Posts Tagged ‘Zager & Evans’

Summer Songs, Part One

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The RealPlayer hummed along the other day as I did a little housekeeping in the study, trying to do something more substantial than simply move stacks of books, paper and 45 rpm records from one flat surface to another. Not much got accomplished, especially after the RealPlayer settled on “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.

For just a few moments, it was the summer of 1972: A half-time janitor gig on campus, my sister’s wedding, my first car and a road trip to Winnipeg. While there are other records that bring back portions of that summer – “Alone Again, Naturally” has me cleaning venetian blinds and “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” has me driving north to Canada – there’s something about the Flack/Hathaway single that somehow sums up the feel of the whole summer. The record was inescapable (though I never wanted to escape it) as it went to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts.

As the mp3 played, I found the video above and posted it at Facebook and then sat and wondered what other records have such visceral connections with specific summers of my younger days. It seemed worth some digging, both in reference books and memory.

Paging through the Sixties, no records really say “Summer!” until I get to 1968. I wasn’t listening to Top 40 at home yet, but that was the first summer I worked as a setter at the state trap shoot, spending about ten hours a day for four days straight placing clay targets on a scary machine. As did the other setters, I brought a radio, and my semi-subterranean corner of the world was filled with KDWB’s Top 40 most of the day and Minnesota Twins baseball for a couple of hours in the afternoons.

Four records trigger memories as I page through Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits and look at a late July 1968 survey from WDGY, KDWB’s main competitor: “Indian Lake” by the Cowsills, “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams, “Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues and “Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela. The Vogues’ single has a niche of its own in my memory, but the 1968 record that to this day says “trap shoot” (and thus “Summer of ’68”) is “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors, which spent two weeks at No. 1 in early August that year.

Looking back to 1969, the memories of my RCA radio at the trap shoot have to compete with the memories of the radio in the training room at St. Cloud Tech, as the last weeks of summer were my first weeks of being both a manager for the Tigers football team and a dedicated Top 40 listener. But checking Bronson and a late July survey from KDWB, it’s the trap shoot that wins. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells are in the running, but nothing says “Summer 1969” for good or ill – and many folks will think it ill – like “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans, a record that sat atop the Hot 100 for six weeks and on top of the AC chart for two weeks.

The summer of 1970 was my third and final trap shoot summer, but by the time the four-day event rolled around, I’d been listening to Top 40 for nearly a year. That means there are many more songs I recall from that summer with only a little help needed from Bronson’s book or a KDWB survey. Near the top of the list (in memory and quality) are Bread’s “Make It With You,” Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold,”  “Ride, Captain, Ride” by Blues Image, “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War and the 5 Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child.” But the top spot  in my Summer of ’70 list goes to a record that I’ve mentioned numerous times in six-plus years of blogging: “Are You Ready” by Pacific Gas & Electric. The record peaked in the Hot 100 at No. 14.

That’s a good place to stop. We’ll pick up this slender thread next week and see – beyond “Where Is The Love” – which records defined summers after my high school days. In the meantime, any readers who wish can answer this question:

What are your summer records?

A Six-Pack of Sleep

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

For some reason, I woke up early this morning. Very early.

I usually sleep – with the help of my nightly Ambien – until the alarm rings, generally sometime around 6:30 or so. But this morning, I woke up before that. I rolled over and looked at the clock: 4:11. For a moment, I wondered what roused me, listened for the sounds of a cat in trouble or up to no good. Nothing. So I rolled over, rearranged my pillows and went back to sleep.

I woke up again. The clock read 4:39. One of the cats – Little Gus – was lying against my leg, but that shouldn’t have been enough to rouse me. I listened again and still heard no sounds of feline mischief. I tossed one of the covers to the side and rolled over the other way and closed my eyes again.

And I woke up once more, seemingly for no particular reason. I lay there for a few moments, annoyed, and then opened my eyes and checked the time: 5:11. Accepting the inevitable, I got up and started my day. Fortified by some coffee and whole-grain toaster pastries, I put together a lunch for the Texas Gal, checked some stuff online and realized that while my body was up and moving, my brain was still slumbering. So a more creative post will have to wait until Thursday. Instead, here is a selection of songs about sleep.

“I’m Only Sleeping” by the Beatles from Revolver [1966]

“She Never Sleeps Beside Me” by Zager & Evans from Zager & Evans [1970]

“Sleep Walk” by Leo Kottke from Guitar Music [1981]

“The Devil Never Sleeps” by Iron & Wine from The Shepherd’s Dog [2007]

“She Sleeps Alone” by Pat Shannon, Warner Bros. 7210 [1968]

“Two Sleepy People” by Crystal Gayle & Willie Nelson from Crystal Gayle Sings The Heart & Soul Of Hoagy Carmichael [2004]

I was hoping a Beatles song would show up this morning. Before I decided on the word “sleep” as my search word, I considered using “tired.” I know I’ve used it before, so I went the other direction. Had I gone with “tired,” though, I figure that “I’m So Tired” from the White Album would have had a good chance of popping up. And that would have worked. But “I’m Only Sleeping” from Revolver is just as good a track, and it’s presented in this video in beautiful mono.

The All-Music Guide review of Zager & Evans’ self-titled album – the duo’s follow-up to In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) – is scathing: “This project gives record labels an excuse as to why important artists don’t get multiple album deals – there’s nothing remotely sounding like a hit, in fact, this is just a horrendous collection of bad songs by Rick Evans who takes all the blame for the words and music.” And that’s an accurate assessment. (And why I keep the album in the RealPlayer is a question I cannot answer.) As it happens, “She Never Sleeps Beside Me” is probably the best thing on the album, but still, click at your own risk.

“Sleep Walk” is Leo Kottke’s take on the tune that Santo & Johnny – a guitar duo from Brooklyn – took to No. 1 in 1959. It’s a tune that’s been covered over and over but with only two versions making the pop chart. In 1982, jazz guitarist Larry Carlton released a version of the tune that went to No. 74. Kottke’s version, from his 1981 album, Guitar Work, is just a little too somnolent for me. Of course, that could be just me, just this morning.

The group Iron & Wine is basically Sam Beam, who’s released a series of increasingly good albums since 2002. His first efforts were pretty quiet affairs, but The Shepherd Dog from 2007 is different. AMG notes that “Beam surrounds himself with a large cast of musicians, and they blanket the songs with a wide array of instrumentation, everything from accordions to Hammond organ, piano to backward guitars, vibraphone to bass harmonica.” “The Devil Never Sleeps” is one of the tracks that benefits the most from the new approach, with its barrelhouse piano and chugging rhythm.

I was pleased that Pat Shannon’s “She Sleeps Alone” popped up in my random exploration this morning. I’m not sure where I found the track, which seems to be the B-Side to his single “Candy Apple, Cotton Candy.” But it’s a nifty, if melancholy, slice of late 1960s pop. Shannon had released some singles in the late 1950s in what AMG calls “a country-pop” vein. Neither those singles nor “Candy Apple, Cotton Candy” hit the charts; a 1970 release titled “Back To Dreamin’ Again” got to No. 103.

With its clarity of tone and accuracy of pitch, Crystal Gayle’s voice is a wonder. A fixture on the country chart between 1970 and 1988 (a total of forty-five hits, eighteen of them reaching No. 1), Gayle grabbed my attention a few years ago when I heard her work with Tom Waits on the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1982 film, One From The Heart. One of her more recent efforts is the 2004 collection of Hoagy Carmichael tunes on which “Two Sleepy People” is found. It’s good stuff.