Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Discovered 70s gems 2: Tommy James - Draggin' the line

Part two in a list of obscure pop singles from the early 70s.  The chief criteria are personal: I really like them now, but never heard them at the time.

The countdown rolls on:

1.  Dusk (US) - Treat me like a good piece of candy (1971, Bell records)

2.  Tommy James (US) - Draggin' the line (1971, Roulette)
3. Chi-Lites (US) - A letter to myself (1973, Brunswick)

James' heyday was the 1960s, when Tommy James and the Shondells hit the top in the US a couple of times (Hanky Panky and Crimson and Clover); a number of their songs were successfully covered decades later.

But James had a later, fitful, solo career, and Draggin' the line was his biggest.  Catchy but heavy, so-called psychedelic, with a thumping bass riff and a languid vocal delivery.  It's hard not to enjoy it.

Dave Clark - who also went solo (from the Dave Clark Five) - was so impressed he covered this song a few months later, fairly faithfully but hardly as effective.  Surprisingly, in my research I found that REM, too, loved it enough to cover it - for an Austin Powers soundtrack.  The links all take you to the respective renditions on youtube, which demonstrate that everyone's clearly thinking: don't mess up a good thing.

Tommy James' solo singles discography for the 70s (all on Roulette)
  • 1970 Ball And Chain/Candy Maker (R-7084)
  • 1970 Church Street Soul Revival/Draggin' The Line (R-7093; US#62, Wellington,NZ#24 (hit prediction))
  • 1971 Adrienne/Light Of Day (R-7100; US#93)
  • 1971 Draggin' The Line/Bits & Pieces (R-7103; US#4, Aus#20; NZ#19)
  • 1971 I'm Comin' Home/Sing, Sing, Sing (R-7110; US#40 Wgtn#30)
  • 1971 Nothing To Hide/Walk A Country Mile (R-7114; US#41, Wgtn#36)
  • 1972 Tell 'Em Willie Boy's A'Comin'/Forty Days And Forty Nights (R-7119; US#89, Wgtn#54)
  • 1972 Cat's Eye In The Window/Dark Is The Night (R-7126; US#90)
  • 1972 Love Song/Kingston Highway    (R-7130; US#67)
  • 1972 Celebration/The Last One To Know (R-7135; US#95)
  • 1973 Boo, Boo, Don't 'Cha Be Blue/Rings And Things    Roulette (R-7140; US#70, Wgtn#23)
  • 1973 Calico/Hey, My Lady    (R-7147)

- Wikipedia on Tommy James
- Music VF on Tommy James and the Shondells
- Stephen Laug-something-or-other's web page on Tommy James
- Various chart sources including Joel Whitburn and David Kent.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sculptures By The sea

Every year in November, Sculptures By The Sea comes to Sydney: an exhibition laid out on the coastal walk from Tamarama beach to Bondi.  That's only a few beaches away from us, so it's a regular treat for the family.  It's become more and more popular each year - so crowded, in fact, that it's much like Pitt St mall at lunchtime.

This year, I've posted to Picasa a lot of photos from the event. Despite my attempts to crop them to suit, you can tell what a crowd it was by the number of people milling around them.  (It was very hard to take pictures without people standing right against the sculpture.  Many seemed to think the photos should be more about themselves than the art work - thus sullying forever their souvenirs of the art.)

Here's my photo album:
2010 Sculptures by the sea

It's not a full set of the exhibition - just the ones I felt motivated enough to capture.  There's also a bonus photo this year: a whale was spouting in the distance.

I got the catalogue, but deliberately set out to appreciate each art work purely in situ.  If you want to know the name of the artist and work, right-click on the image as if to save it, and the title will be revealed.  However, there's one work I couldn't spot in the catalogue.  If anyone can find out what the untitled photo is, please let me know.

Flake wins my prize for the most ingenious: a traffic light that had seemingly been ripped out of of its location, complete with trailing electric cables and an old bike leaning against it.  Apart from that and the adaptable migrant (the camel above), my favourites were splash and anaconda (immediately above), both for their vibrant colours on a very bright day.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Lost 70s gems: 1. Dusk - Treat me like a good piece of candy

I have been researching pop music of the early 70s.  Specifically, single releases from 1970 to 1974. I'm not interested in the hits nearly so much as those that languished in the lower reaches of the public consciousness.  For that I'm aided by some chart information from Australia, New Zealand, USA, and England.  It's worth noting that listeners in the smaller territories were luckier than most, as the radio stations drew from a wider variety of sources.  New Zealand, for example, absorbed music from all the territories above, and more.

Here begins a list of gems that were uncovered only through deliberate research.  The central tenet for this list is that I'd never heard them before (which eliminates a large number of contenders).  So, at the top of the list comes:

1.  Dusk (US) - Treat me like a good piece of candy (1971, Bell)
2.  Tommy James (US) - Draggin' the line (1971, Roulette)
3.  Chi-Lites (US) - A letter to myself (1973, Brunswick)

This is pure bubblegum pop, complete with questionable lyrics.  Dusk was in fact a studio concoction, built around Peggy Santiglia, one-time lead singer in the Angels, who had a US #1 in 1963 with My Boyfriend's Back ("and you're gonna be sorry"). Why Dusk?  Simply because it was put together by the same writers/producers/label who gave us Dawn.  Some say Dusk was there to pick up on Dawn's rejects.  Certainly the first single, Angel Baby, slots in so neatly between Knock Three Times and Candida that it's tantamount to superfluous.

Why is this one on the list?  It would probably rate as merely good, but Santiglia's gutsy delivery on the refrain ("Trrreat me like a good piece of candy, baby") elevates it to the sublime for me.

Singles Discography
Angel baby (1971 - US#57, Aus#18, NZ#3)
I hear those church bells ringing (1971 - US#53, Aus#8, NZ#3)
Treat me like a good piece of candy (1971 - Aus#77; Wellington NZ: prediction (#26))
Reach out and speak my name (1971)
Point of no return (1972 NZ: prediction)

Most sources don't list the latter two singles.  The only mention I've found of Reach out was a Japanese web site on Toni Wine, who wrote and sang on Candida (but was not destined to be in Dawn).  Other sources include Tom Mix's excellent blog and a blog called The hits just keep on comin'.

Feel free to nominate other candidates for this list - it's not finished yet!  Be warned, though: a) I may well have heard your nominee already; and b) taste for this sort of music is just so subjective!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Spring report 2: 1st November 2010

Today was quite rainy.  In fact, mid-spring in Sydney was a wet time, and the coolest October in 18 years (see the full report in the Herald).  We're not doing too badly - Melbourne's been mopping up after a season of floods.

On the other hand, the drought has finally broken.  For the first time in (fifteen?) years, no region of New South Wales is officially in drought.

What has the weather done to the garden?  The wisteria's flowers were very subdued this year, not only brief but a much smaller display than usual.  On the other hand, once the flowers are gone, the leaves burst out in force, and tendrils shoot everywhere.  Post-bloom, it's been lusher than ever.

As usual, the jasmine and wisteria are fighting it out for living space: this photo shows the jasmine poking up through the wisteria, elsewhere the wisteria is likewise battling the jasmine on its home territory.

Out the back, the star jasmine has been out for about a week, a very heady smell when the temperature goes up.  However, it's been pretty mild this year because of the cooler temperatures.  Still, the jasmine is growing, and as you can see, it's been climbing the umbrella tree.  This year, it's particularly dense in the upper reaches.

What does all this mean for climate change?  In the short term, it's hard to tell.  Over the years, this journal can help record the changes in flowering patterns.  Anecdotally, the easiest thing to say is that there's been a marked volatility in the past few years.