Tag Archives: 1970

Another Christmas with old friends

It was late 1969, when I was 12, that I really started listening to music. That year, I got a Panasonic AM-FM radio for Christmas. This model, though this is not my radio. I still have mine. It still works, even though the antenna long ago was bent, then broken off.

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I put it atop the filing cabinet where I kept my baseball, football and basketball cards and tuned it to 920 AM — WOKY, the Mighty 92 out of Milwaukee. 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 blew me away. This song.

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the Jackson 5, 1970, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973.

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 once was passionate about that kind of Christmas music. Now, not so much.

Today’s tunes are the ones I dug first. I still dig them. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967. (The link is to a double CD also featuring “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” their debut album from 1966.)

“Merry Christmas, mein friend!”

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. A remastered version is available on  “Gimme Some Truth,” a 4-CD compilation released in 2010.

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?”

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2013, Sounds

Was the Camaro’s radio on that night?

Little mysteries are fascinating. Especially little mysteries about old cars fished out of water after many years missing.

That happened here last summer. A guy went to a blues club one cold Saturday night in March 1979 and someone stole his baby blue 1975 Plymouth Valiant. They found it at the bottom of the Fox River 33 years later.

It happened again earlier this month near Elk City, Oklahoma, a small town on old Route 66 roughly halfway between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, Texas.

Police divers were testing sonar — just as dredging crews were using sonar here — when they came across a 1969 Chevy Camaro about 12 feet down in Foss Lake. They came across two cars, actually. The other was a 1952 Chevrolet. Each car had three bodies in it.

On Nov. 20, 1970, a Friday night, Jimmy Williams and his pal Thomas Rios hopped in Williams’ car, the Camaro. They drove from Sayre, the next town west of Elk City, up to Hammon, the next town north, to pick up Jimmy’s girlfriend, Leah Johnson. Then they went back to Sayre, to a bowling alley. Then they headed to a football game in Elk City. Or maybe they went hunting.

They were never seen again.

Turns out, Jimmy Williams drove into Foss Lake. It was an accident. He might have gotten lost. He might have been driving too fast. The Camaro hit the water so hard that the drive shaft was knocked off. The fuel pump was broken off, as was part of the motor mount.

That blue Camaro was Jimmy’s pride and joy. He’d had it six days.

Jimmy was 16. Leah, his girlfriend, was 18. Thomas, his pal, was 18.

Lots of questions linger, most of them heart-wrenching, especially for the families. Mine is a more innocent question. Trivial, perhaps.

Three kids riding around on a Friday night. Not too many years later, that was us, in central Wisconsin. Were they listening to the radio, as we were? What would have been on the radio on that last Friday night before Thanksgiving in 1970?

That poses another little mystery.

Most of the songs on the Top 40 chart from WHB, 710 AM in Kansas City, issued earlier that Friday in November 1970, are familiar. Save for one, the one sitting just outside the Top 10 that week. Perhaps they heard it in Oklahoma.

“Holy Man,” by Diane Kolby.

It’s a gospel-rock single I don’t recall ever hearing. It appears to have been only a regional hit. In September and October 1970, it spent six weeks in the Top 40s at KADI in St. Louis and KDWB in the Twin Cities. Then it spent nine weeks in the Top 40 in Kansas City. It didn’t catch on anywhere else, reaching only No. 67 on the Billboard chart.

Diane Kolby was an east Texas singer who wrote and cut that single, then an LP, then abruptly quit the music business. It wasn’t compatible with her Christian beliefs. The comments in this 2008 post at a blog called Michael’s Mixed Media Playroom offer those clues.

She’s apparently still around, in her late 60s now, and living near Austin, Texas. According to a niece: “Her last name is spelled Kolbe. The record company made her change it to be phonetic. And she is an absolute hoot to be around. She is always, joking, singing and praising her Lord.”

One more note: Kolby’s producers were the late Scott and Vivian Holtzman, a husband and wife also from east Texas. If you’re into obscure late-’60s psych, dig this: The Holtzmans also produced and wrote most of the songs for Fever Tree, a Houston band, including this memorable single from the summer of 1968.

“San Francisco Girls (Return Of The Native).”

Which I have heard.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under September 2013, Sounds

Under the Motown covers

Was there ever a record company better at getting mileage out of its songs as Motown?

One artist would cut a song. Then it would be covered by another, and perhaps another, and perhaps still another. The hit version might not necessarily be the first version. That was Motown’s genius.

Hear, then, three examples of familiar Motown songs covered by other Motown artists. All three were written by the great Barrett Strong and the legendary producer Norman Whitfield.

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“War,” the Temptations, from “Psychedelic Shack,” 1970. The LP is out of print but is available digitally.

This is the original version recorded in 1969, but Motown sat on it, preferring to not piss off the Temptations’ fans with such a political song. It was a No. 1 hit for Edwin Starr in 1970.

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“I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” The Undisputed Truth,” from “The Undisputed Truth,” 1971. The LP is out of print. The song is apparently not available digitally. Too bad. This version cooks.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles recorded the original version in 1966, but Motown owner Berry Gordy didn’t like it. It was a No. 2 hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1967. Marvin Gaye also recorded it that year, but Motown didn’t release it as a single until 1968, when DJs started playing it off the “In The Groove” LP. It was a No. 1 hit.

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“Smiling Faces Sometimes,” Rare Earth, from “Ma,” 1973.

The Temptations did the original version in 1971. The Undisputed Truth had a No. 3 hit with it later that year.

Rare Earth’s “Ma” also is featured over on our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, which delivers vintage vinyl one side at a time. Check it out.

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Filed under March 2013, Sounds

The 6-pack: Happy anniversary to us

When the last week of February rolls around, it’s time to celebrate at AM, Then FM. It dropped into the blogosphere six years ago this week, way back in 2007.

For the six of you who have remained regular readers all this time, thank you.

There are more than six of you, of course, but the glory days of music blogs seem to have come and gone.

Oliver Wang wrote about that the other day over at Soul Sides in response to a reader’s question. “Blogs … peaked in saturation about five years ago and have been on the wane since then.” It’s a drag to go through the bookmarks and see the blogs that have gone dark, especially in the last year or so.

However, a few of us keep on keepin’ on.

So we celebrate the beginning of our sixth year with a six-pack. Six songs by six artists from their sixth studio LP. The songs had to come from my records, and they had to be vinyl rips.

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“Soolaimon,” Neil Diamond, from “Tap Root Manuscript,” 1970.

One of the first LPs I ever had. Also my introduction to world music. Also for my friend Glick, who has been digging music with me for 40 years.

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“Molina,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, from “Pendulum,” 1970.

I once really dug the “Green River” and “Cosmo’s Factory” LPs. “Pendulum” not so much, but this is a good song. I like the sax. Creedence was one of my faves when I was in my teens and 20s, but I’ve found them almost unlistenable since John Fogerty released “Centerfield” in the mid-’80s. I didn’t like that record and it somehow soured me on Creedence.

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“Back Stabbers,” the O’Jays, from “Back Stabbers,” 1972.

Those of us of a certain age are blessed to have grown up in a time when you heard elegant soul like this on the radio.

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“I’ll Be Coming Home,” the J. Geils Band, from “Nightmares … And Other Tales From The Vinyl Jungle,” 1974.

Not long after starting this blog, I wrote a Complete Idiot’s Guide to the J. Geils Band for the blog that eventually became Popdose. I’m qualified because I have all 14 J. Geils Band LPs. Idiot completist. As I listened to all 14, this struck me as one of their best records. I almost picked “Gettin’ Out,” a keyboard-driven rave-up with a bunch of showy solos, but went instead with this slow groover. It has sort of a Latin beat and features Jay Geils on mandolin and Seth Justman on piano and that slinky organ.

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“Theme From ‘Enter The Dragon’,” Dennis Coffey, from “Instant Coffey,” 1974. (The LP out of print but the song is available digitally.)

Detroit guitar legend Dennis Coffey is one of the artists I’ve rediscovered since starting this blog. I have a bunch of his records now.

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“The Blacker The Berrie,” the Isley Brothers, from “The Brothers: Isley,” 1969. (The LP is out of print. The song isn’t available digitally that I can find.)

Likewise the Isleys, who I somehow knew almost nothing about before starting AM, Then FM. I have a bunch of their records now, too. This cut also is known as “Black Berries.”

Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under February 2013, Sounds

A smaller Christmas, Day 10

While I was at our indie record store the other day, I checked out the Christmas records. There wasn’t much there.

At the other end of the store, they had the Record Store Day releases left over from Black Friday. I found this.

Donny Hathaway Xmas 45

There’s something to get you in the Christmas spirit. I rarely buy 45s, but you gotta love that colored vinyl.

It’s another step in a quest started perhaps 25 years ago. This was one of about a dozen mostly Christmas songs taped off the radio late one night. I’ve been collecting those songs ever since. Here’s that story.

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Four years ago, I recreated that program in a series of four blog posts. The last entry included this cut.

“This Christmas,” Donny Hathaway, Atco 7-inch 532757-7, a limited edition reissued in 2012. The original was released in 1970.

This is the single edit that runs about 3 minutes. I have another version, from the great “Soul Christmas” CD, with an outro that runs about 30 seconds longer. An even longer version, running almost 4 minutes, is available digitally.

This was written by Hathaway and Nadine McKinner. It was recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York in November 1970 and released as Atco single 6799 on Nov. 30, 1970.

All that said, two questions remain. Should I play the flip side? Do I really want to hear Cee Lo Green’s cover?

Your wise counsel (and Christmas music requests) in the comments, please.

Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2012, Sounds

A smaller Christmas, Day 1

If AM, Then FM is known for nothing else, it may be for Christmas music at Christmas time. So it is again this year.

That said, a confession: My passion for Christmas music has waned since the “Three Under The Tree” series debuted five years ago.

There’s just so much Christmas music now. It starts so early, too.

So this year, here, less Christmas is more.

Starting today, you’ll find one Christmas song here every day until Christmas. We’ll take requests, as we always have. Perhaps we can fulfill your Christmas wish for that certain song. That would be nice.

At this time of year in 1970, I was 13 and digging all kinds of sounds on WOKY, the Mighty 92, out of Milwaukee. I eagerly waited for these tunes to pop up roughly once every three hours: the Guess Who’s “Share The Land,” Canned Heat’s “Let’s Work Together,” the Fifth Dimension’s “One Less Bell To Answer,” Sugarloaf’s “Green-Eyed Lady” and 100 Proof (Aged In Soul)’s “Somebody’s Been Sleeping.”

Then the WOKY jocks dropped an absolute bomb.

One night, there was “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.

So that’s how we’re playing it this year. Amid the cacaphony of the season, we’re dropping one song here each day. It may not be as electrifying as a young Michael Jackson was in 1970, but we hope you dig it anyway.

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Originally found on “The Jackson 5 Christmas Album,” 1970. It’s out of print as such but was reissued on CD in 2009 as “Jackson 5 Ultimate Christmas Collection” with extra tracks. I have it on “A Motown Christmas,” a tremendous 1973 compilation that I’ve had since the late ’70s.

Your Christmas music requests in the comments, please.

Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2012, Sounds

R.B. Greaves: Coming home

The tributes to R.B. Greaves started popping up on Facebook late this afternoon, while I was off the grid. The smooth R&B singer was 68 when he died last week in Los Angeles.

His self-titled LP from 1970, the one with “Take A Letter, Maria” on it, was among the first big bunch of records I bought when I got back into collecting vinyl a few years ago. It was part of a haul of 20 records for $20 from the $1 record boxes in the tent in my friend Jim’s back yard.

I wrote about that record from time to time, and I’m glad I did so while Greaves was still with us.

Twice, it was to share his cover of “Always Something There To Remind Me.” Most recently, it was to celebrate the songs of Hal David, the great lyricist, something I did not do while David was still with us.

The first time, it was after I’d accidentally erased a small audio clip of our son’s voice, recorded before his voice changed. That was four years ago, and somehow, I still remember what that little boy’s voice sounded like. Maybe writing that post about a little bit of innocence lost helped to preserve it in my head.

Once, though, it was a deep cut from that self-titled LP, which despite that familiar hit single summons up a bunch of little mysteries.

“This is Soul,” R.B. Greaves, from “R.B. Greaves,” 1970.

One such mystery is why this fine little upbeat slice of Muscle Shoals soul wasn’t ever released as a single.

The post with that deep cut was a teaser to a longer post about R.B. Greaves over at our other blog, The Midnight Tracker. Side 1 of this album is featured there.

I also have R.B. Greaves’ second album, also self-titled, which was released on Bareback Records in 1977. It’s full of pleasant enough but unremarkable mid-’70s pop-R&B. The 1970 LP is the only one you really need to have.

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Filed under October 2012, Sounds