Posts Tagged ‘Boz Scaggs’

‘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 Singing 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).

One Survey Dig & A Note

Friday, May 19th, 2017

I’m guessing that as my senior year of high school wound down in the spring of 1971, I wasn’t listening much to KDWB out of the Twin Cities. Here’s the top fifteen from station’s “6+30” survey during this week in May 1971:

“Sweet & Innocent” by Donny Osmond
“Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones
“Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” by Lobo
“It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr
“Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It)” by Daddy Dewdrop
“Love Her Madly” by the Doors
“Put Your Hand In The Hand” by Ocean
“Want Ads” by the Honey Cone
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
“Power To The People” by John Lennon
“Me And My Arrow” by Nilsson
“Never Can Say Goodbye” by the Jackson 5
“If” by Bread
“Rainy Days & Mondays” by the Carpenters
“Be Nice To Me” by Runt-Todd Rundgren

Why am I thinking that KDWB wasn’t a major part of my listening habits? For a couple of reasons. First, much of my listening was late evening (from 9 p.m. to whenever I fell asleep, probably about 10:30), and that came from either WJON down the street or WLS in Chicago. I think KDWB had been relegated to daytime listening at home – and there wasn’t much of that during the school year – and to whatever time I spent driving, and that wasn’t a lot, as I didn’t yet have my own car.

And then, there are two records in that top fifteen that I don’t recall hearing as much would have been likely had I been listening to the Big 63. Even though it was a national hit (No. 7 in the Billboard Hot 100), I don’t recall hearing the Donny Osmond single a lot. Maybe I just tuned it out. And then there’s the Runt-Todd Rundgren record, “Be Nice To Me.” Having listened to it at YouTube this morning, I can only say that it’s not at all familiar (and that’s possible, as it went only to No. 71 in the Hot 100 and I’ve never dug deeply into Rundgren’s catalog.)

And there’s one more bit of evidence that KDWB wasn’t getting much airplay around our stretch of Kilian Boulevard: Sitting at No. 21 in the “6+30” from forty-six years ago this week is Boz Scaggs’ “We Were Always Sweethearts,” which seems to have peaked at KDWB at No. 17.

The record’s popularity on KDWB was an anomaly, as the record, which was Scaggs’ first to hit the Billboard chart, peaked at No. 61 in the Hot 100. I don’t remember hearing it back then. If I had, I would think I would have remembered it when I got around to hearing it on the Moments album in later years.

It doesn’t matter, really. But “We Were Always Sweethearts” is still a good record, and it’s a good way to close this little bit of survey digging.

A note . . .
I’d planned for some time for this week to have been the week when I resumed a regular schedule here. That plan went away Tuesday when Mom went to the hospital with what turned out to be a couple of small strokes. Things seemed pretty dark Wednesday, but by Thursday morning, she was sitting in a chair, eating on her own, telling my sister and me things we had to remember to take care of, and singing along to a playlist of Lutheran hymns I pulled up from YouTube on my phone.

As I write, the plan is for her to return this afternoon to her place at Prairie Ridge. (That’s the memory care facility attached to Ridgeview Place; she’s been in memory care for about a month.) We’ll have some hospice protocols in place for her; more strokes are likely, and she doesn’t want to go back to the hospital and undergo the ensuing tests. She’s ninety-five and she’s tired, but she was entirely present yesterday as she and my sister and I talked about her care with some staff members from the St. Cloud Hospital.

And strokes or not, tired or not, she made it very clear to us that she intends to keep her appointment to have her hair done today.

Saturday Single No. 532

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

I’m going to make this quick this morning, as I’m headed out in a few moments to the health station our clinic operates at a nearby supermarket. I’ve decided that the sinus infection that’s been hanging on for a week requires professional intervention.

So I’m going to let the iTunes player here in the EITW studios do the work for me. I’ll let it roll on random for six tracks and then take whatever the seventh track is for our Saturday Single. Here we go for the first six:

“One Of These Nights” by the Eagles (1975)
“Levon” by Elton John (1971)
“Walking On A Wire” by Lowen & Navarro (1990)
“Raining On Sunday” by Keith Urban (2002)
“Working At The Car Wash Blues” by Jim Croce (1973)
“Golden Years” by David Bowie (1976)
“Jessie’s Girl” by the Chipmunks (1982)

And finally, we land on some sweet Boz Scaggs: “We’re All Alone” is the closing track to Silk Degrees, one of my essential albums since not long after it was released in 1976. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Be well, all.


Saturday Single No. 528

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

Among the trees we have gracing our acre-plus of yard are three Norway pines, perhaps my favorites with their graceful conical shapes and their clusters of long needles. One of the three is not far from the house and has been the starting point over the years for the seating for our summer picnics. All three are tall and, if you’ll excuse the personification, noble.

But I’m a little worried. All three of them have been shedding branches – some quite large – this winter. The yard is strewn with maybe thirty of them, ranging from a foot to perhaps four feet long. And that seems odd. We’ve had some high winds so far this winter, but nothing more fierce than we’ve had in winters past. (In fact, this has been a fairly mild winter: not that much snow and only one stretch of sub-zero temperatures although there is some chatter about a major storm heading our way at the end of next week.)

So I don’t know why the Norway pines are shedding so many branches this winter when they’ve not done so in winters past. I’m uncertain if the falling branches are harbingers of something wrong with the three Norway pines or if they’re just coincidence. I’d like to think it’s the latter.

The branches also bother me because they’re unsightly. As the snow cover has melted and the temperatures have risen in the past week or so, the Texas Gal and I have talked about getting outside and picking up the branches. I think we’ll be doing that today or tomorrow afternoon, as the temperature is supposed to get into the mid-50s.

That won’t tell us why the Norways are shedding branches, but at least it will make the yard a little more tidy.

And here’s an appropriate tune, a cover of a song originally done by The Band in 1969. Here’s “Whispering Pines” as performed by Boz Scaggs and Lucinda Williams. It’s from Scaggs’ 2015 album A Fool To Care, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Long Form No. 4

Friday, June 12th, 2015

As I’ve noted many times in this space, one of the major influences on my listening life was the tape player in the lounge at the Pro Pace youth hostel in Fredericia, Denmark, during my junior year of college.

I moved to the hostel in late January 1974, after spending about four-and-half-months living with a Danish couple about my folks’ age on the other end of the city of 32,000. There were about fifty college kids still living at the hostel by the time I moved to Pro Pace. (The hostel’s name meant “For Peace” in Latin, and it was pulled from the motto of the city of Fredericia, Armatus Pro Pace, which means “Armed For Peace. It’s a long story.) And with that many kids crowded into sixteen small rooms, it’s no wonder that the lounge became the center of activity.

And, as I’ve also said before, it was in that lounge that I first heard Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and first knowingly heard the Allman Brothers Band and the first Duane Allman anthology, with its riches of Southern music as recorded by both the Allmans and by the artists on whose work Duane Allman played during his short life. The tapes we played were dubbed from vinyl, so we didn’t have the jacket notes. That meant that every once in a while, as something came from the speakers that caught my ear, I’d ask the fellow who brought the tape to Fredericia (or one of his pals) who was performing a particular piece of music.

I don’t know if I ever specifically asked anyone about Boz Scaggs’ take on “Loan Me A Dime,” one of the pieces included on the Duane Allman anthology, but nearly every time the tape rolled past John Hammond’s take on Willie Dixon’s “Shake For Me,” I’d be deeply interested in the song that followed. I’d listen closely as “Loan Me A Dime” moved with its descending bass pattern – a pattern that’s always grabbed me – through its slow section in 6/8 time, into its moderate jam in 4/4 and then its maelstrom of a closing jam in 2/2, with the piano runs whirling in between the fiery guitar runs and above the punching horns.

Winter in Denmark wasn’t cold – temperatures stayed above freezing most of the time – but it was dark: It was almost always cloudy from November into February, and the sun rose late and set early, even in late January. Add to that gloomy prospect the utter failure of a romantic pairing and add as well many hours spent in the lounge reading, studying, writing letters or simply being, and the words and music of “Loan Me A Dime” insinuated themselves deep into me:

I know she’s a good girl, but at that time, I just didn’t understand.
I know she’s a good girl, but at that time, I just could not understand.
Somebody better loan me that dime, to ease my worried mind.

Now I cry, just cry, just like a baby all night long
You know I cry, just cry, just like a baby all night long.
Somebody better loan me that dime. I need my baby, I need my baby here at home.

The Danish nights got shorter, and the days got brighter through February. I spent March and most of April riding the trains of Western Europe, and all the things I saw, added to time and to distance from the lost young lady, helped my heart begin to heal by the time I came home in May.

Once home, I reacquainted myself with the life I’d left behind almost nine months earlier, from my friends and family to the forty or so rock/pop/R&B LPs in a crate in the basement on Kilian Boulevard. I also began slowly – the pace dictated both by a lack of cash and by other things requiring my attention during that late spring and summer – adding to my collection the music I’d learned to love while I was away. My first addition was the Allmans’ Brothers and Sisters, in the first few days I was home. My second, in early September – I said it was a slow process – was the first Duane Allman anthology, with “Loan Me A Dime” as its centerpiece.

I’d probably been told in Denmark that the singer was Boz Scaggs, but I don’t know if I’d recalled that. I knew that the guitar work came from Allman, of course. But as I took in the thirteen minutes of “Loan Me A Dime” in our rec room for the first time, I no doubt looked at the jacket notes and learned the names of drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist David Hood, pianist Barry Beckett, guitarist Johnny Johnson and horn players Joe Arnold, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller and James Mitchell. I learned as well that the track came from Scaggs’ self-titled debut album from 1969.

More than forty years later, there are still a few tracks that in my memory belong more to the lounge in Fredericia than anywhere else: Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” is one of them. Most of the music I first heard there, however, has traveled with me well and now belongs to me everywhere. It’s no longer limited to that distant and long-ago and cherished room.

“Loan Me A Dime” has traveled with me the best of all of them, perhaps. In the mid-1990s, I taught the song to Jake’s band during one of our weekly jams, and for the next few years, for twenty minutes a week, I got to be Barry Beckett (and for a couple of those years, in one of those marvelous and unlikely gifts that life can bring us, the fellow who brought the Allman anthology to Denmark would stand next to my keyboard and be Duane Allman).

And all of that is why Boz Scaggs’ “Loan Me A Dime” is Long Form No. 4.

Chart Digging: April 8, 1978

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Something last week – a conversation with the Texas Gal or maybe something I saw on television or read in Time magazine – reminded me of the Steven Spielberg film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. So on one of my trips to the library, I found the DVD and spent a couple hours the other evening reacquainting myself with the film.

I thought the story held up for the most part – I could have done with fewer scenes of  Richard Dreyfuss’ Roy Neary attempting sculpture – and the special effects still worked, even after thirty-four years of increasing proficiency in visual effects. It was apparent that the movie was made before the existence of MTV, as the pace of the editing seemed a bit slow at points: I noticed several times that static shots were held when the arc of the story seemed to demand – by today’s story-telling tendencies, anyway – quicker cuts and movement.

Still, the movie worked. And I still think that the shot of the aliens’ mother ship rising over Devils Tower is one of the great visuals in film history.

Beyond that, watching Close Encounters reminded me of the times in 1978, during my first months in Monticello, when I would head off to the Twin Cities suburbs on a Saturday morning and spent the day taking in two, sometimes three movies. I’d see one or two films in the late morning and afternoon, meet a friend for dinner and then see another movie before heading forty miles up Interstate 94 to home.

I remember vividly a few of the films I saw on those days: Saturday Night Fever, The Turning Point (which seems to be forgotten these days), Looking for Mr. Goodbar and, of course, Close Encounters. I remember being spooked and thrilled by Spielberg’s film, and I recall thinking about the scene in which Neary is stopped in his vehicle at a dark intersection. He waves absently at the vehicle behind him to pull around and misses entirely the fact that the vehicle’s lights rise in the air behind him.

A little spooked, as I said, I was keeping a close eye on the lights of the vehicles in my rear view mirror as I drove home to Monticello.

So what was I hearing on the radio as I drove home? Well, at least one of those movie days in the Twin Cities took place in early April, and here’s what was in the Billboard Top Ten as of April 8, 1978, thirty-three years ago today:

“Night Fever” by the Bee Gees
“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees
“Lay Down Sally” by Eric Clapton
“Can’t Smile Without You” by Barry Manilow
“If I Can’t Have You” by Yvonne Elliman
“Emotion” by Samantha Sang
“Dust in the Wind” by Kansas
“(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” by Andy Gibb
“Thunder Island” by Jay Ferguson
“Jack and Jill” by Raydio

It was, as many weeks in late 1977 and early 1978 were, a good week for the brothers Gibb. Along with the two tunes at the top by the older brothers and the one track from younger brother Andy, the Bee Gees had written the Elliman single and the Samantha Sang single (which was produced by Barry Gibb). Overall, I’m not crazy these days about any of the tunes in that Top Ten, although I liked the top two well enough at the time (before they were played to death).

So what else do we find on the chart that week? Let’s jump close to the bottom for our first stop and then backtrack:

A couple of years ago, I got an email from my Wisconsin pal jb, proprietor of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. He wondered if I had a copy of “Mama Let Him Play” by a Canadian group called Doucette. I checked the files, and found nothing there. Intrigued – and not about to let on that I’d not heard of Doucette until that moment – I cast my virtual nets out into the Web, and found the album, also titled Mama Let Him Play. I shipped the mp3 of the title track eastward, noting that I was not sure if the album track was the same as the single edit. (It wasn’t, based on the video I above.) [Note on May 3, 2014: The video originally posted was the album track; the single was not actually not a single edit but an entirely different recording, according to reader Yah Shure. See his comment below. The video posted as of May 2014 is, I believe, the mono promo single.] I probably should have mentioned my ignorance, but then, not a lot of people knew about “Mama Let Him Play” when it was out. A pretty good record, it peaked at No. 72; thirty-three years ago today, it was at No. 88 and in the first week in the Hot 100.

At No. 31, there’s the only Top 40 hit for a two singers who were also well-regarded studio musicians. One can find the names of Lenny LeBlanc and Pete Carr in the credits of many a record made during the 1970s in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In the spring of 1978, their single “Falling” – from their album Midnight Light – was coming down the chart after peaking at No. 13. Two other tracks from the same album, “Something About You” and the title track, also made the Hot 100, peaking at Nos. 48 and 91, respectively. (Both LeBlanc and Carr have solo albums in their discographies: I don’t think I know any of LeBlanc’s solo work, but he had two singles in the Hot 100 in 1977 and 1978. Carr released two albums in the mid-1970s, and his 1976 release, Not A Word On It, is particularly worth finding.)

The disco trio of Brooklyn Dreams had four singles in the Billboard Hot 100 from 1977 through 1983, but not one of them got any higher in the chart than No. 57. “Music, Harmony and Rhythm” was that best-performing single, and it was sitting at No. 61 thirty-three years ago this week. (You really need to look at this video if for no other reason than to see some great Seventies hair.) The single isn’t a bad piece of work – I do like the introduction – but it seems to have gotten lost among the multitude of similar disco tunes on all the turntables. The trio did get some notice during 1979 when they were credited as being featured on Donna Summer’s “Heaven Knows.”

The band Angel, says All-Music Guide, “epitomized the type of commercial rockers who were hated by rock journalists but adored by their fans.” The quintet from Washington, D.C., had its greatest success in the spring of 1978 when a cover of the Rascals’ “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” went to No. 44. In the chart of April 8, 1978, the record was at No. 77 and climbing. It’s not a bad single although I’m sure I would have ignored it had I heard it in 1978.

I’ve mentioned before my affection for Boz Scaggs’ Down Two Then Left, the relatively unsuccessful 1977 follow-up to his 1976 masterpiece Silk Degrees. Despite my admiration for the album, only two singles from the album made the Billboard Hot 100, and neither of them made it into the Top 40: “Hard Times” went to No. 58 in late 1977, and “Hollywood” went to No. 49 in the spring of 1978. Thirty-three years ago, “Hollywood” was at No. 100 and was heading off the chart, having tumbled thirty-three spots from the previous week.

Brooklyn again: Brass Construction, a nine-man disco/funk group from the New York borough, was in a downward slide on the pop chart. The group had hit the Top 20 in early 1976 with “Movin’,” which went to No. 14. Later in the year, “Ha Cha Cha (Funktion)” entered the Hot 100 but stalled at No. 51. And in the Billboard chart we’re examining today, “L-O-V-E-U” was bubbling under at No. 105, having peaked a week earlier at No. 104. It’s a good tune, but like the Brooklyn Dreams track mentioned above, not all that different from a lot of stuff that was out there at the time. The group did much better on the R&B chart, placing seven records in the Top 40. Of those, “Movin’” went to No. 1 for one week, “Ha Cha Cha (Funktion)” went to No. 8, and “L-O-V-E-U” peaked at No. 18.

Saturday Single No. 212

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Things come in threes, according to the old bit of folk wisdom.

And as I write, I’m tempted to head to Wikipedia or somewhere to explore the origins of the idea that things come in threes. Without checking anywhere else, a couple things come to mind. The first is the presence in Christianity of the Trinity, which made “3” a powerful integer. The second thought is the old “Never light three cigarettes on one match,” which I have heard comes from the tales of World War I trench warfare: The flare of the match as the first American soldier lighted his cigarette would draw the attention of a German rifleman; as the second doughboy lighted his own cigarette, the German would take aim, and if a third soldier used the same match, the German would have time to fire at his flickering target.

True? I dunno. But if things come in threes, something in our house is about to fail.

No, we’re not in crisis mode. We’re not even uncomfortable. But yesterday morning, the fluorescent light fixture in the kitchen went on strike. Thinking it might be the bulbs – though the two in there were relatively new – I went to the local hardware store and bought two new ones. No joy. The fixture itself is out of whack.

Looking at the fixture, I would guess that it’s original to the house, meaning sometime in the late 1940s or so. It possibly could be of early 1960s origin, but still, that’s nearly fifty years. So our landlord, a pleasant fellow named Doug, wasn’t too surprised when I told him of the problem yesterday. He said he’d come by this afternoon to install a new fixture.

But I had to call him again this morning and tell him about the water heater. About noon yesterday, I noticed as I was doing dishes that the water wasn’t as hot as usual. I shrugged and didn’t worry about it. And then while I was doing laundry, I saw a small puddle of water near the base of the water heater. Not good, I thought, and I checked on it several times during the afternoon, and the puddle diminished through the day. Then last evening, as I went to shower, there was no hot water.

We went downstairs. The puddle had grown slightly. We read all the instructions on the front of the heater, decided that we’d be better off leaving things alone that we know nothing about. There was no indication of a gas smell, and the heater does not have a pilot light, so we retreated, concerned but not desperately worried. This morning, I told Doug about the water heater, and he said that he’ll figure it out when he gets here this afternoon.

Neither problem seems to be a crisis. In the kitchen, there is ample light from a fixture over the sink and one above the kitchen table. If we need to go without hot water for another two days, well, we can. I’ve lived up to two months without a water heater. That was in 1977, when I was living in a lake cabin; for shaving, baths and so on, we heated water on the stove, and we got by. We can do the same here.

But I’m kind of waiting for that third thing to happen and wondering as I wait what it’s going to be. And since there’s nothing I can do about it, all I can do is take as advice the title of Boz Scaggs’ tune, “Let It Happen” from 1974’s Slow Dancer. The lyrics are romantic, which is fine, but it’s the matter-of-fact attitude of the title that makes the tune this week’s Saturday Single:

On The Streets Where I’ve Lived

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

I was playing around with a new version of one of my favorite toys the other day – Google Earth – and found something new to tinker with. How long this particular feature had been available, I don’t know, but I was looking at the overhead view of our house just to see the date of the latest imagery – when we first moved here, the imagery was old enough that it showed a driveway that no longer exists – and I saw graphics that showed little representations of cameras.

I clicked on one, and then clicked on the resulting popup, and I was looking at a view of our home as seen from Lincoln Avenue. I panned south and around, and there was the closed American Legion, but there was no sign of the brand new residence for chronic alcoholics. Now panning west, I went to the other side of Lincoln, and there were the railroad tracks and the houses on the other side. Then, panning north and then east, the view came back across Lincoln and I found the apartment complex adjacent to our place, and then I was panning south and looking back up the driveway to the garage.

I clicked out of the picture and then chose another of the multitude of camera graphics that had sprouted on the streets alongside our home and checked out a few more views. Then I was off to travel the world. I checked out the nearby intersection of Kilian Boulevard and Eighth Street S.E. for the houses where Rick and Rob and I grew up. I went to Minneapolis and found the apartment I lived in for seven years on Pleasant Avenue. Further south in the city, I found the field called Bossen Park, and – across the street – I saw the short fence behind my apartment building on nearby Bossen Terrace, the fence on which the Texas Gal and I were perched when we shared a memorable moment during one of her first visits to the Twin Cities.

I entered “Fredericia, Denmark” in the address bar and looked at street views of that city. The youth hostel where I lived is gone, replaced by houses, and Google’s street-level photographers have not yet gotten to the short street where I lived with my Danish family. I clicked to Paris and looked at the front door of the hotel on the Île de la Cité where I stayed with five other students for a few raucous days, then flew back across the Atlantic and looked for the house that was home for two years in Minot, North Dakota; the street had not yet been photographed.

The main street of tiny Conway Springs, Kansas, has been, and I took a quick look at the house where I spent three months during the summer of 1990, and then – as I did in real life during that summer twenty years ago – I zipped from Conway Springs to Columbia, Missouri. The house I first settled in on Ripley Street – the one in which I was overexposed to pesticide, an event that echoes in my health to this day – looks battered and careworn, but at least it’s still there. The house I fled to after the overexposure – where I rented the main floor apartment from my employer, Stephens College – is gone, a parking lot in its place.

I looked at that parking lot on Willis Avenue for a while, recalling my months in that main floor apartment, which was a pleasant refuge after the health scare on Ripley Street. And I thought about all the streets of my life, some of which I have yet to check out.

And I thought I’d check out some musical streets while I was at it:

Here’s “Jump Street” by Boz Scaggs from his 1976 album Silk Degrees, which spent five weeks at No. 2 during September and October that year, blocked from the top spot in the chart by Frampton Comes Alive!

The Orlons, an R&B group from Philadelphia, had five Top 40 hits in 1962 and 1963. The most successful was the first, “The Wah-Watusi,” which spent two weeks at No. 2 in July 1962. But my favorite is “South Street,” which went to No. 3 in April of 1963.

From what I can figure out, folk singer Ralph McTell recorded at least three versions of his magnificent song “Streets of London.” The first was on his 1969 album Spiral Staircase; another, was released as a single in 1974, according to various sources, and went to No. 2 on the British charts. It showed up on the album titled Streets . . . in 1975. I think have no idea if the version used in the video below is that single version, though I’m not entirely certain. Nevertheless, it’s a gorgeous presentation of a great song.

Genya Ravan is a singer and producer whose story is amazing. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she was a vocalist for the jazz-rock band Ten Wheel Drive (before starting her own solo career, which continues to this day; check out her page at Facebook). “Fourteenth Street (I Can’t Get Together)” is from 1971’s Peculiar Friends, the last Ten Wheel Drive album that had Ravan as lead singer. It cooks.

Somewhere, I came across an abum called The Burning of Atlanta by a group called the Spirit of Atlanta. Well, not quite a group. AMG says: “While essentially a vanity project for composer/producer/arranger Thomas Stewart, backed here by a cadre of ‘Hot ’Lanta’ session players, The Burning of Atlanta is nevertheless an excellent funk LP that boasts the panoramic scope of a classic blaxploitation soundtrack. With the vocals embedded deep in the mix, the emphasis lies squarely on the record’s intensely hypnotic grooves.” So here’s “Hunter Street” from 1973.

And we’ll end this trip through the streets with Richie Havens’ interpretation of Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” from the 1997 album One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen.

All things going well, I’ll be back Thursday with the next installment of the Ultimate Jukebox.

Crossing Into Unknown Territory

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Okay, I’m a fifty-six-year-old white guy (soon to be fifty-seven). The territories of rap and hip-hop are alien lands for me. I don’t know where the line is between the two, and when I do tentatively cross the border into one or the other of those genres, I have no idea where the neighborhoods of the various subgenres lie.

It’s not that I disdain the two. I respect both rap and hip-hop as vital expressions of subcultures I can never, ever truly know. I am aware that hip-hop, especially, is now one of the world’s major and most vibrant musical genres. And the fact that I know so little about it and its cousin, rap, dismays me.

(As I write, I think about Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote some of the classic R&B songs of the 1950s [“Hound Dog,” “Kansas City,” “Youngblood,” “Searchin’,” “Yakety Yak,” “There Goes My Baby” and many, many more]. The two of them, I’ve read in numerous places, immersed themselves in southern California’s black culture of the time, which is why – as I’ve also read many times – they were able to tap into the streams of that culture for their songwriting and production. That was remarkable then, and I think it would be remarkable now. A current performer who comes to mind in that context is Eminem. I can’t make the judgment, not knowing enough about the man’s work, but from my distant view, he seems to have also bridged the gap between white and black cultures as a writer and performer. Those readers who know these genres better than I are invited to respond and tell me if I’m right or wrong about that.)

The barrier facing me is more than racial and cultural, of course. Those, in fact, might not be the greatest barriers between me and an understanding of rap and hip-hop. In understanding popular music of any genre, it seems to me that the larger barrier is always age. The musical styles and genres we hear during our formative years are the ones that stay most dear to us and most ingrained in us. Somewhere along the line – after high school, after college, after graduate school, after marriage – we join the adult world, and that world (unless we work in the music business or an area closely related to it, like radio) pulls us away from the culture of youth and the immersion into current music that is such a large part of that culture. As we age, we can learn about and listen to current and new genres and styles, of course, and many of us do, but I doubt that most of us can ever immerse ourselves into new music the way we did when we were younger and the tablet of our tastes and experiences was mostly blank.

So how, then, does Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” show up as one of the records in my Ultimate Jukebox? Because it’s an incredibly compelling piece of music, reflecting an experience I can never know. I first came across the record – as did many folks with my skin tones, I imagine – when it was used in the soundtrack to Dangerous Minds, a 1995 film that Wikipedia describes as “based on the autobiography My Posse Don’t Do Homework by former U.S. Marine LouAnne Johnson, who took up a teaching position at Carlmont High School in Belmont, California, where most of her students were African-American and Hispanic teenagers from East Palo Alto.”

When I saw the film – years after it came out, unfortunately – the soundtrack intrigued me as much as the story. After a few listens, some of it grabbed me and some didn’t, but “Gangsta’s Paradise” was one of the keepers, chilling, haunting and beautiful. All-Music Guide notes that after Coolio and rapper L.V. crafted the song, which sampled the chorus and music of the Stevie Wonder song “Pastime Paradise,” Coolio’s label, Tommy Boy, “discouraged him from putting it on an album” and placed it instead on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack. “Gangsta’s Paradise” was also released as a single and spent thirty-six weeks in the Top 40, including three weeks at No. 1. The record became the title track for Coolio’s next album, released toward the end of 1995; that album went to No. 9 on the pop chart and to No. 14 on the R&B chart.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 30
“Rainy Night in Georgia” by Brook Benton from Brook Benton Today [1970]
“I Saw Her Standing There” by Little Richard from The Rill Thing [1970]
“Let It Ride” by Bachman Turner Overdrive from Bachman-Turner Overdrive II [1974]
“Lowdown” by Boz Scaggs from Silk Degrees [1976]
“Dancing Queen” by ABBA, Atlantic 3372 [1977]
“Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio from the soundtrack to Desperate Minds [1995]

The quiet organ wash and guitar licks that open Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” are among the most powerful of the sounds that can pull me back to my room during the early months of 1970. I spent a fair amount of time there that winter, finding a refuge in the sounds that came from my old RCA radio, and “Rainy Night In Georgia” is one of my most-loved songs from that time. I heard it a lot, too, as it went to No. 4 and gave Benton his first Top 40 hit in almost six years, which is an eternity in pop music. And the record is kind of an anomaly: It’s closer to traditional pop than to anything else (though no one should try to deny the soulfulness of the vocal), and although traditional pop wasn’t entirely banished from the Top 40 at the time, it was getting more and more rare. (As is the case with a few of these tunes, the video I’ve linked to offers the longer album track instead of the single edit, which was labeled as shorter; as I do not have the 45, I can’t say how much shorter it actually is, given that running times on 45 labels are notoriously untrustworthy.)

When I make a CD of assorted music for friends, one of the things I like to do is include covers of Beatles records by the folks who inspired the Beatles to begin with. One of the least likely of those – and one that will not show up in this project, though maybe it should have – is Fats Domino’s 1969 cover of “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey.” There are a few other good coverbacks of Beatles records, as I call them, but my favorite is Little Richard’s cover of “I Saw Her Standing There.” It was released on The Rill Thing, one of four albums – one unreleased until it came to light a few years ago in a limited box set – that the flamboyant genius recorded for Reprise in the early 1970s. The three released albums didn’t do so well: According to AMG, two singles from The Rill Thing made it into the Billboard Hot 100: “Freedom Blues” went to No. 47 (No. 28 on the R&B chart) and “Greenwood, Mississippi” got to No. 85, although the album did not chart. The follow-up album, 1971’s King of Rock and Roll, got to No. 193 on the album chart but didn’t chart any singles, and the third of the released Reprise albums, 1972’s The Second Coming, made no dent on any chart at all that I can find. I sometimes wonder if those albums would have done better if Reprise had issued “I Saw Her Standing There” as the A-side of a single instead of as the B-side to “Greenwood, Mississippi.”

Little Richard – “I Saw Her Standing There” [1970]

With its irrepressible “Ride, ride, ride, let it ride!” hook and its churning instrumental backing, Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s first charting single pounded out of the radio in early 1974 on its way to No. 23. And for a few years, Randy Bachman (formerly of the Guess Who) and his brother Robbie joined up with C. Fred Turner and Blair Thornton to provide decent radio fare and a few pretty good albums. And I learned something new while glancing at the band’s entry in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: On BTO’s final charting single, 1976’s “Take It Like A Man (No. 33), backing vocals were provided by Little Richard. (The video I’ve linked to again provides the album track. The charting single was labeled with a shorter running time, though again I have no idea how much shorter it actually was.)

Boz Scaggs’ only Top Ten hit, “Lowdown,” seemed inescapable in the late summer and early autumn of 1976. Actually, for me, it was inescapable; I was living with three guys in a decrepit house on St. Cloud’s North Side, and one of the guys owned Silk Degrees, the album from which Scaggs’ single was pulled., So I heard the album at least three times a week for the four months that Kevin and I shared living quarters. Well, it could have been worse. Silk Degrees is a hell of an album, and “Lowdown”  is a great track. As well as being omnipresent on the North Side, it was all over the charts: It went to No. 3 on the pop chart, No. 5 on both the R&B chart and the disco singles chart, and to No. 4 – listed as “Lowdown/What Can I Say” – on the dance music/club play singles chart. (Once more, the video I’ve linked to offers the album track; similarly, the single was labeled as being shorter, though once more I have no idea how much shorter it was.)

I wrote once that the piano glissando that kicks off ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” is one of the greatest musical moments of the 1970s. Well, there were a lot of good moments in that decade, so that was likely overstatement. But there’s no doubt that it’s a great start to a great pop record. There is a temptation to call ABBA’s music – and I also like several of the group’s other singles, “Waterloo” and “SOS” to name two – a guilty pleasure. But that’s inaccurate, as I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about enjoying brilliantly produced pop music. And that includes “Dancing Queen,” which went to No. 1 and was the seventh of ABBA’s fourteen Top 40 hits.

Saturday Single No. 174

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

As I’ve watched the winter Olympic games over the past two weeks, a few events – those that involve sliding in one form or another down a sheet of ice or snow – have made me grateful that I’ve not yet slipped on our driveway and then taken the slide of two hundred feet or so to the street below.

The fellow who plows the driveway has done a good job both winters we’ve been here, but it’s a gravel drive, and it’s impossible to plow it without leaving a covering of snow. And as the Texas Gal and I come and go, that snow inevitably gets compressed to ice. That makes hauling things in and out of the cars a little precarious. We shuffle and wobble when we head to the backs of the autos to retrieve articles from the trunks.

We could, of course, place our cars in the garage. It’s a bit small, but the cars do both fit. The problem is that there’s not a lot of room left to maneuver once both cars are in the garage. That’s doubly true when there are things in the cars that need to come indoors. So it’s easier, though a trifle riskier because of the slick driveway, to leave the cars in front of the garage and risk the long slide.

Maybe I exaggerate. Perhaps if I lost my footing, I’d only fall, not slide. I don’t know. But if I did slide all the way to the street, I’m pretty sure my form would be lousy and the Russian judge would knock some points off my score.

As for music to go along with this, the first thing I thought of was the Moody Blues’ “Steppin’ In A Slide Zone,” but that wasn’t quite what I wanted. So I turned to Boz Scaggs, pulling a 1972 LP from the shelves. And here’s “Full-Lock Power Slide,” today’s Saturday Single.

“Full-Lock Power Slide” by Boz Scaggs from My Time [1972]