Posts Tagged ‘Temptations’

Saturday Single No. 494

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

In the middle of this past week, a friend of mine on Facebook – also a fellow member of our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship – noted that she’d had to explain the concept of a punchbowl to her elementary-age students. And she wondered when was the last time her friends on FB had seen or used a punchbowl.

Well, noted another fellowship member, we use one every year at our annual dinner. Others mentioned graduation celebrations, formal dances and the other types of get-togethers one might expect.

I added that we’d used a punchbowl at the celebration of my mom’s 90th birthday almost five years ago, and I noted that the punch we’d served that day was made from the same recipe (and very possibly, now that I think about it, served from the same punchbowl) that was used for the punch at my sister’s wedding reception in 1972. The recipe, I told FB readers, was one my mom found in a magazine.

But as Wednesday faded and Thursday arrived, I wondered if that was the source of the recipe, which calls for pineapple juice, frozen orange juice and ginger ale. Certainly Mom could have found the recipe in a magazine in 1972. She subscribed to several publications that could have offered it: Better Homes & Gardens, McCall’s and Redbook come to mind. The recipe’s genesis wasn’t all that important, but I wondered.

We went to lunch Thursday, Mom and I, at, of course, the Ace Bar & Grill. She told me about a lovely funeral that took place earlier in the week for the woman who’d been the oldest resident in the assisted living center, and she asked how the Texas Gal and I were feeling, as she knew we’d been struggling through a couple ailments each. We were getting better, I told her, turning around in my mind the thought that funerals and ailments will likely be more and more frequent conversation topics as the years go on.

Then I asked her about the punch, and she remembered it clearly. “So good!” she said (and she was right about that). And I asked if she’d found the recipe in a magazine. No, she hadn’t. She’d gotten the recipe from her mother, my grandmother, and it had been served in 1965 at the celebration of my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary at their farmhouse just outside Lamberton, Minnesota. That meant, I realized, that I had dipped and served some of that punch, as my cousin Debbie and I – we were both eleven – were on punch bowl duty for at least a part of that gathering at my grandparents’ home.

And, Mom went on, that punch had been served at the reception when she and my dad were married in July 1948; that celebration also took place at the Lamberton farm. So where had Grandma gotten the recipe? Well, Mom said, she’d gotten it from her sister Hilda. And Hilda, Mom said slowly, thinking, had gotten it from her roommate at nursing school.

The memories began to spool out, as they always do when Mom gets to talking about things that happened sixty or more years ago: Hilda was living in St. Paul, and the nursing school was at the long-gone Miller Hospital (and was a program of the University of Minnesota, according to the page about the hospital at Placeography).

Hilda’s roommate was a nursing student, too, Mom said, visibly sifting the memories as our lunch was served – eggs and hash browns for her; a German burger (a hamburger with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and bacon) and tater tots for me. Hilda’s roommate, Mom said, was Sophie, Sophie . . . Kashinsky. Sophie came from Hutchinson, Minnesota, a town about sixty miles straight west of the Twin Cities, with a population back then of not quite 5,000 people.

Where did Sophie get the recipe? Mom didn’t know. She’d met Sophie a number of times, the last occasion being a potluck picnic at the Hutchinson home of the recently married Sophie during the summer of 1950. Mom recalled the year of the picnic because she was pregnant with my sister at the time, and she also recalled that she brought baked beans to the picnic. I have no doubt that if I’d asked her what color the table cloth was, she’d have remembered.

But there was no answer to the question: Where did Sophie get the punch recipe? I didn’t say this at lunch, but it’s reasonable to assume, I think, that Sophie got the recipe from her mother, and I’d like to think that it was served at a reception for Sophie’s graduation from Hutchinson High School sometime during the 1930s, or maybe even at the reception when Sophie’s own parents were married, most likely in the early 1900s.

What I do know is that if one Googles “punch pineapple juice ginger ale,” the second recipe that pops up from allrecipes, called “Party Punch V,” is the one for which I bought the ingredients when we were planning to celebrate Mom’s 90th birthday in 2011. It’s evidently a classic.

That’s a story that really didn’t go anywhere, I know. Life is like that sometimes. But when it came time to find a tune to pair with that meandering story, I got lucky pretty quickly. I found a track from the Temptations’ second album, The Temptations Sing Smokey, released in 1965. The album went to No. 35 on the Billboard 200 and to No. 1 on the magazine’s R&B album chart. It’s a  song more often associated with Mary Wells, whose 1962 original went to No. 9 on the Billboard 100 and to No. 1 on the magazine’s R&B singles chart.

It may be more familiar coming from Wells, but it’s pretty damned good coming from the Temptations, and that’s why the Temps’ cover of “You Beat Me To The Punch” is today’s Saturday Single.

One Chart Dig: November 6, 1970

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Glancing through the entries on the Billboard Hot 100 from forty-four years ago today, I was struck by a title in the Top 40 that I’d never encountered: “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)” by the Temptations. The record was at No. 39, just down from its peak a week earlier at No. 33. (It peaked at No. 8 on the R&B chart.)

Despite the foreign language title (and after a brief sorting of links at Google, I’m still not sure which African language it is), to my ears the record holds no trace, either sonically or lyrically, of what we would eventually call world music: It comes straight from the Barrett Strong & Norman Whitfield notebook (with Whitfield producing).

Given the Strong & Whitfield sound, its relative failure on the charts is a little perplexing. In Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)” is the fourth of a series of five singles listed beginning in August 1969: The three before it were “I Can’t Get Next To You,” which went to No. 1; “Psychedelic Shack” (No. 7); and “Ball of Confusion” (No. 3). And following “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)” in early 1971 was “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me),” which was another No. 1 hit, a record decidedly different than the four preceding it but still a Strong/Whitfield track.

My guess is that the foreign title might have put off programmers and confused the buying public, because it’s a pretty good record.

Saturday Single No. 412

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

Certain years and seasons will always grip me and fascinate me, some for the life I was living at the time, some for the music I was hearing, and some for both. One of my most potent musical seasons, as I’ve noted before, was the autumn of 1969, when I was a new Top 40 listener. As the music came from the RCA radio in my room (and from other sources), I was frequently amazed at how clearly those records spoke to me about my life.

So when I look at the Billboard Hot 100 from September 27, 1969, forty-five years ago today, I see a lot of records that were loud portions of the soundtrack of my life during that autumn when I was sixteen. The Top Ten forty-five years ago today was:

“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman
“Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations
“Jean” by Oliver
“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” by Tom Jones
“Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone
“Oh, What A Night” by the Dells.

Eight of those are vibrant memories from that time. (I probably heard the singles by Tom Jones and the Dells but evidently not enough for them to imprint themselves as vital songs.) They aren’t the most potent records from that season, but they all say “Autumn of ’69” when they pop up on the radio or on the RealPlayer.

Some of the more significant records from that time do show up a little farther down that Hot 100: “Get Together” by the Youngbloods is at No. 13, “Hurts So Bad” by the Lettermen was next at No. 14, and Bob Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay” sat at No. 20. Even more to the point, the Grass Roots spoke for me with “I’d Wait A Million Years” at No. 25, and right next door at No. 26, Lou Christie spoke even louder with one of the most potent singles of any season of my life, “I’m Gonna Make You Mine.”

And yet, sprinkled in between and all around those significant singles are records that I either gave little attention or perhaps never even heard at the time. Despite the vast quantity of music I’ve listened to over the years, I think it’s likely that those unnoticed and unheard records outnumber by a large ratio the ones I know well and the ones that matter most to me.

So I’m rarely surprised when I find something I’d either pretty much ignored or not been aware of during that long ago season or any other season. I was, however, startled this morning to find in that Hot 100 from September 27, 1969, a previously ignored record that is a cover of a song that I collect nearly obsessively: A version of The Band’s “The Weight” by the pairing of Diana Ross & The Supremes with the Temptations was sitting at No. 48 forty-five years ago today.

Pulled from Together, the second collaborative studio album by the two groups, “The Weight” would move up two more notches before peaking at No. 46, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Shirts & Skins

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

As I kept an eye on the first games of the World Cup in Brazil this week, I was reminded of the only time I ever played soccer (the game that the rest of the world calls football).

It was in late May or early June 1971, right around the time of my graduation from St. Cloud Tech High School. Someone had organized a graduation picnic for the Tech seniors, and I suppose about 150 of us showed up, gathering at a park in the nearby burg of Sauk Rapids to munch on – if I recall things correctly – Kentucky Fried Chicken and its fixings.

After the meal, we sat around the park, breaking down into the same clusters that had defined our class pretty much through high school. Thinking back to the group I was hanging out with that afternoon, it was mostly the kids who’d taken college prep courses: some jocks, some musicians, the debate and forensics kids, the theater kids, and so on. After a while, just sitting around talking got a little limited; it was a sunny day, the park was pleasant and we wanted to be doing something.

There were ball diamonds in the park, but it seems that no one had thought to bring balls, bats or gloves. Someone, however, did have a soccer ball. We looked around, found a relatively open space maybe thirty yards wide and fifty yards long, and we improvised goals at each end of the space by setting pairs of picnic tables on their ends about ten feet apart. The goal width was a guess, I’m sure, based on what felt right on our improvised field. Soccer was something we occasionally played in phy ed, but it was not a sport we knew well. There might have been an intramural league, I suppose, but there was no varsity soccer team at the time.

After we placed the tables into position, we boys counted off by twos. Half of us stripped off our shirts, and we got set for a game of shirts vs. skins. I was a skin. As we headed out onto the field – or pitch, as they say in places where soccer is football – one of the girls piped up: “Can we play?”

This startled us for a moment. Girls playing sports? But then, we boys were creatures of our times. This was just a few years before girls began playing varsity sports in Minnesota. According to Wikipedia, the earliest sport for girls in Minnesota post-Title IX was track and field a year later, in 1972. Volleyball, gymnastics and basketball followed during the fall of 1974.

We boys looked around at each other and shrugged. Sure, we said. Why not? And then we realized that shirts and skins would not work for the girls. After an awkward moment of hesitation by girls and boys alike, someone said, “The girls with white shirts can play with the skins.” We all nodded. That would work. And we headed out to play.

It was, of course, ragged and disorganized. But we were young and healthy, and we had fun. I don’t recall what the shirts/colors team did, but we skins/whites rotated our lineup, shifting the folks on defense to offense and vice-versa a couple of times during the hour or so we played. And during one of my shifts on offense, as I stood near the opposing goal, a shot from the near the sideline (yes, the touch line for purists) ricocheted into the air and flew toward me.

I was not athletically gifted. I wasn’t certain that I could corral the ball when it got to me and then kick it into the goal. But I could tell as the ball approached that it would be too far off the ground to be able to do that anyway. So I tried to do what I had seen some players do during the few times I had watched soccer on television. I jumped and directed the ball goalward with my head.

Amazingly, I did not break either my nose or my glasses. The ball glanced off the side of my head. It was not, as they say, well-struck. But it did fly past the goaltender and between the tables for a goal. I accepted my teammates’ congratulations with a grin, trying not to make too big a deal of it. But I saw the goaltender roll his eyes in chagrin and disbelief, and I was pretty damned pleased.

And here are two somewhat related tunes: “I Love My Shirt” by Donovan from his 1969 album, Barabajagal, and “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” by the Temptations, which went to No. 3 in the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 1, R&B) in 1966.

Out From The Sun, Part 1

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

It’s time for a trip, starting right at the center of the Solar System. Along the way, we’ll check in at the eight planets, a couple of moons and maybe a comet. Why? Well, maybe I’m in a space/science mood from watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s 1980 TV series Cosmos. Whatever the reason, it seemed like a good idea this morning.

We’ll start at the center, with the Sun. There were lots of titles to choose from on the digital shelves, even after I weeded out all the mp3s originally released on the Sun label. I dithered a while, and then remembered something I read long ago written about solar exploration either by a second-grader or a slow learner: If the surface of the sun is too hot for humans to survive, then we can go at night. Well, we’ll go at sundown and listen to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” as we travel. Pulled from his 1974 album of the same name, “Sundown” went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop and adult contemporary charts and to No. 13 on the country chart.

Heading outward from Sol, our first stop is Mercury. After we eliminate the records on the Mercury label, we’re left with a few tracks about the element and a few tracks about the car but none about the planet itself. That’s okay. We’ll settle for the car, which might as well be our mode of transport on this journey. So here is “Mercury Blues” from Fly Like An Eagle, the 1976 album by the Steve Miller Band that went to No. 3 in the Billboard 200. The band had recorded a much more up-tempo version of the tune for the soundtrack to the 1968 movie Revolution, but I like the slower version. After all, we may as well take our time and see the sights.

Next stop as we head out from the Sun is Venus, and there are a few tunes to choose from about the goddess, if not the planet. Considered for an instant and discarded just as quickly was Frankie Avalon’s “Venus,” a No.1 hit from 1959, although I considered for a moment a 1962 version of the same tune by the Ventures. But if we’re going to land on Venus, then we’re going to land on “Venus” by the Shocking Blue. The record was a No. 1 hit for the Dutch group in February 1970, jumping out of millions of radios around the world – including my old RCA upstairs on Kilian Boulevard – with its ringing introductory riff. (I passed a little regretfully on a 1972 cover of the same tune by organist Zygmunt Jankowski. Maybe another time.)

Leaving Venus and its clouds and ringing riff behind, we head to our home planet. And we dig deep into Motown’s huge catalog for the 1970 cautionary tune “You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth” by the Temptations. I’ve noted in the past my general preference for the Four Tops over the Temptations, but I do love the freaky, funky and atmospheric production that Norman Whitfield brought to this tune and the others that he and Barrett Strong wrote for the Psychedelic Shack album. The album went to No. 9.

Leaving Earth, we’ll make a brief stop at the Moon before heading further out into the Solar System again. I was very tempted to go into my Al Hirt collection for his 1963 rendition of “Fly Me To The Moon,” but having dropped Big Al in here the other week when I looked at “I’m Movin’ On,” I passed on the horn. Instead, I opted for a track by the Doors that I first heard in 1971 when I picked up 13, the band’s greatest hits album. The slightly spooky “Moonlight Drive” comes from the 1967 album Strange Days and showed up as the B-side to “Love Me Two Times” late that year.

Our last stop today, as we cross the Asteroid Belt and finish the first half of our trek out into the Solar System, is Mars. A search for “Mars” in the RealPlayer’s files brings up a lot of stuff we can’t use, including lots of music from Marsha Hunt, the Marshall Tucker Band and Wynton Marsalis. But one single stands out among the unusable: “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” by Wings. Pulled from the Venus and Mars album, the record went to No. 12 in December 1975, and it provides a very hummable tune as we pause here on Mars before continuing our journey and heading to the giant planets.

A Stage Waiting For Actors

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

With the holiday weekend over, we’re on the cusp of summer. Here at the top of the driveway on the East Side, we look forward to green shoots and then blossoms in the gardens, late afternoons in the lawn chairs shaded by the oaks, curling smoke rising from the grill along with the aroma of sizzling burgers and steaks, and so much more. For the most part, we know what to expect.

That wasn’t the case with the summers of my youth, or so it always seemed as they began. The rift in time at ending of the school year and the beginning of vacation carried the promise of  . . . well, of something I’m not sure I can define. It always seemed as if each new summer was going to be full of adventure, crammed with things my friends and I had never before done and sights we’d never before seen (as well as with things we’d done before and would do again).

There were some things we knew we would do, of course, and those changed over the years. Early on, we looked forward to the city’s recreation programs for kids based at Lincoln School, the annual visit of the Shrine Circus and learning to ride a two-wheel bicycle. In later years, we’d plan on riding the city bus system to the new Crossroads mall on the distant west end of town, working at the trap shoot for twelve bucks a day and learning to drive. Beyond those things, all of them things we could predict, we hoped for something more, though what that was we could not say (and I still cannot say today). Sometimes, come the end of August, we felt let down by how the season had spooled out, realizing only in later years how much we’d grown during each of those summers.

But as May turned to June, all of that growth was still ahead of us and those reflections on summers gone still lay years in the future. The stage of summer was in front of us, and all it needed was actors ready to learn their parts. What music would play as we entered? Well, it’s May 29th, so here’s a look at some of the records that were at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 as summer called us on stage.

As the end of May came by during 1960, the Four Preps held down No. 29 with their bouncy “Got A Girl” telling the tale of a guy whose girl has other guys on her mind:

There was Fabian, Avalon, Ricky Nelson too,
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,
Bobby Rydell and I know darned well
Presley’s in there too.

The record had peaked a week earlier at No. 24, the tenth of an eventual fifteen records the Preps would place in or near the Hot 100 from 1956 to 1964. (Their final hit, which went to No. 85, came in early 1964 with “A Letter To The Beatles,” which, paralleling “Got A Girl,” disses the Fab Four because one of the Preps’ girlfriends had succumbed to Beatlemania.)

Three years later, summer vacation began with an underrated record from Dion occupying spot No. 29 on the chart. “This Little Girl” features a swinging lead vocal – with some cool (for the time) “Sha-da-da” background vocals – as Dion tells us his plans for his girl:

Oh, this little girl tries to make every guy her slave, oh yeah,
But this little man is gonna take her by the hand,
And I’m gonna show her the way to behave.

The record had spent two weeks at No. 21 and was on its way back down the chart, just one of thirty-nine records Dion had in or near the chart between 1958 and 1989.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t recall either of those two tunes. But once we get to 1966, we enter familiar territory: During the last days of May in that year, the No. 29 spot in the Hot 100 belonged to Sam & Dave, as “Hold On! I’m A Comin’” was on its way to No. 2. The record was the first Top 40 hit for Sam & Dave. (Earlier in the year, the duo’s first chart hit, “You Don’t Know Like I Know” had stalled at No. 90.) They would end up with sixteen records in or near the Hot 100 between 1966 and 1971.

And as we look at No. 29 in the last week of May 1969, we go into the unknown again, as I come across a record I’m not sure I’ve ever heard before: “Heather Honey” by Tommy Roe. I do recall thinking about that time on the basis of “Dizzy,” “Hooray for Hazel” and “Sweet Pea” – all Top Ten hits, with “Dizzy” spending four weeks at No. 1 – that Roe was kind of a lightweight. (One of my first critical judgments in rock and pop, I’d imagine, and one that remains in place.) Lightweight or not – and I should probably put an exception on Roe’s first hit, “Sheila,” which is a pretty good record in the vein of Buddy Holly – Roe put twenty-seven records onto the chart between 1962 and 1973. “Heather Honey,” a decent enough single if still a little bit feathery, would go no higher.

Millie Jackson might be best known for what All-Music Guide calls her “trademark rap style of racy, raunchy language” that arose in the mid-1970s. I admit I’ve shied away from her music over the years because of that reputation (though I’ve likely heard worse elsewhere). So the only thing I know about “Ask Me What You Want” is that it was sitting at No. 29 as May 1972 came to a close. Turns out that it’s a decent slice of early Seventies R&B. And that tells me that I should probably set aside my reservations and give a listen to at least some of Jackson’s catalog. “Ask Me What You Want” peaked at No. 27, the second of eleven records Jackson would put in or near the Hot 100 between 1971 and 1978.

Three years later, the No. 29 record as May came to a close was a funky piece of brilliance from the Temptations, as “Shakey Ground” was on its way to No. 26. (The link is to a video with what I believe is the album track rather than the single.) Featuring lead guitar by Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel – one of the song’s co-writers – “Shakey Ground” was also a No. 1 hit on the R&B chart, and it was one of an amazing sixty records the Temptations placed in or near the Hot 100 from 1962 to 1998. (Covers of “Shakey Ground” abound, of course, including Phoebe Snow’s No. 70 cover from 1977 and my favorite – spelled “Shaky Ground” – from Delbert McClinton on his 1980 album, The Jealous Kind.)

Saturday Single No. 240

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Summer has arrived, culturally if not meteorologically. While the season doesn’t technically begin until just after noon on June 21, summer activities are gearing up here in mid-Minnesota. Friday afternoons see the long lines of north-bound vehicles on nearby Highway 10 navigating their ways through the traffic stops. St. Cloud provides one of the major slowing places on the route between the Twin Cities and the lake cabins found “up north,” however far north that might be. On Sunday afternoons, drivers coming from the north will find themselves again bottled up in St. Cloud as they head back toward the Twin Cities.

In the evenings – especially on weekend evenings, I expect – the aroma of charcoal-grilled meat will waft through the air. The summer breeze frequently carries with it evidence of who’s having what for dinner, either from the three apartment complexes to the north and the west of us or from the neighborhood of houses and duplexes across the railroad tracks to the south. Sometime this summer – perhaps even this evening – the Texas Gal and I will add our own olfactory bulletin to the dinnertime news: Friends gave us a brand-new grill late last summer, and we never got a chance to use it. One of my tasks today is to get a bag of charcoal and an electric charcoal starter (I don’t get along at all with the chemicals used in starter fluid), and I think it’s likely that those hamburger patties thawing in the refrigerator will find themselves in the outdoors this evening.

Gardening, as I’ve mentioned earlier, is well underway. A break in the wet weather has allowed the Texas Gal to get almost everything planted that she’s planned (with help from me as her able assistant). We brought in two bales of straw yesterday that we’ll spread out in our plot this weekend, and then we can settle down to the pleasant routine of watering, weeding and watching as the tomatoes, peppers, squashes and all the rest flourish.

The two of us – along with Rob and his sister, Mary – took part last evening in another beginning-of-summer ritual: The home opener of the St. Cloud River Bats, the local team in the Northwoods League, a summer league for major-college baseball players. In the Northwoods League, as in a few similar leagues across the country, players hit with wooden bats instead of the aluminum bats that are the standard, I think, in every level of youth baseball up through college.

The River Bats and their opponents, the Duluth Huskies, struggled offensively last evening, part of which I’d lay off to their still becoming accustomed to hitting with wood. The River Bats won 4 to 2, making the ten-minute fireworks display after the game a celebration instead of a non sequitur. Had the River Bats not won, then the fireworks, like all the other between-innings hoo-ha – kids racing tricycles on the base paths, folks competing in a paper airplane toss, young people competing to assemble big burgers from big foam buns, patties and cheese slices – would have seemed like overload. So much other stuff went on at the ballpark last night that the game seemed somehow secondary instead of the primary reason for being at the stadium.

But the same sort of promotional hijinks take place at every ballpark in the U.S., from the high minor leagues on down (and to some degree at major league parks as well), and that’s just how baseball is in the twenty-first century. So instead of finding those activities a sign of an approaching apocalypse, I’ll just file them with the rest of those things I mention here as a welcome sign of the arrival of the summer of 2011.

For me, though, the most welcome indicator that summer has come is the time the Texas Gal and I get to spend in our lawn chairs as the sun dips westward. She’ll sip a Dr. Pepper as I tend to my beer of the moment (Old Johnnie Ale from nearby Cold Spring is a current favorite), and we’ll watch the summer evening pass, serenaded by our new bamboo wind chimes and troubled only by the occasional mosquito.

And all of those things are good reasons for “It’s Summer” by the Temptations – in its brilliant and more melodic 1972 version – to be today’s Saturday Single.

(I especially like the nod to George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward at the 1:32 mark.)