Underplayed Vinyl used to be a regular – monthly or so – feature of this blog until it somehow got waylaid. Part of it was not having a usable turntable, but that has since been rectified. The idea about Underplayed Vinyl is to talk about an album I own, but only an LP or 45 (or I suppose, a 78) that I own that I do not possess in digital form (CD or download).

Since it’s Martin Luther King’s birthday, the Monday holiday law notwithstanding, I thought I’d talk about an album of a couple of his speeches, plus an excerpt of his most famous address, Free at Last.

The album was issued 1968 on Gordy/Motown Records. Side 1 was the DRUM MAJOR INSTINCT SERMON, given at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on February 4, 1968. You can read it here, but of course, you don’t get the elocution, the nuances of the voice. The sermon included Dr. King’s desired eulogy, part of which reads:

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.

Side 2 contains I’VE BEEN TO THE MOUNTAIN delivered at the Mason Temple, the Church of God in Christ Headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968, the day before he died. That speech can be seen and heard here.

One of my favorite parts is after he was stabbed by a woman in Harlem, he got this letter from a girl in high school, which he read:
While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.

But the payoff of the address is the I’ve Been To The Mountain Top section. It is amazing that not only did it foretell his death, it showed a strong parallel between King and and the Biblical figure Moses:
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

(Recently, CBS News Sunday Morning did a segment on Moses with Mo Rocca which is found within this document, which links the Liberty bell, the pilgrims, Superman and M.L. King.)

Finally, the album ends with excerpts from the I HAVE A DREAM speech, including the FREE AT LAST segment.

I don’t know exactly when I bought this album, though I’m sure it was before I went to college in 1971. these speeches, along with the Beyond Vietnam speech of April 4, 1967 were pivotal in my philosophical development. Thus, this was quite an important recording for me.


Underplayed Vinyl: Chicago

I had to buy a record player, and it’s all Fred Hembeck’s fault. O.K., not really. But he was the inspiration.

I was visiting Fred Hembeck’s MySpace page. This is actually fairly unusual in that I generally spend my time at his Fred Sez page instead. I must have wanted to leave a comment wishing his daughter a happy birthday, so I went to the that day’s post. The other thing the MySpace page has that FredSez doesn’t is an indication of Fred’s mood and his current musical excursion. For that particular day, the selection was Chicago, the second album of the group formerly known as the Chicago Transit Authority. I hadn’t listened to that album in ages!

So, at the next opportunity, I pulled out my double album, put the first LP on the turntable, and…NOTHING. It had been cranky of late, with me having to start it up manually before it would take hold, but this time – nothing at all. The turntable was probably fixable, but for how much?

Then I remembered one of my former interns at work had purchased a record player at Target for $70 or $80 this past summer. I attempted to see if it was still available at the local store; the website said it was, but the person at the store assured me that it was not. Then I went to Amazon and found a Memorex® Nostalgia Turntable and Stereo, for $39.97, plus $8 shipping, provided by one of their vendors, Bargain Outfitters. I ordered it, and it came within a week.

The assembly was minimal, and so I finally got to play that Chicago album that I received for Christmas in 1970; I don’t remember this, I had marked the album 12-25-70 ROG, as was my wont at the time.

So what did I think?

Well, much of it lyrically is a bit earnest, especially It Better End Soon, which dominates Side 4 (oh, I miss the notion of Side 4). But I really enjoyed the album all over again. I recognized some really interesting musicality. Fancy Colours, which starts Side 3, starts off in a very slow 4/4, then switches to a fast 3/4 (or 6/8), and ends with those discordant horns that made me think originally, and again recently, that the record was skipping.

Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon, which takes up much of Side 2, to be punny, made me smile. Even Colour My World, which I’ve disliked since it was the the theme song for my high school girlfriend’s prom, I seem to have lost my loathing for.

I have no rational thought about this Chicago album, except that this one and its predecessor were as good as this group ever got musically, though greater commercial success came later (Chicago V through IX each went to #1.) And i am really enjoying my record player.

One annoyance about Columbia Records at the time; they never had a copyright date, either on the LP or on the package; maddening.

Today is former Chicago singer Peter Cetera’s 63rd birthday. Coincidentally, David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears, another horn-based rock band on Columbia, is celebrating his 66th birthday today.

Underplayed Vinyl: Santana

Although, like many folks , I first became aware of Santana from their stirring performance of their debut-album closer “Soul Sacrifice” at Woodstock, (a movie, BTW, I sat through twice in the movie theater)

(note: brief nudity)

it was the second album, Abraxas that really sold me on the group.
1. Singing Winds, Crying Beasts
2. Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen

3. Oye Como Va

4. Incident At Neshabur
5. Se A Cabo
6. Mother’s Daughter
7. Samba Pa Ti

8. Hope You’re Feeling Better
9. El Nicoya

I’ve picked up about a dozen albums by Santana, including Santana III, Caravanserai and Love Devotion Surrender in the 1970s, Zebop! and Havana Moon in the 1980s, and a couple during his commercial resurgence. But none have brought me the unbridled joy of this album.

A couple notes: there are several Santana greatest hits compilations. Do NOT get the 1974 Greatest Hits album, which contains Black Magic Woman WITHOUT the segued Gypsy Queen. It’s like playing the Beatles’ Abbey Road and stopping before “The End”.

While I don’t love the more recent music as I did the earlier stuff, I get the feeling that Carlos Santana, the man, is not only a talented musician but a really decent man, as this interview suggests.

If you happen to be in Austin, TX, tonight, there’s a tribute concert to note Carlos Santana’s 60th birthday.


Underplayed Vinyl: Beach Boys

My first Beach Boys album was Pet Sounds, followed by some of those other late 1960s/early 1970s albums, such as Smiley Smile, Surf’s Up and Holland, plus the pairing of Wild Honey and 20/20. I never owned any of those early beach/surf/cars tunes until I bought those wildly successful double LP compilations, Endless Summer and Spirit of America.

So, when 15 Big Ones came out, complete with the “Brian is back!” mantra, it didn’t have the same meaning to me as it might have for a more faithful BB fan.

1. “Rock And Roll Music” (Chuck Berry) – 2:29
2. “It’s OK” (Brian Wilson/Mike Love) – 2:12
3. “Had To Phone Ya” (Brian Wilson/Mike Love/Diane Rovell) – 1:43
4. “Chapel Of Love” (Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich/Phil Spector) – 2:34
5. “Everyone’s In Love With You” (Mike Love) – 2:42
6. “Talk To Me” (J. Seneca) – 2:14
7. “That Same Song” (Brian Wilson/Mike Love) – 2:16
8. “TM Song” (Brian Wilson) – 1:34
9. “Palisades Park” (C. Barris) – 2:27
10. “Susie Cincinnati” (Al Jardine) – 2:57
11. “A Casual Look” (E. Wells) – 2:45
12. “Blueberry Hill” (A. Lewis/L. Stock/V. Rose) – 3:01
13. “Back Home” (Brian Wilson/Bob Norberg) – 2:49
14. “In The Still Of The Night” (F. Parris) – 3:03
15. “Just Once In My Life” (Gerry Goffin/Carole King/Phil Spector) – 3:47

The album begins with the Chuck Berry song. Most critics hate this rendition, even though it went to #5 in the charts. I thought it was OK. More than OK, though was “It’s OK”, which to my ears, was vintage Beach Boys. “Had to Phone Ya” was charming. “That Same Song” I loved, as well as “Back Home”, which apparently Brian had around for over a decade. “Susie Cincinnati”, which had been cut from the Sunflower album, I learned from that album’s CD liner notes, was a fun little song. “Talk to Me” was a strange little tune, with weak vocals, but I sorta liked it anyway.

The rest is rather hit or miss. The remaining covers seldom distinguish themselves from the originals, or are far lesser versions, though I appreciated “Palisades Park” for the near slavish imitation it was.

Yet, as I recall, I played the album. Played it a lot, actually. It had enough songs that I liked that I largely ignored the ones I didn’t. I barely remembered the uninspired, but short, “TM Song”, e.g. And it wasn’t that I hated the rest; it was more that it wasn’t as good as it might have been.

15 Big Ones is now available on CD, paired with Love You, the follow-up Beach Boys album, that received far better reviews, at least that I’ve read. I own it, but don’t remember it nearly that well. 15 Big Ones sold better, fueled by that Top 10 single, getting to #8 and going gold, while Love You peaked at #53.

Guess I know what Underplayed Vinyl will be next year. Brian Wilson turns 65 today; who woulda thunk it?

Underplayed Vinyl: The Supremes

It’s the 63rd birthday of original Supreme Mary Wilson.

The Supremes, of course, were THE #1 female group in the Unites States. You can argue for Destiny’s Child or someone else, but by the calculations of the Joel Whitburn book reflecting the Billboard singles charts through 2002, they were #25, behind Madonna (#4), Janet Jackson (#9), Aretha Franklin (#10), and Mariah Carey (#14) among female artists; Destiny’s Child was #181. On the Billboard album charts through 2006, they were #29, behind only Babs (#5) and Aretha (#18); Destiny’s Child was #451. (The Whitburn books balances off the fact that there are more people today than 40 years ago, and gives points to longevity.)

But it wasn’t always the case. They were known as the “no-hit Supremes” when they came out with Meet the Supremes, which didn’t enhance their commercial reputation. This was in a period (1962) that the others besides Diana Ross actually sang leads. The late Florence Ballard sings on my favorite song on the album, the energetic pop of “Buttered Popcorn”, while Mary Wilson is featured on the soul ballad “Baby Don’t Go”, written by Berry Gordy. There were actually two album covers. My original album cover was the “soft focus” one, which was actually the second version, done in 1965, after they made it big. The “chairs” cover was the first cover, which was still being used when I repurchased the album subsequent to the Great Album Theft of 1972. You can’t even find this album on Amazon, except at an outrageous price from individuals. Too bad, because it’s a charming collection, showing a lot of promise for what was to come.

That theft wiped out a lot of albums I never replaced, notably the “theme” albums: A Little Bit of Liverpool (featuring a terrible version of A Hard Day’s Night); The Supremes Sing Country, Western, and Pop; and We Remember Sam Cooke, all coming out after the breakthrough album Where Did Our Love Go, and before More Hits by the Supremes.
After a couple specialty discs and the more popular fare of I Hear A Symphony and Supremes A’ Go Go, the group came out with what I thought was a peculiarly named 1967 album: The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, odd because most of their pop fare was already written by Brian, Lamont and Eddie, and produced by the former two. As was often the case at Motown at that time, the album featured songs previously recorded by other Motown artists such as the Four Tops (“I’ll Turn to Stone”, “It’s the Same Old Song”) and Martha and the Vandellas (“Love is Like a) Heat Wave”), which, while not matching the originals, were enjoyable. Of course, it had the hits (“You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone”), but my favorite song is a tune I always thought my sister or my eldest niece, singers both, ought to try, “Remove This Doubt”, complete with strings. Elvis Costello did this song on Kojak Variety, which is not bad, but pales to the original, to my ears.

1967 was a real transitional year. Florence Ballard left the group after the Rogers and Hart album, replaced by Cindy Birdsong of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. Also, Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown over a dispute with Berry Gordy. The group, now Diana Ross and the Supremes, did one pop album, Reflections, a really transitional album with the last H-D-H pieces (and the last Flo Ballard work), and too many uninspired covers (Ode to Billie Joe?). Then they did three specialty albums, including one with the Temptations, before releasing Love Child.

Love Child is the last very good Supremes album, as opposed to a couple singles and a bunch of filler. The first side is more soulful, the second, more pop. The group and the producers seem reinvigorated here, but the subsequent albums were far inferior to this one.

Love Child (Henry Cosby, Frank Wilson, Pam Sawyer, Deke Richards, R. Dean Taylor) -yes, the R. Dean Taylor of “Indiana Wants Me” fame. Motown session singers The Andantes sing the backup vocals on this song.
Keep an Eye (Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson)- a great song of warranted paranoia; “There used to be three of us seen all over town. Now there’s only two. Someone’s missing. Guess who?”
How Long Has That Evening Train Been Gone (Sawyer, Wilson) – an Amazon critic says: “a late 60’s soul masterpiece, features a killer (and much studied) James Jamerson bass line, and lyrically, tells a compelling story.”
Does Your Mama Know About Me (Tom Baird, Tommy Chong) – a cover of the Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers song about interracial love. Yes, that’s the Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong on the songwriting credits.
Honey Bee (Keep on Stinging Me) (Janie Bradford, Debbie Dean, Richards) – straight ahead infectious pop. My favorite song because of the bass and background vocals
Some Things You Never Get Used To (Ashford, Simpson) The first single, which only went to #30, oddly. The Andantes sing backup here.
He’s My Sunny Boy (Smokey Robinson)- the horns punch up this tune.
You’ve Been So Wonderful to Me (Anna Gordy Gaye, George Gordy, Allen Story) – lilting pop.
(Don’t Break These) Chains of Love (George Beauchamp, Harvey Fuqua, Johnny Bristol) – more towards the MOR Motown was aiming Diana towards.
You Ain’t Livin’ Till You’re Lovin ‘ (Ashford, Simpson) – a cover of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s original that I was not familiar with at the time.
I’ll Set You Free (Gwen Fuqua, B. Gordy, Ivy Jo Hunter, Renee Tener) – my favorite song from Side 2, with the classic Supremes background vocals.
Can’t Shake It Loose (Sidney Barnes, George Clinton, Joanne Jackson, Rose Marie McCoy) Yes, THAT George Clinton, and I don’t mean the former governor of New York.
Greg Burgas sent me a mixed disc featuring Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine, the title track of an apparently not very good 1965 movie. And though I own FOUR Supremes collections (two on vinyl, two on CD), I never owned this song, which is on The Supremes Box Set (2000). Thanks., Greg!

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