Posts Tagged ‘The Band’

Saturday Single No. 517

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

Well, today is opening day for Cabaret De Lune, the three-person show that my friends Lucille and Heather and I have been putting together since mid-summer. It’s just after 8 a.m., almost nine hours until we begin the first of our two shows today, and the butterflies are already busy in my gut.

If my performing past is any guide, they’ll stay that way until right about 5 p.m., when a little bit of recorded music stops and I noodle a few notes at the piano and then get up and begin the opening monologue. Once the show gets underway, I should be fine, finding the groove and just doing smoothly and naturally what the three of us have been doing every Saturday for the past couple of months.

There are really only two portions of the show that worry me. The first is a very brief selection of classical music that’s been added in the past week. How brief? Six to eight bars, and it’s a piece I’ve heard thousands of times. And it’s not all that difficult, but it is new, and it requires the precision of a classical pianist, which I am not.

(I took piano lessons for six years when I was in elementary school, then quit playing for four years to concentrate on horn and – for two of those school years – go out for wrestling. When I was a junior in high school, I heard “Let It Be” and decided to resume playing. In college as I’ve noted in another post here, I took five quarters of theory and began to focus my playing on chord charts instead of actually reading the notation. I acknowledged to my sister over lunch the other day that I am far from comfortable sight-reading musical notation, something she does very well, having taken piano lessons from the time she was seven or eight well into college. “Isn’t it interesting that we came up with such different skill sets,” she said. It is, I said, adding, “Just tell me ‘Blues in G,’ and I’m home free.” She shook her head. “No,” she said.)

The other portion of the show that worries me a little is a sixteen-bar section of our closer, a well-known tune that in its middle modulates from A minor, which no flats or sharps, to B-flat minor, which has five flats. That’s a lot of black keys to keep track of. Thankfully, after those sixteen bars, the tune modulates up another half-step to B minor, where I am much more at home.

Beyond those two spots, I’m feeling pretty good about the show, but then . . .

“How are you feeling about this?” Heather asked me one afternoon in late summer when the show was coming together in bits and pieces.

“Oh, boy,” I said. “I’m enjoying putting the bits together and then stitching them into a show, but the thought of actually performing is real scary. I just want to sit in a corner.”

“That’s the Virgo in you,” she said.

“I know,” I said, having done a little digging into my horoscope a few years ago (and finding that a lot of it fits whether I believe in it or not). “And I have the moon and about three or four other things in Leo.” Leos love being the center of attention as much as Virgos avoid it.

Her eyes widened. “Oh, my god,” she said. “You love performing. I can tell. But I bet it’s terrifying.”

I nodded. And she added, “But I also bet that once we get going, you’ll be fine.”

I think that’s true, and we’ll find out later this afternoon.

Given all that, only one song fits in this space today. Here’s “Stage Fright,” the title track to The Band’s 1970 album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Order & Routine

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Order and routine are my friends. When they’re not around, I’m at best unsettled. I’ve been known to get flustered and cranky. Very cranky.

Our furnace went bad toward the end of last week. It would turn on and kick out heat, but only to a point. Andy, the furnace guy, stopped by Thursday. He said that we could use the furnace over the weekend if we let it cool significantly after each use. And he said he could put a new one in on Tuesday.

We ran the furnace a little bit on Friday and then once a day on Sunday and Monday. Otherwise, we relied on the space heater, shifting it as needed from the living room to the bathroom to the loft where we sleep. It wasn’t that cold out, pretty much typical November weather: mid-50s during the day, low 40s at night, so things weren’t nearly as chilly as they were last January, when the furnace was out of commission for a couple of days. The temperature in the living room was about 65 degrees during the daytime when we had the space heater on and about 60 degrees when we got up in the morning. We bundled up and coped, but I was unsettled.

Monday is usually my laundry day, but the Texas Gal had a doctor’s appointment Monday morning, so she took the day off, and after her visit with Dr. Julie – routine stuff – we ran some errands. The plan before the furnace went out had been to shift laundry to Tuesday. But Tuesday morning, Andy installed a new furnace right next to the washer and dryer, and fumes from glue and oil – offered by the new furnace during its initial use – lingered in the air that afternoon; they were not something I wanted in my lungs or on my clothing.

So I didn’t get to the laundry until this morning, and my schedule is entirely out of alignment. Add into that the restrictive diet I’ve been on since Monday in preparation for a (fairly routine) medical procedure tomorrow morning, and my friends order and routine are nowhere to be found. I’m not cranky, but I’m not far from it.

The only remedy is time, and by tomorrow afternoon, at worst by Friday morning, things should have returned to something approaching normal around here. I’ll be relieved.

And as long as we’re talking about a remedy, here’s “Remedy” from the album Jericho by the 1990s version of The Band, with Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Richard Bell joining Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. The horn work is by Bobby Strickland and Dave Douglas.

‘Orange’

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

When we sort the mp3s on the shelves looking for titles with the word “orange” – the second of nine stops on our tour of Floyd’s Prism – we don’t have a lot of irrelevancies to discard. The search brings up fifty-three mp3s, a good share of which will be useful.

We do have to discard the eleven tracks from the 1970 self-titled album of the group Orange Bicycle (a group whose “Jelly on the Bread” showed up on a recent Saturday), and we set aside as well the 1970 album by Paul Siebel titled Woodsmoke and Oranges. We also have to drop tracks from two similarly titled bands: “Your Golden Touch” by the Clockwork Orange, which I believe was a garage rock band from Paducah, Kentucky; and both sides of a single on the Liberty label, “After Tonight” and “Ready Steady,” by the Clockwork Oranges. The latter group was evidently from England, based on the note at the Lost Jukebox discography that calls the single an “Ember Records Production [f]rom London.”

We also lose a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album Orange Blossom Special, both sides of a 1966 single by the Palace Guard on the Orange Empire label, both sides of a 1969 single by the group Orange Colored Sky, and an odd piece of leftist theater titled “Operation Godylorange” by a Danish ensemble called Totalpetroleum.

But we do have enough to work with, which is a relief, as I was worried about “orange” when I began to look at Floyd’s Prism. (I have my concerns about “indigo,” but we’ll deal with that when we get there.) We’ll start with the oldest of our six recordings and more forward from there.

A couple CDs’ worth of Nat King Cole’s music came my way a few years ago, and on one of them, I found our first record for this morning: “Orange Colored Sky” by the King Cole Trio. Recorded in August 1950, the track comes from a time when Cole’s recordings were sometimes credited to the trio and sometimes to Cole as a solo artist. The record, which was recorded with Stan Kenton and his orchestra (according to the notes of the 1994 CD Nat King Cole: The Greatest Hits) did not show up in the R&B Top 40. Given that, I’m not sure why “Orange Colored Sky” shows up in that hits package. It’s not like there was a dearth of material to choose from; between 1942 and 1964, Cole had forty-six records reach the R&B Top 40, and starting in 1954 and going into 1964, he placed sixty-six records in or the Billboard Hot 100. (In 1991, both charts – as well as the Adult Contemporary chart – hosted “Unforgettable,” the creepy hit that paired the long-dead Cole’s 1961 vocals with those of his daughter Natalie.)

I noted above that today’s winnowing took away a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album, Orange Blossom Special. One track that survived, of course, is the title track. Recorded in December 1964 and released as a single, Cash’s take on “Orange Blossom Special” went to No. 3 on the country chart and to No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, long a country and bluegrass standard, was written in 1938 by fiddler Ervin T. Rouse and first recorded by Ervin and Gordon Rouse in 1939. Their version is no doubt widely available; I found it on East Virginia Blues, one of the eleven CDs in the remarkable series of roots music titled When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll. Cash recorded the tune at least one more time: The live album recorded in 1968 at California’s Folsom Prison includes a pretty good version of the song.

One of the stranger tracks I came upon this morning – not quite as strange as the Danish “Operation Godylorange” but still odd – was “Orange Air” from the 5th Dimension’s second album, the 1967 release The Magic Garden. Written by Jimmy Webb, the song notes in its chorus: “And then the night Jasmine came clinging to her hair and lingered there, and there was orange air.” At All Music Guide, Matthew Greenwald says the song is “another one of Jimmy Webb’s emotionally intense, slightly depressing lyrics that make up this brilliant concept album. The downcast message of being let down by the disintegration of a love affair is nicely juxtaposed by a buoyant arrangement and vocal performance.” I’m glad he got it, because I sure didn’t, but it’s still a nice track.

Staying in 1967 for another moment, we land on an outtake from the sessions that provided us with Music From Big Pink, the first album by The Band. “Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast)” first showed up as a track on The Basement Tapes, a 1975 release of some of the music The Band and Bob Dylan recorded in the months after Dylan’s July 1966 motorcycle accident and before the releases in 1967 of his John Wesley Harding and in 1968 of The Band’s Big Pink. The version of the Richard Manuel tune linked here is, I believe, the one included on the expanded edition of Music From Big Pink released in 2000 and labeled there as a demo.

And it’s off to San Francisco in 1971 and an album that reflected as it was being recorded the changing membership of the group It’s A Beautiful Day. The album Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime, notes Lindsay Planer of AMG, was recorded as “lineup number two was replaced by lineup number three – netting a separate band for the Choice Quality Stuff side and the Anytime side.” The sprightly instrumental “Oranges & Apples” shows up on the Anytime side of the LP, and it turns out to be an offering that sounds more like something from a middle-of-the road ensemble than a track from one of the great hippie bands of its time. David LaFlamme’s famous violin is hardly there at all, which is just weird. But then, the track is titled “Oranges & Apples,” which probably means something about comparisons.

And we close this edition of Floyd’s Prism with a stop in 1989 and a track from one of my favorite Van Morrison albums. “Orangefield” was tucked on the second side of Avalon Sunset, and I’m of two minds about it. It’s repetitious, both lyrically and musically, which should make the track a little tedious. But there’s something thrilling about it, too, with the string and percussion accents and the backing vocals of Katie Kissoon and Carol Kenyon pulling me in and drawing me briefly into another Morrison-inspired trance.

Briefly . . .

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

The Texas Gal and I learned this week that we’re hosting dinner this Sunday for Mother’s Day. We’re more than fine with that, but there are things that need to be done. So I only wish I had time to kill.

Here’s The Band from 1970’s Stage Fright. I’ll be back Saturday.

Saturday Single No. 299

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

As we did a some weeks ago with what had become “1972 Week,” we’ll close the accidental “1971 Week” with a six-tune random walk, this time through the year that saw me graduate from high school and move on to the grown-ups’ table at St. Cloud State.

First up is “There’s A Long Road Ahead,” from Clydie King, who was one of the best and busiest background singers from the late 1960s on. She’d recorded as a member of several groups and on her own since the late 1950s without much chart success, and released three solo albums in the 1970s. “There’s A Long Road Ahead” was on King’s first album, Direct Me and was written by Delaney Bramlett and Carl Radle. If the combination of those names – King, Bramlett and Radle – makes you think you know what the track sounds like, you’re probably right.

In 1971, the Lettermen were still releasing albums of alternately bouncy, smooth and sorrowful vocal workouts. “Everything is Good About You,” one of the bouncy (and less-distinguished) workouts, was pulled from the album Everything’s Good About You. It was the group’s thirtieth (and next-to-last) single to find its way into or near the Billboard Hot 100, topping out at No. 74, and it’s our second stop this morning.

In the early days of this blog, I wrote several times about Tom Jans and added one post about the album Take Heart, Jans’ 1971 collaboration with Mimi Fariña. It’s a quiet album that I tend to forget about, and one of the benefits of random walks like this is that they remind me of music that I’ve somehow left behind. The specific reminder this morning is the track “Charlotte,” a sorrowful and string-heavy meditation. And after pausing for it, we head off for our fourth tune.

Pretty much everything I know about folksinger Ann Briggs comes from Wikipedia and from listening to her 1971 album The Time Has Come. The album is good, though it sometimes – and this morning is one of those times – seems a little bleak, in the way that a lot of English folk music can. And Briggs’ music is very clearly smack in the middle of that folk tradition. “Fine Horseman,” bleak as it may be, is our fourth stop this morning.

Next up is Richie Havens, once more taking a well-known song and turning it, to some extent, inside out. On the album The Great Blind Degree, Havens covered Graham Nash’s great song, “Teach Your Children,” and turned it from a country-ish jaunt into a slow, heartfelt plea. It’s not nearly my favorite among Havens’ covers of well-known songs, but it’s memorable and effective.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I wrote that I found The Band’s 1971 album Cahoots underwhelming, and that’s true. Compared to the glories of Music From Big Pink and The Band, the group’s work on Cahoots seemed pale when it came out. And it’s another album – like the one by Jans and Fariña mentioned above – that I think I need to revisit. And I guess that reintroduction starts now as the RealPlayer lands on “Thinkin’ Out Loud.” At first listen, it seems better than I recall, and its today’s Saturday Single.

‘The Sun Don’t Shine Anymore . . .’

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

In the early autumn of 1987, as I was settling into my new digs in Minot, North Dakota, I got a call one Saturday from my ladyfriend in St. Cloud. She’d to the record store the night before and – knowing my affection for The Band – had picked up The Best of The Band, a 1976 anthology.

“It’s all good,” she said, “but there is one song that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.”

What was the title? She’d paid no attention. Nor did specific lyrics come to mind. All she knew was that the track was gorgeous and she’d lost herself in it for a few minutes.

And I was stumped. My regard for The Band at that point was based on three albums’ worth of music – Music From Big Pink, The Band and Stage Fright – and my awareness that The Band had been Bob Dylan’s back-up unit for a good length of time. I’d heard Cahoots – the album that followed Stage Fright – and had been underwhelmed, and the only attention I’d paid to the group after that came in the context of its work with Dylan: the live Before The Flood and the studio album Planet Waves.

I was aware that the group had released a few more albums before calling it quits with The Last Waltz, but I’d paid no attention. As my interest in music – like my interest in life itself – had been renewed earlier in 1987, I’d put The Band on a list of performers whose work I wanted to explore further, but time was short and the list was long. So I wasn’t thinking at all about the group’s 1975 album Northern Lights-Southern Cross, which was on my want list, and I wasn’t even aware of “It Makes No Difference,” one of two truly great tracks on that 1975 album. (The other one? “Acadian Driftwood.” As for “Ophelia,” I like it but don’t see it as quite on the same level as the other two tracks.)

By the end of that long-ago weekend, my ladyfriend had made a note of the title of the track that had so impressed her. Not long after that, I got hold of a copy of the two-LP Anthology of The Band’s work released on Capitol on 1982, and I concurred with her opinion of “It Makes No Difference.” (I also, between that Saturday in 1987 and early 1989, completed a collection of The Band’s original albums from its first incarnation, leaving for later years my own copy of The Best of The Band, the anthology that began this tale.)

My friend called “It Makes No Difference” the “most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” and there’s no doubt here of its beauty. But is it the most beautiful track recorded by that first version of the group? I lean toward saying yes, with the only other contenders being “I Shall Be Released” from Music From Big Pink and “Whispering Pines” and perhaps “King Harvest Has Surely Come” from The Band. And here it is:

There’s a reason “It Makes No Difference” came to mind recently. Among the performers who have come to light in the past few years, one of my favorites is Ruthie Foster, who performs blues, R&B, gospel and the wide swath of what’s come to be called Americana about as well as can be imagined. And when I had a chance to take a listen to her newest album, the recently released Let It Burn, here’s one of the tracks I found:

Intrigued and impressed, I started to look for other covers. I’d already heard – and was unimpressed by – the version that My Morning Jacket had recorded for the 2007 tribute, Endless Highway: The Music of The Band. But things got better pretty quickly. The late country-rock guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow recorded the tune for his 2001 album Meet Sneaky Pete, and another departed legend, soul singer Solomon Burke, also covered the song, recording a stirring version for his 2005 album Make Do With What You Got.

There were some I didn’t track down: Cajun performer Terrance Simien covered the song for his 2001 album The Tribute Sessions, and I heard snippets of numerous other covers of the song by folks with unfamiliar names as I wandered through the mp3s available at Amazon. That’s where I came across the cover version by South of Nowhere, which I like very much, that I shared here the other day.

But the most interesting cover I found – not necessarily the best; I think that title might go to Foster – was by a group of Norwegian musicians calling themselves Home Groan. The group’s performance of “It Makes No Difference” comes – if I’ve figured this out correctly – from a Norwegian radio program called Cowboy & Indianer (translating to Cowboys & Indians) that celebrates Americana music. A collection of performances from the radio show was released in 2007 as Cowboy & Indianer Sessions Vol. 1, and that’s where I found Home Groan’s performance:

Saturday Single No. 258

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

This will be a brief post this morning, as I’m about to leave town for the day.

I’m heading over to Rob’s in St. Francis, and then he and I will head on down to the Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth for a day of Strat-O-Matic baseball with our pal Schultz and some other folks he knows.

Each of the eight of us has selected one team for the day; we’ll have two pools of four teams, with two teams advancing to the semifinals from there. Most of the guys have selected teams from the last twenty years or so. I saw that Schultz has chosen the 2006 Minnesota Twins, a good team. Rob and I – contrarians that we are – have gone the other way. Rob has chosen his historical go-to team, the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates, a team with a wealth of very good pitchers and lots of speed. I have selected the 1948 Cleveland Indians, a good offensive team with some good pitching and one lights-out closer. We know our benches and bullpens will be thinner than will those of the newer teams, but we’ve got a good chance of one of us getting to the final.

Anyway, not having any new baseball tunes to share here, I went looking for Cleveland songs. And I found “Look Out, Cleveland” from The Band’s second, self-titled album, which came out in 1969. So it’s today’s Saturday Single:

Saturday Single No. 252

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

On an evening about two months ago, the Texas Gal and I had a date night. We went out to dinner – Mexican, I think it was – and then, having seen nothing showing at the local cinemaplex that piqued our interest, we came home to watch a couple more installments from the box set she gave me a few years ago: The West Wing – The Complete Series.

I turned on the DVD player and saw the blue welcome screen, and I dropped the disc into the player and turned to do something else, waiting for the familiar sounds of The West Wing theme to fill the room.

Silence.

Puzzled, I turned back, and the welcome screen was still visible along with the little icon that shows up when the DVD player is reading a disc. I waited a minute or two more, then re-opened and re-closed the disc holder, thinking that might move things along. It didn’t. Nothing we tried that evening worked, from unplugging and replugging the unit to blowing air into its interior. (We do have four cats, and despite our well-intentioned efforts, cat hair finds its way into many places that would be better served without it.) No matter what we tried, the DVD player showed no signs of comprehending what it said it was reading.

So we turned off the player and put the box set away. I think we watched a movie on pay per view that night. And there we let the matter rest, at least until last night.

We’d gotten good service out that DVD player. We bought it in the latter days of 2002 to ensure that I could use one of my Christmas presents that year: The extended version of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. And from late 2002 into mid-2011, we used it frequently. Since we bought it, of course, we’ve also upgraded our computers. Both of those now play DVDs, and we take advantage of those capabilities. But fairly often, we like to watch something together. So we knew we were going to get a new DVD player.

Not having been in the market for a player for the past nine years, I’d paid no attention to the prices of DVD players. We’d paid something like $110 for ours in 2002, I think. It was a bulky thing, about the size of the VCR players I’d wrestled along with me during my moves in previous years: 17 inches long, 11½  inches wide and 2½ inches tall.

When we went to the nearby electronics superstore last evening, I think both of us were surprised by what we found. DVD players – which may, I suppose, be eventually made either redundant or useless by other technologies – are much smaller and much less expensive. We dithered over a couple of models for a bit, and wound up bringing home a unit that measures about 8 by 12 by 1 inch. (A brief break for math.) That means that the new and slender player takes up only a fifth of the space that the old one required. And it cost less than half as much as our first DVD player did.

Oh, I know that kind of shift has happened with so many things – technological and otherwise – over the past decades. But, for me, it’s still kind of neat when I notice it.

So when we got home and got a bit of housework done, we hooked up the new player and resumed watching The West Wing. Other stuff will follow, no doubt, and in keeping with the idea of watching stuff, here’s a 1994 performance of Muddy Waters’ “Stuff You Gotta Watch” by The Band. It seems to have come from the group’s performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Video deleted.

Afternote
Our pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ has devoted a good portion of his blogging efforts this summer to thoughts on the summer of 1976 and its importance to him. This week, he offered a post summing up his reflections on that long-ago summer. Among the many gems he’s offered over the years, this one glows brightly. You should read it now.

Chart Digging: August 1974

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

I’m a beer aficionado: I like trying different beers from different parts of the country and the world, and – to a degree – I keep track of which brews I’ve tried and what I’ve liked or not liked about them. And since I’ve begun taking beer seriously – in the last ten years or so – I’ve mostly bought my beer in glass bottles, not in cans. I think it tastes better coming from glass.

But sometimes, you can’t avoid cans. The local liquor store – Westside Liquor here on the East Side – has been promoting for the past few months a brew from the Tallgrass Brewing Company of Manhattan, Kansas, called Buffalo Sweat Stout. It comes in packs of four sixteen-ounce cans.

I’m not fond of the name; I think it’s gross, as does my pal and self-acknowledged beer snob jb from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, who says the brand name falls into a trend: Titling brews with odd or grotesque names that make the brew more notable for its moniker than for its drinkability. (One example of that comes from Wasatch Beers of Park City, Utah, brewers of Polygamy Porter, which is marketed with the slogan, “Why Have Just One!” I have a t-shirt celebrating the brew, a gift from the Texas Gal after a business trip to Utah; I have yet to wear it out in the world.)

Whatever the “ewww” factor of the brand name, Buffalo Sweat is a darned good brew – it carries nice hints of coffee, chocolate and, to my palate, raisins – so it’s become a regular part of the regiment of beers standing at attention in the fridge, waiting for my thirst. I pulled one out for dinner last evening, popped the top on the can and, without thinking about it, turned the metal tab sideways. I paused and chuckled for a moment, and then poured the brew.

That habit – turning sideways the metal tab on the top of a beer (or soda) can – dates from the summer of 1974. I didn’t do much partying the first half of that summer; I was recovering from a mysterious lung ailment. But once I got the go-ahead from my doctors to resume life at full speed, I spent a fair number of evenings tasting the brews available in St. Cloud. I did so carrying nearly nine months’ experience of quaffing European brews, and for a time I left the darker stuff behind. My favored brew for a month or so that summer of 1974 was one new to Minnesota: Olympia.

I think back now, and I shudder. It was a light and clean beer and, as I now recall, almost tasteless. But having been legendary in Minnesota as a great beer that was unavailable – much like Coors was at the time, too – Olympia was the newest fad among young beer drinkers. And I was one of those. So at every party I went to during the last half of the summer of 1974 – maybe a dozen total – there were more than a few folks drinking Olympia beer, with all of us trying to keep track of which can of beer was ours.

Thus, as I arrived at a party one evening, I popped the top on my can of Olympia beer and turned the tab to the right. That, I hoped, would make it a little easier to keep track of my beers as the number of beer cans multiplied and my concentration most likely diminished. That one quirk – turning the tab to the right – soon became a habit that was useful for the remainder of my college days. And it’s a habit that’s stayed with me for thirty-seven years.

So every time I pop a can of Buffalo Sweat and turn the tab to the right, a little bit of the summer of 1974 pops its head into our kitchen in this summer of 2011.

Most of those parties during that summer long ago likely had music supplied by stereos, but I imagine that at least one of those dozen or so gatherings must have relied on the radio for its music. If so, we’d have heard at least some of the Top Ten from the Billboard Hot 100 that was released on August 17, 1974, thirty-seven years ago yesterday:

“The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace
“Feel Like Makin’ Love” by Roberta Flack
“(You’re) Havin’ My Baby” by Paul Anka (with Odia Coates)
“Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus
“Please Come To Boston” by Dave Loggins
“Call On Me” by Chicago
“Waterloo” by Abba
“Wildwood Weed” by Jim Stafford
“I’m Leaving It (All) Up To You” by Donny & Marie Osmond
“Sideshow” by Blue Magic

Wow. At most parties in that era, at least four records in that list that would have incited jeers from the folks sitting on the couch, followed by calls for the Allman Brothers or Pink Floyd. I know that these days, hearing the opening strains of either the Anka record or the Osmonds record on the oldies station would make me change stations. Then, Jim Stafford’s ode to accidental marijuana cultivation is funny maybe twice (though it would be a kick to hear it on radio these days). And I never liked the Paper Lace record.

On the plus side, “Tell Me Something Good” still pops and slinks along nicely, and Chicago’s “Call On Me” was a good one I’d forgotten about until it showed up on the list today.

As I tend to do, though, I looked further down that Hot 100 to see what might be found there, and there were a few interesting things. The television series Kung Fu – starring David Carradine as a martial arts expert in the American west of the nineteenth century – and the martial art it introduced to pop culture were becoming cultural phenomena that year. In the autumn of 1974, Card Douglas would reach No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts with “Kung Fu Fighting” (a record I still hear as almost a novelty record). But during the summer of 1974, Curtis Mayfield released his own “Kung Fu” and saw it get to No. 40 on the pop chart and to No. 3 on the R&B chart. During this week in 1974, the song was at No. 52, and like much of Mayfield’s work during that time, the record was a statement about social justice:

Our days of comfort, days of night
Don’t put yourself in solitude
Who can I trust with my life
When people tend to be so rude

My mama borned me in a ghetto
There was no mattress for my head
But, no, she couldn’t call me Jesus
I wasn’t white enough, she said

And then she named me Kung Fu
Don’t have to explain it, no, Kung Fu
Don’t know how you’ll take it, Kung Fu
I’m just trying to make it, Kung Fu

I’ve got some babies and some sisters
My brother worked for Uncle Sam
It’s just a shame, ain’t it, Mister
We being brothers of the damned

Keep your head high, Kung Fu
I will ’til I die, yeah, Kung Fu
Don’t be too intense, no, Kung Fu
Keep your common sense, yeah, Kung Fu

Don’t mistake life for a secret
There is no secret part of you
You bet your life if you think wicked
Someone else is thinking wicked too

Betty Wright had hit the Top Ten in early 1972 when “Clean Up Woman” went to No. 6. In mid-1974, she released “Secretary” as an ode to the idea that the woman who takes dictation from her boss can take her boss from his wife. The record – a nice piece of funky R&B – was at No. 66 thirty-seven years ago this week, heading to No. 62 on the pop chart; it went to No. 12 on the R&B chart.

One of the major music events of 1974 was the U.S. tour in January and February by Bob Dylan and The Band. It was Dylan’s first tour in eight years; since then, The Band had stepped out of its role as his back-up band and become a front-line act. The opening track of the eventual double-LP album from the tour – “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” (video deleted) – was released as a single during the summer of 1974. During the third week of August, the single was at No. 75. It would peak at No. 66.

From 1968 through 1985, Bobby Womack had nineteen records reach the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section, and it seems like I run into his records more often than not when I do these Chart Digging posts. This week, “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” is the Womack record that showed up. It was at No. 100 during the week in question, coming down from its peak of No. 59 the week before. A nifty slice of R&B that I unfortunately missed at the time, the record went to No. 5 on the R&B chart.

Sitting at the very bottom of the Bubbling Under section of that August 17, 1974, Hot 100 was Harry Nilsson in his last appearance on the pop chart. Produced by John Lennon, Nilsson’s “Many Rivers To Cross” was a ragged performance, more clearly Lennon than Nilsson. (The backing track’s similarity to that used for Lennon’s “#9 Dream,” which would go to No. 9 later in 1974, is unmistakable.) Nilsson’s single would rise only one more spot, peaking at No. 109. (The video to which the clip links is the album track from Nilsson’s Pussy Cats; there was a shorter edit that was released as the single.)

And to end, we move up a little bit in the Bubbling Under section, to No. 107, where Brownsville Station sat with “Kings of the Party.” The record would peak at No. 31, giving the trio from Ann Arbor, Michigan, its second Top 40 hit; “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” had gone to No. 3 in the first weeks of 1974. While I couldn’t put my hands on the studio version of “Kings of the Party,” that’s all right, because YouTube has a clip of the band hamming things up and then doing a pretty good version of the tune on the television show Midnight Special.

Video deleted.

‘It’s A Restless Hungry Feeling . . .’

Friday, March 25th, 2011

With a nearly complete* collection of Bob Dylan’s work available, I can pick and choose when I want to listen to an hour’s worth of the Bard of Hibbing. And there are a few of Dylan’s albums that rarely make it to the CD player or turntable or mp3 player.

Chief among those are Saved, the 1980 release that was the second of the three Christian-era albums; At Budokan and Dylan and The Dead, two pretty bad live albums; his debut album, titled simply Bob Dylan; and his third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’.

That last album, The Times They Are A-Changin’, was released in 1964 and was Dylan’s most topical during his early folkies-can-change-the-world days, and as such, it’s not aged well. Not all the songs are tied to then-current events, but enough of them are – “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “Only A Pawn In Their Game,” for example – that it’s not an album I play very frequently. And that’s too bad, as it means I have to find other settings – beyond the hope of a random play – for some strong songs that aren’t tied to those times, like “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Restless Farewell,” to name two.

The same holds true for my favorite on the album, “One Too Many Mornings,” which was written for Suze Rotolo, Dylan’s girlfriend at the time. (Rotolo, who crossed over February 25 at the age of sixty-seven, was the girl walking with Dylan on the cover of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. In the evocative words of Jeff Ash of AM, Then FM: “The girl on the cover, now forever young.”) Their relationship lasted into 1964, and Rotolo was the inspiration for some of Dylan’s most enduring songs, including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” and “Boots of Spanish Leather.” But out of the cluster of songs that I’ve read were inspired by Rotolo, “One Too Many Mornings” is my favorite:

Down the street the dogs are barkin’
And the day is a-gettin’ dark
As the night comes in a-fallin’
The dogs’ll lose their bark
An’ the silent night will shatter
From the sounds inside my mind
For I’m one too many mornings
And a thousand miles behind

From the crossroads of my doorstep
My eyes they start to fade
As I turn my head back to the room
Where my love and I have laid
An’ I gaze back to the street
The sidewalk and the sign
And I’m one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

It’s a restless hungry feeling
That don’t mean no one no good
When ev’rything I’m a-sayin’
You can say it just as good.
You’re right from your side
I’m right from mine
We’re both just one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

Dylan’s version of the song from The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a solo take, with just his guitar and harmonica. It’s thoughtful and gentle. That wasn’t the case with the next version of the tune in Dylan’s catalog. On stage during a 1966 concert in Manchester, England (erroneously and eternally known as “The Royal Albert Hall Concert” and released in 1998), Dylan and his band – four-fifths of The Band and drummer Mickey Jones – tear into the song with gusto, and Dylan makes his way raggedly through the song in the weary, half-sneering voice that every Dylan imitator prizes. It’s a fun trip.

The third version of the song that Dylan released, a take from the 1975 Rolling Thunder tour that was released in 1976 on Hard Rain, is maybe the most interesting. Still ragged, but less frenetic than the 1966 version, the version on Hard Rain finds Dylan seeming to actually think about what he’s singing as he provides slight changes from the 1964 melody.

Still, as much as I love Dylan, none of his versions of “One Too Many Mornings” provide my favorite take on the tune. For that, I have to turn to a cover. And there are plenty of them from which to choose. All-Music Guide lists 196 CDs that include a song with that title. At a guess, two-thirds of those are duplicates or different songs with the same title. That kind of blunt math leaves us with about sixty-five different versions of the Dylan tune.

I’ve posted videos in the past couple weeks of two of those covers: a 2007 release by David Gray this week and a 1989 release by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings in February. That last outing wasn’t the first time Cash had taken on “One Too Many Mornings.” He and Dylan gave it a try – I believe there are bootlegs out there – during the sessions for Dylan’s 1969 album, Nashville Skyline, and he recorded a solo version in 1964 with help, it seems, from June Carter Cash. That one was released in 1978 on Johnny and June:

A lot of familiar names pop up in the list of covers. The Association released the song as a single in 1965, and it showed up on the group’s 1970 live album. The Beau Brummels also released the tune as a single; it went to No. 95 in 1966. Joan Baez took a couple of shots at the song; her first version showed up as a bonus track on the CD reissue of her 1964 album, Farewell Angelina, and a version with a slightly Latin tinge to it – one I like a lot – came out in 1968 on Any Day Now.

Perhaps the most surprising name on the list of those who’ve covered “One Too Many Mornings” is that of Bobby Sherman, whose 1969 version – from his Bobby Sherman album – isn’t bad at all.

The list of names goes on, some familiar and some not: The Dillards, the Kingston Trio, Jerry Jeff Walker, Radio Flyer, Robyn Hitchcock, Jaime Brockett, Tony Furtado with Jules Shear, Steve Howe with Phoebe Snow, Ralph McTell, the Alan Lorber Orchestra and more.

But my favorite take on the song comes from the later version of The Band. Released as the closing track of the 1999 CD Tangled Up In Blues: Songs of Bob Dylan, it’s a cover that echoes the classic sound of The Band, with Dylan’s old friends Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson joined by new members Jim Weider, Richard Bell, Randy Ciarlante and guest Derek Trucks.

*A while back, I wrote that I owned a copy – vinyl or CD – of everything Dylan has ever released. I was in error. I forgot about Live at the Gaslight 1962, which was sold through a chain of coffee shops that has no St. Cloud outlet (though a friend was nice enough to provide me with a digital copy, which is good, with even used copies of the CD going for more than $22), and I do not have Christmas in the Heart because I don’t do Christmas records, not even Dylan’s. Since I wrote the post overlooking those two albums, Dylan has released Bob Dylan In Concert: Brandeis University, 1963, which I plan to get soon. I also see limited copies for sale of Live At Carnegie Hall 1963, which isn’t yet listed on Dylan’s website, but when it is officially released, I’ll make sure it’s soon on my shelves.

(Lyrics copyright © 1964, 1966 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992, 1994 by Special Rider Music)