“Love is the answer to everything. It’s the only reason to do anything. If you don’t write stories you love, you’ll never make it. If you don’t write stories that other people love, you’ll never make it.” Ray Bradbury
For those who were teenagers and in their early 20’s in the 1970’s, those words are instantly recognizable as belonging to the song Sister Golden Hair – one of the musical group America’s two songs to hit the top of the Billboard charts.
The song was released on March 19 and took the number one spot on June 14, 1975.
Written by Gerry Beckley – one of the three original members of America – it was a song which seemed to find him. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Beckley says ‘There was no actual Sister Gold Hair.’ The lyrics were largely inspired by the works of Jackson Browne. Beckley commented, ‘[Jackson Browne] has a knack, an ability to put words to music, that is much more like the L.A. approach to just genuine observation as opposed to simplifying it down to its bare essentials… I find Jackson can depress me a little bit, but only through his honesty; and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, Sister Golden Hair, which is probably the more L.A. of my lyrics.’ Beckley adds that Sister Golden Hair ‘was one of the first times I used ‘ain’t’ in a song, but I wasn’t making an effort to. I was just putting myself in that frame of mind and I got those kind of lyrics out of it.’”
Beckley succeeded in creating a song which was a bit depressing. And yet it resonated because of its naked truth. He conveys to the nameless ‘sister golden hair’ that he likes her; heck, he might even love her. But commitment is not in the cards and, what he seems to hope is that she will be willing to accept his terms.
Not exactly a recipe for a successful relationship.
In my journey as a novelist, this song – perhaps more than any other – has provided perspective into the emotions of the male protagonists and antagonists of my stories. But also the psyche of the heroines.
It encapsulates the journey we humans are on. Women and men frequently find themselves at odds with each other because one or the other is not in an emotional place where they are ready for a lifetime commitment… and, yet, the yearning to be loved and cherished persists.
This particular song came out the spring before my 18th birthday. I had recently become involved with a young man in what was my first serious relationship. At the time we thought of ourselves as being so mature, certain we knew everything we needed to know.
But there was Sister Golden Hair to suggest, perhaps, that we had not experienced enough of life to qualify us to be making life altering decisions. We simply did not know what we did not know.
I was Sister Golden Hair in more than one relationship, its lyrics returning to my head when things didn’t work out:
Unless you married your high school sweetheart, the chances are you’ve either been in the position of the singer or a Sister Golden Hair at least once in your life. This song continues to resonate some 47 years later precisely because it captures what it means to be human.
It is difficult to imagine – in today’s world – this Broadway musical ever being a hit, let alone even being made.
But on March 29, 1951, The King and I opened at the St. James theatre in New York for 1,236 performances. The musical was based on a Civil War era novel which chronicled the travels of widow Anna Leonowens and her two children. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“In the early 1860s, (Anna) a widow with two young children, was invited to Siam (now Thailand) by King Mongkut (Rama IV), who wanted her to teach his children and wives the English language and introduce them to British customs. Her experiences during the five years she spent in the country served as the basis for two memoirs, The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870) and Romance of the Harem (1872).
(Novelist Margaret) Landon took Leonowens’ first-person narratives and added details about the Siamese people and their culture taken from other sources. The book has been translated into dozens of languages and has inspired at least six adaptations into various dramatic media:
Anna and the King of Siam (1946 film)
The King and I (1951 stage musical)
The King and I (1956 film musical)
Anna and the King (1972 TV series)
The King and I (1999 animated film musical)
Anna and the King (1999 film)
At the time of its publication, The New York Times called it ‘an inviting escape into an unfamiliar, exotic past… calculated to transport us instantly.’ The Atlantic Monthly described it as “enchanting” and added that ‘the author wears her scholarship with grace, and the amazing story she has to tell is recounted with humor and understanding.’”
For those of us over a certain age, the iconic actor Yul Brenner will forever be remembered as the epitome of the King of Siam; his blunt manners, assertive personality, and certainty of his God-given right to be the ruler, belonging to a different time and era.
And yet audiences everywhere were charmed by the musical, being drawn into a world that no longer existed, by characters who – in our own time and place – would not exist.
For those unfamiliar with the story, here’s the summary of the musical from The Infallible Wikipedia:
“A widowed schoolteacher, Anna, arrives in Bangkok with her young son, Louis, after being summoned to tutor the many children of King Mongkut. Both are introduced to the intimidating Kralahome, Siam’s prime minister, who escorts them to the Royal Palace, where they will live, although Anna had been promised her own house. The King ignores her objections and introduces her to his head wife, Lady Thiang. Anna also meets a recent concubine, a young Burmese, Tuptim, and the fifteen children she will tutor, including his son and heir, Prince Chulalongkorn. In conversation with the other wives, Anna learns Tuptim is in love with Lun Tha, who brought her to Siam.
Anna still wants her own house and teaches the children about the virtues of home life, to the King’s irritation, who disapproves of the influence of other cultures. She comes across Lun Tha and learns that he has been meeting Tuptim in secret. He asks her to arrange a rendezvous. The lovers meet under cover of darkness, and Lun Tha promises he will one day return to Siam and that they will escape together.
King Mongkut becomes troubled over rumors that the British regard him as a barbaric leader and are sending a delegation, including Anna’s old lover, Sir Edward, possibly to turn Siam into a protectorate. Anna persuades the King to receive them in European style by hosting a banquet with European food and music. In return, the King promises to give Anna her own house.
Sir Edward reminisces with Anna in an attempt to bring her back to British society. The King presents Tuptim’s version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a traditional Siamese ballet. However, the King and the Kralahome are not impressed, as the play involves slavery and shows the slaveholding King drowning in the river. During the show, Tuptim left the room to run away with Lun Tha.
After the guests have departed, the king reveals that Tuptim is missing. Anna explains that Tuptim is unhappy because she is just another woman in his eyes. The King retorts that men are entitled to a plenitude of wives, although women must remain faithful. Anna explains the reality of one man loving only one woman and recalls her first dance before she teaches the King how to dance the polka, but the touching moment is shattered when the Kralahome bursts into the room with the news Tuptim has been captured. For her dishonor, the King prepares to whip her despite Anna’s pleas. She implies he is indeed a barbarian. The King then crumples, puts his hand over his heart, and runs out of the room. The Kralahome blames Anna for ruining him as Tuptim is led away in tears after learning Lun Tha was found dead and dumped into the river. That causes Anna to sever all ties as a governess and declare she will leave on the next boat from Siam.
On the night of her departure, Anna learns that the King is dying. Lady Thiang gives Anna his unfinished letter stating his deep gratitude and respect for her, despite their differences. Moments before the ship departs, he gives Anna his ring, as she has always spoken the truth to him, and persuades her and Louis to stay in Bangkok. He passes his title to Prince Chulalongkorn, who then issues a proclamation that ends slavery and states that all subjects will no longer bow down to him. The King dies, satisfied that his kingdom will be all right, and Anna lovingly presses her cheek to his hand.”
I cannot recall if I first saw the musical on TV or if my initial exposure was as an elementary school student during an outing to A.C. Davis High school in the fall of 1968 to see it performed live.
What I do know is that it made an impression on me. A couple of memories stand out. In the fall of 1968 I was in sixth grade. Every fall and spring it was tradition for the elementary school students in the Yakima School District to get to attend the musicals put on by the two high schools: Davis in the autumn and Eisenhower in the spring.
I loved going to Davis for theirs if for no other reason than their building was impressive in a way that Eisenhower’s was not. Davis’ theatre was in a two tiered auditorium with carved columns and an expansive stage that – if you were seated in the balcony – you got to look down on and appreciate the grandeur.
The second reason was, no doubt, due to WHO the choir director was. At the time I did not have an appreciation for what Mrs. (Aletha) Lee Farrell brought to the Yakima community. I do know that my father – by then a teacher at Franklin Junior High – always spoke highly of the woman. What I have learned recently is that Mrs. Farrell was a Julliard trained vocal coach. Yes, Julliard.
A.C. Davis High School productions were always top notch. Due, no doubt, to Lee Farrell’s influence. That particular year she had two female performers who each brought something extra to the stage. The first was a young woman by the name of Nancy Caudill. The other was Oleta Adams. Caudill was the lead as Anna while Adams played the role of the tragic Tuptim.
Both went on to pursue music careers. Nancy in opera and music education and Oleta as a Jazz and Blues singer. Links for both are below.
At the time, of course, it never occurred to me that you don’t have singers of that caliber every year let alone TWO the same year. Whatever Mrs. Farrell was doing at Davis High School she was outstanding at identifying and developing talent.
Which has led me to my musings of today. Somewhat belatedly I’ve come to appreciate the time and society in which I was raised. My generation’s parents and grandparents had a much broader view of what a society should do for its members. Those things involved exposing their children to a more refined culture and elevating such things as music and the arts. Could all of us be outstanding musicians? Of course not. But that was never the point. The Nancy Caudill’s and Oleta Adam’s were the rarity; and while one would likely never experience those sorts of successes, we all benefited by seeing and hearing those whose talent was developed and shared by teachers such as Mrs. Farrell.
I can appreciate the tragic storyline of The King and I and be moved by the Rogers and Hammerstein songs. And I can also appreciate that for one afternoon when I was eleven years old, I got to experience something rich and beautiful; fortunate enough to grow up in a time and place when education immersed us in cultured experiences.
For years I was never quite sure who, exactly, this artist was. He had an interesting name and together with his partner, topped out at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 charts with their song I’d Really Love To See You Tonight in 1976.
England Dan never had a last name in my orbit. But he and John Ford Coley enjoyed a few years riding the wave of soft rock which was so very popular in the era.
The duo met each other in high school and forged their musical reputation in Texas, playing with different cover bands, attracting the attention of record producers, and eventually finding success with Big Tree records.
But who, exactly, was “England” Dan and how did he get that name?
It turns out that he was the younger brother of Jim Seals of, ostensibly, the better known and more commercially successful duo Seals and Croft.
Danny Wayland Seals was born on February 8, 1948. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us of how his name came to be:
“Dan’s childhood nickname, given to him by his brother Jim, was ‘England Dan’ because he was a fan of English rock band The Beatles, and he occasionally adopted an affected English accent. John Colley’s last name was re-spelled ‘Coley’ for ease of pronunciation; ‘Ford’ was added as his middle name for flow purposes, thus England Dan and John Ford Coley.”
While their songs were quite popular on the adult contemporary charts, they did not have enough momentum for an ongoing profession and the duo parted ways in 1980 when Dan moved to Nashville to pursue a solo career.
Now, unless you are a big country fan, the chances are that you’ve never heard a single one of his songs in that genre. I know I have not. From the time they started keeping track of such things, Seals charted 11 number one songs. That’s more than the following ‘big’ names in country music: Trace Adkins (4), Jimmy Buffet (2), Patsy Cline (2), Miranda Lambert (5), and Taylor Swift (9).
In fact, his 11 is tied with Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, and Dierks Bentley. There are only 36 country artists with more number one hits since 1944.
More from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, he released 16 studio albums and charted more than 20 singles on the country charts. Eleven of his singles reached number one: ‘Meet Me in Montana’ (with Marie Osmond), ‘Bop’ (also a No. 42 pop hit), ‘Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)’, ‘You Still Move Me’, ‘I Will Be There’, ‘Three Time Loser’, ‘One Friend’, ‘Addicted’, ‘Big Wheels in the Moonlight’, ‘Love on Arrival’, and ‘Good Times’. Five more of his singles also reached top ten on the same chart.”
Sadly, Seals died of mantle cell lymphoma in 2009. He was only 61 years old.
For me, England Dan and John Ford Coley’s music was a part of the background to life as a 19 year old. The, at times, haunting melodies and wistful longings served to feed the ennui of a time in life when one is trying to find their path. It was, I think, I’d Really Love To See You Tonight, which so eloquently captured young love found and then lost:
Hello, yeah, it’s been a while Not much, how about you? I’m not sure why I called I guess I really just wanted to talk to you
And I was thinking maybe later on We could get together for a while It’s been such a long time And I really do miss your smile
What’s genius about the song is that you never find out if the former lovers ever see each other again.
As a writer, I appreciate how well the musical story was told; it was partially responsible for prompting the question ‘what if’ when I started writing my first novel. “What if” the singer never acted on the thought but then an extraordinary circumstance brings them face to face years later? Well, the possibilities for a fiction writer are endless and the story could end any number of ways.
That song then led to finding and listening to more of their music and my feeling that Seals, especially, was underrated. His voice had a quality which soothed, instantly recognizable. In all he wrote or co-wrote 19 songs, and during his solo career had 36 singles, 13 studio albums, and six compilation albums. Along with John Ford Coley, he produced 10 albums and released 14 singles.
In my travels to Yakima during the 10 years of helping to care for my parents, I added the pair to my “hitchhikers” with their album The Very Best of England Dan and John Ford Coley. It was like discovering them for the first time. How was it I had never heard the wistful Lady, the soulful What Can I Do with This Broken Heart or the haunting Soldier In The Rain?
I discovered that I can listen to them over and over, and never tire of their voices or songs. Which is pretty high praise for any musical artist.
Perhaps no song from the 1970’s has garnered more speculation as to its meaning than Don McLean’s 1972 smash hit American Pie. It was 50 years ago, in January and February 1972, when it sat atop the Billboard charts for four weeks.
From the moment it was released and to this day, no one is entirely certain what the songwriter meant. McLean himself has said this about the song’s lyrics: “They’re beyond analysis. They’re poetry.”
But that declaration has not stopped people from wondering. The memorable tune combined with compelling lyrics imbued the song with staying power. So much so, that the Infallible Wikipedia shares:
“The song was listed as the No. 5 song on the RIAA project Songs of the Century. A truncated version of the song was covered by Madonna in 2000 and reached No. 1 in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. At 8 minutes and 42 seconds, McLean’s combined version is the sixth longest song to enter the Billboard Hot 100 (at the time of release it was the longest). The song also held the record for almost 50 years for being the longest song to reach number one before Taylor Swift’s ‘All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)’ broke the record in 2021. Due to its exceptional length, it was initially released as a two-sided 7-inch single. ‘American Pie’ has been described as ‘one of the most successful and debated songs of the 20th century.’”
The song has made seventy six year old McLean wealthy. His net worth estimated at $50 million. If you’re looking to find out what the song means, McLean himself has quipped: “It means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.”Later, he stated, “You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me … Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.”
When the song became a hit I was 14 years old and – as I’ve written about in other blog posts – a hopelessly romantic, angsty teen. American Pie’s lyrics seemed to speak to my generation on a very personal level. We learned about Buddy Holly, Richie Valance, and The Big Bopper, from the song. There was nothing more tragic than the thought of Holly’s young widow on that fateful February 3, 1959.
But more than that, it was these particular lyrics which seemed to sum up the experience of that time:
Well, I know that you’re in love with him,
‘Cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym,
You both kicked off your shoes,
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues
Illustrative of this idea is my diary post of February 11, 1972. The names HAVE been changed to protect the innocent… I think.
“This week went by fast but tonight was awful. I’ve decided that ‘B’ doesn’t like me. We got Yakima’s officers installed. (A reference to a youth group) After, they had a really crudy* dance. We were telling jokes and I was upset. After a while, and ‘B’ was playing the piano, I think he plays it when something is bugging him. But I’ve decided to forget him, for good! Another boy made my day. I think his name is ‘A.’ He said Hi to me but I was crying.”
Ah, the drama of youth. Eventually, “B” was my boyfriend for a couple of months but, as is true of most such relationships, it was consigned to the dustbin of youthful history. And who knows what caused the tears! Those seemed to be a constant back in the day.
The most ironic thing about American Pie, I think, is the repeated line ‘the day the music died.’ Many have speculated that he was referring to the loss of innocence as well as the death of the three musicians. Perhaps. But ‘the music’ came to life for me in the early 1970’s. I would venture millions of other baby boomers had similar epiphanies in the 60’s and 70’s, thanks to artists like Don McLean and songs like American Pie.
*crudy – derivation of the word ‘crud’ the definition of which, at least how I used it,is: Noun. Slang. ‘something that is worthless, objectionable, or contemptible.’
On December 7, 1974, Singer Songwriter Harry Chapin was, arguably, at the apex of his career. He turned 32 years old that day, his album Verities and Balderdash had been released in late August and was performing well on the charts. Two weeks later, his single Cat’s In The Cradle would claim the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
If he were still alive, Harry Forster Chapin would be celebrating his 79th birthday. Born in New York City, the second of four sons, Chapin’s first exposure to music was trumpet lessons, encouraged no doubt by his father, Jim Chapin, a renowned percussionist. His younger brothers, Tom and Steve, formed a musical group as teenagers and Harry would perform with them.
But music, it seems, was not the direction he went… at least not at first. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:
“He originally intended to be a documentary film-maker and took a job with The Big Fights, a company run by Bill Cayton that owned a large library of classic boxing films. Chapin directed Legendary Champions in 1968, which was nominated for a documentary Academy Award. In 1971, he began focusing on music. With John Wallace, Tim Scott, and Ron Palmer, Chapin started playing in various nightclubs in New York City.”
Having a father in the music business probably helped his career along. He became the prize in a bidding war between two high powered executives at Columbia and Elektra records. The result being a multi-million dollar contract with Elektra which, at the time, was one of the biggest ever signed.
On his debut album was the song Taxi – a wistful story of a chance encounter with an old girlfriend the taxi driver picks up one night. That song catapulted Chapin to fame. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“When asked if the song was true, Chapin said ‘It’s emotionally true, if not literally true. I’ve been in the film business on and off for a lot of years, and wasn’t doing well at one point. So I went out and got a hack license for bread, and during the month that I was waiting for it to come through, I heard an old girlfriend of mine had gotten married and instead of becoming an actress she married a rich guy. I envisioned some night I’d be driving a cab in the big city streets and this lady would get in the back, and I’d turn and look at her and she’d look at me and know we both sold out our dreams.’ Billboard ranked ‘Taxi’ as the 85th song of the year. ‘Taxi’ also earned Chapin a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist of the Year.”
By 1974, Chapin had a string of memorable songs and a reputation as a talented songwriter. Cat’s In the Cradle – his most successful recording – is a poignant and memorable song about a man who has a son, but no time to spend with his child. We follow the man through the stages of life and, at the end of the story, we learn that his son has followed in his father’s footsteps, never finding the time for his family either.
Sadly, Chapin lost his life in a horrific auto accident on July 16, 1981. He was on his way to play, for free, at a benefit concert.
In addition to his music, Chapin championed a number of social issues. In 1987, on what would have been his 45th birthday, Chapin was recognized for his work on behalf of fighting world hunger and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. That award is given to individuals “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”
A few years back, the organizers of a class reunion for my high school sent out a questionnaire as a way of engaging classmates. One of the questions was ‘which song from high school best represents our experience?’
I did not hesitate a moment and wrote Cats In The Cradle. When the list came out at the reunion, I was pleased to see that many of my classmates felt the same way.
Perhaps, that song is Chapin’s most enduring contribution to people everywhere – a reminder that life holds no guarantees and can be over in an instant. The best any of us can do is pause every once in a while and give our time to those we love and value.
Time, after all, is the true currency for all. But it cannot be earned or purchased. It cannot be borrowed. It can only be spent. Chapin seemed to understand this and did so very much with his allotted 38 years.
The lyrics for Cats In The Cradle:
A child arrived just the other day He came to the world in the usual way But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay He learned to walk while I was away And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew He said, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad, You know I’m gonna be like you”
Chorus: And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Dad, I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then,
You know we’ll have a good time then.
My son turned ten just the other day He said “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on lets play Can you teach me to throw? ” I said, “Not today, I got a lot to do” He said “that’s okay” And he walked away but his smile never dimmed And said “I’m gonna be like him, yeah You know I’m going to be like him”
Well he came from college just the other day So much like a man I just had to say, “Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?” He shook his head, and he said with a smile
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys See you later, can I have them please? “
I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away I called him up just the other day I said “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind” He said “I’d love to Dad, if I could find the time. You see my new jobs a hassle, and the kids have the flu. But It’s sure nice talking to you, Dad, It’s been sure nice talking to you…….. “ And as I hung up the phone it had occurred to me He’d grown up just like me, My boy was just like me…………..
This band achieved international fame when its song “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” hit number one on the Billboard charts November 9, 1974.
Simply saying the letters B-T-O is enough for most who were teenagers in the 1970’s. For those who don’t know, the group is Bachman-Turner Overdrive which, for a few short years, was able to pack stadiums and concert halls with their rock and roll music.
Randy Bachman played with a group called Brave Belt whose sound was decidedly country. That all changed one night. We go to the Infallible Wikipedia to learn about the group’s beginning:
“…the seeds of the BTO sound were sown at a university gig in Thunder Bay, Ontario, shortly after (Chad) Allan’s departure. A promoter, disheartened with reactions to Allan’s country-flavoured songs, which the band was still playing, decided to sack Brave Belt for the Saturday night show and bring in a more rock-oriented replacement from Toronto. When that didn’t materialize, he begged Brave Belt to stay on and play a set of classic rock cover songs. As the band played songs like ‘Proud Mary’, ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘All Right Now’, the dance floor filled up and, according to Randy, ‘We instantly saw the difference between playing sit-down music people could talk over and playing music they would jump out of their seats and dance to.’
After Reprise Records dropped Brave Belt from their label, Randy Bachman emptied his own bank account to finance another set of recordings with the Brave Belt II lineup, and began to shop around the next album. Said Randy in 1974, ‘I went to A&M, Epic, Atlantic, Columbia, Asylum – you name it. A week later, I’d get letters saying ‘Dear Randy, We pass.’ We’re thinking of calling our greatest hits album We Pass and printing all those refusals on the jacket. I’ve got all 22 of them.’
The band eventually landed a deal with Mercury Records, one which Randy proclaimed as a pure stroke of luck. In April 1973, Charlie Fach of Mercury Records returned to his office after a trip to France to find a stack of unplayed demo tapes waiting on his desk. Wanting to start completely fresh, he took a trash can and slid all the tapes into it except one which missed the can and fell onto the floor. Fach picked up the tape and noticed Bachman’s name on it. He remembered talking to him the previous year and had told Bachman that if he ever put a demo together to send it to him.”
Bachman shared further:
“’I could hear ‘Gimme Your Money Please’ playing in the background, and that was the first song on the tape. Back then, you sent out two 7+1/2-inch reels of your album, an A-side and a B-side, and that was side one, cut one. He said, ‘Randy, this is fabulous. Is the rest of the album like this?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s all just good ol’, dancing rock-and-roll.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have a meeting with my A&R people, but as far as I’m concerned, this is great and I want to sign it.’”
With their record deal in hand, the group needed a new name. While at a steak house in Ontario, one of the members saw a trucker’s magazine called Overdrive. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Turner wrote ‘Bachman–Turner Overdrive’ and the initials ‘B.T.O.’ on a napkin. The rest of the band decided the addition of ‘Overdrive’ was the perfect way to describe their music.”
The group’s most famous song, perhaps, is one which always gets crowds up and moving, hands inevitably being clapped in time to the memorable beat: Takin’ Care of Business.
Now, to be fair, I knew the group’s songs. I’d danced to them. Truly who had not heard of BTO? But I did not own any of their albums and would not be considered a super fan.
And, like most – if not all – successful musical acts, there comes a day when the people are not showing up in the tens of thousands to hear you; when your songs no longer get the radio air time; when your venues are now nightclubs frequented by 30 and 40 something baby boomers who had a rare night out and saw that you were in town.
Which brings us to March of 1995. The hubby had a business conference in Orlando. What better excuse did we need to pack up the two kids – ages 5 and (almost) 2 – and fly across the country for a few days at Disney World and explore Florida?
We rented a condo and a car and spent a couple days doing the Disney thing before the hubby had to go to his conference. The kids and I drove out to the Atlantic Ocean and got sunburned at Cocoa Beach; we went to SeaWorld; we hung out at the pool by the condo ; we played and had a great time.
But, like all vacations, the day arrived when once more we had to get on that plane and head home.
When my kids were little, I had a strategy for flying. If the plane had six seats across with the aisle in the middle, I would split the family up so that each child was in charge of a parent. I also made sure to book the window and center seats as being able to look out was good for at least two half hour segments of the plane ride.
And so it was when we boarded the plane in Orlando which would take us to Los Angeles and then to Seattle. Our seats were near the back of the plane with my daughter and I on the right side and the hubby and son on the left. Because we were traveling with children, we boarded before most of the other passengers.
The plane filled up. Among the last to board were a group of four: three men and one woman who had the four aisle seats: the two adjacent to our middle and window seats, and two aisle seats in the row in front of our row.
As I look up at my ‘seatmate’ – a forty something man with longish hair, I note the expression which clearly says, “Damn, I drew the Mom with the small child.” I had seen that look before. I’d probably given that look before.
What my seatmate did NOT know is that I was anything BUT the typical mom with the small child. I came prepared for every trip we ever took with an arsenal of activities. I had a half dozen favorite books. I carried snacks. My daughter had a tape player with headphones and listened to stories on tape. I would gift wrap small toys and give them out at various intervals to keep my children occupied.
On this particular trip I had made a ‘dollhouse’ for my daughter’s two inch tall Playmobile Dolls out of three nested shoe boxes. The plane prizes for my daughter were some new dolls and small pieces of furniture to go in the house. That ‘house’ did wonders keeping her engaged.
Eventually, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate and learned that his name was Blair. I asked what had brought him to Orlando to which he replied that he was in a band that had played a gig there.
“Oh, might I have heard of your band?”
He smiled and said, “It’s ETO.”
ETO? Nope. I had never heard of ETO. BTO, yes. ELO – Electric Light Orchestra, yes. But not a band called ETO.
I shook my head and said I wasn’t familiar with it.
We chatted off and on throughout the flight. I learned that the woman sitting across the aisle was his wife. He had ordered the vegetarian meal option but didn’t like the doughnut which came with it so he gave that to me. In all, it was a pleasant flight. We were on final approach to Los Angeles when Blair turns to me and says, “You know, I was worried when I saw where I was sitting but your children are the best behaved kids I’ve seen on a plane… and I’ve seen a lot.”
I thanked him for his kind words, wished him well, and he deplaned, while we stayed on for the last leg to Seattle.
It was only AFTER they had left that I began to wonder who, exactly, had I been seated next to. I told the hubby the band was named ETO which, as one can imagine, got the ‘are you sure’ face. The identity of my seatmate was now bugging me. Once we got home, things were unloaded and the kids settled, I ventured into the closet where the hubby kept his collection of vinyl albums and thumbed through them until I found BTO. I flipped the album over and there on the back cover was the face of one Blair Thornton, the bass guitar player for BTO smiling back at me. I shook my head, irritated by my lack of asking additional questions of Blair.
I had noted that Blair wore a rather large hearing aid; something that seemed out of place for a guy his age. Apparently, however, I WAS the one who needed it that day. I kept the doughnut he gave me for a time but it wasn’t exactly the sort of memento one keeps from a rock star.
Instead the words echoed through my head… “Here’s something that you never gonna forget… B-b-b-baby, you just ain’t seen n-n-nothing yet” the day I flew across the United States with Bachman Turner Overdrive.
Paul McCartney once said of this ballad that it is ‘the killer song of all times.’ Pretty high praise from someone who’s written more than a few great songs himself.
Since its release by the group Badfinger on their 1970 album ‘No Dice’, Without You has been recorded by over 180 artists. Of those Harry Nillson’s version was the most successful, sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks from February 19 to March 11, 1972.
The song was borne through the work of two of Badfinger’s members: Pete Ham and Tom Evans. The Infallible Wikipedia shares how the song was written:
“Pete Ham wrote a song originally titled ‘If It’s Love’, but it had lacked a strong chorus. At the time of writing, the band shared residence with the Mojos at 7 Park Avenue in Golders Green. One evening, in the midst of the parties, songwriting, touring, in Golders Green, Ham and his girlfriend Beverly Tucker were about to go out for the evening. But just as they were leaving Tom Evans said he had an idea for a song – Ham said, ‘Not tonight, I’ve promised Bev.’ But she thought he would be wondering if he had done the right thing later, if he went out, – she told him – ‘Go into the studio, I’m fine about it’ … He said, ‘Your mouth is smiling, but your eyes are sad.’ The song Ham wrote that night was called ‘If it’s Love’ and has the verse ‘Well I can’t forget tomorrow, when I think of all my sorrow, I had you there but then I let you go, and now it’s only fair that I should let you know … if it’s love’. But Ham wasn’t happy with the chorus.
Evans’ relationship with his future wife Marianne influenced his lyrics:
One evening he [Evans] went to her [Marianne’s] friend Karen and told Karen, ‘She’s left me. I need her back. I can’t live without her.’ He flew to Bonn to find her – he wrote a song called ‘I Can’t Live’. Its chorus included ‘I can’t live, if living is without you, I can’t live, I can’t give any more.’ And so the merging of the two songs, Ham and Evans created the hit [with] Ham’s verse, ‘warm, sweet, sentimental’ and Evans’ chorus, ‘intense, dramatic, heartbreaking.’
Both Ham and Evans said they did not consider the song to have much potential at the time Badfinger recorded it, and the track was slotted to close the first side of their 1970 album No Dice. Badfinger’s recording of the song, which is more brusque than its successors’ versions, was not released as a single in Europe or North America.”
The lyrics and the melody are an amazing combination of a soulful, unforgettable tune, and lyrics which capture the pain of heartbreak.
In the writing of this article, I ended up listening to the ten most successful versions of the song. It was recorded by several country artists, as well as R&B favorite Ruby Winters and, more recently pop Diva, Mariah Carey. Pop Groups Heart and Air Supply each have versions.
And all, in my opinion – including the original Badfinger rendition – pale in comparison to Nillson’s version; when he sings the song, seems to really mean it. Now, I suppose that my love of that interpretation can be traced back to the fall of 1971 when pop radio was a huge part of my life.
I remember listening to this song as well as hearing it played at the various dances I attended. Who wouldn’t want to dance with that cute guy you had a crush on while the words ‘Can’t live, if living is without you’ seemed the most romantic thing you’d ever heard? Exactly.
For teenagers, it seems, everything is MORE. Feelings are more intense. First love is more intense. First breakup is more intense. Without You captured all of that in one heart-wrenching song.
From the perch of a different time of life, however, one comes to understand that along the way that first love usually fades and others follow. That first breakup – which at the time does seem like the end of the world – starts to be not quite so life ending.
The intense feelings give way to other needs: to eat, to work, to live life. And, for most people, one eventually understands that, as cliché as it may sound, life does go on.
Being a teenager was emotionally exhausting if for no other reason than most teens hold the erroneous belief that NO ONE EVER has felt the same way as them. But it’s simply not true.
If someone had told me this at the time I probably wouldn’t have believed them. Of course no one had ever felt like I felt. In my arrogance I was certain that I had a monopoly on heartache and disappointment.
It was only some decades later that I belatedly came to understand that everyone has problems in life. Or, as I frequently say, Everyone has ‘stuff.’ I might have used a different, not as benign word but, since this is a family friendly blog, I’ll leave it as stuff.
Whatever ‘stuff’ you are facing my friends, I wish you the strength to get through it.
Hers is a household name. Superficially, she is known for her over the top persona as a country music performer and icon. There is, however, a reason for her successful career which has now spanned 60 years. Long before Madonna or Lady Gaga invented their outrageous selves, we had Dolly Parton, a true original.
Today, January 19, 2021, marks the singer/songwriter’s 75th birthday.
It’s been a remarkable career. Especially for a woman born in a one room cabin in east Tennessee. The family was beyond broke but it was, perhaps, that beginning which helped to galvanize Parton’s will. We turn to the Infallible Wikipedia for the background:
“Parton has described her family as being ‘dirt poor.’ Parton’s father paid the doctor who helped deliver her with a bag of cornmeal. She outlined her family’s poverty in her early songs ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and ‘In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)’. For approximately 6 to 7 years, Parton and her family lived in a rustic, one-bedroom cabin on a small subsistence farm on Locust Ridge. This was a predominately Pentecostal area located north of the Greenbrier Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains. Music played an important role in her early life. She was brought up in the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), in a congregation her grandfather, Jake Robert Owens, pastored. Her earliest public performances were in the church, beginning at age six. At seven, she started playing a homemade guitar. When she was eight, her uncle bought her first real guitar.
Parton began performing as a child, singing on local radio and television programs in the East Tennessee area.] By ten, she was appearing on The Cas Walker Show on both WIVK Radio and WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee. At 13, she was recording (the single ‘Puppy Love’) on a small Louisiana label, Goldband Records, and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, where she first met Johnny Cash, who encouraged her to follow her own instincts regarding her career.”
Unless you were a fan of country music you likely had never heard of Parton until the 1970’s or 1980’s. It was in these two decades that her career crossed over into the Top 40 charts; she was also cast in several movies and featured on variety music shows with such stars as Cher and Carol Burnett.
Parton has won two Academy Awards, seven Grammys, 11 Country Music Association awards, and five Golden Globes. In her career, she has sold over 100 million records.
In my mind, however, it is her songwriting which will be her most enduring legacy. I would argue that she’s been, perhaps, the most prolific and successful songwriter of the 20th century.
During an interview on Larry King Live in March 2009, she answered his question about how many songs she’d written this way:
“Well, you know, I don’t count them, Larry. But I’ve been writing since I was a little bitty girl. I was probably 7 years old when I started playing the guitar and writing some serious songs. So, I know that I have at least 3,000 songs that I have written. I’ve got songs in boxes, drawers, stuff I carried from home when I left, that I still haven’t gotten through. And I write something almost every day, least an idea down. But that’s not to say they’re all good, but that’s what I do and it’s what I love to do.”
I understand how powerful the impetus to write is for a person. One’s brain is constantly tumbling new ideas and thinking ‘what if.’
Songwriting, however, is a completely different world and one which inspires awe, at least for me. For some songwriters, they hear the music and can create that alone. For others, they work with composers to make a marriage of their poetic words with someone else’s music. And then there are those, like Dolly Parton, who do both things. It’s a rare talent.
Over 3,000 songs – that was in 2009 – and she is still writing them. Amazing.
When the hubby, my son and daughter, and I visited Nashville in 2013, we toured the Country Music Hall of Fame (CMHF); A truly fascinating place which pays tribute to the biggest stars of the genre.
My favorite section in the building turned out to be an interactive display which featured five Country Music songwriters including, of course, Dolly Parton. The rest of the visitors, as well as my own family, melted into the background as I really began to understand and appreciate Parton’s amazing contribution to the American experience.
It was there – still reading about Parton – that the family found me quite some time later and pretty much had to force me to leave to go get lunch.
The fact that I never got through the entire display just gives me an excuse to return to Nashville so I can read the rest of what I missed. Next time I’ll head straight to that section of the CMHF. And, as long as I’m in Tennessee, I think continuing east for a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains and Dollywood might also be in order. Sounds like a great roadtrip!
The exhaustive article from the Infallible Wikipedia is found here:
This Canadian born singer-songwriter wrote more than 200 published songs in the folk-rock/country genre and was one of several who pioneered what became known as soft rock in the 1970’s.
Gordon Lightfoot’s distinctive voice and style – with a penchant for melancholy – made him a favorite for angsty teenage girls of the era. If You Could Read My Mind – his first US hit – was released in December 1970, rising to number five on the Top 40 and number one on the US Easy Listening charts in February 1971. Other hits followed including Sundown – his only number one Top 40 hit – was immediately followed up by Carefree Highway (#10 on the Top 40 and #1 on the Easy Listening Charts). The hits continued for several years and the classic Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald reached the Top 40 number two spot the week of November 20, 1976.
Today, November 17th, is Gordon Lightfoot’s 82nd birthday.
Lightfoot is considered by many Canadians to be their greatest songwriter. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Gordon Lightfoot’s music career has spanned more than six decades, producing more than 200 recordings. He helped define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s, with his songs recorded by artists such as Bob Dylan, Gene Clark, Dan Fogelberg, Jimmy Buffett, and Jim Croce. The Canadian band The Guess Who recorded a song called ‘Lightfoot’ on their 1968 album Wheatfield Soul; the lyrics contain many Lightfoot song titles.
Bob Dylan made this comment about the artist: ‘I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever…. Lightfoot became a mentor for a long time. I think he probably still is to this day.’
In June 2017, Lightfoot rated fifth in the CBC’s list of the 25 best Canadian songwriters ever.
Lightfoot’s biographer, Nicholas Jennings, sums up his legacy this way: ‘His name is synonymous with timeless songs about trains and shipwrecks, rivers and highways, lovers and loneliness. His music defined the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He is unquestionably Canada’s greatest songwriter.’”
Perhaps the thing one most admires about Lightfoot is that it has, apparently, always been about the music and the songs. Even when the folk rock sound lost popularity, he stayed true to his roots and his passion, keeping his base of loyal fans who have continued to attend his performances. Sadly, some health issues in the past few years have impacted his ability to perform but one suspects that as long as he walks this earth he will continue to sing, write music, and share that music.
It was the song If You Could Read My Mind which first brought Lightfoot to my attention. As a young teenager, it was the folk rock/soft rock songs which I preferred. I recall going to Valu-Mart in Yakima where I bought my first 45 records. Three were purchased that day, one of those the aforementioned If You Could Read My Mind.
For my regular readers, you know that I like to weave a story which ties in to the person or theme of each week’s blog. I’ve had this topic set for November 17th for some time now and even when I began writing it I wasn’t sure where it would take me.
As the hubby said this evening, serendipity was at work this week. For the past 11 days, he and I have been on a mission which brought us to Arizona. We’d been tasked with the job of packing up and sending back to his parents all their personal belongings from a trailer home they’ve owned in Apache Junction for the past 16 years. Due to some health concerns the decision was made to sell the place. But someone had to go in person to do it.
On November 5th, he and I left Washington State headed south. We traveled 500 miles a day, and navigated the Covid world with as few personal interactions as possible. The job was huge: make sure that we get everything back to his parents that they wanted, clean it up, sell a car and sell the trailer. All in just over 6 days if possible.
On Saturday, November 14th, we crammed the car with things that simply were not shippable (we packed and sent 21 shipping boxes!) including an outdoor metal floral piece and a roughly 2 ½ foot long by 1 ½ foot tall ceramic donkey which I dubbed the wonky donkey.
We headed north on Highway 17, headed for a detour to see Sedona (worth it!) and then to spend the first night of the return trip in Flagstaff. After getting gas at the last Costco in north Phoenix, we continued up the free way for about 17 miles and ended up on highway 76… also known as The Carefree Highway.
Sure enough, we had found the place which inspired one of Gordon Lightfoot’s most popular songs. The hubby obliged when I asked him to take a photo of me at one of the intersections. Of course I then had to look up the lyrics. As is typical of many of Lightfoot’s songs, the lyrics are a bit of conundrum. But this section seemed somewhat appropriate to the task at hand:
Turnin’ back the pages to the times I love best I wonder if she’ll ever do the same Now the thing that I call livin’ is just bein’ satisfied With knowin’ I got no one left to blame Carefree highway, got ta see you my old flame Carefree highway, you seen better days The mornin’ after blues from my head down to my shoes Carefree highway, let me slip away Slip away on you.
There was sadness for the hubby and me as we drove away from his parents’ place, knowing that everyone would have preferred that they could spend another winter there. As I packed up every single personal item, I came to understand this place was so much more than just a winter getaway, for them is was their Carefree Highway and a special place they truly called home.
If there was one thing the 1970’s was known for it was the plethora of questionable songs and their popularity. I’ve covered some of these songs in previous articles. Songs like Muskrat Loveand The Streak, for example. Another questionable song was at the top of the charts for one week in July 1977.
Alan O’Day – the singer who penned the tune – dubbed it a “nocturnal novelette.” An apt description for this schlocky song.
Undercover Angel, in my opinion, should never have made it to number one. Perhaps the lyrics were just racy enough and just cryptic enough to cause the teenagers of the era to listen again and again in an effort to dissect its meaning.
The Infallible Wikipedia offers a brief hint:
“The song begins with a man describing his loneliness, when a woman suddenly appears in his bed and encourages him to make love to her. The rest of the song describes his feelings about her, then he discovers she must leave him, and he is saddened. She tells him to ‘go find the right one, love her and then, when you look into her eyes you’ll see me again’.
It then becomes apparent that he has been telling this story to a woman he is trying to seduce; he tells her he is ‘looking for my angel in your sweet, loving eyes’.”
That said, the whole premise of this song is a bit disturbing. I would describe it a bit differently: A creepy guy has nocturnal fantasies which he then shares as a way to try and pick up a girl. Then, if the lyrics aren’t bad enough, the actual song itself has a repetitive and suggestive ‘oo-oo-oo-wee’ being sung over and over and over.
I turned 20 the year this record was popular and, being tuned in to music, knew the song but never thought much about it. Until the summer of 2013, that is. My own daughter – who just so happened to be 20 that year too – had started working at Michael’s (craft store).
As the weeks wore on she would come home and complain about the awful ‘70’s music’ which played on continuous loop through the store’s intercom system. I suppose they broadcast music of that era to appease the 40 and 50 something soccer moms who were their biggest customers. But it drove my daughter crazy.
There were two songs which she particularly loathed: Knock Three Times by Tony Orlando and Dawn and the one she dubbed the angel song… Undercover Angel.
This is not my actual daughter… but close enough.
In fact, if I wanted to bug her all I had to do was sing ‘oo-oo-oo-wee’ like O’Day did on the record and she would tell me to stop in no uncertain terms. My fun ended when she moved away at the end of that summer, probably just to escape the music where she worked and, possibly, me for having a little fun at her expense.
Who knew that the worst songs of the 1970’s would live on as earworms* and haunt future generations decades later? It makes me wonder what songs of subsequent eras which were very popular are now seen by today’s teens as ridiculous: Barbie Girl? Macarena? Wannabe?
I think I need to call my daughter and ask her opinion… but not before I sing ‘oo-oo-oo-wee’ to her. It will make her day.
*An earworm, according to the Infallible Wikipedia, is “a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.”