Saturday Single No. 770

January 22nd, 2022

It’s time for some Games With Numbers. We’ll take the first two digits from the numeral in the title – 77 – and see what was sitting at No. 77 in the Billboard Hot 100 during this week in 1977, which is a convenient forty-five years ago. We’ll also note the top five records in that chart.

The chart in question actually came out on January 22, so that’s a nice bit of serendipity. I’m reminded as I type that January 1977 came along while I was living in the drafty old house on St. Cloud’s North Side, about ten blocks south of there. Last summer, as I was preparing for my Denmark reunion, I happened to see on a real estate site that the old house – built in 1890 – was for sale for something like $5,000. Given that I’ve seen few signs of upkeep whenever I’ve driven by it since we moved to St. Cloud almost twenty years ago, that didn’t surprise me.

This morning, I took another look. The exterior of the house is the same, except for new windows and a new roof, but the interior has been pretty well gutted and redone, and the listed prices is now $155,000. I can tell which room was mine during my last months there, and I can tell where the living room was. I should wander by there someday soon and see if I can go through it.

Anyway, in the January in question forty-five years ago, here were the five top singles on the Hot 100:

“I Wish” by Stevie Wonder
“Car Wash” by Rose Royce
“You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” by Leo Sayer
“Dazz” by Brick
“You Don’t Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show)” by Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr.

I never much cared for the Sayer or Brick singles. I liked the singles by Wonder and by McCoo and Davis. “Car Wash” wasn’t a big deal to me back then, but I noticed the other day when it came on the Seventies channel on cable that I knew all the words and the instrumental turns. And it’s the only one of the five that’s in the iPod.

But what of our main business here? What was at No. 77 in January 1977? Well, it’s a record I don’t recall ever hearing: “Yesterday’s Heroes” by the Bay City Rollers. From here, it seems like a decent record, tougher than I remember the Rollers’ work being. It didn’t do too well on the chart, peaking at No. 54.

‘When You’re Lost In The Rain In Juarez . . .’

January 21st, 2022

I told most of this story here long ago, and I told it again this week at the Consortium of Seven, where I blog on Mondays about music. I figured a third time would not hurt.

I was reminded the other day that somewhere in my (relatively small) collection of 45 rpm singles is Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John.” And I was reminded that I found the 45 in a box of records I got from Leo Rau, the man who lived across the alley from us in St. Cloud, Minnesota. I was fourteen at the time and pretty pleased with the records – for reasons we’ll get to in a moment – and didn’t quite understand what Mr. Rau did for a living.

My dad said Mr. Rau was a jobber, and then explained to me that Mr. Rau had a chain of vending machines – candy machines, cigarette machines and juke boxes – that he kept stocked with what seemed to me the good stuff of life: Snickers, Nut Rolls and Juicy Fruit Gum among the candy; Camels, Winstons and Herbert Tareytons among the cigarettes (not such a good part of life, as it turned out), and records by performers such as Sandy Posey, Petula Clark and Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass.

As I headed into my teens, being across the alley from the Raus seemed like a pretty good deal. Steve Rau, who was four years or so older than I (and played the drums, which I thought was kind of cool), decided one day to get rid of his comic book collection and gave it to me: Lots of Jughead and Archie, some war comics – stories of World War II, which was just more than twenty years past – and comics based on television shows of the mid-1950s, none of which I recalled. It was a treasure trove.

And several times, Mr. Rau passed on to me a box of 45 rpm records. I don’t recall everything he gave to me; I know one of them was Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” because I still have it. Another was Bob Dylan’s “I Want You.” And there are a few others that Mr. Rau gave me that have survived the fifty-some years since. (A list of those survivors, from what I can remember – I had several sources over the years for mid-1960s 45s – is at the bottom of this piece.)

The Raus were good folks to have as neighbors. When they – Leo and Ilamae – were out in their back yard at the same times as my folks were in ours, the four would often have alley-side conversations that might last an hour or might last as briefly as it took for my folks – or just my dad or mom – to hand over some home-grown rhubarb and accept from one or both of the Raus some cucumbers ready for the table.

And, as I mentioned, several times during the mid-1960s, Leo Rau would hand me a box of records that had outlived their usefulness in the juke boxes he stocked. As I look back at the 12- to 14-year-old boy that I was then, it’s remarkable that any of them survived. At that age, I was distinctly unhip. I did not listen to Top 40 radio. I had only a few LPs and no singles to speak of in my record collection. And I didn’t listen to many of the records Mr. Rau gave me. Instead, I used them for target practice with my BB gun.

So when I say that some of the records survived, I am being literal. I have no idea how many 45s I aimed and shot at, punching neat little holes in the grooves. Maybe a hundred. A lot of the records Mr. Rau gave me were country & western, a genre that was far less cool (and far more real and gritty) than country music is today. I do remember a lot of Sandy Posey, Sonny James and Buck Owens, records that it would be nice to have today.

But I know a good share of the records that met my BBs were pop and rock, simply because of those that survived, including the two I mentioned above: the Procol Harum and the Dylan. And it’s knowing how close I came to destroying the Dylan record that makes me shake my head in something near disbelief, because years later, I learned that the B-side of the Dylan 45 offered listeners a true rarity: the sound of Dylan performing live. The B-side was an incendiary version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” recorded live – the label says – in Liverpool.

It’s a noteworthy record. Here’s what Dave Marsh said about it in his 1989 book The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, where he ranked the B-side of the record at No. 243.

If you liked the jingly folk-rock of “I Want You” enough to run out and buy the single without waiting for the album (which only turned out to be Blonde on Blonde), you got the surprise of your life: A B side taken from Dylan’s recent European tour on which he and a rock band (which only turned out to be The Band) did things to “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” a song from Highway 61 Revisited, that it’s still risky to talk about in broad daylight.

Rock critics like to make a big deal about B sides but there are only maybe a dozen great ones in the whole history of singles. This one’s rank is indisputable, though, because it offers something that wasn’t legally available until the early Seventies: a recorded glimpse of Dylan’s onstage prowess. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” came out before anybody ever thought of bootlegging rock shows, before anybody this side of Jimi Hendrix quite understood Dylan as a great rock and roll stage performer. And so this vicious, majestic music, hidden away in the most obscure place he could think of putting it, struck with amazing force.

The group behind Dylan wasn’t exactly The Band: The drummer for the European tour was Mickey Jones. Levon Helm had become fed up with performing in front of angry and jeering crowds who wanted to hear Bob Dylan the folksinger and were being presented with Bob Dylan the rock and roll performer. He’d gone back to Arkansas and wouldn’t rejoin the other four members of what became The Band until after the tour, when he joined them and Dylan in Woodstock (where the six of them began recording the music later released as The Basement Tapes and where The Band began work on its debut, Music From Big Pink.)

Now, we come to an oddity. The visual in the video below tells us that this version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” comes from the so-called “Albert Hall” concert, which actually took place May 17, 1966, at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester and was released in 1998 as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966. According to the label on my 45, the B-side version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was recorded in Liverpool, England. The concert schedule tells us that would have been on May 14, 1966.

But the version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” offered in the video below matches the sound on the B-side of my 45. I think it’s the same as the version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” from the official release of the Manchester Free Trade Hall Concert. There was a mistake somewhere, and I have no way to sort it out. Maybe what was actually the Manchester performance was mislabeled on the 45 as being recorded in Liverpool. I dunno. In any case, the music in the video below is the version of the tune that Marsh celebrates in his book.

I look at the fragile 45 that survived my BB gun and shake my head. It’s undeniably a treasure, but it didn’t survive because I knew that. It didn’t survive when so many other records were splintered by BBs because it was by Bob Dylan. I was unhip enough at the ages of twelve to fourteen to have no real good idea who Bob Dylan was; that awareness would take at least another four to five years. It was a happy accident, pure and simple, that I never looked past the sights of my BB rifle at the Dylan record.

Dave Marsh sums up his comments about the record: “Today it sounds like the reapings of a whirlwind, Dylan’s voice as draggy, druggy and droogy as the surreal Mexican beatnik escapade he’s recounting, Robbie Robertson carving dense mathematical figures on guitar, Garth Hudson working pure hoodoo on organ. Slurred and obtuse as Little Richard reading Ezra Pound, there’s a magnificence here so great that, if you had to, you could make the case for rock and roll as a species of art using this record and nothing else.”

I probably got more than a hundred records from Leo Rau during those few years in the mid-1960s. These, I think, are the survivors:

“Downtown” by Petula Clark
“Red Roses For A Blue Lady” by Vic Dana
“I Want You/Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (live)” by Bob Dylan
“Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” by the Fifth Estate
“Dandy” by Herman’s Hermits
“Don’t Go Out Into The Rain” by Herman’s Hermits
“No Milk Today” by Herman’s Hermits
“This Door Swings Both Ways” by Herman’s Hermits
“Look Through My Window” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Monday, Monday” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band
“Single Girl” by Sandy Posey
“Whiter Shade Of Pale” by Procol Harum
“Have You Seen Your Mother. Baby, Standing In The Shadows” by the Rolling Stones
“Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen
“Lightning’s Girl” by Nancy Sinatra
“The Beat Goes On” by Sonny & Cher

One Random Shot

January 19th, 2022

For a quick visit this morning – the Texas Gal and I have errands to do and I have things to get to before that – I’m going to look for one track from iTunes. I’m going to sort the tracks by length, set the cursor at the shortest track – Al Shaver, long-time play-by-play guy for the long-gone Minnesota North Stars calling out “He shoots! He scores!” in one second – and click ten times.

We’ll see what we get.

We wander through some Beatles – “Cry, Baby, Cry” and “She Said, She Said” – and some Bread: “Baby, I’m-A Want You.” We get K.C. & The Sunshine Band (“That’s The Way I Like It”) and Eric Bibb (“Diamond Days”). And I click too fast to catch some of them.

But we end up on “South Street” by the Orlons from 1963. From Philadelphia, the group had a pretty good run for about a year in 1962-63 and then hung in there for a couple more years with declining success.

“South Street” was one of their big ones, coming out in early 1963 and going to No. 3 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the magazine’s R&B chart. The summer before, “The Wah-Watusi” did a little better on the pop chart, getting to No. 2, but it only got to No. 5 on the R&B chart, so it’s hard to say which of the Orlons’ hits was their biggest.

I’d go with “South Street,” if only because, for years, I mis-heard the first line. The line actually goes “Where do all the hippest meet?” But for a long, long time, ending today, I thought the Orlons were popping through a crease in the time/space continuum and singing about hippies.

Saturday Single No. 769

January 15th, 2022

I’m not doing so well this morning – still fighting a (non-Covid) infection – but I’ve got an easy out. Having discovered the Ronnie Spector/E Street Band single from 1977 earlier this week and having offered here the A-side – a cover of Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” – there’s only one reasonable thing to do.

Here’s the B-side from that 1977 single, “Baby Please Don’t Go,” written and – like the A-side – produced by Steve Van Zandt, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

The Standings & A Ronnie Spector Tune

January 14th, 2022

As of this morning, the total number of mp3s in the RealPlayer is 83,985, still about ten thousand fewer than there were when my external hard drive crashed during the summer of 2017. (I’ve replaced most of the important stuff; every once in a while, I recall an obscure album I once had and learn that I’ve never replaced it; most of the time, it’s only available for more cash than I care to invest.)

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to see which artists are most represented among those nearly 84,000 tracks. Here are the current totals. (I’ll miss some; for instance, I’ll easily combine the total of tracks credited only to Bruce Springsteen with those credited to Springsteen and the E Street Band and the Sessions band, but I have some tracks out there with the Boss dueting with others. Those won’t get counted.) Here are the top fifteen.

1,076: Bob Dylan
800: Bruce Springsteen
477: Beatles
342: Sebastian
341: Chris Rea
303: Eric Clapton
290: Nanci Griffith
271: John Barry
270: Jimmy McGriff
256: Rory Block
252: Cowboy Junkies
250: Richie Havens
241: Ferrante & Teicher
234: Frank Sinatra
234: The Band

The next fifteen are Gordon Lightfoot, Joe Cocker, Carole King, Ramin Djawadi (who scored the Game Of Thrones series), Muddy Waters, Trevor Morris (who scored, among other projects, Vikings, The Tudors and The Borgias), Etta James, the Indigo Girls, Fleetwood Mac, Maria Muldaur, the Bee Gees, Clannad, Al Hirt, Paul McCartney, and Darden Smith.

None of that will be a surprise to anyone who’s visited here regularly over the past fifteen years. The Beatles’ total has risen appreciably since the last time I checked the numbers; over the course of the past two years, I’ve added to the CD stacks the three 1990s anthologies and the four volumes of performances live at the BBC, all of which I previously had only as LPs.

The last things I added to the RealPlayer? The 1972 album by Danny O’Keefe titled simply O’Keefe, newly ripped files of Dark Side Of The Moon, a single edit of Carole King’s “Corazon,” the 2000 album Rose by Danish singer Lis Sørensen as a single mp3 (as well as a corresponding single mp3 of the tunes from Rose as originally recorded by Sebastian).

And tucked in among the last things I added to the RealPlayer this week was a single track that came my way via Facebook following the death of Ronnie Spector: A 1977 take on Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” by Spector backed by the E Street Band. It showed up on Spector’s album Unfinished Business, and it’s one of the better things I’ve heard for a long time:

The Moody Blues’ ‘The Present’

January 12th, 2022

A couple of months ago, I wrote here:

One of the more confounding moments of my musical life took place in a used record shop in Columbia, Missouri, during the late winter of 1989.

It was the last day of a brief visit with some friends there, and I was doing some record digging while I waited to meet one of those friends for lunch. And as I dug through the shop’s recent arrivals, I came across an album I’d neither seen nor heard about before:

The Present? By the Moody Blues? When did that come out? In 1983, the jacket told me. But why didn’t I know about it? I didn’t have the answer to that question, but I tucked the record under my arm with a few others I’d found and headed to the counter.

About a week later, I got home to Minot, and sometime during the next week, I dropped the album on the turntable, still wondering how it had escaped my attention when it was released six years earlier. Now, a little more than three decades later, I can dig into my reference books and conclude that The Present escaped most people’s attention when it came out in early September 1983.

The album hit the Billboard 200 the week it came out and hung around for twenty-two weeks, peaking at No. 26. At the time, that was the lowest peak ever for a Moody Blues album. Two years earlier, Los Distance Voyager had spent three weeks at No. 1; two-and-a-half years later, The Other Side Of Life would reach No. 9. So, the Moodys weren’t spent as a cultural force. The album just didn’t sell.

Nor did singles from the album do well. “Sitting At The Wheel” was released in September 1983 and got to No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100; the second, “Blue World,” came out about two months later and peaked at No. 62. A third single, “Running Water,” failed to reach the charts.

The first two singles did better on the mainstream rock chart compiled by Billboard, with “Sitting At The Wheel: reaching No. 3 and “Blue World” getting to No. 32, and I suppose I might have heard one or both of them that autumn, as I looked for a radio station in Columbia; my tastes had evolved in the past few years to the adult contemporary format, though, and none of the singles from The Present made that format’s top forty.

So, the album was a flop, sandwiched between two pretty good and successful albums, Long Distance Voyager from 1981 and The Other Side Of Life, which came out in 1986 (and which we’ll consider in a week or two). Is it very good? Well, no. Is it awful? No, again.

It sounds like the Moody Blues, and some of the songs are pretty good, perhaps not as memorable or as focused as the work of previous years.

In talking about previous years, we run into one of the problems with assessing the Moody Blues. As I compare The Present to previous work, do I limit my comparisons with just the two previous albums – 1978’s Octave and Long Distance Voyager from 1981 – or do I dig deeper into the storied psychedelic past, before the band took a six-year hiatus? After pondering that question for a while, I decided it didn’t matter, as The Present, despite a couple of good tracks, was inferior to both Octave (to which I gave an Incomplete) and Long Distance Voyager (which earned a B-).

The singles that got airplay – the mid-tempo “Blue World” and the harder-rocking “Sitting At The Wheel” – are actually decent, though the lyrics are a bit pedestrian (a flaw that seems to have showed up in the Moody’s stuff when they left behind cosmic concerns for those more day-to-day). I prefer “Blue World,” as the music lends it a shade of mystery.

And I think that the best track on the album was ignored. “It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart” should have been at least the third single from The Present, if not the first. (And I wonder why – as far as I can tell – no country artist has pulled “It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart” away from pop.)

Beyond that, the album tracks are mediocre at best. Ultimately, it’s a pretty poor album, with nothing like “The Voice” from the preceding Long Distance Voyager or “Your Wildest Dreams” from the following The Other Side Of Life to lift it to any heights. The completist in me is glad to have it in the stacks; the critical listener in me shrugs. Give it a grade of D+.

Here – to my ears – is the best track on the album, “It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart.”

Saturday Single No. 768

January 8th, 2022

I went back to Tucson this morning, checking out some more info on the playlist survey from KWFM that brought us Brewer & Shipley yesterday. One portion of the survey I’d not mentioned yesterday was the list of new albums and featured cuts, which included work by artists such as Lighthouse, Repairs, Steve Kuhn, Ron Cornelius, Taj Mahal, Colonel Bagshot, Pendulum & Co., and a few others, not all of whom I know.

I checked out “Sleep My Lady,” one of the featured cuts on the self-titled Pendulum & Co. album. It was folky and pretty and, yeah, it would put the targeted lady asleep pretty damned quickly. If you’re gonna do lutes and flutes, you gotta make it interesting, not somnolent.

I sampled a few more of the featured cuts and then went back to a band I know, though I did not know the track: Here’s “Rockin’ Chair.” It’s from Lighthouse’s 1971 album Thoughts Of Movin’ On, and it was a featured track at KWFM fifty years ago. It’s also today’s Saturday Single.

On The Air In Tucson In Early ’72

January 7th, 2022

Having dabbled over the last ten days in what was happening in the Billboard album and easy listening charts as 1971 eased into 1972, I thought we’d visit the Airheads Radio Survey Archive and see what the well-appointed progressive station was offering its listeners fifty years ago this week.

These were the hit albums at KWFM in Tucson, Arizona, this week in 1972:

R.E.O. Speedwagon
E Pluribus Funk
by Grand Funk Railroad
In Hearing Of Atomic Rooster
Off The Shelf
by Batdorf & Rodney
Synergy by Glass Harp
Detroit
Muswell Hillbillies
by the Kinks
The Hills Of Indiana by Lonnie Mack
Shake Off The Demon by Brewer & Shipley
IV by Led Zeppelin

There’s some obscure – at least to me – stuff there. The album Detroit is subtitled “With Mitch Ryder.” The group turns out to be one Ryder put together in 1969 with Johnny Badanjek, who’d been the drummer when Ryder had fronted the Detroit Wheels. Detroit, released in 1971. was the group’s only release during the band’s existence; a live performance from April 1972 was released in 1997. A 1987 CD re-release of the album – I think – is available as one video at YouTube; a quick sampling finds about what you’d expect from Ryder: straight-ahead rock, with one of the 1987 bonus tracks being a cover of “Gimme Shelter” that starts off with an extended acoustic introduction and shifts without warning to a thrumming, pulsing workout.

The Glass Harp album listed here is also a mystery to me. It’s the group’s second release; I have the first, self-titled, release on the digital shelves, It’s pretty mellow, from what I can tell, but I’ve not spent much time with it. In digging through some references, I see the group – from Youngstown, Ohio – listed as “Christan folk-rock,” which is likely true, as one of its members was Phil Keaggy, later a major player in the world of contemporary Christian music. You can find Synergy in various forms at YouTube, as well.

The Hills Of Indiana by Lonnie Mack is the third album from that list that’s a little bit of a mystery. The website discogs lists the album as folk rock and country rock, which seems to make sense: I somehow have the title track on the shelves here, and it’s a nice bit of mellow nostalgia that sounds like a thousand other songs from the time period. The album can be pieced together from separate videos at YouTube.

The fourth album on KWFM’s top ten that might be obscure is In Hearing Of Atomic Rooster. The album somehow ended up on the digital shelves here, and it’s pretty jazzy, from what I remember (and from some quick smidgen listens this morning), reminiscent, I think, of the first album by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Batdorf and Rodney might be obscure to others, but I know their stuff: pleasant folk-rock that – like the Mack track – sounds like the work of a thousand other groups from the early 1970s.

Both the Atomic Rooster and Batdorf and Rodney albums can be found at YouTube as well, the first as a full album and the second – it appears – as separate files.

The rest of the top ten from KWFM fifty years ago this week is familiar, perhaps even predictable. My favorite would be Shake Off The Demon by Brewer & Shipley. And here’s what might be the quintessential track from the early Seventies: Brewer & Shipley’s “Back To The Farm.”

As 1972 Began . . .

January 5th, 2022

Before the New Year’s holiday intervened, I’d been looking at some Billboard charts from the close of 1971, and I meant to get around to looking at the album chart but never did. So, we’ll turn the corner and look at the top fifteen albums on the first Billboard 200 of 1972:

Music by Carole King
Led Zeppelin (I)
American Pie by Don McLean
Chicago at Carnegie Hall
E Pluribus Funk
by Grand Funk Railroad
There’s A Riot Goin’ On by Sly & The Family Stone
Teaser & The Firecat by Cat Stevens
Tapestry by Carole King
All In The Family (Cast Recording)
Black Moses by Isaac Hayes
Wild Life by Wings
Santana
Madman Across The Water
by Elton John
Concert for Bangla Desh by George Harrison & Friends
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2

A lot of fine stuff there, most of which I know now, with a few exceptions: I doubt I’ve heard more than “Those Were The Days” from the All In The Family album, I’ve heard only bits and pieces of Wild Life for some reason, I’ve heard Black Moses several times (at least) but I don’t think I’ve ever really listened to it, and I doubt that I’ve heard anything at all from E Pluribus Funk.

And a couple more: I heard most of the Chicago Carnegie Hall album when it came out and was unimpressed, and I listened to the Sly & The Family Stone album once after I found it used in Wichita in 1990 and never put it on the turntable again, so all I really know is “Family Affair” and – to a lesser degree – “(You Caught Me) Smilin’.”

But those are my limitations, and – with the exception of the All In The Family album – that top fifteen at the start of 1972 is, I think, a varied and accurate portrait of where rock, pop and soul were at the time. Even the Dylan retrospective is kind of a signpost forward by way of its inclusion of a few things that had never been widely heard (or heard at all) from Dylan himself before: “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “I Shall Be Released,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Down In The Flood,” along with the recent single “Watching The River Flow.”

The ones that spoke to me at the time are likely predictable: I heard a lot of the albums by King, McLean, Dylan, Harrison et al., Stevens and John although I didn’t own all of them until years later. I caught up to Santana and Zepp in the years to come.

And if I had to choose one of them right now to represent the beginning days of 1972 – time spent hanging around the student radio station, a few tentative dates, a few keggers, numerous spontaneous discussions of the issues of the day (Viet Nam, the draft, girls, music and more) sometimes lasting past midnight – I’d have a very hard time.

Three of them – Tapestry, Bangla Desh and the Dylan anthology – are too monumental to be pinned to any season of one year. (In any case, Tapestry would belong to two seasons – the summer and early autumn of 1971.) Two of those fifteen albums – Music and Teaser & The Firecat – were good but still lesser sequels to classic albums, Tapestry and Tea For The Tillerman. And speaking of monuments, the title track of American Pie overshadows everything else – including some astoundingly good tracks – on McLean’s album.

So I guess I’d land on Elton John’s Madman Across The Water and the track “Levon,” a surreal tale told so matter-of-factly that it seems entirely plausible. And as I write that, I think to myself that the words “a surreal tale told so matter-of-factly that it seems entirely plausible” could easily sum up the entire first half of the 1970s from Kent State through Watergate and the fall of Saigon and on to the capture of Patty Hearst.

Here’s Elton John’s “Levon.”

A New Year’s Lyric & Wish

December 31st, 2021

I’ve shared this here before, but I thought it could stand another look, especially as we close out – for the second December 31 in a row – am awful, awful year. I wrote this in 1991.

                        Twelve O’Clock High

Headlights on the avenue; footprints in the snow;
“Auld Lang Syne” is written on the wall.
Cards from distant strangers who were friends not long ago
Are standing on the bookcase in the hall.
The stereo plays Motown as our conversation wanes.
We calculate our losses and consolidate our gains.
The year is quickly passing on; not much of it remains,
And much of it we’d rather not recall.

Dancers in the living room are fragments of the past;
The twist is resurrected for the night.
Remember when they told us that our music wouldn’t last?
It’s sad to say, but maybe they were right.
We can’t be sure we’re living in the present when we dance.
We leave behind maturity and seek a second chance
At all the sophomore dreams we left behind without a glance.
The record ends, and dreams can’t stand the light.

So the old year departs by the window
As the new one comes in by the door.
We hide from our failures with wine and with masks.
We season our lives with endurable tasks,
And we can’t tell the truth so we hope no one asks
If we know what we’ve been living for,
And it’s twelve o’clock high once more.

Every year, the party seems to feel more like a wake,
With party streamers trying to conceal
Our weariness and wariness at what we couldn’t make;
We act like what we’ve made is how we feel.
But celebrating Janus means we have to look ahead;
We’d like to do the things undone and say the things unsaid,
To give our dreams some nourishment and put our fears to bed,
And leave the artificial for the real.

So the old year departs by the window
As the new one comes in by the door.
May directions in living come thankfully clear;
May all of us find we have nothing to fear.
May peace be upon us.  May this be the year
That we know what we’ve been living for
When it’s twelve o’clock high once more.

And the Texas Gal and I would like to pass on our hopes that somehow, 2022 will be one of those years that shines while you’re living it and shines even more brightly as it recedes in the past.