‘Down The Road . . .’

Fifty years ago, I was spending my evenings washing floors at St. Cloud State with Janitor Mike and spending my day-time hours no doubt wasting time in the basement rec room, sitting on the green couch and listening to my limited collection of LPs.

It was probably about this time of August that the college hosted an overnight orientation for incoming freshman students, which is when I met Dave the Poet, Wyoming Rick and the other folks who would make up a lot of my social life during that first year at St. Cloud State. But they were in town for one night and then went back to their hometowns and would not be back until nearly two-thirds of September had passed.

And Rick from across the street was – I think – toiling at a summertime job somewhere, and when that ended, he’d head to his junior year at St. Cloud Cathedral, the Catholic high school downtown.

So, pretty much alone, I listened to my LPs – only a few of which were very current – and wondered what albums (beyond the Beatles LPs I would need to backfill my complete collection) I should have in my sights. I could have used the help of the progressive rock folks at KSHE-FM in St. Louis. Here are the top fifteen albums listed in the station’s mid-August 1971 survey:

Every Picture Tells A Story by Rod Stewart
Tapestry by Carole King
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
Four Way Street by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Poems, Prayers & Promises by John Denver
Fifth by Lee Michaels
The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East
Stephen Stills II
Mudslide Slim & The Blue Horizon by James Taylor
L.A. Woman by the Doors
Electric Hot Tuna
Who’s Next
High Time by the MC5
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by the Moody Blues

I’ve corrected a couple of titles – on the Allman Brothers Band and James Taylor albums – and I have no idea what album Electric Hot Tuna is. The listings at discogs show First Pull Up, Then Pull Down as the group’s 1971 album, released in June 1971. I’m guessing it’s that album mistitled.

The major question I have there is the presence of the John Denver album on the list. Progressive? Poems was Denver’s fourth album and contained his first hit, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and I guess his version of folky country (or countryish folk, depending on your vantage point) night have seemed different enough to be progressive. To be honest, at the time this survey came out, one of the albums getting regular play in the rec room was Denver’s third album, Whose Garden Was This, which my sister had brought home some months earlier, and I liked it a lot.

It’s kind of hard to look back and recall how Denver was received and perceived in 1971 without letting a lot of the later stuff – his saccharine singles, his goofy persona, and “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” – get in the way. In 1971, at least in St. Louis (and likely elsewhere), Denver was seen as a serious musician poised at that intersection of rock, pop, folk and country that always grabs my attention. I should listen to Poems, Prayers & Promises again with that in mind.

So how many of those albums ever came home with me? Twelve or thirteen of them. (There is some confusion about, again, the Hot Tuna album. About twenty-five years ago, just after I quit working for the newspaper in Eden Prairie, a friend from there offered me a crate of her college records; then, about ten years later, she called me and told me one of her children wanted them, if I would part with them, which of course I did. I also deleted the titles from my database (something I no longer do when I let an LP go).

I think the Hot Tuna album was one of those I got from Linda and later returned.

Otherwise, the only two albums on that list that I never brought home are those by Lee Michaels and the MC5. But none of those fifteen was in the cardboard box in the rec room as I sat there during August 1971. Aqualung would show up in November that year, as would my sister’s copy of Tapestry, and Sticky Fingers would arrive not quite a year later. The rest would take longer.

My favorites among those fifteen are – predictably – the albums by Carole King, the Rolling Stones, Stephen Stills, and the Moody Blues.

And that’s helpful because it provides a way to say farewell to Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones drummer who died at the age of 80 yesterday in London. Many times through the years, as Sticky Fingers played, I’d stop whatever I was doing and listen to the album’s closer “Moonlight Mile” and nod as Watts’ drumming brought the song to its climax. Listening to it again is as good a way as any for a fan to say goodbye.

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One Response to “‘Down The Road . . .’”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    From the discogs listings, it would appear that Electric Hot Tuna was an early title for the album. One of the ‘First Pull Up, Then Pull Down’ listings shows “LP, Advance album, W/Lbl” and the photo does show handwritten white labels, with a typewritten letter from RCA to music directors, taped to the front of a blank white sleeve, dated May 19, 1971:

    Dear Music Director,

    Enclosed you will find an advance pressing of “Electric Hot Tuna”. We feel it’s an excellent second Tuna and hope that you and your friends get into it.

    The letter is signed by Tom Cossie, RCA’s National Album Promotion Director. Wow, there’s a name I haven’t heard in almost fifty years.

    No doubt KSHE-FM received this same advance pressing, hence its title on that survey. Interestingly, the stock copies of the LP with the ‘First Pull Up…” title on the cover, didn’t show any title at all on the record label. Just “Hot Tuna”.

    I bought John Denver’s PP&P LP, simply because I really liked “Take Me Home”, which I’d already bought on 45. There wasn’t any un-hip image attached to him at the time, not that that ever entered into my record-buying decisions. If I had to choose, I’d give the nod to Kendrew Lascelles’ original version of “The Box”.

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