170: Laura Nyro, ‘Luckie’ (“Eli & the 13th Confession”)

Posted by jeff on Mar 8, 2018 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Laura Nyro

Today we’re going to track the evolution of the first two measures of ‘Luckie’, the ebullient opening track on Laura Nyro’s masterpiece. “Eli & the 13th Confession”. I can’t promise that next week we’ll track the next two bars, although the entire album does deserve such reverential attention.

Once upon a time, there was a gospel singer named Curtis Mayfield, who snuck out the back door of his Chicago church and formed The Impressions (‘People Get Ready’, ‘It’s All Right’). Curtis wrote and arranged all the songs, a veritable one-man Motown. He had such a surplus of talent that he wrote and produced hits for his Impressions bandmate Jerry Butler, (‘For Your Precious Love’, ‘He Will Break Your Heart’) and for a two-hit wonder, Major Lance. ‘Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um’ (1964) was a charmer, but it was ‘The Monkey Time’ (1963) that made Major’s name and Curtis a pile of dough. I can’t think of a more infectious Top 40 song.

Curtis Mayfield

Here’s an instructional video about how to do The Monkey (as opposed to The Jerk), should you be so moved. (After locking the door) I just tried it together with Major Lance and the Shindig dancers, and it went pretty well. Maybe not as well as in this gambol of that other great Monkey hit, ‘Mickey’s Monkey’ by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Chalk it up to my pigmental predilections. At least the Monkey’s off my back.

Listen again to the end of each verse of ‘The Monkey Time’: ‘…and then the music begins to play/You’re automatically on your way./Are you ready? (Are you ready?)/Well, you get yours, ‘cause I’ve got mine/It’s the Monkey Time!’Stop dancing for a minute, and bookmark that phrase!

Now let’s hop ahead to 1965 to Barbara Mason, a lass of 18 from Philadelphia: “I was a huge Curtis Mayfield fan, and I heard a record he had produced, Major Lance’s ‘The Monkey Time’ and he sings, ‘Are you ready?’ and I just thought, there’s my record. It only took me 10 minutes to write, and then we recorded it live in one take.”

Barbara Mason

Yes, I’m Ready’ was a giant hit, a harbinger of the Philly Soul sound which would achieve fruition in the 1970s. Her song was covered numerous times (Gladys Knight & the Pips, Carla Thomas), and became a hit again in 1979 for Teri DeSario & K.C. Interestingly, the only significant cover of ‘The Monkey Time’ was by Laura Nyro herself, backed by Labelle, on her knockout 1971 cover album, ‘Gonna Take a Miracle’. Here’s a live performance from the 1971 Carnegie Hall bootleg. I guess The Monkey beat was pretty daunting. But check out the opening cut, ‘I Met Him on a Sunday’. Here’s the original, by The Shirelles. 1:0 for the white girl!

That brings us up to March, 1968, the release of Laura Nyro’s “Eli & the 13th Confession”. Listen again to how ‘Luckie’ starts.

Bum-bum-bum, “Yes, I’m ready!!” Recognize that phrase?

Laura Nyro

Whoa, Laura! Not too much ambiguity there, is there folks? Ready for what? Well, mister, you just name it. You have to remember this was written in 1968. Girls didn’t talk like that in 1968. They certainly didn’t shout such things.

And that’s just the first two measures. In the rest of the song, she wrestled with the Devil and won. Jacob did that and got appointed a forefather! Here, let me show you.

Yes, I’m ready, so come on, Luckie
Well, there’s an avenue of Devil who believe in stone
You can meet the captain at the dead-end zone
What Devil doesn’t know is that Devil can’t stay
Doesn’t know he’s seen his day

Oh, Luckie’s taking over and his clover shows
Devil can’t get out of hand
‘Cause Luckie’s taking over
And what Luckie says goes

Laura Nyro Fighting the Devil

Dig them potatoes
If you’ve never dug your girl before
Poor little Devil, he’s a backseat man
To Luckie forever more

It’s a wrestling match, Good Vibrations vs Sympathy for the Devil. And this 21-year old banshee takes her grand piano and bashes old Lucifer on the noggin. You ain’t bringing me down, mister! It’s not luck, it’s an act of will. My friend MB from Back Then: “I took my first LSD trip alone in my parents’ house in the middle of the night, and was scared shitless. I put on “Eli & the 13th Confession”. Laura walked me through that night, and I’ve never let go of her hand since.” Laura got me through a missile attack with a similar act of no-holds-barred optimism. You gonna get in my face? Yes, I’m ready.

Laura Nyro Fan

I’m starting to feel like The Ancient Mariner – accosting unsuspecting revelers, grabbing them by the lapel, sticking my nose right up in their face, my feverish eyes gaping unblinking into theirs, to force upon them The Question: “Do you adequately appreciate Laura Nyro’s musical accomplishments?” I have no idea why, but I sometimes feel people shrinking back from this sort of engagement. With Laura, I mean. If she’s that good, why isn’t she famous?

One reason is that she effectively removed herself from the music business at 24. Others? She was quirky, personally and musically. She was seriously intense, intensely joyous. Demanding, over-the-top. She was divine, spiritual, fearless, unblinking in the face of any and every passion. An ancient mariner for our times.

I really am getting tired of quoting the litany of her praises, of quoting how Elton John and Elvis Costello and Bette Midler and Bonnie Raitt and Rickie Lee Jones and Susan Vega all recognize her as a major voice in the days when rock music was asserting itself as the torchbearer of popular culture. Even Joni Mitchell, a person known to be stingy in crediting her peers, said “Laura Nyro you can lump me in with, because Laura exerted an influence on me. I looked to her and took some direction from her.”

Joni Mitchell (l), Laura Nyro

A revolution in women’s self-image began in the 1960s. Today it’s easy to relegate The Music to the status of soundtrack. Those of us who were there know it was the inspiration. With all due credit to Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, and even Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, there were two women who forged this new awareness – Laura and Joni. Carol King came along a few years later.

Laura Nyro

I grant that Joni is the more compleat artist. She had a long, variegated, accomplished career. She was a mistress of craft par excellence, a singularly soulful voice, musically courageous, a trailblazer of unparalleled achievement. It diminishes her not one whit to point out that where Joni was an artisan, Laura was wild. Joni was analytical, Laura was spontaneous. Joni was in control of her material, her voice, her compositions. Laura was an unfettered inspiration in all. Joni dismounted walls brick by brick. Laura detonated them. It was she who inspired rock musicians, male and female, to heed no boundaries of tempo, genre, or superego. She was the natural snow, the unstudied sea, a cameo, born for the loom’s desire. She still ornaments the earth. For me.


Yes, I’m ready, so come on, Luckie

 Well, there’s an avenue of Devil who believe in stone
You can meet the captain at the dead-end zone
What Devil doesn’t know is that Devil can’t stay
Doesn’t know he’s seen his day

Oh, Luckie’s taking over and his clover shows
Devil can’t get out of hand
‘Cause Luckie’s taking over
And what Luckie says goes

Dig them potatoes
If you’ve never dug your girl before
Poor little Devil, he’s a backseat man
To Luckie forever more

Yes, I’m ready, so come on, Luckie
Luckie inside of me, inside of my mind, inside of my mind

Don’t go falling for Naughty
Don’t go falling for Naughty
He’s a dragon with his double bite
Sure can do his shortchanging out of sight
An artist of a sort but a little bit short of luck, this lucky night

Oh, Luckie’s taking over and his clover shows
Devil can’t get out of hand
‘Cause Luckie’s taking over
And what Luckie says goes

Dig them potatoes
If you’ve never dug your girl before
Poor little Naughty, he’s a backseat man
To Luckie forever, a backseat man
To Luckie, hey, hey, hey
It’s a real good day to go get Luckie, go get Luckie

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

036: Laura Nyro, ‘Sweet Blindness’ (“Eli & the 13th Confession”)
154: Laura Nyro, ‘Save the Country’
202: Laura Nyro, ‘The Confession’
233: Laura Nyro, ‘And When I Die’
270: Laura Nyro, ‘Stoney End’ (Seattle Bootleg, 1971)

Songs of The Week: Joni Mitchell
Songs of The Week: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles


107: The Association, ‘Everything That Touches You’

Posted by jeff on Dec 20, 2017 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Hey, y’all, join me this week for a walk on the wha? side, a stroll along the tightrope between the sublime and the embarrassing, an exploration of the no-man’s land between refined taste and that which makes our blood bubble and our minds swoon. The confection of adolescence, The Pop Song.

I once took a paying job, helping a very untalented, Miss Piggy-clone wannabe pop diva (with wealthy, well-connected, criminally persistent parents) translate her lyrics into proper popper English. The music was so bad that—well, let’s just leave well enough alone, it was really bad. And after a week of working on it, I found the tunes sticking to my mind. Skipping through my synapses while I was shaving, ringtoning my brain while I was reading Rilke, subliminially muzaking beneath my consciousness while having a Meaningful Discussion with my Significant Other. And this was some terrible, terrible music. We’re talking stuff that makes Britney Spears sound like Baruch Spinoza.

So I said to my friend EG that perhaps they’re not such bad tunes if they stick to my brain like that. “Bubblegum,” he answered. “Your brain sat on a big pink pre-masticated wad of Bazooka. That don’t make it good. It makes it inextricable.”

Clearly, I think I learned something from that experience. Think back to the Top 40 songs of your Junior High School incarnation. I remember thinking – nay, feeling – that ‘Theme to a Summer Place’ was sublime, that ‘Enchanted Sea‘ was the pinnacle of exotica, that ‘Bernadine’ was about as sexy as a song could get.

Given, prepubescent imbecility, including my own, is an easy target. The strange part, what’s puzzling me now, is the obverse side of that swooning, the songs that I am not inclined to stand up on a soapbox and praise as unacknowledged masterpieces, but yet that I’m also not ready to dismiss as pop pablum. I’ve called certain songs masterpieces without blushing, such as Smokey Robinson’s ‘The Tracks of My Tears’ (SoTW 28) and Burt Bacharach/Dionne Warwick’s ‘Walk On By’ (SoTW 34). But what about The Fleetwoods’ ‘Mr. Blue’, Skeeter Davis’s ‘End of the World’ or ‘It’s All in the Game’ by Tommy Edwards (SoTW 23)? I called the latter a “very beautiful, touching ballad that has been playing over and over in my head for almost half a century now”.  No gainsaying that these are pop fodder. But they’re also indelibly carved in our hearts and our musical minds, not mere wads of Bazooka.

Pat Boone in the film ‘Bernadine’

Fast forward to 1968, when the music, the world, and Jeff were all presumably more mature, sophisticated and discerning. “There was music in the cafes at night, and revolution in the air.” A lot of very fine music. It seemed that every week, two or three albums were being released that demanded and justified repeated listening, some for weeks, frequently for months and years. Many for decades. Almost fifty years on, so much of the music of the late 1960s still speaks strongly and convincingly. Much of it is still inspiring and instructive. I listened this week to the first two albums by Love, who have a rabid following here in our little corner of the Middle East half a century on (found the first one weak but the second quite respectable), and to Moby Grape’s first (a 5-star album the day it was released, and still is today).

Um, Jeff, this is Song of The Week, right? Wanna get to the point?

Ok. The point is that the border between fine music and cheap pop is sometimes fuzzy, even to me, subjectively. So here comes a song. I’m not sure whether I should be shouting its praises or not speaking of it to anyone whose opinion I value.

The Association. They formed in 1965, one of the numerous California early rock groups with roots in the folk movement, bringing with them close harmonies and consciousness of the poetic potential of lyrics—The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, many others. The niche of The Association, a new term I just learned this minute, was ‘sunshine pop’, characterized by a cheerful attitude, close vocal harmonies and sophisticated production, the sound track of California escapism, including groups such as The Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, and other lesser lights such as The 5th Dimension, Harpers Bizarre and Spanky and Our Gang.

Their first single, ‘Along Comes Mary’, was a charter member of the club of songs whose lyrics were reputed to obliquely refer to Devil Marijuana, such as ‘Eight Miles High’ (SoTW 226), ‘Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35’, ‘Mellow Yellow’ and even ‘Puff, The Magic Dragon’. ‘Along Comes Mary’ (live from the Monterey Festival) has Dylanesque long phrases, 60% More Words!! crammed inside a single breath. What happens if an infinite number of stoned teenagers spend an infinite number of hours trying to grab the words “Andwhenthemorningofthewarning’spassed, thegassedandflaccidkidsareflungacrossthestars, Thepsychodramasandthetraumasgonethesongsareleftunsungandhunguponthescars…” ‘Along Comes Mary’ was released in July 1966. “Sgt Pepper”, released a month earlier, was the first album to include lyrics. So stick your ear right up close to the speaker, kids, and write fast.

The Association’s material came from a number of sources, none of the band members providing a real auteur voice. Perhaps the strongest presence was producer Jerry Yester (brother of guitarist Jim), who went on to replace Zal Yanovsky in The Lovin’ Spoonful and contribute masterful arrangements to some of John Sebastian’s greatest compositions, such as ‘She’s Still a Mystery’ and ‘Six O’Clock’.

‘Mary’ hit #7, and was soon followed by three consecutive #1 hits: ‘Cherish’ (the beautifulest/shlockiest song ever recorded), ‘Windy’ (a sunnier version of New Yorker Paul Simon’s overcast ‘Cloudy’/’Feeling Groovy’) and ‘Never My Love’ (according to BMI, the second-most played song in the twentieth century!). In my ears today, they’re all respectable— memorable melodies, good harmonies, strong hooks, distinctive arrangements–but not songs I would put on my desert island playlist.

The song that’s been on my mind for the last couple of years is the last and commercially least in their string of hits, the runt of the litter, ‘Everything That Touches You‘. Written by vocalist/wind instrumentalist Terry Kirkman (also ‘Cherish’), the song is a rich pastiche of drums and bass and guitars and keyboards and chorus, an exuberant, loving melody, soaring harmonies, a hook-laden bass, a devotional love song, a hippie anthem.

I revisited and became preoccupied with this song a few years ago when I was doodling over a screenplay project imagining an almost unknown band from the late 1960s whose one minor hit achieved an unpredictable posthumous grassroots cult following many years later (inspired by the true story of Eva Cassidy—see SoTW 029). You can read those doodles here. I needed to write lyrics for their one hit, which I imagined as a ‘hippie anthem’. Looking for a model, my first thought was ‘Let’s Get Together’ by The Youngbloods and the pre-Grace Jefferson Airplane. Apocryphal description from Life’s coverage of Woodstock: “There was a small car that drove very slowly with the throngs of young people walking along the road. A hippie girl sitting on the roof of the car with a little, battery operated record player kept playing The Youngblood’s version of this song over and over and over again; supplying a solid contribution to the ‘peace and love’ vibe that permeated the whole magical weekend.” I don’t know if it’s literally true; but I was there, walking down that very road, and I can attest that that’s the most truthful image I can conjure of the entire festival, more than anything that took place onstage. But I wanted a more commercial model. ‘Everything That Touches You’ wheedled its way into my consciousness, where it’s stayed since.

I’ve been listening to the song regularly for a couple of years now. Is it sophisticated bubblegum music that my brain sat on? Is it an elegant, inspiring pop gem? I really can’t decide, and I’d be most grateful to y’all if you’d contribute your thoughts and comments right here in the Reply box below.

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103: Little Stevie Wonder, ‘Fingertips’

Posted by jeff on Oct 25, 2017 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Have you ever thought about the relative personal-ness of the various wind instruments? It’s a subject that occupies me at various moments of repose. How much harder it is to get a personal tone on, say a brass instrument (trumpet, valve trombone) than it is on a saxophone, for instance? Not that a brass player can’t express his personality on his ax; but it’s a whole lot harder to recognize a trumpeter from just a few notes than it is a saxophonist. A pianist is even harder. A glockenspielist may be even harder than that. A vocalist, obviously is the most individually expressive instrument, but God made that one, so it’s not really a fair competition. Anyway, it seems to me that running a close second to the human voice, and far ahead of the rest of the pack of wind instruments, is the harmonica.

Read more…

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265: Dion DiMucci, ‘Abraham, Martin and John’

Posted by jeff on Jun 23, 2017 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Dion — ‘The Wanderer’

Dion — ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’

Dion — ‘Kickin’ Child’

Dion — ‘Spoonful’

Dion — ‘I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound’

Back in my playwrighting days I used to tape a short note to the screen (it was the early days of word processors), right in front of my eyes, the key message I needed to focus on (“Put the girl behind the 8-ball! Keep the girl behind the 8-ball!!” or “He doesn’t take the gun out till the third act!” For this piece I resorted to that old habit: “Jeff, move it forward or you’ll never finish.” And of course I didn’t, and I didn’t’.

imagesI had hoped to cover the whole arc of Dion’s career here, but I of course got bogged down in his riveting, obscure years in the later 1960s and managed only the first 11 years (out of 49). That’s alright. Dion’s worth revisiting.

You all know ‘Runaraound Sue’ and ‘The Wanderer’. If you’re of a certain age, you might even know our ostensible Song of The Week ‘Abraham, Martin and John’. But chances are you’ve only scratched the surface. Our SoTW isn’t really about that song, it’s about Dion 1964-68, floundering careerly, knocking out lots of bold, innovative, relevant contemporary music during one of the most interesting periods in pop music – a legend languishing in drugs and obscurity.

Dylan (on “Kickin’ Child”): “If you want to hear a great singer, listen to Dion. His voice takes its color from all palettes–he’s never lost it–his genius has never deserted him.” You can’t always take Bobby’s recommendations at face value. This one I think you can. As a matter of fact, if you look closely, you might just reach the conclusion that Dion was the most respectable and successful and honest follower of his Columbia stablemate, both in covers and in original songs, as well as the entire nascent folk-rock sensibility.

c5dbf8747d64f5323c916ed993630d4eDion DiMucci is a really cool guy. A nice guy, a walking and talking legend who has been consistently (more or less) knocking out fresh, appealing music for longer than anyone else on earth, and deserves a whole lot of appreciation.

How many major recording artists from the 1950s can you name who successfully transitioned through the British Invasion to remain relevant, honest, creative musicians. I can name one. Elvis? He died in the army. Chuck Berry? Fats Domino? The Everly Brothers? No, no, and no.

Was Dion any different from Ricky Nelson or The Everly Brothers or Roy Orbison or Elvis Presley?
They all started as teen mega-idols in the late 50s. Their work has stood the test of time—they were the best of their era (excepting the great Buddy Holly, whose early death appears more tragic with each passing decade). These were never Fabians, but real creative artists (as far as that was possible in the Brill Building/Top 40 culture of the time. When the Brits came, they grew their hair and tried to remain au courant. Unsuccessfully. Each faded in his own way (Rick in a plane crash, Don and Phil in acrimony, Roy in personal tragedy, Elvis in pills and pitiful self-parody.)

dion-60s-2-500Dion sank into drugs in the mid-60s, disappeared from the public eye, struggled commercially for many years before finally attaining some degree of recognition for his ongoing musical achievements in his later years. But those struggles produced almost 30 original, interesting albums between 1967 and 2017!

I’ve been gorging myself on that corpus, but I’ve only partially digested it. He switched recording companies frequently, and some of his best work was never released or only in secret. But every single one is worth listening to (and talking about, thank goodness).

1957-60, Wop Doo Wop

Authentic doo-wop Bronxters, The Belmonts had hits with ‘I Wonder Why’ (“We sang ‘gna gna gna’ because the only lyrics we could think of all included ‘knockers’), ‘A Teenager in Love’ (Dick Clark’s audience painfully clapping on 1/3), ‘Where or When’ (from the 1937 Rogers and Hart musical “Babes in Arms”). In 1959, on tour in Iowa, he gave up his seat ($36 was a month’s rent for his parents) on the plane which crashed, killing Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper (‘the day the music died’).  Young Bobby Zimmerman saw a show from that tour, and if you’re wondering what effect it had on him, listen to his Nobel speech. By the next year Dion was being treated for heroin addiction.

1960-64 Tearing Open His Shirt

Where's 'Rosie'??

Where’s ‘Rosie’??

He recorded a string of hits which still are still utterly convincing today – ‘Lonely Teenager’ (this live acoustic version is so reminiscent of Buddy Holly’s apartment tapes; it’s delicious to imagine how John Lennon would have reacted to this), ‘Runaround Sue’ (time capsule material), ‘The Wanderer’ (more swagger than Jagger), the knockout ‘Little Diane’ (darkest, most manic kazoo ever), ‘Lovers Who Wander’ for the little Laurie label. He then moved to Columbia (their first ‘rock’ signing), where he had a string of moneymakers, including the oh-so-cool Leiber-StollerRuby Baby’ (originally by The Drifters) and ‘Donna the Prima Donna’, despite a burgeoning heroin addiction.

Dion wrote or co-wrote most of his material, an anomaly at the time. No one had yet dreamed of the term ‘singer-songwriter’.

1965-67 The Harbinger Unnoticed

Looking to leverage his pop success, Mitch Miller of Columbia tried to make Dion (“Last of the One-Name Singers”) into a Las Vegas crooner. But he was coming under the sway of producer John Hammond, with a pronounced predilection for the acoustic blues (e.g., ‘Spoonful‘) which he maintains till today.

05813584d5af614f7ff971bf79e73349Then he hooked up with Tom Wilson, the Columbia producer he shared with folkie Dylan. Conventional wisdom says that Wilson made Dion sound like “Bringing It All Back Home” Dylan. It seems at least as likely that Wilson made Dylan sound like Dion. Think about it. Who of the three of them really knew electric blues and rock and roll (Wilson’s background was avant garde jazz)?

On December 8, 1964, with Dylan out on tour, Wilson recorded Dion with the expressed purpose of trying to imagine what Dylan would sound like in an electric context. Here’s ‘So Much Younger’ from that session.

Then Wilson took Dylan’s ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and overdubbed a rock band on it. Dylan liked it so much he recorded immediately recorded the electric tracks for BIABH (January 13-15, 1965). (Wilson would pull the same trick on folkies Simon and Garfunkel, electrifying their acoustic ‘Sounds of Silence’ in abstentia with studio musicians.)

dion050710wDion’s 1964-65 discography is rich, intriguing and murky. Most of it wasn’t released at the time. Compilations were made in 1991’s “Bronx Blues”, 2007’s “The Road I’m On”, the 2015 box set “King of the New York Streets”, and the recently released “Kickin’ Child: The Lost Album 1965” (given a glowing 5-star review by All Music’s Thom Jurek: “It’s absolutely one of the greatest folk-rock records ever”).

During mid-1965, Dion and Wilson (with help from one Al Kooper) recorded the tracks on “Kickin’ Child”. They include some of the most honest readings of Dylan songs I’ve ever heard, some of them obscure gems: ‘Baby, I’m In the Mood for You’ (Dylan’s version), ‘Farewell’ (Dylan), and ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ (Dylan). There are also Dion-penned cuts that, to be honest, aren’t all that distinguishable from ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ et al, such as ‘Kickin’ Child’, ‘My Love’, ‘Two Ton Feather’.

728b3454c652aa8016efdf36c61414c7You have to remember that Dylan was being heard only by folkies, and there was tremendous pressure by The Suits to capitalize on his potential in the pop market (“Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan”). There was also a desire by some of the more open-minded folkies to explore the lands discovered by The Beatles. Thus was born folk-rock, the dominant aesthetic in serious popular music for the past two or three generations.

Cher, The Turtles, Them, The Byrds – all of a sudden everyone was generating hits from Dylan songs cast in a rock context. They all were of course misdirected. Does The Byrds’ ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ (also electrified in the studio) illuminate Dylan’s original? I think not. I think it’s a commercially-successful, historically significant but artistically insignificant gesture.

pepperdionColumbia and McGuinn/Clarke/Crosby/Hillman should have understood – let Byrds be Byrds, not Dylan wannabes. Dion was never a bandwagoner. He was a rocker before The Beatles (of enough stature that they’d put him on the cover of “Sgt Pepper”; together with Dylan, the only live Americans to be so honored).  Dion’s Dylan recordings are genuine, honest, and as opposed to all the aforementioned hits—totally legitimate readings.

Most of the recordings went unreleased at the time, so Dion reunited with The Belmonts on ABC records in 1966-67 for another musically ambitious album very much of the era, “Together Again”.  The album tanked in the US, but generated a number of charted covers in the UK, including the flower-power ‘My Girl the Month of May’ (covered by The Bunch, including Sandy Denny and Richard and Linda Thompson) and ‘Your Own Backyard’ (a minor 1970 hit, a confessional account of his ongoing struggles with H, successfully covered by Mott the Hoople).

Thought I saw him walking along a hill...

Thought I saw him walking along a hill…

In 1968, following another period of cleaning up his habit and getting reacquainted with the Church of his youth, he went back to the little Laurie label to record a mix of (again) forward-looking contemporary covers. It includes a soft, acoustic ‘Purple Haze’; a very cool ‘Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever’ (this is years before James Taylor or anyone else gave intelligent, gentle white readings of Motown power classics); songs by Canadian brand-newcomers Joni Mitchell (‘Both Sides Now’) and Leonard Cohen (‘Sisters of Mercy’); and a mash-up of the Dylan gem ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’ with Fred Neil’s ‘Everybody’s Talking’ (a year before Nilsson’s version), as well as a few respectable originals – very similar to Judy Collins’ influential album of covers from the year before “In My Life”.

But little Laurie had a caveat – Dion had to include ‘Abraham, Martin and John’, inspired by Martin Luther King’s and Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations (tied to those of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy), perhaps the last patriotic song to come from ‘our’ side of the fence before the shit hit the fan several weeks later in Chicago.

hqdefaultThe song was written by Dick Holler and produced by Phil Gernhard, who had worked together back in Baton Rouge, Lousiana, where Dick led The Rockets (later The Holidays), a local band that included at times Jimmy Clanton, Dr John Rebennack and Johnny Rivers. Holler had a minor hit with ‘A Double Shot of My Baby’s Love’ (better known as the cover by the Swinging Medallions) and a major one with ‘Snoopy vs. the Red Baron’ as recorded by The Royal Guardsmen.

‘AM&J’ was a major hit, still covered today. Perhaps not Dion’s most typical song, but respectable, touching. (Who among us is not profoundly saddened by those assassinations and the change they wrought on our world?) Okay, that harp is just a bit gushy (Dion added some classical guitar just to class it up a bit–gee, we never even got to talk about what a fine guitarist he is.)

Ah, there’s so much more to tell. But my time has run out, as I’m sure has your patience. So I’ll just have to leave y’all cliffhanging till the next installment of that long, tortuous road Dion has travelled, and the fine music he’s made along the way.

We hope to continue the Dion saga. In the meantime, you can keep yourself busy with his unknown masterpiece, SoTW 082, “Sit Down, Old Friend“.

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