I Heard It Somewhere

Tuesday used to be a day devoted to cover versions here at EITW, a notion that I think will return, starting with this post. It’s a recobbling of a post from 2008 – augmented now with more information – that I shared this week at Consortium Of Seven, where I blog weekly.

The image of a young folks’ hangout, a place of Cokes and laughter and a jukebox, is a central icon of American mythology, a scene generally based in the 1950s. One thinks of Arnold’s in the faux Fifties of television’s Happy Days or of the less bubbly but more realistic teen hangout – if it had a name, I don’t recall it – in John Farris’ disturbing 1959 novel, Harrison High. (Never heard of it? It seems to be forgotten these days. It’s worth a look.)

The only place I ever spent a great deal of time where there was a jukebox was Atwood Center at St. Cloud State. One of the main rooms in the snack bar area downstairs had one of the machines against the wall, and that happened to be the room in which we gathered, those twenty or so of us who made up The Table, to spend those portions of the day not devoted to the classroom. The jukebox wasn’t in constant play, but often enough, someone would wander over and drop in a quarter or two.

Accordingly, there are some songs and voices that are tied to Atwood Center and its jukebox, sounds I either heard for the first time there or else heard so frequently there that they became meshed with my memories of the place. Every once in a while, the radio, the computer or the iPod offers a song whose first notes whirl me nearly fifty years back and a couple miles southeast of here, and in my mind, I’m once more in a place of coffee cups and notebooks, the occasional romance, and plenty of laughter for jests both silly and ribald.

What records put me there?

Shawn Phillips’ “We” – discussed here more than once – is one of them, a record on which the Texas singer lets loose his amazing falsetto; I fed the jukebox frequently for that one, and I recall one of my tablemates shaking her head in admiration and murmuring, “He just soars, doesn’t he?” I also spent a few quarters to hear Bob Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello,” the flipside to his single, “Tangled Up In Blue.”

Another B side that got a fair amount of play in Atwood was the live performance of “I Saw Her Standing There” by John Lennon and Elton John, the flipside to Elton’s hit single, “Philadelphia Freedom.” There was Barry Manilow’s “Mandy,” a weeper that eased my way through the first major break-up of my life. We all rolled our eyes at the silliness of Reunion’s novelty, “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me),” with its rapid-fire selected history of rock & roll: “B. B. Bumble and the Stingers, Mott the Hoople, Ray Charles Singers . . .” But we kept playing it.

And as I finished my college days in 1977, it was occasionally to the accompaniment of “Smoke From A Distant Fire,” the single hit from the Sanford/Townsend Band.

Then there was Phoebe Snow. Her 1975 hit “Poetry Man” was a favorite down in the snack bar (and not only with those of us at The Table; that was a record that was frequently in play from other folks’ quarters, too). Her voice propelled “Gone At Last,” a Paul Simon record on which she shared billing later in 1975.

And I swear I heard Snow’s brilliant 1976 version of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” come from the jukebox. Now, according to everything I can find on the ’Net or in my library, I am in error, as the track was never released on a 45: The website 45cat shows no U.S. release of the track as a single, and the site discogs shows a single release of the track only in Greece.

So, my memory of hearing it on the jukebox must be wrong, but I know I heard it somewhere long before I had the LP It Looks Like Snow, where it nestles as an album track. Maybe I heard it on the college radio station back in those days. I don’t know.

Snow is ten years gone now, having died in April 2011 following a cerebral hemorrhage in early 2010. And every time her version of “Don’t Let Me Down” pops up on my computer or my iPod, I wonder for an instant. Then I just listen to Snow’s brilliant cover of the John Lennon-penned tune, and I know that all that matters is that I heard it long ago and can hear it again these days.

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