Song of the Day, August 20: By the Time It Gets Dark by Sandy Denny

DennyDarkToday’s song is By the Time It Gets Dark, originally a hidden gem from the luminous career of Sandy Denny. Although she recorded a full band version of the song for her album Rendezvous, it didn’t make the disc’s final cut. She recorded another band version and two solo demos as well, clearly fond of the song but never finding the version she really wanted to release.

It’s a lovely song of optimism, looking at the silver linings and hoping for the best even when things aren’t going well. A sweet, simple song, it derives its lovely power from the images Denny evokes and from her clear, high vocals. The finest version is the earliest, a basic home demo with just her vocals and 12-string guitar.

And maybe, by the evening we’ll be laughing
Just wait and see
All the changes there’ll be
By the time it gets dark.

Enjoy this lovely song today.

Song of the Day, August 19: Arthur McBride and the Sergant by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick

princeheathen_cdToday’s song Arthur McBride and the Sergeant, a traditional tune (Roud 2355) made famous by the legendary folk collaboration of vocalist and guitarist Martin Carthy and fiddler supreme Dave Swarbrick. By 1969, both men were at the top of their craft, well established as leading lights in the British folk revival. Swarb was becoming enmeshed in Fairport Convention, so their fifth album together (the third on which they shared label credit), the sublime Prince Heathen, was their last formal collaboration for many years.

The disc kicks off with Arthur McBride, one of their best shared tracks. Also known as The Recruiting Sergeant, it takes the stock tale of involuntary enlistment and knocks it — fairly literally — on its ear. The singer and his friend, Arthur McBride, are out for a lovely morning stroll when they are greeted by a military trio. The Sergeant offers them a signing fee to join the Army, which they decline. When he threatens them with violence if they do not comply, the pair knock them aside and stride away free men.

Swarb, known for his astounding versatility with the fiddle, provides an especially crisp, martial line to move the song along. Carthy delivers one of his most biting vocals, the barely restrained anger lightened only by the joy of the crisp morning walk. It’s an inspired performance that ranks high in the careers of two legendary performers.

Enjoy this delightful performance today.

Song of the Day, August 18: Girls Just Want to Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper Girls Just Want To Have FunToday’s song is Girls Just Want to Have Fun, the track that launched Cyndi Lauper’s distinctive career. After a series of false starts and a stint in the band Blue Angel, Lauper finally found her groove with the delightful album She’s So Unusual. That title is emblematic of her approach, as she carved out a unique, diverse, unapologetic musical path throughout the 80s. Although she didn’t write this song — it was penned by Robert Hazard — it was perfectly chosen to announce her arrival. From the opening synth riff to the energetic choruses, it’s a joyous romp of independence and determination.

Enjoy this delightful song today.

Album of the Week, August 17: Cowboy Sally’s Twilight Laments for Lost Buckaroos by Sally Timms

CowboySallySally Timms was born in Leeds, in England, in 1959. She began her recording career young, collaborating with Buzzcock Pete Shelley on an improvisational film score at the age of 19. After a stint in a band called the Shee Hees, she joined pioneering post-punk band the Mekons in 1985 as they began their most fertile, alt-country period. Given that band’s sporadic recording career — complicated by founder and guitarist Jon Langford’s many side projects — Timms has maintained a parallel solo career. She released albums in 1988 and 1995, mixing original tracks with cleverly chosen covers. Those discs included some solo development of the country side of the Mekons. In 1998, she moved to Bloodshot records and assumed the persona of Cowboy Sally, recording a charming, eponymous EP. Building on that work, she launched her masterpiece, the quirky, heartfelt country exploration of Cowboy Sally’s Twilight Laments for Lost Buckaroos.

Title Cowboy Sally’s Twilight Laments for Lost Buckaroos
Act Sally Timms
Label Bloodshot Release Date November 2, 1999
Producer Sally Timms and Jon Langford with Dave Trumfio
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
  1. Dreaming Cowboy
  2. The Sad Milkman
  3. Dark Sun
  4. In Bristol Town One Bright Day
  5. Sweetheart Waltz
  6. Snowbird
  7. Cry Cry Cry
  8. When the Roses Bloom Again
  9. Cancion Para Mi Padre
  10. Rock Me to Sleep

In case the title wasn’t a sufficient clue about Timms’ intent, the disc opens with a faux broadcast (complete with dial noise) introducing songs like a 50s country radio program. The ten tracks map out a wonderful range of country sounds — originals and well-chose covers — that demonstrate her fascination and admiration for the genre as well as her own distinctive approach. Ably abetted by fellow Mekon Jon Langford, Wilco producer and frequent Timms sideman Dave Trumfio, and a solid cast of musicians, Timms spins 35 minutes of musical wonder.

She kicks thing off nicely with Dreaming Cowboy, a Guy Lawrence song that mixes the dream state between a nostalgic cowboy and someone who wishes he was an old-time cowboy. The music could be vintage 40s country with just a bit more edge and Timms’ vocals are perfectly ethereal. The Sad Milkman was penned by alt-country pioneers Brett and Rennie Sparks, better known as the Handsome Family. It continues the otherworldly elements of the previous dream, telling the story of a man “in love with the moon.” Timms delivers a matter-of-fact vocal that makes the sad story plausible and human. Up next is the eerie Dark Sun, which warns of nuclear devastation, invoking  the spectre of Doctor Strangelove and his bombs. Co-written by Timms and Langford, it’s a perfect marriage of millennial anxiety and galloping old-west music and one of the finest moments on the album.

Robbie Fulks, another fixture in the alternative circuit, provides In Bristol Town One Bright Day. It’s a standard ballad of lust and betrayal with a dark, menacing undercurrent. Timms imbues the track’s mysterious stranger with exactly the right mix of eerieness and realism as the bright day takes a dark turn. Sweetheart Waltz, another Timms/Langford turn, is a sorrowful 3/4 lament. The minor key underscores the sorrow while a strangely apt steel drum lends a stirring note of poignant near hope. Snowbird is a perfect capsule of a song, 90 seconds of Handsome Family death ballad. Picking up the pace after two slower songs, it romps through a tragic story with Timms turning in one of her nicest vocals.

Proving the sincerity of her love of country music, Timms tackles a legend by covering Cry! Cry! Cry! Penned and sung by Johnny Cash, it was intended as the B-side of his first Sun single but became his first hit when DJs flipped the record over.  Timms turns in a remarkable vocal that echoes Cash with surprising success given the differences in their range and style. It’s a wonderful cover that bridges homage and originality with enthusiasm and respect. When the Roses Bloom Again is a traditional song arranged by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. It’s another ballad song with themes of death and hope, well suited to this set of twilight laments. Cancion Para Mi Padre is a bilingual track written by Timms and Langford. It brings in another aspect of country and works surprisingly well.

Rock Me to Sleep is a wonderful lullaby to oneself, a brilliant, beautiful gem of a song that closes the album on a very high note. Written by sadly overlooked indie singer Jill Solbule in collaboration with her frequent musical partner, ex-Bongo Richard Barone, it’s the most alt and least country of the songs. Timms’ sensitive delivery and the band’s seamless backing, however, make it work, and it emphasizes the twilight lament element just as well as the opening track gave listeners the lost buckaroo. After this wonderful treat, another faux broadcast wishes Cowboy Sally and her listeners goodnight, bringing things to a perfect close.

Some editions of the album include the five-track Cowboy Sally EP. While it’s a shame to tack anything on to the end of such a cohesive, carefully planned set, the songs are very well suited to the album’s style and themes. The highlight is the Handsome Family cover Drunk By Noon. The rest are nice versions of some lesser known country gems and a lovingly wistful interpretation of the Tennessee Waltz. Sequencing aside, grabbing the 15-track disc captures Timms at her musical best.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending August 18, 1984

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Ghostbusters Ray Parker, Jr. 2
R & B When Doves Cry Prince 8
Country Still Losing You Ronnie Milsap 1
Adult Contemporary Stuck On You Lionel Richie 3
Rock The Warrior Scandal 2
Album Purple Rain Prince and the Revolution 3

CaffertyDark SideThis week sees a stubborn band’s first single return to the charts on its way to becoming their biggest hit. John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band formed in 1972 in Narragansett, Rhode Island. They developed a devoted local following with their anthemic rock, often compared to the E Street Band. They were offered the chance to write and record the soundtrack to the movie Eddie and the Cruisers. The song On the Dark Side was released, credited to the fictitious titular band. It spent nine weeks on the Hot 100 in late 1983, peaking at #64. When Springsteen’s Born In the U.S.A. hit big, Cafferty’s label decided to try again, releasing the song Tender Years credited to Cafferty. It stalled at #78 in February 1984. Undaunted, they tried again with the lead Cruisers single. This week, On the Dark Side returned to the Hot 100, bowing at #86. It spent two weeks at #7 in late October. A re-released Tender Years made it to #31 a couple of months later. Cafferty and the band had a few more hits in the same vein, fading from the charts by the end of the 80s. They still record and perform, satisfying their dedicated fans.

Song of the Day, August 15: Broken Heart Blues by Stuart Moxham

MoxhamBrokenToday’s song is Stuart Moxham’s Broken Heart Blues. It originally appeared on 1992’s Signal Path, the first album he released under his own name after Young Marble Giant’s breakup and his short-lived stint as the leader of the Gist. Credited to Moxham and his regular backing unit, the Original Artists, it’s a solid set of songs that shows off his talents as a writer and musician nicely. His confidence as a vocalist had grown significantly, and he makes the most of his songs of life, love, and loss. This track is a look at a man bruised and battered by love gone wrong and reluctant to be tempted again. It features one of Moxham’s most direct lyrics, delivered with charming openness. He later included a fine acoustic version on the album Fine Tuning.

Enjoy this charming original version today.

Song of the Day, August 14: The Trouble With Normal by Bruce Cockburn

CocburNormalToday’s song is The Trouble With Normal, the title track from Bruce Cockburn’s 12th album. It’s something of a transitional album, building on the political consciousness that began to permeate his work with 1980’s Humans and adding a more direct use of electronic instruments. In many ways, the song could be the tagline for Cockburn’s later catalog. Witty but dark, dire but determined, it demands action while wondering who will heed the call. Cockburn presents a number of political scenarios, pondering after each one what it will take to return to normal. The sting in each case is bluntly put:

The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.

Enjoy this potent song today.

Song of the Day, August 13: Sunspots by Bob Mould

MouldSpotsToday’s song is Sunspots by Bob Mould. Fans and critics eagerly awaited his solo debut after the breakup of Hüsker Dü, but nothing prepared them for the astonishing growth and skill that he demonstrated. For Workbooks opening track, he chose this stunning departure from the potent noise he had demonstrated so far in his career. A fragile, beautiful instrumental, Sunspots is an acoustic gem. Warm and wistful, it sets the tone of quiet majesty that permeates the disc. As a testament, it was flawless. As a lovely musical statement, it remains one of the nicest pieces of music in Mould’s long, complex career. Enjoy this wonderful tune today.

Song of the Day, August 12: Underneath the Moon by Maggie & Terre Roche

RocheSedReasToday’s song is Underneath the Moon from the first offering by the Roche sisters, 1975’s charming Seductive Reasoning. After the two older sisters, Maggie and Terre, provided backing vocals for Paul Simon’s second solo disc, he returned the favor by getting them a recording deal with his label, Columbia. They put together a set of ten songs that demonstrate the witty, quirky charm and vocal complexity that became the hallmark of the Roches career in years to come.

The first track sets the stage nicely. It explores themes that Maggie would delve into with repeated skill in years to come — gender roles, hypocrisy, lust, and determination — with a less weary tone than some of her best later work. The sisters harmonies are delightful; only the knowledge of what adding younger sister Suzzy’s voice to the mix detracts from their uncanny ability to weave their sounds together. With a lovely, driving piano line moving things along, it’s a wonderful introduction to a fantastic act.

Enjoy this amazing song today.

Song of the Day, August 11: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood by Nina Simone

SimoneMisunderstoodToday’s song is Nina Simone’s powerful standard Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. Writer Horace Ott began the song while pondering a troublesome time with his girlfriend, Gloria Caldwell. Unable to finish it to his own satisfaction, he took it to writing partners Bennie Benjamin and Sol Marcus. The trio finished it in short order, but because they used different publishing companies, Ott couldn’t be credited. He turned over his writing credit to Caldwell, who later became his wife.

When asked to select songs for a new Nina Simone album in 1964, Benjamin and Marcus immediately thought of this track. A powerful plea of determination, it is perfectly suited to her strong delivery. While written as a troubled love song, it works on a broader political level, appealing to both sides of Simone’s work. A slow, lushly produced track, it makes the most of her smoky, distinctive style and became a regular centerpiece of her live shows.

Despite its strong association with Simone, the song has proved to have a long, versatile life, including a classic rock reading by the Animals that went to #15 on the Hot 100 in 1965.

Enjoy this stirring Simone classic today.

The Immortal Jukebox

A Blog about Music and Popular Culture

Name-Brand Ketchup.

Some things in life need to be top-shelf.

Greatest British Songs

The best songs from British bands and artists

The Books of Jobe

A Writer and Pop Culture Lover's Journey Down The Long And Winding Road To Publication

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 85 other followers

%d bloggers like this: