Monthly Archives: November 2007

Three under the tree, Vol. 2

You think you know about Santa? You better think again.

We’ve made a few little discoveries as we go through the Christmas tunes.

– Did you know Santa is “a fine soul brother?” Yes, “the man’s got soul, he’s got soul, he’s got soul.”

So says Brook Benton on “Soul Santa,” a single released as Cotillion 44141 in November 1971.

– Did you know Santa “ain’t like old Saint Nick,” who “don’t come but once a year.” Apparently this Santa comes a little more often. Ahem.

So says Clarence Carter on “Back Door Santa,” which was on “Soul Christmas,” an Atco release from November 1968.

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Both of these fine cuts are on another “Soul Christmas,” an Atlantic and Atco Masters compilation released in 1991. This is an excellent album of vintage R&B and soul from the ’50s to the ’70s, also featuring Donny Hathaway, Otis Redding, Joe Tex, King Curtis, Solomon Burke and the Sweet Inspirations.

(The Atco release I mentioned was released on CD in 1994 or 1995 as “Original Soul Christmas.” I’ve never seen it, but it obviously exists.)

– While those revelations about Santa may come as news to you, this one may not. Santa “looked a lot like Daddy” and “Daddy looked a lot like him.” Well, he did at my house.

So say the Tractors, joined by Buck Owens as they cover his Christmas classic, “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy.”

Buck wrote this in the mid-’60s with Don Rich, his guitarist and collaborator until his death in a motorcycle crash in 1974. I don’t have Buck’s version, but this one is true to the original.

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It’s from “Have Yourself a Tractors Christmas,” by the Tractors, a 1995 release from the country-swing band that had a brief moment in the sun at about that time in the mid-’90s.

Enjoy. More to come.

Again, if you have requests, drop me a line. I’ll see what I can do.

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Filed under Christmas music, November 2007, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 1

Might as well start this at the beginning.

It was 1969, when I turned 12, that I really started listening to music. That Christmas, I got the best gift ever. A Panasonic AM-FM radio. This model.

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I put it atop the filing cabinet where I kept my baseball, football and basketball cards, tuned it to 920 AM — WOKY, the Mighty 92 out of Milwaukee — and let the tunes roll. WOKY was one of the big Top 40 stations of the day.

When it came to this time of year in 1970, I heard a song that absolutely blew me away: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” by the Jackson 5.

I had no idea there was that kind of Christmas music — pop, rock, R&B and soul versions of Christmas songs, all played only at a certain time of year. I’ve been hooked ever since.

So over the next month or so, I’ll be digging through my Christmas music collection and sharing some tunes here at AM, Then FM. I have a lot of Christmas music. It tends to be like the rest of the music I enjoy — a mix of rock, R&B, soul, country and even a little jazz.

Though I’ve loaded more than 300 songs into the Mac — and that is the tip of the iceberg, trust me — we’ll roll them out three at a time.

Today’s trio consists of three songs from the beginning. I dug them then, and I dig them now.

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“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the Jackson 5, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973.

This is a classic album, also featuring Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. It is not Christmas at our house without this one.

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“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967. A guilty pleasure. The link is to the double CD shown.

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“Happy Xmas (War is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. I found it on “Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon,” a 1998 compilation.

Their message rings true today.

Hope you will enjoy this series. Much more to come.

If you have requests, drop me a note. I’ll see what I can do.

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Filed under Christmas music, November 2007, Sounds

Rollin’ right along

As rock standards go, one of the best is “Train Kept A Rollin’.”

The version I heard first was Aerosmith’s cover, from the “Get Your Wings” album of 1974. That I heard it first makes it the definitive version for me.

(I originally wrote that Joe Perry played guitar on that. He did not. It was Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, as Willie graciously explains in his comment below.)

Tiny Bradshaw, one of the early R&B artists who paved the way for rock, did it first — in 1951. He wrote the tune along Howard Kay and Lois Mann and/or Sydney Nathan.

Sugarloaf also covered it on its self-titled debut album in 1970. The version they used, though, was a version first done by the Yardbirds.

It’s a hybrid, part “Train Kept A Rollin'” and part “Stroll On,” the latter a tune for which Jeff Beck recycled a riff from the Yardbirds’ 1965 cover of the original. The writing credits for “The Train Kept A-Rollin’ (Stroll On)” went to Beck, Jimmy Page and fellow Yardbirds Keith Relf, Chris Drega and in some cases Jim McCarty.

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“The Train Kept A-Rollin’,” Sugarloaf, from “Sugarloaf,” 1970.

It’s one of the tunes on tonight’s side over at The Midnight Tracker.

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Try skating to this, princess

Now that the weather is turning cold in our part of Wisconsin, I’ve put away one set of skates and gotten out another. My workouts have gone from the road to the rink.

I just skate laps. Most of the folks at the rink during open ice are figure skaters. They bring CDs with them. Soaring yet bland pop ballads apparently go good with skating routines.

There were plenty of those today, but we also had an interesting interlude. One of the figure skaters changed CDs, and we had one nice, crunchy alternative rock tune. But only one.

Then the figure skating instructor put some more mush on the CD player. I don’t think she asked permission from the woman who’d put on the rock CD. That woman didn’t stay much longer. I hadn’t seen her before. I’ll be surprised if we see her again, after being dissed in that manner.

Maybe I’ll bring CDs some day. After this week, I’ll have plenty of great mixes to choose from.

– Vincent over at Fufu Stew is out with a staggeringly good trio of Thanksgiving mixes. It’s food-themed soul, funk and R&B and, dare I say, tasty. We are honored that Vincent was gracious enough to include in those mixes a couple of tunes from the AM, Then FM collection.

– Larry over at Funky 16 Corners has completed a project long in the works, making available an archive of all of his fine soul, funk and R&B mixes. I didn’t realize how many I had until I counted them. I have 26, and more are available in Larry’s archive.

Ah, but all those mixes are far too classy for this group.

No, you just know that guy who skates laps is going bring something rude.

And I have just the thing that would clear the ice. The perfect (if not harmonic) convergence of irreverence, attitude and impropriety, especially if played at top volume.

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“Deck the Halls,” Ted Nugent, from “Merry Axemas 2,” a 1998 compilation of Christmas rock guitar instrumentals. It has gone out of print but remains available online.

(This, by the way, is a hint of what is to come soon at AM, Then FM. However, that will be more nice than naughty.)

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Filed under November 2007, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 38

If you’re a regular visitor here on Sleepy Sundays, you know Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, covers just about everything under the sun. Some are obscure. Some you know well. Today’s tune is one of the latter.

When you think of “Me and Bobby McGee,” you probably think first of Janis Joplin and then, perhaps, of Kris Kristofferson. As well you should. Joplin had a No. 1 hit in 1971 with the tune Kristofferson co-wrote with Fred Foster.

And, yes, Sleepy has covered it.

But did you know …

Roger Miller and Gordon Lightfoot were the first to record it and chart with it, in the U.S. in 1969 and Canada in 1970, respectively?

That Kristofferson and — believe it or not — Bill Haley and the Comets also recorded it in 1970 before Joplin?

That the many others to have covered it include the Grateful Dead, Lonnie Donegan, Joan Baez, Olivia Newton-John, Brian McKnight and Pink … in addition to just about every country performer worth his or her salt.

Sleepy’s chugging, stomping version, complete with some rocking roadhouse piano, was recorded sometime during the ’70s at Singleton Sound Studio in Nashville.

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“Me and Bobby McGee,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “The Human Jukebox,” 1995.

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Before things went south

Our library had its annual used book sale earlier this month, and I took a break from work to check it out. They promised used CDs, and I was curious to see whether there was any vinyl to be had.

Lo and behold, there was! If you were into show tunes or, inexplicably, Emmylou Harris, that is. But not really anything compelling. Until I got to the back of one of the three crates.

There, I found “Closer to Home,” the third album from Grand Funk Railroad, released in 1970. It features the band’s classic power-trio lineup of Mark Farner on guitars and keyboards, Mel Schacher on bass and Don Brewer on drums.

When I started getting a taste of free-form FM radio in 1972, Grand Funk Railroad was one of the bands you heard after 10 p.m., when the DJs would play anything and everything.

We thought of Grand Funk Railroad as one of ours. After all, they were from Michigan, just across the lake. Thinking back on the Michigan bands from those days, well, wow … The MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, Bob Seger’s early bands and Grand Funk Railroad.

By the mid-’70s, though, a different kind of Midwestern rock band seemed to take over. The music started coming from south of Wisconsin, and some might say the music went south.

Coming from Illinois, they delivered a bunch of different sounds — REO Speedwagon, Styx, Head East, Starcastle. Not as crunchy as the Michigan bands. (However, as we have discussed here before, some of the early REO stuff has its merits.)

I greatly prefer the heavier, more substantial Grand Funk Railroad of the early ’70s to the Grand Funk that cranked out all those singles — “We’re an American Band” and “The Loco-Motion” among them — in the later ’70s. After Grand Funk went south.

That’s why I laid down my 50 cents and picked up a well-worn copy of “Closer to Home.”

So sit back and enjoy a little something we might have heard late at night in the early ’70s. Some of the instrumental bits sound like tunes that came along 20 years later during the days of grunge.

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“I Don’t Have to Sing the Blues,” Grand Funk Railroad, from “Closer to Home,” 1970.

And tonight on The Midnight Tracker: Side 2 from “Closer to Home,” which winds up with the classic “I’m Your Captain.”

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The chill of November

Over at the fine Echoes in the Wind blog, our pal Whiteray has been doing a pretty good job of conveying what it is like when November arrives in the upper Midwest.

He’s covered the gales of November, with his Saturday singles post on Gordon Lightfoot’s classic tune about a Lake Superior freighter going down in a raging storm. To those of us who live near the Great Lakes, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is seared into memory.

Earlier today, Whiteray discussed life as a football fan on these fine November weekends, with his high school team bringing joy and his college and NFL teams bringing something less.

To that, I simply would add …

John Facenda, the legendary voice of NFL Films, has a few words to say about November. He does not mess around. It takes 18 seconds for him to have his say.

“November,” narration by John Facenda, from “The Power and the Glory: The Original Music and Voices of NFL Films,” 1998.

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If you have any kind of an NFL bash, whether a tailgate party or simply having folks over to watch, you need to have NFL Films music in your mix.

Here, then, is another piece by the incomparable Sam Spence. It also conveys more of the chill of November.

“The Equalizer,” composed by Sam Spence, from “The Power and the Glory: The Original Music and Voices of NFL Films,” 1998.

If you are not from our part of the country, and you find it odd that we celebrate November in Minnesota and Wisconsin, consider this:

Part of the perverse appeal of the impending arrival of another winter is that we can justify spending more time inside, surrounded by our tunes, rocking out to keep the chill away.

One more thing, added a day later: Our pal JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ also has a few things to say about November in Wisconsin.

Still another thing, added three days later: Over at Pieces of Perplexio Pi, there’s still another essay on life in the north in November. It’s not a music blog, but it’s certainly worth a read.

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Filed under November 2007, Sounds