Archive for the ‘Soundtracks’ Category

Saturday Single No. 739

Saturday, June 5th, 2021

Earlier this spring, in a piece about the passing of musician/producer Jim Steinman, I wrote:

I was in Missouri and I was the arts editor for the Columbia Missourian, published by the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. And one week, there were more new movies in town than my small staff could review, so I needed to jump in and review one of them. That happened occasionally, maybe four times during the year I filled the post. Out of the five or so movies opening that week, I selected Streets of Fire, more because I recognized the name of the female lead, Diane Lane, than for any other reason.

I loved it, especially the music. I cadged a bit on the grade I gave it, maybe awarding a B+. (I cannot put my hands on the review this morning although I know it exists in the filing drawers of unorganized clips from about fifteen years of reporting and editing.) Director Walter Hill called the movie a “rock and roll fable,” but even so, it’s over-the-top storytelling put me off just a bit.

But the music! There was stuff from the Blasters, Ry Cooder, the Fixx, Maria McKee, and a few others. And the Steinman-penned songs that opened and closed the movie blew me away: “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” with – as I learned later – Laurie Sargent providing the vocals for Lane on the former and Holly Sherwood doing the same on the latter, both backed by a group of musicians that the filmmakers called Fire Inc.

Within a few days, I had the soundtrack, knew the writers and producers and anything else I could glean from the jacket. And in the thirty-some years since, any time I hear either of those two tracks from the soundtrack, I remember the thrill of finding something utterly new, a feeling that can stay with you for years.

The LP database tells me that it was thirty-seven years ago today that I picked up the soundtrack to Streets of Fire and took it home to the south end of Columbia. And today, sorting out the third-best track on the album, I dithered between Maria McKee’s “Never Be You” and Marilyn Martin’s take on the Stevie Nicks-penned “Sorceror.”

I came down on the side of “Sorceror.” Martin was the first to record it; Nick’s version came out only in 2001 on her album Trouble in Shangri-La. And Martin’s version from 1984 is today’s Saturday Single.

Thanks, Jim Steinman

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

Looking at the listing of works by Jim Steinman, who died two days ago, leaves me feeling as if I missed out. I truly know so little of what the man did as a writer, musician and producer. He remains one of the large blank spots in my musical awareness.

There’s a reason. My memory tells me – and bits and pieces of what I’ve read over the past few days confirm – that Steinman came to mass awareness with his writing and production of Meat Loaf’s 1977 album Bat Out Of Hell and the resulting 1978 single “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.”

By the time the single came out, I was in the working world, and I crammed my radio listening into what I could catch in the car as I drove from one reporting assignments to another and whatever I could catch at home on an aging stereo system my folks had found for me in a second-hand store. Still, I heard “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” occasionally, and I liked it, even if I found it a bit bombastic.

(A lot of other folks liked it, too: It went to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 31 on the magazine’s easy listening chart.)

But “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” and “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth” – the follow-up singles – didn’t grab me. And as I listened less and less to pop music in the late 1970s and early 1980, I missed whatever came next for Steinman.

Then, in 1984, I was in Missouri and I was the arts editor for the Columbia Missourian, published by the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. And one week, there were more new movies in town than my small staff could review, so I needed to jump in and review one of them. That happened occasionally, maybe four times during the year I filled the post. Out of the five or so movies opening that week, I selected Streets of Fire, more because I recognized the name of the female lead, Diane Lane, than for any other reason.

I loved it, especially the music. I cadged a bit on the grade I gave it, maybe awarding a B+. (I cannot put my hands on the review this morning although I know it exists in the filing drawers of unorganized clips from about fifteen years of reporting and editing.) Director Walter Hill called the movie a “rock and roll fable,” but even so, it’s over-the-top storytelling put me off just a bit.

But the music! There was stuff from the Blasters, Ry Cooder, the Fixx, Maria McKee, and a few others. And the Steinman-penned songs that opened and closed the movie blew me away: “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” with – as I learned later – Laurie Sargent providing the vocals for Lane on the former and Holly Sherwood doing the same on the latter, both backed by a group of musicians that the filmmakers called Fire Inc.

Within a few days, I had the soundtrack, knew the writers and producers and anything else I could glean from the jacket. And in the thirty-some years since, any time I hear either of those two tracks from the soundtrack, I remember the thrill of finding something utterly new, a feeling that can stay with you for years.

I missed a lot of Steinman’s stuff, and maybe I should go back and dig into it, but I at least found two pieces from the man’s work that will always be a part of my life, and for that, I thank Jim Steinman.

Here’s the official video for “Nowhere Fast” and a clip with the last minutes of the film that includes “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” both credited to Fire Inc.

Saturday Single No. 710

Saturday, October 31st, 2020

I saw this morning that Sean Connery has died. With that news, another bit of my youth has gone as well. Connery, of course, was the first James Bond,  playing 007 of the British Secret Service in seven films, inhabiting a role that came along with him for the rest of his life, despite fifty-some more films and an Academy Award for the 1987 film The Untouchables.

Here, with a few changes, is a piece I posted in 2007 about my mid-1960s Bond fascination. Though that fascination was anchored as much by Ian Fleming’s books as by the Bond films, Connery’s work in those films – which I still watch at least in part when I stumble into them on cable – remains a potent link to the boy I once was.

And I say, not at all for the first time, Connery – formally Sir Thomas Sean Connery – was Bond, and of the other actors cast in that role, only Daniel Craig has come close.

I had a huge James Bond jones when I was a kid.

I was eleven in 1964 – in sixth grade – when the growing popularity of the novels by Ian Fleming and the first two films based on those novels, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, burst into full-blown Bondmania with the release of the third film, Goldfinger.

I wanted badly to see the movie, but my parents weren’t sure. After all, the ads looked like they showed a naked woman painted gold. I won’t deny the attraction that held, but it was truly the story of 007 saving the world – or at least the world’s gold supply – that grabbed me. But my folks said no, a little regretfully, I’ve always thought.

They also weren’t sure if I should be allowed to read Fleming’s novels; Dad bought a copy of Goldfinger to see if it would be appropriate for the somewhat precocious urchin I was, but he read it in the evening, just before retiring, and he read at most four or five pages at a time. I despaired as I saw his bookmark make slow progress into the middle of the book.

Then the Minneapolis Star, an evening paper that no longer exists, began to print excerpts from The Man With The Golden Gun, the final novel Fleming completed before his death in August of 1964. My parents saw how avidly I read the twelve or so excerpts, which had to be okay for kid consumption – after all, they were in the evening paper. And I think they began to think that the books might be okay for me, after all.

But the bookmarker still moved slowly. Then, one day, I heard on the radio the main theme to Goldfinger, with the vocal performed by Shirley Bassey. We belonged to a record club, so I ordered the soundtrack to the movie, and once it arrived, I would sit by the stereo, trying to imagine the scenes that went with John Barry’s sometimes lush and sometimes sparely powerful music. I especially liked the instrumental version of the main theme, with its lead and rhythm guitars, its surging horns and its insistent percussion.

Eventually, Dad’s bookmark reached the end of the book, and with a sigh at my impatience and a shrug, he handed me Goldfinger, which I devoured in only a few days. (It was, like almost all of Fleming’s Bond novels, only 191 pages long.) I moved into seventh grade and met a classmate named Brad, who was also a Bondhead. The film version of Thunderball came out; we went to it and I bought the soundtrack. We spent an afternoon at a double feature of Dr. No and From Russia With Love. We devoured movie magazine pieces about Sean Connery. And we saw Goldfinger when it was re-released.

At the local toy store, where we raced model cars on the big track – we did have some interests beyond Bond – we looked at the items marketed under the 007 license: toy guns, board games, secret agent kits, trick briefcases, and more. As we looked, we wondered in part who would buy such things, and in part, we wanted them.

Secret agents were so cool. Not just James Bond, but Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, the men from U.N.C.L.E. And John le Carré’s Alec Leamas, who was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, as well as Len Deighton’s nameless agent in The Ipcress File.

My dad took me to see the film based on Deighton’s book, and I read a few “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” books. A copy of Fleming’s Dr. No showed up in my Christmas stocking, and I devoured that as rapidly as I had Goldfinger. And I started to read the rest of the books.

I got two more records: one a low-budget item titled Thunderball, which had a bunch of jazz guys performing themes from all the various secret agent movies and television programs, and one called Sounds For A Secret Agent, on which David Lloyd and his London-based orchestra (a jazzy group, despite the word “orchestra”) offered their versions of themes from the four existing Bond films as well as themes for those Bond titles that had not yet been made into films (excluding Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, evidently because films based on the books were in production at the time Lloyd was recording the project). Brad and I thought that was a great idea, and the music was pretty good, too.

And then, it ended. When eighth grade began, Brad had moved out of town; I never knew where. And although spies and agents were still cool for a while, by the time 1967 rolled around, other things – the rise of the hippie, for one – captured the public’s imagination. I finished reading Fleming’s novels, and I enjoyed them, but about the time I finished the last one, my sister brought home a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and I had a new world to explore.

Bond’s exploits and the music that backed them have come along with me, fifty-some years later. I have digital files for all of John Barry’s Bond work and for the two other LPs I got back in 1964-65. I also have files of numerous other LPs that capitalized on Bondmania back then. I’ve not re-read any of the books since the mid-1970s, but I remember the plots, the villains, the women and many of the individual scenes (of the novels, at least; I’d be a little spotty on the five short stories in For Your Eyes Only).

And coming along with all those memories are memories of the kid who read the books, saw the movies, and listened to the music, the kid whose favorite piece from all the John Barry soundtracks was the instrumental version of the theme to Goldfinger. That 1964 track is today’s Saturday Single.

The Sound Of Sorrow

Friday, June 28th, 2019

The forlorn melody of “None But The Lonely Heart,” Wikipedia tells us, was written in late 1869 when Piotr Tchaikovsky created a set of six romances for voice and piano. The lyrics came, the website says, from “Lev Mei’s poem ‘The Harpist’s Song,’ which in turn was translated from Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.”

Here’s the English translation that gives the piece its familiar title:

None but the lonely heart
Can know my sadness
Alone and parted
Far from joy and gladness
Heaven’s boundless arch I see
Spread out above me
O what a distance drear to one
Who loves me
None but the lonely heart
Can know my sadness
Alone and parted far
From joy and gladness
Alone and parted far
From joy and gladness
My senses fail
A burning fire
Devours me
None but the lonely heart
Can know my sadness

I first came across the song, as was the case with so many tunes, through Al Hirt, who included it on his 1965 album That Honey Horn Sound:

Hirt’s take is evocative enough, though I think his improvisations take away from the sadness that the title and the lyrics imply. And I think the background vocals of the Anita Kerr Singers make the final moments of the track sound almost triumphant with what a long-ago teaching colleague of mine called an “MGM ending.” (I certainly didn’t verbalize those thoughts back in 1965 when I heard the track for the first time, but I do recall that the second half of the track didn’t pull me in like the opening portions did, and I wondered why.)

The song has popped up over the years, and I’ve always liked it. But even though I’ve known for more than fifty years that the melody came from Tchaikovsky, I’d never thought much about the piece. Even with all my gathering of music over the past twenty years, only three other versions showed up on the digital shelves: Instrumental versions by violinist Isaac Stern and easy listening maestro Franck Pourcel and a turgid vocal version by Frank Sinatra (from his 1959 album No One Cares, which is a hard listen).

Then, just more than a year ago – and I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to write about this – the Texas Gal and I watched the finale of the FX series The Americans, the tale – set in the 1980s – of two married Russian KGB agents sent to live in the United States as Americans, working covertly for the Soviet Union. In that finale, the two agents face arrest by U.S. authorities and flee. The last portion of their trip home is by car through Eastern Europe and the western portions of the Soviet Union, much of it shot from above.

The music backing that sequence is an orchestral version of “None But The Lonely Heart.” I recognized it from the first notes. (And if I recall things correctly, I gasped as those first notes aired, prompting a “What?” from the Texas Gal. I just shook my head, choosing not to explain at the moment.) As the journey and the episode and the series ended that evening, I thought the use of Tchaikovsky’s piece was a brilliant touch.

Afterward, I spent some time searching for the version of the tune used in the show. It turned out to be a performance by violinist Takako Nishizaki with Australia’s Queensland Symphony Orchestra; it was included on a 2001 album – conducted by Slovak director Peter Breiner – titled Tchaikovsky: None But The Lonely Heart with the subtitle “Favourite Songs for Violin and Orchestra.” And, as it should be, it’s the sound of sorrow:

First Wednesday: December 1968

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month 

It’s not like nothing happened in December of 1968.

Harsh new governing measures were adopted December 13 by the military government in Brazil, measures that were in place for ten years. California’s Zodiac Killer is said to have shot his first two of at least seven confirmed victims – David Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16 – on December 20 in the city of Benicia, California. In an event that still echoes for us every time we sit at our desks, inventor Douglas Engelbart publicly demonstrated on December 9 his pioneering computer hyperlink system. And most certainly, other events of the month damaged or influenced people’s lives around the world in ways that still reverberate today.

But December 1968, at least from where a current events-savvy Midwestern boy of fifteen watched, was a fairly uneventful month. Coming at the end of a year that saw an escalating war, two assassinations, riots and a bitter national election, the quiet month made it feel like the nation, having drawn so many anxious breaths in the eleven months just past, could finally release its breath in a sigh of relief. Not that there hadn’t been damage; there had been, much of it grievous. But all the madness seemed to be ending.

And maybe that’s why the most historically significant event of the month seemed to be almost like a benediction:

On December 24, Christmas Eve, the U.S. spacecraft Apollo 8 became the first vehicle to enter orbit around the moon. The three-man crew – Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders – became the first humans to see the far side of the moon. The crew also became the first humans to see the Earth rise above the moon and captured the moment in a remarkable photo. And in a memorable live broadcast from lunar orbit that evening, Borman read to the world the account of creation from the book of Genesis, the first book of the Christian Bible. Borman closed the broadcast – at the time, the most-watched television broadcast in history – with: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, and a Merry Christmas to all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

As appropriate as that Christmas Eve message was (if a good deal less than multi-cultural), and as historic as that first orbit of the moon was, I think the most important thing that Apollo 8 did was show us the Earth rising over the moon’s horizon.

apollo08_earthrise

Later Apollo flights gave us pictures of the Earth alone. I included in my December 1968 post something I’d written more than a year earlier about those later photos: 

“Such images have become so commonplace – in advertising and elsewhere – in the thirty-nine years since that it’s hard for those who did not experience it to understand just how electrifying and humbling it was to see for the first time all of the earth at one moment. That image – of the blue earth hanging alone in the black of space – underlined to me, and, I think, to many, how alone we are and how this small earth is all we have, a lesson that I think we need to relearn.”

Of course, it’s been forty fifty years now, but the lesson, I think, remains.

Even in a month that provided us a new perspective on our dwelling place and, one hopes, ourselves, there were Earth-bound pursuits and pleasures. On December 3, Elvis Presley starred in Elvis, a special NBC television broadcast now frequently referred to as Elvis’ “Comeback Special.” The broadcast featured the performer sometimes with a large orchestra and sometimes in a more intimate setting with a small group, performing in a way that music fans hadn’t really seen in nearly ten years. In a music world that had changed immeasurably from the time Presley went into the U.S. Army in the late 1950s and emerged to – mostly – star in mediocre movies, Presley was, after his special, relevant again. As Wikipedia notes: “The live segments of the ’68 Comeback Special in particular gave the audience more than a glimpse of Presley’s charismatic and emotionally charged performing style that won him his first fans in the 1950s.”

So what was it we were listening to at the end of the week that Elvis took to the stage again? Here’s the top fifteen from the Billboard Hot 100 of December 7, 1968:

“Love Child” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
“Who’s Making Love” by Johnnie Taylor
“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf
“Abraham, Martin & John” by Dion
“Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell
“Stormy” by the Classics IV featuring Dennis Yost
“Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin
“I Love How You Love Me” by Bobby Vinton
“Hold Me Tight” by Johnny Nash
“Both Sides Now” by Judy Collins
“White Room” by Cream
“Cloud Nine” by the Temptations

That’s an almost-perfect Top Fifteen: I could get along without the Bobby Vinton, and I still have never heard – that I know of – the Johnny Nash single. [I have since heard it, and it’s all right.] The Mary Hopkin single is a little frothy, but it works, and that’s probably a good description of Judy Collins’ take on “Both Sides Now.” But boy, with those caveats, that’s an hour of radio bliss.

What did the album chart look like? Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from December 7, 1968:

Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & the Holding Company
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Second by Steppenwolf
Time Peace/The Rascals’ Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Wheels of Fire by Cream
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
The Time Has Come by the Chambers Brothers
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell

That’s not a lot different than the chart had been a month earlier: albums by Jefferson Airplane and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown had dropped out of the top ten, replaced by the Steppenwolf album and Electric Ladyland. It’s once more a pretty good chart with a lot of different styles. As I may have said before, I don’t think the Iron Butterfly album has aged well (a fact that I think extends to the group’s entire catalog). All-Music Guide regards Steppenwolf’s The Second as a great album, but I’m a little skeptical. Other than those quibbles, this is a great chart.

The album I’m sharing today managed to climb almost halfway into the Billboard Top 40, peaking at No. 24 during an eleven-week period that began in October of 1968. Not bad for a soundtrack album made up of classical music, some of it very adventurous.

The album was the soundtrack to the MGM film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that still sits atop my personal list of the greatest films I’ve seen. It was not well regarded by critics at the time. (Nor did it have the respect of my contemporaries: During a bus trip to the Twin Cities by the St. Cloud Tech concert band in early 1969, we band members were asked to vote on which movie we wanted to see as the final portion of our excursion to the big city. I cast the only vote for 2001: A Space Odyssey. We went and saw Oliver! instead.) Most critics acknowledged the technical achievements demonstrated in the Stanley Kubrick-directed film, but the film’s content – or perceived lack thereof – was dismissed by many writers

Now, of course, Stanley Kubrick’s film is regarded by many critics and viewers as an eloquent allegory about the human race and its tentative steps toward greater accomplishments throughout history. And its technical achievements, amazing in 1968, remain just that.

One of Kubrick’s innovations was the use of classical music for the film’s soundtrack. A conventional soundtrack had been commissioned for the film, and I believe it was well-regarded composer Alex North who wrote that score. There are CD copies of it floating around the ’Net; I’ve heard bits of it, and it’s not bad, but it’s predictable.

Kubrick’s decision to use classical music for his film provided us with two unforgettable moments when music and image were blended into an icon: The pairing of Richard Strauss’ anthemic “Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra)” – propelled by its solo trumpet, swelling orchestra and solo tympani – with the image of the enigmatic monolith was the first iconic pairing, and the linking of the silent and subtle movements of space flight with Johann Strauss’ waltz, “The Blue Danube” was the other.

The soundtrack has its share of selections that were avant-garde in 1968 and remain less than easy to access forty years later. But it’s a fascinating collection, and if not all of the tracks remind one of the film, I think that’s the passing years. Having listened to the soundtrack a couple of times since I found it online [and many more times since I got my own copy], I plan to take a look at the film very soon, for the first time in years.

Music from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey Overture: “Atmospheres” (excerpt) by György Ligeti
Main Title: “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss
“Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs & Orchestra” by György Ligeti
“The Blue Danube” (excerpt) by Johann Strauss
“Lux Aeterna” (excerpt) by György Ligeti
“Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio) by Aram Khachaturian
“Jupiter and Beyond” (“Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs & Orchestra,” “Atmospheres,” and “Adventures [altered for film]”) by György Ligeti
“Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss
“The Blue Danube” (reprise) by Johann Strauss

Supplemental tracks: “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss (This version was included on the original MGM soundtrack album in 1968 but was not used in the film.)
“Lux Aeterna” by György Ligeti (This full-length version was included on the original MGM soundtrack album in 1968 in place of the excerpt used in the film.)
“Adventures” (unaltered, full-length version) by György Ligeti
HAL 9000 (A dialogue montage featuring the HAL 9000 computer, one of the film’s central characters.)

‘Let Me Tell The Story . . .’

Friday, August 19th, 2016

I was pondering this morning the transition during the 1960s of the place of record albums: If you look at the weekly Top Ten in the Billboard 200 from 1963 to, oh, 1969, you’ll see the top-selling albums went from being mostly the province of folk, easy listening and soundtracks to the land of pop, rock, R&B and soul.

That in itself is pretty old news, and I was trying to cobble together something interesting by comparing the top ten album charts from mid-August of 1963, 1966 and 1969. But as I examined the top ten albums from this week in 1963, I got sidetracked.

The top album that week was Little Stevie Wonder/The 12 Year Old Genius but as I had expected, most of the albums listed – seven of the ten – were soundtracks, comedy, folk or easy listening. One of the other exceptions was the immortal Live At The Apollo by James Brown.

The third outlier was Shut Down, a collection released by Capitol of tunes mostly about cars and motorcycles by various artists. That album offered two tracks by the Beach Boys, a bunch of tracks by groups with short shelf lives (the best of those might be the “Brontosaurus Stomp” by the Piltdown Men) and one track from actor Robert Mitchum. And it was that last track that grabbed my attention. Here’s “The Ballad of Thunder Road” by Robert Mitchum:

The scenes used in the video are from the 1958 film Thunder Road, which Mitchum co-wrote and produced (and perhaps partly directed, according to Wikipedia). Mitchum also co-wrote – with Don Raye – the song. But Mitchum’s version was not used in the movie. Instead, a folky version of the tune was recorded for the movie by Randy Sparks, who a few years later would be the founder of the New Christy Minstrels. Here’s Sparks’ version of the tune, which was titled “The Whippoorwill.”

As “The Ballad of Thunder Road,” Mitchum’s version of the theme was released as a single in 1958 and went to No. 62 in the Billboard Hot 100. Capitol tried again in early 1962, and the single topped out at No. 65. And then it showed up in 1963 on Shut Down, which was at its peak at No. 7 in that Billboard album chart from this week in 1963. (Mitchum would hit the Hot 100 one more time: “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me” went to No. 96 during the summer of 1967.)

As to the 1958 movie, I’ve read in various places that it’s a cult classic, and beyond Mitchum’s single, it does have a place in music history: During a 1978 concert, Bruce Springsteen said that the poster for the film was the source of the title for his song “Thunder Road” although Springsteen evidently never saw the movie.

And all of that is enough for today.

Saturday Single No. 479

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

My library bag was getting full. I’d already picked up the items I had on hold – five CDs, four by the Native American artists who record as Brulé and a posthumous release of music by Pops Staples – and had added three or four novels.

Then, in the new non-fiction section, I saw Coventry: November 14, 1940 by Frederick Taylor, an account of the German air attack against Coventry during World War II. I’ve read and enjoyed Taylor’s accounts of the Allied attack against the German city of Dresden in 1945 and of the history of the Berlin Wall, so I tucked Coventry into my bag and moved on.

And then I saw The Man With The Golden Typewriter, subtitled Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters. I pulled the book from the shelf, replaced a couple of the novels on the new fiction shelf and headed home to begin reading Ian Fleming’s letters. Fans of James Bond – and I am one, as I’ve noted here several times – will have caught the title’s reference immediately: Fleming’s final Bond novel was the 1965 title, The Man With The Golden Gun. And I learned very early in the book – edited by Fergus Fleming, the late author’s nephew – that Ian Fleming did indeed have a golden (actually gold-plated) typewriter, purchased in 1952, when his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, had been accepted for publication by the Jonathan Cape firm.

That was almost too good an alignment of life and art, and I dove into the nearly four-hundred page book, rarely coming up for air in these past few days. (I in fact got so involved in Fleming’s letters that I found myself not reading the Thursday and Friday editions of the Minneapolis Star Tribune until late Friday evening.)

The book is arranged in chapters corresponding to the thirteen Bond novels Fleming published between 1953 and 1965, so any letters from the author about, say, Casino Royale are collected in the first chapter even though the letter might have been written in 1957. There are some side trips, as well. Chapter Four is titled “Notes From America,” and includes letters Fleming wrote to and from American friends as well as missives written during several trips stateside, during which he did research for the novels Live And Let Die (1954), Diamonds Are Forever (1956) and Goldfinger (1959).

I get the sense that America in the 1950s both appalled and fascinated Fleming, who moved in generally rarified circles in England – not quite the top shelf of that very stratified society, but not too far below that level either. Our loud and busy cities, especially New York and Las Vegas, seem to have both attracted and repelled him at the same time. A portion of Live And Let Die takes place in the Florida city of St. Petersburg, which Bond and his American companion, Felix Leiter, find an unpleasant place. That was how Fleming found it, as well; comments in Fleming’s letters and in his nephew’s commentary make clear his great disdain for the city. The younger Fleming notes that the author “wrote on the flyleaf of his personal copy, with an ill-disguised shudder, ‘St. Petersburg is just like I say it is’.”

Another “side trip” chapter in the book is Chapter Seven, titled “Conversations with the Armourer,” which details a lengthy correspondence between Fleming and Geoffrey Boothroyd, a firearms expert from Glasgow, Scotland. Boothroyd noted in a letter that Bond’s choice of guns was poor. The .25 Beretta pistol was not powerful enough and, given its design, could become caught on Bond’s waistband or shoulder holster. Boothroyd suggested several alternative weapons for 007 to use.

Boothroyd’s letters to Fleming – some of which are also included in the book – began in early 1956, when Fleming was working on revisions to From Russia With Love. At the end of the book, which came out in 1957 (and any Bond fans who are reading this are smiling or at least nodding their heads, for they know where this is going), Bond’s Beretta pistol does get snagged on his waistband, and he nearly dies from the effects of Rosa Klebb’s poisoned shoe stiletto.

And in the opening portions of the next book, 1958’s Doctor No, Bond is lectured on proper armament by M, the head of the Secret Service, and one Major Boothroyd, the Secret Service’s armourer. Even though it’s been at least thirty years since I re-read Doctor No (and I first read it after Christmas 1964, when it showed up in my stocking), as soon as I saw the name “Boothroyd,” I remembered the scene. I especially remembered Bond reaching to take his Beretta with him at the end of the meeting, and I recalled M’s curt “Leave it.”

I’m about halfway through the book, and there have been a few other little treats like that, moments when I recognize a name, place or event in Fleming’s letters that then showed up in Bond’s adventures. It’s been a treat so far, and I have no doubt that the remaining half of the volume will be, as well.

I do know, though, that as the 1960s dawned and Fleming found himself and his creation becoming world-famous, the author became a bit weary of telling the tales; his letters even before 1960 occasionally worry about how fresh the novels could remain, given the fact that the tales were in many ways the same story: grand villain in an interesting location with the addition of at least one beautiful woman who falls for the hero. (Bond fans will recall that there is at least one exception to that last; Gala Brand of Moonraker remains loyal to her fiancé even after she and Bond save England from a nuclear missile.)

It will be interesting to see if Fleming’s later letters reflect his weariness with his creation. I imagine they will. I know Fleming tried to kill Bond in the 1964 novel, You Only Live Twice, even offering Bond’s obituary as one of the final chapters (perhaps the final chapter; it’s been years since I read the book). As was the case with another British literary favorite, Sherlock Holmes, the reaction by Bond fans around the world resulted in Fleming finding a means to resurrect his creation for the 1965 book The Man With The Golden Gun.

That was Fleming’s last novel. He’d survived a 1961 heart attack, but a second one in 1964 was fatal. I remember reading at the time – perhaps in Time magazine, which we got at home – that Fleming’s final words were “It’s all been a tremendous lark.” I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, and I’m not sure that I’ll find out in the second half of The Man With The Golden Typewriter.

As I’m only up to 1960, I’ve yet to read anything from Fleming on how he viewed the Bond films – only Doctor No and From Russia With Love had been released by the time of his death. Both of those hewed fairly close to the source novels, unlike some of the later films, so I think he might have been pleased. I’ll find out.

Anyway, it is a Saturday, and here, from John Barry’s soundtrack to 1963’s From Russia With Love, is a bit called “James Bond With Bongos,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Edited slightly after first posting.

Saturday Single No. 466

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

I’m not sure what happened with the iPod the other week. Maybe I disconnected it from the computer and iTunes before it was ready to leave. Maybe I did something else. Maybe it was just being cantankerous. But when I turned it on one day and set it to random shuffle, it began rolling through the songs, showing the info for one after another for about three seconds each and never stopping to play them.

Nothing I tried would change its behavior. So I reformatted the little thing and was left with an empty iPod. And because I’d been foolish when I’d first selected tracks from my external hard drive to load into iTunes (and thus become the iPod’s library), I had to reselect my iTunes library. That mean going through each of the main music folders on my external hard drive, scanning the subfolders for the names of artists whose music I might want to include in my new iPod library, and then dipping into those subfolders to copy mp3s to iTunes.

It’s a long process, essentially combing through about 85,000 tracks to see which 3,500 or so I want on the iPod. I’m into the “S” folder (having just selected a couple of tracks by the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band). Along with completing the “S” folder and folders for the rest of the alphabet from there, I’ll also have to dig into the massive “Various Artists” folder, which is where I’ll find the mp3s from the bulk of the many compilations in my collection. Those will require closer combing than has been needed so far.

Anyway, I currently have in the iPod a total of 2,521 tracks. They range numerically from three versions of John Barry’s “007” theme (one each from the films Goldfinger and Thunderball and a cover by French easy listening master Franck Pourcel) to Albert Hammond’s “99 Miles From L.A.” and alphabetically from Doc Severinsen’s “Abbey Road Medley” to the Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.”

In terms of running time, the music tracks start at the fifty-six seconds of “North Platte,” a piano meditation from One To The Heart, One To The Head, a moody 2009 Western album by Gretchen Peters & Tom Russell, and end at the 18:17 running time of Side Two (in its original vinyl configuration) of Shawn Phillips’ 1970 album, Second Contribution.

(If one starts at the very shortest pieces, however, the first up is “He shoots, he scores!” by Al Shaver, who called games for the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League from the team’s birth in 1967 to its final game before the team moved to Dallas in 1993. Shaver’s exclamation is the shortest of twenty-four brief interjections, most of them taken from movies. The longest is the fourteen-second rant by Ned Beatty’s Arthur Jensen to Peter Finch’s Howard Beale in the 1976 film Network: “And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature! And you will atone!”)

As one might expect, there are many tracks from Al Hirt, The Band, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Richie Havens, Darden Smith, Danko/Fjeld/Andersen, and others who are favorites in this neighborhood. There are also the one-offs, like Candi Staton’s “Young Hearts Run Free” (although I’ll likely add more Candi as I back-fill after my first run-through) and the Stories’ “Brother Louie.” New stuff? Some. Old stuff? Lots of it.

And here’s a tune that’s neither as old as most of the stuff on the iPod nor as new as the most recent stuff. It was one of the one-offs that was an easy choice because I’ve liked it since I heard it used in the 1991 film Thelma & Louise. It’s Glenn Frey’s “Part Of Me, Part Of You,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘I Am Wednesday’s Child . . .’

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Being not nearly as iconic as Monday, Wednesday gets short shrift – and I wonder, not for the first time, what in the hell shrift is – when it comes to being the subject of songs. Out of 82,000-some tracks in the RealPlayer, only five have “Wednesday” in their titles:

“A Wednesday In Your Garden” by the Guess Who, 1969.
“Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” by Simon & Garfunkel, 1964.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday” by Wild Silk, 1968.
“Wednesday’s Child (Main Theme)” by John Barry, 1966.
“Wednesday’s Child (Vocal)” by John Barry/Matt Monro, 1966.

Those last two entries come from the soundtrack to The Quiller Memorandum, a 1966 spy flick set in Berlin that had a pretty good cast (George Segal, Alec Guinness and Max von Sydow among others). I’ve never seen the film, but the soundtrack came to my attention, of course, because it was written by John Barry.

It’s a moody and atmospheric soundtrack, which one might expect, and even without a zither (as far as I can tell), it reminds me vaguely of Anton Karas’ work for the 1949 thriller The Third Man. I think that comes from the presence of a lot of plucked strings, which distinguishes the Quiller soundtrack from the three scores Barry had written for James Bond films by 1966 (From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball). One odd bit that must have been scored as source music in the film – from a radio or in a club, I suppose – is a saxophone arrangement of Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” and there’s a suitably Teutonic track titled “Autobahn March,” but the bulk of the score is quiet, sometimes melancholy, sometimes foreboding and occasionally sweet.

I’m not sure how well Mack David’s lyrics for “Wednesday’s Child” reflect the film, but like much of the score itself, they’re suitably sad:

Wednesday’s child is a child of woe.
Wednesday’s child cries alone, I know.
When you smiled, just for me you smiled.
For a while I forgot I was Wednesday’s child.

Friday’s child wins at love, they say.
In your arms, Friday was my day.
Now you’re gone. Well, I should have known.
I am Wednesday’s child, born to be alone.

Now you’re gone. Well, I should have known.
I am Wednesday’s child, born to be alone.

Wednesday’s child, born to be alone.

Monro, who did vocals for several Barry themes – “From Russia With Love” and “Born Free” among them – does a decent job with the tune, which makes it a fine selection for a Wednesday:

One Chart Dig: February 26, 1975

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

It’s been a busy week around here already: There was an event at church that took a good chunk of Monday, and yesterday, I took my mom to an eye appointment and out on some errands. And nobody really wants to go outside much at all these days, as the Polar Vortex spins out of control and pushes the temperature and the wind chill lower and lower. (The temperature as I write is -7 with a wind chill of -23.)

So I’m tending today to things that should have been done two days ago. But I did take a look back this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from February 26, 1975, thirty-nine years ago today. The top slots were filled, as can be expected, with familiar records from familiar names; Average White Band, Eagles, Grand Funk, Doobie Brothers, Olivia Newton-John and so on.

But there were several unfamiliar titles as I made my way down the chart, and many of them could have reasonably been highlighted here. I kept going, though, all the way to the bottom of the chart, to No. 110 in the Bubbling Under section. And there I found “Swing Your Daddy” by Jim Gilstrap.

Gilstrap, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, is an R&B singer from Texas who did some backing vocals along the way for Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones. “Swing Your Daddy” is kind of odd, with a churchy organ intro and a faux-Fifties background chorus behind Gilstrap’s smooth vocal. Ah, well, it was 1975, and we listened to some odd things. The record went to No. 55, the best performance of three records that Gilstrap got into the Hot 100 (all in 1975), and it went to No. 10 on the R&B chart.

As it happens, I had a track by Gilstrap on my mp3 shelves without even knowing it: I learned from Gilstrap’s entry at Wikipedia that he provided the vocals for “I’ve Got You Where I Want You,” about thirty seconds of which was used in the soundtrack to the 1975 spy flick Three Days Of The Condor. I remember seeing the film in Alexandria, a small town about seventy miles northwest of St. Cloud, and I’ve had the soundtrack for a while, but Gilstrap’s track – offered in full in the soundtrack recording – was unfamiliar to me this morning. It’s nothing deep, but I like it.