Posts Tagged ‘Grass Roots’

Saturday Single No. 745

Saturday, July 17th, 2021

So, what was I listening to forty-one years ago this week when I had the radio tuned to KDWB? Here’s the station’s Top Ten from the survey released on July 20, 1970:

“Band of Gold” by Freda Payne
“Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Three Dog Night
“Question” by the Moody Blues
“Close To You” by the Carpenters
“Go Back” by Crabby Appleton
“Ride Captain Ride” by the Blues Image
“Lay Down” by Melanie
“Teach Your Children” by CSN&Y
“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5
“Tighter, Tighter” by Alive & Kicking

As I look at those ten titles, I conclude that either that 1970 weekend or one of the two bracketing it was the weekend I spent at the Del-Tone Gun Club southeast of the city, working in the trap pits as the Minnesota State Trap Shoot ended its four-day run.

During the trap shoot, as I spent nine to ten hours of each day in the trap pits loading clay targets onto a whirring and scary machine, each of those ten records came and went numerous times on my old RCA radio perched near me on a table. So those records – and most of the rest of that week’s “6+30” survey from the station – are deeply embedded.

And eight of those – all but the singles from CSN&Y and the Jackson 5 – are in the iPod and thus are a part of my day-to-day listening. Why not those? Well, “Teach Your Children” carries with it some memories that were attached to it some years later, so that makes sense, but I have no idea why “The Love You Save” is excluded. I’ll likely add it this week.

The over-familiarity of those ten records makes it difficult to sort them out (and also means they’ve likely been mentioned and featured here more than once over the years). So we’re going to play Games With Numbers by taking today’s date of 7-17 and making that into 24 and then go see what No. 24 was on that long-ago KDWB survey.

And we find a listing for a record that, it seems, has never been mentioned in this space: “Baby Hold On” by the Grass Roots. I’ve written about the band only a little, most notably when lead singer Rob Grill died in 2011. And that’s a little surprising, given that I almost always liked the band’s stuff when it showed up on the radio during my Top 40 years.

I seem to have ignored “Baby Hold On” as well. There are ten tracks by the band in the iPod, but “Baby Hold On” is not one of them. That will be corrected soon. In the meantime, it’s today’s Saturday Single.

One Survey Dig: February 1972

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

For the past couple years, I’ve been deeply involved in the music program at our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship here in St. Cloud. Along with joining the other musicians in leading the weekly congregants in music from our service book and in performing popular music, I’ve offered quite a few of my own compositions.

Almost all of my work that I’ve sung at the fellowship has been quite old, most from the late 1980s and early 1990s, things I wrote and then tucked away for whatever use I might find for them someday. That was the case this week, as I performed a tune of mine titled “Come To Me” for our annual Valentine’s Day program. It’s a song I wrote in Columbia, Missouri, in December 1990 and never performed anywhere until this week. And thinking about that performance in the past few days, I’ve come to two conclusions:

First, if I want to keep performing original work that my audience at the fellowship has never heard before, I’ll need to resume writing songs; I’m rapidly running through my catalog.

Second: I’ve realized that one of the turning points of my life came in early 1972, when I took my first course in music theory at St. Cloud State.

By that time, I’d been playing piano (on my second go-round) for a couple of years and had been writing poetry/lyrics for about the same amount of time. I’d also been playing guitar for about a year, and I’d tried to use my nascent skills there to write music for my lyrics, but all I’d really been doing was stringing together generally random chords. That hadn’t worked well, and the theory I was learning taught me why, as I began to understand how chordal patterns helped song structures work. That understanding grew as I took four more classes in music theory, exhausting St. Cloud State’s offerings.

Now, not much of what I wrote during the next couple of years has aged well (and that includes pieces, generally singer-songwriter stuff, written for the last week of each theory class), but the stuff I wrote after I started my theory courses at least had coherent musical structures. And that change began in the early months of 1972.

So in the spirit of learning about something new, I thought I’d see if there were any records I’d either never heard or didn’t recall hearing on the record survey from the Twin Cities’ KDWB during this week in 1972.

Here’s the top five, all of which – as you might guess – are very familiar:

“Joy” by Apollo 100
“Without You” by Nilsson
“Don’t Say You Don’t Remember” by Beverly Bremers
“Hurting Each Other” by the Carpenters
“Precious and Few” by Climax

All of those are decent records fondly recalled, but as we head down to the lower portions of the survey – thirty-six records long, in a reversed representation of the station’s frequency of 630 – there are good records that are less familiar. And sitting in spot No. 33, new to the survey during this week in 1972, was a Grass Roots record that I likely heard somewhere, sometime, but one that I do not recall hearing until this morning: “Glory Bound.”

The record has all the merits of the Grass Roots’ peak stuff from earlier years, including the 1970-71 trio of “Temptation Eyes,” “Sooner Or Later” and “Two Divided By Love,” but the band’s moment was pretty much over. The record peaked on KDWB three weeks later at No. 11; in the Billboard Hot 100, it got up to No. 34.

Found In A Scrapbook

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

One of my minor projects last week was dissecting a scrapbook put together for me in the early 1980s by the Other Half. She meant well, but the scrapbook was one of those with adhesive lines on each page and a clear plastic sheet covering the page. The Texas Gal – citing expertise earned while working for years for Creative Memories, the direct sales scrapbooking firm – told me not long ago that if I wanted to save the photos in the scrapbook, I should take the book apart soon.

So I did that last week. All of the photos save one came out whole; the one that shredded was a picture of my mother’s aunts and uncles, and I have at least one more copy of that somewhere else. Most of the non-photo stuff was stuck too tightly to the adhesive to remove it; I cut and trimmed some of the book’s pages to keep a few things and discarded a lot of stuff that was important at the time and now seems less so. I will likely take one more look through the book to make certain before sending it on its way to the dumpster.

One of the things I found in the book is a list I’ve referred to in this space at least once: On January 1, 1971, I moved my RCA radio to the living room and reclined on the couch while KDWB in the Twin Cities completed its rundown of the top singles of 1970. I don’t know whether the station used a list of 100 singles or perhaps 63 (its frequency was 630), but I got in on the action at No. 30. And I spent, most likely, the better part of two hours listening to the station’s top 30 records of 1970 and making a list of those records on two pieces of note paper using – as I nearly always did at the time – purple ink:

KDWB Top 30, 1970

(I have no idea why I started in the middle of the page on the right and worked upward. I obviously had some arrangement in mind that did not come to fruition. But I got them all. And just in case the pic is faint or my adolescent printing is unclear, here’s the list, from No. 30 to No. 1:

Nos. 30-21
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross
“I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5
“All Right Now” by Free
“Reflections Of My Life” by Marmalade
“Gypsy Woman” by Bryan Hyland
“I Know I’m Losing You” by Rare Earth
“O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps
“Come And Get It” by Badfinger
“Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin
“Walking Through The Country” by the Grass Roots

Nos. 20-11
“Spill The Wine” by Eric Burdon & War
“My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison
“War” by Edwin Starr
“The Rapper” by the Jaggerz
“Green Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf
“Lay Down” by Melanie
“Make It With You” by Bread
“Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image
“Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” by the Poppy Family
“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5

Nos. 10-1
“Venus” by the Shocking Blue
“Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” by Three Dog Night
“Band Of Gold” by Frieda Payne
“Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond
“(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters
“Up Around The Bend” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who
“Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family
“Let It Be” by the Beatles

That’s a hell of a hundred or so minutes of music. The only record of those thirty that I disliked at the time – and still do – was the Poppy Family’s “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” As I looked over the list at the end of the day, I also thought that “I Think I Love You” was pretty slight for the No. 2 record of the year. Over the years, though, I’ve come to recognize it as a great piece of popcraft, one that spoke to its intended audience as least as clearly as the heavyweights that bracketed it spoke to theirs.

I took a quick look at the 1970 Top 40 from Billboard (as presented in Joel Whitburn’s A Century Of Pop Music), and there were some major national hits in the magazine’s list that were absent from KDWB’s Top 30. The six biggest were B. J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” at No. 2; Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “The Tears Of A Clown” at No. 11; the Jackson 5’s “The Love You Save” at No. 14; Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” at No. 15; Ray Stevens’ “Everything Is Beautiful” at No. 16; and the Beatles’ “The Long And Winding Road” at No. 17.

(Since I came in on the middle of KDWB’s list on that long-ago New Year’s Day, I would assume that most, if not all, of those records were in KDWB’s Top 100 or Top 63 or whatever number the station offered.)

I’m not sure any of this proves anything or has any great significance, but as I pulled treasures out of the scrapbook, it was fun to remember that January afternoon so long ago and fun as well to wonder when I quit using purple ink.

And since I like to share at least one tune here most of the time, I wondered if all of those thirty have showed up here at one time or another (with the exception of the Poppy Family). Most have, I’m sure, but I did a little digging, and not once in the more than eight years that I’ve been blogging have I ever mentioned the Grass Roots’ “Walking Through The Country.” The record fell far short of the Billboard Top 40 for the year, having gotten only to No. 44 during its time in the Hot 100 in early 1970. But I thought it was a pretty decent record back then, and I still do today.

Okay, so there were thirty-one records there. KDWB had “Venus” and “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” tied for tenth place, and I failed to read my own long-ago note carefully enough to note that the station did not – as would seem to be customary – jump from 10th place to 12th place. Note added August 22, 2015.

The Voice Of The Grass Roots

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

If you regularly listened to Top 40 radio anytime during the late 1960s and early 1970s, you heard Rob Grill sing. Frequently.

Grill, who crossed over yesterday morning at the age of 67, was the lead singer for the Grass Roots for most of their history, taking the mike in 1967, a couple of years after the band had first been formed as a studio group. (The tangled tale of producers P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri and the string of musicians they recruited to become the Grass Roots is told in brief at All-Music Guide.)

The first track cut by Grill and his new bandmates, AMG notes, was “Let’s Live For Today,” which promptly went to No. 8. From then into 1975, the group had eighteen more records reach the Billboard Hot 100, with two more – “Midnight Confessions” and “Sooner or Later” – reaching the Top Ten. When the hits dried up after 1975’s “Mamacita” topped out at No. 71, Grill recorded a solo album and stayed in what AMG calls “the organizing side” of the music business until 1982, when, AMG says, “amid the burgeoning oldies concert circuit and the respect beginning to be accorded the Grass Roots, Grill formed a new  Grass Roots – sometimes billed as Rob Grill and the Grass Roots – and began performing as many as 100 shows a year.”

One of those shows took place Monday evening in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, when the surviving members of the Grass Roots took the stage and informed their audience of Grill’s death that morning. At the website of the Allentown Morning Call, the blog Lehigh Valley Music quotes bassist Mark Dawson as telling the audience, “We may have lost one great friend, but heaven gained an exceptional singer. . . . We say God bless you, and Rob says the show must go on.”

The blog also reported: “Dawson said Grill died in the arms of his wife, Nancy, as he listened to ‘Live For Today,’ which Dawson said was his favorite Grass Roots song.”

I wasn’t certain as I sat down to research and write this morning if I were going to write anything about Grill and the Grass Roots. Their records were great radio fare, and I enjoyed them from 1969, when I began listening to Top 40, until their string ran out in 1975. I especially liked “Temptation Eyes” and “Sooner or Later.” I also liked very much “I’d Wait A Million Years,” which spoke loudly to the love-struck adolescent I frequently was. And when I saw that last title sitting among the records listed in the Billboard Hot 100 from July 12, 1969, I figured the universe was telling me something.

So here it is. It was sitting at No. 59 forty-two years ago today, on its way to No. 15.

Chart Digging: February 1972

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

As the winter of 1971-72 was thinking about loosening its grip, right about this time thirty-nine years ago, I spent the second of two weekends visiting friends in Stearns Hall, one of the men’s dorms at St. Cloud State.

I was staying with a couple of guys I knew, the guys who were the foundation of my social life on campus for a good chunk of that freshman year. I’d met them late the previous summer, when we’d occupied adjacent rooms during an overnight campus orientation for incoming freshmen. Living no more than a mile from the campus, I really didn’t need the overnight accommodations for the orientation, but I signed up anyway, hoping to meet some people.

And I did. Rick from Wyoming, Minnesota, and Dave from (I think) St. Paul were good guys, and through them, during the school year, I met others, guys and gals both. We all ate lunch together almost every day. We spent good chunks of a couple evenings a week and most weekends together. And twice during the year, I packed a small suitcase and rolled up a sleeping bag on a Friday afternoon and stayed on campus for the weekend.

During the first weekend, which took place in October, I think, we’d spent Friday evening (and early Saturday morning) at one of St. Cloud’s nearly countless keggers, sipping foamy beer from plastic cups. The party was on the northwest end of town, some distance from campus. I recall riding in the back seat in the early morning with one of the other guys driving vaguely and amid much laughter in the general direction of the college, which we eventually found. (From the perspective of almost forty years, that drive was, of course, chillingly unwise and unsafe, but that didn’t deter us.)

After whiling away Saturday’s daytime – spent hanging around with other dorm friends, shooting hoops on the parking lot, visiting a downtown record store or two and buying snacks at the nearby grocery store – we again found a party on Saturday night, this one close to campus, so our drunken post-party trip back to the dorm was shorter and on foot. On Sunday, sometime after lunch, I went home.

As I planned my February stay with the guys, I expected the weekend to be similar. It was and it wasn’t, but two things make that second weekend I spent on campus stand out:

First, somehow – and the details were cloudy then and are even more so after nearly forty years – Rick from Kilian Boulevard joined us in our Saturday evening partying. That was fine with my on-campus pals; they’d met Rick during visits to the East Side, so he came along as we found a party or two close to campus for the evening and then made our ways back to the dorm sometime after midnight.

Second, while chatting earlier that week with a secretary in Headley Hall – one of the buildings where I’d scrubbed and polished floors the summer before – I’d been introduced to a young woman who was a student worker there. Near the bookstore Friday morning, I ran into the same young woman. In the course of our conversation, I asked her if she wanted to hang around with us on Friday evening. She did so, and we got along well, which led to me spending a couple of hours with her on Sunday. That pairing didn’t last long, but its beginnings made the on-campus weekend more memorable yet.

There were no more on-campus weekends for me that year, but I continued to spend a lot of my free time with Dave and Wyoming Rick until the academic year ended and they went home for the summer. By fall, however, I found myself moving in other directions and spending time with other people.

So it’s likely very normal that I’ve lost touch over the years with the folks from my freshman year of college. The college friends I still know come from three sources: The Table in Atwood, my Denmark group, or my fellow mass communications students. I do know where a couple of those first-year friends are: One of the women – Dave’s girlfriend for a good chunk of that freshman year – teaches in the same school district as my sister. And Dave is a writer based in Colorado, and has done some teaching. But beyond some perfunctory emails – “Yeah, life is fine and didn’t we have a good time back then?” – they’re gone from my life and I’m gone from theirs.

Their entrances and exits mattered, though: I recall the months before I met the Texas Gal in early 2000. During the summer of 1999, I was in a romance, the first I’d had in about ten years. It didn’t last long as a romance – a friendship still exists – and eleven years ago this week, the Texas Gal and I met. I believe that the summer pairing that didn’t last – as painful as that was – prepared me for the one that did last. In other words, as well as being enriching and difficult and fun and all the other stuff, that first romance in years helped make me ready for the Texas Gal.

And I think the same thing holds true about those friendships from my freshmen year, when all of us, I think, were trying to find out where we fit in. Even though none of those friendships has lasted, they did their work: In the years that followed, I found the places that Wyoming Rick and Dave and the others had helped me look for during that first year.

Part of that looking involved music, of course. It was Dave who introduced me to the Doors’ The Soft Parade and the long version of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” two of his favorites. When records weren’t turning during our gatherings, the radio was on. And I know that I heard at least one of the records in the Billboard Top Ten from February 19, 1972 during those quiet Sunday hours I spent with my new young ladyfriend:

“Without You” by Nilsson
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
“Hurting Each Other” by the Carpenters
“Precious and Few” by Climax
“Never Been to Spain” by Three Dog Night
“Down by the Lazy River” by the Osmonds
“American Pie (Parts 1 and 2)” by Don McLean
“Joy” by Apollo 100
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Robert John
“Everything I Own” by Bread

That’s not a very distinctive Top Ten. The Nilsson, the Al Green and “American Pie” are welcome any time. Other than that, there’s nothing that I either really like or really dislike today although I was not fond of “Down by the Lazy River” at the time. I did hear “Precious and Few” far more often than necessary back then as Dave and his ladyfriend had tagged it as their song.

One record I didn’t hear enough back then – I’m not sure I heard it at all – is Wilson Pickett’s R&B version of “Fire and Water,” the title tune to Free’s 1970 album. Pickett’s brilliant reimagining of the tune (Free’s version is here) was sitting at No. 24 – its peak position in the Billboard Hot 100 – thirty-nine years ago this week. On the R&B chart, Pickett’s cover version spent two weeks at No. 2.

In 1970, Paul Revere and the Raiders had dropped Revere’s name to become simply the Raiders, and in 1971, they’d scored a No. 1 hit with “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Indian Reservation)” and reached No. 23 with “Birds of a Feather.” Their next appearance in the Hot 100 came from “Country Wine,” a pretty decent record that brings back memories of Boone’s Farm wine shared with those freshman year friends. (Hey, we were young and poor and knew no better!) The record was at No. 51 this week in 1972 and would go no higher.

Dropping a little bit further, we find a striking bit of vocal R&B at No. 64: “Love Gonna Pack Up (And Walk Out)” by the Persuaders. The record was the second by the Harlem group to hit the Hot 100; the classic “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” had gone to No. 15 in 1971 and had spent two weeks on top of the R&B chart. “Love Gonna Pack Up . . .” didn’t do quite as well, peaking at No. 64 on the pop chart and making it to No. 8 on the R&B chart. But it’s just as atmospheric as “Thin Line . . .” and maybe more interesting, at least to me, for not having been heard as much over the years.

The Grass Roots’ “Glory Bound” doesn’t wander far away from the sound that had brought the band – staffed by a changing group of players behind singer Rob Grill – a total of eighteen Hot 100 hits through 1971. Well, maybe the piano is a bit more prominent than usual, but once the record gets going, the sound is familiar. And that sound worked again, to a degree, as “Glory Bound,” which was at No. 72 during this week in 1972, eventually made it to No. 34. It’s a good record, which I’m not sure I would have said back then, being pulled toward more “serious” rock music by the people I knew at the campus radio station. (The Grass Roots would have three more hits in the Hot 100, with one of them – “The Runaway” from later in 1972 – barely reaching the Top 40 and peaking at No. 39.)

The Fabulous Counts were a funk band from Detroit, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, and they hit the Hot 100 in the spring of 1970 with “Get Down People,” which went to No. 88 on the pop chart and to No. 32 on the R&B chart. In early 1972, the group was back in the Hot 100 but had changed its name to Lunar Funk. The group’s single “Mr. Penguin, Pt. 1” was a funky instrumental with brief spoken interjections by the titular Mr. Penguin. The record was at No. 82 during the third week of February 1972 and would peak at No. 63. It was the last hit for the group under any name.

Terry Black was a Canadian singer who (barely) hit the charts in 1964 at the age of fifteen: “Unless You Care” reached No. 99. More than seven years later, he and his wife, Laurel Ward, got almost halfway up the Hot 100, reaching No. 57 with “Goin’ Down (On the Road to L.A.).” During the third week of February, the record was in the second week of its climb and was sitting at No. 87. There’s nothing remarkable about the record, but it’s got a decent hook and decent production, and it sounds like a lot of other stuff from the time. (The record was also released in Canada, but I don’t know how well it did there.)

‘I Go Out Walkin’ . . .’

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

As I’ve mentioned several times over the past three years – and yeah, the third birthday of Echoes In The Wind went by without comment sometime around February 1, the date of the first post here – for many years country music and I were strangers.

My dad listened to country music on the radio by his basement workbench and in his old ’52 Ford, but he wasn’t a music fan, as such. I doubt that he knew the names of many of the artists he heard as the music on WVAL took him through an afternoon of tinkering in the basement. And I never really knew anyone whom I can recall from childhood whose family listened to country music at home.

I learned a very little bit about classic country from the soundtrack to The Last Picture Show, which I saw one evening during the mid-1970s at the student union at St. Cloud State, but I never followed up. Country music was the choice for about half of my first set of in-laws – during the late 1970s and the early 1980s – but none of what I heard during visits really stuck.

It wasn’t until 1990, during my brief stay on the Kansas prairie, that I began to dig much into country music. As brief as it was, the music finally reached me, and during my years of record collecting overkill during the mid- to late 1990s, country music – especially in those areas where it intersected with folk and rock, as it frequently does – was one of the genres I dug into at least a little. (That digging intensified with the arrival of the Texas Gal in my life; as much as she loves rock and pop, she’s also a country fan, and I now listen to – and know more about – more country music than I ever have.)

All that said, I was reminded this week that I learned about one of the classic songs of country music from a television commercial:

The tune used in the 1997 spot for AT&T – featuring a young Larisa Oleynik – was, of course, Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.” (The spot is interesting for its depiction of what was cutting edge technology thirteen years ago.) I didn’t know that I’d ever heard the song before I saw the commercial. I imagine I must have, but whenever that might have been, it certainly didn’t make an impression. But once I heard it, I wanted to hear it again, so I did a little bit of crate-digging at Cheapo’s and a few other places, eventually finding a 1973 LP titled Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits, which had “Walkin’ After Midnight” as its leadoff. I think I used the tune on a few mixtapes I made for friends in the last years of the 1990s.

With the advent of CDs and then mp3s into my musical life, I soon learned that there are several – I really have no idea how many – versions of “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Many of them are resettings of Cline’s vocal into new arrangements that probably date from the years after her death in a 1963 plane crash. When I set out to create the Ultimate Jukebox, I knew that I wanted “Walkin’ After Midnight” in it. I wasn’t certain which version I wanted, but after a moment’s thought, I decided to use the original, the tune that was a huge country hit  in1957 and went to No. 12 on one of the four main pop charts of the the time (reaching Nos. 17, 21 and 22 on the other three).

But which was the original? After doing some digging, I learned that the version I first heard in the 1997 commercial – with the vocal “bompa-bompa” backing – was a re-recording that Cline did for her 1961 album Patsy Cline Showcase. I checked the other Patsy Cline anthology I have on vinyl and found an ill-advised revision in which the 1961 vocal is backed with an arrangement that pulls out the vocal parts and adds some horns. Then, deep in the files of stuff I had yet to listen to, I found what I think is an mp3 of the original 1957 recording, a record with a classic country feel to it.

So do I hold to my original thought and use the 1957 version? Or do I go with the first version I heard?  I like the 1961 version – the one used in the commercial – a great deal. But I also enjoy the original with its twang. And it was the original that spent eleven weeks in the pop chart, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. So it’s the 1957 version of “Walkin’ After Midnight” that starts this fourth selection of tunes from the Ultimate Jukebox.

(A note: I’ve seen the song’s title presented as both “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Walking After Midnight.” The two LPs I dug out of my stacks use the latter, but I’ve gone with the title as listed by Joel Whitburn in the Billboard book.)

A Six-Pack From The Ultimate Jukebox, No. 4
“Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline from Patsy Cline [1957]
“You’re All I Need To Get By” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Tamla 54169 [1968]
“Temptation Eyes” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4263 [1970]
“Night Moves” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4369 [1976]
“Kiss This Thing Goodbye” by Del Amitri, A&M 1485 [1990]
“Mysterious Ways” by U2, Island 866188 [1991]

“You’re All I Need To Get By” was the fifth of seven Top 40 hits for the pairing of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell before her death at age twenty-four in 1970. It wasn’t their biggest hit in the pop chart – “Your Precious Love” went to No. 5 – but “You’re All I Need To Get By,” still went to No. 7 and spent five weeks on top of the R&B chart. And to my ears, it’s the most enduring of their chart hits. I’m not sure why, but there really doesn’t have to be a reason. I just know that the two singers’ version of the song written Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson never gets old for me.  (Ignore, if you can, the silliness of the Mulder/Scully video; just listen to the tune.) Key line: “I know you can make a man out of a soul that didn’t have a goal.”

As has been noted here before, the Grass Roots were actually several different groups of musicians over the years, but whoever they were, for a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they provided a steady offering of tasty radio fare, with fourteen Top 40 hits between 1966 and 1972.  Why “Temptation Eyes” instead of “Midnight Confessions” or maybe “Sooner or Later”? Because the first time I heard it coming out of the radio back in early 1971, the intro to “Temptation Eyes” grabbed my collar and didn’t let go until the record was over. Did it speak to circumstances in my life? Not really. But I still liked the record enough that I enjoyed hearing it whenever it came onto the radio as it headed toward No. 15. Key lines: “But she lets me down every time. Can’t make her mine. She’s no one’s lover.”

Bob Seger was looking back to 1962 when he sang about high school lust in 1976. The distance between us and the record is now more than twice the distance Seger was looking at then. But the song still resonates here and in lots of places, mostly because the tendency to look back, if only for an instant, is one that’s almost universal. Those of us fascinated with memory and memoir – and I obviously am one – no doubt let our rearward gazes linger on those long-ago teenage games longer than do others. And those backward glances might be tinted by tenderness, regret, satisfaction, bewilderment or simply affection. Does any of that help us make any more sense out of it all? I dunno. Making sense out of memory isn’t the point, I don’t think. Stuff happened, and then more stuff happened, and some will always remain, in Seger’s words, “mysteries without any clues.” The single went to No. 4 in 1976, the first of seven Top Ten hits for Seger. Key lines: “Ain’t it funny how the night moves when you just don’t seem to have as much to lose. Strange how the night moves . . . with autumn closing in.”

There’s a disconnect between the jaunty music and the resigned lyric of Del Amitri’s “Kiss This Thing Goodbye.” But then I guess that knowing when to quit is a good thing, if matters have gotten as bad as the song’s lyrics indicate, and if one knows when to quit, one might as well be upbeat about it. Back in the days when I was learning the relationship dance, I never knew when to quit. Hearing this record – which went to No. 35 in 1990, the first of three Top 40 hits for the Scottish band – might have helped. But probably not. Key lines: “Now I’m watching the fumes foul up the sunrise. I’m watching the light fade away.”

There are times when I truly enjoy U2, and there are times when I find myself wearied by the group’s efforts. I liked The Joshua Tree for a while, and as frustrating as the group’s experimental phase of the early 1990s sometimes was, at least the band’s output in those years was distinctive and didn’t all blend together, as the more recent releases do for me. And if the lyrics to “Mysterious Ways” are self-consciously cryptic, at least they’re not as pretentious as a lot of the band’s songs have been over the years. The record went to No. 9 after entering the Top 40 midway through December 1991. Key line: “You’ve been running away from what you don’t understand.”

– whiteray