Posts Tagged ‘Youngbloods’

‘Four’

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

This morning we continue our ascent up the numerical scale, a series that’s now tagged “March of the Integers” (mostly so I can keep track of the posts). And today, we come to “Four.”

When I sort for the word “four” in the RealPlayer, I get 222 clips, but – as happens with all these searches – a lot of the tracks that come up have to be ignored, starting with thirty tracks from the Four Tops. Others set aside are tracks by the Four Larks, the Four Aces, the Four Buddies, the Brothers Four, the Philly Four, the Remo Four, the Son Sims Four and the Fairfield Four. We also have to ignore the 1973 album by Wishbone Ash titled Wishbone Four, a few tracks by bluesman Robert Belfour and everything but the title tune from Ian & Sylvia’s 1964 album Four Strong Winds.

Nevertheless, there remain enough tunes available that we can pick and choose. We’ll go chronologically, starting in 1956.

According to the site Soulful Kinda Music, Stanley Mitchell had four singles released during what appears to be a long career in music. “Four O’Clock In The Morning” was the first of the four, released on Chess in 1957 and credited to Stanley Mitchell and the Tornados. A doo-wop-styled record, “Four O’Clock . . .” has been released in recent years on a couple of Chess anthologies, which is how it got here. From Chess, Mitchell went to the Bumble Bee, Gone and Dynamo labels, getting one record released at each label; from what I can tell, none of Mitchell’s records ever made any kind of dent in the national charts. But I suppose there are worse ways to be remembered than for a pretty decent doo-wop record pulled from the long-ago vaults. (The linked video also offers the B-Side of the Chess single.)

Big Joe Williams, writes Barry Lee Pearson of All-Music Guide “may have been the most cantankerous human being who ever walked the earth with guitar in hand. At the same time, he was an incredible blues musician: a gifted songwriter, a powerhouse vocalist, and an exceptional idiosyncratic guitarist.” Williams’ gritty and keening take on “Four Corners of the World” comes from his 1961 album Blues on Highway 49, which Thom Owens of AMG calls a “tense, gritty set of roadhouse blues” on which Williams “shows exactly how Delta blues could be updated.” Though he’s not my favorite blues performer, it’s fun to have Williams and his nine-string guitar pop up on occasion in between the Boss and the Indigo Girls.

Eight versions of Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” sit on my mp3 shelves, and sorting through them to choose one – I could not ignore the tune – was difficult. I’ve written at least a couple times about Neil Young’s 1978 cover of the song (my favorite version), so I decided to go with the only other version of the tune that ever cracked the Billboard Hot 100. In 1964, Bobby Bare’s take on “Four Strong Winds” went to No. 60 on the pop chart and to No. 3 on the country chart. (Young’s record went to No. 61 in 1979, and a cover by the Brothers Four bubbled under at No. 114 in 1963.) Bare’s up-tempo take and the large vocal chorus behind him almost overwhelm the song, at least in my ears, but that was mainstream country in the mid-1960s.

Jesse Colin Young began his career with a 1964 album titled Soul of a City Boy, which included a slightly skewed song titled “Four In The Morning.” Three years later, when he and the other members of the Youngbloods put together the group’s self-titled first album, “Four In The Morning” again showed up as an album track. The gloomy tune of squalor and murder came from the pen of George (aka Robin) Remailly, a member of the Holy Modal Rounders, an off-kilter folk-rock group from the same era.

There’s not a lot of information out there about the Raggamuffins, a group that recorded “Four Days Of Rain” for the Seville label (a track that was also released, based on the visual in the linked video, on London in the U.K.). The song was written by group member Tom Pacheco, whose solo work I enjoy a lot. I can’t find any evidence that the record got any attention in 1967, but in 2002, the track showed up on Byrds Won’t Fly Today, a compilation of 1960s folk-rock judged to have some similarity to the Byrds’ work. AMG says the Raggamuffins’ track “comes about the closest to the actual Byrds sound, almost replicating to a T their mid-’60s harmonies, guitar chime, earnest lyricizing, and even Michael Clarke’s whooshing ‘The Bells of Rhymney’ cymbal patterns.” It’s actually a pretty good record.

If the definition of a “One-Hit Wonder”* is a performer or group that got one record in the Top 40, then Eddie Holman fits right in: His 1970 record “Hey There Lonely Girl” – a gender-switched cover of Ruby & The Romantics’ 1963 hit “Hey There Lonely Boy” – went to No. 2 (No. 4 R&B), and he never had another record in the Top 40. And that’s all that most people know about Eddie Holman (though one could choose far worse than “Hey There Lonely Girl” in selecting a record to be a reminder of one’s existence). But he had seven other records in or near the Billboard Hot 100 and seven others as well in the R&B Top 40. And even some of his album tracks are worth hearing, like “Four Walls” from 1970’s I Love You.

*I saw an online discussion recently about the definition of a one-hit wonder. Among the points noted in the discussion is that it’s silly to use the definition I cited above for bands and performers whose careers have mostly been album-based but had just one charting hit. A case in point used, I think, in that discussion is the Grateful Dead, who reached the Top 40 just once with “Touch Of Grey” in 1987 but isn’t anything close to what we think of when we hear the term “one-hit wonder.” So if you want to pin down a specific definition of the term, it would need to be a lot more complex than the one used in the paragraph above.

‘In The Coolness Of Your Shadow . . .’

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Driving down Lincoln Avenue toward some fast food last evening, I was listening – as I generally do in the car – to WXYG, the low-power album rock station that popped up on the AM band here in the St. Cloud area about a year ago. And as I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, I heard a familiar and mournful violin introduction come from the speakers, followed by the breathy voice of Jesse Colin Young:

Darkness, darkness, be my pillow, take my head and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow, in the silence of your deep.

The song was Young’s “Darkness, Darkness,” an eloquent and haunting surrender to despair recorded by the Youngbloods for their 1969 album, Elephant Mountain. Some listeners have heard a metaphor in the song for the anguish in Vietnam going on at the time the album came out, but I’m not so sure. Either way – or any other way – it’s a chilling song that gets a little trippy in the middle:

I’ve run across numerous covers of the tune in the last decade or so, including versions by Richie Havens, Richard Shindell, the pair of Elliot Murphy & Iain Matthews, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Mott the Hoople, Robert Plant and the Cowboy Junkies. So with the song running through my head this morning, I dropped by Second Hand Songs to see who else might have covered the tune. The website listed ten versions of the song, including the original; I’ve heard eight of them, missing only those by Cassell Webb from 1990 and Golden Earring from 1995.

I also took a look at the mp3s available at Amazon, and that brought up quite a few other names, some of which I knew – like Michael Stanley (with the Ghost Poets) – and many that were unfamiliar. I listened to some samples but left my pocketbook untouched this morning (although there were a few versions that might merit exploration down the road).

So with all those names, what’s actually out there? Well, the Wilson sisters’ version, which showed up on Ann Wilson’s 2007 album, Hope and Glory, is just okay, and the same is true for Robert Plant’s cover, from 2002’s Dreamland. Mott the Hoople’s 1971 version from Brain Capers is good (if a little too Mott-y, if that makes any sense). Ian Matthews’ solo take on the song – found on his 1976 album Go For Broke (released before he changed the spelling of his first name to “Iain”) – felt too matter-of-fact at the start; it became more compelling as it went along but eventually did not match the version he recorded with Elliot Murphy for La Terre Commune in 2000. I do like Lisa Torban’s version (featured here eighteen months ago), which was used in the soundtrack of the 2003 film about the Titanic, Ghosts of the Abyss.

Keeping all that in mind, four versions of “Darkness, Darkness” stand out. Almost five years ago, I wrote that Matthews and Smith’s take on the tune was at the top of my list. Well, lists like that can change, and I now think that three other covers of Young’s song are a little better:  The Cowboy Junkies’ version of the song, released on a bonus EP with their 2004 album One Soul Now, seemed a bit leaden at first, but the slower tempo eventually pulled me in. And my growing appreciation for Richie Havens’ interpretation of the song will, I’m sure, be unsurprising to most readers. His version came out in 1994 on his Cuts to the Chase album.

But the cover that I prefer these days comes from folk artist Richard Shindell, who I think found the center of Young’s song when he recorded it for his 1997 album, Reunion Hill.

Back In Seventh Grade For A Moment

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

There are several records from the mid-1960s that – no matter where I am or what I am doing – grab me by the shoulders and drop me back in the hallways of South Junior High School here in St. Cloud. They do so just long enough for me to say “Oh yeah,” as I recall some little snippet or another of junior high life. And then I come back to wherever I was.

One of those records is the Yardbirds’ second-biggest hit, “Heart Full Of Soul,” which was at No. 14 on the chart – two weeks away from its peak at No. 9 – the day I walked through the doors at South to begin seventh grade. And unless I’ve missed one, “Heart Full Of Soul” is the only record from seventh grade that puts me back in those hallways. There are others – maybe four or five – that take me back to South, as I said above – but they were popular when I was in eighth and ninth grades.

So what comes back when I think of walking the halls of South with a heart full of soul? I remember – as I wrote about once – playing the character of Faversham Lightly, Jr., in the school play in spring. I recall spelling bees in English class, my absolute mechanical incompetence in shop and being tabbed to help other kids with their current events questions in social studies. I remember several crushes, none of which came to anything more than a wounded heart. And in the spring, I got a five-stitch scar at the corner of my mouth.

That was the day I stepped on a kid’s foot as I got on a school bus. It was March 31, 1966, and I was heading over to my friend Brad’s house after school. We were going to hang around with his little brother, talk about James Bond and model cars and stuff, and then Mom was going to come pick me up. Since Brad no longer lived on the East Side, that meant taking a different bus than I normally did. And as Brad and I got on the bus, I accidently stepped on another seventh-grader’s foot. And his friend took offense.

When Brad and I got off the bus, so did Foot and Friend, and they blocked our way to Brad’s house. They were a little larger and more athletic that we were. I shrugged and said I was sorry for stepping on Foot’s foot. That wasn’t enough, and they moved closer, crowding Brad and me. I kicked one of them in the shin – not hard, just a “Get the hell out of my way” tap. And Foot’s Friend launched a kick to my face, cutting me just outside the left corner of my mouth. As the blood flowed, Foot and Friend fled.

I called my mom from Brad’s, and she took me to the doctor, who closed the wound with five stitches. I don’t know if Mom called the school, but early the next day, I was called down to the office, and the assistant principal – the guy in charge of discipline – asked me who did it. I told him, acknowledging my “get the hell out of my way” kick as part of the confrontation. The kid who kicked me was called in, we both got a lecture and we were told to shake hands. And that was that.

Except . . .

There is a German word, schadenfreude, defined by Wikipedia as “pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” If I’ve even indulged in schadenfreude, it’s generally been on the innocent level of being a sports fan. I love to see Ohio State’s football team lose, and the same holds true for the University of North Dakota’s hockey team. And the Dallas Cowboys. For things in the everyday world, however, I’ve generally not delighted in the misfortunes of others.

But sometime after my stitches came out, Foot’s Friend came to school with two silver teeth where his upper incisors should have been. The tale spread that he and Foot had been messing around with a tent in one of their backyards and some kind of chase had ensued. Foot’s Friend had tripped over a tent rope and had his front teeth knocked out by a tent peg. He’d have the silver teeth until adulthood, when he’d get permanent replacements. I never said anything to anyone, but I admit that I was quietly pleased.

Then sometime during my college days, about ten years after all those things took place, I was wandering through the bar called the Grand Mantel on a Saturday afternoon. I happened to see Foot’s Friend sitting alone at a table. I nodded and waved – it had been a long time since seventh grade – and he waved back and motioned to a chair. I sat down, noticing that he was drinking a beer with a straw. “How you doing?” I asked as I settled myself at the table.

“Not so good,” he said through clenched teeth. “I broke my jaw in a fight, and it’s wired shut for another month.”

We talked for a few more minutes, and then I moved on, once more quietly pleased and feeling only the tiniest bit guilty about it.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 16
“Heart Full of Soul” by the Yardbirds, Epic 9823 [1965]
“Incense & Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Uni 55018 [1967]
“On The Way Home” by the Buffalo Springfield from Last Time Around [1968]
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods, RCA Victor 9752 [1969]
“Hold Your Head Up” by Argent from All Together Now [1972]
“September” by Earth, Wind & Fire, ARC 19854 [1978]

I mentioned records from eighth and ninth grade that plop me back at South? “Incense & Peppermints” is one of those. I’m on the edge of the gym, watching the girls as they dance away the last minutes of lunch hour. One of the dancers is wearing a silver skirt – short for the time – along with silver boots and chartreuse hose. The song – which spent one week at No. 1 – plays on, and we guys watch. Now, more than forty years later, “Incense & Peppermints” is one of those records that can loop in my head as a persistent earworm, and it sometimes takes an act of will to turn it off. Nevertheless, I still like the song – atmospheric and a little spooky yet – a great deal.

I have no contemporary memory of Buffalo Springfield’s “On The Way Home.” It was the lead track on Last Time Around, an album put together as the band was fragmenting, according to All-Music Guide. But I first heard it, as far as I know, in the autumn of 1972, when a copy of Retrospective, a Buffalo Springfield anthology, came to my house from my record club. The song closes the first side of Retrospective, and the driving music, the bittersweet lyric and the “woo-ooo” that opens the record all got my attention. Even now, having delved into the Springfield’s diverse – if slender – catalog over the years, I think that “On The Way Home” is the best thing that talented but short-lived band ever recorded.

I’m not sure whether this actually happened or whether it’s a construct from several sources, but it’s an evening in late September or early October 1969. I’m propped up on my bed, pillows behind me, reading. The only light in the room is the lamp on my nightstand, pointed at my book. Just a few feet away, the windows are open, and the sounds of an early autumn evening come through the screens: leaves about to fall rustle in a light breeze; the footfalls and laughter of kids heading home echo in the quiet of Eighth Street; a car makes its way down Kilian Boulevard, tires whirring on pavement; from the southeast comes the rumble of a train approaching the nearby crossing, its horn cutting through the twilight. And from my old RCA radio on the nightstand, I hear the Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” and it remains for me an autumnal song if ever there was one. (The record was originally released in1967, when it went to No. 67; it was re-released in 1969 and went to No. 5.)

As a member of the Zombies, Rod Argent wrote – and helped record – some of the best songs of the British Invasion. Two of the Zombie’s three hits – “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There” – came from his pen entirely, and he co-wrote the third hit, “Time of the Season,” with his bandmates. In 1972, Argent had a hit with a track from his self-titled band’s first album. With its swirling, thumping sound, Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up” might not have been in the same league with those earlier compositions and records, but it wasn’t far off. An edit of the album track was released as a single and went to No. 5 during the summer of 1972; the album All Together Now went to No. 23 that fall. In the spring of 1973, I saw Argent in concert when the band opened for the Doobie Brothers in St. Paul, and “Hold Your Head Up” had turned into a long jam that went on for nearly twenty minutes.

There are no associations for me with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” I only vaguely remember hearing it on the radio. But it’s lively and it shows off the group’s talents well, I think. And there’s nothing wrong with sliding a record in the jukebox just because it sounds good. They don’t all have to carry a story. “September” went to No. 8 (No. 1 on the R&B chart) during the winter of 1978-79.