Posts Tagged ‘Jefferson Airplane’

Looking Back Fifty

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Here’s what the Top Ten in the Billboard 200 looked like fifty years ago this week:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Headquarters by the Monkees
Surrealistic Pillow by the Jefferson Airplane
Flowers by the Rolling Stones
The Doors
Sounds Like by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You by Aretha Franklin
Born Free by Andy Williams
Revenge by Bill Cosby
Dr. Zhivago original soundtrack

The only one of those that might have been in our basement rec room when it opened for business a few months later – if I recall things correctly, Dad was still working on the paneling and the suspended ceiling as the summer of 1967 began to tip towards autumn – would have been the Jefferson Airplane record.

I don’t know if my sister already had the record when the stereo was moved to the basement during the 1967-68 school year or if she got the record after our basement rec room was up and hosting. I do know that I listened to the record many times between early 1968 and the summer of 1972, when my sister took her records with her to her new home in the Twin Cities.

I also know that only one other record in that Top Ten list ever made its way into the Kilian Boulevard rec room. That was Sgt. Pepper, which I bought sometime during July 1970. Most of the others came along later; the albums by the Monkees, the Doors, the Stones, Aretha Franklin and Andy Williams eventually found places on my shelves, as did the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack. And based on a cursory look this morning, the only one of them that survived the Great Vinyl Selloff in the past year was the Beatles’ album.

Looking at the digital shelves, I have two tracks from Sounds Like, one track each from Flowers and the Andy Williams album, and nothing from the Cosby album. The other six are here complete.

As to what shows up from those albums on the iPod, which has about 3,800 tracks on it, well, I’ve included “Within You, Without You” and the ending suite from Sgt. Pepper, “The Crystal Ship” from The Doors, “Respect” and “Dr. Feelgood” from the Aretha album, “Comin’ Back To Me,” “Today,” and “How Do You Feel” from the Jefferson Airplane album (along with single versions of “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love”), “Casino Royale” from the Tijuana Brass album, and nothing from the other five albums in that long-ago Top Ten.

I’m not really sure if all that winnowing proves anything except that I like Surrealistic Pillow more than I do Sgt. Pepper (and as I’ve thought about it over the years, there are a fair number of other albums I also like more than I do Sgt. Pepper) and that I tend to land on singles from the other 1967 albums. So we’ll listen to a track from Surrealistic Pillow this morning. Here’s the pretty (and echo-laden) “Today.”

Saturday Single No. 373

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

It was one of those lost mornings around here today. I went out as my coffee brewed to see if I could scrape the overnight sleet from the walk. The narrow walkway around the house will have to wait until we have a little bit of warmer weather, and I’ll put some de-icer on it. That could be a few days; it’s supposed to get very cold here, with highs tomorrow and Monday well below zero; the wind chill Sunday night into Monday is expected to approach -60 F (-51 C).

(The Texas Gal and I have talked a bit about going outside around midnight Sunday and standing in the wind just to see what that feels like. I suspect we’d head back into the house running out of synonyms for “cold.”)

The new and wider sidewalk from the house to the street was easier, and it’s cleared enough that we shouldn’t run the risk of having the pizza guy slip, break a hip and sue our landlord (if we were cruel enough to order a pizza for delivery on a night when the wind chill is heading toward -60).

Anyway, as I leaned on the shovel and looked at my work about 9:30 this morning, the Texas Gal walked around the house from the garage and seconded my opinion from the evening before: The battery in our second car – a 2003 Cavalier – was dead. She went inside to call the garage up the road, and instead of having a peanut butter sandwich and writing a post for this space, I wound up greeting the guy from the garage who jump-started the Cavalier. I then followed the Texas Gal as she drove the Cavalier to the garage for a new battery, an oil change and – in a late addition to the menu – new front brakes.

And as long as we were already out, we went to the bakery and the grocery/discount store as the morning ticked away, and by the time we had stopped back at the garage and come home, the morning was gone. I had planned to write something about Phil Everly, the younger of the Everly Brothers, who passed away Friday. But my energy is gone, so I’ll gather my thoughts over the weekend and see if I have anything of value to say about him on Monday.

In the meantime, I went looking for a song about cars, and I came across an old favorite. In fact, I’m not at all sure what it’s about, but that’s okay, because when I have an opportunity to share something from Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow, I need to do so. That’s why the Airplane’s “She Has Funny Cars” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Look Inside Your Mirror . . .’

Friday, January 6th, 2012

As it happens, tales from 1972 will have to wait again, likely until next week, delayed today by the barriers of health and schedule. I’m not at all certain the tale will be worth the build-up by that point, but I’ll no doubt lay it out and hope that the music I find in the depths of the Hot 100 will make up for any insufficiency on the part of the story.

And we’ll ease into the weekend with the Jefferson Airplane sounding like, well, like the Jefferson Airplane mostly obsessing on one sentence in a hazy stupor. Forty years ago this week, in January 1972, “Pretty As You Feel” was sitting at No. 60 in the Billboard Hot 100, which turned out to be the peak of a ten-week stay on the chart. It would be the Airplane’s last Hot 100 hit. “Long John Silver” would bubble under at No. 104 in October 1972, and then two years later, the revamped group would emerge as Jefferson Starship.

Here’s “Pretty As You Feel.” Wikipedia notes that the single was excerpted from a longer jam on the Airplane’s album Bark. The uncredited presence of Carlos Santana makes the single a little better than one might expect.

Chart Digging: September 30, 1967

Friday, September 30th, 2011

As September took its bows and October prepared for its entrance in 1967, your faithful narrator was . . . Well, what was I doing?

I had probably just ordered my first subscription to Sports Illustrated. For some reason, the sports bug had bitten me during the summer, and I asked Dad about the magazine sometime during September. I recall that the first edition that arrived at our home had Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals on the cover, and the Sports Illustrated website tells me that the edition was dated October 16, which means that it likely arrived the previous Thursday, October 12. Once the magazine began showing up, I’d rely on it for the occasional oral reports on news events required in my social studies class that year. But as September ended, I was waiting, which means I was less than two weeks away from beginning to feed the sports obsessions that thrive to this day.

Having thought about it for a bit this morning, I’ve concluded that a number of separate strains of sports in Minnesota piqued my interest that late summer: The Minnesota Twins were in a four-team race for the American League pennant, a race eventually won by the Boston Red Sox. The Minnesota Vikings had hired a new coach who – not quite twenty years earlier – had been one of the greatest athletes ever at the University of Minnesota, a fellow named Bud Grant. And two new professional teams began play that autumn, the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League and the Minnesota Muskies of the American Basketball Association. The Muskies would be gone – moved to Florida – within a year, and the North Stars would decamp for Dallas in the mid-1990s, but during their first seasons, the two teams drew me into sports I’d never known well before.

Add to that was the success already unfolding for three football teams I followed that autumn: The St. Cloud Tech Tigers would go 8-1 and finish in the state’s Top Ten, the St. Cloud State Huskies would go 8-1 and tie for their conference title, and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers would go 8-2 and tie for first place in the Big Ten, a position they’ve not come close to since then. All of those things combined, I think, to make me for the first time a sports fan.

Beyond sports, I know that I was already looking forward to the school musical in spring, and I was watching from a distance as a young lady whose attentions I desired made her own way through the obstacles of ninth grade.

Perhaps the most important thing about the beginning of that school year, though, was that I was observing all these things from, literally, a new perspective: I’d grown taller over the summer and had gotten more slender, so much so that it took a second look for some of my classmates to recognize me as the school year got under way. (That summer’s growth was only the start: Between the end of eighth grade in spring of 1967 and the beginning of my junior year in the fall of 1969, I grew fourteen inches.)

Taller or not, I was still stuck in my old listening habits: Soundtracks, Al Hirt, Herb Alpert and the odd bit of traditional pop. But, as had been the case for some time, I heard all around me the Top 40 music of the day, so most of the Billboard Top Ten was familiar to me as September ended:

“The Letter” by the Box Tops
“Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry
“Never My Love” by the Association
“Come Back When You Grow Up” by Bobby Vee & the Strangers
“Reflections” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” by Jay & the Techniques
“(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” by Jackie Wilson
“Funky Broadway” by Wilson Pickett
“I Dig Rock and Roll Music” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison

That’s a good Top Ten. The Jay & the Techniques single is a little lightweight – the same could be said about the winking and distinctly unrocking Peter Paul & Mary single – but other than that, this would be a great thirty-five or so minutes of radio listening.

As is my habit, though, I’m heading deeper into the Billboard Hot 100 for September 30, 1967, seeing what might be found in the lower reaches. And this time around, we’ll stay well beyond No. 100, with six tunes that were sitting in the Bubbling Under section of that Billboard chart. We’ll start near the bottom and move toward the surface.

The one album from Jefferson Airplane that I’ve not spent much time exploring is the trippy After Bathing At Baxter’s. The record, says All-Music Guide, “was among the purest of rock’s psychedelic albums, offering few concessions to popular taste and none to the needs of AM radio.” And AM radio returned the favor. Two singles from the album got into the Hot 100, but none of them got into the Top 40; the most successful, “The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil,” went to No. 42; “Two Heads” was its B side, sitting at No. 133 during the last week of September. Along with being trippy, it sounds angry, which to me helps explain its peak of No. 124. The last single from Baxter’s to make the Hot 100 was “Watch Her Ride,” which entered the Hot 100 in mid-December and got as high as No. 61.

The name of P.J. Proby has popped up enough over the years in used record bins and in charts I’ve looked at that I’m aware that I know very little about the man. A native of Houston, he’s best known, I suppose, for his cover of “Niki Hoeky,” which went to No. 23 in early 1967. AMG says he “never really hit it big in his homeland, but his trouser-busting stage antics helped make him a genuine pop star in England at the height of the British Invasion.” Okay. Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles tells me that Proby had seven other singles in or near the Hot 100; the best performing of those was “Hold Me” from 1964, which went to No. 70. In the last week of September, his “Just Holding On” was at No. 130, up four slots from its initial spot in the Bubbling Under section. It’s not a bad record, but it’s not all that distinctive, either. It would be gone from the chart the following week.

Gene Thomas and Debbe Neville were a country-pop duo, according to Whitburn, and “Go With Me” was the first of five singles they placed on or near the charts. Thomas had been a singer and songwriter who had a couple of records hit the Hot 100 in 1961 and 1963. He was working as a songwriter for Acuff-Rose in 1965 when he met Neville in Nashville, and the two ended up recording as Gene & Debbe for TRX, an imprint of the Acuff-Rose label Hickory. “Go With Me,” a folk-rock-ish tune, was sitting at No. 129 at the end of September. It would peak at No. 78. The duo would hit the Top 20 early in 1968, when “Playboy” went to No. 17, but none of their other singles would do nearly as well, with the best-performing being “Lovin’ Season,” which went to No. 81 during the summer of 1968.

So far as I know, I’d never heard of Freddie McCoy until this morning. A jazz vibraphone player, McCoy released seven albums in the mid-1960s that seem to have mixed covers of pop-rock tunes with some mildly funky and rootsy originals. In the autumn of 1967, “Peas ’N’ Rice” was the title track to McCoy’s fourth album on the Prestige label; the album included covers of hits like “Summer in the City,” “1-2-3,” and “Lightning Strikes.” “Peas ’N’ Rice” has a quiet groove to it, and I may have to dig around and see if I can find anymore of McCoy’s work. The single, the only one McCoy ever placed in the Hot 100, was sitting at No. 119 as September 1967 ended; it would peak at No. 92.

Dino, Desi & Billy had it easy. Dino was the son of singer and actor Dean Martin, Desi was the son of Cuban bandleader and actor Desi Arnaz and actress Lucille Ball, and Billy was a classmate of the other two in Beverly Hills. When the trio wanted to form a band, they got a record deal with Reprise, a label owned by a friend of Dino’s dad: Frank Sinatra. The trio eventually got eight singles into the charts, with the best-performing of them being the first, “I’m A Fool,” which went to No. 17 in the summer of 1965. “Not the Lovin’ Kind” followed and went to No. 25 in the autumn of 1965. None of the trio’s other singles made it into the Top 40; during the last week in September 1967, “Kitty Doyle” was sitting at No. 115; it’s a nice piece of bouncy pop that would peak at No. 108.

The man who would record as The Fantastic Johnny C was born Johnny Corley in South Carolina. An R&B singer, he’d put five singles in or near the Hot 100 between the autumn of 1967 and the spring of 1969. (Three of those singles reached the R&B Top 40 as well.) But none of the four follow-ups had anywhere near the success of the first single Johnny C put on the charts: “Boogaloo Down Broadway” went to No. 7 in late December, also reaching No. 5 on the R&B chart. Brilliantly simple and funky, it’s a treasure.

The Ultimate Jukebox, Part Two

Monday, February 1st, 2010

We’re back – that would be Odd and Pop, the two little imaginary tuneheads who sit on my shoulders, and me – from our unplanned time off. And we have our very own domain name now, which should provide some insulation as we continue to examine music and my life and how the two intersect.

We began the exploration of the Ultimate Jukebox in one of our last posts at the other location, and I mentioned a few of the notable records that weren’t among the two-hundred and twenty-eight that would play in that mythical jukebox. Some of them were likely surprises. Two of them –  Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” – were in fact the last records trimmed. And I should note that I’ve only replaced one of them for sure: I have one slot that I’m keeping as quasi-available among the six selections for Week 38, the last week of this tour. I have a record in that slot right now, but if something comes into view that I think works better, I’m reserving the right to switch it. That might even turn out to be “Baker Street” after all. But the other two-hundred and twenty-seven songs are set.

What eras do they come from? Well, the earliest was released in 1948, and there are three from 1999, the last year I examined. Even before I count, I’m certain that the years 1969 and 1970 will be heavily represented. Let’s take a look:

1948: 1
1949: 0
From the 1940s: One

1950: 0
1951: 1
1952: 1
1953: 0
1954: 0
1955: 0
1956: 0
1957: 1
1958: 3
1959: 2
From the 1950s: Eight

1960: 0
1961: 3
1962: 0
1963: 2
1964: 2
1965: 4
1966: 6
1967: 7
1968: 13
1969: 23
From the 1960s: Sixty

1970: 32
1971: 15
1972: 17
1973: 12
1974: 9
1975: 11
1976: 10
1977: 5
1978: 7
1979: 3
From the 1970s: One-hundred and twenty-one

1980: 3
1981: 2
1982: 3
1983: 3
1984: 3
1985: 0
1986: 3
1987: 2
1988: 3
1989: 0
From the 1980s: Twenty-two

1990: 1
1991: 2
1992: 2
1993: 4
1994: 1
1995: 1
1996: 1
1997: 1
1998: 0
1999: 3
From the 1990s: Sixteen

So there you have it: Massive domination by the 1970s, with the period 1968-1976 providing one-hundred and forty-two of the two-hundred and twenty-eight records – about sixty-two percent – of the tunes in my Ultimate Jukebox. Is this a surprise? Anyway, here’s the second cluster of six songs:

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 2
“Comin’ Back To Me” by Jefferson Airplane from Surrealistic Pillow [1967]
“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers from Realization [1967]
“Black Diamond” by the Bee Gees from Odessa [1969]
“Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers from 3+3 [1973]
“Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez from Diamonds and Rust [1975]
“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen from Born To Run [1975]

More than forty years after the fact, it might be difficult to realize, and instructive to do so, that the acid-folk rock of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow was once revolutionary. Today, even the crunchy chords of “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover” – the album’s heaviest sounds, by my reckoning – are pretty mellow. Back in 1968, when my sister brought the record home, however, I thought it was a little loud. But there was one moment of mellow bliss on the record: “Comin’ Back To Me.” Hushed, lyrical, thoughtful and heart-breaking, “Comin’ Back To Me” just might be the oft-ignored heart of Surrealistic Pillow. Key lines: “Strollin’ the hill overlooking the shore, I realize I have been here before. The shadow in the mist could have been anyone. I saw you. I saw you comin’ back to me.”

I’ve written before about “Summer Rain,” although none of those words are easily accessible. I don’t know for sure why the record remains among the top four or five of all time for me. Part of it, I think, is the descending bass line in the verse, a compositional technique – some might call it a gimmick – that always pulls me into a song. Part of it, I’m sure, is that the story the song tells is a happy one: Boy meets girl, boy woos girl (with the help of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), boy wins girl. And part of the attraction is the way Rivers sells the song. In a long career filled with good performances, this might be Rivers’ best. Like the vast majority of the versions of “Summer Rain” found in hits packages, the version here is pulled from the album Realization. Thus, it includes the storm sound effects before the guitar figure opens the music, and it fades out before more sound effects arise to connect to the next track on the album. According to regular reader Yah Shure, the single – released in late 1967, about six months before the album (and which went to No. 14) – had no sound effects, opening with the guitar figure. Key lines: “We sailed into the sunset, drifted home caught by a gulfstream. Never gave a thought for tomorrow. Just let tomorrow be.”

The 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Album Guide called the Bee Gees’ Odessa “the Sgt. Pepper’s copy all ’60s headliners felt driven to attempt,” adding parenthetically, “the Bee Gees’ wasn’t bad; faulting it for pretentiousness makes absolutely no sense.” I’ve puzzled over that statement for more than ten years now, and I’m still not sure what reviewer Paul Evans was trying to say. But that’s okay: I’ve been listening to Odessa for more than forty years now, and I’m not entirely certain what the Bee Gees were trying to say, either. I shared the album here once, which indicates, generally, the regard I have for it. But there is no doubt that the album is studded with ballads whose lyrics are willfully obscure at best. “Black Diamond” might be the most obscure of all, but the opaque lyrics are offset by music so eloquently gorgeous that it might not matter at all what the Brothers Gibb are singing about. Key lines, I think: “And I won’t die, so don’t cry. I’ll be home. Those big black diamonds that lie there for me, by the tall white mountains which lie by the sea.”

The Isley Brothers’ reimagining of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” is a marvel. The original had been, of course, a folk-rock/singer-songwriter-type hit, anchored by a sweet instrumental hook and truly beautiful harmonies. The Isleys found the R&B song inside the pop-folk record and stretched it for more than six minutes. And maybe it’s just me, but I find a sonic connection between the Isleys’ version of “Summer Breeze” and two versions of “Strawberry Letter 23,” those being Shuggie Otis’ 1971 single, which predated the Isleys’ work, and the Brothers Johnson’s 1977 cover of Otis’ song. Whatever the sonic influences in any direction, “Summer Breeze” finds a sweet groove. The Isleys released a single with the album track split into parts one and two, but neither side hit the Top 40. (I have a hunch that the two-sided single might have done well on the R&B chart; does anyone out there know?) Key lines: “Feel the arms that reach out to hold me in the evening, when the day is through.”

The album Diamonds & Rust was released in April 1975, but it wasn’t until the following autumn, I would guess, that I became aware of its extraordinary title song. The record became one of my student union jukebox favorites that fall, and it did pretty well in other areas, as well, as it went to No. 35 in the Billboard Top 40, only the second Baez single to do that well. (The first was her cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which went to No. 3 during the late summer and autumn of 1971.) Musically and lyrically, “Diamonds & Rust” is quite simply the best thing Joan Baez ever wrote or recorded. The shimmering music is perfect for her unsentimental, guarded and affectionate reliving of her affair with Bob Dylan. Baez’ intimacy with the topic – as opposed to the seemingly reflexive distance she’d frequently placed between herself and even the most intimate of songs – pulls listeners into her world and helps us understand her place in a pairing that was momentous to both Baez and Dylan at a time when their work was helping to defining an era. (For a take on that topic from Dylan, whose work can often be more difficult to penetrate than a black curtain, I turn to – as starting points – “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” and “Visions of Johanna” from Blonde On Blonde.) Key lines: “Our breath comes out white clouds, mingles and hangs in the air. Speaking strictly for me, we both could have died then and there.”

I have seven versions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” in my collection, including an alternate take from 1975, some live versions (including a killer acoustic version I once shared) and a bootleg or two. All have their attractions, but I keep coming back to the original, the version that led off Side Two of the Born To Run album. And the song grabs hold of me tighter and tighter as the years go by. It’s not the tale of the mythical backstreets that holds me, although I have some affection for the kids huddled on the beach in the mist. It’s the pure sonic audacity of the song that pulls me in time and again, the young Springsteen’s ambition for musical significance that’s almost as audible as that great count-in just before the last verse. Then consider that Springsteen has almost certainly exceeded his ambitions over the thirty-five years since “Born To Run” went to No. 23, and one realizes that “Born To Run” (and the rest of the LP, of course) was neither wish nor hope nor dream but a statement of intent. (Writer and Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh had the same reaction; while reviewing Born To Run in the second edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, he said: “clarity of purpose and mammoth ambition drip from the grooves.”) Key lines: “Will you walk with me out on the wire, ’cause baby, I’m just a scared and lonely rider. But I gotta find out how it feels. I want to know if love is wild, girl, I want to know if love is real.”

Regular readers – and I have to assume they’ll find this new location – will observe that I’ve changed my approach slightly. I think all my readers will understand.