Archive for the ‘1988’ Category

Saturday Single No. 749

Saturday, August 21st, 2021

As I noted yesterday, the first verse of Kate Wolf’s song “Across The Great Divide” – covered in yesterday’s post by the recently departed Nanci Griffith – starts thus:

I’ve been walkin’ in my sleep
Countin’ troubles ’stead of countin’ sheep
Where the years went, I can’t say
I just turned around and they’ve gone away

It continues:

I’ve been siftin’ through the layers
Of dusty books and faded papers
They tell a story I used to know
And it was one that happened so long ago

It’s gone away in yesterday
Now I find myself on the mountainside
Where the rivers change direction
Across the Great Divide

And as I listened to Griffith’s 1993 album Other Voices, Other Rooms over the past few days, I found myself more and more often pushing the buttons that would bring the CD back to Track 1, “Across The Great Divide.” I was, I suppose, thinking – as Wolf no doubt intended – about the other great divide, the one that remains a mystery no matter how often someone we love, know, or simply admire crosses it.

I’m guessing that I first heard Wolf’s song in 2002, when I came across Gold In California, an anthology of Wolf’s work released in 1986, the same year that Wolf died at the age of 44. It was not quite a year later, when I was catching up with Griffith’s work, that I heard the Texas singer-songwriter’s version of the tune.

There are fourteen more versions of the song listed ay Second Hand Songs (and I imagine there are others, too), but I find myself oddly reluctant this morning to go digging among them. It’s as if I want the versions by Griffith and Wolf to remain alone in my head for a little while.

I recall a writing specialist say once, “Follow your instincts. If you’re not ready to write about something – and you have no deadline – don’t push it.” And just as I’m not yet ready to listen to other covers of “Across The Great Divide,” so am I not ready yet to write much more about Griffith, and I may never be.

Given that, a good account of her life and an appreciation of her work came from Mark Deming of AllMusic and is available here.

And, still following my instincts, we’ll shift gears here and close with a live version of my favorite song by Nanci Griffith, “Love At The Five & Dime.” In many cases, I prefer studio versions to live versions, but not this time. This performance of “Love At The Five & Dime” is cited at YouTube as being from a 1988 gig at the Houston club called Anderson Fair.* I think, though, that it is from a 1989 or 1991 episode of Austin City Limits. Either way, it shows, I think, Griffith’s charm, story-telling gifts, and her musicianship as well as anything else can. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

*The album One Fair Summer Evening, released in 1988, was made up of performances at Anderson Fair recorded on August 19 and 20 of that year. This performance of “Love At The Five & Dime” is not the one that was on the album, but it is very similar. (Text edited August 26, 2021.)

‘Grey’ or ‘Gray’?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

Here’s one of those questions that writers ponder every once in a while: Is it “grey” or “gray”?

If I had a copy of the Associated Press stylebook here, I imagine it would say “gray.” For many years, in my own writing, I used “grey,” probably just to be contrarian. And, in a typographical sense, I think it looks better. I think, though, that my usage has shifted toward “gray” over the past few years, but how consistently, I’m not sure.

But which is preferred? And what is the difference, if any? The folks at the Grammarly website say that “gray” is preferred in the U.S., while “grey” is more common in other English-speaking countries. The website goes on to say:

Both gray and grey come from the Old English word grǽg. Over time, many different spellings of the word developed. The Middle English poem “The Owl and the Nightingale,” which was written in the twelfth or thirteenth century, uses the spelling “greie.” The fourteenth-century translation of the French poem “Roman de la Rose” uses the spelling “greye.” “Graye” can be found in the poem “Piers Plowman” written by William Langland in the second half of the fourteenth century. Examples of the spellings we use today can also be found in Middle English literature.

By the eighteenth century, “grey” had become the more common spelling, even though the legendary lexicographer Samuel Johnson thought that “gray” was a better version. In the nineteenth century, English dictionaries followed Johnson’s cue and prescribed “gray” as the correct version, but to no avail. By the twentieth century, “grey” had become the accepted spelling everywhere except in the United States.

So let’s look at “grey” and “gray” on the digital shelves.

First, there’s the song “Grey Goose” as recorded by Lead Belly (born Huddie Ledbetter) and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet for the Victor label in June 1940.

“Grey Goose” is a traditional tune that tells the tale of a preacher who hunted a goose that was impossible to kill, to cook or to eat. Wikipedia says the implication of the song is that the preacher had not properly observed the Sabbath (although the website notes as well “there are other folk songs which may or may not have existed before this song . . . that have a similar theme of the grey goose being indestructible.”)

I found the version by Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet on the CD Leadbelly: Take This Hammer, one of the eleven CDs in the series titled When The Sun Goes Down: The Secret History Of Rock & Roll. The series was released by RCA Victor and Bluebird in the early years of this century.

(A note on the spelling of Huddie Ledbetter’s performing name: For many years, since I first heard of the man when I was maybe in junior high school, I had seen it spelled as one word, “Leadbelly.” In recent years, I have read that Ledbetter actually spelled it as two words: “Lead Belly.” That’s the spelling used on his grave stone and it’s what Wikipedia uses.)

Here’s how Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet sang “Grey Goose.”

Almost fifty years later, Sweet Honey In The Rock recorded the song for the 1988 compilation A Vision Shared, a Folkways release that offered covers of songs written by Woody Guthrie and written by or associated with Lead Belly. But the song was titled, for some reason, “Gray Goose.” Here’s what Sweet Honey In The Rock did with it:

“Grey” or “gray,” take your pick. Either one works in this case.

Saturday Single No. 670

Saturday, December 21st, 2019

Here, updated with a few minor changes, is a post that ran here eleven years ago.

We’re about to come out of the darkness.

The December Solstice is upon us. At 10:19 this evening (Central Standard Time) the sun will go as far south in the sky as it goes, and it will begin to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good news for those of us who find the winter grim and gloomy. I’m certain I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers from then into February.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that – as I’ve mentioned here before – is likely a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic forebears. We know about the tilt of the Earth, we know how that brings the solstices and the seasons, and we know that the daytime light will now increase bit by bit every day, leading us toward springtime and then summer. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen. Tomorrow will bring us slightly more daylight than we had today, and the next day and all the next days until June will do the same. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’re about to come out of the darkness.

Here are the Traveling Wilburys with “Heading Toward The Light.” It’s from their first album, Volume One, released in 1988. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘I Want All The Time . . .’

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

I write a fair amount about Bruce Springsteen, I know. And even when I don’t write about him, I often mention him in reference to something I’m writing, or I post some of his music when it fits something I write about. (And of course I ponder his work as I listen to the iPod or the RealPlayer.) As it happens, it’s actually been almost a year since I posted any of his music, but anyway, I’ve posted more of his music than I have anyone else’s in the nearly twelve years I’ve been throwing stuff at the wall here.

And I’ve often wondered as I’ve written about Springsteen which of his hundreds of songs he considered his best. I found the answer last evening near the end of a long piece Michael Hainey wrote for Eqsuire. Hainey writes:

I tell him I’m thinking about “Born to Run,” which contains four words in one line that are the sum of him: sadness, love, madness, and soul. “Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness / I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.”

And Springsteen responds:

“Those are my lines. ‘Born to Run.’ That’s my epitaph, if you wanna know my epitaph. There it is. It still is, probably—I use the song at the end of the show every night as a summary. The idea is that it can contain all that has come before. And I believe that it does.”

Hainey: Sadness, love, madness, soul. I tell him: Those are your four elements.

Springsteen: “The last verse of my greatest song. And that’s where it ought to end every night.” Springsteen pauses. “Twenty-four when I wrote it. Wow. It’s a . . . holds up pretty well. But I . . . that was what I was aiming for in those days—that’s what I was shooting for.”

Who am I to contradict the creator? But I wonder this morning if “Born to Run” is in fact Springsteen’s greatest. His most anthemic, yes. The one that made him a star, yes. Maybe even the one that told us out here most clearly who he was in those uncertain years before 1975.

But his greatest?

If you asked a hundred Springsteen fans . . . well, I don’t think you’d get a hundred different answers, but I think you’d get at least twenty. And I think that those twenty would reflect more than anything how each listener’s life was going at the time he or she first heard the Springsteen song each of them judges the greatest. And the choices might also reflect the times all of those fans really listened to Springsteen’s work for the first time.

It’s that way for me. As I’ve said here before, I resisted digging into Springsteen’s work for a long time, finally deciding to start with Tunnel of Love when it came out while I was living in Minot, North Dakota, in early 1988 and when, not coincidentally, I was inside a relationship that I could see transforming in a way that I adamantly did not want. So when I found among the songs on Tunnel of Love a song about a lasting pairing that also had a clever lyric . . . Well, as have millions before and since, I heard my story – or at least the story I wanted to have – in one of Bruce’s songs:

I got a dollar in my pocket
There ain’t a cloud up above
I got a picture in a locket
That says baby I love you
Well if you didn’t look then boys
Then fellas don’t go lookin’ now
Well here she comes a-walkin’
All that heaven will allow

Say hey there mister bouncer
Now all I want to do is dance
But I swear I left my wallet
Back home in my workin’ pants
C’mon Slim slip me in man
I’ll make it up to you somehow
I can’t be late I got a date
With all that heaven will allow

Rain and storm and dark skies
Well now they don’t mean a thing
If you got a girl that loves you
And who wants to wear your ring
So c’mon mister trouble
We’ll make it through you somehow
We’ll fill this house with all the love
All that heaven will allow

Now some may want to die young man
Young and gloriously
Get it straight now mister
Hey buddy that ain’t me
’Cause I got something on my mind
That sets me straight and walkin’ proud
And I want all the time
All that heaven will allow

So what’s the difference between the greatest something and the most important something? I don’t know, right off-hand. Maybe there is none. Springsteen says his greatest is “Born to Run,” and I acknowledge that I still get a thrill from his anthems, from “Badlands” and “The Promised Land” and “Thunder Road” and especially “Born to Run.” And I do appreciate that subtext in “Born to Run” that he mentions in the interview. (And other subtexts besides.)

But the tale of “All That Heaven Will Allow” (minus, of course, the working class details; I have never had to work with my hands for a living) mirrored what I was hoping to have the first time I heard it. That matters to me (and I think it would matter to Springsteen, too, for if the main purpose of art is to create what one needs to create, then I think the next most important purpose of art is to be relevant to one’s audience).

But what do I know? Well, I do know that it took years of listening to “All That Heaven Will Allow” for me to find the place where the song’s narrator lives. And I also know that “All That Heaven Will Allow” is to me the most important of all of Springsteen’s songs.

Saturday Single No. 613

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

This will be a quick one this morning, as I’m soon heading to St. Francis, north of the Twin Cities, where I’ll connect with Rob. Then we’ll head to the suburb of Plymouth to our friend Jon’s home for a day of Strat-O-Matic baseball.

The twelve-team tournament is hosted by our pal Dan, but he and his wife moved not long ago to downtown Minneapolis, and Jon offered to host the event to provide easier access for those coming in from out of town.

Anyway, I’m headed out this morning, hoping that the 1961 Cincinnati Reds can have a good day.

For this morning’s music, I looked quickly at today’s date and saw 10/20, and I wondered if I had any tracks on the digital shelves that run 10:20. And I found Jimmy McGriff’s take on “Don’t Get Around Much Any More” It’s from his 1988 album Blue To The ’Bone, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Out Of The Darkness

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Here, updated with a few minor changes, is a post that ran here nine years ago.

We’re about to come out of the darkness.

The December Solstice is upon us. At 10:28 this morning (Central Standard Time) the sun will go as far south in the sky as it goes, and it will begin to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good news for those of us who find the winter grim and gloomy. I’m certain I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers from then into February.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that – as I think I’ve mentioned here before – is likely a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic forebears. We know about the tilt of the Earth, we know how that brings the solstices and the seasons, and we know that the daytime light will now increase bit by bit every day, leading us toward springtime and then summer. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen. Today will bring us slightly more daylight than we had yesterday, and tomorrow and the next day and all the days until next June will do the same. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’re about to come out of the darkness.

Here are the Traveling Wilburys with “Heading Toward The Light.” It’s from their first album, Volume One, released in 1988.

Saturday Single No. 545

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

The number of mp3s currently loaded into the RealPlayer is 95,083. We topped the 95,000 mark sometime in the past two months, when I wasn’t watching carefully. Both Odd and Pop, however, insist that the last couple thousand tracks we’ve added to the main shelves here at EITW were carefully curated.

Well, let’s take a look at some of the recently added albums that got us to the big number:

We have three CD’s worth of work – with some duplicates winnowed out – by the original Carter Family: A.P. Carter, his wife, Sarah, and A.P.’s sister-in-law, Maybelle. After watching the PBS special American Epic, a three-hour look at the years when recording industry representatives went out and recorded a vast array of American folk music, I thought I needed to hear a little more from the Carter Family, and with some help, I got some new stuff. If I have a favorite among the tracks that were added, it might be the 1929 track “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blues Eyes.”

After listening for years to a badly ripped version of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s self-titled debut from 1969, I took advantage of a visit to a major brand bookstore the other week and plucked Crosby, Stills & Nash from a budget bin. The CD also has four unreleased tracks, but they don’t seem integral to the story of the album (though they’re pleasant enough to hear). I dropped the CD into the player in the car as I was running some errands the other day, and I was reminded once more how good the album is and how ingrained in my memory it remains. My favorite track? Well, that’s hard, but I do remember that after I got the music book for the album, “Helplessly Hoping” was the first track I learned to play on the guitar.

During that retail stop, I also grabbed the 50th anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the stereo version newly produced from the original tracks by Giles Martin, the son of Sir George Martin. You’ve probably heard about it. I ripped the album as one long mp3 for the files, but I gave the CD its first listen on a larger player, and it sounds new and remarkably clear. I’m going to have to give it a few more listens to note specific differences between this version and the three others I already had (stereo vinyl from 1970, CD release from the late 1980s, and The Beatles in Mono release from 2009). If I had to choose a favorite, it’s not very original: the suite from “Good Morning Good Morning” through the last fading seconds of the massive piano chord that ends “A Day In The Life.”

I stopped in the other week at Uff Da Records, St. Cloud’s new place for vinyl and CDs, both used and new. A quick rifling of the used CDs brought me two finds. The first was Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, an album that I’ve had on vinyl since 1988 and had occasionally looked for on CD since 2000 or so. My copy is a record club edition, which doesn’t bother me because the music is the same, and the tunes put together by the Wilburys – who were, of course, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison – still holds up. I have two favorite tracks that I would find hard to separate: “Handle With Care,” which I first heard in 1988 while driving home one afternoon in Minot, North Dakota, giving me some of the relatively few moments of undiluted happiness I felt that year, and “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” Dylan’s winking parody/tribute aimed at Bruce Springsteen.

The other find at Uff Da was a disappointment: Boz Scaggs’ 1997 release, Come On Home. I’ve enjoyed Scaggs for years, even some of the more uneven work, and I’ve long had his 1976 masterpiece, Silk Degrees, on a short list of essential albums. But I’ve run Come On Home through the CD player in the car a couple of times and it falls flat. The blues licks and the arrangements are okay, Scaggs’ voice is still great, the lyrics leave a great deal to be desired, and the result is one of the most disappointing albums I’ve bought in a long, long time. I think I have to go back to 2004 and Brian Wilson Presents Smile to find an album that has left me feeling so empty. So there are no favorite tracks from Come On Home.

As I wrote about the Traveling Wilburys this morning, I remembered how good it felt to smile as I listened in my car to George Harrison’s lead vocal on “Handle With Care.” That smile got wider when I heard Orbison’s voice on the first bridge and the whole crew – led by Dylan and Petty – on the second bridge. And as the song began to fade, just when I thought I could grin no wider, the harmonica solo – it had to be Dylan, right? – just about split my face apart. For the memory of that pure joy in the midst of a very hard year, “Handle With Care” by the Traveling Wilburys is today’s Saturday Single.

‘East’

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

In our first two installments of our “Follow The Directions” adventure, we’ve hit “North” and “South” and for some reason bypassed “East” along the way. Today, we head that direction, looking for tunes for the eastward road.

A search for “east” on the RealPlayer gives us exactly 400 tracks, but as usual with these searches, many of those tracks will be dismissed. Anything recorded at the Fillmore East goes by the way, including the Allman Brothers Band’s astounding live album from 1971, a full concert by Leon Russell from 1970, and single performances by the Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

We also lose some entire albums (except title tracks, in some cases): Mandrill’s Beast From The East (1975), Don Henley’s Building The Perfect Beast (1984), Tower Of Power’s East Bay Grease (1970), Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers’ East Carson Street (2009), the Patti Smith Group’s Easter (1978), Badly Drawn Boy’s The House Of Bewilderbeast (2000) and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern (2010).

Gone, too, are any tracks by East of Eden, the Voices of East Harlem, Head East, the Beastie Boys, Skip Easterling, the Eastenders, the East Texas Serenaders, the East River Boys, the East Side Kids and a few singles on at least two labels from over the years: “East West” and “Eastwest.” And at least eighteen additional tracks with the word “beast” in their titles (and a few with “Easter” and “feast”) go by the wayside as well.

But, as almost always happens, we have enough tracks left for us to sort through, and we’ve found four good examples to accompany us as we head east:

We’ll start with a track from a friend of mine, the late Bobby Jameson. His “Girl From The East” is a song he wrote and recorded as Chris Lucey in 1965 for the album Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest. (Performer Chris Ducey came to a disagreement with the Surrey label after he’d recorded an album by that title; Bobby was hired to write songs with titles matching those that Ducey had recorded for the album, and the album cover – already printed – was altered to make the performer’s name “Lucey” instead of “Ducey.”) “Girl From The East” was also recorded by the Leaves and showed up as a B-side on some versions of the Mira label’s release of “Hey Joe.” Here’s the video Bobby made in 2010 for “Girl From The East.”

One of the delights of the CD age has been the unearthing of alternate takes and unreleased tracks offered as addenda to long-familiar albums. An example of that for our journey this morning is “East of Java” from the 5th Dimension’s sessions for the 1968 album Stoned Soul Picnic. As it happens, the track could easily have been called “Java Girl,” because to my ears “east of Java” doesn’t come into the mix until near the end of the record. And for those looking for something with a South Asian/Indonesian flair, well, sorry. The track is firmly rooted in the L.A. session sound that the 5th Dimension offered on its thirty hits in the Billboard Hot 100 (including seven in the Top Ten) between 1967 and 1976.

On my 35th birthday in 1988, I got some records (huge surprise, right), scoring LPs by Cream, the Grateful Dead, the Who and Van Morrison. But the best album I got that day was Folkways: A Vision Shared, subtitled “A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly.” The album offered fourteen tracks written by the two long-gone roots legends as performed by artists ranging from Little Richard, Brian Wilson and Sweet Honey In The Rock to John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. One of those taking part, of course, was Arlo Guthrie, who offered his version of his father’s “East Texas Red” to the proceedings. The tale of the railroad guard and the men who eventually take their revenge is classic Woody Guthrie.

Also in my listening mix during the difficult year of 1988 was lots of Gordon Lightfoot (and his presence in my playlists remains even as the years have gotten better). His 1986 release East Of Midnight was on the turntable on occasion but not as frequently as some of Lightfoot’s other work, most notably Sundown, Shadows and If You Could Read My Mind. Still, I found myself humming the title track at odd times, as lines like “For the things that might have been, I need no more reminders,” and “The ocean is where lovers meet again” wound their ways into my head and heart that year. It’s an oddly metered song and probably not high on a curated list of Lightfoot’s work (it was not one of the two Lightfoot tracks that showed up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox), but for at least a few seasons, it was part of my life.

Saturday Single No. 440

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

For all of the music I’ve bought or been given over the past fifty years, it’s astounding to note this morning that only two LPs and one CD have come my way on any March 28. Those three albums are:

Valotte by Julian Lennon, acquired March 28, 1997;
Aretha Live At Fillmore West, acquired March 28, 1998; and
Texas Worried Blues by Henry Thomas, acquired March 28, 2003.

It’s entirely possible that some of the LPs I acquired before 1974, when I began recording the specific date of acquisition instead of just the month, might have come my way on March 28. But those LPs account for – at a quick estimate – only about 1.1 percent of the LPs & CDs that make their home here in the EITW studios. So those LPs – as much as I love some of them (and I do) – are statistically insignificant.

So what else can we find out about March 28 over the years in the reference books and files here? Well, Billboard has issued charts several times on March 28 in the years that normally interest us here:

In 1956, the No. 1 record on the pop chart on March 28 was “The Poor People of Paris” by Les Baxter. In 1964, the No. 1 record was “She Loves You” by the Beatles. In 1970, the No. 1 record was “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfukel. And in 1981, “Rapture” by Blondie topped the charts on March 28.

What about No. 1 albums on March 28 in those various years? In 1956, the top album as March drew to a close was Belafonte by Harry Belafonte. In 1964, it was Meet The Beatles! In 1970, the top album on March 28 was Bridge Over Troubled Water. And in 1981, the No. 1 album on March 28 was Hi Infidelity by REO Speedwagon.

Well, nothing’s really exciting me this morning. The albums and tracks from Aretha and the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel (and even Blondie) are fine stuff. At the right moments, I like the Les Baxter and the Belafonte, and Henry Thomas’ vintage songster tunes have their place, too. (The less I think about REO Speedwagon, however, the better I feel.) But as we look for a track for the morning – and that’s what this is always about here on Saturday, even though I did not say so at the top – none of that grabs me.

So, let’s look at the slender list of tracks that we know were recorded on March 28:

Prince Albert Hunt’s Texas Ramblers recorded “Blues In A Bottle” on this date in 1928 in San Antonio, Texas. In 1939, March 28 was the date that Hal Kemp & His Orchestra, with vocals by the Smoothies, recorded “Three Little Fishies (Itty Bitty Pool).” Robert Petway laid down “Catfish Blues” in a Chicago studio on March 28, 1941. Six years later, Chicago was also the site for John Lee Williamson – the first Sonny Boy – when he recorded “Mellow Chick Swing” and “Polly Put The Kettle On.” Bluesmen Sammy Lewis and Willie Johnson were in the Sun Studios in Memphis on March 28, 1955, when they recorded “So Long Baby, Goodbye” and “Feel So Worried.” And in Nashville in 1979, Johnny Cash worked on his version of “Ghost Riders In The Sky.”

And finally, in Detroit on March 28, 1988, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band recorded a live performance of “Be True” that wound up on the four-track EP Chimes Of Freedom released in 1988 to support Amnesty International.

I’m tempted by the silliness of “Three Little Fishies,” which I used to have on a kiddie 78 when I was about four years old, but, then, I hadn’t listened to the live version of “Be True” for a while. It’s pretty damned good, and since I’m almost always in a Springsteen mood here, that live version of “Be True” from 1988 is today’s Saturday Single.

They Weren’t ‘One-Hit Wonders’

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

As the Texas Gal and I watched the second hour of American Idol last evening, I was grumbling. Now, lots of folks grumble about American Idol, many of whom don’t watch the show, so I was in good company. But I had a specific complaint.

The second half of last evening’s singing competition was dedicated to “one-hit wonders.” Each of the four remaining contestants – four talented young women – got to choose and perform a one-hit wonder. But as that second hour of the show moved on, it became obvious to me (and to other chart geeks out there, I imagine) that AI had not spent much time – if any – working on a definition of “one-hit wonder.”

What’s my definition? Having thought about it overnight, I’d say an artist or group qualifies as a one-hit wonder by placing one and only one single in the Top 40. As to calling songs themselves “one-hit wonders” as AI did last evening, my thought is that the term should be reserved for songs that were in the Top 40 only one time. I think that’s reasonable. (What about artists and groups whose body of work was album-based or not specifically aimed at hit singles? That would seem to be a matter of common sense. As an obvious example, I think all record and chart geeks would agree that calling Jimi Hendrix a one-hit wonder is silly, even though he had only one record in the Top 40.)

Applying the above definitions, none of the four “one-hit wonders” served up last night on American Idol qualify, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles. The songs were: “MacArthur Park,” which was Richard Harris’ only hit when it went to No. 2 in 1968 but was also a No. 1 hit for Donna Summer in 1978; “Emotion,” which was Samantha Sang’s only hit when it went to No. 3 in 1978 but was also a No. 10 hit for Destiny’s Child in 2001*; “Whiter Shade of Pale,” which went to No. 5 for Procol Harum in 1967 but was one of three Top 40 hits for the group (“Homburg” went to No. 34 later that year and “Conquistador” went to No. 16 in 1972); and “Cry Me A River,” which was Julie London’s only Top 40 hit when it went to No. 9 during a 1955-56 stay on the charts but which also went to No. 11 for Joe Cocker in 1970.

Mention is made occasionally on the show of lists from which the performers select their songs when those songs fall in a specific category, so I’m going to assume that all four of those songs were on a list provided to the performers by the show’s producers. If that’s the case, it makes the show’s producers seem uninformed, if not disingenuous or actually dishonest, as they essentially sold those four songs as something they were not.

Does it matter? Not really, not in the large scale. But in the area of pop music and those who love it, I think it does. As I indicated above, I doubt that I was the only viewer bothered by the song selections last night. If there’s one thing that the Internet has taught us by giving us a number of ways to find kindred souls in large numbers, it’s that there are more chart geeks out there than anyone might have realized in, say, 1990, although it should be noted that even at that date, Whitburn was selling a lot of chart books.

And it’s not like there aren’t a lot of good songs available that would qualify on both portions of the definition I offered above. Let’s look for four of them just from the 1980s alone.

First stop as I wander through my files, my books and Wikipedia is “Tainted Love,” a song that was Soft Cell’s only hit when it went to No. 8 hit in 1982. The song was originally recorded in a superb soul version by Gloria Jones in 1965 (in what All Music Guide says is “one of the great ’60s hits that never was” and which would be a far better approach on AI than Soft Cell’s synthpop). It’s been covered by many – more than fifty versions are listed at Second Hand Songs – but was a hit only once.

For a performer with a country bent, there’s Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache,” which went to No. 22 in 1981. Trisha Yearwood covered it in 2001, according to SHS, but that version didn’t chart and Cash’s did, making it Cash’s only Top 40 hit (which is an injustice, but that’s another post entirely).

Benjamin Orr’s “Stay the Night,” which he co-wrote with Diane Grey Page, was synth-heavy when it went to No. 24 in 1987, but it’s a good song that I could very well hear from one of the four remaining AI contestants. The late Orr was bassist for the Cars, of course, and saw the Top 40 thirteen times as a member of the group, but “Stay the Night” was his only solo hit, and no other versions of the song – if there are any – have made the Top 40.

We’ve found a soul song, a country tune and a mid-tempo pop rock song. You want a ballad? How about “She’s Like The Wind,” a tune from the movie Dirty Dancing sung by the late Patrick Swayze with some help from Wendy Fraser. The record went to No. 3 in 1988, the only time either one of the performers hit the chart. Gender-flip it for one of the final four contestants, and you’re in business. A cover of the song by Lumidee with Tony Sunshine did get to No. 43 in 2007, but that’s not Top 40.

See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Those titles might not be to everyone’s taste, but it took me less than an hour to find four viable songs that are true one-hit wonders according to the definition I laid out above. It seems to me that the producers on American Idol could have easily compiled a long list of similar songs.

*Mention was made last night on American Idol of the Bee Gees’ recording of “Emotion.” That version never made the Billboard Top 40 or Hot 100 and is listed by Whitburn as a “classic” recording.