Monthly Archives: March 2010

That ’70s song, Vol. 12

The Beatles were all but done as a group by the last week of March 1970, but you couldn’t tell it from listening to the radio.

There, bunched together at the top of the charts 40 years ago this week, were these three hit singles:

— A song by the Beatles.

— A song by a solo Beatle.

— A song written and recorded first by a solo Beatle.

It was, perhaps, Beatlemania’s last stand.

It was about this time that I signed a petition begging the Beatles to stay together. It was something orchestrated by WOKY, the big AM Top 40 station out of Milwaukee. They wanted listeners to circulate petitions. If memory serves, the top prize was a complete set of Beatles LPs.

At our school, a seventh-grade girl named Robin took up the challenge. I signed her petition during lunch in the gym. Robin must have done a pretty good job. She got some kind of mention on the radio. Whether she got any Beatles LPs, I can’t recall.

We didn’t keep the Beatles together, of course, but no one was letting go of them. Not with these songs at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 in WOKY’s chart that week:

— “Let It Be” by the Beatles.

— “Instant Karma” by John Lennon.

— And the one written by Paul McCartney and released on the Beatles’ Apple label …

“Come And Get It,” Badfinger, from “Magic Christian Music,” 1970.

This was one of my favorite 45s. I liked this tune, but I liked the flip side even more. “Rock Of All Ages” is a wild piano- and guitar-driven rave-up that’s been posted here twice before.

McCartney did a solo demo of “Come And Get It” during the “Abbey Road” sessions in July 1969. It wasn’t officially released until 1996.

As for those other hit singles by the Beatles and by John Lennon … enjoy a couple of cool covers.

“Let It Be,” Ike and Tina Turner, from “Workin’ Together,” 1971. It’s out of print but is available digitally. Tina makes this one all her own.

“Let It Be,” the Mar-Keys, from “Memphis Experience,” 1971. It’s out of print. From the house band at Stax Records in Memphis, this is a sweet, laid-back instrumental with a warm sax lead. (This is a CD rip from “Mojo Beatlemania, Volume 2,” included with Mojo magazine in September 2004.)

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That ’70s song, Vol. 11

In the third week of March 1970, the song topping many charts was one about faith, one with heavy, freaky, fuzzy guitars. You know the one.

“Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum was just about all the church I wanted at the time. Going on a forced march through confirmation was a drag. Skepticism about organized religion may simply come with being in your teens, a time when you start thinking for yourself.

That said, “Spirit in the Sky” may have helped me start thinking independently about religion. It was that tune, and the wave of pop-rock singles that followed in its wake in the early ’70s — among them Ocean’s “Put Your Hand in the Hand,” George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and anything from “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

I’m pretty sure we had the Norman Greenbaum single as kids. After all,  you could be sure it came with parental approval once you explained what it was about. I no longer have that 45, but I do have that tune.

In 1997, the folks at Rhino Special Products put it on a greatest-hits promo CD for Kahlua liqueur. “Spirit in the Sky” apparently qualifies as “’70s Party Music,” next to tunes from Foreigner, Brownsville Station, Foghat, Deep Purple, Joe Walsh, BTO and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Our 15-year-old son recently found that CD and is digging it. “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” was blasting from the stereo in the basement when I went to chase him into bed the other night.

Evan might need an introduction to “Spirit in the Sky,” but you don’t. So here’s a cool cover. I can’t remember where I came across this moody, crunchy version, but thanks to whoever put it out there.

“Spirit in the Sky,” The Upsidedown, from “Trust Electricity,” 2004. It’s the last cut on the debut record from these psych-rockers from Portland, Oregon.

They put out a second record in 2008, are working on a third, played SXSW last week and have gotten some of their songs on TV shows.

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I heard the news today

Oh, man …

Amazing Records — my local used record store — is closing in a month.

Jim is packing it up and taking it with him as he leaves our corner of Wisconsin and moves back home to northern California.

As I walked across the front of the store this afternoon, I noted the progress he’d made in clearing the boxes and stacks of LPs and 45s that usually clutter the floor. That’s when Jim dropped the news on me.

Ah, that’s why. And why there’s so much new stock in the bins.

Therein lies the mixed blessing in all of this.

For as long as I’ve been going to Amazing Records, there have been boxes and crates full of records I never got to look through. Jim hadn’t looked through them yet. OK, fair enough.

I’d go through the new arrivals and the dollar bins, then say “So, Jim, what else can I look at today?” Sometimes, he’d point to boxes on the floor under the dollar bins. Sometimes, nothing else.

Now, though, he’s going through everything, separating the wheat from the chaff and trying to sell as many records as he can before he moves. He promises there will be plenty to look through.

I still have a month. Here are a couple of tunes, a couple of covers, from the records I found today.

“Life During Wartime,” the Staple Singers, from “The Staple Singers,” 1985. It’s out of print. This Talking Heads cover didn’t do as well as “Slippery People” had a year earlier. This was the Staples’ last record as a family group.

“It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” Billy Preston, from “Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music,” 1973. It’s out of print, save for the Japanese re-issue that’s in the buy link. This is a Bob Dylan cover, of course.

“I’ll be back,” I told Jim.

“Bring lots of money,” he said.

Oh, I’ll try, especially if I pop for that vintage King Curtis LP.


Filed under March 2010, Sounds

That ’70s song, Vol. 10

Joe Tait was on the radio the other night, calling a Cleveland Cavaliers game. Just as he was back in the ’70s.

Which might explain why I look at the charts from this week in March 1970 and draw a bit of a blank. Sure, there are plenty of songs I know. But others, not so much.

That’s because the Panasonic AM-FM radio that sat on top of the filing cabinet in my bedroom did double duty.

On nights when I wasn’t listening to WOKY, the Top 40 station out of Milwaukee, I was noodling around on the dial, seeking basketball games from across the nation on whatever clear-channel AM station that night’s atmospheric conditions allowed.

The other night, ESPN radio played a sound bite of Joe Tait calling a key play in a Cavs game, and I thought, “Hey, I’ve heard this guy.” He’s called their games since 1970. I listened to him way back when.

So why is it that I recognize Joe Tait after almost 40 years and I don’t recognize the Stevie Wonder single sitting at No. 23 on the WLS Hit Parade from Chicago?

Then I give it a listen. Oh, sure, I’ve heard that. But not often.

“Never Had A Dream Come True,” Stevie Wonder, from “Signed, Sealed & Delivered,” 1970.

Here’s another reason that I didn’t immediately recognize this tune. The first of three Stevie Wonder singles released in 1970, it was only moderately successful. Sitting at No. 23 was about as good as it got. You may have heard the singles that followed: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and “Heaven Help Us All.”


Filed under March 2010, Sounds

The fog of winter

Tonight is one of those late-winter nights in our corner of Wisconsin on which the air is mild, the snow is melting and the fog is thick. It’s been that way for the better part of a week, but no complaints.

It feels as if I could drive into this fog, make my way through it and find myself in another time. I see all the people gathered around TVs, watching college basketball, and I think: “That used to be us.”

Emerging from the fog, I might find myself in March 1982, when we watched the NCAA games, downed countless beers and listened to a quirky, distant record that had come out about six months earlier.

I think it was the Hose’s record. At the time, I didn’t dig it all that much. Over time, it’s become part of the soundtrack to that time in our lives. On a foggy winter’s night, it evokes that time.

“Invisible Sun,” the Police, from “Ghost in the Machine,” 1981.

Released as a single only in the UK, and controversial at that, “Invisible Sun” was a beacon amid the strife in Northern Ireland at the time.

“There has to be an invisible sun

That gives us hope when the whole day’s done”

“Ghost in the Machine” is, of course, a well-known record. You don’t need me to introduce you to it. But perhaps this is a song you have not heard in some time. A couple of other cuts — “Secret Journey” and “Darkness” — could have filled the bill as well.

Winter’s fog inspired a similar post at this time last year. Check it out. If this tune is not your cup of tea, perhaps the one posted then will be.


Filed under March 2010, Sounds