Sixes and Sevens and Nines

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(Pictured: the Stones on stage in San Francisco, June 6, 1972.)

In the spring of 1969, during the earliest sessions for the album that would become Sticky Fingers, the Rolling Stones noodled with a song called “Good Time Women.” The Stones finally recorded it in October 1970, at the end of the Sticky Fingers sessions, but it didn’t make the album. It’s ragged and jammy, part of the process a band goes through when they’re trying to figure out if something is a whole song or the germ of a better one.

In the summer of 1971, the Stones were encamped at the Villa Nellcote in the south of France, sleeping by day and recording by night with whoever was around to work. (Mick Jagger was often absent; he and Bianca were expecting their first child at the time.) And not just sleeping and recording. The Nellcote sessions were a thorough debauch, with celebrity visitors and carloads of drugs for those who indulged. That was Keith Richards, members of the crew, and other musicians, mostly, but not Jagger, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts, who largely abstained. At one point, visiting American country-rocker Gram Parsons was asked to leave because of his drug use. (Imagine using drugs in such quantities as to make Keef say “whoa, dude, hold up.”) There were concerns that the French police might bust the villa and shut the whole thing down.

On August 3, 1971, the Stones who were present laid down the first takes of a new song, and they kept at it. Wyman left the session at one point, and when he came back hours later, Mick Taylor had taken over on bass and the band was still working on the same song. Producer Jimmy Miller played drums on a few takes, and Watts later overdubbed him. Recording engineer Andy Johns would later claim upwards of 150 takes were recorded in France and elsewhere. Even after all that, the struggle to finish the song wasn’t over. They couldn’t seem to get the mix right, and Jagger has complained about the sound of it ever since.

In later years, Keith would say that he came up with the basic riff upstairs in the villa and took it immediately downstairs to record. But the finished version of what came to be called “Tumbling Dice” is also based on “Good Time Women.” The lyric is different, though: Jagger has said it grew out of a conversation with a housekeeper at the villa who liked to gamble with dice.

“Tumbling Dice” was the first single from Exile on Main Street, and it landed at American radio stations during the second week of April 1972. It cracked its first Top 10 at WHOT, a daytime-only Top 40 station in Campbell, Ohio, on April 24, and at WMEX in Boston a few days later. It first appears at WLS in Chicago on May 1, and hits #1 for the first time at KGY in Olympia, Washington, on May 5. As May shades toward Memorial Day and the end of the school year, “Tumbling Dice” is cracking Top Tens everywhere. In addition to Olympia, it makes #1 in Tampa, Omaha, Akron, Rochester, New York, and in Chicago, where WCFL ranks it #1 for the week of June 1, 1972. (At WLS, it peaks at #4.) It tops out on the Billboard Hot 100 at #7 for two weeks from May 27; in Cash Box, it spends two weeks at #10. WCFL ranks it #12 for the year (while WLS has it at #60). It doesn’t make Billboard‘s Top 100 of 1972; in Cash Box, it’s #92. (Exile on Main Street, released in May, had a four-week run at #1 on the album chart beginning June 17, 1972.)

Regarding the best of all Rolling Stones songs, there’s a degree of consensus. When Rolling Stone magazine ranked the top 500 singles of all time in 2003 and 2010, “Satisfaction” was #2 on the entire list. On Kent Kotal’s more recent Top 3333 Most Essential Classic Rock Songs, “Gimme Shelter” ranked highest, with “Satisfaction” and “Start Me Up” in the Top 10. For a long time, I would have ranked “Brown Sugar” at the top. But now, for me, it’s “Tumbling Dice.”

“Tumbling Dice” has everything that makes the Stones great: apart from their playing (how did they get that guitar noise at the start?), it creates an atmosphere that’s ragged and sleazy and redolent of bad girls, drugs, liquor, games of chance, and the sort of people your mama don’t want you to know, and it’s like nothing else that ever got on AM radio. The mono single version of “Tumbling Dice” is here, and it sounds better than you’ve ever heard it.

Take Me Home

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(Pictured: Freda Payne sings on Top of the Pops in 1970.)

After recapping an AT40 show, we usually explore the next 60 positions on the chart in search of records that are notable, interesting, historic, or weird. For this edition of the feature, I’m tempted to simply reproduce the entire Bottom 60 from June 5, 1971, and say, “See?”

47. “Don’t Pull Your Love”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds
58. “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again”/Fortunes
62. “Take Me Home Country Roads”/John Denver and Fat City
64. “Mr. Big Stuff”/Jean Knight
77. “Sooner or Later”/Grass Roots
80. “You’ve Got a Friend”/James Taylor
88. “Signs”/Five Man Electrical Band
See? All of these would eventually make the Top 10, and they stand 50 years later as the distilled essence of that AM-radio summer.

48. “High Time We Went”-“Black Eyed Blues”/Joe Cocker. I have dug “High Time We Went” forever, but until this morning I had no idea what the precise lyrics are.

49. “13 Questions”/Seatrain. This California band of constantly shifting membership contained, at one point or another, veterans of the Blues Project, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and Earth Opera. “13 Questions” is on their second album, titled Seatrain after their debut had been called Sea Train, and was produced by George Martin.

59. “Melting Pot”/Booker T and the MGs. This is the last week on the Hot 100 for the last hit single by Booker T and the MGs.

60. “Tarkio Road”/Brewer and Shipley
76. “Get It On”/Chase
84. “Never Ending Song of Love”/Delaney and Bonnie
I did not list these under “See?” because they feel like they’re a cut below that level for most people, although to me they’re as indelibly stamped.

66. “Bring the Boys Home”/Freda Payne. Although white singers did plenty of famous antiwar songs, the ones by Black performers, especially by 1970 or so, carry extra weight, considering that Black and poor communities were most heavily affected by the Vietnam-era draft. “Bring the Boys Home” is one of the strongest antiwar sentiments ever to make it big on AM radio.

72. “Hot Love”/T. Rex. I bought nothing but 45s from 1971 until the end of 1973, but why I bought what I bought is a mystery to me now. “Hot Love,” for example: WLS charted it for only three weeks and it peaked at #24, but I heard it enough and dug it enough to lay down my 95 cents. Later, I’d buy “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” too.

78. “Done Too Soon”-“I Am I Said”/Neil Diamond. Radio stations that turned over “I Am I Said” in favor of “Done Too Soon” got a “We Didn’t Start the Fire”-style list of prominent names, concluding with a slow verse that’s kinda moving:

And each one there had one thing to share
They had sweated beneath the same sun
Looked up in wonder at the same moon
And wept when it was all done
For bein’ done too soon

87. “Walk Away”/James Gang. In its day, on the singles chart, “Walk Away” would peak at #51. A decade later, it would be in the classic-rock radio canon.

89. “If Not for You”/Olivia Newton-John. The first hit of her career, in its second week on the chart.

91. “I Don’t Want to Do Wrong”/Gladys Knight and the Pips. With several arrangers and producers getting credit on the If I Were Your Woman album, it’s not easy to tell who’s responsible for the great sound of “I Don’t Want to Do Wrong,” but master arranger David Van De Pitte and underrated producer Clay McMurray are among those credited, so they’re a safe bet.

92. “Love Means (You Never Have to Say You’re Sorry)”/Sounds of Sunshine. Inspired by Jenny’s famous line from the movie Love Story but not otherwise related to the film, “Love Means” went to #5 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart, spent a single week (July 31, 1971) on the Hot 100, and was two weeks on the WLS chart. The Sounds of Sunshine, three closely harmonizing California brothers, were frequently mistaken for the Lettermen, who recorded their own version of “Love Means” in 1972 because of course they did.

95. “I’ve Found Someone of My Own”/Free Movement. This record was the longest-charting Hot 100 hit of 1971, 26 weeks—five of which came in May and June before it dropped out for a couple of weeks. It came back in July and eventually made it to #5.

96. “Mandrill”/Mandrill. Homework assignment for the readership: other songs that have the same name as the band that recorded them.

Fifty years ago this month, the fifth grade was over and summer had come—a summer that would sound different to me than any one before.

A Summer With the Radio

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(Pictured: Carole King and Tapestry producer Lou Adler, at work in 1971.)

The summer of 1971, 50 years ago now, was the first summer I ever spent with a radio in my ear. The American Top 40 show from June 5, 1971, creates not memories, not exactly, but a jumble of images that pop up and disappear before I can grasp any one of them. It all adds up to a vibe, however, and that made for a very enjoyable show.

39. “Reach Out I’ll Be There”/Diana Ross
38. “I Don’t Blame You at All”/Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
A downtempo version of the Four Tops epic seemed like a good idea to somebody, if not to me. “I Don’t Blame You at All,” meanwhile, is a “Tears of a Clown”-level master class in record-making.

EXTRA: “Call Me”/Chris Montez. Casey tells about a 1963 run of shows Montez made in Britain, during which he was billed above the then-unknown Beatles. “Call Me” was written for Petula Clark by her impresario, Tony Hatch, and first released in late 1965, although the Montez version, arranged and produced by Herb Alpert, was bigger, making #22 on the Hot 100 and #2 on Easy Listening early in 1966. “Call Me” was soon recorded in famous versions by Frank Sinatra and Brazilian keyboard star Walter Wanderley (a bright-n-bubbly version on the flip side of his “Summer Samba”), and by lots of other people, although it faded from general popularity in the 70s.

31. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”/Yvonne Elliman
14. “Superstar”/Murray Head
13. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”/Helen Reddy
The most-discussed album of 1971, Jesus Christ Superstar, spent only three non-consecutive weeks at #1, one in February and two in May. June, however, marked peak Superstar on the singles chart.

EXTRA: “Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet“/Henry Mancini. Casey’s special report on “the most popular lovers history has ever known” contains a weird production choice. He introduces the bit and then starts listing famous couples, including Sonny and Cher, Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara (complete with a brief Clark Gable imitation). His voice fades out while he’s still listing pairs of lovers, and Mancini comes up behind him; at the end of the song, his voice fades back in, still listing pairs of lovers, including David and Julie. If you recognize them, you’re probably old. If you don’t, their identity will be revealed below.

19. “Love Her Madly”/Doors
18. “If”/Bread
17. “Chick-a-Boom”/Daddy Dewdrop
16. “Here Comes the Sun”/Richie Havens
15. “Treat Her Like a Lady”/Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose
This is a great AM-radio run right here. Casey says that the Doors have tied Creedence Clearwater Revival for the longest string of certified-gold albums. L.A. Woman becomes their sixth—but 50 years later, does any other Doors album matter to anybody, as an album? I remain gobsmacked at the beauty of “If,” amused by the madness of “Chick-a-Boom,” and impressed by whoever is playing the hot lead guitar on “Treat Her Like a Lady.” And as I have said before, I knew this “Here Comes the Sun” long before I ever heard George Harrison’s.

11. “I’ll Meet You Halfway”/Partridge Family
10. “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo”/Lobo
9. “It’s Too Late”/Carole King
8. “Never Can Say Goodbye”/Jackson Five
7. “Sweet and Innocent”/Donny Osmond
6. “Bridge Over Troubled Water”/Aretha Franklin
4. “It Don’t Come Easy”/Ringo Starr
3. “Want Ads”/Honey Cone
2. “Joy to the World”/Three Dog Night

One of these things is not like the others, and it is “Sweet and Innocent.” “It’s Too Late” is up to #9 in only its third week on the show, and it will spend the first of its five weeks at #1 two weeks hence. “Want Ads” will be #1 for the week of June 12.

5. “Rainy Days and Mondays”/Carpenters
1. “Brown Sugar”/Rolling Stones
By the standards of the analog world, when you had to put on pants and leave your house to buy a piece of plastic with your favorite song on it, these songs were unusually hot. During the week of May 1, “Brown Sugar” came on the Hot 100 at #40, then went 13-6-3 and to #1 for the week of May 29, ending the six-week run of “Joy to the World.” On May 15, “Rainy Days and Mondays” entered at #46 before going 20-11 and to #5 in this week, eventually stalling at #2. In a download world, both would probably have debuted at #1.

On his list of history’s greatest lovers, Casey included David Eisenhower, grandson of the former president, and Julie Nixon, daughter of the current president. They’d known one another since they were children, and they married in 1968, both age 20. They were, in 1971, one of the most famous couples in America. They’re still married today.

June 5, 2001: Hanging By a Moment

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(Pictured: Madonna on stage in June 2001.)

This website’s early summer hiatus will continue following this post. New content returns late next week.

June 5, 2001, was a Tuesday. Vermont senator Jim Jeffords officially switches his party affiliation from Republican to independent, and he begins caucusing with Senate Democrats. The Senate had been divided 50-50, but Vice President Dick Cheney’s vote gave them control of the chamber; Jeffords’ switch puts the Democrats in the majority. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights leaks to the media a forthcoming report strongly critical of Florida’s performance during the disputed 2000 presidential election, accusing the state of widespread disenfranchisement of minority voters. Republican members of the commission are angry about the leak. In Los Angeles, city attorney James Hahn is elected mayor over former California assembly speaker Antonio Villaraigosa. In New York City, millionaire Michael Bloomberg uses a TV ad blitz to announce that he will run for mayor in the fall. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone of the Ramones dies today at age 50. It’s been a rough stretch for celebrities: musician John Hartford died yesterday; over the past weekend actors Anthony Quinn and Imogene Coca died; TV personality Arlene Francis died last week; singer Perry Como died on May 12.

Last night, the New Jersey Devils beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 to take a 3-2 lead in the Stanley Cup Final. The NBA Finals open tomorrow night in Los Angeles, where the Lakers will meet the Philadelphia 76ers. There’s a full schedule in Major League Baseball on this day. The Seattle Mariners run their record to 45-and-12 with a 5-4 win over Texas. The Cleveland Indians pull within a half-game of the Central Division-leading Twins with a 5-0 win over Minnesota tonight. In the National League, the first-place Chicago Cubs break open a back-and-forth battle with the St. Louis Cardinals thanks to a seventh-inning grand slam by Julio Zuleta, and they win 12-6.

On TV tonight, ABC has the highest-rated show, a new episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Also on ABC tonight are repeats of Dharma and Greg, The Geena Davis Show, and NYPD Blue. NBC’s schedule includes three episodes of Frasier, sandwiched around the premiere episode of Kristin. It’s a sitcom about a woman from Oklahoma who moves to New York City hoping to break into showbiz, and it stars Kristin Chenoweth. CBS airs JAG, 60 Minutes II, and Judging Amy. Fox presents That 70s Show, Titus, and Dark Angel.

Madonna, set to open a world tour in Cologne, Germany, ends up canceling shows tonight and tomorrow due to technical problems. Bon Jovi wraps up a brief tour of Australia and Japan with a show in Tokyo; they’ll open an American tour later this month. U2 opens a three-night stand in Boston. The Black Crowes play Merriwether Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. Journey plays Albuquerque, New Mexico, with Peter Frampton and John Waite opening.

On the Billboard Hot 100, “Lady Marmalade” by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, and Pink moves into the #1 spot, knocking Janet Jackson’s “All for You” to #2. Other songs in the Top 10 include “Hanging By a Moment” by Lifehouse at #4, “Follow Me” by Uncle Kracker at #6, and “Thank You” by Dido at #8. The highest debut in the Top 40 is “There You’ll Be” by Faith Hill at #25; another country crossover, “I’m Already There” by Lonestar, debuts at #38. The oldest record on the Hot 100 is yet another country crossover: “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack, still hanging around at #30 in its 39th week on the chart.

In Madison, Wisconsin, a former radio DJ turned educational product developer spends another day in the cubicle farm. Although he doesn’t like the job much, it makes certain things possible: tomorrow, for example, he will take delivery on a new 2001 Ford ZX2. It’s the first car he ever bought not because he needed a new one but because he wanted one. After work tonight, he takes one last drive in his old Ford Escort to visit his parents an hour away, listening to old songs there and back. Later tonight, in his journal, he describes a sentiment that will one day appear on a blog he hasn’t invented yet:

We could not have known in 1977 how the music we were listening to then would stay with us, and how after so much time, it would continue to speak to us across the years. I realized that it often was, in a way I couldn’t have understood until many years later, commenting on our lives in the very moments we lived them.

A Beginning and Ending of Things

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This post is a companion to the previous two. Afterward, this website is going on a brief early-summer hiatus. A previously scheduled post will appear this Saturday, but otherwise I got nothin’ until late next week. Go play outside. 

I have a longtime friend who is a lot more practical and a lot less sentimental than I am. Not long ago he said to me about something I wrote (paraphrasing), “I sometimes wonder why you still think about this stuff, and why you don’t just let it go.” He’s not wrong to wonder. I’ve asked those questions myself. Why do I still think about this stuff? Why don’t I just let it go? Isn’t it a little silly for a guy my age to spend so much time remembering stuff that happened when he was 16 or 18 or 22?

But then there’s this, from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity:

I had kind of hoped that my adulthood would be long and meaty and instructive, but it all took place in those two years; sometimes it seems as though everything and everyone that have happened to me since were just minor distractions. Some people never got over the sixties, or the war, or the night their band opened for the Rolling Stones at the Marquee, and spend the rest of their days walking backwards; I never really got over Charlie. That was when the important stuff, the stuff that defines me, went on.

He’s talking about a broken love affair, but it doesn’t have to be only that. Doesn’t everybody have a period “when the important stuff, the stuff that defines me, went on”? Perhaps not. Maybe you have spent every day of your life constantly moving forward in a perpetual process of growth and change toward some sort of idealized perfect self. I can see the results of a similar process—the person I am now is more accomplished, wiser, better than most of my younger iterations—but I also recognize that to the extent that change took place, it was always shaped by “the stuff that defines me,” a beginning of things, a long time ago.

In the spring of 1978, writing about the ending of things in a journal long since lost, I hit upon the metaphor of a door, which I elaborated on a few years ago:

Change often takes us unawares. Disaster comes with little or no warning. We get fired. Loved ones die. Very rarely in life does a major change loom fixed within our sight, like a door in the distance, one we knowingly walk up to and through, entering into whatever lies beyond.… the one between carelessness and responsibility, between young and not-quite-so-young … between today and tomorrow. 

The stakes on the other side of the door seemed pretty high. Go to college, work hard, get your degree, get a job, work hard, climb the ladder, find someone, make a life for them and you and your children like the one your parents made for themselves and you, and don’t fk it up. I was willing to take it on—given who I was and the kind of person my parents had raised me to be, there was no other path—but in retrospect, it seems like a lot.

For some people, the weight of trying to make a life never goes away. It can be a struggle in terms of the concrete stuff—find a career/prosper in it, find a partner/stay together. But it can also be a metaphysical one: why am I doing this? Should I want to do this, or is there something else I should be doing? How does one navigate this life of randomly dealt fortune and tragedy without falling into denial or surrendering to despair?  

What I learned back when “the stuff that defines me” was going on is this: dealing with the concrete stuff—the what—came easier to me than understanding the metaphysical stuff—the why. And so the latter will always be of greater interest and concern to me.

I saw the door. I knew what was behind it. I knew my friends and I had to walk through it. But why we had to walk through it, why the stuff behind the door is like it is, and what is the best way to make peace with it and find some sort of meaning in it—43 years later, I’m still thinking about that, because I don’t know any other way to be. The half-assed armchair philosopher I am today was born out of the half-assed armchair philosophizing I did in the spring of 1978, at a beginning and ending of things.

Midwestern Jams

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(Pictured: Midwestern rock gods Kevin Cronin and Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon, on stage in 1980.)

Following on from Friday’s post, here’s some of what was below the Top 40 during the week of May 27, 1978.

41. “Follow You, Follow Me”/Genesis. From . . . And Then There Were Three, the first album by the Genesis configuration that transitioned from prog-rock to pop radio. My favorite single of theirs.

52. “Since You Been Gone”/Head East. If you hear “Since You Been Gone” on the radio today, it’s likely to be the 1979 version by Rainbow. Here in the Midwest, we dig the poppier OG by Head East. (But our radio stations play Rainbow more often because of course they do.)

53. “Ça Plane Pour Moi”/Plastic Bertrand. Here in the Midwest, I never heard this on the radio, as it was not a Midwestern sort of jam. It does, however, have quite a backstory.

63. “Roll With the Changes”/REO Speedwagon. I have just listened to “Roll With the Changes,” a classic of the Midwest heartland-rock genre, for the first time in a while and I had forgotten how completely awesome it is. I’m a grown-ass man sitting at my desk playing air guitar and keyboards and singing “keep on rollin'” like I was 18 again. /hits repeat button/

69. “Grease”/Frankie Valli. “You’re the One That I Want” by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta had been to #1 and was #3 in this week; “Grease” was the highest debut on the Hot 100. The movie wouldn’t come out for three weeks yet.

71. “Stayin’ Alive”/Bee Gees. On this week’s AT40 show, Casey mentioned that “Stayin’ Alive” was off the show after 22 weeks, which means it debuted in mid-December 1977.

74. “It’s Late”/Queen. Somebody at Elektra Records deduced that “It’s Late” would be a hit, but I’d like ’em to show their work. This is its peak position.

76. “Miss You”/Rolling Stones. This was the first week on for “Miss You.” The return of the Stones after two years was a big rock ‘n’ roll news story in the summer of 1978, at least for a while.

78. “Hold On to the Night”/Starz. Two members of this band had been in Looking Glass (“Brandy”). They were signed by KISS manager Bill Aucoin and their first two albums were produced by Jack Douglas, who produced Aerosmith’s mid-70s work. They made a living for a while as the eternal opening act, on the bill with everybody, the band that played right after gates opened at the World Series of Rock, or whatever they called those daylong shows at the baseball stadium in your town. (Here’s more about their rise and fall.)

89. “King Tut”/Steve Martin. I have mentioned here before that the Saturday Night Live episode broadcast on April 22, 1978, is the single greatest episode in the show’s history. It’s the show that featured the Czech Brothers, the Blues Brothers, Theodoric of York, Martin and Gilda Radner’s “Dancing in the Dark,” and “send more Chuck Berry.” (Watch it here.) In addition, Martin performed “King Tut” that night, and it became a perfectly timed novelty given the cultural interest in the treasures of Tutankhamen that summer.

93. “Georgia on My Mind”/Willie Nelson. This is the first single from Stardust, Willie’s first Great American Songbook album, produced by Booker T. Jones and recorded in Emmylou Harris’ living room. “Georgia on My Mind” and “Blue Skies” would go #1 country and “All of Me” would make #3, but “Georgia” is the only single that made the Hot 100. (This piece about the making of Stardust is excellent.)

99. “I Go Crazy”/Paul Davis. Down from #95 last week, and in its 40th week on the Hot 100, which was the longest chart run ever at the time. The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” spent 43 weeks in the Top Five, in case you still think there’s any validity in comparing charts from the pre- and post-streaming eras.

100. “Mama Let Him Play”/Doucette. Down from #98 last week, this is a song I’ve written about before. Even though Jerry Doucette was from Canada, “Mama Let Him Play” vibrates on the same wavelength as “Since You Been Gone” and “Roll With the Changes,” and all the Midwestern dudes say “hell yeah.”

101. “(You’re Such a) Fabulous Dancer”/Wha-Koo. Wha-Koo was the sort of superstar (or superstar-adjacent) supergroup record labels loved to risk budget on in the late 70s. It included former members of Steely Dan, Buddy Holly’s Crickets, and Savoy Brown, but the original lineup lasted for just one album. That album, Berkshire, was produced by Ken Caillat, co-producer of Rumours, and goes for the same sort of vibe.