Saturday Singles Nos. 215 & 216

I was doing a favor for the Texas Gal yesterday and came across two riddles. The favor had to do with the top 100 pop songs of 1979 – not my favorite year, but interesting – and I was looking at the Billboard list.

There, at No. 79, was Al Stewart’s “Time Passages.” The first riddle is: How the hell did I overlook that record last winter when I was putting together the Ultimate Jukebox? Not only did I overlook “Time Passages,” but there wasn’t one Al Stewart tune among the 228 I did include. That’s a big miss, given how much I’ve enjoyed Stewart’s work over the years.

The second riddle is how Billboard came to list “Time Passages” in its 1979 listing. I recall the album being a 1978 release, and I was pretty sure the title track was released as a single about the same time. So I checked the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, and, yep, “Time Passages” hit the Top 40 in the third week of October 1978, stayed in the Top Forty for thirteen weeks (which would have kept it there three weeks into January 1979), and peaked at No. 7, staying there for two weeks in late December 1978.

I’ve been looking at the Billboard year-end charts offered at Longbored Surfer, and what I can’t figure out is how “Time Passages” hit the Top 40 and peaked in 1978 but was listed as one of the top 100 songs in 1979. (For what it’s worth, Cashbox has “Time Passages” in its 1978 annual list, ranked at No. 89.) I’m sure there’s a reason, but it eludes me this morning. So we’ll let that one be.

Returning to the question of how I failed to include any of Stewart’s music on my long list of records, all I can say is I don’t know. I knew there would be omissions, and a few things have tugged at my sleeve in the past couple of months. But not including any Stewart at all is a big whiff. And as I think about it, there probably should have been two records by Stewart among those 228. (Don’t, however, consider this post as an addendum to the UJ. Rather, this is the first in what may become an occasional series of, oh, let’s call it “Jukebox Regrets.”)

One of those two Stewart tracks would have been, certainly, “Time Passages.” It’s got a beautiful melody, some of the great saxophone work of the last thirty-five years (by Phil Kenzie), wonderful production by Alan Parsons, and one of Stewart’s most evocative lyrics in a career full of such lyrics. For me, it doesn’t get any more stunning than the ending to the song’s second verse:

Time passages
There’s something back here that you left behind
Oh time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight

Having settled on “Time Passages,” we can consider which other Stewart track might have deserved inclusion. The obvious one, of course, is “Year of the Cat,” Stewart’s 1977 hit from the album released the previous year, which went to No. 8. But I’m a little tired of that one these days, so let’s look elsewhere.

The only Al Stewart track I recall posting here – there may have been others, maybe in a Baker’s Dozen, but there’s no easy way to tell – was “Roads to Moscow,” his long piece about a Russian soldier in World War II from his 1974 album, Past, Present And Future. That’s a worthy piece, but I wouldn’t have included it because of its length: It runs 7:59, and I’d set the limit for the UJ at 7:30. The same rule disqualifies the same album’s brilliant closer “Nostadamus,” which runs nearly ten minutes.

So we look on. As it happens, I don’t have all of Stewart’s work, though I have a great deal of it. I don’t even have all four of his hits in digital form. “Midnight Rocks,” a single that don’t recall all that clearly – it went to No. 24 in the autumn of 1980 – is missing from the files, although I have the vinyl of 24 Carrots, the album from which it was pulled. (I have, obviously, “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages.” And I also have “Song on the Radio” from the Time Passages album, which went to No. 29 in early 1979.) And as I wade this morning through the more than 120 Stewart tracks I do have in digital form, my mind keeps returning to the track that I might have heard more often than any other Stewart track save “Time Passages” and “Year of the Cat.”

These days, it pops up in the middle of the CD of Year of the Cat, but to me, it will always be the opener to Side Two, a tune titled “Flying Sorcery.” I’m not sure why it captivates me, but it does:

With your photographs of Kitty Hawk
And the bi-planes on your wall
You were always Amy Johnson
From the time that you were small.
No schoolroom kept you grounded
While your thoughts could get away
You were taking off in Tiger Moths,
Your wings against the brush-strokes of day.
Are you there?
On the tarmac with the winter in your hair,
By the empty hangar doors you stop and stare,
Leave the oil-drums behind you, they won’t care
Oh, are you there?

You wrapped me up in a leather coat
And you took me for a ride
We were drifting with the tail-wind
When the runway came in sight
The clouds came up to gather us
And the cock-pit turned to white
When I looked the sky was empty
I suppose you never saw the landing-lights
Are you there?
In your jacket with the grease-stain and tear
Caught up in the slipstream of the dare,
The compass roads will guide you anywhere,
Oh, are you there?

The sun comes up on Icarus as the night-birds sail away
And lights the maps and diagrams
That Leonardo makes
You can see Faith, Hope and Charity
As they bank above the fields
You can join the flying circus
You can touch the morning air against your wheels
Are you there?
Do you have a thought for me that you can share?
I never thought you’d take me unawares,
Just call me if you need repairs-
Oh, are you there?

And that’s good enough for me to share it today, and I may as well toss in a video of “Time Passages” and make the two songs today’s Saturday Singles:


One Response to “Saturday Singles Nos. 215 & 216”

  1. If I recall from listening to Casey Kasem’s year-end countdowns back in the day, I believe the “year” ended by November.

    So, a lot of songs that peaked in the last month or two actually ended up on the countdown for the following year. That might explain “Time Passages” peaking in ’78, but appearing on the Top 100 of ’79.

    (either way, it’s a lovely song)

  2. Yah Shure says:

    Wow, I hadn’t heard “Flying Sorcery” in years, and it immediately took me back to working in the promotions cage at Heilicher Brothers in 1976. Great call.

    ”Nostradamus” could have been in your Ultimate Jukebox if you’d gone with the 45. At 3:19, it would have easily fit within your guidelines.

    I’m looking forward to ‘Jukebox Regrets’ I, II, III… Could be a series for songs you were sorry you’d punched up on the Wurlitzer, too.

    I’d go with Joel Whitburn’s ‘Pop Annual’ rankings over the Billboard list. In the 1991 edition, Joel ranks “Time Passages” as the number 56 song for the year 1978.

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