It’s been a while since my last post. The words might not be coming out regularly, but the parade of vinyl into my den has not stopped. I’ve picked a few records I’d like to share observations about, and then step outside my addiction with a farewell.
Had some luck a few weeks ago at my local Goodwill. Those come few and far between for me. No I didn’t find a butcher block Beatles cover, but there were some nice titles in good condition for a buck each.
One record I had on my wantlist was The Voice of Scott McKenzie. Believe it or not, this is the 50th anniversary of The Summer of Love. We’ve lost a lot of sounds from that magical summer in San Francisco. Jerry Garcia, long gone, Paul Kantner died last year in the great meatgrinder of 2016. Janis dead. Hendrix gone. But McKenzie is still alive. Who? McKenzie was a kind of folkyish singer whose only big hit was the anthemic “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair.)” He is only credited with two albums. I actually found Voice to be pretty enjoyable. He has a pretty good mid-range voice and sings some pretty good songs. Four are penned by John Phillips of Mamas and Papas fame, he does a nice cover of “Reason to Believe” by Tim Hardin, as well as a John Sebastian’s “It’s Not Time Now.” His warm voice suits the folk-rock material quite well. I need to listen to it again.
A second record in my Goodwill pickup was an anthology, The Drifters Golden Hits from 1968. Normally I stay away from anthologies, but I hadn’t really listened to the Drifters before, and kind of had them pegged as just another doo wop band. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This record simply oozes great songs: “Under the Boardwalk,” “On Broadway,” “Save the Last Dance For Me,” and “Up on the Roof” to name just a few. Great songs by great songwriters by a band that included Clyde McPhatter and Ben E. King. Even the peripheral songs were really good. Their LP’s are from the late 50’s and early 60’s, so not easy gets, but it makes me thinks I should be trying harder with Sam Cooke, The Coasters and The Platters.
Let’s talk Dolly Parton. I’ve admired her early solo music for some time. For all her goofy big boobs, wigs and make-up gig, none of that changes the fact that she is a fine songwriter and singer. In the early 70’s, after she escaped the clutches of Porter Wagoner, she did some excellent work. My favorite Parton song is “Jolene” from the album of the same name from 1974. I set about to acquire a used copy, but it was just spendy and hard to come by, so I went for the 2015 repressing by Music on Vinyl. A single listen convinced me I made the right choice. In addition to the title track, it also includes Parton’s fine version (shit, it’s her song) of I Will Always Love You. Though the rest of the songs didn’t stand out for me-because I’ve only listened to them once-they were all as delightful mix of up-tempo songs and ballads featuring Parton’s voice out in front. A great record and not limited to country music fans only. “Jolene” was recorded by a plethora of other artists including most recently by Parton herself with the a capella group Pentatonix. Good stuff.
Finally, let me close with a sad farewell to Stuart McLean, the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s radio broadcast of The Vinyl Cafe. I’m a long time listener of National Public Radio, and McLean hosted this engaging hour of storytelling and music Sunday afternoons on the Seattle NPR affiliate, KUOW. For those who believe The Vinyl Cafe was no more than a north of the border copy of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, that simply was not so. McLean’s hour was really devoted to telling stories. From his opening monologue, that was really devoted to the city hosting his radio show from Halifax, to Fredericton, to Vancouver to his own stories of Marley and Dave and the improbable but frequently hilarious situations they’d find themselves in, to stories shared by the show’s listeners, The Vinyl Cafe was about sharing tales. Nothing too heavy, nothing too intellectual, but smart and literate, something everyone could relate to. Yes, there was music, often very good music from the week’s location on the tour. But the show was never about that. The tunes were just a moment’s interlude so the stories could continue. But at the center of it all was McLean, with his knack for great timing, deference to his audience, and bottomless reservoir of good humor.
Stuart McLean died a week ago, Wednesday February 15th, after a two year fight against melanoma. He was only 68. It is difficult to see how the show carries on without him, the storyteller-in-chief. It’s just another reminder that the world turns, things change, and there is terribly little time for sorrow.