Posts Tagged ‘1960s’

As a kid I played the standard football, baseball, and basketball with my friends on the block, and was in the local soccer league through the park district, complete with reversible shirt, allowing us to be the yellow or blue team as needed. Gym class, a tiny bit of track, tennis lessons, and then softball and misc in college and after. Most of what I played in did not attract a crowd.

My parents I am sure did a great job cheering me on, and my dad certainly ran to my rescue when I was kicked in the jaw by my own teammate, but I can only think of two occasions when I noticed being cheered for while playing.

The first was in junior high, a day when for some reason we had to run laps around the school—state fitness standards or track tryouts? A certain tall, curly-haired KJ made a point of yelling my name and encouraging me, something immensely more inspiring than the binomial equation she wrote when she signed my yearbook. It must have been our Project Idea ties and general camaraderie in sharing a bunch of classes throughout our careers. I hope I cheered her on when she was similary forced to lap the school.

The second, still more treasured, a certain blonde-haired and blue-eyed BD in college cheering me on by name from the sidelines in an intramural basketball game. (Not the greatest basketball player, but I had my strengths.) We were most likely playing the fraternity whose members she hung around with, so her mentioning me from the sidelines was especially exciting and inspiring for me. Thank you, B.

What effect it can have when someone on the sidelines is there for you, especially unexpectedly. BD also majored in English, but, not surprisingly, we didn’t see much of each other as I seldom saw much of English majors and there was no apparatus tying such majors together.

Such tiny slices of memory taking on such a relatively large shape. The mind and heart are amazing. I could catalogue moments like these.

* Musical Interlude *

Two trios of songs joined me yesterday.

The first started with me listeining to Document after ages away from it. R.E.M.’s “Central America Triptych” has some of their best music and more intriguing lyrics and concepts, all seemingly inspired by Noam Chomsky’s Turning The Tide and the general 1980s anti-Reagan vibe I remember fondly.

Document offered “Welcome To The Occupation,” with “The Flowers of Guatemala” and “Green Grow The Rushes” from their previous two albums. The third has quite possibly my favorite R.E.M. guitar hook, the second a rousing solo, and the “Welcome…” just an all-around vibe and melody that easily lands it on my best of R.E.M. which should one day exist. Until yesterday I’d barely connected any of them to 1980s U.S. intervention in Central America. Oh well. Layers of meaning?

In the evening I played Dionne Warwick and pleasantly remembered she had recorded the Bacharach-David “This Empty Place.” Is it somehow only my third favorite version of this excellent song? I think so. I first heard it by The Searchers as an extremely catchy album track, backed up with their smoothly great instrumentation. Then, it came again later as a highlight album track for Swingin’ Cilla Black who has a way with the drama and nearly veering out of control, and this song is no exception. Her version’s modeled on Dionne’s and I can only say, woo-weee!

Think pink cover from Cilla’s 1965 U.S. album. (from Discogs.com)

Some old Sandie Shaw stuff is next.
We’ll see how that goes!
Long long live love.


Read Full Post »

Best ’60s Song?

In the heat of every August, I hearken to my days walking the close corridors of the U of IL’s Armory, bursting out into the glancing sun and high summer blaze, The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle pulsing in my head. This album was released posthumously yet lives on, more than most.

“Time of the Season” was the big hit, and it occurred to me the other day, that notwithstanding this sometimes dubious distinction to album connoisseurs, that it could be the best song of the 1960s, one that captured its decade and pushed forward into future ones as well as transmitting a feeling of great scenery and poetry.

What’s more, the music, the music. Each part grabs me, and it is my favorite fade-out of all the songs I play. Blunstone’s usual breathily menacing vocals, Argent’s backup vocals and his scintillating keyboard jabs and stabs, the flourishes calling to mind late summer city hazes and streamside mists rising over the morning fields. Atkinson’s cicada-drone guitar line and jabs and ehtereal strums, White’s bass rather quiet but starting things off and looping underneath it all.

And then, the king of all of it, grabbing you at the beginning, and bringing it all homeHugh Grundy’s percussion parts. The initial exotic combination of sounds that permeate the whole song, the heavy, bracing drum fills, and foremost of all: the syncopated ride cymbal driving everything, rearing its head in the instrumental moments especially. Like I said, it’s my favorite fade-out I can think of, and one I turn up as loudly as I can, although my car speakers are old ones in an old car. As it goes along, the song gets better and better, and so it does in my mind too, each time I listen.

Read Full Post »

There was a time when reading about music was enough to set it in your mind and eventually lead to a purchase, songs unheard.

The Jamwho emulated much and in turn produced much to emulatewas probably my first example of this. I still remember the thrilling ride all the way up the tedious highway to Woodfield Mall to visit a music shop that had such alternative/British stuff. I bought the cassette of their second album, This Is The Modern World, and listened to it on the drive home.

It was the first scrap of music I’d ever heard by The Jam, but reading about them I had to check it out; I had decided they were for me. Thought of as a rushed, mediocre second album, it remains a favorite for this association, not to mention the music being damn good too. Critics. Interesting knowing what the first song you heard by a band was: “The Modern World” in this case.

In the mid 2000s, I read snippet (p)reviews of albums or concerts by CSS and Blonde Redhead. The former was a cheeky comet in the night that holds up pretty well (the album’s still in my “best albums” storage case). Blonde Redhead, the beginning of an intoxicating latter-half-of-my-life relationship. (More on them another day, for sure.)


Cansei de Ser Sexy, with clipped art that intro’d me to the group.

It’s hard to capture how many singles and albums were dreamed of and bought thanks to the Encyclopedia of British Beat Groups & Solo Artists of the Sixties by Omnibus Press. I learned of The Flowerpot Men, a zippy Salvation Army Band, and true obscurities like Beau Brummell (“I Know Know Know”) and Bruno (who produced “a brace of singles”). There was Forest with their “gentle, swirling music”an only partially applicable description of their brace of albums.

There were cool low-tech images: a gorgeous pelvic-thrust of a picture of Elkie Brooks (still never listened to her music) and a dot matrix masterpiece of a laughing Freddie Garrity.


Record catalogs had an effect too, with names of songs sticking in my head and often ending up purchased and revolving on my record playerthe only way to hear the lyrics to these tantalizing scraps of music history. There was really no other way to hear an obscure song unless you wanted to pester a local DJ who just might have a dusty record lying around somewhere. And what if the song was embarrasingly bad?

And then there’s songs you’d hear on the radio. Usually one song was all it took, and maybe a little sampling in the record shop. It was acquiredpurchased, or a copy obtained from a friend. Ahhhh, good old days.

Read Full Post »


More than a decade ago, I scribbled a few song lyrics on Post-it notes and strew them around my room; they are now stacked in a cabinet. There are six, and I thought it would be fun to take a look at each one and see what they dredge up. I recently re-listened to a John Betjeman interview where he likened pop stars to poets for our times, and these six quotations I wrote down were poetry to me.

Telephone rings,

someone speaks —

She would very much

Like to go — out to a show…

I remember being excited by these words, the idea of a woman who would call me out of the blue and invite me out. This Post-it gave a tiny sketch of an ideal woman, an ideal experience and situation. Wistfulness, a longing, a something lost in the past these are part of the Post-it sextet, but there’s more to it as well. The song is called “Paintbox,” and its lyrics and music bring a bunch of images to my mind I won’t get into here.

This Post-it has a line of tape across the top of it, so I had it taped onto something at some point. Could it have been a telephone?

Featured too often on t-shirts and other cultural utterances as a kid, I avoided Pink Floyd (and Led Zeppelin) for a long time (I have still successfully avoided Led Zeppelin). One day I got hold of Relics, a grab-bag compilation of their early stuff came my way, and that along with a bit of knowledge of the oddity of Syd Barrett got me to listen.

Composed by their keyboardist, Rick Wright, “Paintbox” has a pressing, percussion-driven beat from the drums and piano. Other than the romantic moment I’d latched onto, its theme is more of desire to escape from pounding social pressures. The singer wants to be rid of fools, rules, ‘their’ friends, the game, the scene, traffic, she. “I open the door to an empty room / Then I forget.” When the girl telephones, the singer isn’t sure what to do, but she sees through him, and the outing is planned and some comical stress and anger ensue.

A wonderful mix of music and words and themes from, as the 45s below call them, The Pink Floyd. One of their best songs, and it’s the b-side of a single, something not so unusual when you get to know a group well. 


We’ll see what’s next in our Post-it sextet soon.

Read Full Post »

A quick list of my six favorite * & The * groups, with music released under those names, in chronological order, as prompted by a friend who asked us to stop at five.

Gerry & The Pacemakers

Freddie & The Dreamers

The Mamas & The Papas

Sly & The Family Stone

Echo & The Bunnymen

Prince & The Revolution


Read Full Post »

These days, the mind has time to range every which way in time, and my thoughts recently turned to those who influenced my taste in music. Here are the major ones, all well before I graduated from college.

First must be my dad, who used to strum his acoustic guitar and sing for us from his Sing Out! magazines of folk music. “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” “Reuben James,” “The Wabash Cannonball,” “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream,” and all of that great stuff. He also spun a lot of Beatles records and turned us on to classical music.

sing out reprints

My elementary school music teacher, Mrs. H, with her wide eyes, also stirred classical imaginings in us. Portraits of the great composers graced the wall she stood in front of while she taught us to play “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder and xylophone, or guided us on the most atmospheric of experiences, the “Danse Macabre” of Saint-Saëns, which we played out every Halloween.

There were her Christmas/Holiday Programs, where each class took their turn on the risers performing a holiday classic, or something new. We sang “Winter Wonderland,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” complete with top hats and white gloves. And in 5th grade, we sang an original composition that started with, “The little lord Jesus asleep on the hay…”. There were feature songs where my clarinet-ing was even allowed; they conjured up images of winter and Hanukkah. After each class performed their song, they filed over to the holiday tree and placed ornaments we’d made in Mrs. S’s art class. Oh the glitter and the glue!

We had songs in our textbooks too, going back to first and second grades, “I’m gonna put put put on my walking shoes / I’m gonna but but button up my coat / I’m gonna walk right across the land there’s lots of things to see / And if you want to you can walk with me / Walk with me, walk with me, walk with………me!”

Classical also benefitted from the Hooked on Classics record series. I had no idea this guy was the conductor and arranger for ELO’s orchestral elements! Melodies still pop into my head and segue into the melodies they segued into on those records, often having no idea what the pieces are. They’re just stamped on my brain.

My mom had her share of influence too, driving us as the did on various errands throughout the day. It was 70s and early 80s radioCarly Simon, Kool & The Gang, Ambrosia, &c.that was soundtrack to trips to soccer and tennis lessons, Jewel-Osco, Nichols Library, the Y. Imagine something like this.

We’d stay at my grandparents’ in Ohio, and eventually one got to spinning the records stored indoors or in my grandpa’s workshop attached to the garage. My grandpa might have suggested Louis Armstrong, and he had a few brittle Big Band 78s I still possess, but it was more the records left behind by my aunt and unclesChad & Jeremy, Marianne Faithfull, Paul Mauriat, The Kingston Trio that scintillated my ears.


Beautiful cover from the U.S. release of her first album (from discogs.com)

There was also a great double album Glenn Miller memorial collection, opening the way for Big Band music galore a little down the road.

Somehow or another I got to buying 45s and LP records too, gleaned from radio listening. I remember mowing the lawn with my Walkman headphones on my ears, listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown. Early MTV had its place too. 104.3 and its oldies; 94.3 and its even olders. The cassettes I recorded direct from radio with songs like “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs and “Cinnamon” by Derek!

Just as important, my friends BB and DH, who got me into rap in a big way. That first tentative buy of Raising Hell by Run-DMC, the sophomoric sonic boom of License To Ill, scouring record shops for discs by spray-paint-scrawl Techno Hop records and the endless appreciation for record scratching, including trying to imitate it. Cool creations by Mantronix. Public Enemy. Some conventionality arose as well, as someone kept playing Milli Vanilli and such things.


One of a few great Techno Hop records (from discogs.com)

Later, as high school ended, a new awakening. Alternative music groups too many to even begin naming. Two seminal, immortal “miscellany” tapes from MD, different schools of thought embodied by EJ, RJ, GU, and the rest. My sister’s equally immortal mix tapes, she and her best friend lending me tapes, copying music for me.


A smattering of tapes from the time

What heady Curefriend days those were! This carried forward into college, accentuated by school breaks and dozens of letters and little packages sent back and forth. And I can’t forget the colorful reference books I inhaled, on British beat groups of the 60s, on alternative rock. I’d just roll the names of the groups and songs over in my head time and again, and sometime was even able to listen to the actual music. A trek to Woodfield Mall to buy (and hear) my first Jam album was one such incident.

What a wonderful time. No wonder my heart and mind still return to it, and all of those that went before.

Oh, and have you voted in the Signac puzzle piece poll yet?

Read Full Post »

Last post I shared a song from Peter & Gordon, a great duo to come out of the British Invasion, music I grew up with despite my age (thank you, Magic 104!). I first heard their songs on the radio, while another duo, Chad & Jeremy was more a product of a record album found at my grandparents’ (thank you, whichever aunt or uncle owned it!).

Chad Stuart, Jeremy Clyde, Peter Asher, and Gordon Waller (of Aberdeenshire, where I once spent considerable time). Two duos, with a maddening amount in common, but I have never heard of any rivalry, or even the two compared, although when Gordon passed away, the remaining three began performing together.

They arose independently of each other, coming along at about the same time. Each had a bespectacled, higher-pitched redheaded member, each a lower-voiced dark-haired one. Chad & Jeremy goofed around on episodes of Batman and the Dick Van Dyke Show, and Peter & Gordon knew the Beatles, thanks to Peter’s sister, Jane, being Paul’s famed pre-Linda romance.

Chad & Jeremy had a more elegant, hushed approach to singing and orchestration, while Peter & Gordon often sinking into overproduced histrionics“THIS LAND IS MINE!!”but both had a bunch of wonderful tunes before fading as the decade ended. To get to know them, here are five songs worth checking out from each:

Chad & Jeremy

A Summer Song—One of the finest songs to come out of the British 60s.

Dirty Old Town—A Ewan MacColl song—something you might not expect. And it packs a punch, with its gentle descriptions giving way to menace.

Willow Weep For Me—Meditative, jazzy blue companion to A Summer Song.

Donna, Donna—Another beautiful, defiant folk song.

Can’t Get Used To Losing You—Although they wrote some catchy album tracks, there are so many great covers by this duo, and they made their versions definitive ones. Here’s one from the Andy Williams catalogue that they zipped up a bit, still keeping it touching. Those harmonies, the hummed ending.

Peter & Gordon

Nobody I Know—The slightly poorer cousin of I Go To Pieces, with that same jangly guitar. Its writer makes it noteworthy to some. For me, it’s just a great song in the Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas mode. They had two other big hits in this vein.

If I Were You—A delectable minor key obscurity where the oboe line reels you in.

Don’t Pity Me—Gordon with some vocals that seem plucked out of late 70s/early 80s post-punk altie times.

Woman—The orchestration works here.

Lady Godiva—While C&J took a psychedelic turn later in their career, P&G went music hall for a spell, much like Herman’s Hermits did for at least half an album. “It’ll be funny,” said Gordon, and he was right. Super catchy too.

And now a splendid, understated bonus track from Chad and Jane Stuart. Jane is Chad’s wife, and she’s not Jane Asher, Peter’s sister! I believe Chad played guitar on this oneI Can’t Talk To You.

I’ve been singing I Go To Pieces and a few of these others for a few days now; thank you for joining me in this reminiscence of two great duos, whether you know them well, or have just discovered them.

Read Full Post »