Archive for the ‘1992’ Category

Saturday Single No. 736

Saturday, May 15th, 2021

Every music hunter knows the deal: You’re flipping through a bin of CDs or LPs, looking for nothing in particular, nearly hypnotized by the click-click of the CDs or the floof-floof of the record jackets, and then you stop. And go back one or two or three spots. And you pull out a CD or LP and scan the jacket.

You have no idea why that particular album grabbed your attention. Sometimes something on the jacket, something in the credits clicks. Maybe a name, maybe a place, maybe a song title. You look at the price, and if it’s reasonable for something you don’t seem to know about, you set it aside and it goes home with you.

And when it’s in the player or on the turntable, maybe it works for you. Sometimes, it’s good stuff. Most of the time, I’d guess, it’s just okay music. And every once in a while, it’s something that you really needed, even if you didn’t know what it was. The universe is funny like that.

Twenty-one years ago today, I was in the budget room of a Half Price Books in St. Paul, sifting through first the books and then the CDs. I don’t remember if I bought any books, but one of the CDs on the budget cart called to me. I looked it over and couldn’t figure out why.

The album, Glory Road, was from 1992, by a group called Maggie’s Farm. Okay, a Dylan reference. The lead vocalists were two women: Allison MacLeod and Claudia Russell. No recognition there, nor with the rest of the band: Steve Bankuti on drums and percussion, Jason Keene on bass, Brian Kerns on keyboards, and Roy Scoutz on guitar.

I scanned further and found a couple of names I recognized: David Lindley on Hawaiian guitar and lap steel and Rosemary Butler on background vocals. I headed for the cash register.

At home, I dropped the CD into the player and sat back to listen. I don’t even remember what the second track on the album sounded like. I’m sure it’s popped up on the RealPlayer from time to time, as have, no doubt, others from the CD. The first track, the title track, was all I needed.

Since 1992, Claudia Russell has played with and/or written for other folks and has released a few solo albums, the most recent in 2013. Allison MacLeod’s credits at AllMusic are more slender, with nothing since 2003.

I’ll probably look for some of Russell’s work. And I’ll likely rip Glory Road as a full album and see if I like it when it pops up. If so, fine. If not, okay. All I really need, just like back in 2000, is the title track, “Glory Road.” And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 622

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

While wandering through the archives this morning, I came across this meditation on Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” from December 2007. I think it still holds some interest, and while I may have heard additional versions of the song in the intervening years, my conclusion remains the same as it was eleven years ago. I’ve made a few modest changes.

The first time I heard Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” it was in an interesting setting. Not in terms of physical place: The basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard was a pleasant place to spend some hours, but its decor was pretty standard for the early 1970s. I was thinking about its musical setting, as I heard the song, one of Dylan’s earliest recorded tracks, dropped in between two of his later tracks on his Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, a 1971 release.

The album opener was Dylan’s recent single, “Watching The River Flow,” produced by Leon Russell, and the third track on Side One of the new hits album was “Lay, Lady, Lay,” Dylan’s 1969 hit from his countryish Nashville Skyline. Nestled between the two tracks was “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” released in 1963 on Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. It was, as I wrote above, an interesting place to find one of the longest surviving songs of Dylan’s career – a career just less than ten years old at the time but already lengthy give the standards of the era, a time when the idea of creating a career out of being a pop/rock musician was just being invented.

(It’s worth recalling that Elvis Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, maneuvered Elvis into his long string of mediocre movies because he could not envision any performer creating a lengthy career in rock ’n’ roll or its antecedents. Simplifying a good deal, until the Beatles and Dylan, no mainstream pop/rock performer had really done that.)

I’ve always found “Don’t Think Twice” to be one of Dylan’s prettiest songs and one of the gentlest among his songs that chronicle and catalog the myriad ways we treat and deal with the ones we love. In Dylan’s written universe, the subject and object of love can be savaged, can be adored with reservations, can be worshipped and can be dismissed without hesitation. I’m sure there are other instances that one can find in the Dylan oeuvre, but “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is one of the few lyrics in which the loved one is forgiven with gentleness and (perhaps sardonic) grace as the singer heads down the road:

I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You coulda done better, but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time,
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

The only other Dylan love lyric that comes immediately to mind with that level of grace expressed is “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. In that case, however, the singer is the one who will be left behind, while the singer of “Don’t Think Twice” is the one who is leaving. There’s a difference there, subtle though it may be.

Hearing the song for the first time bracketed by two recent hits for Dylan – “Watching The River Flow” barely missed the Billboard Top 40, peaking at No. 41 during the summer of 1971, and “Lay, Lady, Lay” reached No. 7 during the summer of 1969 – instead of in its original setting on Freewheelin’, gave the song a different sensibility that I might otherwise not have found in it. I didn’t fully appreciate Dylan’s folkie origins at the time, but the context in which I heard “Don’t Think Twice” placed it squarely into the singer/songwriter milieu of the early 1970s. And it became one of my favorite tracks on the two-disc Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, both for its wordplay and for Dylan’s gentle performance.

It’s a song that’s been covered many times. Second Hand Songs lists more than two hundred covers in English and a few more in other languages. Among those who have covered the song are Joan Baez, Bobby Bare, Brook Benton, Johnny Cash, Bobby Darin, Nick Drake, José Feliciano, Bryan Ferry, the Indigo Girls, Waylon Jennings, Melanie, Elvis, Billy Paul, Jerry Reed, the Seekers and the Four Seasons. I’ve heard some of those versions, but not nearly all of them.

Still, I doubt that any performance of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” will grab me as much as does the version that Eric Clapton provided in 1992 during the celebration of Dylan’s thirty years in the recording industry. With a house band made up of the surviving members of Booker T & the MG’s, guitarist G.E. Smith and drummers Jim Keltner and Anton Figg, Clapton pulls the song apart and puts it back together as the blues. All Music Guide rightly calls it “one of the most electrifying performances of his life.”

That performance is today’s Saturday Single.

Trees Again

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Rob’s wife, Barb, was correct: The tree at the corner of our condo is in fact a flowering crab. But unlike the one in their yard in St. Francis, which has pink flowers, ours offers white flowers to the world. Here it is about a week ago:

Flowering Crab 2

That was its peak. Overnight, the wind came up, and morning found the ground littered with white flowers. And over the next few days the flowers flew off like large snowflakes. If we get even a third as many crab apples as there were flowers, we’re in for a crabby autumn.

(We still don’t know what type of tree stands between the flowering crab and the maple. We’ve talked about taking pictures of its general appearance and close-ups of its leaves and posting them on Facebook for our friends to take a look at, but we have not yet done so. It’s in full leaf, however, and it looks quite nice, and whatever it is, it’s providing noon-time shade.)

And I thought, since trees have been a frequent topic of conversation around our place, I’d take a look at the digital shelves and see if I could find a few tunes with types of trees in their titles.

The first one is easy: “Tall Pine Trees” by Peter Yarrow. It’s beautiful, a song of farewell, but I think what captures my imagination is the tune’s Russian overtones. It’s from Peter, Yarrow’s first solo album, which was released in 1972 in conjunction with solo albums from Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, Yarrow’s partners in Peter, Paul & Mary. When the Texas Gal and I took my mom to see Yarrow in concert six years ago, the second half of his show was made up almost entirely of requests; I asked for “Tall Pine Trees,” and he told us that it was the first time the song had ever been requested. Sadly, he didn’t perform it.

We move to the first hit by Dorsey Burnette. “(There Was A) Tall Oak Tree” starts with a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden and then shifts for its second verse to a theme echoed by many songwriters: How humans have despoiled nature for their own ends. (Think, among many others, of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”) The record peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first week of March 1960, the first of six records that Burnette – the older brother of Johnny Burnette and the uncle of Rocky Burnette – would place in or near the Hot 100 but his only Top 40 hit. (He placed five records in the magazine’s country Top 40 in the 1970s.)

And for the second time this month, we come across the name of Gram Parsons, this time as the writer of a song recorded by Johnny Rivers. “Apple Tree” is the second track on Side Two of River’s 1972 album Slim Slo Slider. It’s a tale of love found and love lost, framed as a seasonal saga:

I used to sit in a big apple tree
Welcome the sun as he shone down on me
Watch the fruit ripen, smell the land grow
Felt the fall rains get colder and turn into snow

And then in the summer, I’d walk through the trees
Roll up my trousers way over my knees
Waded a stream ’til the rocks hurt my feet
The water was cool, and the summer was sweet

Autumn got lonely when harvest came ’round
Green leaves turned golden and fell to the ground
Clear nights got colder, with the stars bright above
And in the winter, I first fell in love

She loved me truly ’til winter passed by
Left without warning and never said why
Maybe she’s lonely, needs me somewhere
Maybe by summer, I won’t even care

And then Rivers lets us think about that as James Burton takes us home with a lovely guitar solo.

We’ll close our brief excursion through the trees with the Indigo Girls’ lovely but cryptic “Cedar Tree” from their 1992 album, Rites Of Passage, an album I love:

You dug a well, you dug it deep
For every wife you buried, you planted a cedar tree
The best, the best you ever had

I stand where you stood
I stand for bad or good
And I am green, and you are wood
The best, the best he ever had

I dig a well, I dig it deep
And for my only love, I plant a cedar tree
The best, the best we ever had

Saturday Single No. 519

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

I was waiting at a light on Riverside Drive last evening, heading downtown for some Mexican takeout, when a city bus rolled past, its bright interior lights outshining the early December gloom and illuminating its occupants as if they were on a stage. The bus rolled past me, heading – like me – for the bridge across the Mississippi River and downtown. And as it did, it triggered two things in me: memories of several winters riding the bus to and from work in downtown Minneapolis and an accompanying visceral sorrow.

That visceral reaction, a burst of sadness so powerful that I had to take a few deep breaths as I waited for the green light, took me aback. But it probably shouldn’t have. Those three winters when I rode the bus to work downtown – the winters from late 1995 to the spring of 1998 – were among some of the bleakest seasons of my life.

It’s worth noting here that winters in Minnesota can be bleak no matter what else is going on in a person’s life. From November to February, anyone who works a regular shift job – say 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – here in the northland will go to work in the dark and return home in the dark. That’s cause enough for a little gloominess to start with. Then add, for me and many others, the difficulty that’s now called Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the disarmingly appropriate acronym of SAD), in which the absence of light fuels depression.

To that bitter mix, add my own chronic depression (noted here recently), and then add the situational sadness over a life seemingly heading both nowhere and toward any imaginable disaster at the same time, and you have a potent brew. So you find me during those dark winters leaving my cats in the morning and heading to the bus stop to ride to downtown jobs – one supposedly permanent and the others temporary – that were not at all what I ever planned or expected. And you have me riding home in the dark of late afternoon, home to the cats and a dinner alone, home to an evening of table-top baseball, vapid television or sad music on the stereo.

Of course, not all of my music was truly sad then; those were the years – 1995 into 1998 – during which vinyl was my drug of choice, holding at bay an even worse depression than the one I found myself in. (Also helping to hold back that deeper depression were my cats, Aaron and Simmons.) But in the memory that rolled over me as I waited out the traffic light last evening, the music was as doleful as was almost all of my life back then.

So that’s what I felt last evening as I watched the city bus go past with its passengers safe in its haven of light. When I was one of those winter passengers in a much larger city twenty years ago, that bright light was no haven; the darkness of my life felt inescapable, and it seemed as if I’d lost nearly all that had been good about my life. Those long gone but so very familiar feelings rolled over me as I waited out the red light on Riverside Drive, and then they left, leaving a vague residue of uneasiness.

That residue faded as the light changed and I moved on, heading first for the Mexican take-out place and then back to the East Side and eventually up the driveway toward my dual havens, the warm lights of home and the love of my Texas Gal.

So instead of thinking, as I’d originally planned, about a melancholy man, let’s think about a song I no doubt heard during those dark winters on Pleasant Avenue, a track that might have provided some hope and solace to brighten the gloom. It’s the tentatively hopeful “Love Will Come To You,” a 1992 track by the Indigo Girls, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Sleep’

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

I’ve not been sleeping well lately. Folks who know me well might think that I’m being kept up either by fussing cats or by worries about the future of the Republic. Well, it’s neither of those (although I am concerned, as I indicated last week, with the direction of public affairs and it is true that any of the three cats can contribute minor bits of mayhem at any time).

No, it’s medications. A combination of meds required for the time being limits my sleep and leaves me somewhat zombied during the daytimes. That’s going to go on for another ten days or so, which means it’s tolerable; there is an end point visible to the fuzzy daze in which I frequently find myself.

It’s not utterly disabling: I just need to be a bit more careful and a bit more mindful of things that need to get done during the day. As always, lists help. And I’m off to make another one of those in just moments. Before I do, I’m going to run at random through the 300 or so the tracks on the digital shelves that have the word “sleep” in their titles and see what I find.

And I come across the lovely and very brief – 2:03 – “River Of Sleep” by the group Maggie’s Farm, fronted by the duo of Allison MacLeod and Claudia Russell. The group’s 1992 album, Glory Road, remains one of my faves among the CDs I found on a budget rack at a St. Paul bookstore during the spring of 2000. A few years ago, I noted that Glory Road was the only album released by Maggie’s Farm although MacLeod and Russell have released solo albums since. I said then, “I’ve seen the album classified as Americana, and that fits, I guess, but whatever you call it, it’s just a darned good album.”

“River Of Sleep” was written by McLeod and Mark Lee (who does some vocal work on the album and, I think, contributes the lead here):

Late at night, the world is quiet
It’s cold outside but you’re alright
Nothing can hurt you
Float down the river of sleep

The sun’s behind the trees
The nightbirds sing sweet melodies
Nothing can hurt you
Float down the river of sleep

Close your eyes
Dream of peace
For nothing can hurt you
Float down the river of sleep

Close your eyes
Dream of peace
For nothing can hurt you
Float down a river and sleep

‘Wash Away My Troubles . . .’

Friday, July 18th, 2014

As your faithful narrator seems not to be enlightened enough on his own road to Shambala to avoid the head cold that afflicts him every summer year after year, our full examination of covers of the Daniel Moore song – first recorded by B.W. Stevenson and then Three Dog Night in 1973, as noted here – will have to be conducted piecemeal.

There really aren’t all that many covers of the tune, but even the minor hurdle of exploring them all seems insurmountable this morning, so I’m going to offer two and then curl up in a metaphoric cocoon. (Perhaps I’ll emerge as a more enlightened being, or maybe not.)

Anyway, the song “Shambala” seems to have been pretty much ignored for nearly twenty years after the two versions charted in 1973. There are many records with that title listed at Discogs.com and offered as videos at YouTube, but few of them are of the same song.

The next cover I can find of the tune showed up in 1992, when Rockapella, an a capella group from New York City, released “Shambala” on its album Smilin’. The group is better known, says Wikipedia, for its role as a vocal house band and resident comedy troupe on the hit PBS geography game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

And then it was on to South Africa. In 1994, a South African artist, Victor Khojane – recording as Dr. Victor – had a hit with the song after it was released on a maxi-single. I’ve seen the song credited in various places to Dr. Victor & The Rasta Rebels, but I’m not sure if it’s a group effort or a solo effort from Khojane. Either way, it’s danceable.

And we’ll continue our road to Shambala next week.

Saturday Single No. 400

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

Years ago, when I moved to Columbia, Missouri, for graduate school, the Other Half stayed behind in Monticello. I was unconcerned; the plan was that I would get my master’s degree, move back to Monticello and find a college teaching job nearby. (St. Cloud State was Plan A, with the various small colleges and community colleges in the Twin Cities being a collective Plan B.) We figured two years apart would do no damage.

We settled our mobile home into its new slot in Walnut Hills Park in Columbia, and the Other Half went back to Monti and her new digs. And about six weeks later, I stood at my kitchen sink, washing dishes and looking out at the Missouri autumn, and I thought, “You know, I kind of like living alone.”

I stopped washing the bowl I had in my hand and pondered the implications of the thought. At the time, counting the dating years, the Other Half and I had been together for nearly eight years, married for five of them. I’d not thought myself dissatisfied. But then, I’d never thought much at all about how the two of us meshed or didn’t. So I pushed that single disconcerting thought away, rinsed the bowl, went on with my studies and – after eighteen months in Missouri – went home to Minnesota.

About two years later, that union collapsed under the weight of concerns unspoken and needs unmet. Who was to blame? Both of us, if that truly matters nearly thirty years later.

Two days ago, the Texas Gal headed to her home state for a weekend visit, the first time she’s seen her mother and her sister in seven years. She left on my desk a list of gardening concerns for my attention, but otherwise, it’s just me making my way through the days with the cats, who seem a bit confused by her absence. I’ve spent some time writing and puttering with mp3s. I’ve whittled away at the pile of magazines that’s built up in the past few months as I’ve focused on a few books. I’ve watered the gardens both evenings and taken care of a couple of the concerns on her list, cutting the vines that had begun to climb the fence around the compost pile and cutting away the newly sprouted basswood saplings next to the hostas. And I’ve done all that very aware of an empty space.

My mom and I went to lunch yesterday, stepping up a couple of notches and going to Red Lobster, as the Ace was closed for Independence Day. And yesterday evening, after making myself a dinner of cooked ring bologna, garlic and parmesan mashed potatoes and a Grain Belt Nordeast, I stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes and looking out at our Minnesota summer, and I thought, “I don’t like living alone, even for a few days.”

In a short time, I’ll head outside and try to weed the final two rows of onions before the day’s heat becomes uncomfortable. On my way through today and tomorrow, I’ll give extra attention to the cats (and especially to Little Gus, who on his least secure days is needier than a puppy), and I’ll water the gardens this evening and tomorrow evening. And I’ll do all this knowing that sometime late tomorrow, the Texas Gal will step out of a shuttle bus at a local hotel and get into our Nissan with me. And that empty space will be filled again, as it has been for more than fourteen years.

I don’t know that I needed a reminder, but I’ve learned again over the past two days that my life is better when she’s around, and I think she’d agree that hers is better when I’m around. And here’s a record that’s entirely appropriate: “Happy” by Bruce Springsteen. It was recorded in 1992 and included in the 1998 box set Tracks, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Chariot’?

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Yesterday’s task here in the Echoes In The Wind studios wasn’t all that hard: Sort the contents of a four-CD anthology of the easy listening music of Franck Pourcel and tag the mp3s with the original album and date. Well, it wouldn’t have been that difficult had Mr. Pourcel not had a habit throughout his career of re-recording many of his favorite pieces.

That meant, for example, that when I got to his version of Tommy Dorsey’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” I ended up with an album/year notation that read: “In A Nostalgia Mood, 1983; International, 1972; and/or Pourcel Portraits, 1962.” And those, I think without being sure, were only the records released in the U.S. and France. I’m sure the Dorsey classic showed up on records Pourcel released elsewhere around the world, but I decided to focus, as well as I could, on releases in the U.S. and in Pourcel’s native France. I wouldn’t have been able to come that close to precision, of course, had it not been for two websites I found early in the process. One of them is Pourcel’s own website; the other was the Pourcel section of Grand Orchestras, a website devoted to cataloging the work of several easy listening groups and conductors.

So who the heck, I can imagine readers wondering, is Franck Pourcel? The easy answer comes from All-Music Guide: “French violinist Franck Pourcel is best-known for his jazzy string arrangements of pop hits, as well as his lush easy listening arrangements and film scores.” From the early 1950s until the mid-1990s, Pourcel and his orchestra recorded and released scores of albums across Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas, covering pop hits and orchestral classics. Pourcel passed on in 2000, just five years after his last recording session.

So why do I care? Well, I have a fondness for easy listening music, and a while back, when I chanced upon a Pourcel offering from 1973 titled James Bond’s Greatest Hits, I was hooked. I’ve been digging into his catalog ever since. Another one of my musical weaknesses is French pop, and Pourcel’s music scratches that itch, too, so I was very happy the other day to get hold of the four-CD anthology 100 All Time Greatest Hits, and it was those files I was sorting yesterday.

And then I came to the tune called “Chariot.” As I generally do when I’m researching, I clicked the link to listen to the tune as I looked for its origins. The video below isn’t quite what I heard; the version I had was the 1971 revision, but the 1962 original version below is close enough:

You’ll have recognized the melody, I assume, just as I did, probably hearing Little Peggy March inside your head, singing “I will follow him . . .”

I thought it was a mistake. The individual who’d originally tagged the files had made a few that I’d already caught, like tagging “Moon River” as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” so I went deeper into the two websites. As helpful as it otherwise was, the official Pourcel website simply told me that there was a tune titled “Chariot.” But the fan website, Grand Orchestras, said that “Chariot” began as a joke. Thinking of American western movies, Pourcel and co-composers Paul Mauriat and Raymond Lefevre – along with lyricist Jacques Plante – put together a tune and then concocted the story that the tune would be in the soundtrack of an American western film (from 20th Century Fox, no less) titled You’ll Never See It. Shortly after Pourcel’s orchestra released its version of the song, a French group called Les Satellites included the tune on an four-track EP. In late 1962 or early 1963, Britain’s Petula Clark recorded the song as “Chariot” and shot a video:

Clark also recorded the song in several other languages, including German, Italian and English (with the English version having some musical adaptation by Arthur Altman and lyrics by Norman Gimbel). The non-English versions were successful in Europe, going to No. 1 in France, No. 8 in Belgium, No. 4 in Italy and No. 6 in what I assume was West Germany. (I found an odd video of Clark presenting the tune with portions in all four languages: English, Italian, German and French.) Clark’s English version of the song, titled “I Will Follow Him (Chariot)” was released on Pye records in the U.K. and on Laurie here in the U.S., but neither of those versions charted.

Other cover versions followed, of course, including those from the Four Dreamers in French, Judita Čeřovská in Czech and Betty Curtis in Italian. George Freedman and Rosemary each released versions in Portuguese. And English versions came from Joan Baxter, Bobby Darin (“I Will Follow Her”), Dee Dee Sharp, and Skeeter Davis. And then, Little Peggy March got hold of the song:

Her version was a huge hit, of course: No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, No. 1 on the R&B chart for a week, and the No. 8 record of 1963 (bracketed in that annual tabulation by Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” at No. 7 and Little Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips – Pt. 2” at No. 9).

There were other covers, of course, with the song sometimes presented –  as in the case of the versions by Percy Faith, Rosemary Clooney and Ricky Nelson (and others, I assume) – as “I Will Follow You.”

Over the next thirty years, there was the occasional cover – later covers in other languages added Finnish to the mix, according to Second Hand Songs – but the most notable resurrection of the song came in the 1992 movie Sister Act, where the song’s object was re-visioned and the tune that began as a bogus western became a gospel song. And we’ll leave it there today with Deloris (as played by Whoopi Goldberg) & The Sisters.

Looking At Lists Again

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

The bookshelves here in my study – I’m thinking of renaming the room “Odd & Pop’s Workshop” and getting a sign for the door, just to confound or amuse our guests – are laden with reference works, as I’ve likely noted here before. And from time to time, I pull one off the shelf and page through it, much as I did with encyclopedias when I was young.

Last evening, for example, I pulled off the shelves the All Music Guide to the Blues, a volume that I’ve owned since 1999 but that I’ve hardly looked at since maybe 2001, when I moved from south Minneapolis to join the Texas Gal in the suburb of Plymouth. What that means, I realized last night, is that I now recognize far more names in that volume than I did twelve years ago. And, having realized that, I’ll be checking the book’s recommendations for additions to my blues library.

This morning, however, I’m going to dig into the lists in the back portions of three of the Billboard volumes produced by Joel Whitburn. We’ll start with Top Pop Singles. (And I’m still a little chastened by not digging deeply enough into the fine print in Top Pop Singles while writing Tuesday’s post, as documented by the kind note from my friend Yah Shure.)

Among the lists in the back of Top Pop Singles is “The Top 500 Artists.” The opening ten of that list is not at all surprising:

Elvis Presley
The Beatles
Elton John
Madonna
Mariah Carey
Stevie Wonder
Janet Jackson
Michael Jackson
James Brown
The Rolling Stones

But who, I wondered, came in at No. 500? It turns out to be Chuck Jackson, the South Carolina-born R&B singer whose biggest hit came when “Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird)” went to No. 23 in 1962. It was one of twenty-nine records Jackson placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1961 and 1967. But as Jackson was the last artist cited in the Top 500, I thought I’d look for the lowest-charting record in his entry. It turns out to be “Who’s Gonna Pick Up The Pieces,” a B-side (to “I Keep Forgettin’”) that bubbled under for two non-consecutive weeks during August 1962, peaking at No. 119.

From Top Pop Singles, we head to the Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits. There, Whitburn lists the Top 100 artists from 1942 to 2004. And again, there are no real surprises on the top of the list:

James Brown
Aretha Franklin
Louis Jordan
Stevie Wonder
The Temptations
Ray Charles
Marvin Gaye
Fats Domino
Gladys Knight (& The Pips)
The Isley Brothers

On the other end of that Top 100, we find Atlantic Starr, described by Whitburn as an “urban contemporary group” from White Plains, New York. Between 1978 and 1992, Atlantic Starr had twenty singles reach the R&B Top 40, with two of them making it to No. 1: “Always” spent two weeks atop the chart in 1987 (and one week on top of the pop chart), making it the group’s biggest hit, and “My First Love” topped the chart for a week in 1989. The least of the group’s hits in the R&B Top 40 was its last, “Unconditional Love,” which spent two weeks in the chart in 1992 and peaked at No. 38.

Our third stop is the Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits and its listing of the Top 100 artists from 1944 to 2005. As was the case with the first two lists, the Top Ten is unsurprising. (It’s possible, maybe even likely, that George Strait has overtaken Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash for third place in the seven-plus years since the book was compiled.)

Eddy Arnold
George Jones
Johnny Cash
Conway Twitty
George Strait
Merle Haggard
Webb Pierce
Dolly Parton
Buck Owens
Waylon Jennings

On the other end of that country list, we find the mother and daughter team of Naomi and Wynonna Judd, who as the Judds put twenty-four records into the country Top 40 between 1984 and 2000. The duo quit recording regularly in 1991 because of Naomi Judd’s chronic hepatitis, and their final hit – 2000’s “Stuck In Love” – was one of four tunes the duo recorded and released on a bonus CD with Wynonna’s New Day Dawning album. In the 1980s, the Judds had fourteen No. 1 hits on the country chart; 1984’s “Mama, He’s Crazy” was the first of them. Their poorest-performing single in the country Top 40 was 1991’s “John Deere Tractor,” which peaked at No. 29.

Uncovering More Browne Covers

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

This morning, as I scanned the lower depths of the Billboard Hot 100 from November 29, 1975, I saw the name of a group that tickled some vague place in my memory: Prelude.

I let the circuits connect – it took a few seconds – and came up with a reference: I’d mentioned the folk-rock trio from England a couple of years ago and shared its cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” in the context of looking at a chart from November of 1974. Prelude’s cover of the Young song had gone to No. 22.

The chart I was looking at – the one from about a year later – showed Prelude with another cover, this time of Jackson Browne’s “For A Dancer.” As November 1975 came to a close, the Prelude’s single was sitting at No. 100 in its first week on the chart. It spent another seven weeks on the chart and peaked at No. 63, far lower than had the 1974 single. And it was the last appearance on the American pop chart for the English trio. I remembered liking the trio’s cover of “After The Gold Rush,” and the group’s take on “For A Dancer” has its charms as well.

From there, I had a few possible routes. Had Prelude had a third single listed in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, I might have dug for some more of the group’s music. I imagine that some of the group’s five albums are floating around out there, and there are two CD collections available, including one that offers everything the group recorded for the Pye and Dawn labels between 1973 and 1977.

And I pondered digging into more of that chart from the autumn of 1975. Despite my mining of that season numerous times, there are likely a few nuggets still to be found. But having found that Prelude cover of a Jackson Browne song, I decided to look for more Browne covers (something I did in two consecutive posts last spring).

My first stop was Joan Baez. On her 1975 album Diamonds & Rust, she offers a sweet cover of “Fountain of Sorrow,” a track I’d not been able to find at YouTube the last time I went digging for Jackson Browne covers. This time, it was available. Now, I enjoy Diamonds & Rust so much that it’s hard to pick out highlights beyond the title track, but, powered by Larry Knechtel’s piano and Jim Gordon’s drumming, “Fountain of Sorrow” is pretty close to the top of the list.

Perhaps the most-remembered accolades bestowed early on Baez had something to do with the purity of her voice, which was remarkable. These days, the same is often said about Alison Krause. The clarity of her voice is, in fact, one of the things that have moved her beyond the bluegrass niche in which she was first placed. Yes, she fiddles well, but, to me, it’s her singing – along with the quality of her backing band, Union Station, and the crafty selection of good material – that has brought her to a wider audience. On 2011’s Paper Airplane, she covered Browne’s “My Opening Farewell” with her customary brilliance.

We’ll close today’s post with a cover that on first thought surprised me and on second thought didn’t. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never quite embraced Browne’s two late-1980s albums Lives in the Balance and World in Motion, probably because they were so vastly different in focus from his earlier albums, from 1972’s self-titled debut through 1980’s Hold Out. (I tend to disregard Lawyers in Love from 1983 because it seems to have no focus.)

But when I heard Richie Havens’ take on “Lives in the Balance” (a performance I shared in one of those earlier posts of covers), I began to think that perhaps my main difficulty with those late 1980s albums isn’t the material but Browne’s performance of that material. I’ve come to no conclusion yet, but I think I’m going to have consider that possibility a bit more closely after coming upon a very accessible cover of “World in Motion” by the late Roebuck “Pop” Staples. With some help from Bonnie Raitt (and what sounds like Jackson Browne himself), the track showed up on Staples’ 1992 album Peace to the Neighborhood.