Tag Archives: 2007

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.

JohnnyCashWithHisHotBlueGuitarLP

“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

The missing Christmas hits

Fascinating to read in the Milwaukee paper the other day that no Christmas song has been a hit since Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” in 1994.

My pal JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ also took note of that story, which prompted him to ponder the state of Christmas radio then and now.

All that said, there certainly are some Christmas songs that should have hit the charts in the last 17 years. Here are some of them.

“Who Needs Mistletoe,” Julie Roberts, from “Who Needs Mistletoe,” 2011. A country song every bit as filthy as Clarence Carter’s great “Back Door Santa.”

“Oi To The World,” Severe, from the wonderful Punk Rock Advent Calendar, 2009. Well, it’s reverent as far as UK punks go.

“We Three Kings,” Blondie, a 2009 holiday release. Always fun to find Debbie Harry under the tree. Always fun to hear Blondie’s classic sound.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Melissa Etheridge, from “A New Thought For Christmas,” 2008. Blistering vocals and blistering blues guitar. Move over, fellas.

“Silent Night,” the Blackhearts and special guests, from “A Blackheart Christmas,” 2008. Some sound bites from that year’s presidential race make it a bit of a time capsule. It once had a bit of a valedictory feel. Now it has the feel of opportunities lost.

“Silent Night,” Bootsy Collins, from “Christmas Is 4 Ever,” 2006. A sweet mashup of reverent narration, funk, R&B and gospel.

“Winter (Basse Dance),” Blackmore’s Night, from “Winter Carols,” 2006. It’s out of print but is available digitally. If you can get past that Ritchie Blackmore is no longer rocking out as he did in Deep Purple and Rainbow and not cede all the elegant guitar work to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, you might dig this instrumental.

“Wonderful Dream (Holidays Are Coming),” Melanie Thornton, from “Memories,” 2003. It’s an import that has gone out of print. This tune was used in a Coca-Cola ad after the R&B singer’s death 10 years ago, but its back story transcends marketing.

“It’s Christmas And I Miss You,” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. It’s out of print but is available digitally. A gentle ballad reflecting the loneliness the season can bring. It’s co-written by guitarist Don Barnes and our friend Jim Peterik.

“Little Drummer Boy,” the Dandy Warhols, from “Fruitcake,” 1997, a Capitol Records promo EP. It’s out of print. In which the Little Drummer Boy takes a psychedelic trip.

“Santa Claus Is Comin’ (In A Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train),” the Tractors, from “Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas,” 1995. It’s out of print but is available digitally. This fine bit of country swing actually was a modest hit on country radio in in 1995 and again in 1998. After all, it’s just their 1994 hit “Baby Likes To Rock It” retooled with new lyrics for Christmas.

“Soul Christmas,” Graham Parker and Nona Hendryx, from “Christmas Cracker,” 1994. If there were any justice, this scorcher would have been the hit from 17 years ago.

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Filed under December 2011, Sounds

Witness to history

History is being made in Wisconsin this week.

No matter where you are, you’ve likely seen it on the news. Tens of thousands of protesters — public employees, teachers and union workers — have been filling the state Capitol in Madison and its grounds as they fight the Republican governor’s proposal to strip them of collective bargaining rights.

The story has taken one astonishing turn after another.

On Tuesday, it was simply that 13,000 people showed up to protest on a weekday. On Wednesday, the legislative hearing on the bill went until 3 in the morning. And the protesters kept coming. On Thursday, 14 Democratic senators fled the state to block a vote on the bill. On Friday, so many teachers were protesting that some districts canceled classes.

On Saturday, 60,000 people came to the Capitol Square, representing both sides of the debate. An estimated 500 police officers were on hand. Welcome to Madison. The protests were spirited and loud but peaceful all week, with only a handful of arrests for disorderly conduct. It stayed that way Saturday, when the governor’s opponents still far outnumbered the governor’s supporters.

We’ve not seen anything like this in Wisconsin since the Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It’s a story of such magnitude that the Green Bay Packers’ victory in Super Bowl XLV just two weeks ago — also a big story in Wisconsin — has been shoved far into the background, rendered almost an afterthought.

Here’s a look at the protests, set to the music of “14 Senators,” a song written Friday morning by Madison folk singer Ken Lonnquist and performed live on the radio less than an hour later.

And some timeless music perhaps appropriate for the moment.

“We The People,” Allen Toussaint, from Bell single 782, 1969. Available on “What Is Success: The Scepter and Bell Recordings,” a 2007 import CD.

“Eyes On The Prize,” Mavis Staples, from “We’ll Never Turn Back,” 2007.

“World In Motion,” Pops Staples with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, from “Peace to the Neigbhorhood,” 1992. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

“(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People,” the Chi-Lites, from “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People,” 1971. The LP is out of print but the song is available digitally.

“Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today),” the Temptations, from “Greatest Hits II,” 1970. The LP is out of print, but the song is available digitally.

“Fight The Power (Part 1 & 2),” the Isley Brothers, from “The Heat Is On,” 1975. The LP is out of print but the song is available digitally.

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Filed under February 2011, Sounds

12 days of Christmas, Day 10

When we started these 12 days of Christmas, I noted that in writing the Three Under the Tree series for the last three years, I picked up a bunch of old Christmas vinyl and CDs, more for you than for me.

In so doing, there were a bunch of records that had more misses than hits. Most of them were used, so there wasn’t a lot of money wasted.

This year, I bought only one Christmas CD, one I’d been seeking for a while. I bought it new, and it turned out to be another one with more misses than hits. So it goes.

Rarely do I come across a Christmas record that doesn’t have something worth hearing. I can think of a couple, but there’s no need to name names.

We’re here to put some nice things in your Christmas stocking, so hope you will enjoy these tunes from records that had some nice moments.

“Christmas Time,” the Mighty Blue Kings, from “The Christmas Album,” 2000. This Chicago group covers a tune by West Coast bluesman Jimmy McCracklin.

“Christmas Is A Special Day,” Fats Domino, from “Christmas Gumbo,” 1993. It’s out of print as such, but is available as “Christmas Is A Special Day,” a 2006 CD re-release with a different cover. Fats wrote this charming little hymn and does it in — what else? — a laid-back New Orleans style.

“We Four Kings (Little Drummer Boy),” the Blue Hawaiians, from “Christmas On Big Island,” 1995. Let a little surf wash into your Christmas.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Shawn Colvin, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. A lovely, low-key version.

“Merry Christmas Darling,” Deana Carter, from “Father Christmas,” 2001. What makes this cover of the Carpenters song so remarkable is its acoustic arrangement with Carter’s father, veteran Nashville session man Fred Carter, on guitar. Deana Carter sings this in a higher register than did Karen Carpenter — and that may not be for everyone — but she nicely complements her dad. Fred Carter died earlier this year.

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” the Whispers, from “Happy Holidays To You,” 1979. (The buy link is to a 2001 import CD.) Off the same album that delivered “Funky Christmas,” this is a smooth, jazzy arrangement clearly from the late ’70s.

“Joy To The World,” Aretha Franklin, 1994, from “Joy To The World,” 2006. This is an odd little compilation of Christmas songs, gospel songs and show tunes recorded over 30-plus years. This cut features Aretha backed by the Fame Freedom Choir, from the soundtrack to the 1994 remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” That is about the only nice thing we have to say about any remake of the 1947 classic, long one of our favorite films.

“What Christmas Means To Me,” Darlene Love, from “It’s Christmas, Of Course,” 2007. A cover of the Motown song done first by Stevie Wonder.

“Christmas Is,” Lou Rawls, from “Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho,” 1967. It’s out of print. This tune starts out with a swinging big-band arrangement, then has Lou channeling Santa Claus midway through before wrapping up with some smooth nightclub cheer. This Percy Faith tune never sounded so good.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Melissa Etheridge, from “A New Thought For Christmas,” 2008. Etheridge lets it rip on this Charles Brown blues tune.

“Christmas Celebration,” Roomful of Blues, from “Roomful of Christmas,” 1997. The B.B. King version may be more familiar, but this take by the veteran East Coast group is pretty good.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time,” Pete Jolly, from “Something Festive!” 1968. Long out of print. This is a Christmas sampler from A&M Records. It was sold at B.F. Goodrich tire dealers in 1968. This cut is a cool, stylish, upbeat rendition by the California jazz pianist. (You’ll also find it on “Cool Yule: The Swinging Sound of Christmas,” a UK compilation released in 2004.)

“Blue Christmas,” Ann and Nancy Wilson, from “A Very Special Christmas 2,” 1992. Not a big fan of this tune, which everyone associates with Elvis, but this is a pretty good version. Melissa Etheridge also does it justice.

“What Child Is This,” Reverend Horton Heat, from “We Three Kings,” 2005. An upbeat yet moody take — it feels a little like Morricone — on a song usually done with much reverence.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

That ’70s song, Vols. 15 and 16

Taking that trip back to 1970 can be a tricky thing. It wasn’t always a sunny day with one glorious tune after another pouring from the radio.

I was reminded of that the other night as I watched “The War at Home,” a 1979 documentary about the anti-war movement in Madison, Wisconsin, in the late ’60s and early ’70s. There was nothing sunny or glorious about cops clubbing student protesters.

The war in Vietnam was a constant presence then, even for a seventh-grader in a Wisconsin town along Lake Michigan. My weekdays went something like this: Get up, watch the CBS Morning News, go to junior high school, come home, watch the CBS Evening News, have dinner, listen to the radio until turning in for the night.

The war dominated those newscasts, yet the radio allowed you to escape from it all. Nothing heavy there, save for two songs.

Forty years ago this week, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young dreamed of bombers turning into butterflies and getting back to the garden.

That week, millions of Americans also embraced a song that declared:

“I don’t need your war machines. I don’t need your ghetto scenes.”

“American Woman” by the Guess Who endures, a great song on so many levels. Think of the song and you think of Burton Cummings spitting out angry lyrics and Randy Bachman grinding out freaky guitar fills. True enough, but the pulse, the cadence, the urgency of the song comes from Jim Kale and Garry Peterson, who drive the whole thing on bass and drums, respectively.

What’s it all about? Bachman explained it this way in a 2008 interview on the Gibson guitar website:

“A lot of people thought ‘American Woman’ was addressing the woman on the street, but it wasn’t at all. The band had witnessed all the desolation going on in America, where there were hardly any young men in any of the towns we went to. They had all been drafted. We would see 18-year-old guys at the airports, with their buzz cuts and their uniforms, with their fathers telling them how proud they were, and their mothers and sisters in tears. It was heartbreaking. So instead of singing ‘Uncle Sam, stay away from me,’ or ‘Richard Nixon, stay away from me,’ it was ‘American woman.’ … Fortunately, by the time radio and the government understood that the song was an anti-war song, it had already reached No. 1.”

The outrage vented in “American Woman” hasn’t diminished a bit. It was there when Lenny Kravitz cranked out his terrific cover in 1999. (That video with a smoking hot Heather Graham didn’t hurt, either.)

It was there when Bachman and Cummings got back together and did it as an acoustic blues shuffle in 2007. Enjoy.

“American Woman 2007,” Bachman Cummings, from “Jukebox,” a 2007 Canadian import. This is the only Guess Who cover on an album full of vintage rock covers.

Speaking of lyrics: Everyone loves “Vehicle” by the Ides of March, which was at the top of the charts with “American Woman” at this time in 1970.

But think about it. This is a song about “the friendly stranger in the black sedan” who winds down the window and leeringly asks “Won’t you hop inside my car? I got pictures, got candy. I’m a lovable man, and I can take you to the nearest star.”

That chorus — “I love ya, need ya, want ya, got to have ya, child” — a little obsessive? What played then as a passionate guy might play today as a stalker. Could you get away with that today?

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Filed under April 2010, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 38

The storm is starting.

For now, the snow is light, dusting our yard and our streets. We’re expected to get at least a foot of snow by the time the storm ends tomorrow night.

So, we’d better put three under the tree before the snow gets too deep.

“Winter Snow,” Isaac Hayes, 1970, from “Christmas in Soulsville,” 2007. On which Mr. Hayes is bummed out, having encountered a former lover with “lips so warm and a heart as cold as a winter snow.” It’s the B side to “The Mistletoe and Me,” his Christmas single from that year. The CD is a fine compilation of Stax Christmas tunes from the ’60s and ’70s.

“Winter (Basse Dance),” Blackmore’s Night, from “Winter Carols,” 2006. On which Ritchie Blackmore, the former Deep Purple and Rainbow guitarist, proves he’s indeed a Renaissance man. This is a graceful, elegant instrumental. It’s a bit like the John Fahey tunes sampled in Vol. 37.

“In Like A Lion (Always Winter),” Relient K, from “Let It Snow, Baby … Let It Reindeer,” 2007. On which you think the kids might be learning a few things from Jackson Browne. It’s not really a Christmas or holiday tune, and certainly not Relient K’s familiar pop-punk, but rather a laid-back, reverent reflection on winter and hope.

We’ll save “Winter Wonderland” for another day. It’s rarely a wonderland when you have to shovel it just so you can get into the driveway when you come home from work late at night.

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Filed under December 2009, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 32

You never know where you’re going to find that next great Christmas record. Today’s three under the tree are more recent, quite unexpected and altogether pleasant finds.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jim was having another record sale. Jim lives in one side of a tiny duplex. His basement is wall-to-wall records. He’d just put out a bunch of new additions, but hadn’t pulled the Christmas records from them. So I did it for him as I went through the boxes.

Then Jim pointed me to the rest of his Christmas records. I found this:

“White Christmas,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Peace Is ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.” 1972. It’s out of print.

You probably know the Edwin Hawkins Singers as great gospel singers, which they are. But they also did a little R&B. Here’s proof. “White Christmas” isn’t one of my favorite Christmas tunes, but this is a wonderfully smooth, stylish version, with the solo by Tramaine Davis.

Although five of the eight cuts on this record are Christmas songs or hymns, it’s not presented as a Christmas album. The liner notes say: “This album contains Edwin Hawkins’ message, peace poetry.”

Our second tune comes off a record I came across almost two years ago. I couldn’t afford it that January day, but I found a more reasonably priced copy at our local record show a couple of months ago.

You probably know Charles Brown for his classic “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Please Home For Christmas.” Here’s another, a slow R&B number that’s reminiscent of Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody.”

“Let’s Make Every Day A Christmas Day,” Charles Brown, from “Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs,” 1975. It’s out of print.

My vinyl copy is the Gusto Records re-release of the 1961 original on King Records. It adds “Merry Christmas Baby” but drops “My Most Miserable Christmas.” Some of the tunes were re-recorded for the 1975 release. I don’t know whether this one was recorded in 1961 or 1975. This record also was released on CD in 1995.

Our third tune comes from a record I never would have heard it if not for our son Evan, a middle school kid at the time. If you know Relient K as a Christian band, don’t let that put you off. Its 2007 release, full of bright pop-punk, has become one of our favorites.

“Angels We Have Heard On High,” Relient K, from “Let It Snow Baby … Let It Reindeer,” 2007. It’s an expanded version of their out-of-print 2003 release “Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand,” on which this cut originally appeared.

Shredding the guitars and bashing the drums, they rip through this in 1:55. You don’t often hear this song on Christmas records, which makes this energetic version all the more remarkable. (Anyone for Handel’s “Messiah” in a breathtaking 1:10?)

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Filed under December 2009, Sounds