Monthly Archives: April 2010

That ’70s song, Vols. 15 and 16

Taking that trip back to 1970 can be a tricky thing. It wasn’t always a sunny day with one glorious tune after another pouring from the radio.

I was reminded of that the other night as I watched “The War at Home,” a 1979 documentary about the anti-war movement in Madison, Wisconsin, in the late ’60s and early ’70s. There was nothing sunny or glorious about cops clubbing student protesters.

The war in Vietnam was a constant presence then, even for a seventh-grader in a Wisconsin town along Lake Michigan. My weekdays went something like this: Get up, watch the CBS Morning News, go to junior high school, come home, watch the CBS Evening News, have dinner, listen to the radio until turning in for the night.

The war dominated those newscasts, yet the radio allowed you to escape from it all. Nothing heavy there, save for two songs.

Forty years ago this week, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young dreamed of bombers turning into butterflies and getting back to the garden.

That week, millions of Americans also embraced a song that declared:

“I don’t need your war machines. I don’t need your ghetto scenes.”

“American Woman” by the Guess Who endures, a great song on so many levels. Think of the song and you think of Burton Cummings spitting out angry lyrics and Randy Bachman grinding out freaky guitar fills. True enough, but the pulse, the cadence, the urgency of the song comes from Jim Kale and Garry Peterson, who drive the whole thing on bass and drums, respectively.

What’s it all about? Bachman explained it this way in a 2008 interview on the Gibson guitar website:

“A lot of people thought ‘American Woman’ was addressing the woman on the street, but it wasn’t at all. The band had witnessed all the desolation going on in America, where there were hardly any young men in any of the towns we went to. They had all been drafted. We would see 18-year-old guys at the airports, with their buzz cuts and their uniforms, with their fathers telling them how proud they were, and their mothers and sisters in tears. It was heartbreaking. So instead of singing ‘Uncle Sam, stay away from me,’ or ‘Richard Nixon, stay away from me,’ it was ‘American woman.’ … Fortunately, by the time radio and the government understood that the song was an anti-war song, it had already reached No. 1.”

The outrage vented in “American Woman” hasn’t diminished a bit. It was there when Lenny Kravitz cranked out his terrific cover in 1999. (That video with a smoking hot Heather Graham didn’t hurt, either.)

It was there when Bachman and Cummings got back together and did it as an acoustic blues shuffle in 2007. Enjoy.

“American Woman 2007,” Bachman Cummings, from “Jukebox,” a 2007 Canadian import. This is the only Guess Who cover on an album full of vintage rock covers.

Speaking of lyrics: Everyone loves “Vehicle” by the Ides of March, which was at the top of the charts with “American Woman” at this time in 1970.

But think about it. This is a song about “the friendly stranger in the black sedan” who winds down the window and leeringly asks “Won’t you hop inside my car? I got pictures, got candy. I’m a lovable man, and I can take you to the nearest star.”

That chorus — “I love ya, need ya, want ya, got to have ya, child” — a little obsessive? What played then as a passionate guy might play today as a stalker. Could you get away with that today?

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A matter of convenience

The phone rang a few minutes after noon.

It was my dad, calling from the convenience store, where he’d stopped after going out for lunch.

Come to find out, stopping at the convenience store was the problem.

As Dad pulled up, his foot slipped from the brake to the gas pedal.

(You know where this is going, don’t you?)

Hurtling forward at low speed, Dad took out one of the glass doors, upended a stack of windshield wiper fluid bottles and knocked a concrete trash barrel a few feet west.

Dad wasn’t hurt. Nor was anyone else, thankfully. If you’re 84, as Dad is, and you have an accident, that’s the one to have.

Dad has been driving for 70 years, but he might be done now. His car, a rusty ’92 Ford Taurus bequeathed to him when his older sister died six years ago, likely is totaled. We aren’t going to encourage him to get a different car. We’ll just make do.

Just like that, you gotta deal with …

“Them Changes,” Lionel Hampton and the Inner Circle, from “Them Changes,” 1972. It’s out of print. Our friend Larry over at Funky 16 Corners shared this in his “Vol. 7: Funky Shing-A-Ling” mix and again earlier this year in his “Vol. 79: Positive Vibrations” mix. A longer take is available digitally, but I don’t know when it was recorded.

Dad digs Hamp’s vibes. They’re heard over at Ray’s Corner, the apartment with the loud music, and the place where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away. The vibes in this cut might have sounded a little like that shattered glass falling to the ground at the convenience store.

Speaking of which …

Once everyone had checked on Dad, making sure he was OK, and once the deputy called for a tow truck, Dad headed into the store and bought his lottery tickets.

Wouldn’t it be a great story if today was the day he won?

Nah, that kind of thing only happens in the movies. Or in a song …

“The Lottery Song,” Harry Nilsson, from “Son of Schmilsson,” 1972. The buy link is to a remastered CD with five extra tracks.

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After further reviews

When I started doing this, I hoped only to share my music collection with you, to make some use of all those records I’d bought over 35 or so years, just as if we were sitting together in my rec room.

I never imagined bands and publicists would send me music, hoping I might put in a good word for them. The queries pour into my e-mail, more now than ever. Some of the sharper publicists have figured out we have an older demographic and send music accordingly.

Which brings us to three records sent all the way to our corner of Wisconsin, two of which I am long overdue in mentioning.

“Soul On Ten” by Robben Ford arrived first, at the end of last summer. I didn’t know much about Ford beyond that he was a guitarist, mostly a blues guitarist. He’s also worked in rock and jazz. He’s been at it since 1969, recording since 1972. He’s well regarded among musicians, but has never had a high profile.

“Meet the Meatbats” by Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats arrived next, early last fall. I know Smith as the drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and more recently the supergroup Chickenfoot, so I was curious to see what kind of a side project this would be.

“Emotion & Commotion” by Jeff Beck arrived last week. I’m most familiar with Beck from the Yardbirds in the ’60s and from the Honeydrippers in the ’80s and less familiar with his vast solo catalog.

What I realized after listening to all three was not at all what I expected.

The records from Robben Ford and Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats, though quite different stylistically, are pleasant throwbacks to the free-form FM radio of the early ’70s. Ford’s extended live jams and the Meatbats’ funk-jazz fusion workouts would fit nicely in that format.

“Indianola,” Robben Ford, from “Soul On Ten,” 2009.

Though Ford covers Willie Dixon, Elmore James and Jimmy Reed on the album, which was recorded live at The Independent in San Francisco, most of it is original material like this cut.

“Pig Feet,” Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats, from “Meet the Meatbats,” 2009.

The Meatbats are an instrumental quartet with Smith on drums and percussion, Jeff Kollman on guitars, Ed Roth on keyboards and Kevin Chown on bass. All their tunes are originals created in jam sessions.

Chown is from Escanaba, Michigan, just up the road from us. He arranged this tune and brought it to the group, he told Steve Seymour, who writes the fine Michigan-oriented Rock n Roll Graffiti blog.

Also worth noting; The last cut, “Into the Floyd,” which has a nice, gentle “Dark Side of the Moon” vibe.

“There’s No Other Me,” Jeff Beck with Joss Stone, from “Emotion & Commotion,” 2010.

This record has been getting mixed reviews. There’s no denying his remarkable guitar skills, but this one seems to be embraced most passionately by those who have long liked Jeff Beck. That said …

Thank goodness for Joss Stone. Her blistering vocals on two cuts — including Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” — bring some life to a meandering record that also covers Jeff Buckley, Judy Garland and Puccini and winds up sounding like a soundtrack album. Stone wrote this cut with keyboard player Jason Rebello.

When I listened to those first two records last fall, I thought they were just OK. Heard alongside the new Jeff Beck record, they are far more interesting. But as always, you be the judge.

FTC disclosure: We received free copies of each of these records from publicists for review purposes. We promised only to listen. We did not promise, nor were we asked, to play nice.

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That ’70s song, Vols. 13 and 14

Here’s proof again of how the Top 40 charts varied from place to place, from market to market, in the spring of 1970.

Forty years ago this week, the great “Vehicle” by the Ides of March was rocketing up the charts at the band’s hometown station — WLS, the Big 89 in Chicago — and at WOKY, the Mighty 92 in Milwaukee.

When “Vehicle” came out, it was a new sound for the Ides of March, which had been a Chicago and Midwest favorite since the mid-’60s. By the time they started recording for Warner Bros. in 1970, they’d added a horn section to the standard guitar-and-drum lineup. That big sound drove “Vehicle.”

“Vehicle” was written and sung by Jim Peterik. After the Ides of March broke up in 1973, he co-founded Survivor in 1978 and co-wrote several hits for .38 Special in the early ’80s.

That is, until the band was persuaded to get back together in 1990, still beloved in their hometown of Berwyn, Ill., a generation later. It has since recorded five CDs and still plays live occasionally. The Ides of March has a handful of gigs this summer, all but one in the Midwest.

“Vehicle,” the Ides of March, from “Vehicle,” 1970.

It makes sense that a regional favorite like the Ides of March would do well in Chicago and Milwaukee, but those charts were far from identical. Here’s evidence of that.

Looking to cash in on Neil Diamond’s success with “Sweet Caroline” and “Holly Holy” on another label, Bang Records tweaked and re-released “Shilo,” which Diamond initially recorded in 1967.

It was No. 15 on the WLS charts in Chicago but nowhere on the WOKY charts in Milwaukee. Go figure.

“Shilo,” Neil Diamond, 1967, from “Double Gold,” 1973. It’s out of print. The original “Shilo” is available on “Classics: The Early Years,” a 1990 CD release. The single version is available on “His 12 Greatest Hits,” a 1993 CD release.

This is the original song, not the version released as a single in 1970. Bang Records remixed “Shilo” in 1970, adding a new backing track to make it sound more like Diamond’s more recent hits on the Uni label.

The “Double Gold” greatest-hits LP was Bang’s final attempt to cash in on Diamond. In 1966 and 1967, he cut 25 songs and two albums for Bang, which chopped, sliced and diced them into four compilation LPs.

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Still Amazing

Opportunities to dig for records in our corner of Wisconsin run in streaks. We ride out long dry spells, waiting for a month like this:

– Turns out our local used record emporium — Amazing Records — won’t be closing as quickly as first thought. Jim still plans to head home to northern California, but now it might be the end of May before he takes all the collectible records off the wall and loads up the U-Haul to go west. He still has more records to sort through, to toss into the bins.

– In the mail yesterday was a postcard from my friend Jim in Appleton, a half-hour away, announcing a “Huge $1 Tent and Indoor Sale!!” This Jim is the guy who hauls boxes of $1 LPs out to the back yard of his tiny duplex, throws up a tent around the tables and lets you go at it.

– Today, I stopped at the Exclusive Company, which is as close to an indie record store as we get. Stapled to the bulletin board was a flyer announcing a “HUGE Record Sale.” This is still another friend named Jim, who will throw up his garage door and put out his crates.

– Tom, who runs our Exclusive Company store, handed me a flyer for Record Store Day on the way out. Nine bands, six DJs (including local punk legend Rev. Nørb) and special deals. I’m there.

– On the flip side of the flyer, my friend Jeff — who organizes the spring and fall record shows in Green Bay — announces he’s having a record sale on Record Store Day. too.

Here’s hoping there are records as cool as these to be found. I bought both of these from Jim the garage sale guy at shows organized by Jeff.

“Instant Groove,” King Curtis, from “Instant Groove,” 1969.

This is a fierce sax-driven dance scorcher on which the King commands:

“Now how we start to whip up the groove, we want everybody to come on out here and do your thing. And everybody got a thing. We want you come on out here and do it now. ‘Cause that’s when everybody is doing their own thing. That’s what I want to see you do right now.”

Our friend Larry over at Funky 16 Corners wrote earlier this year about the basic backing guitar track on “Instant Groove,” tracing it to a 1966 tune called “Help Me (Get the Feeling)” by Ray Sharpe.

“Lift Your Love Higher,” Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, from “Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose,” 1972. It’s out of print, and I can’t find this cut on any greatest-hits compilation.

You’ll hear echoes of “Treat Her Like A Lady,” the smash 1971 single by this Miami pop-soul quartet. They really were brothers and sisters, Eddie and Carter and Rose and Billie Joe.

Midnight Tracker update: There’s a new post over at our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker. It’s a double shot of J.J. Cale and Billy Preston (and Sly Stone). Enjoy!

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