Three From The 70s

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the 1970s used to get a lot of bad press when it came to music. I’m talking about 70s music in general, not to overlook the extra helpings of guano that were hurled at disco and jazz fusion. I never bought into that, what with all the great material we got during that decade from Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye . . . the list is endless. The knocks ended ages ago. Hardly anyone gripes about 70s music anymore. I mean, more so than the tunes from any other decade, it has become the soundtrack to our lives. But what about those who used to parade with their “Disco Sucks” flags held high? Hey, put on Disco Inferno, by The Trammps, or the Stones’ Miss You, and I guarantee that they’ll be boogying on the dance floor like puppy monkey babies. And if you don’t know what a puppy monkey baby is, get with it and click here.

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Which brings us to my abode on a Sunday morning last month. A quiet morning. The neighborhood’s brigade of lawn mowers hadn’t approached the starting line yet, and nearby dogs, for reasons unknown, weren’t barking their f**king heads off. I was listening to WXPN, a radio station based in Philadelphia. It was in the midst of one of its one-off events: The Greatest 70s Music Ever Weekend. I listened for two hours and caught all 22 songs that they played during that span. My degree of awareness varied from song to song, though, depending on each number’s ability to penetrate a mind trying to unravel the secrets of the universe. As usual I didn’t get too far with that. Most of the songs I knew. Man, I hadn’t heard Steve Forbert’s It Isn’t Gonna Be That Way in at least five years. Hadn’t heard Tom Traubert’s Blues, by Tom Waits, in decades. And Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)? Well, anyone who’s a dial flipper like me is going to run across that one a whole lot. It’s probably being played on at least one station in the world at every moment of every day. As well it should be.

The bottom line was that nearly every song on WXPN sounded good or better than good. But three of them rang my bells more than the others. And of those three, one in particular unmoored my boat and sent me . . .

The three songs I liked best are on these albums.
The three songs I liked best are on these albums.

My faves from the morning were Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey, David Bowie’s Wild Is The Wind, and El Condor Pasa (If I Could) by Simon and Garfunkel. Great recordings. Much of humanity is familiar with one or more of them. If I were asked to provide the briefest of descriptions of their essential natures, I’d say, in respective order: heartfelt, majestic, transporting.

I loved these three songs from the first moments that I heard them in the 1970s, which in each case was soon after their release on vinyl albums. Tupelo Honey is my number one song on the album of the same name from which it cometh, and the album is my number one among many primo efforts by Van The Man. Morrison was at the top of his game as a singer and songwriter when Tupelo Honey, the album, came out in 1971. I listened keenly last month as Tupelo Honey, the song, played on WXPN. My, my, my . . . how sweet it was, the languid pacing, each organ and guitar line issued oh so casually yet with a soulful caress, and Van’s voice wrapped tightly around the words, as if letting go would result in life’s lessening. “She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey/She’s an angel of the first degree/She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey/Just like honey, baby, from the bee.” This song is the best (click here to listen).

Yet, David Bowie’s version of Wild Is The Wind might be better. And, David the prolific songwriter, didn’t even pen the tune. It was the title song, written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, of a 1957 movie, Dimitri handling the notes and Ned the words. Wild Is The Wind fit like a glove among Bowie’s compositions on Station To Station, his soaring, riveting album from 1976. Wild Is The Wind is a mysterious ride. Guitars calmly anchor the production with repeating and chiming lines as Bowie’s vocals take flight. His singing is dramatic, touched with eeriness and loaded with falsetto leaps. I sat back on the couch last month and let the sounds wash over me. Wild Is The Wind is the best (click here to listen).

Yet, to me El Condor Pasa (If I Could) is better. Maybe because of its simplicity, its sweet melody that relaxes my knotted guts. And because of Simon’s and Garfunkel’s unaffectedly angelic vocals. And the flutes. No question, it’s the flutes that get to me more than anything.

El Condor Pasa was composed in 1913 by Daniel Alomia Robles, a Peruvian. Robles, the story goes, based his music on traditional Andean folk songs that date back who-knows-how-many-centuries, probably to the time of the Incas. And speaking of Incas, Simon apparently first heard the tune performed by the band Los Incas, with whom he toured a bit during his pre-Garfunkel days. He fell in love with the song. Some years later, Los Incas backed up S & G for the recording of El Condor during the sessions that resulted in a famous album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Simon added lyrics to Robles’ composition. The album came out in 1970 with El Condor as its second track.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for the pure, innocent high notes of Los Incas’ flutes. I heard El Condor on XPN at the beginning of my two hour session. I was still in bed. My eyes might have been open, but I closed them when the song came on the air. Up, up and away it took me. El Condor Pasa (If I Could) is the best. I mean it. Click here to listen.

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(Photo of albums by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on it, a larger image will open)

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A Kite, The Moon, Sandy And I

Few if any ideas are unique. But many ideas are good ones. Last year, for instance, I came upon a good idea while perusing a bunch of websites pertaining to Cape Cod, where my wife Sandy and I would be vacationing a few weeks later. We’ve been hitting the Cape for many years, and we always try to amass a long list of potential activities before our vacations begin. One website was crammed with suggestions about fun things to do on Cape Cod. One of the author’s notions connected with my sweet spot. Go fly a kite, the writer said.

Our kite soared above Cape Cod beaches many times last year.
Our kite soared above Cape Cod beaches many times last year.

Sandy and I did just that. A few days into the vacation we bought a cute and colorful kite in a toy store and headed straight for a section of Atlantic Ocean beach to test it out. I hadn’t flown a kite in at least 50 years. Sandy, surprisingly, never had. We took to the kite as if it were a long lost pal. Over the course of our sojourn the kite, when not aloft, lived on the back seat of our car, always on hand and ready for action. We flew it on beaches all over Cape Cod and in an inland park or two. During the trip, we spent at least ten hours holding the reel of the kite tightly, watching our yellow, purple and blue amigo ride the air currents far overhead. To fly a kite was a very good idea.

Another good idea visited me recently. And it morphed fairly quickly into a better one. Plopped as usual on my living room sofa one day, half listening to WRDV, a low wattage suburban Philadelphia radio station, I heard a song that I’ve always liked. Dancing In The Moonlight, by King Harvest. This happy tune from 1972 got me thinking, as I had been looking for a story idea for my blog. “Ah yes,” I said to myself. “Let’s write something about the Moon.” I hoped that I’d soon hear other Moon-related songs, and then be able to put them into a bit of context. A few days later, example number two arrived when WRDV played a most obscure tune, a sultry and quiet jazzy bonbon from 1939, Dancing On The Beach. It was written by Bulee “Slim” Gaillard and performed by Slim and his then-partner Slam Stewart. The dancing described in the song’s lyrics, admirably delivered nonchalantly by Slim, occurs at night, under moonlight.

I felt that I needed to hear at least one more moony song to increase the meatiness of whatever I might end up writing. But the next one that I caught, Yellow Moon, by The Neville Brothers, was a bad fit for my thesis-to-be. It concerns a guy who, uncertain about his girl’s degree of devotion to him, asks the Moon to tell him what it knows about the lady’s love life. I put Yellow Moon in the discard bin.

A couple of days later though, out on a drive, I turned on Sirius radio and was taken aback by the first tune that emanated. It was Van Morrison’s iconic Moondance. There, the pieces had emerged. Three songs about letting go, about moving freely with someone you love, in partnership with the mysterious energies and powers of Earth’s nearest neighbor. It was time to analyze the songs, compare their calibrations and then start typing.

I studied the songs’ lyrics. In their essences they didn’t diverge very much. In each, under the moon’s spell, folks are grooving and open to the possibilities. “Dancing in the moonlight/Everybody’s feeling warm and bright.” “Dancing on the beach ‘neath the moon above/ Dancing on the beach with the one you love.” “Well, it’s a marvelous night for a Moondance/With the stars up above in your eyes/A fantabulous night to make romance/’Neath the cover of October skies.”

But I saw at least one difference among the tunes. Each, it seemed to me, inhabited a distinguishing milieu. Where else but in a meadow, one undoubtedly full of blissful and merrymaking hippies, could Dancing In The Moonlight be taking place? As for Dancing On The Beach, well, duh. And Moondance, to my reading, finds its home in none other than Van The Man’s grassy backyard.

The Moon illuminating the Scheinin backyard.
The Moon illuminating the Scheinin backyard.

With those and other thoughts in mind, I began to write. But my intent soon took a sharp change in direction when it dawned on me that the end game was not to turn out an essay about the intriguing aura that monnlit dancing casts upon the human psyche. Instead, I came to believe that the musical gods had held a meeting and decided to send a message my way. Sure, they had experienced brain freeze when they allowed me to hear Yellow Moon, but they quickly had regrouped and set things straight by showering me with Moondance. Their message was a simple one: Dance in the moonlight, fella! It’ll be fun. It’ll be good for you.

In my adulthood I’ve been a reluctant dancer. I give it a try at weddings and bar mitzvahs and other celebrations, but other than that, no. But this moonlight idea is intriguing. It might take awhile before my first dance occurs, but I’m going to coax myself. I can see it now  —  Sandy and I in our compact backyard, soft moonbeams filtering through the trees, the two of us flowing as one to the tune playing on the iPhone. Which of course is Moondance. And after that, before year’s end, we dazzle a lunar-lit stretch of sand and sea somewhere as Dancing On The Beach accompanies us. And then a meadow, where Dancing In The Moonlight shapes our movements.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

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