Fresh Air

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(Pictured: Willie and Waylon, 1978.)

I wrote recently about the American Top 40 show from the week of October 17, 1970. As we do, let us look at what charted on the Hot 100 out of Casey Kasem’s view in the same week.

41. “Gypsy Woman”/Brian Hyland
42. “Yellow River”/Christie
45. “Engine No. 9″/Wilson Pickett
46. “Cry Me a River”/Joe Cocker
68. “The Tears of a Clown”/Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

75. “After Midnight”/Eric Clapton
78. “Heaven Help Us All”/Stevie Wonder
101. “Share the Land”/Guess Who

111. “One Less Bell to Answer”/Fifth Dimension
Just as the Top 40 was in this week, the Bottom 60 and the Bubbling Under chart are loaded with records I find to be deeply evocative of their time.

48. “For the Good Times”/Ray Price
94. “The Taker”/Waylon Jennings
102. “Amos Moses”/Jerry Reed
119. “I Can’t Be Myself”-“Sidewalks of Chicago”/Merle Haggard
It took a while, but I finally finished watching Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music. It might be my favorite of all the major Burns projects, and I say that as somebody whose life as a music fan was quite literally changed by Jazz back in 2001. Country Music featured a remarkable lineup of commentators, including Haggard, filmed before his death in 2016, and Kris Kristofferson, who was quoted only briefly but discussed extensively, as befits the status of the writer of “For the Good Times,” “The Taker” (co-written with Shel Silverstein), “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” and other classics. Burns and his team also spent a lot of time discussing the fascinating transformation of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and other artists from standard-issue Nashville acts in the 60s to outlaws in the 70s. And while some reviews suggested Burns spent too much time on Johnny Cash, I didn’t find that to be true.

If you are not persuaded that you want to spend 16-and-a-half hours on a single documentary, you might consider watching the last three episodes, covering the period from 1968 to 1996. And if you want to watch only one part, make it the last one, which covers 1984 to 1996. It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen on TV and I’m not joking—the stories behind and the powerful performances of Kathy Mattea’s “Where’ve You Been” and Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain” left me in tears on my couch. I had just recovered when Rosanne Cash’s performance of “I Still Miss Someone” at her father’s 2003 memorial service knocked me sideways again. You may be able to stream the series at the PBS website; it’s also available at Amazon Prime. But see it, somehow.

50. “Mongoose”/Elephant’s Memory. “Mongoose” doesn’t sound commercial at all, but it’s a burner. It went to #1 in Pittsburgh and it made the Top 10 in Chicago, Milwaukee, Columbus, and Orlando.

59. “Fresh Air”/Quicksilver Messenger Service
93. “Empty Pages”/Traffic
Jam-band music, 1970-style.

60. “I Think I Love You”/Partridge Family. The anti-“Mongoose.”

100. “Listen Here”/Brian Auger and the Trinity. “Listen Here,” another burner, was the lone Hot 100 single for Brian Auger in any configuration I know of (how did “This Wheel’s on Fire” miss it?), and just barely: two weeks at #100 and then out.

109. “For Yasgur’s Farm”/Mountain
110. “Easy Rider (Let the Wind Pay the Way)”/Iron Butterfly
112. “Stop I Don’t Wanna Hear It Anymore”-“Peace Will Come”/Melanie
A couple of heavy-rockin’ hippie bands and one patchouli-drenched icon are bubbling under this week. “For Yasgur’s Farm” is a Woodstock reflection of a sort: “A crystal passing reflected in our eyes / Eclipsing all the jealousy and lies.” “Easy Rider” was inspired by the movie but isn’t part of it. “Peace Will Come” had made it to #32 earlier in the fall; the B-side was getting some action in October, but not enough to return to the Hot 100.

One Other Thing:  It must have been nearly a decade ago that I got Internet-acquainted with Gene “Bean” Baxter, Radio Hall of Famer and longtime cohost of Kevin and Bean on KROQ in Los Angeles. It’s been a few years since Bean was passing through Madison on vacation and we got together for a drink and a fine time. What I learned is that despite his success, he’s a regular guy, and a damn nice one at that. Bean’s last day on KROQ is Thursday. He plans on relocating to England, where he was born, maybe to continue his radio career there, and/or become an English country squire. Leaving a gig in one’s own time is a choice we radio types are not always permitted to make, so for a good guy to go out on his terms is a big win.

Congratulations, m’lord, and all the best to you and yours.

7 responses

  1. My only lingering question about the Ken Burns documentary: They spent a lot of time talking to Marty Stuart, and rightly so, but didn’t play any of his music. ???? He did a couple of examples on the mandolin, that was it. ????

  2. “Burns spent too much time on Johnny Cash”
    Only if every single episode was solely about Cash.

  3. I too enjoyed the Burns documentary, but found the decision to wrap things up around 1997 to be rather baffling. The same issue plagued his Jazz documentary, where anything after 1970 was given short shrift. My only hope is that he will revisit the intervening years at some later point–a la his Baseball documentary’s “Extra Innings.”

    1. I believe he wrapped things up at that point because he believed that the music needed to be at least 25 years old to really stand the test of time. It may sound arbitrary, but it made sense to me. Also, there’s not really any country music I like after the early 90s, so my bias may explain why I was fine with his decision.

      It would’ve been nice to hear more of Marty Stuart’s music, but I came away from this series with a tremendous amount of respect for the guy. He’s the real deal.

  4. Marty Stuart played such a big role in the show partly because he’s been around Nashville for 50 years and has played with everybody from Lester Flatt on down. His story about meeting Connie Smith when he was 11 and saying he would marry her one day, and then actually doing it 25 years later, would have been irresistible to the Burns team. (I don’t think it was mentioned on the show, but he was married to Johnny Cash’s daughter Cindy for a while.) He had only a handful of hits in the early 90s, but he hasn’t been off the road since, and is still an incredibly big deal in the bluegrass world. And also, the man radiates cool like nobody I’ve ever seen.

  5. The PBS doc provided plenty of great commentary on FB, among some who have written about country music or who play it. There was much daily quibbling over what was good and what wasn’t. For me, Charlie Rich got short shrift though Shel Silverstein thankfully got his just desserts (full disclosure: the “punch-line” of “A Boy Named Sue” still makes me laugh every time I hear it). Tom T. Hall got some good face-time but I think they overlooked his many great songs.

    Johnny Cash (and his in-laws) provided the perfect thread of the doc, from start to finish, so I never tired of seeing him and his stories; and what about that footage of him fidgeting from amphetamines on a Pete Seeger TV show.

    Vince Gill’s artistry is great; I love how often they used him, cool how his unknown bluegrass band opened for KISS and then (via his membership in Pure Prairie League) ended up on the same label.

    One last thing, Marty’s cable TV shows are up on YouTube so you can see his shit-hot band, his Hall of Fame guests and a good dose of his wife’s singing as well.

    1. Any such show produced in a finite universe is gonna elicit gripes about who got left out. (I would like it to have mentioned Don Williams, for example.)

      The decision to end “Jazz” in 1970 bugged me more than the decision to end “Country Music” in 1996. The last episode of “Jazz” felt both padded and rushed, as Burns covered a lot of ground but also had to maintain his narrative focus on Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. Ending “Country Music” in 1996 (with a quick and appropriate jump to Johnny Cash’s death in 2003) is easier to justify, as the point at which the Garth Brooks/Shania Twain-ification of country went into overdrive. An “Extra Innings” style doc would be really interesting because it could deal with 90s country, which is now recognized as a thing, although it would also have to deal with the fact that country underwent a major historical break in the early 2010s, and how a lot of what is considered country now has *nothing* in common with the form as the original documentary defined it. And that would be a controversial viewpoint.

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