November/December Charts of Yore

I’m in a pattern of putting these up after every two months’ worth of shows; why stop now?

For a fine blow-by-blow of this chart, you’ll want to check out Neck Pickup here. Just for the record, the missing LDD was “Love Will Keep Us Together.”

Hello/Goodbye: The first three songs on the show were by newbies.

As for my rankings, it’s great to see old pal Al Stewart on top. I’m disappointed in myself for not letting Boz get any higher than #13, though.

This comes from my lazy period, a couple of weeks after I’d broken my left wrist. It’s one of three lists on a single 8.5″ by 11″ sheet (the last three weeks of November are on it).

Hello/Goodbye: Player, High Inergy, and Bob Welch all bow in for the first time.

Next, a couple more of WKRQ’s lists. The 1977 chart is the second one in my collection; this may be just about been the time I began listening to them. Overall it feels like they’re a little behind the times–a lot of songs in the bottom half of the chart had already faded nationally. I hated that Kenny Loggins song back then. As for 1980, I’m not surprised to see the Stones so high, nor the Kansas and Seger cuts present.

And here are the backs. Don’t remember Bruce Ryan, but I doubt I was listening in the mornings in late 1977, anyway. Regarding the $1 million prize: Cincinnati radio had a huge promotion war in the second half of 1980. An upstart Top 40 station started it by giving away $500,000 to a listener in the late summer, followed by a like prize to a school. As you can tell, Q102’s owner upped the ante; hope Mary used the money wisely.

Bonus 1977 coverage! I re-discovered this putting this post together. It’s on the back side of the sheet with the above 1977 chart. I believe the correct chronological order is left-bottom-right, but don’t ask what the * and @ symbols mean, ’cause I don’t remember. Sorta like Q102, certain songs were hanging around for a loooong time: for instance, “Easy,” “Give a Little Bit,” and “Whatcha Gonna Do?” had been gone from AT40 for over a month by this point (I had all three 45s, though, and I’ll bet I played them a bunch). I guess maybe I’ve always been a chart maker…

Four more below the fold…

Continue reading “November/December Charts of Yore”

Forgotten Albums: 3 Mustaphas 3, Heart of Uncle

When I began teaching assistant duties in the fall of 1987, the students in my two Calc I recitation sections were only about five years younger than I was. Whether that made the job easier or harder, well, you’ve got me. On one hand, even if I didn’t come from the Chicago suburbs like so many of them did, we stil had roughly the same popular culture references to draw upon. I could be their advocate as the need arose with the professor who ran the course and lectured three times each week. On the other, while I knew how to do first-semester calculus, that hardly meant I understood it well enough, or had enough experience with it, to help my charges better grasp course material during our Tuesday-Thursday Q&A sessions. Regardless, at least one of them must have had an okay experience: I ran into Dave occasionally around campus over the following couple of years, and in the spring of 1990, he invited me to join his fantasy baseball league (took 2nd place that year, and 3rd in 1991).

The following semester I was given complete charge of a trigonometry class. A valuable experience, but I struggled with having so much responsibility for the first time. The worst of it was determining final grades in borderline cases. After the semester ended, I received a lengthy, impassioned, typed letter from Kathleen, who’d wound up on the low end of such a decision. She and I had met in my office shortly after grades had been posted to talk about the situation, and her letter arrived in my departmental mailbox early the next week. The grade assigned had real world consequences; it would keep her from admission to the program of her choice in the College of Education. “I know this is what the numbers say but sometimes you have to look past the numbers, William, and take more of the student and the efforts into account…As students, we generally get what we deserve and we are well aware of this. In this situation, however, I do not feel that I have gotten what I deserve.” It was a very close case, and to this day I’m unconvinced I did the right thing by electing not to change Kathleen’s grade.

My remaining assignments as a TA were, with one exception, second-semester calculus. In the fall of 1988, I had two sections, taught back-to-back. This was the only time I wasn’t teaching in Altgeld Hall, the math building; instead, I was in Henry Administration, just south of Altgeld. Calc II is a fun class to teach, assuming you’re into that whole calculus thing to begin with. In my experience, though, it tends to be the hardest course in the sequence for students–determining which integration technique to use or which convergence test to apply to an infinite series can definitely be a challenge the first time through. I think my confidence (as well as my ability to explain) was on the rise by this time. I do still have the notes I made more than thirty years ago, and I continued to reference them with some frequency in my first decade or so on the job.

Kathy was in my first section that fall. A few weeks into the term, she asked me to attend an “invite a teacher to dinner” function her sorority was hosting at its house on a Friday evening. For someone who hadn’t imbibed of Greek life as an undergrad, this was an opportunity I felt I shouldn’t miss, and it turned out to be plenty interesting.The women of the sorority broke into singing a couple of times, and quite a number of fellows from a frat dropped by mid-event (I have no idea if this was expected or not) to start a back-and-forth songfest. However, this wound up being the last time I saw Kathy, as she dropped the class the following week.

I had a high school student in the other section. Kie was a senior at Uni High, a small, selective school located on campus–perhaps one or both of her parents were professors. Not terribly surprisingly, she was among the very best students in the class. She was also the most curious and inquisitive, occasionally staying after class to ask about generalizations or extensions of an example or a topic. Over the course of the semester, I learned that Kie was precocious in more ways than just mathematically. Altgeld Hall has a carillon in its tower; it normally just chimes every quarter-hour, but during the week there’s a daily fifteen-minute “show” right before noon. Kie provided that entertainment on Thursdays, and once I climbed up into the tower with her to watch her maneuver what looked like organ pedals (but were at hand level). She also had a weekly show at WEFT, Champaign-Urbana’s community radio station. I tuned into it once or twice. Her musical interest at the time was dub poetry, which has its origins in reggae.

(And now, an abrupt transition after that long intro…) I’m pretty certain it was on WEFT–maybe on the show right after Kie’s, maybe several weeks later–that I first learned of the wildly creative 3 Mustaphas 3. A collective of musicians in the UK, their conceit was they came from the Balkans and were all nephews (and a niece) of the fictitious Patrel Mustapha. They played a dizzying array of instruments, sang in a multitude of languages, and mashed together musical influences from all over the globe in an onslaught of rhythms, tempos, and time signatures. The group’s catchphrase–“Forward in All Directions!”–sums things up pretty well.

Eventually I came across the Mustaphas’ 1989 release Heart of Uncle at the Urbana Free Library, and my officemate Paul ripped it onto a cassette for me (fear not, I eventually bought a copy of the CD). I don’t have much “world music” in my collection, but Uncle is one of the most fascinating and entertaining disks I own.

Things kick off with “Awara Hoon,” sung in Hindi:

One of my favorites is the rollicking “Trois Fois Trois (City Version).” This time we’re treating to vocals in French and Spanish. It’s reprised in a ‘Country Version’ later on the album.

Several of the tracks are instrumental; I’ll embed two of them for you. First is “Sitna Lisa,” which combines elements of Celtic and Middle Eastern music.

Next is “Vi Bist Du Geveyzn Far Prohibish’n?” It’s a spirited piece that only becomes more frenzied as it builds.

“Kem Kem” is sung in Kiswahili with some beautiful harmonies.

The one tune sung in English is “Taxi Driver (I Don’t Care).” It’s pretty tame in comparison to most of the other songs.

And I’ll wrap up with the riveting and haunting “Aj Zadji Zadji Jasno Sonce,” sung in Macedonian.

As it turns out, back in Kentucky, my college roommate James and his wife Amy independently discovered the Mustaphas via their even more eclectic 1990 album Soup of the Century. That disk turned out to just about be it for 3M3–an outtake/remix album ensued, as well as a live album several years later. Maybe they felt that the string had just played itself out on this venture, and they were ready to move to other pursuits. Regardless, it’s a ride I’m glad to have found and taken.

One of the great things about teaching college is the ongoing opportunity to meet a wide range of promising young adults. That continued of course at Illinois after the fall of 1988–I still recall a number of students specifically, and wonder how things turned out for them–but for some reason, the moments you carry around in your head for years afterward happened less frequently after those initial semesters in the classroom. (I think I tend to have stronger memories of students from my first years at Georgetown, too, for what that’s worth.)

AT40’s Top 100 of 1984, Part 2

Here’s the second half of what I wrote down on the weekend of 12/29/84.

Only three peak position errors on this part of the show, and two involved Lionel Richie: #48 only reached 7, #40 made it to just 5, and #31 got to 3.

Even if I wasn’t right all the time about how high songs got, one thing that really stood out to me writing this chart down was how well year-end rank correlated overall with peak position, and how few non-Top 10 tunes even made the show. This was so different from what I’d seen in the late 70s, when songs that didn’t even crack the top 20 in real time could sneak onto the year’s Top 100, due to their longevity on the charts. According to this thread at one of the AT40 Fun & Games message boards, Casey’s staff had started using a ‘power point’ system in 1982, based only on top 50 performance (historically, Billboard used all of a song’s Hot 100 life–one need only also listen to the 1971 year-ender that Premiere provided to 70s affiliates this year to see that in action), awarding bonuses for weeks in the top 10 and big points for multiple weeks at the top. I also learned there that AT40 went back to using Billboard‘s rankings in 1985, which may explain in part why “Out of Touch,” “I Feel for You,” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” were so high at year’s end in both 1984 and 1985.

1980: My Top 100 (At The Time)

Regular readers are well aware that I kept a list of my own Top 50 for the better part of three years (from 3/29/80 to 12/25/82, to be precise). My primary rule was pretty simple: all songs on AT40 for the week prior had to be included (I usually made my chart very early in the week and relied on the show just broadcast for my baseline). That of course invariably led to a small lag. I pretty much modeled chart action on what I’d seen Billboard do all those years I’d been listening to Casey to that point: songs didn’t usually debut all that high, they’d climb fairly steadily, and would, with precious few exceptions, start to fall only after staying in the same spot for two (or more) weeks or maybe after rising just one position.

As 1980 drew to a close, it was natural to want to put together a Top 100 for the year based on my weekly rankings. The biggest issue was the incomplete data, a lack of information about almost a quarter of the year. What to do?

In the end, I wasn’t very scientific in constructing the year-end list. The Top 20 or so probably do reflect how I felt about the songs at the time; after that, it’s more impressionistic, crudely approximating where I thought things would shake out, informally incorporating peak position, length of chart run, and what I supposed January, February and March charts might have looked like. I think I was a little careful about discounting theoretical chart points for performance in 1979 by songs like “Escape,” “Better Love Next Time,” and “Cruisin’,” but that may be revisionist thinking on my part.

Anyway, without any further ado:

No doubt I’d make numerous changes to this forty years on, but many favorites then are still must-listens today. Oftentimes you like what you like, right?

I was much more rigorous in putting my 1981 Top 100 together; I’m planning on taking a look underneath the hood of that effort this time next year.

AT40’s Top 100 of 1984, Part 1

My chart for the 1984 year-ender follows the same straightforward format as that of the year before: three yellow legal sheets with rank, song, artist, and peak position. I’m pretty certain it was the only time I listened to Casey the entire year.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t paying attention to the ebb and flow of the charts. I went to record stores to check out their posted Hot 100 lists throughout my college years; that helped me with peak positions when Casey didn’t remind us. However, my memory was faulty several times by a spot or two: #97 only reached 14, #94 got to 12, #83 peaked at 10, #82 topped out at 9, #77 hit only 8, #72 reached 8, #66 finished at 7, #60 hit 4, #59 and #57 both had stopped at 5, and #55 made just #6.

The other half next weekend; hoping the number of mistakes will be smaller.

Christmas/Holiday Cheer: Nilsson, “Remember (Christmas)”

Long ago…far away…

Probably 1968; my parents weren’t the best about putting dates on pictures.

Remember, is a place from long ago...

My earliest Christmas memories are from when I’m five or six. In the first, I’m at my maternal grandparents’ house. There’s a pretty big crowd, so I imagine my mother’s sisters are there with their families. I’m carrying around a Kenner SSP Racer, complete with rip cord; I imagine it’s a present I received there, either from Gran and Papaw or one of my aunts’ families.

Remember, filled with everything you know...

The second one is likely from a year later. This time my grandparents are at our house, along with Aunt Nancy and her family, who are down from Ohio. My gift from the latter is Battleship, and I get to play a game with my grandfather.

Remember, life is never as it seems...

I had those hideous bangs in my 6th grade photo, so that pegs this as 1975. Maybe that’s the tree Dad and I chopped down ourselves…

We always had live trees growing up, even though I can’t say now how often Amy and I were taken along to help pick them out. One year–it’s either 1975 or 1976–Dad and I trek out to the farm his parents had owned (they were both gone by this point; Dad would sell it in 1983) to find and cut down our tree. I’m wearing a Cincinnati Reds sweatshirt under my coat on a cold and cloudy December Saturday morning. We tromp around quite a bit before identifying the one we deem most suitable. My role in all this is uncertain, as Dad’s not interested in a pre-teen wielding an axe. After some struggle, the cedar is taken down and we manage to get it home. (In the trunk? We don’t have a truck.) My suspicion is that my father doesn’t enjoy the experience much, as we never do this again.

Clues abound that this is 1978. That robe is way small on me now! Can you identify the LP on the floor by my sister (perhaps it’s playing on the stereo in the background as this was taken)? And what music magazine am I perusing?

Remember, when you’re sad and feeling down...

My only Christmas as an only child.
Mom, styling in the very early 70s (I’m guessing 1971). Those are Amy’s and my stockings on the ends of the mantle; mine is still used as a decoration here in our house.

Remember, turn around…

I’m frequently up before dawn these days, checking in on our restless senior dog. Looking out the window over the kitchen sink and across the way, between the bare branches of our maple tree, I can see through the French doors on the rear of the house behind us. They’re keeping their Christmas tree lit all the time, and I make note as the lights quickly go yellow-to-green-to-blue-to purple-to-red-to-yellow… (they must all sleep with their bedroom doors closed). I consider the kids in that house, wondering if they’ll carry anything from this Christmas around in their heads for decades. And then my mind goes to the parents…

Remember, think of all that life can be...

Throughout the second half of the Aughts, we host Christmas for our families: Martha’s sister and mother, and my parents (my sister is living in Florida by this point). Ruth and my mother-in-law stay in our third bedroom, while my folks take over the master. Martha and I blow up an air mattress and “sleep” on the floor in our amped-up boy’s room. One of the last things Ben does before heading up to bed is to strew the contents of a bag of “reindeer food” across our front yard.

Life was clear…close your eyes…

Stereo Review In Review: December 1977

This makes twelve months of rifling through old Stereo Review magazines–I’m so grateful to for collecting them. It’s been fab re-discovering turns of phrase from Simels, Peel, Coppage, Nash, et. al., but also learning about acts and songs that I missed way back when. It doesn’t seem to be my most popular feature, but right now I’m interested enough to carry on for at least another year or two.

This issue goes back closer to the beginning of my love affair with SR than anything I’ve examined so far (I can tell I read at least some 1976 issues). I’m pretty sure I noticed the Mendes review mentioned below, if only because of the name of the band and not the savagery within.

Roots of Jazz, by Chris Albertson
Albertson interviews and tells the fascinating stories of singer Alberta Hunter and bandleader Sam Wooding, two jazz artists who got their starts in the early 1920s and were still performing over fifty years later.

Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance, along with a few special guests. Garland was pretty new to this gig, having first gotten her name on the masthead in October.

Best of the Month
–Cleo Laine, Return to Carnegie (PR) “…just an extraordinarily gifted actress-singer radiating first-class musicianship, enormous intelligence, and wit.”
–George Jones, I Wanta Sing (NC) “Jones comes about as close as any singer I’ve heard to actually bleeding for his art.”
–B. J. Thomas, S/T (JV) “…with the recent loss of Elvis Presley, it is probable that Thomas can be ranked as the most artistically important pop baritone in this country.”

Recordings of Special Merit
–Norton Buffalo, Lovin’ in the Valley of the Moon (NC) “Technically he is the best harmonica player to come along in years…(t)his album has him sounding like a diverse assortment of harp notables, from Stevie Wonder to Charlie McCoy to James Cotton to the Harmonicats.”
–The Chieftains, LIVE! (PK) “This listener…has never heard a reel or a Kerry slide piped out with greater skill or energy. I tell you, these lads get to you.” The last concert Martha and I attended in the pre-COVID era was the Chieftains, toward the end of February. They aren’t ‘lads’ any more, but this review described pretty well what I saw forty-plus years after it was written.
–Ry Cooder, Show Time (JV) “Cooder…is an expert at filling the holes with exquisite ideas…and dramatic inchings toward the resolution of a solo idea—in other words, the man thinks as he plays…”
–Chick Corea/David Holland/Barry Altschul, ARC (CA) “This, then is Corea without the cheap frills, without the buttons and switches that often turn artistry into gimmickry.”
–Nick Drake, Bryter Layter (Lester Bangs) “Three years after his death…Nick Drake’s reality is more compelling than ever.”
–The Emotions, Rejoice (PG) “…demonstrates what can be done within the limits of popular style when talent and imagination are applied.”
–Danny Kirwan, S/T (SS) “Since his departure from (Fleetwood Mac), he’s become something of a cult figure, and justifiably so; he’s an impeccable craftsman both as a guitarist and as a writer…at the risk of committing critical heresy I’d venture to say he’s probably got more talent than the estimable Buckingham/Nicks team that replaced him.” The album was titled Midnight in San Juan in the UK.
–Steve Lacy, Trickles (CA) “The musicianship is of the highest caliber, the material is uniformly interesting, and the quartet’s members are very compatible.”
–Johnny Winter, Nothin’ but the Blues (JV) “This is a surprising and uplifting Winter album, doubtless the best he has ever made.”

Featured Reviews
–Michael Bloomfield, Analine (JV) “(Bloomfield) seems to have approached this album as a kind of recorded spiritual retreat.”
–Judy Collins, So Early in the Spring, the First 15 Years (NC) “This album…is a class product from a class person, extremely pretty to listen to, and an emotion-charged recapitulation of some of the most interesting times anybody ever lived through.”
–Millie Jackson, Feelin’ Bitchy (PG) “Of all the popular soul artists on the scene, Millie Jackson most closely approaches the fundamental earthiness of the classic blues singers…”
–Andy Pratt, Shiver in the Night (Rick Mitz) “…so stunning, so positive, so—all right, I’ll say it—so uplifting that it makes me shiver in the night (and day) to listen to it.”
–Linda Ronstadt, Simple Dreams (William Anderson) “She no longer sounds like Mary Travers but like herself, a finished musician who has polished her abundant natural gifts…”
–Dick Wellstood, Some Hefty Cats! and This Is the One (CA) “One thing I’ve always liked about him is his wide-ranging taste, and he is obviously a man who listens with his mind as open as his ears.”

Other Album Reviews
–Eric Carmen, Boats Against the Current (SS) “Once upon a time, Eric Carmen was a modest young man who had a knack for crafting catchy little hommages to Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, and the Brill Building staffers of the Sixties…but now he is suffering from Neil Diamonditis, a particularly nasty syndrome that transforms talented purveyors of pop fluff into artistes.”
–Donovan, S/T (PR) “In the context of the late Seventies, however, (these songs) seem only naïve, artless, and—worst of all—pointless.”
–Meco, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk (Ed Buxbaum) “…most of the important themes are…imaginatively turned into very danceable disco that is also fun to listen to whether or not you’ve seen the movie.”
–Sergio Mendes, The New Brasil ’77 (PR) “..oh man, has custom staled and age withered his style! It has now calcified into something like a stale bialy…”
–Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Rock ‘n Roll with the Modern Lovers (Lester Bangs) “Somebody ought to put this record in a time capsule as proof of just how desperate culture consumers, music fans in particular, got in the Seventies…(Richman) exhibits the mental prowess of a four-year-old.”

Some interesting tunes to post this time…hope you enjoy.

Christmas/Holiday Cheer: Pop Diva Originals

Between SiriusXM’s Holly and my modern Christmas hits Pandora playlist, I can’t help but learn about what the kids of the last two decades (or more) have been serving up for holiday music. I’ll go on the record to say it’s a good thing that these efforts almost always include at least one new song–I’d much rather have that than yet another version of “Holly Jolly Christmas.”

So I’m gonna step out of my lane today and rank a few of these original tunes, focusing on big female pop stars. It’s subjective in multiple dimensions, I’ll admit, but for the most part, I’m not here to gripe and snipe. (As fine a voice as Christina Aguilera has, I’m glad I can’t think of what original Christmas tune she’s done, as I’d have to dock her for her unwillingness to stay on any one pitch for more than a hemidemisemiquaver in her take on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” I find that one unlistenable.)

Here are the six under consideration today:

6. Katy Perry, “Cozy Little Christmas”
She’s been huge for well over a decade, but I still can’t say, “Oh, that’s Katy Perry” when one of her songs comes on whenever I’m at Culver’s–I guess her voice just isn’t that distinctive to me. That goes for this piece, too.

5. Taylor Swift, “Christmas Tree Farm”
As formidable a talent as TSwift is, I find this effort pretty unremarkable–it could use a much stronger melody.

4. Ariana Grande, “Santa Tell Me”
Now we’re starting to get somewhere. The theme is similar to that of “Last Christmas” (which I’m on record as not really liking), but I can get more behind Grande’s upbeat, pro-active approach to avoiding pain.

3. Mariah Carey, “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
Maybe should be higher–it’s become a go-to song for other artists to cover already–but I’d be alright with about 33% less airplay. Carey came on the scene just as I was turning away from pop, so I’ve never attempted to fully appreciate her talent. She gets full marks for this one, though.

2. Leona Lewis, “One More Sleep”
It’s the peppier music being favored as we move forward. But I’m also noticing a progression in relationship status as we go through the top four:
Grande: Do I trust you?
Carey: Sure hope you show up!
Lewis: You’ll be here soon!

Based on “One More Sleep” and “Winter Wonderland,” I need to put Lewis’s Christmas, With Love near the top of my wish list. She sounds so buoyant, so happy.

1. Kelly Clarkson, “Underneath the Tree”
Clarkson: You’re here to stay…

I live too much in the past to know a lot of Clarkson’s body of work, but I do really like what I’ve heard. And I hope “Underneath the Tree” makes the Christmas canon someday; the energy, that sax solo, the chimes…it all works. Programmers could maybe take 10% of Carey’s spins and donate them here?

Forgotten Albums: Kirsty MacColl, Kite

On December 18, 2000, a 41-year-old mother of two boys was killed after being struck by a speeding motorboat as she pushed her older son out of the way of the oncoming craft. The boat shouldn’t have been there, and certainly not at that speed; the family was participating in a recreational diving expedition off the shores of Cozumel, Mexico. It turned out that the boat was owned by the founder of a large Mexican supermarket chain. Ultimately a boathand confessed to being at the helm when the accident occurred, though it’s not clear that was actually the case.

It took about ten days for news of Kirsty MacColl’s tragic death to reach a 36-year-old new father in Kentucky. He put disk after disk into the CD player on top of the refrigerator; more than once that day he rocked his eight-week-old son in the kitchen, in an attempt to console (for entirely different reasons) both the boy and himself.

MacColl is best-known for her collaboration with Shane MacGowan and the Pogues on “Fairytale of New York,” one of the UK’s most popular holiday tunes (it makes an annual pilgrimage to the British pop charts these days, and is currently sitting at #4). It’s a great song, though I sure wish it didn’t include a certain word they rhyme with “maggot.” ‘Tis the season for playing it, I suppose, but that’s not what’s on my mind today.

I’d proclaimed MacColl’s Kite in real time as my favorite album of 1990–it was almost certainly the disk I’d listened to most that year. Though it’d been released in the UK in May of 1989, it would take over a year for it to land in my hands, a purchase likely spurred by a positive Rolling Stone review.

Today, on the twentieth anniversary of her passing, I’ll attempt to honor MacColl’s life and work by playing some of Kite‘s top tracks.

I’ll bet I played “Innocence,” the first song on Kite, at least ten times the day I first slipped the CD into my player. The single mix we hear in the video is different from what I’m used to hearing, but I suppose it’s close enough.

“Free World” was the lead single and reached #43 on the British charts. (Note that they dub in “wag” for “shag” in the clip below.) It’s also the name of the fan site

Steve Lillywhite, MacColl’s husband at the time, produced Kite. “Days,” a Kinks cover and the biggest hit in Britain from Kite, shows off Lillywhite’s skill in multi-tracking her voice.

“Don’t Come the Cowboy with Me, Sonny Jim!” is a plaintive cry from a woman too often on the bad end of romantic encounters to a man she sees as a little different from the rest. We’ve now hit on all four UK singles from Kite.

While there are multiple tracks on Kite I love to belt out alongside Kirsty, my fave for doing that (and fave song overall) is the driving “Tread Lightly.” Best line: “I curse the day I met you but I won’t forget you/Not in my lifetime.”

MacColl had done background vocals on the Smiths’ “Ask” in the mid 80s. She maintained contact with Johnny Marr, and the two co-wrote a couple of songs for Kite. “The End of a Perfect Day” might be the best Smiths tune that Morrisey didn’t sing. (A cover of “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby” is one of three bonus tracks on the CD).

Another bonus is a rousing cover of Anna and Kate McGarrigle’s “Complaint Pour Ste Catherine.” Her French sounds pretty good to me (it’s one of two songs she sings en français).

I lapped up MacColl’s next two albums, though I didn’t find them nearly as magical. Her last disk, Tropical Brainstorm, was released just a few months before her death.

Rest in peace, Kirsty–you’re certainly not forgotten.

About a year after buying Kite, I found this on the Usenet newsgroup

I don’t remember now if I noted at the time the reviewer was a mathematician, but several years after this, I found myself in his home. I was attending a conference in Atlanta; it turns out that Mulcahy’s wife, who teaches at Emory, is an occasional collaborator with my dissertation advisor, and I’d scored an invite to a reception they were hosting. I may or may not have chatted with Mulcahy, who’s Irish, about Kirsty that evening…

I know that MacColl will appear in this space at least a couple of times in 2021; look for another cut from Kite in February.

Christmas/Holiday Cheer: Jean Redpath, “Gift o’ Gowd”

While Martha and I were putting lights on our tree Sunday morning, I pulled out a couple of CDs to play. One was Still the Night, by the late Scottish folksinger Jean Redpath. My wife was a fan prior to meeting me, probably discovering her via appearances on A Prairie Home Companion*. Still the Night came out in 1999, at the very end of Redpath’s career. It was released on her own label, and it’s apparently so obscure that Wikipedia** doesn’t even list it in her discography.

Martha ripped the CD long ago and added it to the Christmas playlist on the iPod she keeps in her car. In normal years, we’d be out and about much more right now and would be hearing Redpath’s clear, lilting voice now and again as the tunes shuffled on. In particular, it seems like every year I would hear opening track “2000 Years Ago,” written by fellow Scot Alan Bell. I had planned on sharing that one with you today; however, this disk is apparently so obscure that essentially none of it appears on YouTube, either.

One of Redpath’s primary contributions over her lengthy career was a seven-disk set of recordings of songs written/collected by the great Scottish poet Robert Burns. You get a sense of how she might have approached that project by listening to the one track from Still the Night I can find out there, “Gift o’ Gowd” (gowd being Gaelic for gold–it’s a song about the Magi).

*Redpath comes across as quite earnest in her approach to the craft, but check out this duet with Garrison Keillor from one of her Prairie Home appearances.

**My favorite line in Redpath’s Wikipedia entry is, “She was awarded the MBE in 1977 as well as being named a Kentucky colonel by the governor of Kentucky.” If you’re wondering what it means to be named a Kentucky Colonel, well, you can check that out here. One group of grad school friends gave me grief over and again after I told them I had been made a Colonel twice before I turned twenty.