Tag Archives: Neil Diamond

Downstairs at Prange’s

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.

So it is with this photo, posted earlier this month by the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center to its Facebook page. It carried this four-word caption: “Record department. H.C. Prange.”

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.

Neil Diamond’s “Tap Root Manuscript,” released in November 1970. I also was 13 and had been listening to AM Top 40 radio almost non-stop all that year.

— Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” soundtrack, released in July 1971.

Wings’ “Wild Life,” released in December 1971.

Then there’s this.

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.

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2 Comments

Filed under November 2018, Sounds

The 6-pack: Happy anniversary to us

When the last week of February rolls around, it’s time to celebrate at AM, Then FM. It dropped into the blogosphere six years ago this week, way back in 2007.

For the six of you who have remained regular readers all this time, thank you.

There are more than six of you, of course, but the glory days of music blogs seem to have come and gone.

Oliver Wang wrote about that the other day over at Soul Sides in response to a reader’s question. “Blogs … peaked in saturation about five years ago and have been on the wane since then.” It’s a drag to go through the bookmarks and see the blogs that have gone dark, especially in the last year or so.

However, a few of us keep on keepin’ on.

So we celebrate the beginning of our sixth year with a six-pack. Six songs by six artists from their sixth studio LP. The songs had to come from my records, and they had to be vinyl rips.

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“Soolaimon,” Neil Diamond, from “Tap Root Manuscript,” 1970.

One of the first LPs I ever had. Also my introduction to world music. Also for my friend Glick, who has been digging music with me for 40 years.

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“Molina,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, from “Pendulum,” 1970.

I once really dug the “Green River” and “Cosmo’s Factory” LPs. “Pendulum” not so much, but this is a good song. I like the sax. Creedence was one of my faves when I was in my teens and 20s, but I’ve found them almost unlistenable since John Fogerty released “Centerfield” in the mid-’80s. I didn’t like that record and it somehow soured me on Creedence.

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“Back Stabbers,” the O’Jays, from “Back Stabbers,” 1972.

Those of us of a certain age are blessed to have grown up in a time when you heard elegant soul like this on the radio.

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“I’ll Be Coming Home,” the J. Geils Band, from “Nightmares … And Other Tales From The Vinyl Jungle,” 1974.

Not long after starting this blog, I wrote a Complete Idiot’s Guide to the J. Geils Band for the blog that eventually became Popdose. I’m qualified because I have all 14 J. Geils Band LPs. Idiot completist. As I listened to all 14, this struck me as one of their best records. I almost picked “Gettin’ Out,” a keyboard-driven rave-up with a bunch of showy solos, but went instead with this slow groover. It has sort of a Latin beat and features Jay Geils on mandolin and Seth Justman on piano and that slinky organ.

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“Theme From ‘Enter The Dragon’,” Dennis Coffey, from “Instant Coffey,” 1974. (The LP out of print but the song is available digitally.)

Detroit guitar legend Dennis Coffey is one of the artists I’ve rediscovered since starting this blog. I have a bunch of his records now.

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“The Blacker The Berrie,” the Isley Brothers, from “The Brothers: Isley,” 1969. (The LP is out of print. The song isn’t available digitally that I can find.)

Likewise the Isleys, who I somehow knew almost nothing about before starting AM, Then FM. I have a bunch of their records now, too. This cut also is known as “Black Berries.”

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

8 Comments

Filed under February 2013, Sounds

Red, white and blue revisited

As we did last year, we’re dishing up some music for your Fourth of July party.

We have some red, some white, some blue, the makings for a fine gathering. However, you still won’t find any Greenwood, if you know what I mean.

Red.

You’ll need a little something to eat and a little something to wash it down.

“Red Beans,” Marcia Ball, from “Blue House,” 1994.

“Red Red Wine,” Neil Diamond, 1967, from “Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits,” 1968. That’s long out of print, but the song is on “Neil Diamond: The Bang Years, 1966-1968,” released earlier this year.

White.

Then you’ll need to chill.

“Ice Cream Man” and “Back Porch Therapy,” Tony Joe White, from “The Heroines,” 2004. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

Blue.

Before enjoying a nightcap or two.

“Martini 5-0,” the Blue Hawaiians, from “Sway,” 1998. It’s out of print and apparently not available digitally.

“A Shot of Rhythm and Blues,” Dave Edmunds, from “Subtle As A Flying Mallet,” 1975. Also out of print and not available digitally.

Speaking of shots …

As you the blow the fireworks, be sure to …

“Pop That Thang,” the Isley Brothers, from “Brother, Brother, Brother,” 1972.

And as you reflect on it all …

“People Got To Be Free,” Dionne Warwick, from “Soulful,” 1969. Available on “Soulful Plus,” a 2004 limited-edition release from Rhino Handmade, and digitally.

Yes, people still got to be free, even today.

2 Comments

Filed under July 2011, Sounds

That ’70s song, Vol. 21

Memorial Day weekend 1970 marked the high point for this week’s tune. Peaking at No. 22 on WLS in Chicago was a song that sounded quite unlike any other in the charts, a song certainly ahead of its time.

Sixteen years before Paul Simon released the African-flavored “Graceland” to wide acclaim, Neil Diamond released “Soolaimon,” powered by African rhythms and backed with gospel vocals.

“Soolaimon” sat at the heart of what Diamond called “The African Trilogy (A Folk Ballet).” That piece made up the entire Side 2 of the “Tap Root Manuscript” album when it was released six months later. Here’s how Diamond described his inspiration in the liner notes:

“Tap Root Manuscript” was one of the first albums I ever bought, but I bought it for all the hits — “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” are on it, too — rather than for “The African Trilogy.”

Regardless, that second side was quite an introduction to world music, especially in 1970. I played it as much as the first side full of Diamond’s more conventional pop-rock tunes.

“Soolaimon,” Neil Diamond, from “Tap Root Manuscript,” 1970. (This is a rip from my LP, from the middle of “The African Trilogy,” so the intro and outro may not be all that smooth.)

This was the first single from “Tap Root Manuscript,” released in early May. “Cracklin’ Rosie” followed in late August, then “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” in early November. The album wasn’t released until late November. They’d never do that today.

The “Tap Root Manuscript” liner notes credit dozens of singers and musicians, but none to a specific song or instrument. So you see that and wonder whether that’s Merry Clayton — billed as “Mary Clayton” — singing the backup vocals on “Soolaimon.” No way of knowing that I can find. Another little mystery.

Something extra over at The Midnight Tracker: Please check out a shamelessly recycled post over at our companion blog if you’d like to hear more of “The African Trilogy.”

3 Comments

Filed under May 2010, Sounds

That ’70s song, Vols. 13 and 14

Here’s proof again of how the Top 40 charts varied from place to place, from market to market, in the spring of 1970.

Forty years ago this week, the great “Vehicle” by the Ides of March was rocketing up the charts at the band’s hometown station — WLS, the Big 89 in Chicago — and at WOKY, the Mighty 92 in Milwaukee.

When “Vehicle” came out, it was a new sound for the Ides of March, which had been a Chicago and Midwest favorite since the mid-’60s. By the time they started recording for Warner Bros. in 1970, they’d added a horn section to the standard guitar-and-drum lineup. That big sound drove “Vehicle.”

“Vehicle” was written and sung by Jim Peterik. After the Ides of March broke up in 1973, he co-founded Survivor in 1978 and co-wrote several hits for .38 Special in the early ’80s.

That is, until the band was persuaded to get back together in 1990, still beloved in their hometown of Berwyn, Ill., a generation later. It has since recorded five CDs and still plays live occasionally. The Ides of March has a handful of gigs this summer, all but one in the Midwest.

“Vehicle,” the Ides of March, from “Vehicle,” 1970.

It makes sense that a regional favorite like the Ides of March would do well in Chicago and Milwaukee, but those charts were far from identical. Here’s evidence of that.

Looking to cash in on Neil Diamond’s success with “Sweet Caroline” and “Holly Holy” on another label, Bang Records tweaked and re-released “Shilo,” which Diamond initially recorded in 1967.

It was No. 15 on the WLS charts in Chicago but nowhere on the WOKY charts in Milwaukee. Go figure.

“Shilo,” Neil Diamond, 1967, from “Double Gold,” 1973. It’s out of print. The original “Shilo” is available on “Classics: The Early Years,” a 1990 CD release. The single version is available on “His 12 Greatest Hits,” a 1993 CD release.

This is the original song, not the version released as a single in 1970. Bang Records remixed “Shilo” in 1970, adding a new backing track to make it sound more like Diamond’s more recent hits on the Uni label.

The “Double Gold” greatest-hits LP was Bang’s final attempt to cash in on Diamond. In 1966 and 1967, he cut 25 songs and two albums for Bang, which chopped, sliced and diced them into four compilation LPs.

4 Comments

Filed under April 2010, Sounds

The end of the night

Tickets for Neil Diamond’s August show at our local arena went on sale the other day. They sold out in an hour.

A review copy of his latest album, “Home Before Dark,” also arrived last week. That’s as close as I’m going to get to Neil Diamond in Green Bay.

It’s been a long time since I sat down and listened to a Neil Diamond album. “Tap Root Manuscript,” the African-flavored album he released in 1970, was one of the first albums I ever bought. I played it a lot in my early teens, then moved on to other artists, other styles.

“Home Before Dark” is an acoustic album produced by Rick Rubin, his second collaboration with Diamond. I enjoyed its music, its arrangements, its performance. It’s laid back, yet elegant. Diamond is nicely complemented by a group of old pros that includes Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Yet judging from his liner notes, Diamond seems insecure, even after more than 40 years in the music business. He wrote a dozen deeply felt songs, then fretted over them as they were recorded. Perhaps all the great ones do, and Diamond is one of the great songwriters of our time.

“Home Before Dark” is full of music for the end of the night, the time for quiet introspection, the time to ponder paths taken and not taken.

“Don’t Go There” and “Forgotten,” Neil Diamond, from “Home Before Dark,” 2008.

“Don’t Go There” is about the risk of bad choices when lust shows up before love. “Forgotten” could well be the insecure Diamond pondering his career.

Speaking of which … I realize it isn’t 1970 anymore, but this kept running through my mind as I listened: Jeez, Neil, does every song have to be a densely written 6-minute epic? Do you have so many serious, ponderous, important things to say that you can no longer write a pop song in which we get in and out in just 3 minutes?

Just sayin’, is all.

1 Comment

Filed under May 2008, Sounds