Text © Robert Barry Francos
Videos and images from the Internet
This was a cassette tape that I believe I put together in the mid- to late-‘80s. The videos (when available) that follow are not necessarily the versions on the tape, but it’s the closest I could find. As usual (but not always), my tapes are a mix with no general theme, just random songs I really liked at the time (and most likely still do).
Tom Paxton - Last Thing on My Mind
This is, indeed, one of folk legend Paxton’s best known songs. It’s a beautiful and melodic heartbreaker, with a lilting minor-key chorus for emphasis. “Well, I coulda loved you better / Didn’t mean to be unkind.” What I like about his is that it doesn’t blame anyone, as he is willing to accept his own fault in the fail of the relationship.
Get Wet - Morton Street
One of the strongest songs on their album, and one of the few not weighted down by bad production, this is another powerful piece about a woman in love with a gay man who leaves her to go cruising. Sherri Beachfront’s voice cuts through the listener like a razor of heartfelt pain as she cries out, “Don’t go down to the piers tonight!” This video was taken at the Ritz at a Girls Nite Out show, and yes, I was there! I was so happy to see that this video existed, and I highly recommend playing some of their other songs, as well. And check out my interview with the band in the preceding blog.
Paula and Carole - Open Window Song
I’m not quite sure what is the appeal to me about the music from this children’s program, The Magic Garden, but it seems I know a lot of rockers who agree. Carole was actually the original Sandy Dumbrowski on Broadway (if you have to ask…). There is just something appealing about their voices. Amazingly, I could find lots of videos from the show, but not this song!
Jennifer - Time is On the Run
Way before she was Jennifer Warnes, she was known simply as Jennifer. I first fell in love with her rich voice during a Smothers Brothers reunion show, and then through her co- and back-up work for Mason Williams and Leonard Cohen. When her breakthrough Right Time of the Night album came out in 1976, I was fortunate enough to see her play at the Bottom Line. This particular song, from her second album, released in 1969, is backed merely with percussion; it bops and bounces silkily along in a nearly a capella staccato.
Keith Carradine - It Don’t Worry Me
This tune is from the amazing soundtrack to the film Nashville. The One of Altman’s best (in my opinion), but the soundtrack is almost its own entity, as these cuts rarely appear in the film in same production. As a “various artists” release, it stands on its own, with gems by the likes of Ronee Blakey, and this subtle slice of Americana. It sounds like it could have been written by Woody rather than the son of John. Right from it’s start, it has a powerful image: “They say this train don’t give out rides / But it don’t worry me.” While Keith had a hit with another song (see later), this one is just as good. Barbara Harris sang it in the film.
Beatles - While My Guitar Gently Weeps
This is as much a Beatles song as is “Yesterday.” It is solid George Harrison at his best, and heaven knows I’m not the first one to expound this. And I certainly feel no need to go on and on; the song speaks for itself.
Harry Chapin - Caroline
Not only could Harry tell a great song story of disenchantment, loneliness, and despair, he could also present a beautiful love ballad. This is, if you will, his equivalent of S&G’s “For Emily Whenever I May Find Her.” He explains how fleeting his relationship with her as she “Whispers her words / Saying she'll always love me / At least when we are together.”
Buffy St.-Marie - Universal Soldier
I first learned this song as a child at Camp HES, around the time the Vietnam “war” was just heating up and protest songs were becoming big (we also learned Phil Ochs “Draft Dodger Rag”). Buffy has an unmistakable voice, but what appeals to me is just the sheer dedication she projects. If you’ve ever seen her perform, the woman is solid sincerity. Her “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone” is just as amazing.
Lucy Simon - If You Ever Believed
While her sister Carly garnered most of the fame, I always enjoyed Lucy’s voice and songwriting better. She came out with two solo albums in the ‘70s, and both are gorgeous. This song is another of longing, as are many on this tape, letting her ex- know, “Hey, if you ever believed / Then come back to me / There’s someone who needs you.” It’s pleading without whining, a rare feat. Recently, Lucy wrote the score to the play “The Secret Garden,” but I’d love to hear more of her as herself.
Get Wet - Single
Shari Beachfront’s beautiful voice is in fine form, as is her “theatricality”. She told me she acts out her songs as she’s singing them, and this is one that shows a wide, wide range as she changes keys upward a couple of times only to be even more mournfully reinforcing that she’s “back to single.” Along with “Morton Street,” this shows her wide range and talent as a performer, as well as singer.
Seeds - Can’t Seem to Make You Mine
Okay, this has to be the whiniest song in the history of rock’n’roll, but also one of the great rhythms. Just recently it started to be used in some TV commercial, though it had also been covered years ago as one of the early solo releases by Alex Chilton (who possibly did it even whinier!). The exclamations of pain between each line of the stanzas are both wrenching and humorous at the same time. When Sky Saxon sings, “Can’t you see what yer doin’ to me / You fill my heart with-a misery / With every breath, every step I take / I’m more in love with you,” the listener can feel it in a palpable way.
Standells - Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White
From the first time I heard this song in the early ‘70s (played to me by Bernie Kugel), I found it to be a better song than “Dirty Water,” which in itself was an amazing release. The Standells were great when it came to musical catch-phrases, and “SGGDWW” is definitely one of them. All you have do is hear that beat and know what song it is. And the use of lyrical rhyme all works, with the tongue-twisting “I’m a poor boy born in the rubble,” as they ask important social questions, such as “Good guy, bad guy, which is which / The white collar worker or the digger in the ditch / Man, who’s to say who’s the better man / When I’ve always done the best I can. ”
Zombies - Tell Her No
I had almost forgotten about this song until I heard a very early version of the Nervus Rex (their first show) play it, and had an “oh, yeah,” moment. I went out and bought it soon after. The Zombs had bigger hits with the trippy “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season,” and they are both rightfully standards, but this early Mersey Beat-style release is no less interesting (sort of like Deep Purple and “Hush”). ”
Keith Carradine - I’m Easy
This won the Oscar for best song of the year, and while I don’t always like the winners, this one is just fine. Keith’s trembling voice over the melody is sort of like a bird hugging the wind. His musical career never went much further than the Nashville soundtrack, but it’s still a legacy of which to be proud.
Lucy Simon - Pavane
Lucy’s soaring vocals hum along to Gabriel Fauré s classical piece that has no lyrics, but she still makes the piece into a showcase for her voice. One can easily find “straight” versions of this on YouTube, but I still prefer Lucy’s.
Lucy Simon - From Time to Time to Time
Remembrance of a first, innocent, childhood love is explored with fond memories and smoky imagery that is a smile-raiser. She remembers walking along the beach, holding hands, and that he wasn’t very tall, but mostly that she still thinks of him from…well, the title says it.
Get Wet - Just So Lonely
They were just so close to making it, it’s heartbreaking. Here’s a clip of Sherri lip syncing on some TV show. GW looks at the more pop side of “low-wow-wow-wow-wow-nliness” in their playful style. While I was more fond of their more baroque tunes like the two above, they also had a flair for the “bounce.”
Bob Gibson & Hamilton Camp - Well, Well, Well
The version on my tape is a live cut from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Spirituals were big back then, as were duos like Joe & Eddy. Singers Bob and Hamilton (a Canadian who was also a commonly seen actor in the ‘60s and ‘70s on such shows as a classic The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Love, American Style) blend their voices in a warning and sobbing style that both harmonizes and plays off each other in amazing ways.
The Cramps - Bikini Girls With Machine Guns
One of the last great Cramps songs to show off their rhythmic nuances and flair, this is silly, but remains a true vision of their philosophy (“I’ve got my own ideas about the righteous kick / You can keep the reward, I’d just assumed stay sick”) Ivy’s guitar playing here is in top form, as well. For the video, ironically, some of the lyrics had to be changed (“Drag racer on LSD” to “Drag racer from Tennessee,” and “bare-assed on top of the Sphinx” to “bare-backed”), even though images of bestiality (“I even had a gorilla on the slopes of Kismet”) and the message remain.
Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson - Candy
At the start of the song, Iggy states “It’s 1990…it’s been 20 years.” Well, next year will be 40, but I digress. This is based on a true person in Iggy’s life, and the song definitely shows the soft side of a very hard (i.e., muscular) man. Kate Pierson gives a fine turn as the object of the song and showing her non-B-52’s side (as she also did with REM’s “Shinny Happy People”). She goes full out, as does Iggy, with his limited range. Their work together here is what makes the song for me. And, hopefully, her pretty face isn’t going to hell.
Jefferson Airplane - Somebody to Love
While I’m not into much of the Haight-Ashbury experience, the Airplane had a sound that connected with me. Grace Slick has always said that she has a limited range, but she uses it to full force here. While not as subtle as “White Rabbit,” it’s still a signpost for the love generation.
Lyons and Clark - I Thought I Would Try
A one-album group from the mid-‘70s, this sort of fell into my hands when the record company gave me a copy while I was waiting to interview some douchebag, which made the whole experience worth it. I don’t think it will ever be released in CD form, so occasionally I pull this LP out and just play it from cover to cover. This song is one of the cream-on-top-ers of an album of cream. They remind me of the Murmurs, with lush harmonies and meaningful lyrics, which are sentimental, but rarely mushy. Enjoying singing, writing and musicianship, and yet not over produced. A winner that was lost in the mix, for sure.
Harry Chapin - She Sings Her Songs Without Words
Another Chapin love song that is gentle and melodic, something Chapin used rarely, but effectively.
Roy Orbison - It’s Over
The man has a freakish voice, and I mean that in a positive way. This is such a classic, that all I can say is, just listen.
The Cynics - Summer’s Gone
One of the very early songs by this underrated post-garage band from the Pittsburgh area. Before they went a bit harder toned (and still sounding great), there was this period of psychedelic garage sound that was wispy with lots of middle notes and harmonies. Of that period, this remains one of my favorites of the band. Of course, my middle period topper is “Girl, You’re On My Mind,” but that should be obvious.
Cheepskates - Run Better Run
Shaun Flaubert led this garage band from the ‘80s revival period, and the Cheepskates were one of the key figures on the scene. I saw them often on bills with the likes of the Tryfles and the Vipers. “Run Better Run,” again, has a great musical phrase that will stick to you for long after its listening. Nowadays, Shaun works with Dave Rave and Gary Pig Gold, and is still worth checking out. Note that the song appears after the interview:
Elvis Costello - Alison
I was never a big fan of early Costello, actually, though I saw him play MSG with the Replacements opening for him (Hi, Nancy!). “Watching the Detectives” was okay, but this was the only song of his that I liked from first listen. And of all the many versions of it, his remains my favorite.
The Scruffs - When Donna Romances
This Tennessee band never achieved A-level, but this non-LP single gets played more than their album on my turntable. Again, I don’t know if this will ever see CD-hood, but it’s a good pop-in-a-‘70s-underground-vein listen. They’d make a good double bill with the Slickee Boys.
The Seekers - Another You
Another song I first heard as a child in camp. It was on the radio constantly, and then disappeared. I didn’t remember who did it, so I never sought it out. Eventually, I found out it was the Seekers and went out and got it years after the fact, in the mid-‘70s (around the time I discovered the Ramones). From Australia, they had a distinctive folk-based pop sound, elevated by Judith Durham’s soaring vocals. It’s still a beautiful thing to hear.
Paula & Carole - See Ya
The perfect way to end this tape.