This is Thanksgiving night. You may have eaten more than you should. You may have drank more than you should.
On Thanksgiving night 1969, similarly overstuffed, all you can manage is to plop down into an overstuffed chair, turn on the TV and hope to be entertained.
You turn on ABC. Starting at 8 p.m./7 Central, you watch “That Girl” and “Bewitched.” Mindless enough. Then, at 9/8 Central, you watch “This Is Tom Jones.” Tom does a 6-minute medley with Little Richard. Mind blown.
On Thanksgiving night 1974, if you can manage it, you are among the 20,000 staggeringly fortunate people for whom their nightcap is seeing and hearing Elton John at Madison Square Garden in New York. Kiki Dee opens. It is percussionist Ray Cooper’s first New York show with Elton’s band.
Then Elton introduces a special guest.
“Seeing it’s Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is a joyous occasion, we thought we’d make tonight a little bit of a joyous occasion, ah, by inviting someone up with us onto stage. And, ah, I’m sure he will be no stranger to anybody in the audience when I say it’s our great privilege and your great privilege to see and hear Mr. John Lennon!”
They spend 13 minutes together on stage, performing “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” It is Lennon’s last live performance before an audience.
Yet that train keeps bearing down on us, taking Scotty Moore, Mack Rice, Bernie Worrell, Ralph Stanley, Wayne Jackson and Chips Moman this month alone. Since we last gathered here, Guy Clark, Candye Kane, Billy Paul, Lonnie Mack and Prince also have left the building.
In a year in which we have lost so many music legends, it seems wise to not stop at four. It also seems wise to not wait too long.
So here are four more music greats who are still with us, all of them still going strong. This is by no means the B team, or the second tier, or anything like that. Just four more worth appreciating here and now.
Mavis Staples, 76. The beloved gospel/soul/R&B singer released a wonderful new record, “Livin’ On A High Note,” in February. That same month, “Mavis,” a documentary profile, premiered on HBO. She’s playing gigs across North America through November, then will receive Kennedy Center Honors in December.
“Revolution,” Mavis Staples, from “Hot Wacks,” 2013, a compilation of artists on the Anti- label. A distinctive cover of the Beatles song from one who’s long sung about revolution.
Tom Jones, 76. Sir Tom is performing gigs across Europe this summer in support of “Long Lost Suitcase,” a roots record released last October as the final part of a trilogy that also includes “Praise & Blame” and “Spirit In The Room,” which came out in 2010 and 2012, respectively. “Long Lost Suitcase” also is the companion piece to his memoirs, “Over The Top And Back.” It’s been a tough year, though. His wife of 59 years, Linda, died in April.
“Dance of Love,” Tom Jones, from “This is Tom Jones,” 1969. It’s a tune written and done first by Charlie Rich in 1965 on the Smash label.
Dennis Coffey, 75. This Funk Brother is still playing some mean rock and jazz guitar “in the D.” He tweets out his shows at @DennisCoffeyDET, announcing on relatively short notice that he’ll be at the Northern Lights Lounge — his most frequent Detroit gig — or at Motor City Wine, or at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe. His blog is recommended reading. Coffey shares lots of good stories there. Likewise his discography for record collectors. His last record, the solid, self-titled “Dennis Coffey,” came out on Strut Records in 2011. It’s worth checking out.
“Never Can Say Goodbye,” Dennis Coffey, from “Goin’ For Myself,” 1972. A cover of the Jackson 5 tune on which Coffey demonstrates a little bit of soul, a little bit of funk and a bit more jazz.
Gladys Knight, 72. Another of the great ladies of soul, she’s playing gigs in Europe and the United States through October. A solo act for almost 30 years now, she hasn’t had the late-career success of her peers. Widely known today for lush ballads and inspirational songs, Gladys Knight belongs here because of her energetic performances with the Pips in the late ’60s and earliest ’70s on Motown’s Soul label. She really did get down to the real nitty gritty, kids.
“(I Know) I’m Losing You,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, from “Nitty Gritty,” 1969. When I heard this cut on Sirius XM not too long ago, I was reminded that this is one of my favorite LPs. And, yeah, that’s Dennis Coffey playing guitar on the “Nitty Gritty” single and his wah-wah, fuzz-toned lick about 11 seconds into the intro of “Friendship Train.”
My dad, who is 87, dropped his TV remote. It shattered. Without it, he can’t watch TV. Watching TV has been my dad’s main source of entertainment for as long as I can remember. You can see where this might be a problem. So we got him a new remote and managed to fix the old one.
However, there still are no variety shows for him to watch.
In the ’60s and ’70s, we frequently heard the sophisticated pop songs of Hal David and Burt Bacharach on those shows. At the time, they worked most often with singer Dionne Warwick, of whom David once said: “She always interprets my lyrics in a way that sounds as though she had written them herself.”
Four years ago, I took Dad to see Dionne Warwick. I was certain Dad would remember her from those long-ago variety shows. He didn’t. But once his hearing aid was adjusted, and he heard the songs, he recognized them. That night, Warwick performed two Bacharach-David tunes — “I Say A Little Prayer” and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” — with new, Latin-flavored arrangements and new phrasing. They sounded just fine.
That’s what makes them classics, and why the songs of Hal David — who died earlier today at 91 — are timeless. No matter who interprets them, they usually sound just fine. (Well, those Isaac Hayes covers might be an acquired taste.)
David and Bacharach worked together from 1957 to 1973, an arc that matches the first 16 years of my life, a time often spent watching TV with my dad. Enjoy, as we did, a little variety, some of the most familiar versions of Hal David’s songs, and some covers.
“What The World Needs Now Is Love,” Jackie DeShannon, 1965, from “The Very Best Of Jackie DeShannon,” 1975. The original version. David and Bacharach didn’t think this was such a good song after they wrote it. “We put it away in our desk drawer and kept it hidden there for 10 months,” David once said. “A flop, we thought.”
“(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me,” R.B. Greaves, from “R.B. Greaves,” 1969. Warwick did the original version as a demo in 1963. Lou Johnson had the first hit with it in 1964. It’s such a great song that it became a hit all over again in 1983 for the British synth-pop duo Naked Eyes.
“One Less Bell to Answer,” the 5th Dimension, from “Portrait,” 1970. Out of print, but available digitally. The original version, with Marilyn McCoo’s tremendous vocals.
Finally, a little glimpse of one of those old variety shows.
That’s Tom Jones, of course, doing “What’s New Pussycat.” In 1965, he did the original, for which David and Bacharach were nominated for an Oscar for best original song.
The things you discover when the iPod is on shuffle play during a workout.
Today, this song came up, pretty much at top volume, as I lumbered around the track at the Y. There are a couple thousand songs on my iPod. I know most of them, but I don’t know them all. I didn’t recognize this one.
A check of the iPod after the workout revealed that this mystery R&B shouter was none other than a young Tom Jones.
It’s 1965, he’s 25 and he’s covering “I Need Your Lovin’,” a curiously paced tune that had been a hit for Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford in 1962. In the original, and in TJ’s blistering cover, things cook nicely, then come to a complete halt, then rev back up again.
“I Need Your Loving,” Tom Jones, from “It’s Not Unusual,” 1965. It’s out of print. The song is available digitally as part of “Chronicles,” an out-of-print 2005 CD box set with three of TJ’s mid-’60s LPs: This one, plus “What’s New Pussycat?” from 1965 and “A-Tom-ic Jones” from 1966.
It must have been a pretty good tune. Otis Redding covered it, too.
Get paid. Go to the record store. Buy two or three records.
That’s how it went, every two weeks from the mid-’70s until sometime in the early to mid-’90s. Now, all these years later, I’m slowly getting back into that groove.
I got paid on Friday, and I’d meant to go to the record store today, but that didn’t happen.
Some of the money set aside for that went for new dress shoes for The Sophomore, whose homecoming dance is tonight. Some of the money set aside for records went to pay for The Sophomore’s dinner date.
And so it goes.
Last month, I stopped at a record store I’ve been digging since the ’70s, the one that benefited from those earliest visits after payday.
Going through the bins at Inner Sleeve Records in Wausau, Wisconsin, I came across the new record by Tom Jones, albeit on CD. Wanting to buy something at the Sleeve — didn’t find anything in the vinyl section — I picked it up.
Two weeks ago, I stopped in at our record store in Green Bay — the Exclusive Company — and was delighted to find its used vinyl section greatly expanded. It already had an extensive new vinyl section. In the latter, I found the new record by Mavis Staples.
And then I found that Tom Jones record on vinyl. It has been bugging me ever since. Given a choice, I want vinyl rather than CD.
Next time I stop in at the Exclusive Company, I’m getting that Tom Jones on vinyl. Here’s why.
Tom Jones, doing “Burning Hell,” a John Lee Hooker cover, on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” Sept. 22, 2010.
It’s a cut from “Praise & Blame,” which came out a couple of months ago. It’s full of gospel-inspired tunes that go back and forth from reverent to rocking.
But that vinyl will have to wait until next payday, two weeks from now.
Unless, of course, The Sophomore needs something more urgently.