Tag Archives: 1963

This land was his land

What a time we have lived in.

That realization comes more often as those of us of a certain age get older. When we were kids in the ’60s, there were four TV channels.

On those four channels, there was a thing called the variety show. You could hear some comedic and dramatic monologues, see some skits and production numbers, and hear Broadway songs, pop standards, pop hits and — after a while, grudgingly, it often seemed — rock music.

Folk music was part of that rich cultural stew, too. That’s where I must have heard Pete Seeger and his songs.

In a lifetime of listening to music, his songs are part of the foundation of everything I know. They’re some of the first songs I ever came to know as a grade-school kid in the ’60s. “This Land Is Your Land” was the most memorable. But I also came to know “If I Had A Hammer,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “Goodnight Irene,” “Rock Island Line” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

But as I grew up and my tastes changed, folk music just wasn’t my bag. John Prine and Steve Goodman were as close I got to folk. Pete Seeger was, and is, no less great, but I’ve long known more of his songs done as covers than as his originals. I don’t have any Pete Seeger records.

Peter Paul Mary Moving LP

“This Land Is Your Land,” Peter, Paul and Mary, from “Moving,” 1963. Also available digitally.

My dad had this record, so we played it endlessly as kids. This song and “Puff,” one of the saddest songs I know, over and over.


“Rock Island Line,” Johnny Cash, from “Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar,” 1957. Also available digitally.

My dad loved trains, so of course we loved this train song. It’s the first cut on Johnny Cash’s debut LP. (I bought this record in the late ’80s, and only recently realized it was his first LP.)

Sharon Jones DK Naturally LP

“This Land Is Your Land,” Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, from “Naturally,” 2005. Also available digitally.

Mavis Staples We'll Never Turn Back CD

“Eyes On The Prize” and “We Shall Not Be Moved,” Mavis Staples, from “We’ll Never Turn Back,” 2007. Also available digitally.

(I used to have “Goodnight Irene” on a Ry Cooder record, but it went out in one of the Great Record Purges.)

All these covers inspired by Pete Seeger, a national treasure whose work is timeless, whose influence endures.

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

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Filed under January 2014, Sounds

A smaller Christmas, Day 9

It’s snowing in our corner of Wisconsin today. It started about an hour ago and is starting to stick to the ground. There might be 5 or 6 inches on ground by the time the athletes walk out onto Lambeau Field tonight.


“Let It Snow,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, from “Christmas with the Miracles,” 1963. It’s out of print. Many of the tunes on this album, including this one, also are on “Our Very Best Christmas,” a 1999 CD release that also is out of print but is available digitally.

We rediscovered this vintage Christmas album in our collection a few years back. We’d forgotten that we had it.

This version of the familiar holiday song has a lot going for it. It’s the group’s original lineup, with Claudette Robinson singing the lead. After an elegant piano intro, this swings, driven by some Latin-flavored percussion.

If this song isn’t your cup of tea, it is short. This runs barely 1:40.

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

12 days of Christmas, Day 9

In the e-mail today is a note about NPR Music’s Jingle Jams holiday mix.

They asked 10 stations to suggest 10 Christmas songs each, then put it all together into one playlist. You can stream it here.

Here are 12 of the songs, in the order they appear on the Jingle Jams playlist. The station or program suggesting the song is in parentheses.

“Let It Snow,” Leon Redbone, from “Christmas Island,” 1989. (Folk Alley)

“‘Zat You, Santa Claus” Louis Armstrong, 1953, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. It’s out of print. (NPR suggests finding it on “Hipster’s Holiday,” a 1989 CD compilation.) (WBGO, Newark, New Jersey; WDUQ, Pittsburgh)

“Last Month Of The Year” the Blind Boys of Alabama, from “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” 2003. (WXPN, Philadelphia)

“Santa Claus, Santa Claus,” James Brown, from “Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” 1966. The LP is out of print but all the songs are on “The Complete James Brown Christmas,” a 2-CD set released earlier this year. (KUT, Austin, Texas)

“Back Door Santa,” Clarence Carter, from “Soul Christmas,” 1968. (KUT)

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” Darlene Love, from “A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector,” 1963. (WXPN)

“Christmas Wrapping,” the Waitresses, 1981, from “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. (NPR suggests finding it on the “Christmas Wrapping” EP. That also appears to be out of print, but the song is available digitally.) (KUT)

“Greensleeves,” the Vince Guaraldi Trio, from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 1965. The buy link is to a 2006 remastered CD release with extra tracks, including an alternate take on this one. (WDUQ)

“Jingle Bells,” Jimmy Smith, from “Christmas ’64,” 1964. Smith’s “Christmas Cookin’,” from the same year, is the same record but with a much cooler cover.  (WBGO)

“Must Be Santa,” Brave Combo, from “It’s Christmas, Man!” 1992. Hard to find, but available from the band or digitally. NPR’s version is from a live performance at KUT. This version is done as a polka.

“Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney,” Ella Fitzgerald, 1950, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. It’s out of print. (NPR suggests finding it on “Yule Be Miserable,” a 2006 CD compilation) (WDUQ)

“The 12 Days of Christmas,” Harry Belafonte, from “To Wish You A Merry Christmas,” 1962. (NPR Music staff)


Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

Three under the tree, Day 5

When we started last week, we mentioned that “A Motown Christmas” has long been one of our holiday faves. We’ve been playing it for 30 years now.

From the beginning, Motown and its associated labels made sure their top artists put out Christmas albums. Berry Gordy undoubtedly recognized their perpetual money-making potential.

Today, we have three tunes from two albums from two Motown groups.


When this album was released on the Tamla label in October 1963, they were still known only as the Miracles, the lead singer was still known as William Robinson and his wife, Claudette, was still in the group.

There’s lots to like on “Christmas With the Miracles,” which was produced by the Miracles’ Ronnie White with help from Smokey Robinson. The Funk Brothers, the Motown house band, provides the backing. Need I say more?

“Santa Claus is Coming To Town” and “Christmas Everyday,” the Miracles, from “Christmas With the Miracles,” 1963. It’s out of print.

You’ll dig the percussion and the groove on the first cut. Smokey Robinson wrote the second cut, a great little slice of the early Motown sound.

If you look closely at the cover, you’ll see only four Miracles. They had five members at the time, but bass singer Pete Moore was in the service when the photo was taken.


By the time “The Temptations’ Christmas Card” was released on the Gordy label in 1970, the Funk Brothers’ solid yet spare backing had given way to more lush orchestration. Even so, there are some nice moments on it.

“Someday at Christmas,” the Temptations, from “The Temptations’ Christmas Card,” 1970.

Bass singer Melvin Franklin takes the lead on this Motown original written by Ron Miller and Bryan Wells. Recorded first by Stevie Wonder in 1967, it addresses the social concerns of that time — and of our time — war, poverty, civil rights, injustice. Wonder’s take on it is pretty good, too.

(Housekeeping note: Please let me know if there is a problem with the links to the tunes. Savefile has been acting erratically lately. Thanks.)

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

They go in threes

That’s what we’ve long said in the newspaper business. Celebrities and prominent people die in threes.

I vividly recall the summer of 1997. Brian Keith, the actor who played Uncle Bill on the late-’60s sitcom “Family Affair” had just died. A week later, the actor Robert Mitchum died.

The day Mitchum died, I spoke up during one of our news meetings and said to watch out for the third one. Someone asked what I meant. “They go in threes,” I said. “Celebrities die in threes.”

The next day, the actor James Stewart died. I’ll never forget the look on one of my co-workers’ faces when he heard the news. His eyes popped open. His jaw dropped. Not that it was Stewart. Just that there had been a third.

And so we come to three recent obituaries of note.

The first was Elvis.


He was the guy who rode an old bike and collected cans in our community. I wrote about our Elvis after he died last fall.

Now, the rest of the story. The folks in our community want to put up some kind of memorial to Elvis in one of the parks he so often was seen in. There’s even a Facebook page in his memory. It has more than 1,200 members, more than 100 posts on the wall.

What I did not know was that Elvis had some kind of brain injury when he was young, and it kept him from learning how to read. Or that he’d been married and had a son and a daughter. Or that he was much more social than I’d thought.

The second was Suzanne Pleshette.


I remember having an absurd conversation with one of my high school classmates back in the mid-’70s. We were rating the relative hotness of a variety of women on TV. Hey, what can I say? We were 16 or 17. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re 16 or 17. This was so long ago that it was before Farrah Fawcett and Suzanne Somers.

Anyhow, my classmate insisted that Joan Van Ark was the hottest. A bright, attractive young actress at the time, certainly.

But, no, my friend, not even close to Suzanne Pleshette. I’ve always had a thing for her. There aren’t many DVD sets I’d consider getting, but I could watch “The Bob Newhart Show” for days on end. She was that good, that bright, that spicy, that sexy. Of course, now we know cigarettes forged that sultry voice — she died of lung cancer, just 70 — but, oh, that voice.

Time’s Richard Corliss put forth the interesting notion that Pleshette “was a perfect fit for the movies’ golden age” but “unfortunately for her, Hollywood had stopped making the kinds of films that would have made (her) a star two decades before she got there.”

Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel wrote that in real life, “Suzanne Pleshette was a lot saltier than Emily Hartley. She’d be the person you’d want to sit next to a party because you were sure to hear some choice comments, delivered with sass.”

The third was Howard Washington.

You probably haven’t heard of him. I hadn’t, until I read a delightful appreciation of his life in the Los Angeles Times.


Imagine you are one of Warner Bros. Records’ top stars. You pull up at its headquarters in Burbank, California, but the tiny parking lot is full. The security guard overseeing the lot lowers the boom on you. Howard Washington tells you in an unforgettably big voice to go park on the street. Yes, you, Madonna. Yes, you, Prince.

Washington was 20 when he started at the Warner Bros. movie studio in 1929, running a shoeshine and a car wash. Though he did other things — served in the Navy during World War II and sold real estate in the ’50s and ’60s — he became synonymous with Warner Bros. He even had bit parts in a couple of movies.

From his post at the record company parking lot, Washington became so beloved that David Lee Roth was the emcee at his 80th birthday bash in 1989. They gave him a platinum record called “Howard Washington on the Lot.” Its songs included “You Can’t Park Here,” “Park on the Street,” “The Lot Is Full,” “They Didn’t Tell Me You Were Coming” and “I Don’t Care Who You Are.”

Sounds like he was one cool cat.

So, for Howard Washington, here’s a tune by a group that was on a Warner Bros. label when he was riding herd on rock stars in the parking lot. It seems to fit with his outlook on life — Washington married and was divorced five times. Then, when he was 74, he met Eunice Glover. They were still together when he died 24 years later, earlier this month, at 98.


“If You Wanna Be Happy,” Kid Creole and the Coconuts, from “Doppelganger,” 1983. It’s a cover of Jimmy Soul’s R&B hit from 1963, which was based on an old calypso tune, “Ugly Woman.”


Filed under January 2008, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 44

Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, is a man of the world, and a worldly man.

Tonight’s cut was recorded in England and released by a German label.

Of course, good music knows no boundaries.

Tonight, Sleepy covers a tune written and originally performed by Jimmy Reed, an electric bluesman from Mississippi. “Shame, Shame, Shame,” released in 1963, was Reed’s last single to hit the charts.

Sleepy recorded this cover at Regent Sound Studio in London on April 23, 1979, backed by a five-piece group.


“Shame, Shame, Shame,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “A Rockin” Decade,” a 1997 compilation issued by Germany’s Charly Records.

The Rolling Stones have performed this tune since they did it as a demo when they were just getting started in the early ’60s.

This video is of the Stones playing it live at the Double Door, a small club in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, on Sept. 18, 1997.

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Filed under December 2007, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 9

Right on cue, the first winter storm of the season has arrived in our corner of Wisconsin on the first day of December.


So, for the first our three tunes today, why don’t we just …

“Let it Snow,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, from “Christmas with the Miracles,” 1963. It’s out of print, even though it was reissued on CD in 1991. Many of the tunes on this album also are on “Our Very Best Christmas,” a 1999 CD release.

Much as Janet and I were a little dismayed to find we had Christmas albums by Barbra Streisand and Reba McEntire — and could not explain their presence — it was a delightful surprise to rediscover this vintage Christmas album in our collection. It’s the group’s original lineup, complete with Claudette Robinson singing the lead on this tune.


You know, it’s really starting to look like a …

“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983. This isn’t a Christmas album, but is one of the late folk singer’s best.

This may be my favorite version of this familiar holiday tune. Goodman is playing live and someone requests it. Only one problem. Goodman isn’t entirely sure of the lyrics. Still, he gives it a go, making some of it up as he goes: “It’s kind of absurd/When you don’t know the words/To sing ‘walkin’ in a winter wonderland.'”


That’s nice, but I’ll have to go out and shovel eventually. I’ll have to put on a hoodie and boots because …

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Tom Jones with Cerys Matthews, from “Reloaded,” 2003. This album — also not a Christmas album — is a mix of TJ’s greatest hits and some interesting duets with more contemporary artists.

This Frank Loesser tune from 1944 usually is done as a duet, and this is the best version I’ve heard. That it’s anchored by Tom Jones, one of our faves, helps a great deal. It apparently is some kind of unspoken requirement that the female vocal be baby-girl/sexy/breathy. TJ’s fellow Welsh singer, Cerys Matthews, faithfully delivers on that score.

Loesser and his wife sang the song at parties until he sold its rights to MGM in 1948. It won an Oscar for best original song in 1949 when Ricardo Montalbon and Esther Williams (and Red Skelton and Betty Garrett) sang it in the film “Neptune’s Daughter.”

Among the many duos to have performed this tune: Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr. and Carmen McRae, Ray Charles and Betty Carter, James Caan and Bette Midler (from the 1991 film “For the Boys”), Brian Setzer and Ann-Margret, Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton, and, in a bit of studio magic, Dean Martin and Martina McBride more than a decade after Dino’s death.

Enjoy. More to come. Don’t forget to leave comments and/or requests if so moved.


Filed under Christmas music, December 2007, Sounds