The iPod reminded the other evening me of something I’d forgotten.
It chugged along as I did dishes, providing me another random set list of dishwashing music for a Facebook post, and along the way, it stopped on a Simon & Garfunkel tune: “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me.”
As the tale of a young man going on the run unfolded, I was reminded again of my first cassette player, the Panasonic model I bought in the summer of 1969 with the cash I’d earned working at the state trap shoot just outside of St. Cloud. I’ve noted before that the first cassettes I listened to were Blood, Sweat & Tears’ self-titled 1969 release and the Beatles’ Abbey Road.
But I forgot about Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 album, Sounds Of Silence.
Unlike the other two album, I never owned the factory cassette, and I didn’t put the LP into my collection for some years. But sometime in the late summer or autumn of 1969, I heard the album across the street at Rick’s and borrowed it to tape it.
As I’ve mentioned here before, my taping system in those days was brutal: I’d place the tape recorder in the middle of the basement rec room floor and play the record on the stereo about six feet away. The resulting recordings, while not great, were at least good enough for casual listening (and to be honest, the small speaker on the Panasonic was probably an audiophile’s nightmare).
I listened to the album a lot during my junior year of high school, 1969-70. I was just beginning to dabble in lyrics, and Simon’s work was among my inspirations: From the enigma of “The Sound Of Silence” through the lovely “Kathy’s Song” and the aforementioned “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” to the stoic “I Am A Rock,” the album’s lyrics made me think, not just about Simon’s evident themes of disaffection and isolation but about how one went about writing a lyric.
Along the way, I carefully copied out the lyrics to “A Most Peculiar Man,” another tale of social isolation:
He was a most peculiar man That’s what Mrs. Riordon says, and she should know She lived upstairs from him She said he was a most peculiar man
He was a most peculiar man He lived all alone Within a house, within a room, within himself A most peculiar man
He had no friends, he seldom spoke And no one in turn ever spoke to him ’Cause he wasn’t friendly and he didn’t care And he wasn’t like them Oh no, he was a most peculiar man
He died last Saturday He turned on the gas and he went to sleep With the windows closed so he’d never wake up To his silent world and his tiny room And Mrs. Riordan says he has a brother somewhere Who should be notified soon
And all the people said “What a shame that he’s dead But wasn’t he a most peculiar man?”
Admiring the lyric, I showed it to my English teacher, Mr. Dolan, and to my horror, he thought I had written it. I quickly corrected his misapprehension (which, of course, stemmed from my error of not having jotted Simon’s name down as I jotted down the lyrics), and in response, he suggested I try my hand at writing my own lyric. I didn’t tell him I was heading that direction already.
Eventually, the tape of Sounds Of Silence made its way out of my musical rotation. The LP came my way in the autumn of 1974 when Rick cleared his shelves of a number of albums and brought them across the street to me. I probably played it a little then, but it was no longer among my favorites.
So when the iPod offered me “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” the other day, I truly thought about the track and the entire album for the first time in a long while. (I didn’t think about it when I loaded the track onto the iPod? Not really. I was opening folders and clicking titles, and I may have thought, “Boy, I haven’t heard that in a long time,” but thinking that was a long way from actually hearing the track and responding to it.) And having been reminded of the album, I guess I’m going to have to purposefully listen to it from start to finish very soon.
Will I admire it as much as I once did? I don’t know. I might report back.
So it’s July 4, Independence Day. And rather than get all philosophical about the meaning of the day or get all curmudgeonly about how that meaning gets ignored in favor of barbecues and fireworks – both of which I’ve done in the past – we’ll just talk about music. What we’ll do is dig into three separate editions of the weekly Billboard Hot 100 for a taste of what we were hearing on three July Fourths in the past. In a nod at history we’ll check out the records that sat at No. 17 and No. 76. And we’ll note, as we go by, the No. 1 record at the time.
We’ll start with 1966, go to 1971 and then finish in the Bicentennial year of 1976.
The Beatles were sitting atop the Hot 100 on July 4, 1966, as “Paperback Writer” was in its second week at No. 1. (It had been No. 1 two weeks earlier, was pushed to No. 2 for a week by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” and then moved back to No. 1 for another week.)
Another familiar tune was at No. 17: Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” was heading down the chart after peaking at No. 3, the fifth of an eventual twenty records the duo would put in or near the Hot 100. During high school a couple of years later, when I really listened for the first time to Paul Simon’s lyrics on the record, I admired the narrator’s stance for what I saw as his self-sufficiency. Now, more than forty years later, I hear Simon’s words and think, “Boy, what a lonely life that would be.”
R&B singer and songwriter Joe Simon had a long and productive career, with a total of thirty-five singles in or near the Hot 100 and a total of forty singles in the R&B Top 40 between 1964 and 1978. He shows up today with “Teenager’s Prayer” sitting at No. 76 on July 4, 1966. It’s a pretty but lyrically vague tune (the teenager in question asks for love and peace of mind, which are not bad things to pray for) that would peak at No. 66 on the pop chart and at No. 11 on the R&B chart.
When the fireworks went off on July 4, 1971, Carole King’s double-sided single, “It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move,” was in the fourth week of a five week stay at No. 1.
Just down the chart a ways, we find the only Top 40 hit by the Beginning of the End, an R&B group from the Bahamas. The groove-shaking “Funky Nassau – Part 1” was sitting at No. 17 in the first week of July 1971, heading to a peak position of No. 15. On the R&B chart, the record peaked at No. 7.
Near the other end of the chart at No. 76, we find one of the classic R&B records: “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics. The first charting single for the group from Detroit, the record was in the early weeks of its climb to No. 9 on the pop chart and No. 3 on the R&B chart. The Dramatics would end up with a total of fourteen singles in or near the Hot 100 and twenty-two singles in the R&B Top 40.
As the U.S. celebrated its Bicentennial in 1976 (the only Independence Day for which I have a concrete memory: It was a Sunday, and I joined my parents for a community commemoration of the day at St. Cloud’s Lake George downtown), the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 was occupied by a single that appropriately mentioned “skyrockets in flight” (though the fireworks on the record came from a markedly different source than the Jaycees’ annual fireworks show): “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band was in the first of two weeks at No. 1; it peaked at No. 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
At No. 17 during that Bicentennial celebration was Neil Diamond’s “If You Know What I Mean” from his Beautiful Noise album, which for a few years found its way regularly onto my turntable. (A note to myself: Give it another listen and see how it sounds nearly forty years on). The single, produced – as was the album – by Robbie Robertson, was on its way to No. 11 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the AC chart. The record was the thirty-eighth of an eventual (and remarkable) fifty-six records on or near the pop chart for Diamond.
And our Independence Day observance ends at No. 76 on July 4, 1976: “Crazy on You” by Heart. The Seattle group’s first charting hit, the record was coming down the chart after peaking at No. 35. (A reissue of the single after the band had some hits performed less well, getting only to No. 62 in early 1978.) Heart was, of course, an regular chart presence during into the 1990s, with a total of thirty-two records in or near the Hot 100. (I should note that the linked video is the track as it appeared on the album Dreamboat Annie; I think the single eliminated the acoustic intro.)
It’s a cliché that as we age, we see our friends and families more often at funerals than anywhere else.
That’s not entirely true, but it kind of feels like it right now. I just got back to St. Cloud from a short trip to Little Falls, thirty miles north, where my college friend Rob – the attorney who lives in Spokane, Washington – is burying his father today.
We’ve been through many of life’s markers together: We met in Denmark, during our junior years of college, and we both graduated from St. Cloud State in 1976. During consecutive weeks two summers later, I was a groomsman at his wedding and he was best man at my first wedding. He and his wife made their home in Spokane, but Rob and I stayed in touch through letters and phone calls and – in more recent years – email.
And during his visits back to Minnesota, we’ve frequently met for lunch or a cup of coffee. Our most recent visits before today took place last summer. One weekday, Rob – an ardent cyclist – was getting in some training during a week-long visit to Little Falls and he stopped by our house for an hour or so. That weekend, I went to Little Falls to join in a birthday party for his father, who was turning seventy-nine, and we had a chance to talk as his father and a friend played a duet on harmonica and accordion.
I’m not going to say Rob and I see each other as often as we’d like, but no matter how infrequent our visits are or how divergent our paths have been, the friendship remains. And I think it will do so for as long as we’re both around.
Forty-three years ago, in “Old Friends,” Paul Simon wrote:
Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears
Paul Simon will, in fact, turn seventy this autumn, and I wonder how that feels to him now. As to my pal Rob, I don’t know that we’ll ever share a park bench like Simon’s old friends do in their diminishing years, but I think that, in the way of all good and long friendships, wherever I sit as the years pass, he’ll be there, and wherever he sits, I’ll be there as well.
There’s a new auto commercial that’s popped up in the past few weeks. I’ve seen it numerous times during the football playoffs the past two weekends. But even so, I don’t recall which brand of automobile the commercial is promoting. That’s because the music selected to back the commercial distracts me every time. So maybe I should say I’ve heard it numerous times. And here’s what I’ve heard:
I recognized it the instant I first heard it, whenever that might have been, maybe three weeks ago. It’s a passage from “The Only Living Boy In New York,” a recording that first saw the light of day in 1970 on Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water album.
Here’s the track in a video. The excerpt used for the auto commercial runs from about 1:16 to about 1:46.
It’s a beautiful track, one that I’ve always thought kind of got lost behind the album’s hits: The title tune, which spent six weeks at No. 1; “Cecelia,” which went to No. 4; “The Boxer,” which reached No. 7 and “El Condor Pasa,” which went to No. 18. “The Only Living Boy In New York” wound up on the B-side of “Cecelia,” but I think those positions should have been reversed and that “The Only Living Boy . . .” would have done very well as a single on its own. (I’ve never much cared for “Cecelia,” or for “El Condor Pasa,” as far as that goes.)
But the song remained an album track, and over the years, as I’ve put together mixtapes and then CD mixes for friends and for myself, it kind of got lost. I don’t recall using it very often in those mixes, and I should have. And I don’t often drop Bridge Over Troubled Water into the player these days, so I hadn’t heard “The Only Living Boy . . .” for several years or more until part of it showed up hawking cars the other weekend. Thus reminded, I went back and listened to it, and realized anew how good it is. (I think it’s generally accepted that the song was Paul Simon’s way of encouraging Art Garfunkel to pursue his developing acting career at a time when their musical partnership was nearing its end.) Having listened, I then did some digging, wondering about cover versions.
There were a few covers of the tune before 2000, but the pace of covers increased after that, and I’m not sure why. If the shift had occurred a few years later, I’d ascribe it at least partly to the use of the original recording in the soundtrack to the 2004 movie Garden State that year. But a couple of years before that, the song began to pop up for some reason.
But let’s start back in the 1990s. The covers of the song that are listed at All-Music Guide (probably not a complete list) include a straightforward folkish version from the New Zealand band Random Thoughts, included on the 1992 anthology Out from the Cold (1964-72) and a delightful cover of the tune by Everything But The Girl, included on the 1995 anthology Acoustic Rock. Then there was the version done by Larry Kirwan on his 2001 album Kilroy Was Here, which used an energetic jazzy arrangement behind an idiosyncratic vocal performance from Kirwan, the lead singer and songwriter for the band Black 47.
One of the more odd versions of the tune came on a 2001 release by a group called Avscvlate: Mystical Chants: The Songs of Simon & Garfunkel, an album that includes “The Only Living Boy . . .” and eleven other Simon & Garfunkel tunes in faux Gregorian chant settings. It’s an interesting listen but not one that compels repeated plays:
Avscvlate – “The Only Living Boy In New York” 
I can’t find any trace – not at iTunes, at Amazon or anywhere else – of a version of “The Only Living Boy . . .” by a group called The Trouble With Sweeney. It’s included on a 2002 EP titled Play Karen and Others, but it doesn’t show up anywhere. I did find a nice, almost Celtic, arrangement of the tune on Undercover Agents, a 2003 CD from a group called Hobnail Boots (or perhaps just Hobnail), but I can’t find anything else about the band. Based on discographies, it does not seem to be the New Zealand band called Hobnail Boots, but I’m not certain about anything except that the band covered the tune pretty well.
Other covers came along after “The Only Living Boy . . .” was used in Garden State: Kevin Laurence, Dandelion Snow and Sin Fang recorded the song, and at about the time the movie came out, David Mead recorded a unremarkable version of the tune for the television show Everwood, which ran from 2002 to 2006 without my seeing a single episode.
I came across two other versions of “The Only Living Boy In New York” that I thought I’d share here. The first is by Swedish singer Montt Mardié, who released the tune in a Swedish translation on his 2009 EP Direkt till Svenska. I realize it’s not everyone’s deal, but I’m fascinated by other-language recordings of songs I love.
Finally, the best cover of “The Only Living Boy In New York” that I’ve heard while digging around this week can be found on a CD released last summer by Marc Cohn of “Walking In Memphis” fame. His Listening Booth: 1970 album has him covering twelve hit songs from 1970, and I think he generally does a good job of it. His cover of “The Only Living Boy In New York” shines:
Marc Cohn – “The Only Living Boy In New York” 
In April, after I wrote about being a Beatles fan during the confusing year of 1970, regular reader and commenter porky recommended a book: He told me that You Never Give Me Your Money, Peter Doggett’s examination of the Beatles during and after their break-up, would be released here in the U.S. in June. (He got his own copy, he said in his note here, during a December vacation in England, lucky man.)
My copy arrived last week, and I’ve found it hard to set aside. The tales of bitterness and anger among the four men who’d created some of the world’s best pop-rock are – even forty years after the fact – saddening and frustrating. Beyond the personal hurts of what was, in effect, a four-person divorce, Doggett also chronicles the details of the tangled hodge-podge of Beatles’ business interest, which made sorting those things out daunting as well.
The book seems impeccably researched, calling on a wide range of interviews and reviews of documents and publications; what impresses me most is that not only am I being reminded of what happened (I’m up to about late 1972), but Doggett fills the gaps other chroniclers seem to have left over the years in letting us know not only what happened (and in some cases of urban legend, what didn’t happen), but how the four ex-Beatles and those around them felt about the things that took place.
As I said, it can make for sad reading. As I go through the tales of bitterness and anger and the thousands of rumors of Beatle reunions, I also reflect on something I read long ago in the first volume I ever owned of the Rolling Stone Record Guide. John Swenson, one of the editors of the guide, wrote:
“In retrospect, the group’s much-lamented decision to call it quits as the Seventies began was entirely appropriate; the collected work does not leave you with the impression that there were unfinished statements. There is a perfectly resolute and logical progression of ideas from Meet the Beatles to Abbey Road. They did it all, they did it right, and then they went their separate ways.”
Swenson wrote that in 1976 or so, when a reunion of the four – however unlikely – was possible, implying, as I read it, that a reunion was unnecessary and would probably be ill-advised. All these years later, with a reunion having been impossible for almost thirty years, Swenson’s main point remains valid: The music stands on its own as a complete story.
As sad and as frustrating as You Never Give Me Your Money can be, it’s also compelling, and I’ll make quick work of it. Leavening the sadness and frustration as I read is the knowledge that the music is still there. For many years, the Beatles were my favorite group, and their body of work keeps them very close to the top of my list still today. And two of their recordings made it through my winnowing and are included in my Ultimate Jukebox.
The first is a track from Revolver that I wrote about last December, detailing the high school courtship that found me leaving the song’s lyrics in the locker of my romantic interest. I’ve seen comments from Paul McCartney and John Lennon that “Got To Get You Into My Life” – McCartney’s creation entirely – was influenced, especially in its use of horns, by the Motown sound. That makes sense. I’ve also seen vague references to an interview with McCartney – one I’ve never read, I don’t think – in which he said the song was written about his need for marijuana. That’s possible, I suppose, but I got the impression somewhere – I must have read it, but it would have been long ago soon after I discovered the Beatles – that McCartney wrote the song soon after meeting Jane Asher, who for a few years was his girlfriend.
Whatever the source, “Got To Get You Into My Life” from the 1966 album Revolver is still a great record:
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 22
“Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, Atco 6147 
“Got To Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles from Revolver 
“The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel, Columbia 44785 
“Let It Rain” by Eric Clapton from Eric Clapton 
“Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics, Volt 4058 
“Arms of Mary” by Chilliwack from Light From the Valley 
Bobby Darin never seemed to know what kind of singer he wanted to be. Or it might be more fair to say that the record companies for whom he recorded had no clue what to do with him. From the silliness of “Splish Splash” in 1958 (silly or not, it went to No. 3 and was No. 1 for two weeks on the R&B chart) through his folk-rock period in the mid-1960s (with Top 40 singles in1966 and 1967), Darin wandered through changes of style after style. Among the things that didn’t change, however, were his great voice and his superb sense of timing. I’m not sure if it’s his best performance, but my favorite performance of Darin’s is “Mack the Knife,” a tune pulled from the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill production, The Threepenny Opera. Adding some Las Vegas/Rat Pack swing to the tune – which is crushingly staid in the versions of the opera I’ve seen – Darin swaggers his way through “Mack the Knife,” famously name-checking opera character Lucy Brown and Lotte Lenya, Weill’s wife and star of several stagings of the opera. Darin’s version of “Mack the Knife” was No. 1 for nine weeks in late 1959.
I suppose there’s little argument about which record was the best thing that Simon & Garfunkel ever did. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is an extraordinary song and record. But as much as I’ve loved it over the years, I found myself uneasy sliding it in among the other records in this mythical jukebox. As well as looking for good records, I guess I was also looking for flow, for a collection of songs that would make interesting combinations and patterns as the tunes played. And I decided as I considered the work of Simon & Garfunkel that “Bridge” just brings a little too much weight along with it, stopping the show. So I opted for “The Boxer,” which comes from the same album and was actually the first single released from Bridge Over Troubled Water. (It went to No. 7 in the spring of 1969.) And “The Boxer” was a better choice for my purposes. For the past few months, my pocket mp3 player has been loaded only with the tunes from the Ultimate Jukebox, and after hearing it pop up in several contexts, I’ve concluded that “The Boxer” is a better fit for what I was seeking than its towering neighbor. Beyond that, I like the story, seemingly told as it is from the shadows, and I love the long “lie-la-lie” ending.
Speaking of extended endings, Eric Clapton’s lengthy and compelling solo at the end of “Let It Rain” was one of my earliest exposures to Clapton as guitarist. I might have heard some of his work with the Yardbirds, and I know I heard some of Cream’s stuff, but those hearings would have come in the days before I paid much attention to who was actually doing the playing. When I finally got to that point – sometime between late 1971 and the summer of 1972 – Clapton was one of the first musicians I began to explore, along with his friends who helped record “Let It Rain” and the rest of his first solo album: Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett (she co-wrote “Let It Rain” with Clapton) and the group of friends that included Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Leon Russell and all the rest. “Let It Rain” wasn’t released as a single in 1970 when Eric Clapton came out, but when Polydor released the anthology Clapton At His Best in 1972, the label also released “Let It Rain” as a single (it may have been an edit of the album track; I don’t know). The record somehow missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 48.
It took nine years and a few personnel changes for the Dramatics to get from their formation in Detroit in 1962 to the recording of their first album, Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get in 1971. All the work seemed worth it, I imagine, when the record was a hit. The album went to No. 20 on the Billboard 200 and to No. 5 on the R&B album chart. At the same time, the album threw off three hit singles: “In The Rain” went to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the R&B chart; “Get Up and Get Down” went to No. 78 on the Hot 100 and to No. 16 on the R&B chart; and “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” went to No. 9 on the Hot 100 and to No. 3 on the R&B chart. Of the three, the sweet and pretty “In The Rain” did a little better, but “Whatcha See” has a groove that can’t be refused. So I won’t try.
I have ten versions of the song “Arms of Mary” right now, and I’ll collect more as I find them. It’s one of those songs that grabs hold of me – it’s a song of memoir and memory, after all – and I knew one version of it would end up in this list. The original, by the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, off of 1975’s Reach For The Sky, is nice enough, and managed to get to No. 85 on the Billboard Hot 100, but the spare folky accompaniment is somehow wanting. As a result, I prefer the slightly tougher version from the Canadian group Chilliwack. The track comes from the album Lights From The Valley, and the Mushroom label released the song as a single, as well. I imagine it might have done well in Canada, but all I know is that it didn’t make the Hot 100. Well, the other thing I’m sure of is that it should have been a hit.