As often as I’ve messed around over the past six years with Billboard Hot 100 charts from one week or another, and as often as I’ve looked for cover versions of familiar records, I’ve never taken the time to look at one specific Hot 100 for cover versions. So I don’t know if the Hot 100 from June 20, 1970 – forty-three years ago today – was typical or atypical.
I do know that it was a mother lode for those seeking covers of familiar records.
The riches begin at No. 25, where we find “It’s All In The Game” by the Four Tops. It’s a cover of the song that was No. 1 for Tommy Edwards in 1958 and that’s also charted for Cliff Richard (No. 25, 1964) and Isaac Hayes (No. 80, 1980) and bubbled under for Jackie DeShannon (No. 110, 1967). It’s also the only hit ever written by a vice-president of the United States, as it uses a tune that was called “Melody in A Major” when it was written in 1912 by Charles Gates Dawes, who later served as vice-president from 1925 to 1929. The Tops’ version of “It’s All In The Game” peaked at No. 24.
From there, we head to No. 28, where Wilson Pickett’s two-sided entry “Sugar, Sugar/ Cole, Cooke & Redding” sat on its way to No. 25. The B-side is a tribute to Nat “King” Cole, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, but it’s “Sugar, Sugar” on the A-side that matters today, as it’s Pickett’s cover of the Archies’ hit – No. 1 for four weeks – from 1969.
Earlier in 1970, Brook Benton had a No. 4 hit with “A Rainy Night In Georgia” and had followed that up with a cover of Frank Sinatra’s No. 27 hit from 1969, “My Way,” which stalled at No. 72. Benton’s next single came from the catalog of a fellow Southerner, as he turned to “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” by Joe South. The original version of the tune, credited to Joe South & The Believers, had gone to No. 41 in 1969; Benton’s version would peak at No. 45.
Maybe Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” didn’t carry in 1970 the mythic weight it seems to have today, or maybe that weight is just something I perceive because “Into The Mystic” is a song that is dear to both the Texas Gal and me, but it seems to me that it took a lot of guts for Johnny Rivers to cover Morrison’s tune so soon after Morrison released it on Moondance in February 1970. Rivers’ version of the classic tune – the only version ever to hit the Hot 100 – was at No. 58 forty years ago today, having peaked earlier at No. 51. As the tune played this morning, I took a look at the credits for Rivers’ Slim Slo Slider, the album that includes “Into The Mystic,” and I learned that the gorgeous saxophone solo comes from Jim Horn, the piano work is from the late Larry Knechtel, and the drum work is from either Hal Blaine or Ronnie Tutt. I’d bet on Blaine.
According to the website Second Hand Songs, Neil Young released his single of “Cinnamon Girl” in April 1969, just ahead of the May release of the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, but the single didn’t enter the Hot 100 until more than a year later. It entered the chart forty-three years ago today, starting out at No. 95. Its presence on the chart was spurred, I would imagine, by the fact that the Gentrys’ very similar cover of “Cinnamon Girl” was in its tenth week on the chart, sitting at No. 63 after peaking at No. 52. Young’s version of the song didn’t do quite as well, peaking at No. 55.
The gorgeous song “Maybe” first showed up on the charts in 1958, when the Chantels’ version went to No. 15. Since that time, charting (or near-charting) versions had come from the Shangri-Las (No. 91, 1965), the Chantels (No. 116 with a 1969 re-release on a new label) and Janis Joplin (No. 110 in 1970). Next came the Three Degrees, adding a spoken soap opera introduction to “Maybe” that – from the vantage point of more than forty years – doesn’t seem to work. Listeners back then seemed to like it, though; the record, which was sitting at No. 69 on June 20, eventually peaked at No. 29.
Well, that’s six, and that’s more enough for today. But I could go on for a while yet, as that chart from June 20, 1970, also included Merry Clayton’s cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” Peggy Lipton’s take on Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” Rare Earth’s cover of the Temptations’ “Get Ready,” the Assembled Multitude’s version of the Who’s “Overture from ‘Tommy’,” Paul Davis’ cover of the Jarmels’ “A Little Bit of Soap,” Ike & Tina Turner & The Ikettes’ take on Sly & The Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher,” Vic Dana’s version of Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red Wine,” Johnny Taylor’s cover of Jimmy Hughes’ “Steal Away,” the Satisfactions’ version of Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth,” and Miguel Rios’ reworking of the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 into “A Song of Joy.” And I probably missed some.
In my early days online, years before I knew there were such things as blogs, much less blogs about music, and long before I had an inkling that I would write such a blog, I was looking for information about The Band. These days, even after learning about hundreds of other musicians and absorbing their work, The Band remains my favorite all-time group. (The Beatles rank second, and I’m not going to figure out who comes third right now.)
And I found myself, probably sometime in 2001, at a pretty extensive website about The Band, covering not only the group’s history and music as The Band but the group members’ history and music before the group formed in the late 1950s and after the original group split up in 1976. The website also had an extensive list of folks who’d covered songs by the band over the years, and I began to dig into the performers listed there who’d covered “The Weight.” One name baffled me: Bobby Jameson.
I’d never heard of the man, never knew – as I know now – that he’d once been promoted as pop-rock music’s next big thing, never knew that he’d worked in studios with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, with Frank Zappa, with Crazy Horse and with others who would become household names (at least in those households that loved pop-rock music). As I got better at navigating the ’Net, I learned that Working! – the album on which Bobby’s version of “The Weight” appears – commanded prices ranging from $40 to $100 on the used LP market. I also learned that his other two albums – Color Him In, which was released under the name of just Jameson, and Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest, released under the name of Chris Lucey – were nearly just as rare on vinyl.
Sometimes being slow, I didn’t discover music blogs until the summer of 2007 2006, and – like a starving shopper on sampling day at the supermarket – I gobbled up lots of music new to me. Among that music I found Bobby’s three albums, starting with Working! As it was utterly out of print, I shared it and soon found myself in an email and message conversation with Bobby Jameson, who was living in California. He was pleased with my assessment of the album, and a long-distance friendship developed that’s still growing today. (I later found a copy of Working! online for the ridiculously low price of $10 and sent it to Bobby for an autograph. He happily complied.)
All of this is a long way to get around to the fact that “Palo Alto” from Working! is one of the records I’ve put into my Ultimate Jukebox. It was an easy choice. It’s not like I sat down and thought, “Boy, I need to get one of Bobby’s songs in there. Which one should it be?”
No, it was more simple than that. The first time I scrolled through the songs in my collection from 1969, I typed in “Palo Alto” without hesitation. Why? Well, first, I like it. There won’t be any music I don’t like on some level in the jukebox. By itself, though, that’s not enough. I like the Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding” plenty, too, but it’s not going to show up in these posts. There needs to be an attachment of some sort: historical, intellectual, emotional. With “Palo Alto,” it’s the latter. There is such a sense of yearning, of regret in the song. Here’s a video Bobby put together for the song since he’s become a presence on the ’Net in the past few years.
When I shared Working! in late 2007, I simply said that Palo Alto sounded to me like the early work that Jimmy Webb was doing with Glen Campbell a few years earlier, songs like “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.” Bobby never said a thing about that, and I thought I’d missed the point entirely of what he’d been trying to do. But not long ago, when he posted his video for “Palo Alto” (he’s since removed it and then reposted it so the comment is gone), he mentioned that he and the crew he was recording with had been aiming for a “Jimmy Webb, Glen Campbell kind of sound.”
Sometimes I get one right.
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 9 “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price, ABC-Paramount 9972 
“Palo Alto” by Bobby Jameson from Working! 
“What About Me” by Quicksilver Messenger Service, Capitol 3046 
“Taxi” by Harry Chapin, Elektra 45770 
“When Will I See You Again” by the Three Degrees, Philadelphia International 3550 
“Here Come Those Tears Again” by Jackson Browne, Asylum 45379 
“Stagger Lee,” the tale of a craps game gone bad and the pissed-off player who won’t let it rest, has one of the more compelling introductions in early rock ’n’ roll (or maybe in all of rock ’n’ roll), with Lloyd Price singing atop a vocal chorus with just a tinkling of piano: “The night was clear and the moon was yellow, and the leaves came tumbling down.” And the drums bomp in (Earl Palmer, perhaps?) and we’re off into the tale of Stagger Lee, Billy Lyons, a Stetson hat, Billy’s sickly wife and the bullet that broke the bartender’s glass. The story of Stagger Lee came to Price and his collaborator Harold Logan from an old folk song – there are hundreds of verses to the song – that itself evolved from tales of a Nineteenth Century Memphis waterfront gambler named James “Stacker” Lee. (The tale of the song is told in Greil Marcus’ book Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock & Roll Music .) The song’s genesis is fascinating, as is the fact that Dick Clark insisted that Price record a bowdlerized version of the record – in which Billy Lyons’ life is spared – before Clark would allow Price to perform on American Bandstand. But none of that seems to matter if you’re ever out on the dance floor while the original record is playing.
My data banks were pretty empty when I first got Quicksilver Messenger Service’s 1970 album What About Me at a flea market in North Dakota in 1989. I knew the band had sprung up in the San Francisco area in the late 1960s, the same period that has produced the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Company and many others. But I don’t know that I’d heard much of Quicksilver before. Digging into first What About Me and then the rest of the group’s catalog was rewarding. There was some aimless noodling, but there was also some brilliant playing, more of the latter than the former, I thought (and still think). And, getting back to the first album I found, there was “What About Me” with its straightforward message of environmental damage and social revolution and its nearly perfect hook of a chorus. The record was released as a single, but I don’t recall hearing it and don’t know how well it did.
The first few times I heard Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” in early 1972, I felt like I was listening to a movie, one studded with details that emerged bit by bit with each successive listening/viewing. The layers of detail and the strength of the story-telling fascinated me (and as I was beginning to write song lyrics at the time, humbled and inspired me at the same time), and over the years, I’ve lost myself in the story of Harry and Sue time and again. There has always been one portion of the record that’s confused me, though: I’ve never been able to understand the high female vocal in the middle of the song. I finally looked it up this morning. The words are:
Baby’s so high that she’s skying,
Yes she’s flying, afraid to fall.
I’ll tell you why baby’s crying,
Cause she’s dying, aren’t we all.
And as 1972 wandered on and “Taxi” went to No. 24, I thought I’d be perfectly happy to let the story of Harry and Sue end with Harry driving away with his twenty-dollar bill. But eight years later, Chapin released “Sequel,” a record that takes the couple’s story further. It’s maybe not quite as good a record, which is why it was one of those I trimmed as I was filling my jukebox, but it was still fine to catch up with those old friends Harry Chapin had introduced us to eight years earlier. (“Sequel” went to No. 23.) There are many reasons to mourn Chapin’s death in 1981, but one of them for me is that I tend to think he had a song planned for 1990, one called “Finale,” in which he’d let us know where Harry and Sue finally landed.
(The video I found for “Taxi” at YouTube is the original video made by Elektra to promote Chapin in 1972; the backing track is slightly different than the one that was released on the Heads & Tales album, and the video ends with a promotional message from Jac Holzman, at the time the head of Elektra Records.)
The sweet Philly soul of the Three Degrees’ “When Will I See You Again” has always carried a riddle of time for me. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits tells me that the record was released as a single in the autumn of 1974, peaking at No. 2, where it spent two weeks. That doesn’t jibe with my memory at all: To me, “When Will I See You Again” is the autumn of 1975, as it showed up on the radio about the same time as I met a young lady with whom I spent more than a decade. It was, for a brief time during that first season, “our song.” And I know for certain that we met in 1975. Did the record get ignored by Minnesota radio stations and jukebox jobbers for more than a year? Or did I just miss it? I don’t know the answers (I’m sure someone does), but I do know that the record is a lovely piece of music, and whenever I hear it, I remember the way the record would make the college-aged whiteray smile, and I smile back.
I wrote a while back about hearing “Here Come Those Tears Again” on the radio in February 1977, noting that it was one of the first recordings I ever owned that showed up after that on radio playlists: “Wow, I have that song already!” (The record went to No. 23.) Why is it in the Ultimate Jukebox? Because so many things are so good about it: Jackson Browne’s measured – for a while – vocal; the extraordinary foundation provided by the rhythm section of Bob Glaub and Jim Gordon; the guitar solo from John Hall (then of Orleans, now a U.S. Congressman), and, among more, the final couplet before the chorus repeats:
I’m going back inside and turning out the light,
And I’ll be in the dark, but you’ll be out of sight.