Tag Archives: 1976

12 days of Christmas, Day 7

There isn’t much middle ground with “The Little Drummer Boy.” Either you like it, or you don’t.

It was written in 1941 by composer Katherine Davis, who called it “Carol of the Drum.”

It became a Christmas favorite in 1958, when Harry Simeone, a popular arranger for radio, TV and film, did a new version for a 20th Century Fox record, “Sing We Now Of Christmas.” The song, which he called “The Little Drummer Boy,” was sung by a group he called the Harry Simeone Chorale.

He’d been pitched the song by fellow arranger Henry Onorati, who’d done a version a year earlier with the Jack Halloran Singers. The only problem? Dot Records didn’t get that version out in time for Christmas 1957.

The story behind the song — a poor boy who plays his drum as a gift for the baby Jesus — is timeless. All too often, though, you hear covers that lack a sense of adventure. These don’t.

Obscure early ’70s funk/soul: “Little Drummer Boy,” Lenox Avenue, from the Chess 7-inch 2101, 1970. It’s out of print. (Shared last year by Larry over at Funky 16 Corners.)

Late ’70s dance/salsa: “Little Drummer Boy,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies,” 1976.

Late ’80s drum machines: “The Little Drummer Boy,” Alexander O’Neal, from “My Gift To You,” 1988. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

A guaguanco, a style of rumba: “The Little Drummer Boy,” Brave Combo, from “It’s Christmas, Man!” 1992. Hard to find, but available from the band or digitally.

Sweet, trippy sounds: “Little Drummer Boy,” the Dandy Warhols, from “Fruitcake,” 1997, a Capitol Records promo EP. It’s out of print. (Quite the video for it, though!) They released a different version as a single in 1994.

Sweet, reverent sounds: “Little Drummer Boy.” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. Re-released in 2008 as “The Best of .38 Special: The Christmas Collection,” one of those 20th Century Masters reissues. If you seek it digitally, search for that title instead of the original.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

The party crasher

Vietnam veterans are in town this weekend for an event called LZ Lambeau. It’s being billed as a long-overdue welcome home. There are four days of events, with the biggie tonight at Lambeau Field.

One of the bars within walking distance of the stadium booked the Commander Cody Band for Friday night.

They once were called Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. They’ve long been a guilty pleasure, and I’ve never seen them, so I went.

The group is just a quartet these days, not the eight-piece big band of old. It’s still fronted by the fine piano player George Frayne and it still cranks out a crowd-pleasing mix of rock, boogie, country and swing.

Good show, but an interesting vibe, one I’d not experienced in quite some time.

As you’d expect, most folks at the show wore something, most often black, proudly proclaiming themselves as Vietnam vets. That also made it clear who was not. Even though it was a friendly, mellow crowd of about 200 that turned out for Commander Cody, it still left me feeling a little like a party crasher.

I’m in my early 50s, and I’m too young for this group. Always will be. I didn’t graduate from high school until five weeks after the fall of Saigon.

So there’s that, and there’s this.

The band was set up in a banquet hall with a couple of cash bars along the side. Seeing all the slightly older folks at the bar and on the dance floor, it felt like I was crashing another wedding at the Colonial Ballroom, a big old rural dance hall not far from where I grew up.

If anyone was on to me one way or the other, they were cool about it. We were all digging Commander Cody, anyway. Here’s a little of what we heard. All are live tracks. The Commander is best heard in the wild.

“Down To Seeds and Stems Again Blues,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “Lost in the Ozone,” 1971. Recorded live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in April 1971.

Frayne proclaimed it the only slow song they play, and it was.

“Beat Me Daddy (Eight to the Bar),” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “Live From Deep in the Heart of Texas,” 1974. Recorded live at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas, in November 1973.

This is what they play to pick up the pace after playing that slow song.

“Lost in the Ozone,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “We’ve Got a Live One Here!” 1976. Recorded live in England in January or February 1976.

This closed those long-ago shows, and it closed Friday night’s show.

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Filed under May 2010, Sounds

Change of seasons

Baseball season is almost over. That used to mean the start of an even more exciting time — basketball season.

Over a roughly 25-year stretch that started in the late ’60s and ended in the early ’90s, basketball was my great passion.

It was the game I hoped to play … until I got cut in seventh grade. It was the game I stayed close to as a team manager in high school … until they hired a coach everyone hated. It was the game I played into my 40s … until my ankles and Achilles said it was time to go.

The lovely Janet also was a basketball fan. We were fortunate enough to see lots of NBA games during the ’80s, when our once-beloved Milwaukee Bucks were good and when we were treated to playoff showdowns against Bird’s Boston Celtics and Dr. J’s Philadelphia 76ers at the old Milwaukee Arena. Do you remember the floor?

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But those days are gone. The NBA is all but unwatchable these days.

Besides, it won’t be long before The Spectrum, where those Sixers played, will be gone, too. We never made it to The Spectrum.

Neither did our friends over at Barely Awake in Frog Pajamas, who nonetheless have written a lovely tribute to The Spectrum. It says everything I could have hoped to say about the place, from pretty much the same vantage points of distance and time.

They also dug up a great picture of Dr. J dunking on Lonnie Shelton. They also laid out some nice Philly soul. Here’s more from Philly.

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“The Rubberband Man,” 1976, from “The Best of the Spinners,” 1978. Philly soul meets the dance floor. A tune that suggests the athleticism of the NBA that was.

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“Cheaper To Keep Her,” MFSB, from “Love is the Message,” 1973. (It’s out of print, but the song is available digitally.) Philly soul meets jazz. A tune that suggests the sophistication of the NBA that was.

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“Never Love Again,” Dusty Springfield, from “A Brand New Me,” 1970. (It’s out of print, but is available digitally.) This is Dusty in Philly, doing tunes written by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff (and Roland Chambers on this one), arranged by Thom Bell and performed by the studio musicians that became MFSB. An all-star lineup that suggests the NBA that was.

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Filed under November 2009, Sounds

Halloween is still not my bag

Working on Saturday night, sometimes a drag, will be a delight this Saturday night. Nothing like sitting within earshot of the police scanner on Halloween night.

As noted here a while back, Halloween is not my bag.

However, at this time of year, I always enjoy listening to “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” the first album by the Alan Parsons Project. It’s full of tunes inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.

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We’re revisiting that LP over at our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, which resurfaces at the end of every month, emerging from the haze of time, reviving an old late-night FM radio show on which one side of a new or classic album would be played.

Here’s a little sample of “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” a tune we’ve not shared before. Nothing quite like the voice of Arthur Brown — yes, as in the Crazy World of Arthur Brown — to unnerve you.

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“The Tell-Tale Heart,” the Alan Parsons Project, from “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” 1976.

Enjoy, then head to The Midnight Tracker for Side 1 in its entirety.

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Filed under October 2009, Sounds

Quiet night at Ray’s Corner

It’s been a while since we visited Ray’s Corner.

As our regular readers know, Ray’s Corner is 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.

Ray is my dad. He’s 83. He likes his tunes more upbeat than downbeat, as I do. His taste in male singers from his time runs more to Dean Martin and Al Martino than to Frank Sinatra.

Dad never has been a big Tony Bennett guy, but that’s changing. A while back, I gave him a CD from a series called “Artist’s Choice.” It was a collection of Bennett’s favorite songs performed by others. Dad dug it.

Tonight, we have something else Dad might dig.

In the mid-’70s, Bennett teamed up with jazz pianist Bill Evans to record two albums. It’s just Bennett’s voice and Evans’ piano, the songs chosen by them, the arrangements worked out by them.

When those albums came out, Dad was in no position to buy them even if he did dig them. Then as now, the economy was bad. Money was tight, especially with three teenage boys.

Those albums have long been regarded as among the best of Bennett’s career. They’ve been remastered and re-released by Fantasy Records. “The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings” is spare, yet elegant and graceful. It’s perfect for a quiet evening at Ray’s Corner.

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“When In Rome” and “Lucky To Be Me,” Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, from “The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings,” 2009.

“When In Rome” comes from “The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album,” released in 1975. Written in 1963 by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, its full title is “When In Rome (I Do As the Romans Do).” Coleman and Leigh were among Bennett’s favorite songwriters. It’s perhaps the most light-hearted cut.

“Lucky To Be Me” comes from “Together Again,” released in 1976. It’s from the 1944 Broadway musical “On The Town,” with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden. On this cut, Bennett and Evans “examine the melancholy underside of (this) traditionally peppy, lucky, and happy showtune,” according to the Will Friedwald essay that accompanies the new release.

The new release also features two unreleased tracks and 25 alternate takes. Here’s one of the latter.

“Some Other Time (alternate take 7),” Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, from “The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings,” 2009.

This one also is from “On The Town,” with music by Bernstein and lyrics by Green and Comden. It was one of Evans’ favorite songs.

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Filed under April 2009, Sounds

And so our story begins

“It’s cold out here. I’ve knocked on this door a couple of times.
I sure hope they remember today is the day.”

That’s what I remember thinking early on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 18, 1975 — the day I did the first real interview of my journalism career.

I’d pitched a story for my school paper — then called the D.C. Jet — on seeing what it was like to be the morning DJ at our local FM rock station in Wausau, Wisconsin, the one almost everyone listened to.

When I called Bruce Charles to ask whether I could do so, he said sure — but I had to be there at 5:30 a.m. So there I was, knocking on the back door of the studios WIFC shared with WSAU-TV and WSAU-AM.

wifc275aI spent the 6-to-10-a.m. shift with Bruce. He joked on-air that we had wine and were kicking back. He took calls and played 45s. We chatted during songs. I got a little air time.

The photographer from my school paper came by. That’s Bruce showing me David Bowie’s live album for no apparent reason. Both of us are making fashion statements of some kind, but we’ll leave that for cultural historians to deconstruct.

I wrote the story. I still have it. But it’s hardly the end of the story.

I always wondered what became of Bruce Charles. Until last August.

That’s when a certain quarterback unretired and was traded to New York. Big news in Green Bay, of course, so we asked our readers to share their thoughts. It was my job to sort through the hundreds of e-mails and choose some to be published.

As I went through them, I came across one from a gent whose name I immediately recognized. So I e-mailed back: “I knew a Bruce Heikkinen who worked at WIFC radio in Wausau in the mid-70s. Is that you?”

The next day, I heard back: “Rock n roll! … yes!!!”

It was Bruce Charles. We exchanged some more e-mails and we eventually chatted on the phone. A follow-up interview, 33 years later. That it was with the subject of my first real, out-in-the-world interview made it all the more special.

Way back when, I wrote in the D.C. Jet that we played stuff from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Ringo Starr, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and the Four Tops on Tuesday morning, Feb. 18, 1975.

We might have played the following tunes that morning. They were on the charts at the time. You wouldn’t hear them together today, though. Rock stations wouldn’t play one. Urban stations wouldn’t play the other. What a blessing it was to grow up in a time when the radio exposed you to all kinds of music.

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“Fire,” Ohio Players from “Fire,” 1975.

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“Roll On Down The Highway,” Bachman-Turner Overdrive, from “Best of B.T.O. (So Far),” 1976. It’s out of print. This tune first appeared on “Not Fragile,” 1974. It’s also available on “20th Century Masters: The Best of Bachman-Turner Overdrive,” a 2000 CD compilation.

Our story continues later this week. (Sorry, this is Wisconsin. I have to go out and shovel instead of blogging.)

6 Comments

Filed under February 2009, Sounds

The 3 uses for love songs

Though I’m almost certainly not cool enough for the room, my friend Scholar over at the fine Souled On blog nevertheless graciously invited me to take part in a series called “Love Lockdown.”

Here’s what I wrote. If you’re a regular reader of AM, Then FM, you may recognize echoes of posts from the past …

Love songs, eh? There are but three uses for love songs.

The love song as a guide to life.

When a 13-year-old kid in Wisconsin started listening to the radio in 1970, love songs spoke to him. They helped that kid – who had no older brothers and no sisters – navigate social situations for which there were no instructions. Some love songs coached him on what to say, how it say it and when to say it. Other love songs simply were eye-openers.

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“We’ve Got To Get It On Again,” the Addrisi Brothers, 1972. Available on “We’ve Got to Get It On Again,” a 1997 compilation CD. (This is an improved rip from the one I posted a year ago. No more skip.)

Lessons also learned from: “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, 1972; “Me and Mrs. Jones,” Billy Paul, 1972; “Show and Tell,” Al Wilson, 1973; and “Third Rate Romance,” the Amazing Rhythm Aces, 1975.

The love song as soundtrack.

The soundtrack to a certain time spent with a certain girl. The soundtrack to a six-week romance during that Wisconsin kid’s senior year in high school. These love songs weren’t for that certain girl. Rather, they were on the radio as that kid eagerly drove to her house and then floated home again. Hearing them, those six weeks rush back.

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“Everlasting Love,” Carl Carlton, from “Everlasting Love,” 1974.

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“You’re The First, The Last, My Everything,” Barry White, 1974, from “Barry White’s Greatest Hits,” 1975.

Other soundtrack selections: “When Will I See You Again,” the Three Degrees, 1974; and “Laughter in the Rain,” Neil Sedaka, 1974.

The love song as mood music.

As the ‘70s ended, that Wisconsin kid was a senior in college, where he met another girl. He spent time at her house, too. They never made it much beyond than her couch, except when it was time to flip the record. They’re still together all these years later. Yet to say they have a song that’s theirs is a bit of a stretch. Well, this was on in the background.

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“Affirmation,” George Benson, from “Breezin’,” 1976.

Other mood music: Uhhh, what? “This Masquerade,” George Benson, 1976. Oh, yeah, and Blondie’s “Parallel Lines” album from 1978 and “Squeezing Out Sparks” by Graham Parker and the Rumour from 1979.

And some double album on which I cleaned the dope. It wasn’t this record, but I once fancied this some pretty sweet mood music, too.

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“Cafe Regio’s,” Isaac Hayes, from from “Shaft” original soundtrack, 1971.

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Filed under February 2009, Sounds