electric six- and twelve-string guitar combinations, and stratospheric orchestration couldn’t help but bring to mind similar Californian folk-pop-rock of the mid-to-late 1960s.” The track “Violet Dew” doesn’t quite cover all of those bases, but it covers a lot of them. Perhaps the most noticeable thing as I listen this morning is the remarkable voice of singer Kerrilee Male, who left the band later in 1968 to go home to Australia and seemingly, from anything I can find online this morning, never recorded again.
Shawn Phillips’ work from the early 1970s has shown up frequently in this space (though perhaps not for a while), but his later work not so much. That’s unfortunate, as Phillips’ later work is worth hearing. The difference, I suppose, is that his work from the latter portion of the 1970s does not carry the same time-and-place weight for me as does his earlier stuff; I didn’t hear much of the later work at the time it came out. Still, nearly every time something pops up from his late 1970s albums, I’m glad it did so. Today, it’s “Lady in Violet” from his 1978 album Transcendence, about which I said in 2007: “It’s a pretty good album, of a piece with the rest of his work, although the lyrics don’t seem to stand up as well . . . . Musically, it’s enjoyable with a breath-taking moment or two.” Whether any of those moments show up in “Lady in Violet” is your call, I guess. I think they do.
Without doubt, the finest offering among the six surviving “Violet” tracks is “Violet Eyes” by Levon Helm. Found on his 1980 album, American Son, the track offers harmonies and an overall feeling that echo the best albums of The Band. According to All Music Guide, the track was recorded in Nashville: “While recording a few songs for the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, in which he played Loretta Lynn’s father, Levon Helm and friends just kept the tape rolling.” And as I listen this morning, I wonder why no solo tracks from Helm showed up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox. So, in what I imagine could be – perhaps should be – the last instance of Jukebox Regrets, I’ll acknowledge that “Violet Eyes” and “Even A Fool Would Let Go” (from Helm’s 1982 self-titled album) should have been part of the Ultimate Jukebox.
Maybe it doesn’t happen so much anymore (or maybe I just don’t see it), but a few years ago the simple mention of Coldplay at a forum or bulletin board – during a time when that band was perhaps the most popular band in the world – would spark arguments, dismissive comments and utter vitriol aimed at Chris Martin and his mates. I never understood that. I don’t count Coldplay among my favorites, but I don’t find the group’s music unlistenable. And I do like very much several tracks from the group, including “Violet Hill” from the 2008 album Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends.
To label something as “glossy Americana” might be a contradiction, but that’s what I hear when I listen to the 2011 CD Barton Hollow by the duo called the Civil Wars. The album by Joy Williams and John Paul White offers mostly rootsy ballads that seem to have been worked over until they shine, which is not an awful idea, but some part of me wants a few unsanded and unvarnished bits in my folk music. Still, I find Barton Hollow enjoyable, and that holds true for the instrumental “The Violet Hour” this morning.
I’m not sure how I got hold of Jeremy Messersmith’s 2010 album, The Reluctant Graveyard. There are a number of public relations firms that email me regularly, offering CDs or downloads, so I’m assuming that’s how I heard of Messersmith, who is based in Minneapolis. And having done some digging and some closer listening this morning, I have to add Messersmith – who’s gained a lot of critical acclaim in the past few years – to that long list of musicians to whom I should pay greater attention. As to this morning’s task, “Violet!” is one of the better tracks on The Reluctant Graveyard. Here’s the (rather quirky) official video:
A while back, on one of those Facebook memes that friends send through occasionally, I was asked to list the twenty essential songs/records for my desert island. I don’t recall everything I listed and then sent out to other friends, but I do recall the top two: “Cherish” by the Association and “We” by Shawn Phillips.
I got a note from my friend, the Half-Hearted Dude, who blogs at Any Major Dude With Half A Heart and who stops by here and leaves an occasional note. He said – and I’m paraphrasing here, as the note has been consigned to the ether and to whatever files Facebook keeps on its registrants – that when he saw that I had responded, he figured that “Cherish” and “We” would show up somewhere on my list, and their presence in the top two spots was not at all surprising.
Well, I guess it shouldn’t have been startling. I’ve written about “Cherish” several times during the life of this blog, calling it at least once the best single ever released. And although I’ve written about “We” far less often – and do not recall exactly what I said about it – I know that I’ve never hidden my high regard for Shawn Phillips’ 1972 recording. In it, one can hear many virtues: strong melody; inventive, coherent and cohesive lyrics; a sparkling backing track; and the conciseness of a record that gets all that done in 3:43 (and I’ll acknowledge, as a fan of Phillips, that concision wasn’t always present on his other 1970s albums).
Then add to those virtues Phillips’ remarkable vocal, especially the portion where his scat singing takes him into the stratosphere (starting at 2:38 into the song), and you’ve got a record that for me, at least, comes very close to the top of the all-time list.
But wait, as the hawkers on television say, there’s more!
Faces, the album that is home to “We,” was released in 1972. The album got to No. 57 on the Billboard chart, and “We,” its lone charting single, got to No. 89 in the Billboard Hot 100 during the last week of January 1973. What’s always puzzled me, then, is how the single showed up on the jukebox in St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center during the early autumn of 1974, twenty-one months after it spent three weeks in the Hot 100. Was it re-released? Did the jukebox jobber goof? I don’t know, but whatever the reason for its late appearance, the record was welcome. I dropped a lot of quarters into the machine that autumn, and “We” was one of the preferred records for me and a couple of other folks at The Table, the diverse and sometimes odd collection of people with whom I spent my free time.
The song’s lyrics, of course, tell of how two – a “he” and a “she” – can make a “we,” and I was dreaming about that same process that autumn. Those dreams left abruptly, as friends and long-time readers likely recall. And I don’t think I heard “We” again for almost nine years. I imagine I could have sought out the album, as I did for a few records that marked that autumn. But I didn’t, and it wasn’t until the spring of 1983, when I chanced on Faces at a flea market in Monticello, that I heard “We” again. If anything, it had become more powerful in its absence. Over the years, I’ve increased the quality of my copy of the album, finding a better vinyl version in 1997 and then finding a rare CD copy in 2007. But no matter the format or quality, “We” remains one of the most emotionally potent songs in my entire universe of music.
Its potency is not tied, as some might guess, to the young woman who might have been the other half of that “he and she make we” equation. (At least not entirely.) It’s linked, rather, to a time before things changed, to a vague memory, a moment when all of us at The Table were listening to Shawn Phillips’ voice soar through the basement snack bar where we gathered, all of us – for that moment – looking at things beyond the range of our vision and finding bits of our own dreams expressed in Phillips’ words and music.
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 27
“San Francisco Girls (Return Of The Native)” by Fever Tree from Fever Tree 
“(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic 2486 
“Vehicle” by the Ides of March, Warner Bros. 7378 
“We” by Shawn Phillips from Faces 
“Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)” by the Bee Gees from Main Course 
“Four Strong Winds” by Neil Young from Comes A Time 
The myth of San Francisco circa 1967 and 1968 was grist for the mills of who knows how many songwriters and performers, with the best-known result probably being John Phillips’ “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair),” which was a No. 4 hit for Scott McKenzie during the singular summer of 1967. Fever Tree, a relatively forgotten band that offered an odd mix of psychedelic tunes, soft ballads and cover versions of others’ hits, didn’t get its San Francisco tune out until June of 1968, when “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)” spent three weeks at No. 91. Despite the group’s eclectic style and despite the lack of attention given the single, I think that “San Francisco Girls” is just as evocative of what was happening in that California city as McKenzie’s record, especially in its opening, with the harpsichord eventually joined by tympani and organ for the hushed opening verse:
Out there it’s summertime Milk and honey days Oh, San Francisco girls with San Francisco ways.
From there, the song takes off in a rushed, fuzz-laden gallop, and the rest of the tale isn’t quite as interesting. But those first few moments pull me in every time.
I don’t have much to say about Aretha Franklin and “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone.” I mean, she’s Aretha, and the record was one of her forty-five Top 40 hits (covering a span of years from 1961 to 1998). Add that “Since You’ve Been Gone” went to No. 5 in the early spring of 1968 (and was No. 1 for three weeks on the R&B chart), and all you need to do after that is listen.
There was a discussion not long ago at the blog AM, then FM about how the lyrics to “Vehicle,” the Ides of March hit from 1970, might play today, what with the “friendly stranger in the black sedan” inviting the object of his interest into his car: “I got pictures, got candy. I’m a lovable man, and I can take you to the nearest star.” I’d guess – as did Jeff at AM, then FM – that what was heard as a (lame) come-on forty years ago would come off today as really creepy: This dude is exactly the kind of guy parents have been warning kids about for years! So times have changed, and the guy in the car would have needed to find a new way to get the attention of a pretty young thing. But as he long as he brings those horns along, he’ll do okay, as the horn chart was at least partly the reason that “Vehicle” went to No. 2 during the spring of 1970.
The Bee Gees’ long career had, as I see it, three distinct segments. Call them acts, if you want. Act One was the group’s early work as a kind of Down Under Beatles, running – as far as hits in the U.S. were concerned – from 1967 into 1969. Act Two was the split in the group and then the tentative music after the reunion, with that segment running from 1970 to 1972. Then, in 1975, started Act Three, during which the Bee Gees were for a while the world’s most popular group, throwing off hits for themselves and producing them for others as if there were nothing hard about it at all. The first portion of that third act was the 1975 album Main Course, which telegraphed the disco triumph to come in its first two hits, “Jive Talkin’” and “Nights on Broadway,” which went to No. 1 and No. 7, respectively. My favorite from the album, though, is the third hit, “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love),” which went to No. 12 during the early months of 1976. Why that record? It’s no secret that I like a good ballad, and to me, “Fanny” is one of the best. And it comes from a time in my life that held at least two good things: my college internship and the pleasant (and unfamiliar) dilemma of having to decide between two very nice young women.
“Four Strong Winds,” Ian Tyson’s song of retreat from love to the Alberta prairie, has been recorded by hundreds of folks since he wrote it as the title tune to the second album he and his then-wife released as Ian & Sylvia. I have to admit that I wasn’t all that familiar with the song until I heard Neil Young’s 1978 version on the radio one day. Young’s cover of “Four Strong Winds” was released as a single but only got to No. 61. Nevertheless, hearing the tune inspired me to run down to the local record outlet and grab a copy of Comes A Time, which has only turned out to be my favorite Neil Young album. And the tune marks the only appearance of Neil Young in my mythical jukebox.