Category Archives: 1969

Today’s Top 5: December 27th, 1969

It was a chilly December day in 1969 when my father, then 38, arrived home from Vietnam, where he’d worked the previous 15 months as an electronics field engineer attached to the 5th U.S. Marine Base at Da Nang. He maintained the Marine Corps’ communication system called TRC-97 at fire bases and outposts between Da Nang and the DMZ, and sometimes took sniper fire while riding a motorcycle from one site to the next. He wasn’t a G.I., having left the Army after serving in the Korean War the decade before, but an RCA employee.

According to the thorough family history written by my grandfather the following year, my dad left for Vietnam on Sept. 16th, 1968, and returned stateside on Dec. 15th, though I imagine he first touched ground in Hawaii or San Diego and, even if he flew straight through, made it home a day later. What I recall: my mom crouching beside me, who was all of 4 1/2, and pointing to a tall man dressed in fatigues walking toward us. “Daddy,” she whispered in my ear. I ran to him, arms outstretched, and bellowed the same.

Young children welcoming a parent home from war: It’s a scene played out many thousands of times every decade, it seems. And, as with me, I’m sure it’s the first memory many have of that parent.

I was reminded of the day by Herc’s thoughtful write-up of The Vietnam War, the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary series that recently aired on PBS. I haven’t watched it yet, though at some point I likely will, but it got me to thinking of December 1969 and the winter that followed – it’s the last time, I think, that I enjoyed snow. By the next Christmas we were in Saudi, and snow and frigid weather were non-factors for the next five years.

Anyway, Christmas of 1969, as I remember it, was great; the family was together and, in addition to my dad, I received one of the greatest gifts ever: Billy Blastoff. (It was an action toy, not a doll!)

To pull the magnifying glass away from me, major events of this month included, on the 1st, the initial draft lottery; on the 2nd, the 747 making its official debut; and, on the 6th, “Woodstock West,” aka the Altamont Free Concert, erupting into violence. Unemployment for the month was just 3.90 percent, but was about to begin a gradual climb to 6 percent by the end of 1970; and inflation was relatively high, at 5.5 percent.

(For more on 1969, see here and here, though each now features a clip that’s gone AWOL from YouTube.)

Movies released this month included A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Hello, Dolly!, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Topaz and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Top television shows included Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Mayberry R.F.D. and Family Affair. Brady Bunch aficionados will know that the kitsch classic’s lone Christmas episode, when Carol came down with a bad case of laryngitis, aired on the 17th; another historic Christmas-tinged TV moment came 10 days earlier with the first airing of Frosty the Snowman.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: December 27th, 1969 (via Weekly Top 40):

1) Diana Ross & the Supremes – “Someday We’ll Be Together.” This, Diana’s final single with the Supremes, closed out the 1960s in spectacular fashion. (Producer Johnny Bristol can be heard harmonizing along, and giving Diana encouragement.)

2) Peter, Paul & Mary – “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I never knew this was written by John Denver until the mid-2000s, when I watched an excellent PPM biography on PBS. There’s this, too: PPM recorded it in 1967 for Album 1700, but didn’t release it as a single until October 1969. It promptly ascended the charts and, on Dec. 20th, became their only single to hit No. 1. This week, it dropped a notch to No. 2.

3) B.J. Thomas – “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” Written for the Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid film, this classic Burt Bacharach-Hal David song, which won an Oscar, has been covered more times than than ASCAP/BMI can count. (Just a joke.) Here’s B.J. Thomas singing it on Top of the Pops in February 1970:

4) Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Down on the Corner”/“Fortunate Son.” The double A-sided hit  – one of the best – dropped to No. 4 from No. 3 (its peak) this week.

5) Steam – “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” Who knew, as 1969 came to a close, that the chorus to this ditty – which topped the charts for two weeks in early December – would become one of the de facto sing-alongs at sporting events within a decade’s time?

And two bonuses:

6) Neil Diamond – “Holly Holy.” The No. 6 this week is this gospel-tinged classic, which may well be Neil Diamond’s greatest song. (And even if it isn’t, it certainly feels that way when he’s singing it.) Here he is performing on the BBC in 1971:

7) Gladys Knight & the Pips – “Friendship Train.” Topping out at No, 17 is this under-appreciated Norman Whitfield-penned call for peace, love and understanding. Here’s Gladys & the Pips performing it in 1972:

 

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The Essentials: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

The first Neil Young album I purchased was re*ac*tor in late 1981, when I was 16. Flawed though it was, I loved it – “Southern Pacific,” “Rapid Transit” and “Shots,” to say nothing of “Opera Star” and “Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze,” sawed against the grain of what my brain understood to be rock music. It wasn’t Beatlesque or Stones-ish, or New Wave. It was unique, guitar heavy and great. I named it my Album of the Year.

The second Neil Young LP I purchased – a few months later, though I could be wrong there – was Hawks & Doves, which he had released the previous year. I remember being surprised by the subdued sonics of Side One, a collection of acoustic songs, and taken aback by Side Two, which consists of country-flavored tracks. Don’t get me wrong: I liked Side One, and played it quite a bit. Side Two, however…I don’t think I revisited those songs until the CD release, which I picked up years after its 2003 street date.

In other words, I liked Neil. I quickly came to know and enjoy other songs by him thanks to WMMR and WYSP, Philly’s two rock stations, and WIOQ, which was more oriented towards singer-songwriters and soft rock.

But, like many teens, my record-buying budget was slim. Time and circumstance, in other words, conspired against me – until the week after Christmas of 1982, when I was flush with cash. In one fell swoop, I picked up six Neil Young albums on cassette (along with, over the course of the week, a slew of other albums).

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere quickly became my most-played Neil album – and it still is.

Most fans already know the story behind Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere: In the mid-1960s, while with the Buffalo Springfield, Neil met and jammed with another Laurel Canyon-based rock group, the Rockets, and liked what he heard; they jammed again after he’d split (for good) from the Springfield and, when he was ready to record his second solo album, he “borrowed” the band’s rhythm guitarist, bassist and drummer (Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina), rechristened them Crazy Horse – and never gave them back.

What can be written about the album itself that hasn’t been said before? That, to my ears, it’s one of the greatest albums of all times? That the swirling guitar jams with Whitten are akin to jazz greats trading horn riffs? That the swirling melodies lift you up when you need it most, and usher you back down when you’re too far from the ground? Yeah. It’s been said before. Which is why, on my old website in the late ‘90s, I summarized it as thus:

“Cinnamon Girl.” “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.” “Down by the River.” “Cowgirl in the Sand.” ‘Nuff said. I graded it an A+. I’d grade it even higher now.

Side One:

  1. Cinnamon Girl
  2. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
  3. Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)
  4. Down by the River

Side Two:

  1. The Losing End (When You’re On)
  2. Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)
  3. Cowgirl in the Sand

Here’s the album in full:

The Essentials: Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

I can say with certainty when I first encountered many LPs and 45s – not because I possess an extraordinary memory, but from my old desk diaries. In mid-1982, not long before I started my senior year of high school, I began charting said purchases – a routine I maintained through much of the next three-and-a-half years. Looking back, though, I wish I’d tracked such things from the get-go, and continued the practice after I stopped – and if I’d been aware that one day I’d be blogging about this stuff, I likely would have.

Anyway, I first met Dusty in Memphis during those pre-1982 years. I have no memory of when or where it happened, though my hunch – because the LP was out-of-print – is the early 1980s at Memory Lane Records, an independent store in Horsham that traded (and still trades) in used vinyl. Why I bought it is yet another question I can’t answer: Did I read about it in a music magazine? In a book? Was it spurred by hearing “Son of a Preacher Man” on the radio?

The story behind the album is easier told: In 1968, Dusty Springfield signed with Atlantic Records and, shortly thereafter, arrived in the hallowed halls of American Studios in Memphis to work with producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin, and their crack studio crew. She rejected many of the songs they wanted her to sing, and her nerves caused havoc with her voice – as a result, many (if not all) of the final vocals were actually recorded at a later date in New York City. No matter. The final set is simply exquisite, the epitome of “blue-eyed soul” (though Dusty’s actual eye color was a light aqua green).

The 11 songs are sultry, soulful, gritty and sweet, sometimes all at once, and lay down a blueprint that generations of singers have sought (and usually failed) to replicate. Dusty’s vocals reflect and inject her soul into the lyrics; she may not have written the words, but one senses that she lived them.

The tortured “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore,” by Randy Newman, is one of the album’s tour de forces:

Another: “Breakfast in Bed.”

And, of course, the now classic “Son of a Preacher Man”:

Yet, despite the presence of a Top 5 hit in “Son of a Preacher Man,” the album didn’t sell well – about 100,000 copies. By year’s end, Dusty moved onto Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, where she worked with TSOP practitioners Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (who, in 1971, founded the Philadelphia International label) on A Brand New Me.

The failure of Dusty in Memphis to do well just goes to show that sales don’t always equal quality – a fact many music fans know, but others never seem to get. (That’s a tangent for a future rant from me, I think.)

Rolling Stone ranks the LP at No. 89 in its 500 Greatest Albums All Time list, but I’d rank it higher. It shares space with dozens of others in my mythical Top 10. It’s as perfect an album ever released – so perfect that, through the years, I’ve acquired just about every iteration of it released, including the original CD, the reissues with bonus tracks, high-resolution versions in stereo and mono…and, to close the circle, on vinyl yet again. It sounds as fresh to me today as it ever did.

Here’s the track listing (with the songwriters noted in parentheses):

Side 1:

  1. Just a Little Lovin’ (Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil)
  2. So Much Love (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  3. Son of a Preacher Man (John Hurley & Ronnie Wilkins)
  4. I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore (Randy Newman)
  5. Don’t Forget About Me (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  6. Breakfast in Bed (Eddie Hinton & Donnie Fritts)

Side 2:

  1. Just One Smile (Randy Newman)
  2. The Windmills of Your Mind (Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman & Michael Legrand)
  3. In the Land of Make Believe (Burt Bacharach & Hal David)
  4. No Easy Way Down (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  5. I Can’t Make It Alone (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)

Here it is in full: