Posts Tagged ‘The Band’

‘When You’re Lost In The Rain In Juarez . . .’

Friday, January 21st, 2022

I told most of this story here long ago, and I told it again this week at the Consortium of Seven, where I blog on Mondays about music. I figured a third time would not hurt.

I was reminded the other day that somewhere in my (relatively small) collection of 45 rpm singles is Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John.” And I was reminded that I found the 45 in a box of records I got from Leo Rau, the man who lived across the alley from us in St. Cloud, Minnesota. I was fourteen at the time and pretty pleased with the records – for reasons we’ll get to in a moment – and didn’t quite understand what Mr. Rau did for a living.

My dad said Mr. Rau was a jobber, and then explained to me that Mr. Rau had a chain of vending machines – candy machines, cigarette machines and juke boxes – that he kept stocked with what seemed to me the good stuff of life: Snickers, Nut Rolls and Juicy Fruit Gum among the candy; Camels, Winstons and Herbert Tareytons among the cigarettes (not such a good part of life, as it turned out), and records by performers such as Sandy Posey, Petula Clark and Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass.

As I headed into my teens, being across the alley from the Raus seemed like a pretty good deal. Steve Rau, who was four years or so older than I (and played the drums, which I thought was kind of cool), decided one day to get rid of his comic book collection and gave it to me: Lots of Jughead and Archie, some war comics – stories of World War II, which was just more than twenty years past – and comics based on television shows of the mid-1950s, none of which I recalled. It was a treasure trove.

And several times, Mr. Rau passed on to me a box of 45 rpm records. I don’t recall everything he gave to me; I know one of them was Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” because I still have it. Another was Bob Dylan’s “I Want You.” And there are a few others that Mr. Rau gave me that have survived the fifty-some years since. (A list of those survivors, from what I can remember – I had several sources over the years for mid-1960s 45s – is at the bottom of this piece.)

The Raus were good folks to have as neighbors. When they – Leo and Ilamae – were out in their back yard at the same times as my folks were in ours, the four would often have alley-side conversations that might last an hour or might last as briefly as it took for my folks – or just my dad or mom – to hand over some home-grown rhubarb and accept from one or both of the Raus some cucumbers ready for the table.

And, as I mentioned, several times during the mid-1960s, Leo Rau would hand me a box of records that had outlived their usefulness in the juke boxes he stocked. As I look back at the 12- to 14-year-old boy that I was then, it’s remarkable that any of them survived. At that age, I was distinctly unhip. I did not listen to Top 40 radio. I had only a few LPs and no singles to speak of in my record collection. And I didn’t listen to many of the records Mr. Rau gave me. Instead, I used them for target practice with my BB gun.

So when I say that some of the records survived, I am being literal. I have no idea how many 45s I aimed and shot at, punching neat little holes in the grooves. Maybe a hundred. A lot of the records Mr. Rau gave me were country & western, a genre that was far less cool (and far more real and gritty) than country music is today. I do remember a lot of Sandy Posey, Sonny James and Buck Owens, records that it would be nice to have today.

But I know a good share of the records that met my BBs were pop and rock, simply because of those that survived, including the two I mentioned above: the Procol Harum and the Dylan. And it’s knowing how close I came to destroying the Dylan record that makes me shake my head in something near disbelief, because years later, I learned that the B-side of the Dylan 45 offered listeners a true rarity: the sound of Dylan performing live. The B-side was an incendiary version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” recorded live – the label says – in Liverpool.

It’s a noteworthy record. Here’s what Dave Marsh said about it in his 1989 book The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, where he ranked the B-side of the record at No. 243.

If you liked the jingly folk-rock of “I Want You” enough to run out and buy the single without waiting for the album (which only turned out to be Blonde on Blonde), you got the surprise of your life: A B side taken from Dylan’s recent European tour on which he and a rock band (which only turned out to be The Band) did things to “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” a song from Highway 61 Revisited, that it’s still risky to talk about in broad daylight.

Rock critics like to make a big deal about B sides but there are only maybe a dozen great ones in the whole history of singles. This one’s rank is indisputable, though, because it offers something that wasn’t legally available until the early Seventies: a recorded glimpse of Dylan’s onstage prowess. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” came out before anybody ever thought of bootlegging rock shows, before anybody this side of Jimi Hendrix quite understood Dylan as a great rock and roll stage performer. And so this vicious, majestic music, hidden away in the most obscure place he could think of putting it, struck with amazing force.

The group behind Dylan wasn’t exactly The Band: The drummer for the European tour was Mickey Jones. Levon Helm had become fed up with performing in front of angry and jeering crowds who wanted to hear Bob Dylan the folksinger and were being presented with Bob Dylan the rock and roll performer. He’d gone back to Arkansas and wouldn’t rejoin the other four members of what became The Band until after the tour, when he joined them and Dylan in Woodstock (where the six of them began recording the music later released as The Basement Tapes and where The Band began work on its debut, Music From Big Pink.)

Now, we come to an oddity. The visual in the video below tells us that this version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” comes from the so-called “Albert Hall” concert, which actually took place May 17, 1966, at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester and was released in 1998 as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966. According to the label on my 45, the B-side version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was recorded in Liverpool, England. The concert schedule tells us that would have been on May 14, 1966.

But the version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” offered in the video below matches the sound on the B-side of my 45. I think it’s the same as the version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” from the official release of the Manchester Free Trade Hall Concert. There was a mistake somewhere, and I have no way to sort it out. Maybe what was actually the Manchester performance was mislabeled on the 45 as being recorded in Liverpool. I dunno. In any case, the music in the video below is the version of the tune that Marsh celebrates in his book.

I look at the fragile 45 that survived my BB gun and shake my head. It’s undeniably a treasure, but it didn’t survive because I knew that. It didn’t survive when so many other records were splintered by BBs because it was by Bob Dylan. I was unhip enough at the ages of twelve to fourteen to have no real good idea who Bob Dylan was; that awareness would take at least another four to five years. It was a happy accident, pure and simple, that I never looked past the sights of my BB rifle at the Dylan record.

Dave Marsh sums up his comments about the record: “Today it sounds like the reapings of a whirlwind, Dylan’s voice as draggy, druggy and droogy as the surreal Mexican beatnik escapade he’s recounting, Robbie Robertson carving dense mathematical figures on guitar, Garth Hudson working pure hoodoo on organ. Slurred and obtuse as Little Richard reading Ezra Pound, there’s a magnificence here so great that, if you had to, you could make the case for rock and roll as a species of art using this record and nothing else.”

I probably got more than a hundred records from Leo Rau during those few years in the mid-1960s. These, I think, are the survivors:

“Downtown” by Petula Clark
“Red Roses For A Blue Lady” by Vic Dana
“I Want You/Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (live)” by Bob Dylan
“Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” by the Fifth Estate
“Dandy” by Herman’s Hermits
“Don’t Go Out Into The Rain” by Herman’s Hermits
“No Milk Today” by Herman’s Hermits
“This Door Swings Both Ways” by Herman’s Hermits
“Look Through My Window” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Monday, Monday” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band
“Single Girl” by Sandy Posey
“Whiter Shade Of Pale” by Procol Harum
“Have You Seen Your Mother. Baby, Standing In The Shadows” by the Rolling Stones
“Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen
“Lightning’s Girl” by Nancy Sinatra
“The Beat Goes On” by Sonny & Cher

‘Cahoots’ Gets A Re-Make

Wednesday, December 15th, 2021

“Life Is A Carnival,” sang The Band on the group’s 1971 album Cahoots, an album that also contained the group’s take on Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a duet with Van Morrison titled “4% Pantomime,” and the elegiac “River Hymn.”

I heard some of those on the radio, maybe – “Life Is A Carnival” was the first single pulled from the album, and it went only to No. 72 on the Billboard Hot 100, leaving me wondering on which station I heard it (KVSC-FM at St. Cloud State is my guess this morning) – and I heard some at friends’ homes and at other places in St. Cloud during my college years.

I wasn’t impressed. Even though I had the group’s self-titled 1969 album – an album I loved – at home, the bits and pieces of Cahoots that I heard left me cold. So I forgot about the album until the late 1980s, when a lady friend of mine began to explore the music of The Band for the first time, and I came along, adding Cahoots in early 1988. And I added the CD to the collection in 2018.

It still didn’t impress me. It sounded flat, unfinished somehow. I might have pulled it out of the stacks once or twice to put “When I Paint My Masterpiece” on a mixtape or a CD for a friend, but that would have been about it. Unlike Music From Big Pink, The Band, or even Stage Fright, it wasn’t an album I sought out for casual listening.

And I began to understand my decades-long reaction yesterday when a delivery truck dropped off the two-CD fiftieth anniversary edition of the album. The notes in the accompanying booklet tell how the album came to be created in the first place: With the group recording whatever the five musicians had at hand while helping Albert Grossman figure out how to finish off his Bearsville studio in Woodstock, New York.

The notes, by Rob Bowman, explain that The Band – especially Robbie Robertson – had always felt Cahoots to be unfinished because of the lack of facilities at Bearsville at the time. And that meant that preparing the fiftieth anniversary version offered an opportunity to mix and master the album the way the group would have liked in 1971.

Robertson and engineer Bob Clearmountain have both been involved in three previous fiftieth anniversary reissues of albums by The Band: Music From Big Pink, The Band, and Stage Fright. Those projects, both men say in comments in the new edition’s notes, involved enhancing the sound of the three albums, making them sound better while keeping the albums’ characters and general sound the same. Their work with Cahoots, the two say, was to make the album sound like it should have sounded.

Much of the commentary supporting that approach comes from Bowman’s interviews with Robertson. Although there are general quotes from the other members of The Band about the making of Cahoots that come from previously published material, it’s probably good to remember that Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Levon Helm are gone and unavailable for current comment. A few comments from Garth Hudson make their way into Bowman’s notes, but it’s basically Robertson’s views that prevail.

So, does it work? I have yet to absorb the whole album in its new state. And I think I’ll be going back and forth between the new version and the old one at odd times for a while, trying to internalize the changes. (That’s true, too, of the live bootleg of a 1971 performance by the group in Paris that’s included on the second CD of the package.  And both CDs have bonus tracks of outtakes and alternate takes from the Cahoots sessions.)

As “Life Is A Carnival” started to come out of the speakers here yesterday, I reminded myself that different isn’t always better. But, at least for that track, it is. The track, enhanced even more now by Allen Toussaint’s horn arrangement, has a kick it’s never had. As I wander through the rest of the new album, comparing it to the old one, I hope I continue to be pleased.

Here’s the new version of “Life Is A Carnival.”

‘They’s Winners & They’s Losers . . .’

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

Last November, I was invited by a Facebook friend to join a group of writers who each post once a week at a blog called Consortium of Seven. The other six folks post about TV and movie delights, about art, about trawling thrift stores, about life. I write about music. Some of the posts I’ve offered there are original to the day; others are revisions of things I’ve offered here during the past fourteen years, The other Monday, I revamped an older post from here, writing about The Band and a moment of serendipity, and I thought I’d share the result here.

My list of musical “must-have” groups and performers is fairly short. By that I mean performers and groups whose official releases I always acquire. When Bruce Springsteen releases a new CD or box set, I buy it. When the Tedeschi Trucks Band comes out with something new, I buy it. And there are three or four others.

Some groups and performers have fallen off that list: I bought everything the Indigo Girls did for more than a decade, then stopped, either because their newer stuff had lost the shining edge they’d displayed during the late 1980s and through the 1990s or because I’d lost the listening ear to hear that edge. I used to buy everything Eric Clapton brought out, but I didn’t enjoy the last few CDs of his that came my way. (And as his behavior during the pandemic has revealed, he’s kind of a dick, which would blunt at least a little my enjoyment of his new work.)

One group that remains on the must-have list is The Band, originally a collection of four Canadians – Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson – and Arkansan Levon Helm, who released several superb albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s (and a few others that had at least flashes of brilliance through 1977, with a live, guest-studded, farewell album in 1978). The group, without Robertson, resumed touring in the 1980s and lost Manuel to suicide.

In the 1990s, the remaining trio – Danko, Hudson and Helm – recruited new players and reassumed the mantle of The Band, releasing three CDs. The albums weren’t as good as the group’s best work from the early years – the lack of Robertson’s often-brilliant songwriting hurt – but they were good sturdy work, nestled in what is now called Americana, the genre that I will always contend was established by the group’s work in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I came across that 1990s resurrection by accident, a year or two after the first of those three efforts – Jericho – was released in 1993. I was driving through the suburbs north of Minneapolis, heading toward my home in the southern portion of the city with the radio likely turned to Minneapolis’ KTCZ, which then and now bills itself as Cities 97. And then from the speaker came the strum of a mandolin followed by the unmistakable voice of Levon Helm, singing the immediately recognized words of “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen:

Well, they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night
And they blew up his house, too
Down on the boardwalk, they’re ready for a fight
Gonna see what them racket boys can do

Now, there’s trouble busin’ in from outta state
And the D.A. can’t get no relief
Gonna be a rumble on the promenade
And the gamblin’ comissioner’s hangin’ on by the skin of his teeth

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Well, I got a job and I put my money away
But I got the kind of debts that no honest man can pay
So I drew out what I had from the Central Trust
And I bought us two tickets on that Coast City bus

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Now our luck may have died and our love may be cold
But with you forever I’ll stay
We’ll be goin’ out where the sand turns to gold
But put your stockings on, ’cause it might get cold

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact

But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Now, I’ve been a-lookin’ for a job, but it’s hard to find
They’s winners and they’s losers and I’m south of the line
Well, I’m tired of getting’ caught out on the losin’ end
But I talked to a man last night, gonna do a little favor for him

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact

But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City
Oh, meet me tonight in Atlantic City
Oh, meet me tonight in Atlantic City

The track faced away in a swirl of accordion, which by that time I recognized came from the fingers of Garth Hudson, and as I neared home, I made a mental note to visit a nearby music store and get the cassette of what had to be a new album by The Band. (A blogging friend of mine insisted to the day he left this earth that without Robertson, the group could not be The Band, but I’m a little less literal on that.)

And as the 1990s passed and the new century came, I got a CD player and began to collect the works of The Band – and the other must-haves – in that format. Though new releases ended when Danko and Helm followed Manuel to wherever we go when our work here is done, reissues continue: I recently acquired fiftieth anniversary packages – both expanded with previously unreleased material – of the 1968 album Music From Big Pink and the 1971 album Stage Fright.

Those will be fine listening, I’m certain. But I’m also certain that no smile is going to break on my face as wide as the one that came during that mid-1990s drive when I realized that The Band – in whatever form – was back and I heard the group’s take on “Atlantic City” for the first time:

Saturday Single No. 609

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

I am, as I wrote the other week, an autumnal man.

I have always been so, even when I was much younger than I am now. Perhaps that is why, as I live in what is clearly the autumn of my time here, I have finally found peace of mind, comfort of soul, and a degree of happiness that just two decades ago I would have assessed as extraordinarily unlikely, if not actually impossible.

Perhaps the seasonal leavening brought to my life by the springtime outlook of the Texas Gal has brought the balance I’ve seemingly always needed. In any case, her presence in my life these past eighteen-plus years is a major part of the reason my life so satisfies me now. (And I know, with an awareness that warms me, that my presence in her life grants her similar satisfaction.)

I shan’t – to use a word my mom’s mother employed often – go beyond those thoughts today; I’ve dabbled in autumnal musings both in the piece I wrote the other week and in a fair number of pieces here over the years. But, moving from soul searching to reporting, I wanted to note that here in the midsection of the U.S., this year’s autumnal equinox takes place at 8:54 p.m. this evening. The southward bound sun will cross the equator at that moment, and for the next three or so months, each day’s hours of daylight will diminish and the hours of darkness will increase.

Around our place, many of the changes that accompany the season are underway: A very few of the leaves on the flowering crab have turned yellow and fallen. Some of the leaves on the adjacent linden are doing the same. Next to the linden, however, the maple tree has given no indication if its leaves will mirror the yellow of the other two or complement them with red or orange. We will know soon which it will be.

The grass beneath them is still green, awaiting the first overnight frost, which cannot be many nights away.

I observe these changes both through the window of my study and via my forays outside for errands or tasks. And, despite the chronic ails brought about by my leg and back problems and despite the – one hopes – more temporary ails of a late summer sinus infection, I observe those changes happily.

And this evening, autumn will arrive.

This calls for an autumnal tune. Here’s one of my favorites: “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” by The Band. It’s from the group’s self-titled 1969 album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 517

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

Well, today is opening day for Cabaret De Lune, the three-person show that my friends Lucille and Heather and I have been putting together since mid-summer. It’s just after 8 a.m., almost nine hours until we begin the first of our two shows today, and the butterflies are already busy in my gut.

If my performing past is any guide, they’ll stay that way until right about 5 p.m., when a little bit of recorded music stops and I noodle a few notes at the piano and then get up and begin the opening monologue. Once the show gets underway, I should be fine, finding the groove and just doing smoothly and naturally what the three of us have been doing every Saturday for the past couple of months.

There are really only two portions of the show that worry me. The first is a very brief selection of classical music that’s been added in the past week. How brief? Six to eight bars, and it’s a piece I’ve heard thousands of times. And it’s not all that difficult, but it is new, and it requires the precision of a classical pianist, which I am not.

(I took piano lessons for six years when I was in elementary school, then quit playing for four years to concentrate on horn and – for two of those school years – go out for wrestling. When I was a junior in high school, I heard “Let It Be” and decided to resume playing. In college as I’ve noted in another post here, I took five quarters of theory and began to focus my playing on chord charts instead of actually reading the notation. I acknowledged to my sister over lunch the other day that I am far from comfortable sight-reading musical notation, something she does very well, having taken piano lessons from the time she was seven or eight well into college. “Isn’t it interesting that we came up with such different skill sets,” she said. It is, I said, adding, “Just tell me ‘Blues in G,’ and I’m home free.” She shook her head. “No,” she said.)

The other portion of the show that worries me a little is a sixteen-bar section of our closer, a well-known tune that in its middle modulates from A minor, which no flats or sharps, to B-flat minor, which has five flats. That’s a lot of black keys to keep track of. Thankfully, after those sixteen bars, the tune modulates up another half-step to B minor, where I am much more at home.

Beyond those two spots, I’m feeling pretty good about the show, but then . . .

“How are you feeling about this?” Heather asked me one afternoon in late summer when the show was coming together in bits and pieces.

“Oh, boy,” I said. “I’m enjoying putting the bits together and then stitching them into a show, but the thought of actually performing is real scary. I just want to sit in a corner.”

“That’s the Virgo in you,” she said.

“I know,” I said, having done a little digging into my horoscope a few years ago (and finding that a lot of it fits whether I believe in it or not). “And I have the moon and about three or four other things in Leo.” Leos love being the center of attention as much as Virgos avoid it.

Her eyes widened. “Oh, my god,” she said. “You love performing. I can tell. But I bet it’s terrifying.”

I nodded. And she added, “But I also bet that once we get going, you’ll be fine.”

I think that’s true, and we’ll find out later this afternoon.

Given all that, only one song fits in this space today. Here’s “Stage Fright,” the title track to The Band’s 1970 album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Order & Routine

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Order and routine are my friends. When they’re not around, I’m at best unsettled. I’ve been known to get flustered and cranky. Very cranky.

Our furnace went bad toward the end of last week. It would turn on and kick out heat, but only to a point. Andy, the furnace guy, stopped by Thursday. He said that we could use the furnace over the weekend if we let it cool significantly after each use. And he said he could put a new one in on Tuesday.

We ran the furnace a little bit on Friday and then once a day on Sunday and Monday. Otherwise, we relied on the space heater, shifting it as needed from the living room to the bathroom to the loft where we sleep. It wasn’t that cold out, pretty much typical November weather: mid-50s during the day, low 40s at night, so things weren’t nearly as chilly as they were last January, when the furnace was out of commission for a couple of days. The temperature in the living room was about 65 degrees during the daytime when we had the space heater on and about 60 degrees when we got up in the morning. We bundled up and coped, but I was unsettled.

Monday is usually my laundry day, but the Texas Gal had a doctor’s appointment Monday morning, so she took the day off, and after her visit with Dr. Julie – routine stuff – we ran some errands. The plan before the furnace went out had been to shift laundry to Tuesday. But Tuesday morning, Andy installed a new furnace right next to the washer and dryer, and fumes from glue and oil – offered by the new furnace during its initial use – lingered in the air that afternoon; they were not something I wanted in my lungs or on my clothing.

So I didn’t get to the laundry until this morning, and my schedule is entirely out of alignment. Add into that the restrictive diet I’ve been on since Monday in preparation for a (fairly routine) medical procedure tomorrow morning, and my friends order and routine are nowhere to be found. I’m not cranky, but I’m not far from it.

The only remedy is time, and by tomorrow afternoon, at worst by Friday morning, things should have returned to something approaching normal around here. I’ll be relieved.

And as long as we’re talking about a remedy, here’s “Remedy” from the album Jericho by the 1990s version of The Band, with Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Richard Bell joining Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. The horn work is by Bobby Strickland and Dave Douglas.

‘Orange’

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

When we sort the mp3s on the shelves looking for titles with the word “orange” – the second of nine stops on our tour of Floyd’s Prism – we don’t have a lot of irrelevancies to discard. The search brings up fifty-three mp3s, a good share of which will be useful.

We do have to discard the eleven tracks from the 1970 self-titled album of the group Orange Bicycle (a group whose “Jelly on the Bread” showed up on a recent Saturday), and we set aside as well the 1970 album by Paul Siebel titled Woodsmoke and Oranges. We also have to drop tracks from two similarly titled bands: “Your Golden Touch” by the Clockwork Orange, which I believe was a garage rock band from Paducah, Kentucky; and both sides of a single on the Liberty label, “After Tonight” and “Ready Steady,” by the Clockwork Oranges. The latter group was evidently from England, based on the note at the Lost Jukebox discography that calls the single an “Ember Records Production [f]rom London.”

We also lose a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album Orange Blossom Special, both sides of a 1966 single by the Palace Guard on the Orange Empire label, both sides of a 1969 single by the group Orange Colored Sky, and an odd piece of leftist theater titled “Operation Godylorange” by a Danish ensemble called Totalpetroleum.

But we do have enough to work with, which is a relief, as I was worried about “orange” when I began to look at Floyd’s Prism. (I have my concerns about “indigo,” but we’ll deal with that when we get there.) We’ll start with the oldest of our six recordings and more forward from there.

A couple CDs’ worth of Nat King Cole’s music came my way a few years ago, and on one of them, I found our first record for this morning: “Orange Colored Sky” by the King Cole Trio. Recorded in August 1950, the track comes from a time when Cole’s recordings were sometimes credited to the trio and sometimes to Cole as a solo artist. The record, which was recorded with Stan Kenton and his orchestra (according to the notes of the 1994 CD Nat King Cole: The Greatest Hits) did not show up in the R&B Top 40. Given that, I’m not sure why “Orange Colored Sky” shows up in that hits package. It’s not like there was a dearth of material to choose from; between 1942 and 1964, Cole had forty-six records reach the R&B Top 40, and starting in 1954 and going into 1964, he placed sixty-six records in or the Billboard Hot 100. (In 1991, both charts – as well as the Adult Contemporary chart – hosted “Unforgettable,” the creepy hit that paired the long-dead Cole’s 1961 vocals with those of his daughter Natalie.)

I noted above that today’s winnowing took away a few tracks from Johnny Cash’s 1965 album, Orange Blossom Special. One track that survived, of course, is the title track. Recorded in December 1964 and released as a single, Cash’s take on “Orange Blossom Special” went to No. 3 on the country chart and to No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, long a country and bluegrass standard, was written in 1938 by fiddler Ervin T. Rouse and first recorded by Ervin and Gordon Rouse in 1939. Their version is no doubt widely available; I found it on East Virginia Blues, one of the eleven CDs in the remarkable series of roots music titled When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll. Cash recorded the tune at least one more time: The live album recorded in 1968 at California’s Folsom Prison includes a pretty good version of the song.

One of the stranger tracks I came upon this morning – not quite as strange as the Danish “Operation Godylorange” but still odd – was “Orange Air” from the 5th Dimension’s second album, the 1967 release The Magic Garden. Written by Jimmy Webb, the song notes in its chorus: “And then the night Jasmine came clinging to her hair and lingered there, and there was orange air.” At All Music Guide, Matthew Greenwald says the song is “another one of Jimmy Webb’s emotionally intense, slightly depressing lyrics that make up this brilliant concept album. The downcast message of being let down by the disintegration of a love affair is nicely juxtaposed by a buoyant arrangement and vocal performance.” I’m glad he got it, because I sure didn’t, but it’s still a nice track.

Staying in 1967 for another moment, we land on an outtake from the sessions that provided us with Music From Big Pink, the first album by The Band. “Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast)” first showed up as a track on The Basement Tapes, a 1975 release of some of the music The Band and Bob Dylan recorded in the months after Dylan’s July 1966 motorcycle accident and before the releases in 1967 of his John Wesley Harding and in 1968 of The Band’s Big Pink. The version of the Richard Manuel tune linked here is, I believe, the one included on the expanded edition of Music From Big Pink released in 2000 and labeled there as a demo.

And it’s off to San Francisco in 1971 and an album that reflected as it was being recorded the changing membership of the group It’s A Beautiful Day. The album Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime, notes Lindsay Planer of AMG, was recorded as “lineup number two was replaced by lineup number three – netting a separate band for the Choice Quality Stuff side and the Anytime side.” The sprightly instrumental “Oranges & Apples” shows up on the Anytime side of the LP, and it turns out to be an offering that sounds more like something from a middle-of-the road ensemble than a track from one of the great hippie bands of its time. David LaFlamme’s famous violin is hardly there at all, which is just weird. But then, the track is titled “Oranges & Apples,” which probably means something about comparisons.

And we close this edition of Floyd’s Prism with a stop in 1989 and a track from one of my favorite Van Morrison albums. “Orangefield” was tucked on the second side of Avalon Sunset, and I’m of two minds about it. It’s repetitious, both lyrically and musically, which should make the track a little tedious. But there’s something thrilling about it, too, with the string and percussion accents and the backing vocals of Katie Kissoon and Carol Kenyon pulling me in and drawing me briefly into another Morrison-inspired trance.

Briefly . . .

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

The Texas Gal and I learned this week that we’re hosting dinner this Sunday for Mother’s Day. We’re more than fine with that, but there are things that need to be done. So I only wish I had time to kill.

Here’s The Band from 1970’s Stage Fright. I’ll be back Saturday.

Saturday Single No. 299

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

As we did a some weeks ago with what had become “1972 Week,” we’ll close the accidental “1971 Week” with a six-tune random walk, this time through the year that saw me graduate from high school and move on to the grown-ups’ table at St. Cloud State.

First up is “There’s A Long Road Ahead,” from Clydie King, who was one of the best and busiest background singers from the late 1960s on. She’d recorded as a member of several groups and on her own since the late 1950s without much chart success, and released three solo albums in the 1970s. “There’s A Long Road Ahead” was on King’s first album, Direct Me and was written by Delaney Bramlett and Carl Radle. If the combination of those names – King, Bramlett and Radle – makes you think you know what the track sounds like, you’re probably right.

In 1971, the Lettermen were still releasing albums of alternately bouncy, smooth and sorrowful vocal workouts. “Everything is Good About You,” one of the bouncy (and less-distinguished) workouts, was pulled from the album Everything’s Good About You. It was the group’s thirtieth (and next-to-last) single to find its way into or near the Billboard Hot 100, topping out at No. 74, and it’s our second stop this morning.

In the early days of this blog, I wrote several times about Tom Jans and added one post about the album Take Heart, Jans’ 1971 collaboration with Mimi Fariña. It’s a quiet album that I tend to forget about, and one of the benefits of random walks like this is that they remind me of music that I’ve somehow left behind. The specific reminder this morning is the track “Charlotte,” a sorrowful and string-heavy meditation. And after pausing for it, we head off for our fourth tune.

Pretty much everything I know about folksinger Ann Briggs comes from Wikipedia and from listening to her 1971 album The Time Has Come. The album is good, though it sometimes – and this morning is one of those times – seems a little bleak, in the way that a lot of English folk music can. And Briggs’ music is very clearly smack in the middle of that folk tradition. “Fine Horseman,” bleak as it may be, is our fourth stop this morning.

Next up is Richie Havens, once more taking a well-known song and turning it, to some extent, inside out. On the album The Great Blind Degree, Havens covered Graham Nash’s great song, “Teach Your Children,” and turned it from a country-ish jaunt into a slow, heartfelt plea. It’s not nearly my favorite among Havens’ covers of well-known songs, but it’s memorable and effective.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I wrote that I found The Band’s 1971 album Cahoots underwhelming, and that’s true. Compared to the glories of Music From Big Pink and The Band, the group’s work on Cahoots seemed pale when it came out. And it’s another album – like the one by Jans and Fariña mentioned above – that I think I need to revisit. And I guess that reintroduction starts now as the RealPlayer lands on “Thinkin’ Out Loud.” At first listen, it seems better than I recall, and its today’s Saturday Single.

‘The Sun Don’t Shine Anymore . . .’

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

In the early autumn of 1987, as I was settling into my new digs in Minot, North Dakota, I got a call one Saturday from my ladyfriend in St. Cloud. She’d been to the record store the night before and – knowing my affection for The Band – had picked up The Best of The Band, a 1976 anthology.

“It’s all good,” she said, “but there is one song that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.”

What was the title? She’d paid no attention. Nor did specific lyrics come to mind. All she knew was that the track was gorgeous and she’d lost herself in it for a few minutes.

And I was stumped. My regard for The Band at that point was based on three albums’ worth of music – Music From Big Pink, The Band and Stage Fright – and my awareness that The Band had been Bob Dylan’s back-up unit for a good length of time. I’d heard Cahoots – the album that followed Stage Fright – and had been underwhelmed, and the only attention I’d paid to the group after that came in the context of its work with Dylan: the live Before The Flood and the studio album Planet Waves.

I was aware that the group had released a few more albums before calling it quits with The Last Waltz, but I’d paid no attention. As my interest in music – like my interest in life itself – had been renewed earlier in 1987, I’d put The Band on a list of performers whose work I wanted to explore further, but time was short and the list was long. So I wasn’t thinking at all about the group’s 1975 album Northern Lights-Southern Cross, which was on my want list, and I wasn’t even aware of “It Makes No Difference,” one of two truly great tracks on that 1975 album. (The other one? “Acadian Driftwood.” As for “Ophelia,” I like it but don’t see it as quite on the same level as the other two tracks.)

By the end of that long-ago weekend, my ladyfriend had made a note of the title of the track that had so impressed her. Not long after that, I got hold of a copy of the two-LP Anthology of The Band’s work released on Capitol on 1982, and I concurred with her opinion of “It Makes No Difference.” (I also, between that Saturday in 1987 and early 1989, completed a collection of The Band’s original albums from its first incarnation, leaving for later years my own copy of The Best of The Band, the anthology that began this tale.)

My friend called “It Makes No Difference” the “most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” and there’s no doubt here of its beauty. But is it the most beautiful track recorded by that first version of the group? I lean toward saying yes, with the only other contenders being “I Shall Be Released” from Music From Big Pink and “Whispering Pines” and perhaps “King Harvest Has Surely Come” from The Band. And here it is:

There’s a reason “It Makes No Difference” came to mind recently. Among the performers who have come to light in the past few years, one of my favorites is Ruthie Foster, who performs blues, R&B, gospel and the wide swath of what’s come to be called Americana about as well as can be imagined. And when I had a chance to take a listen to her newest album, the recently released Let It Burn, here’s one of the tracks I found:

Intrigued and impressed, I started to look for other covers. I’d already heard – and was unimpressed by – the version that My Morning Jacket had recorded for the 2007 tribute, Endless Highway: The Music of The Band. But things got better pretty quickly. The late country-rock guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow recorded the tune for his 2001 album Meet Sneaky Pete, and another departed legend, soul singer Solomon Burke, also covered the song, recording a stirring version for his 2005 album Make Do With What You Got.

There were some I didn’t track down: Cajun performer Terrance Simien covered the song for his 2001 album The Tribute Sessions, and I heard snippets of numerous other covers of the song by folks with unfamiliar names as I wandered through the mp3s available at Amazon. That’s where I came across the cover version by South of Nowhere, which I like very much, that I shared here the other day.

But the most interesting cover I found – not necessarily the best; I think that title might go to Foster – was by a group of Norwegian musicians calling themselves Home Groan. The group’s performance of “It Makes No Difference” comes – if I’ve figured this out correctly – from a Norwegian radio program called Cowboy & Indianer (translating to Cowboys & Indians) that celebrates Americana music. A collection of performances from the radio show was released in 2007 as Cowboy & Indianer Sessions Vol. 1, and that’s where I found Home Groan’s performance: