Imagine seeing a photo of something you thought existed only in memory. As you try to process it, the whole thing takes your breath away. Then you get catch your breath and settle down to scrutinizing the tiniest details of the photo.
When I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in the ’60s and ’70s, everyone went down by Prange’s. It was the biggest department store in that city of 50,000 along Lake Michigan.
The record department was in the basement. You went down the main escalator and there it was, over to your right as you stepped off, a dazzling world of colorful and thrilling LPs spread out before you. 45s? Sure, but those you could get at the neighborhood dime store. Prange’s was the place where you came to ponder the mighty LP.
This photo is from 1969 or later. In the row going up diagonally from the lower left corner are the Beatles’ “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour” and the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” the latter released as an import in 1969. I’d love to see this photo at higher resolution so I could try to ID some of the other records.
I never bought a lot of LPs at Prange’s — all I had was paper route money, and not much of it — but what I did buy were among the first albums I ever owned. I still have them all.
— I gave Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Cosmo’s Factory” LP to my friend Mike for his 13th birthday. It came out in July 1970. His birthday was in October. Truth be told, I’d wanted it for myself. Instead, I got Creedence’s “Green River,” which by then was a year old. It all worked out.
When I was 13, I was tempted by, perhaps even obsessed with, Janis Joplin’s “Pearl.” It had been released in January 1971, midway through my eighth-grade year. I liked the music. Mostly, though, I thought her pose on the cover was kind of hot — and, yes, I already had some sense of someone being a hot mess — and I really didn’t want to try to explain that to my parents.
So I never bought “Pearl” at Prange’s. Truth be told, it’s only been in the last 10 years that I finally bought “Pearl.” I’ve since bought three or four copies, always looking for a cover in a bit nicer condition than the one before.
Maybe I’ll even frame it someday. It tells quite a story about a young record digger, even if only he recognizes it.
In none of those posts was there a mention of Aretha Franklin, who also was still with us at the time, and who certainly was worthy of appreciation. Now that she’s gone, I feel bad that I didn’t properly appreciate her tremendous talent.
In the wake of Aretha’s passing, Sirius XM turned its Soul Town channel into an Aretha Franklin tribute channel. For the past 11 days, it’s been all Aretha, all the time. I’ve heard deep cuts that go well beyond any of my few Aretha records.
After 11 days of Aretha, I’m exhausted. She has worn me out.
Ike and Tina proclaimed “We nevah, evah, do nothing nice and easy.”
Well, Aretha nevah, evah, did anything nice and easy, either.
Aretha testified! Aretha brought forth that gale force of a gospel voice in song after song, in style after style, in decade after decade. Aretha was relentless.
After 11 days of Aretha, I find myself in the same place as my friend Greg, who wrote this over at Echoes in the Wind on the day after she died.
“So why do I feel I have I so little to say? Because Aretha Franklin as a subject for eulogy, memoir or memorial is too damned big. She towers over the music world in a way that few artists do. So I don’t know where to start or to end or even what to put in or leave out.”
I’ll try. Here is my testimony.
I first heard Aretha testify in the late ’60s, perhaps while listening to WLS radio out of Chicago as we drove around southern Wisconsin with our older cousins during the summer.
Perhaps I first saw Aretha testify while watching a variety show, the kind my dad loved. I would have been 10, 11, maybe 13. Was it two nights after Christmas 1967, when Aretha sang “Respect” on “The Kraft Music Hall” with Woody Allen as the host? Was it Saturday night, Nov. 2, 1968, when Aretha appeared on “The Hollywood Palace” with Sammy Davis Jr. delivering a most memorable introduction? Was it Friday night, Oct. 9, 1970, when Aretha sang “I Say A Little Prayer” on “The Tom Jones Show” and duetted with Tom?
“Spanish Harlem” was the first Aretha song I came to know well. I was 14 when that came out in the late summer of 1971, a year I spent glued to my AM radio, listening to WOKY radio out of Milwaukee.
Then Aretha fell off my radar until I was in my 20s. I dug her in “The Blues Brothers” in 1980 — as did everyone else — and then she roared back onto the charts in 1985. I loved Eurythmics, so of course I loved Aretha’s duet with Annie Lennox on “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.”
About that time, I bought “Aretha’s Gold,” a greatest-hits comp from 1969, the stuff I knew from radio and TV. For probably 20 years, that was the only Aretha record I had. Then I sold it and started collecting and exploring some of her great LPs on Atlantic. Those are my records at the top of this mea culpa.
After a hiatus of many years, I’m collecting baseball cards again. But only a certain kind of card.
These cards. The 2017 Topps Heritage cards, which are based on the 1968 Topps card design. That year, 1968, was when an 11-year-old kid in Wisconsin really got into collecting cards for the first time.
Some of the players in the 2017 set are new to me, but there’s a wonderfully comforting feeling to being introduced to them in such a familiar way. I’m enjoying it.
Likewise record digging. There’s something wonderfully comforting about an experience that’s essentially the same today as it was in the earliest ’70s in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Flash back to 1970, and there is 13-year-old me carefully examining the 45s in the record department in the basement of Prange’s department store or in the rack near the checkout at the Evans variety store. Then I’d look through the LPs, which seemed unattainable, far beyond my allowance.
One of my earliest 45s was “American Woman” by the Guess Who on that great orange RCA label. The flip side, “No Sugar Tonight,” turned out to be the Guess Who’s next single. You know that version, but here are two less-heard covers. They come via fellow bloggers, which is another of the joys of record digging, getting tipped to things you might not otherwise hear.
“No Sugar Tonight,” Steel Wool, from the single on White Whale Records, 1970. Steel Wool is one of the aliases used by singer and drummer Buddy Randell, who’d left the Knickerbockers that year. Thank you to Andrew, the proprietor over at Armagideon Time, for this. It’s from one of his anniversary mixes.
Postscript: My rediscovery of baseball cards brings with it one age-old problem. I’ve bought about 100 cards, yet have gotten only one Brewers player so far. Seems like it’s the hunt for Cookie Rojas all over again.
Our premise, revisited: What a year this has been. Since we last gathered here just two weeks ago, we’ve lost even more music greats. Merle Haggard, Leon Haywood and Gato Barbieri — quite a cross-section there — and still another Van Zant, country singer Jimmie, cousin to Ronnie.
Time, then — well past time, really — to wrap up an appreciation of four music greats who are still with us. These are my four. Yours may be different. We started with three elders, Chuck Berry,Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. We end with …
The legend: Tina Turner.
Still performing? Apparently not. It’s been almost seven years since she last performed live. That was on May 5, 2009, at the Sheffield Arena in Sheffield, England, the end to a 50th anniversary tour that featured 90 shows.
What we must acknowledge but won’t dwell on: Ike Turner.
Where I came in: I’m sure I’d seen Ike and Tina on TV before, but I certainly knew of them by the time “Proud Mary” was released in early 1971. That certainly warmed up a Wisconsin winter.
My evening with Tina: I’ve had two, thankfully. We first saw her in 1983, performing on a small side stage at Summerfest in Milwaukee, a night I will never forget. We then saw her at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, a big outdoor venue west of Milwaukee, on Sept. 14, 1987, on our honeymoon, a time I will never forget.
But about that first show. Tina Turner was just 43, but was considered an oldies act. She had split from Ike, had no record contract and was touring with two backup singers. Yet on that night, on that side stage in the middle of the Summerfest grounds, it was wild. To call her show sizzling or scorching or incendiary doesn’t do it justice. It was insane. You couldn’t believe what you were seeing and hearing. It was that good.
Appreciate the greatness: To get some idea of what we saw that night, kick back for an hour and watch this show. It was taped at the Park West in Chicago on Aug. 4, 1983, about a month after we saw her at Summerfest.
The set list: “Cat People,” “Acid Queen,” “River Deep Mountain High,” “Hot Legs,” “Get Back,” “Where the Heart Is,” “Nutbush City Limits,” “Givin’ It Up For Your Love,” “Nightlife,” “Help,” “Proud Mary,” “Music Keeps Me Dancing” and “Hollywood Nights.” (You may need to reset the video to 0:00.)
Then go back. So many great tunes from her time with Ike. These are some of my favorites from just some of my Ike and Tina records.
Not sure there are any light reads about the Vietnam War.
It’s been years since I read Michael Herr’s “Dispatches,” but I vividly remember that taking forever.
Perhaps it’s the constant reminder — then as now — that there, for the grace of the timing of my birth, go I, and how would I have handled all that. (For the record, I was too young for Vietnam. Saigon fell and the war ended seven weeks before I turned 18.)
My Christmas wish list had two books on it, one of them about Vietnam.
“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” examines how American soldiers — white, black, Latino, Native — deeply identified with music and used it to cope while serving in Vietnam in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Our Christmas tree is long gone from the living room, yet I’m still slogging through that book. Maybe it’s best read with all those songs playing in the background.
You also bog down when you come to a passage like this, the story of a soldier named Jeff Dahlstrom, who arrived in Vietnam in September 1970:
“Music played a major part in the sensory overload of Saigon, where Dahlstrom went frequently. … No surprise that Dahlstrom’s memories of the Saigon streets were stirred by the appropriately titled ‘Stoned in Saigon’ by a largely forgotten English group named Free.”