Saturday, August 30, 2008

Davi Again and a Collection Milestone

Today, once again, I get to treat myself to a single side I have owned for 45 years without giving it a listen. The disclaimer is that my way of doing things back then would have caused me to play the song as soon as I got it, but I remember pointedly ignoring this 45 every time it surfaced in the box, for reasons only three-year-old caithiseach could divulge. On this particular point, he’s keeping silent.

I do have one small set of tidbits to share about “Reason for Love” by Davi (Stark 110). In my search for information on the label, the song and the artist, I came across a guy in Brooklyn, Bobby, who stated in a forum post that “Reason for Love” is one of his favorite songs. I’ll listen to it in a moment, and then I’ll know why.

Sounds like old R&B, 6/8 time, doo-wop, sort of like “Sixteen Candles.” Occasional falsetto. Not bad. It was most likely too slow for three-year-old caithiseach to endure.

What I learned about the songwriters, F. Hill and D. Svitenko, is that they were in a band together in the Northeastern U.S. I’ve lost the details of that tidbit, because I didn’t write down the information when I first saw it. Now, my searches aren’t giving me the same results. Sorry about that.

Will I now play this 45 often? I’ll perhaps play “Go Charley Go” from time to time, but “Reason for Love” will show up when I make my next compilation of my old 45s, and that’s about it. I’m glad Bobby in Brooklyn likes it. Here’s the link to the song, after which I have more to say today:

Davi, Reason for Love

Since I can’t tell you which band included Hill and Svitenko, or the names of other songs they wrote, I figure I should appease you with more information about two aspects of this blog to which I refer often.

First, here are two photos of the former Big Top department store, where my Uncle Tom bought me all those 45s all those years ago. They are recent shots, from my August trip home for my high-school reunion. If you are kind enough to take a moment to look at them, you may gain some understanding of why I speak so nostalgically about the place. Photo 1 Photo 2

And second, I mentioned my affinity for the hits of 1970 a couple of weeks ago. I said I thought there was an unusually high concentration of classic tunes on the 1970 Top 40 charts, and that, as a result, I had collected more songs from 1970 than from any other year. While I had acquired every Top 40 hit from 2006 and 2007, that was easy, thanks to iTunes, Rhapsody and SpiralFrog. Most of my 1970 songs came long before I started buying digital files, however.

Since I owned 2006-07 complete, it seemed a shame not to have all of 1970. I identified 20 or so songs I didn’t own, and I bought them. If I counted correctly, I now own the 244 songs that debuted in 1970, the 12 flip sides that appeared on the charts paired with their A side, and the 36 songs that carried over from 1969. I counted 38 One-Hit Wonders, as well as 3 songs that spent just one week in the Top 40 (all by artists with at least one other hit).

In case you are collecting old recordings and would like a handy checklist of all 1970 Top 40 hits, here it is. The songs are listed by debut date, and the number to the left is each song’s debut position. I hope this list is useful to someone out there. It's long, so I may snip it out in a couple of weeks.

Next time, I’ll bring you a rock-and-roll classic, as well as what amounts to a 1956 fusion recording that features a vocalist who made it sort of big—thirteen years later. See you Wednesday!

1969 legacy hits on 1/3/1970:
1 Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head/Thomas, B.J.
2 Leaving on a Jet Plane/Peter, Paul & Mary
3 Someday We'll Be Together/Ross, Diana/Supremes
4 Down on the Corner/CCR
5 Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye/Steam
6 Whole Lotta Love/Led Zeppelin
7 I Want You Back/Jackson 5
8 Venus/Shocking Blue
9 Holly Holy/Diamond, Neil
10 La La La (If I Had You)/Sherman, Bobby
11 Midnight Cowboy/Ferrante & Teicher
12 Come Together/Beatles
13 Jam Up Jelly Tight/Roe, Tommy
14 Eli's Coming/Three Dog Night
15 Don't Cry Daddy/Presley, Elvis
16 Take a Letter Maria/Greaves, R.B.
17 Jingle Jangle/Archies
18 Early in the Morning/Vanity Fare
19 Backfield in Motion/Mel and Tim
20 And When I Die/Blood, Sweat & Tears
21 These Eyes/Walker, Jr. & All-Stars
22 Evil Woman Don't Play Your Games with Me/Crow
23 Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday/Wonder, Stevie
24 Friendship Train/Knight, Gladys & the Pips
25 Up on Cripple Creek/The Band
26 Smile a Little Smile for Me/Flying Machine
27 A Brand New Me/Springfield, Dusty
28 She/James, Tommy and the Shondells
30 Baby, I'm for Real/Originals
31 Ain't It Funky Now Pt. 1/Brown, James
32 Wedding Bell Blues/5th Dimension
33 Cold Turkey/Plastic Ono Band
34 Cherry Hill Park/Royal, Billy Joe
36 Heaven Knows/Grass Roots
37 Wonderful World, Beautiful People/Cliff, Jimmy
39 Point It Out/Robinson, Smokey & Miracles
1/3/1970 debuts:
29 Without Love (There Is Nothing)/Jones, Tom
35 Winter World of Love/Humperdinck, Engelbert
38 She Belongs to Me/Nelson, Rick
40 I'll Never Fall in Love Again/Warwick, Dionne
34 Arizona/Lindsay, Mark
35 Hey There Lonely Girl/Holman, Eddie
39 She Came in Through the Bathroom Window/Cocker, Joe
40 Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)/Sly & the Family Stone
31 Walk a Mile in My Shoes/South, Joe
36 Walkin' in the Rain/Jay & the Americans
39 No Time/Guess Who
31 Blowing Away/5th Dimension
36 Baby Take Me in Your Arms/Jefferson
37 Let's Work Together/Harrison, Wilbert
38 Psychedelic Shack/Temptations
39 Cupid/Nash, Johnny
40 Part Two (Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorn)/Brown, James
30 Honey Come Back/Campbell, Glen
32 The Thrill Is Gone/King, B.B.
34 Rainy Night in Georgia/Benton, Brook
39 Fancy/Gentry, Bobbie
18 Travelin' Band/CCR
28 Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)/Delfonics
33 Ma Belle Amie/Tee Set
34 Oh Me Oh My (I'm a Fool for You Baby)/Lulu
35 He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother/Hollies
36 One Tin Soldier/Original Caste
37 Give Me Just a Little More Time/Chairmen of the Board
39 Monster/Steppenwolf
40 Evil Ways/Santana
13 Bridge Over Troubled Water/Simon & Garfunkel
24 The Rapper/Jaggerz
35 Breaking Up Is Hard to Do/Welch, Lenny
36 Always Something There to Remind Me/Greaves, R.B.
30 House of the Rising Sun/Frijid Pink
37 Never Had a Dream Come True/Wonder, Stevie
38 If I Were a Carpenter/Cash, Johnny & June Carter
39 Jennifer Tomkins/Street People
40 Kentucky Rain/Presley, Elvis
24 Call Me/Franklin, Aretha
28 Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)/Edison Lighthouse
31 Gotta Hold On to This Feeling/Walker, Jr. & All-Stars
35 Do the Funky Chicken/Thomas, Rufus
38 Easy Come, Easy Go/Sherman, Bobby
40 It's a New Day Pts. 1 & 2/Brown, James
33 Instant Karma!/Lennon, John
34 Celebrate/Three Dog Night
37 The Bells/Originals
38 Come and Get It/Badfinger
39 Spirit in the Sky/Greenbaum, Norman
36 All I Have to Do Is Dream/Campbell, Glen/Bobbie Gentry
37 Something's Burning/Rogers, Kenny & First Edition
39 Up the Ladder to the Roof/Supremes
6 Let It Be/Beatles
14 ABC/Jackson 5
38 Love or Let Me Be Lonely/Friends of Distinction
39 Shilo/Diamond, Neil
32 Tennessee Bird Walk/Blanchard, Jack/Misty Morgan
34 American Woman/Guess Who
35 Long Lonesome Highway/Parks, Michael
37 You're the One/Little Sister
39 Temma Harbour/Hopkin, Mary
40 Who's Your Baby?/Archies
31 Reflections of My Life/Marmalade
32 Turn Back the Hands of Time/Davis, Tyrone
35 Woodstock/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
36 Get Ready/Rare Earth
37 You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You)/Knight, Gladys & the Pips
37 Everybody's Out of Town/Thomas, B.J.
38 Vehicle/Ides of March
39 For the Love of Him/Martin, Bobbi
40 Little Green Bag/Baker, George Selection
37 Everything Is Beautiful/Stevens, Ray
38 Cecelia/Simon & Garfunkel
40 Love on a Two-Way Street/Moments
31 What Is Truth/Cash, Johnny
35 Airport Love Theme/Bell, Vincent
38 Which Way You Goin' Billy?/Poppy Family
39 Come Running/Morrison, Van
40 Make Me Smile/Chicago
30 Up Around the Bend/CCR
36 Viva Tirado/El Chicano
37 Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)/Ross, Diana
38 Puppet Man/5th Dimension
40 Come Saturday Morning/Sandpipers
26 The Letter/Cocker, Joe
31 Daughter of Darkness/Jones, Tom
38 Hey Lawdy Mama/Steppenwolf
39 Let Me Go to Him/Warwick, Dionne
40 Oh Happy Day/Campbell, Glen
33 Soolaimon (African Trilogy II)/Diamond, Neil
36 Hitchin' a Ride/Vanity Fare
39 Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)/Melanie
26 My Baby Loves Lovin'/White Plains
30 United We Stand/Brotherhood of Man
33 Brother Rapp Pts. 1 & 2/Brown, James
35 The Long and Winding Road/Beatles
36 The Wonder of You/Presley, Elvis
38 Ride Captain Ride/Blues Image
40 Sugar Sugar/Pickett, Wilson
29 Question/Moody Blues
37 Band of Gold/Payne, Freda
38 It's All in the Game/Four Tops
40 Love Land/Wright, Charles
15 The Love You Save/Jackson 5
24 Ball of Confusion/Temptations
33 Mama Told Me (Not to Come)/Three Dog Night
38 Gimme Dat Ding/Pipkins
39 Hey, Mister Sun/Sherman, Bobby
40 (You've Got Me) Dangling on a String/Chairmen of the Board
34 Spirit in the Dark/Franklin, Aretha
37 Mississippi Queen/Mountain
39 Check Out Your Mind/Impressions
40 Baby Hold On/Grass Roots
32 A Song of Joy/Rios, Miguel
34 Are You Ready?/Pacific Gas & Electric
35 O-O-H Child/Five Stairsteps
37 Westbound #9/Flaming Ember
38 Teach Your Children/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
39 I Want to Take You Higher/Sly & the Family Stone
40 Mississippi/Phillips, John
36 Save the Country/5th Dimension
37 (They Long to Be) Close to You/Carpenters
40 Go Back/Crabby Appleton
20 Tighter, Tighter/Alive and Kicking
39 Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours/Wonder, Stevie
20 Make It with You/Bread
30 Ohio/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
36 I Just Can't Help Believing/Thomas, B.J.
38 Spill the Wine/Burdon, Eric & War
39 Silver Bird/Lindsay, Mark
40 The End of Our Road/Gaye, Marvin
37 Lay a Little Lovin' on Me/McNamara, Robin
38 Steal Away/Taylor, Johnnie
25 War/Starr, Edwin
26 Why Can't I Touch You?/Dyson, Ronnie
32 In the Summertime/Mungo Jerry
38 Maybe/Three Degrees
39 Tell It All Brother/Rogers, Kenny & First Edition
40 Trying to Make a Fool of Me/Delfonics
28 Overture from Tommy/Assembled Multitude
29 Patches/Carter, Clarence
30 Get Up (I Feel Like Being Like a) Sex Machine/Brown, James
33 Summertime Blues/Who
34 The Sly, Slick and the Wicked/Lost Generation
37 Everybody's Got the Right to Love/Supremes
38 25 or 6 to 4/Chicago
39 Do You See My Love (For You Growing)/Walker, Jr. & the All-Stars
30 Big Yellow Taxi/Neighborhood
35 Hand Me Down World/Guess Who
38 I Want to Take You Higher/Turner, Ike & Tina
40 Groovy Situation/Chandler, Gene
23 Lookin' Out My Back Door/CCR
25 Hi-De-Ho/Blood, Sweat & Tears
26 Ain't No Mountain High Enough/Ross, Diana
34 Solitary Man/Diamond, Neil
38 Julie, Do Ya Love Me/Sherman, Bobby
23 Don't Play That Song/Franklin, Aretha
36 I've Lost You/Presley, Elvis
37 (I Know) I'm Losing You/Rare Earth
38 Snowbird/Murray, Anne
40 It's a Shame/Spinners
29 I (Who Have Nothing)/Jones, Tom
33 Candida/Dawn
36 Rubber Duckie/Ernie
40 Cracklin' Rosie/Diamond, Neil
35 Closer to Home/Grand Funk Railroad
36 Joanne/Nesmith, Michael
37 Peace Will Come (According to Plan)/Melanie
38 Neanderthal Man/Hotlegs
40 All Right Now/Free
31 Long Long Time/Ronstadt, Linda
35 Out in the Country/Three Dog Night
38 Everything's Tuesday/Chairman [sic] of the Board
39 Express Yourself/Wright, Charles
40 Lola/Kinks
34 Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma/New Seekers
35 Indiana Wants Me/Taylor, R. Dean
37 That's Where I Went Wrong/Poppy Family
39 Green-Eyed Lady/Sugarloaf
40 I'll Be There/Jackson 5
37 It's Only Make Believe/Campbell, Glen
38 El Condor Pasa/Simon & Garfunkel
39 Still Water (Love)/Four Tops
40 Fire and Rain/Taylor, James
18 We've Only Just Begun/Carpenters
37 Somebody's Been Sleeping/100 Proof Aged in Soul
39 Do What You Wanna Do/Five Flights Up
40 Stand by Your Man/Staton, Candi
35 Our House/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
36 It Don't Matter to Me/Bread
37 Lucretia Mac Evil/Blood, Sweat & Tears
39 Deeper & Deeper/Payne, Freda
30 God, Love and Rock & Roll/Teegarden & Van Winkle
34 Super Bad Pts. 1 & 2/Brown, James
38 Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite the World)/Temptations
39 See Me, Feel Me/Who
40 Montego Bay/Bloom, Bobby
28 Cry Me a River/Cocker, Joe
29 Engine Number 9/Pickett, Wilson
39 Gypsy Woman/Hyland, Brian
40 Yellow River/Christie
17 I Think I Love You/Partridge Family
27 The Tears of a Clown/Robinson, Smokey/Miracles
39 Make It Easy on Yourself/Warwick, Dionne
40 Heaven Help Us All/Wonder, Stevie
33 Let's Work Together/Canned Heat
34 As the Years Go By/Mashmakhan
35 Share the Land/Guess Who
38 You Don't Have to Say You Love Me/Presley, Elvis
40 For the Good Times/Price, Ray
30 5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years of Love)/Presidents
35 After Midnight/Clapton, Eric
39 I Am Somebody Pt. II/Taylor, Johnnie
40 Heed the Call/Rogers, Kenny and the First Edition
22 Stoned Love/Supremes
28 One Less Bell to Answer/5th Dimension
36 No Matter What/Badfinger
37 Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?/Chicago
38 He Ain't Heavy…He's My Brother/Diamond, Neil
40 Black Magic Woman/Santana
35 Be My Baby/Kim, Andy
39 Can't Stop Loving You/Jones, Tom
40 I'm Not My Brother's Keeper/Flaming Ember
13 My Sweet Lord/Harrison, George
27 Domino/Morrison, Van
33 Knock Three Times/Dawn
35 Only Love Can Break Your Heart/Young, Neil
36 It's Impossible/Como, Perry
39 One Man Band/Three Dog Night
40 Do It/Diamond, Neil
30 Groove Me/Floyd, King
32 Pay to the Piper/Chairmen of the Board
35 River Deep-Mountain High/Supremes & Four Tops
36 Immigrant Song/Led Zeppelin
40 Stoney End/Streisand, Barbra
32 If I Were Your Woman/Knight, Gladys & the Pips
37 Border Song (Holy Moses)/Franklin, Aretha
38 Your Song/John, Elton
39 Love the One You're With/Stills, Stephen
40 Rose Garden/Anderson, Lynn
26 Lonely Days/Bee Gees
39 Games/Redeye
40 We Gotta Get You a Woman/Runt

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Debut: 45 after 45

I am so pumped about this post! I did a feasibility study for this blog in October, 2007. I pulled out all of my 45s, focused on the Survivors that I had owned since 1963 or so, and created a table in a Word document in which I slotted all of the old sides and newer material that resonated with me. And I knew last October that when I got to post number 69, this one, I would be very excited to be here.

Why? I own two 45s from my childhood that I never played. And one of the four sides gets its first spin for this post.

I said last time that I was going to do something I had never seen on a music blog. Correct me if I’m wrong, but has anyone else blogged about a song he or she has owned for 45 (or 30, or even 20) years without ever playing the song beforehand?

This sort of reminds me of Geraldo Rivera’s live-TV foray into Al Capone’s hidden vault. I will play this song file and react to it in real time. I recorded the four songs to a wav file on April 27, 2008, but I did not listen to them. I used the visuals of the recording program to make sure I was getting sound. Now, I will open that file, chop out the song I am after, and play it.

Ah, but first, I should admit that I may have listened to the song at some point. There was no particular reason for me never to listen to it. When Uncle Tom brought the record to me in 1963, I almost certainly did listen to it. And then something about it made me set it aside, and while I remember looking at it often when I was trying to find something else, I know I never listened to it past my fifth birthday.

I don’t know anything about the artist or the label yet. I am supposing that there’s not a lot of back story to go with the song. If I like the song, I’m going to be annoyed at myself. Here comes the first song in this odyssey, “Go Charley Go” by Davi (Stark 110).

Needle drops. Sounds like a Johnny Maestro clone. Late 1950s social references. Hand claps. Energetic but awkward drumming. Girls screaming. Sax solo. Unusual and weird story line. Dialogue overlay at end.

So. I do not remember the song at all. I suspect that three-year-old caithiseach listened to the very slow intro and yanked the needle off before the song got going. I also did not have any experience with “Runaround Sue”-type songs then, so this one would have involved a steep learning curve. Hence its relegation to the bottom of the box of 45s.

When you listen, you will hear some clicks. There is a scratch on the record from years of careless storage without a sleeve, but the groove is black and shiny. The overall sound quality shows that it got far less airplay than most caithiseach vinyl (or styrene).

Now, to do some digging on Davi. A search on “Stark 110 Davi” gives me two million hits. Darn. One hit is for “the biology of cleavage fragments.” A search for the title on the BMI site showed no songs named “Go Charley Go,” though the song, written by C. Liddell, was published by Liddell Publ. Co., B.M.I.

What about the songwriter? Aha! Charles Stark Liddell is listed with five published titles, though “Go Charley Go” is not among them. He wrote all five songs by himself, so I can’t cross-check his collaborators.

My guess is that Charley Liddell created a label and named it after himself. He wrote a song about something that happened to him, published it under his BMI auspices, got a kid named Davi to sing it, and sent the 45 to a hundred radio stations, most of which didn’t play it. But since my copy is not a DJ copy and is not an obvious cutout, it must have been for sale somewhere.

A search on Charles Stark Liddell shows via that Mr. Liddell wrote “I Thank You” for the Velveteens, released on Stark 105 in 1961 and Laurie 3126 in 1962. That gives a time reference for “Go Charley Go.” “I Thank You” is listed as one of his five BMI titles. The Laurie connection may have something to do with the song’s continuing documentation.

I finally teased out a bit more information on Davi, but it relates more to Saturday’s song, so I’ll talk about it then.

Here’s a scan of the label. The light color allows you to see the numbers I penciled onto the label when I took my record censuses; I considered the record part of my collection, but I really didn’t play it more than once.

Well, I made it this far in the post with the play-by-play of my “discovery” of “Go Charley Go,” but I have nothing more to add for now. Since Saturday’s post is likely to be rather short, I’ll add in details of something I acquired when I was in Indiana for my 30-year high school reunion. See you then!

Davi, Go Charley Go

Sunday, August 24, 2008

13 Favorites and My Reasoning

As I noted yesterday, my friend whiteray over at Echoes in the Wind very kindly invited me to guest-post on his blog. The post, which I wrote a couple of weeks ago to give him time to load the music, is up now, so go take a look at what I listen to when I am not playing my obscure, scratchy 45s. Thanks!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Did You Say Something?

Before I delve into my post, let me note that my friend whiteray over at Echoes in the Wind very kindly invited me to guest-post on his blog. He has scheduled my Baker’s Dozen of favorite caithiseach singles for Sunday. If you happen to be a Great Vinyl Meltdown reader who doesn’t also read whiteray’s prose, you should check him out. If you do read his blog, you have seen the promo paragraphs. Being asked to pin myself down to 13 favorite singles was quite a task, but it was an enjoyable and revealing mental exercise. And now, on to the post:

Late Tuesday, I wrote that I wasn’t at all ready mentally for the school year to begin. Then I attended a two-day faculty/staff workshop, and the presentations my academic dean chose for the workshop performed some kind of magic: I am in a far better state of mind now, ready to take on the tasks before me. The ability of a few speakers to turn my brain around so completely makes me think I am somewhat more impressionable than I thought.

Hey! Being impressionable seems, now that I think of it, to have come close to playing a huge role in four-year-old caithiseach’s enjoyment of music. This trait nearly ended my enjoyment of music.

Twice I caused myself grief by mimicking things that happened in the media. There was a Saturday-morning cartoon in which, during the opening sequence, one of the main characters burst from a large drum. I had a full-size toy drum set (plastic rims rather than metal, for example), and I cut out one of the bass drum’s heads so I could burst through the other side. Mom didn’t find that move at all clever, but I did wind up getting a real drum set soon thereafter.

And there was a cartoon where one of the characters said, “Get the point?” and produced a pin, with which he stuck another cartoon character. Even though the pricked character yelled in the cartoon, I decided to test out that one as well. Mom really didn’t like that shtick, and there was no upside to that one at all.

Impressionable, yes. I stopped short of donning a cape and climbing a tree to see if I could fly, but I am a strong advocate of monitoring the video viewing of small children.

And so, I really wonder what my parents were thinking when they let me talk them into buying “Beans in My Ears” by the Music City Singers (Hit 129) and the Serendipity Singers (Philips 40198). If you know the song, you must know what could have happened if I had decided that sticking beans in my ears was a good idea.

Something about the drum and the pin must have given me a better reality filter, because I didn’t ever try to stick beans in my ears. If I had, I don’t know if I would have gotten much sympathy. My mom might well have said, “Figure this one out on your own, little caithseach.” And I wouldn’t have blamed her.

I was fond of the Serendipity Singers’ previous Top 40 hit, “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man),” a Top Ten offering from the spring of 1964. “Beans” was the follow-up, entering the Top 40 on June 13, 1964. It reached just #30, probably because irate parents of impressionable tots told radio stations to stop playing it, or else. Both songs featured nicely textured harmonies and gentle acoustic folky arrangements.

My first copy of the song was the soundalike on Hit Records. The makeup of the Music City Singers is probably lost to time, but they didn’t lack for talent. That 45, as well as the Serendipity Singers version, was a Victim of the Great Meltdown. I would be interested to hear the soundalike version again, for the sake of comparison.

The Serendipity Singers consisted of Jon Arbenz, Mike Brovsky, Diane Decker, Brooks Hatch, John Madden, Bryan Sennett, Tom Tiemann, Lynne Weintraub and Bob Young. Thanks, Joel Whitburn. I typed the names out so you could copy and paste them as needed. Do note, please, that spelling variations on several names exist online. The act started as a trio, popular at the University of Colorado in Boulder, but by the time all nine were together, they had left CU for the Bitter End in Greenwich Village. They managed just the two single hits, but Philips allowed them to record five LPs.

“Beans in My Ears,” the song that could have ended my blogging career 44 years before it began, was written by Len Chandler, who made a name for himself as a protest songwriter in the mid-1960s. As sweet-sounding as “Beans” is, the punch line anticipates a “Don’t trust anyone over 30” mind set when it states that all grownups have beans in their ears. Chandler was born in Akron, Ohio in 1935.

The Serendipity Singers were too clean to survive the onslaught of gritty Dylanesque folk, but they managed to entertain a kid who was steeped in the songs of the Highwaymen and such crisp folk tunes as “Washington Square.” They did not, however, manage to persuade me to deafen myself, and for that bit of timely good judgment, I thank whatever alignment of stars kept me away from the bag of beans.

Though I lost my 45 in the Great Meltdown of 1972, I reacquired it two years ago at Boardwalk Books in Duluth, Minnesota. Sorry about the pops, but I haven’t come up with anything better, and if it were my original single, it would crackle a lot more than this copy. If you happen to be in Duluth, stop by the bookstore and say hi to Bud and Heather. Tell them Seán sent you, and they may toss in a free 45 if you buy something.

After my Sunday guest post, I’ll be back here with a post that will do something I have not yet seen happen on a music blog. I would tell you what I’m going to do, but someone would surely beat me to it just so I can’t say I was the first to come up with this concept. I’m pretty excited about it, so come back Wednesday. See you then!

Serendipity Singers, Beans in My Ears

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Camp Songs: The Final Pair

When you read this post, I will most likely be in a faculty workshop at my school. I will be hearing the voices of speakers and thinking about what I did not do on my summer vacation. I am a bit unnerved, because for the first time ever, I am not ready to give up summer and meet my clientele on Monday.

I will not always have summer, but I can always have summer music, if I choose to. And long ago, I chose to keep the music of various summers close to my heart. Today, I am going to talk about two songs from distant summers.

First, I want to ask you to ponder this question: To what degree are all of our favorite songs colored by, and chosen on the basis of, positive experiences we associate with them? If you were hung by your thumbs over a vat of burning oil while “I Will Survive” was playing repeatedly at a deafness-inducing level, would that song be less likely to become one of your favorites?

OK, I chose a bad song to place in that scenario. Try “Let It Be.” As for “I Will Survive,” I hated it when it was playing at all of the parties in the spring of 1979, and then, when I went to Colima, Colima, Mexico for a spectacular summer as an exchange student, the song was just hitting the air there. So I got a double dose, and its association with a great summer did not increase my warm feelings for the song.

Consider “I Will Survive” a control for the hypothesis; two other songs I heard for the first time that summer, “Deliver Your Children” by Wings and “Don’t Forget to Remember” by the Bee Gees, hold very nostalgic spots in my sentimental soul. Thus, I ascribe association with good times a lesser role than I might have before I thought about it, and that defeats my justification for liking the two songs I am about to present to you.

Both of these songs came into my life while I was at Good Fellow Camp in Porter, Indiana. One is from June, 1972, the other from June, 1973. As I have mentioned before, being at camp kept me from buying singles, and these were gone by the time I got home. Both are by One-Hit Wonders; the second is what I call a One-Week Wonder. Both of them take me back instantly to camp; I can even smell the disinfectant they used in the Central John (yes, that’s what they called it).

At Camp Good Fellow, on arrival day and departure day, the administration played WLS over the loudspeakers, which usually blared only “Reveille” and “Taps.” On the day in 1972 that I left camp, I noted to myself that the song they were playing, “How Do You Do?” by Mouth & MacNeal (Philips 40715), was going to have to be my next purchase. I failed to gather the necessary coinage before my next shopping trip, and the record was lost to my collection. Not to my mind, though.

In the summer of 1983, I was delivering pizzas in Indianapolis for a national chain that was very popular in that time period. My 1981 Chevette had only an AM radio, so I could listen to WMLF, “The Music of Your Life,” which played early 1950s pop, and an oldies station whose call letters I cannot recall, which covered 1955-1975.

I was ready to pull into a driveway with a pizza when the first notes of the guitar opening to “How Do You Do?” came on. I gasped. I truly had not heard the song since 1972, but my recognition was instantaneous. I had 15 minutes to get the pizza to its new home, so I didn’t turn in. I drove until the song ended. If that was your pizza, I apologize.

The second song embodies the true spirit of being a One-Week Wonder, as it climbed to #40 in its one week. It was in its tenth week in the Hot 100 when it crept to #40, and it spent five weeks sliding back out of the charts. The song was “Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road (Kama Sutra 569).

This song got its airplay while I was at camp, and I never did get a radio reminder after 1973. The last time I heard it was on New Year’s Eve that year, when the DJ played it as a teaser for the WLS Top 89 Countdown for 1973. (It didn’t make it.) How could a song that peaked at #40 be a candidate for the annual Top 89 at a station that realistically used a Top 20 format?

“Back When My Hair Was Short” overachieved in Chicago. It spent 5 weeks on the WLS Top 30, charting at 25-26-25-29-17, before the station realized the song had stalled nationally and stopped playing it. During those five weeks, I heard it a lot, and I liked it a reasonable amount. In fact, I wanted to own it badly enough that I was an early buyer of the 3-CD Buddah Box, a compilation of Buddah/Kama Sutra hits. (They failed to include “Do You Know What Time It Is?” by the P-Nut Gallery. I’m still annoyed by that omission.)

I knew from the liner notes of the Rhino Have a Nice Day series that “How Do You Do?” did not meet their standards for essential, eternal pop music. I can acknowledge that opinion. On the radio, as I was driving home from my high-school reunion, WGN (Chicago) overnight hosts Steve and Johnnie referred to “Back When My Hair Was Short” as a “good bad song.” I never knew that particular song was bad, perhaps because neither the pundits nor the radio guys told me so.

I ignored the Rhino opinion. After all, they used a short edit of “How Do You Do?” on their compilation, and I had to dole out cash for a 2-CD Mouth & MacNeal import compilation to get the full-length version. So I spent about $40 for that song, and $30 for Gunhill Road’s opus. Oh, and before I got “How Do You Do?” on CD, a DJ told me his station’s copy was on a CD called Dutch Treats. The CD was out of print, but I got a cassette copy for $20. So make that $60 spent on a song Rhino dismissed.

Why would I pay so much to own these two songs? I am not sure. I liked the guitar of the Mouth & MacNeal song, and apart from the awkwardness of the lyrics, the theme of rejuvenating a love relationship seemed perfectly cheery to me. And Gunhill Road? I got the point of that one as well. Love. I think darn near all songs are about love, except for “I Will Survive.”

Mouth & MacNeal were a Dutch duo, Willem “Mouth” Duyn and Sjoukje Van’t Spijker, who used the stage name “Maggie MacNeal” for reasons that escape me, though I’m always glad when people pretend to be Irish. “Mouth” seems to have taken that name because of the big nature of his voice. The nickname is short for Big Mouth, a name under which Duyn recorded (with Little Eve) after he and Maggie split up.

Apart from this hit song, they charted once more in the U.S., with “Hey, You Love,” which peaked at #82 later in 1972. According to the compilation I bought, they had a string of hits in the Netherlands; “Hey, You Love” was actually released in Europe before “How Do You Do?”

“How Do You Do?” was written by Hans van Hemert and Henricus (Harry) van Hoof, H being a very important letter to the Dutch. Van Hemert produced the recording; he is still making records and creating music acts. Maggie (born 1950) is still singing. Mouth (born 1937) died of a heart attack in 2004, age 67.

Providing scintillating tidbits about Gunhill Road is more of a challenge, but not too bad. The trio was made up of Glenn Leopold, Gil Roman and Steven Goldrich. The song I sought for so long was first recorded with lyrics that talked too much about drugs to be radio-friendly, so they reworked the song to be about Love for the single release. The producer of their second (1972) album was none other than Kenny Rogers, who sang and played bass. The album earned a remix and a rerelease in 1973, which allowed the single to chart. Kenny isn’t listed as a producer for the single.

Leopold wrote all of the Gunhill Road material, and he has landed on his feet since that time: He writes Scooby-Doo films, Smurfs, Jonny Quest and Fantastic Four episodes, and he contributed music to Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998). Gil Roman is still playing guitar, in San Francisco, and Steven Goldrich is invisible to me.

I’m hoping you like these summer tunes for what they are. To add to your enjoyment, I’m adding competing videos made for “How Do You Do?” In one of them, Mouth pretends to be using a violin and its bow to row an invisible boat. Wow.

There are no “real” videos for “Back When My Hair Was Short” on YouTube, but you can see the artwork for their albums and singles on this video.

That’s it for now. For Saturday, I’ll bring you a single that could have sent me to the emergency room. Now, it’s time for bed, because my three days of workshops start at 7am.

Mouth & MacNeal, How Do You Do?

Gunhill Road, Back When My Hair Was Short

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Are You Ready for Summer to End?

If you live in Australia, New Zealand or Patagonia, your winter is still doing its thing. For most of the Northern Hemisphere, these are the Dog Days of summer. But I live in Minnesota. I haven’t used the air conditioner in three weeks, and I can’t keep my window open at night. The lows for the next ten nights are expected to range from 54 F to 63 F (12 C to 17 C). Is summer over here? Not really. Not until Wednesday, when teacher workshops begin at my school for the full faculty. I even have things to do today (Saturday) for that inevitable event.

But the title of this post doesn’t refer to my dismay at the demise of Summer 2008. It merely recognizes that this is my last post for the caithiseach-vinyl year that relates to the music of the summer of 1970. I mentioned two posts ago (plus the Vinyl Record Day post) that music at night, on WLS in Chicago, got me through that rough summer. I thought I would wait until today to state that I have never witnessed a conglomeration of listenable tunes to match what I heard in 1970. The hits cascaded onto the charts all year long.

Out of curiosity, I recently took a census of my compressed Top 40 music files, sorted by year. I wanted to see where I was most deficient. With just one song each, 1891 and 1893 are going to need some boosting. 1966 and 1967 are looking good at 233 and 234 tunes, respectively. Those numbers show how the charts have changed, because I own all of the hits of 2006 and 2007, and they come in at 156 and 167.

I figured that, in some cases, the totals would give me an idea of how much I liked the year’s music. I was right; before some concentrated buying this week, I owned just 22 hits from 2004. I am up to 43 now. 2001 had made it into my collection just 19 times, but I’m up to 55 there.

Sure enough, the year that I worked hardest to collect has been 1970. The census tallied 237 songs owned out of 254 (including charting B sides, give or take one). I get the impression I should dig hard and finish off that year as well.

I have always had the indefinable belief that 1970 produced the largest body of quality hit songs of any calendar year. Go ahead and debate me; you’re likely to (and welcome to) say “But what about ____ from 19XX? Huh? What about that?” Often a milieu—the songs they played when you were in love, or graduating from high school—makes a period’s music resonate forever. But 1970? The year I turned 10? Sure, my mom died, and I needed something to hold onto, but I’ve had more fun in other years, and the music doesn’t compare. I had my first requited love interest in July 1977, and when I looked at the charts, apart from a few songs that meant something then, the Top 40 wasn’t that solid. But 1970 . . . wow.

The Guess Who: “No Time.” Brook Benton: “Rainy Night in Georgia.” CCR: “Travelin’ Band”/“Who’ll Stop the Rain.” Simon & Garfunkel: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Cecelia.” Edison Lighthouse: “Love Grows.” John Lennon: “Instant Karma!” Norman Greenbaum: “Spirit in the Sky.”

I’ll stop there, on March 7, and just tell you that the year kept getting better. I’ll also share a theological discussion from Good Fellow Camp, summer 1970:

Louie and caithiseach: “Bob, last year you didn’t cuss. Why do you cuss so much?”
Bob: “I dunno. I like to.”
Louie and caithiseach: “You’ll go to hell for cussing.”
Bob: “No I won’t! The guy who sang ‘Spirit in the Sky’ cusses.”
Louie and caithiseach: “You don’t know that for sure, and even if he does, singing that song doesn’t mean he’ll go to heaven for sure.”
Bob: “Oh, shit.”

Ah, 1970. The #1 hits while I was visiting Aunt Eileen (and Uncle Jim, and cousins Bob and Jim) were “The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5, “Mama Told Me (Not to Come) by Three Dog Night, and “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by that girl drummer and her brother. WLS played them a lot, but there was a bunch of other great stuff as well, including the Jeff Barry offerings I discussed in previous posts. So, how do I limit this final roundup? By isolating the songs I replayed in my mind most between 1970 and 1987, when I started buying CD reissues.

By doing that, I can get at a few singles I would have bought if I had been at home. There are some really spectacular songs that I probably would have left in the store, like “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War and “War” by Edwin Starr. But there were two songs that would not leave my mind, didn’t show up on oldies radio, and actually enticed me to purchase them as 45s before I got them on CD.

One song was “Tighter, Tighter” by Alive and Kicking (Roulette 7078). Tommy James, whose songs I had always liked, co-wrote the song and involved himself in the production. I didn’t know that then, but I’ll allow myself to be impressed that I noticed something about the song that worked for me. He wrote the song with Robert King, who also co-wrote “Draggin’ the Line” and “Early in the Morning” with Tommy.

Pepe Cardona and Sandy Toder sang the leads on “Tighter, Tighter,” and the organ player, Bruce Sudano, joined Brooklyn Dreams and married Donna Summer. If I carried out these degrees of separation as far as possible, I would be here until January, and I don’t know if I’ll still be blogging then. (You get to decide.)

The other song was “Are You Ready?” by Pacific Gas & Electric (Columbia 45158). When Bob and I played our “Name That Tune” game at night, Bob came up with the idea of calling them PG&E so we could spit out the name faster. This was one rockin’ band, with an incredible guitar solo and amazing lead vocals by Charles Allen, who died in 1990. The gospel-sounding backing vocals came from the Blackberries. Allen wrote the song with John Hill; these two also have a writing credit for a version of the folk song “Stack-O-Lee.” Lloyd Price took it to #1 in 1959 as “Stagger Lee.” The PG&E version, slow and bluesy, was used in the 2007 Quentin Tarrantino film Death Proof.

Each act was a One-Hit Wonder in Top 40 terms, but Alive and Kicking reached #69 (as the more hip-soundin’ Alive ‘N Kickin’) with “Just Let It Come” later in 1970. (What an innuendo-laden sequence that was.) Allen’s bunch reached #93 with “Father Come on Home” (dang) in 1970, and #97 with “Thank God for You Baby” (as PG&E) in 1972.

“Tighter, Tighter” reached the Top 40 on July 4, 1970 and peaked at #7. “Are You Ready?” climbed aboard on June 20 and reached just #14. I heard both of them a lot, though the WLS charts show that “Tighter, Tighter” peaked higher and faster than it did nationally, despite its later start, and “Are You Ready?” fell a bit short of its national peak and dropped more quickly.

If you take “Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me,” “The Love You Save,” “Close to You,” and these two songs, you have a lot of my nighttime rotation in July/August, 1970. Sure, there are better songs out there, but as one microcosm in the music universe, they hold up pretty well.

Shifting gears a bit, here’s something for the musicians and songwriters out there. I made a discovery one day that would never have happened if I didn’t own “Are You Ready?” on vinyl, or even if all vinyl played at the same speed.

I tossed the single on the turntable, which was set by accident to 33. I listened for a bit, and I decided that the slowed-down guitar of “Are You Ready?” made for a great slow bluesy underpinning. The part is not unique, but played at that tempo, it offers musical options you might not associate with it at full speed. So, apart from the two hits, I’ll post the slow groove for the heck of it.

I won’t be going back to the summer of 1970 this year, but next time, I’ll inspect a couple of other summer songs from later years at Good Fellow Camp. See you Wednesday!

Alive and Kicking, Tighter, Tighter

Pacific Gas & Electric, Are You Ready?

Are You Ready? guitar part

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bloomington: Everything but the Boardwalk

I participated yesterday in the 2008 Vinyl Record Day Blogswarm. That post is directly below this regularly scheduled post.

Find all Vinyl Record Day blogswarm posts starting at jb’s blog, The Hits Just Keep On Comin'. The complete list of Vinyl Record Day posts is here.

Today's Post:

It is nearly a law of caithiseach music listening that the original hit version of a song will be my favorite, and I will find next-generation covers annoying. I don’t think many would argue when I say that Percy Sledge’s version of “When a Man Loves a Woman” renders the recording of Michael Bolton’s version indefensible. Someone should have told Bolton that some songs are not eligible for use as a career elevator.

By the same token, I can’t see anyone making history with a remade “He’s a Rebel,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love” or “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” It seems laughable as well to try to outdo the Drifters’ classic “Under the Boardwalk,” a performance I admire greatly.

Ah, there I find a recording that competes with the Drifters’ version. That’s why this Rule of Annoying Covers is not a law.

I found a different version of “Under the Boardwalk” on a 45, but I would not have known it existed had it not been for yet another jukebox, this time one in a Bloomington, Indiana restaurant. I can’t remember which restaurant, but if I ever pull up the full memory, I’ll let you know.

The song was playing on that jukebox, and it was the B-side of a hit single. I recognized the voice, but I had to look to see what it’s A-side was: “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60’s Rock)” by John Cougar Mellencamp (Riva 884455). That song reached #2 in the summer of 1986, and “Under the Boardwalk” reached #19 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.

I noted two things about the recording immediately: First, Mellencamp’s band had nailed the song, making it a softer preview version of the “real spooky sort of gypsy rock” sound evoked on the albums The Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy. Second, that sound displayed the richness and depth of talent that Mellencamp was starting to show. By the time the needle came off that 45, Mellencamp had jumped up about 100 spots on my personal favorites list.

As a test drive for the new Mellencamp sound coming on The Lonesome Jubilee, “Under the Boardwalk” displays the soulfulness the song demands, but it takes the song out of its urban milieu without changing the lyrics. The band manages to make you believe there could be a boardwalk in Indiana, Iowa or Tennessee, which is no mean feat.

The song became a large part of my soundtrack for the summer of 1986. While I had not yet bought a CD player, I was not buying much vinyl, either. I had a kid on the way, and my job teaching college Spanish at Indiana University did not provide health insurance. I was saving for his hospital bills and not buying music. But I bought this 45.

There are plenty of Mellencamp bios out there, but I have bumped into him and his people often enough to tell a story of my own.

John Mellencamp was born in 1951 in Seymour, Indiana. He was born with spina bifida, which was corrected by surgery. He became musical early on and played out a lot in high school. Eventually he met Tony DeFries, who also managed David Bowie, and that rock genius decided Mellencamp needed a glitzy name. That’s how the stage name John Cougar came to be. Mellencamp was all for making it big, so he went along after the initial shock wore off, but he clearly wasn’t keen on the idea.

In early 1981, a guy who lived in my dorm, a former radio man named Larry, brought some music to our room. Larry had taught me to appreciate the J. Geils Band, but this new singer, whom I dismissed a bit because Larry said he was a local artist, didn’t register right away. The two albums Larry brought depicted him as an unwashed, gritty guy who seemed to hang out in trailer parks. Nice.

The songs had little effect on me. To be honest, I’m not the only one who thinks that John Cougar would have managed just to trudge along with more B-list albums if he had kept on in the same vein. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t distinctive. I heard “I Need a Lover” and “This Time” on Indianapolis AOR stations, and I didn’t change the station. I didn’t buy the vinyl, either.

The locals were all impressed that Johnny Cougar chose to keep living in Bloomington, but sticking to his local guns didn’t seem to be helping his career. And then, just as I was graduating from college, something clicked for him.

The lead single for his 1982 album, American Fool, was supposed to be “Hand to Hold Onto.” I believe that single would have fared tolerably well, and his album would have let him continue his contract, but then something really cool happened. He and his longtime friend, George Green, came up with “Hurts So Good.” Instead of sounding like a Hoosier take on Springsteen, this tune screamed: “I am the Hoosier answer to ‘Honky Tonk Women.’” The single shot to #2, its follow-up “Jack & Diane” topped the charts for four weeks, and “Hand to Hold Onto” crept up to #19, probably about ten notches higher than it would have reached as the lead single.

It was a close call for Mellencamp, as “Hurts So Good” seems to have been written when the album was almost done. He became an MTV darling, as evidenced by the MTV contest to win a little pink house in Bloomington, which coincided with the heavy rotation received by the video for “Pink Houses.”

We were always impressed that John continued to work with local musicians, including guitarists Larry Crane, who now works with John Prine, and Mike Wanchic, who is still a major part of the Mellencamp sound. It intrigued me to learn that a young local girl who often played her guitar and sang at our Saturday Farmer's Market, Sarah Flint, got a vocal credit on “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” And then there’s the addition to the band of Lisa Germano.

Lisa fiddled and waited table (but not at the same time) at the coffee house in Bloomington, the Runcible Spoon. She worked there about the same time as another female musician who made it in music, Janne Henshaw, so I’m wondering if more musicians shouldn’t try to pay their dues there.

Lisa came into the band during the Scarecrow tour, and it’s her fiddle you hear on “Under the Boardwalk.” This was also the time when John made everyone learn a huge catalog of 1960s rock songs so Scarecrow would be a deeper album. For The Lonesome Jubilee, he made everyone learn instruments they needed to make the songs sound right. Lisa was the essential backbone of The Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy; she attracted the attention of Capitol Records and released a couple of decent albums in the early 1990s.

I met Lisa Germano in 1993 during my first week working at Tracks, a superb little Bloomington record store. That fall and into 1994, a number of people stopped in. Toby Myers, who had played bass in a legendary Indianapolis band named Roadmaster, popped in and chatted about his additional dealings as a potential sideman for a tour by Mike Scott of the Waterboys. And just three days after the birth of their first child together, John walked into Tracks with his wife, Elaine.

Having John in Bloomington makes the town seem like New York, in the sense that everyone in town knows someone in the Industry, thanks to him. I stood next to Kenny Aronoff, John’s drummer, at a street festival while he was playing; a friend taught the child of Larry Crane, who also did solo shows at a juice bar I frequented; another friend grew up in the “eight-room farmhouse” in Seymour that John described in “Cherry Bomb”; if you eat at a decent restaurant in Bloomington on a weekend night, the whole gang might walk in and sit next to you.

And in the late 1980s, when I figured I would not be in Bloomington forever but I might as well earn some equity on a house, my potential realtor consulted with Vicki Mellencamp, who by then was John’s ex-wife. One of the houses available to me, for around $50,000, was a little pink house that was being sold by the winner of a contest held several years before on MTV. I wound up deciding I would be out of Bloomington “any year now,” but it took another ten for me to go away, and I was stupid for not buying a house, any house, at that point. And it would have made a great story if I’d bought that little pink house.

John won a Grammy for “Hurts So Good,” and he is now a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And when I think of his music, I think generally of how amazing it is that a guy who started out with “I Need a Lover” could switch to songs like “Cherry Bomb,” then slam out “Wild Night,” work with the type of World Music people who appear at Bloomington’s Lotus World Music Festival, and eventually record a chart-topping blues album, Trouble No More.

But most of all, I remember walking past a jukebox, hearing fiddle and mandolin attached to a familiar melody, and leaning over to stare at the record as I used to do when I had to tiptoe to watch the 45s spin.

I wanted to take a break from my memories of hits from the summer of 1970 to bring you this song you might not own, but for Saturday I’ll bring you a pair of the late-night WLS favorites, including one on which I got an unexpected sonic perspective. Very mysterious, eh? See you Saturday!

John Cougar Mellencamp, Under the Boardwalk

Monday, August 11, 2008

VRD: What’s That Round, Black Thing?

Find all Vinyl Record Day blogswarm posts starting at jb’s blog, The Hits Just Keep On Comin'. The complete list of Vinyl Record Day posts is here.

August 12, 1877. Before that day, every sound ever produced by an animal, a falling tree, or the Earth, as it matured, evaporated shortly after its creation. When Thoreau described the sound of the train in Walden, published in 1854, he was describing a sound some of his readers would never hear. Before August 12, 1877, if you didn’t go to a railroad track to hear an engine roar by, you never heard one. No one could bring the sound to you.

It would still be another ten years or more before most people heard reproduced sound, but this date marks the possibility of hearing a sound wave outside of real time. As early as 1860, you could see a sound wave, thanks to a French inventor, Léon Scott, who created something called the phonautograph. But he never developed a way to play back the sounds. Thanks to and massive advances in computing, the oldest phonautogram, a snippet of Au Claire de la Lune, can now be heard.

Thomas Edison, though, did think in terms of playback, and he succeeded in creating one of the few enduring technologies of the nineteenth century. While his first thoughts for the phonograph did not turn to music, he invented a delivery medium for artistic expression that could not be rivaled for portability until the VCR became part of our lives.

Let me fast-forward 85 years. (There’s a term that would not exist without Edison.) It may well have been August 12, 1962 when I became aware enough of music to ask what my mother was doing to produce it. She used a little box and some flat black discs to make groovin’ sounds. And she could do it over and over. She was a miracle-worker, my mother.

Radio stations can ignore the lights on their phones when they don’t want to take requests, but my mom was stuck with the monster she had created. I would not let go of music. So, before I turned three, she taught me to put the vinyl on the platter, move the tonearm carefully to the beginning of the groove, and drop it onto the blackness that somehow exploded with sound (and color, but that’s a different discussion).

Her short investment of time reaped great rewards for her, as she never had to wonder about my whereabouts once she showed me the intricacies of the record player. I was hooked on music. I have audible proof of how much music mattered to me when I was three years old, thanks to this Christmas recording.

I don’t know if listening to Edison’s invention made me musical, or if I was going to have an urge to produce sounds of my own, and that made me love other people’s records. But it doesn’t matter: as abiding as my delight has been in playing a piano, a guitar or a tin whistle, nothing has ever pleased me more than putting a vinyl record on a turntable.

I was fortunate to have grown up in an era where the 45 was king, and everyone wanted to cash in by creating a record label and producing a hit. That rush in search of black gold led to a variety of 45 labels that were appealing to the eye, in hopes that a splash of color or an intriguing logo would lead a potential buyer to give the song a spin. It also led to the release of some strange recordings, the likes of which would never be issued in an era where a one-size-fits-all disc is expected to contain a dozen songs.

But for a little kid who was discovering music via the 7” 45 rpm record, the world was full of sonic delights. It helped that I had an uncle who bought cutout 45s from a local department store and brought them to me, twenty at a time. Each new pile of vinyl provided at least 80 minutes of joy the first time through, and while cutout 45s were by nature unpredictable as far as quality went, I found a lot of classic tunes in those stacks.

I have never mentioned on this blog that I found trips to the hardware store with my dad a wistful experience. While he was making his purchases, I would eventually wander by the section where sandpaper was sold. There, you could buy sanding discs that would spin on a sander. To my five-year-old eyes, their flat, circular form, complete with label in the middle, looked like a vinyl record.

That image always made me wish they had music on them, so I could bug my dad to buy one for me. The elegance of the flat black circle with a label and a hole in the middle imprinted itself so deeply in my psyche that recently, when I visited a hardware store with my dad, the sanding discs still tugged at me, telling me that wishing music onto their gritty surface would make it so.

Given that I am an audiophile, you can imagine my joy at reading in Billboard around 1980 that Philips and Sony were concocting a scratchless, popless, skipless medium for playing music that would hold more than seventy minutes of sound and provide previously unimagined dynamic range. I had LPs that, even when they were new, sounded gritty on the last track because of the way the tonearm interacted with the grove. I was all for clarity and precision.

The CD, when it arrived in 1983, proved to be compact (1000 of them fit in the space of my 400 LPs), durable (as I don’t touch the surface, the first CD I bought still sounds the same) and convenient (they work much better in the car than vinyl does). I can even say that I almost always can tell you if a song is being played from a CD or vinyl, thanks to the tiny bit of static, the occasional crushed sibilant, or the wow and flutter of vinyl.

I can also distinguish vinyl from digital by the nuance of sound that gets snipped out by a limited digital sampling rate. I love my CDs, but I have learned over the years that there really is something to be said for listening to a tenderly kept piece of vinyl on high-end equipment, beginning with an impeccable stylus. There is simplicity in the mechanics of cutting a sound wave into a plate that then presses that exact sound into a piece of vinyl. The process brings all of the presence of the original performance from the studio to your ear. If there are a few pops along the way, it’s no worse than hearing a concert live and having someone cough during a quiet passage.

I never thought I could prove how magical vinyl is, but now I can. I bought a new stylus a couple of years ago so I could digitize some songs I had on vinyl but not on CD. In most cases, I got what I expected: warm recordings with some pop and chatter. In one case, I got far more than I bargained for: I got a spectacular example of why vinyl, and thus Thomas Alva Edison, still matters. The recording of “Down Under” by Men at Work that I took off my LP, as I didn’t have it on CD, displays vinyl at its best.

Even though I was stupid enough to delete the wav file when I compressed the audio, the resulting digital file is amazingly crisp and warm. It shows why vinyl is still here 25 years after we went digital, whereas the 78 rpm lacquer disc gave way to vinyl in five years or so. It shows, too, that an idea first implemented on August 12, 1877 stands the test of time. There is really no improving on the vinyl record; there are only lateral moves from the lateral groove.

A note on the recordings: I am posting both my LP and my CD versions of “Down Under.” I am doing so to give you a chance to guess which version comes from vinyl. If you have a second, after you listen, please use the poll to the right to make your guess as to which track is from the LP. I’ll divulge the answer on Saturday.

Tomorrow, it’s back to business as usual, and I’ll be discussing one of the last newly issued 45s I bought, in 1988. Thanks for stopping by, and I invite those of you who are here for the first time to stop by for new posts on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You can subscribe to the blog via the links to the right, if you wish. See you tomorrow!

Men At Work, Down Under, version A

Men At Work, Down Under, version B

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Summer of Steed, Part 2

This Saturday post, coming on Sunday, is late because of out-of-town connectivity issues, and not because I was too busy primping for my 30th high-school reunion. Honest. Sorry about the delay. Before I start the post, I'd like to mention also that I am participating in the Vinyl Record Day blogswarm on Tuesday, August 12. You will find links to other participants here if this happens to be the music blog you check out first. And now, the Saturday evening post:

The summer of 1970 was waning when one of the best Eternal Summer singles hit the charts. Bobby Bloom's only Top 40 hit, "Montego Bay" (L&R/MGM 157), joined the rotation at WLS in Chicago just as the final echoes of "Lay a Little Lovin' on Me" faded from the air. I was home, back at school, when "Montego Bay" arrived on the scene, so I managed to get a copy of this gem while it was in the store.

I relate the song to Steed Records because Bobby Bloom worked with Jeff Barry at Steed, and Jeff co-wrote and produced the song. Bobby and Robin McNamara often contributed backing vocals to each other's songs.

If you're familiar with Jeff's production work beginning (perhaps) with "Iko Iko" by the Dixie Cups, you understand how important percussion has been to his overall sound, and especially Caribbean rhythms. (To paint the complete picture, I should note that Neil Diamond's version of "La Bamba," produced by Jeff and Ellie Greenwich, sounds pretty much like "Cherry, Cherry" and thus is not a successful foray into the world of Latin percussion.)

"Montego Bay" should, of course, have a Caribbean feel, and its authenticity owes a lot to the real-life experiences that led to the writing of the song. More on that in a moment.

As was the case with Andy Kim's "Baby, I Love You," Jeff recorded all of the percussion for "Montego Bay" one instrument at a time. The result is an extremely clean recording with great separation. He and Bobby Bloom recorded the song with no additional musicians at all.

What first attracted me to the song was the mention of an MG in the first verse. My dad bought a baby-blue MGB convertible in 1970, and we tooled around Northwest Indiana in that thing. I remember a trip to the Big Wheel restaurant at the Gary-Merrillville border for chocolate sundaes. We sorted out a lot of our relationship then, what it would be with my mother gone. The reality that you really needed two MGBs, one to drive and one to leave with the mechanic, didn't keep me from loving that car. And there was Bobby Bloom, singing about driving one in Jamaica.

Since I already owned a Jeff Barry single, finding his name on "Montego Bay" was an added treat. This knowledge, in fact, helped cement his position as my most admired songwriter/producer, coming as it did on the heels of "Sugar, Sugar."

The song itself doesn't strike me as a bubblegum tune, despite its link to two purveyors of the genre. Bobby Bloom and Jeff Barry were talking about experiences they had had separately in Jamaica, and Jeff helped Bobby mold specific real-life references into the striking visual imagery that makes up the lyrics. The song is catchy, but the discussion of deliveries of cool rum is not aimed at teens.

The song has an added feature, a promo clip that is actually one of the earliest modern-form music videos I have ever seen. By that I mean that the video doesn't merely show Bobby Bloom lip-synching the song on a stage; money was spent to put him (and a camera operator) in the water, Bobby in a canoe, paddling as he lip-synched. Very 1980s MTV, very beautiful surroundings. Check it out:

The events of Bobby Bloom's life were not always so beautiful. Born in 1946, by age 23 he was known as a recording engineer as well as a music producer and songwriter. He was a friend of Vini Poncia, who later produced work by Kiss. One of the songs he co-wrote with Jeff Barry, "Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha Na Boom Boom)," was turned into a Top 40 hit by the Staple Singers. Bobby contributed to the latter-day Monkees album Changes with the Barry-Bloom compositions "You're So Good to Me" and "Ticket on a Ferry Ride." He helped put Kama Sutra and Buddah Records together.

On February 28, 1974, he was shot to death "under mysterious circumstances." The shooting seems to have been accidental, but the culprit never was identified. The shooting silenced a good guy with a great voice.

We do have "Montego Bay." In case you are one of the dozen or so people who have not heard the song, here it is. And on Wednesday, I'll bring you the flip side of perhaps the last new single I ever bought. Look for the Vinyl Record Day post Tuesday as well. See you then!

Bobby Bloom, Montego Bay

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Summer of Steed, Part 1

The second floor of my Aunt Eileen’s house in Gary, Indiana wasn’t a proper second floor. The ceiling rose and fell to match the contours of the roof, including alcoves for windows and slopes to keep the snow or rain from overburdening the rafters. White stucco walls blended into the white stucco ceiling not at sharp angles, but with smooth curves that gave the ceiling the feel of an upside-down ski slope. I slept in the alcove by the window facing Kentucky Street for most of July and August of 1970.

Sending me to Aunt Eileen was easier for my dad than making me fend for myself while he worked. My mom was dead, and Aunt Eileen was her sister. My teenage cousins, Bob and Jim, shared their room with me, and in the nighttime darkness, Bob played WLS at a low volume until we all fell asleep.

Probably to keep me from thinking too much, Bob developed a game where we would guess song titles as soon as we could from their intros. They call it Name That Tune on TV, but we called it . . . well, we didn’t call it anything. I held my own in the game, and this week, I am going to talk about two related songs, one that figured prominently in the summer, and another that came along in the autumn when I was back home and often sleeping in yet another house that was not ours.

The first song got a lot of airplay while I was at Aunt Eileen’s. “Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me” by Robin McNamara (Steed 724) joined the Top 40 ranks on July 18, 1970, peaking at #11, and it must have captured someone’s imagination at WLS, because I heard it every night during August. The song had a groove I couldn’t get out of my head during the day, which turned out to be a good thing. I loved the part where Robin called out: “Now just the girls sing it,” and all of the male voices disappeared. The singers turned out to be the cast of Hair, of which Robin was an original member. I knew about Hair, but I was not offered a chance to see it that year.

It was a good thing I remembered the song, because, by the time I got back home and could buy records, “Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me” had disappeared from the bins. I never heard the song, except in my memory, from October, 1970 until the mid-1980s, when Rhino came out with the delicious Have a Nice Day series. I never heard it in stereo until I grabbed Volume 2 of the Rhino set. And oh, I played that song over and over the first few days I had it.

That was when I connected it to Saturday’s song, another Steed single that I did manage to buy. That was also when I connected it to Jeff Barry, my musical hero. I was pleased rather than surprised to find Jeff had produced and co-written the tune, as he had Saturday’s song.

Falling asleep on sweltering August nights under the rafters of a house in Gary was a lot more pleasant because of that radio and this song. Anytime I play it, it transports me back there. I can’t escape that memory. I think I’m glad about that.

Robin McNamara is a Boston area native, and you can learn much about his past and his present at his website. There, among other things, you can find a clip of Robin singing “Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me” on TV, complete with a couple of pairs of hands clapping between the camera and Robin. Watch for a flub when one pair of hands expects a nonexistent clap.

Saturday brings a single by a guy with an amazing voice. See you then!

The site is buggy today, so I can't post a poll. Check back when you can. Thanks.

Robin McNamara, Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me

Friday, August 1, 2008

Holy Disappointment, Batman!

I wrote on Wednesday about my experience with Neal Hefti’s “Batman Theme.” I said it was the second “Batman” record I bought. Now I get to tell you about the first one.

In 1966, for all his DJ experience and needle-dropping expertise, five-year-old caithiseach was not wise to all of the pitfalls associated with record-buying. Most of my collection of 45s came as gifts from Uncle Tom, and I had gone record-shopping myself just once before, for a single I’ll discuss in November. I had to have the Batman theme, of course, so I pulled the right strings and got myself a ride thirty blocks north to a record store in Gary.

By this time, I had experience with the concept of saving money to buy something. I got 25 cents per week as an allowance, though most of the time I didn’t get far enough away from home to spend that quarter. In 1965, a coin caught my eye, a silver dollar from Canada that celebrated Charlottetown, Québec’s centennial. I had to save for four weeks to come up with the purchase price of one dollar American. But I did it, and the purchase was a sweet one.

When I went to buy my first 45, the transaction was easy. The subsequent trip for the Batman single, however, was as fraught with peril as any experience the Caped Crusader ever faced, at least on the small screen.

I wrote before about soundalike records, specifically Hit Records and Big 6 Records. In the case of Batman, soundalikes were not an issue, but competing versions created a challenge.

I marched into the record store, my mother in tow, and told the very tall older lady (age seventeen, five feet tall) that I wanted the Batman record. She yanked out a Liberty single, I handed over my 69 cents, plus one cent state sales tax, and we slalomed through traffic on Broadway as smoothly as Batman in the Batmobile in order to get me home so I could play my new 45.

What an experience that was. I didn’t know then that three artists had released chart songs related to the Batman TV show:

The Marketts, “Batman Theme” (Warner 5696) hit Hot 100 2/5/1966, reached #17
Neal Hefti, “Batman Theme” (RCA Victor 8755) hit Hot 100 2/12/1966, reached #35
Jan & Dean, “Batman” (Liberty 55860) hit Hot 100 2/12/1966, reached #66

I wound up with the Jan & Dean recording. I blame the tall, older lady, because she had to know that this scrawny kid with 70 cents to his name was after the show’s original theme music, yet she foisted off the less successful Liberty release on me to relieve pressure on her overstock. I could have waited a year and gotten a copy for a nickel from Uncle Tom.

So I sat there, stunned, listening to something that most definitely was not the proper recording. My poor mom felt bad for having been co-duped by the short pimply teen girl. Maybe the girl thought she was giving me what I wanted, since I asked for “Batman” rather than the “Batman Theme.” I’ll never know, because I neglected to get her name so I could interview her for this piece. But it’s 42 years later, so she’s 60, and I have the satisfaction of imagining that she’s still stuck in a retail outlet, selling the wrong CD to some kid who gets only ten dollars’ allowance per week.

I’d like to be able to say that I still have the Liberty single, but it didn’t even make it to the Great Meltdown. At some point shortly after its purchase, I sat on it, and it broke in two.

That was not a clever ploy designed to get me a replacement single. I had broken a few other records along the way, once in cooperation with my mom’s recliner, and once when my kindergarten classmate Glen sat on a 78 I took to school. Ooh, I said last time that I was allowed just two contributions to the nap-time music series, but I got to play that 78, name now forgotten, as well. But I was three for three in the clapping vs. napping department.

After I broke my Jan & Dean 45, the decision was made that I could get another 45, and this time there would be due vigilance and, thus, the proper recording would make it into my collection. I played that Neal Hefti record an awful lot in the spring of 1966, and not just as a prelude to Batman’s TV exploits. It was all Batman, all the time, for a month or so.

Neal Hefti, the composer of the Batman theme I sought, was born in 1922 in Nebraska. He enjoyed a very solid career in the bebop era, playing trumpet for Woody Herman and composing/arranging for Herman and Count Basie. He became known as an extremely gifted arranger, and he influenced the Basie sound for two decades, beginning in 1950, with a combination of distinctive arrangements and significant compositions.

He moved into film and TV scoring in the 1960s; he wrote the theme to The Odd Couple as well as the Batman TV theme, for which he won a Grammy. He put together bands from time to time and remained active into the 1990s.

His chart competition for the “Batman Theme” came from the Marketts, essentially a Hollywood studio group made up of whichever session players were available to producer Joe Saraceno, who also produced work by the Ventures. The Marketts, who generally dealt in surf music, scored three Top 40 hits, including the #3 smash “Out of Limits.”

And Jan & Dean, who ran the Batman concept through the Jan & Dean filter and made it sound like all of their other hits, are legends of surf rock who should need no introduction. If you think you haven’t heard them before, their song “Batman” will remind you so much of “Surf City,” “Dead Man’s Curve” and “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)” that you will know this duo immediately.

Now that I have purged Batman from my musical soul, I’ll revisit 1970 next week. Until then, enjoy this other Batman song, which is kind of fun, as long as you’re not fervently hoping to hear the TV theme. See you Wednesday!

Jan & Dean, Batman