Author Archive

Saturday Single No. 758

Saturday, October 23rd, 2021

I wrote a few years ago about a house I visit briefly in recurrent dreams, although I haven’t been there lately. Here’s what I wrote:

There’s a house. If it’s real, it’s in an older neighborhood, one that was home to factory workers about a hundred years ago. When I stand on the wooden back steps and look at the sidewalk at the end of the plain dirt driveway, I sense the footprints of tired men walking home.

The house is tan, the window frames dark brown, and the paint is flaking badly. I turn to the back door and enter the kitchen. The old linoleum crackles under my tread. I know this place, can sense the faint aromas of hundreds of meals: chicken, maybe chops, and almost certainly some favorites from an old country left behind.

A plain table with two chairs is on my left as I enter, next to the window that overlooks the driveway, and I turn toward it. The kitchen appliances are somewhere to my right. They’re indistinct, but I know that like the paint outside and the linoleum underfoot, they are old.

There is a doorway beyond the table, and there is light in the room beyond the doorway. I hear the murmur of voices, perhaps conversation or maybe a radio. Through the doorway, I see the shape of a chair, perhaps a sofa, and just beyond, there is a flicker of movement and maybe the sound of footsteps.

And I see no more. The dream, one I’ve had dozens of times over the years, ends there as I stand by the table in the kitchen, looking into the next room with its yellowish light and its murmurs and its shadows. If that house exists, I do not know where it is, and yet, I’ve been there time and again.

I ended that post with a version of the tune “Theme From A Dream,” written by Boudleaux Bryant. Chet Atkins was the first to record it, sixty-three years ago today, on October 23, 1958. That first version would be released in 1959 on the album Chet Atkins In Hollywood, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me . . .’

Friday, October 22nd, 2021

It was ninety-three years ago today in Atlanta, on October 22, 1928 – according to the notes to the CD The Essential Jimmie Rodgers – that the Yodeling Brakeman recorded a song that I’d guess is one of his best-known: “Waiting For A Train.” The recording was released the following February as Bluebird 5163.

I imagine that my first exposure to the tune came with Boz Scaggs’ version, found on his 1969 self-titled album recorded in Muscle Shoals, a track highlighted by Duane Allman’s sweet work on dobro. (Also on the album, of course, is the epic “Loan Me A Dime,” which features Allman’s ferocious slide work.) I got the album in the spring of 1989, but I imagine I’d heard Scagg’s version of the tune long before, though I have no idea when.

Scaggs’ version is just one of more than eighty covers of the tune listed at Second Hand Songs. Three versions are listed from 1929, by Riley Puckett, by Ed (Jake) West, and by Carson Robison and Frank Luther, who recorded as the Jimson Brothers.

The most recent version of “Waiting For A Train” listed at the site was by Billy Bragg and Joe Henry. They recorded the song in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, the same room where Robert Johnson recorded twenty-three tracks during three sessions in November 1936. Bragg and Henry released their version in 2016 on the album Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad.

There was a surprise, though, waiting for me at Second Hand Songs. Listed with the versions of “Waiting For A Train” were thirteen versions of the song “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me,” with the words credited to Mississippi John Hurt. The website says that Hurt first recorded the song in 1966, a take that was included on the posthumous 1972 album Last Sessions.

I’ve noted here before that Second Hand Songs is a good place to start but not always complete. That’s the case here, as in the digital stacks here I find a version of “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” that Hurt recorded in 1963 for the Library of Congress. That version was first released in 1982 on an album titled Avalon Blues: The Library of Congress Recordings, Vol. 2 and has been released on several anthologies since (as has the 1966 version) as shown by the photo in the video below.

Whichever came first, it’s a surprise and a delight to hear the same melody as Rodgers’ “Waiting For A Train” used as the basis for an entirely different song (as was frequently the case in the folk and blues tradition).

No. 50 Fifty Years Ago

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021

We’re going to indulge in a game of Symmetry in a moment, looking at the No. 50 record from the fourth week of October 1971, but first, we’re going to take a look at the top five from that week in the Billboard Hot 100:

“Maggie May/Reason To Believe” by Rod Stewart
“Superstar/Bless The Beasts & Children” by the Carpenters
“Yo-Yo” by the Osmonds
“Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves” by Cher
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by Joan Baez

“Maggie May” still works for me as a record, especially the long mandolin solo before the final choruses, but it also serves as a reminder of that long-ago season, the first autumn of my college days. It brings up memories of wandering down dorm hallways and across campus and into pizza joints with my first set of college friends, the folks I’d met at the summertime orientation. It’s always welcome here.

So, too, is “Superstar,” chiefly for the purity of Karen Carpenter’s voice (and the tasteful arrangement by her brother Richard). Bowdlerizing a bit the original lyric by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell, the record still works.

We looked at Baez’ cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” the other week. As for “Yo-Yo” and “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” well, “Yo-Yo” is a pleasant memory, and the Cher single is one of the 2,900-some in the iPod, so I must like it.

But what do we find when we go the halfway point of that week’s Hot 100? Well, we find a record I’m pretty certain I’ve never heard before: “She’s All I Got” by Freddie North, during which North pleads with a rival: “Please don’t take. She’s all I got . . .”

It’s an okay record, I guess, but nothing special. It made it to No. 39 on the Hot 100 and to No. 10 on the magazine’s R&B chart. North was a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Nashville, and the only other record of his that made the two charts was “You And Me Together Forever,” which bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 116 and went to No. 26 on the R&B chart in early 1972.

Oddly, I have North’s 1975 album, Cuss the Wind, in the digital stacks. How it got there, I have no idea. I may have grabbed it somewhere because it contains North’s cover of “A Rainy Night In Georgia.”

Here’s “She’s All I Got.”

Saturday Single No. 757

Saturday, October 16th, 2021

As promised, I went looking for interesting covers of “Love Is A Rose,” having offered the earliest versions of the song – by Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young – here last week. I used as my guide the list of covers offered by Second Hand Songs.

It wasn’t a lot of fun.

Now, I didn’t listen to all the covers listed, nor did I listen to any of the covers all the way through. I let the first twenty or so seconds suffice, so there may be a misjudgment or two here. Too bad.

The first covers after Ronstadt’s version came out were from country/rock singer Wayne Berry in 1975 and country singer Sue Richards in 1976. Neither version is available at YouTube though you can find other stuff by both of them.

I checked out a version from 1976 by a Swedish group called New Strangers, and it was kind of dull and plodding. The other version from the 1970s I took a chance on was from Greek singer Nana Mouskouri; she sounded shrill.

In 1998, a singer named Lynn Marie seemed to want to turn the song into a polka. A few years later, in 2006, a country group named Grantham Road laid heavy on the bass and guitar on all four beats. In 2007 a duo – I think, perhaps a trio – called Dirtbird turned the song into a slice of dissonant Americana.

And then I saw a familiar name: Terri Clark. In 2012, the country singer recorded the song for her album Classic. I’ve not listened to a lot of Clark’s stuff, but I’ve got a CD or two of hers, and I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve heard. Her take on “Love Is A Rose” is no different: It’s today’s Saturday Single.

My Faves From ’71

Friday, October 15th, 2021

I saw a squib the other day on Facebook for a book titled Never a Dull Moment: 1971, The Year That Rock Exploded by writer and broadcaster David Hepworth, a book I plan to read as soon as the local library sends it my way. The squib was followed by a challenge to list the twenty best albums from that admittedly very rich year, now fifty years in the past.

Well, I love lists, as anyone who comes past here knows. I usually do lists of single tracks, although I recall listing my thirteen favorite albums in a very early post here (the post is here, but I’ll warn you, it wanders around for a while before getting to the list). I revised that list a little later, and I imagine if I took on the topic again, my list would look at least a little different than it did fourteen years ago.

So, I’ve put together – in no particular order – a  list of my twenty favorite albums from 1971, which was, in fact, a great year for music. The greatest? Impossible to say, except to note that it lies right in the middle of my sweet spot. The years of high school and early college – 1968 through 1974 – were the best years for music for me.

I should note that one album that I wrestled with was The Concert For Bangla Desh, but I decided that all-star live albums have an unfair advantage. I’ll just note that Leon Russell’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley at that concert might be the single best thing released in 1971.

Here are my twenty:

Tapestry by Carole King
Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
It Ain’t Easy by Long John Baldry
Naturally by J.J. Cale
The North Star Grassman and the Ravens by Sandy Denny
Madman Across The Water by Elton John
Pearl by Janis Joplin
Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney
Mudlark by Leo Kottke
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by the Moody Blues
Stargazer by Shelagh McDonald
Leon Russell & The Shelter People
Stoney End by Barbra Streisand
Teaser & The Firecat by Cat Stevens
Every Picture Tells A Story by Rod Stewart
The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys by Traffic
Just An Old Fashioned Love Song by Paul Williams
2 Years On by the Bee Gees
Chase (Self-Titled)
Closer To The Ground by Joy Of Cooking

This was not a deeply researched list. I simply sorted the mp3s in the RealPlayer for 1971 and then sifted through the 300 or so albums that showed up, so I imagine I might have missed one or two that I’ll think about later.

And again, without thinking too hard about it, I’ll choose a track to share here today. It’s the title track to Shelagh McDonald’s Stargazer. Her story, as I’ve said here before, is quite strange; here’s a link to her tale at Wikipedia. And here’s “Stargazer.”

‘Hammer Of The Gods . . .’

Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

I’ve been reading a lot of the discussions over the past few days about how we should no longer be celebrating Columbus and how we should change the name of the holiday to Indigenous Persons Day. Some folks brought in Leif Erikson’s Norsemen, and a few even mentioned the Phoenecians as folks who got to the shores of the North American continent before Columbus.

My take on it? Columbus was an evil man, evil enough that other Spanish explorers around him – who were pretty bad actors themselves – sent him back to Spain in chains. He’s not someone we’d should really want to celebrate. His navigational feat (along with those of other explorers), however, did open the North American continent to exploration, exploitation and settlement. But there were already other folks here, of course, who were dispossessed and nearly exterminated by that exploration, exploitation and settlement.

I say: Tear down the statues, cancel the holiday and find another day in the calendar to mourn the Native American cultures lost to Manifest Destiny and to celebrate the Native Cultures that survived. I guess we can call it Indigenous Persons Day, though that seems kind of stiff. I like what Canada did when it used First Nations as a combined term for those who were here before the Europeans. That might be the term we should be using.

Anyway, to take kind of a left turn, as I was pondering this stuff in the past few days, I was reminded of a video posted at YouTube a year ago today. A user there who goes by the name of “the_miracle_aligner” posted a video offering Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” sung in old Norse.

In the notes, the_miracle_aligner credits a user named Constantine Bard for the backing track. (Constantine Bard’s page is filled with versions of current and older pop songs recast in medieval form.) And the_miracle_aligner credits Angus Bolton for translating the words of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page into old Norse and offering some pronunciation training.

So here’s how Erikson’s men might have sounded had they been singing Led Zeppelin as they came ashore in what was to become northeastern Canada sometime around the year 1000.

Saturday Singles Nos. 755 & 756

Saturday, October 9th, 2021

Having mentioned yesterday that Neil Young’s “Love Is A Rose” grew out of an earlier song titled “Dance Dance Dance,” first recorded by the band Crazy Horse, I thought we’d take a quick look that way this morning.

After “Dance Dance Dance” came out on Crazy Horse’s self-titled debut album in 1971, a few people jumped on the cover wagon: The New Seekers had a slight hit with it, with the record going to No. 84 on the Billboard Hot 100 in a five-week run a year during the autumn of 1972. That year that also saw covers of the song by Dave Edmunds and the band Cochise. More covers followed, but not until the 1990s.

Maybe next week we’ll look at a few other covers of both “Love Is A Rose” and “Dance Dance Dance,” but for now, here’s “Dance Dance Dance” as it was released in 1971 on Crazy Horse’s first, self-titled album and then as the New Seekers released it. They’re this week’s Saturday Singles.

‘A Hand Full Of Thorns . . .’

Friday, October 8th, 2021

We were heading home from an errand the other day when Neil Young’s unmistakable voice came from the radio speaker, courtesy of WXYG in Sauk Rapids:

Love is a rose
But you better not pick it
It only grows when it’s on the vine
A handful of thorns and
You’ll know you’ve missed it
You lose your love
When you say the word “Mine”

I wanna see what’s never been seen
I wanna live that age old dream
Come on, lass, we can go together
Let’s take the best right now
Take the best right now

I wanna go to an old hoe-down
Long ago in a western town
Pick me up if my feet are draggin’
Give me a lift and I’ll hay your wagon

Love is a rose
But you better not pick it
It only grows when it’s on the vine
A handful of thorns and
You’ll know you’ve missed it
You lose your love
When you say the word “Mine”
Mine, mine

Love is a rose, love is a rose
Love is a rose, love is a rose

“I only know the Linda Ronstadt version,” said the Texas Gal. “Did Neil Young write it?”

“I think so,” I said, being pretty sure that he did.

“It kinda caught me by surprise,” she said. “It was a little different than the way Linda Ronstadt sings it.”

And it is. Ronstadt puts an extra chorus in just before the verse about the hoe-down in the western town, then adds another chorus later on, along with an instrumental, making her version of the tune run about thirty seconds longer.

And the thought came to my mind as we got home: Which one came first? So, I did some digging. And it got a little complicated. The melody first showed up in a Young-penned song called “Dance Dance Dance,” which was first recorded by Young’s back-up band Crazy Horse and released on the group’s self-titled album in 1971. (All of the release information here comes from a combination of Wikipedia, Second Hand Songs, and discogs.)

Somewhere in the next few years, Young gave new words to “Dance Dance Dance” and came up with “Love Is A Rose.” As Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young rehearsed for their 1974 tour, Young recorded the song, planning to include it on an album titled Homegrown. The album was shelved, and Young released his 1974 recording of the song in 1977 on his anthology Decade.

Meanwhile, Ronstadt recorded the song in 1975, releasing it as a single in August of that year and on her album Prisoner In Disguise in September. The single reached No. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100 but stalled when its B-side, “Heat Wave,” began to get air play and went to No. 5. Ronstadt’s album, Prisoner In Disguise, went to No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

Young finally released Homegrown, including “Love Is A Rose,” in the summer of 2000.

Saturday Single No. 754

Saturday, October 2nd, 2021

I thought I’d offer a progress report. The lenses in both eyes have been replaced. The vision in my left eye, operated on just three days ago, is a bit blurry, but using both eyes, my distance vision – unaided – is better than it’s been since 1962, when I first started wearing glasses.

Nearer vision is a different thing. The surgeon calibrated each eye differently; it’s a standard practice, said the tech at my last appointment, although I did not understand her explanation. That means that for closer vision, my eyes work differently right now. For example, my right eye can read clearly as I type this post. My left eye struggles. The same holds true for browsing on the ’Net: possible but a little bit of a struggle.

And books and newspapers? Right now, that’s a disaster. I can read for maybe a half an hour at a time, closing my left eye and using a large magnifying glass to aid my right eye. An entire book bag full of books will go back to the library today, as there’s no way I will get them read by the time they are ultimately due.

I’ll hang on to three – two about the Holocaust that I might be able to renew often enough to read after I get glasses in about two weeks, and the newest Stephen King novel, Billy Summers, which I’m reading in the evenings before bed with my right eye and the magnifying glass.

The reading limitation also means that browsing through my massive music reference library in search of a topic for this space is not possible, I’ll still try to post something here Tuesday that’s more in line with what I usually do here than is this progress report.

Among the more than 83,000 tracks on the digital shelves, only one has the word “focus” its title. In fact, that’s the entire title: “Focus.” It’s a track from the only album ever released by a group called Moonstone that hailed – according to the website Prog Archives – from Winnipeg, Manitoba. The self-titled album came out in 1973, and I somehow found a copy during my early years online, although I have no idea where I found it. Prog Archives describes Moonstone’s music as “acoustic folk rock with psychedelic overtones.”

Here’s “Focus” by Moonstone, today’s Saturday Single.

My Eyes

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

This – like so many other posts recently – will be brief for a very practical reason. I can no longer see very well. Even the white of the word processing program’s page has smudges on it that I cannot see through very well, the product of cataracts in both eyes, and that makes writing very much a headache-producing struggle.

That should change this week and the next. Tomorrow I will have the lens in my right eye replaced, and a week later, the same will happen with my left eye. I know the surgeries are now very common: My mom and the Texas Gal both had their lenses replaced during the life of this blog, and there were no complications.

Still, I have some anxieties about the surgeries, which I think is understandable. I’ve been trying in the past weeks simply to acknowledge them and then let them go. That’s not easy, but I think I’m doing all right.

This has been coming for a while, maybe three years for the cataract in my left eye and two for the one in my right eye, but the growth of the two has accelerated greatly in the last year, causing the vision experts to say that it’s time. And in just the month or so that the surgeries have been contemplated and scheduled, I’ve noticed an even more rapid degradation of my vision.

I assume things will go well tomorrow and the following Wednesday. I’m not sure how awkward things will be during the week between the two surgeries, with one eye corrected and the other still impaired. So, I do not know how often I will be posting here. A one-week absence is possible. So I’ll (metaphorically) see you – more clearly, I assume – on the far side.

Anyway, here’s one of my favorite tunes with “eyes” in the title: “Dark Eyes” by Bob Dylan. It’s from his 1985 album Empire Burlesque. The notes to the recently released Bootleg Series No. 16 – titled Springtime in New York, 1980-85 – say that the album’s co-producer, Arthur Baker, one day suggested adding an acoustic song to the album, and the next day, Dylan brought in “Dark Eyes,” written the night before:

Oh, the gentlemen are talking, and the midnight moon is on the riverside,
They’re drinking up and walking and it is time for me to slide.
I live in another world where life and death are memorized,
Where the earth is strung with lovers’ pearls and all I see are dark eyes.

A cock is crowing far away and another soldier’s deep in prayer,
Some mother’s child has gone astray, she can’t find him anywhere.
But I can hear another drum beating for the dead that rise,
Whom nature’s beast fears as they come and all I see are dark eyes.

They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes,
They tell me revenge is sweet and from where they stand, I’m sure it is.
But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized,
All I feel is heat and flame and all I see are dark eyes.

Oh, the French girl, she’s in paradise and a drunken man is at the wheel,
Hunger pays a heavy price to the falling gods of speed and steel.
Oh, time is short, and the days are sweet, and passion rules the arrow that flies,
A million faces at my feet but all I see are dark eyes.